Ten minutes later, I’d peed, washed my face, brushed my hair, brushed my teeth, and put on a bra. And, for good measure, I’d put on some socks and a long-sleeved over-shirt, too.
I didn’t care that it was over 80 degrees outside!
I wanted to send a clear message to any man who thought it was okay to strip and get into bed with me!
It wasn’t okay!
When I got downstairs, there were three men at my table.
Claude was leering at Alcide like a fanboy as I shuffled toward the coffee maker.
Meanwhile, Alcide was trying to look contrite and Dermot was glaring at the Were.
I shook my head as I saw that there was less than a swallow of beverage in the coffee pot.
Meanwhile, the three men each had a full cup in front of them.
Selfish bastards! All of them!
As I took the steps to make more coffee, I “heard” Alcide wondering if I was going to make food, too.
The day before, I would have done just that—without a moment’s pause. I would have thought about manners and Gran, and I would have already been pulling ingredients from the refrigerator. Of course, I would have been trying to stay out of Alcide’s head too.
But—for better or worse—I wasn’t the same person as I had been the day before.
And—just to clarify—I felt I was “better.”
So—no! I didn’t want to pour the others refills before I got myself a cup of my coffee in my house! And—no! I didn’t want to prepare food for three Supernatural men who didn’t actually seem to have my best interests in mind—now that I was looking at the situation with opened eyes.
But what did I do?
I opened the refrigerator and took out ingredients for sandwiches. I wasn’t about to cook for them, but it would beg too many questions if I did nothing.
“Sookie, I’m more certain than I was before that we need to get you out of here!” Dermot said. “Before the sun sets. You must know now that the vampire is wrong for you—that he’ll hurt you.”
I picked up the coffee pot as soon as the coffee maker beeped to indicate that it was done, and then I went around the table pouring refills for the “menfolk”—as Gran would have called them. However, I no longer believed that she would hold me to my manners with the people at the table if she were alive and knew about the situation. But I was sure glad I’d become an expert at them anyway. They were something to fall back on—something to prevent me from going off on the “menfolk.”
“I think Eric was just stressed out last night,” I said. “His bond with Pam got interrupted, and he got scared—because he initially thought she was dead. And then—when I told him I wanted our bond to be broken too so that I could tell his feelings from my feelings . . . .” I paused for a moment as I finally took a drink of nice, fresh coffee. “Well—he got mad. And then I got mad. I really think we can talk it out though. You know—cooler heads and all,” I smiled.
“He plans to punish you tonight,” Alcide said through gritted teeth. “Do you have any idea what that could entail?”
“Well—that’ll be Eric’s test then,” I sighed, having decided on my strategy while I was in the bathroom.
“Test?” Claude asked.
I nodded. “If Eric has calmed down and is ready to be reasonable, then I’ll know that he regrets last night. If he does . . . .” I paused and sniffled as the onion I was slicing made me cry.
It was a good prop.
“If he does punish me,” I continued, “then I’ll know—really know—that I can’t be with him.”
“But Northman already made you quit your job!” Alcide reminded insistently. “Surely you don’t need any more proof of how he wants to control you!”
It seemed that Eric was right. Supe gossip really did travel fast!
“I did quit—but just for now,” I said cautiously. “And just to pacify Eric till he calms down. And—anyway—I’ve been thinking about taking some online classes. And I have money now.” I shook my head as I spread some mustard on bread slices. If anyone preferred mayo, they could just deal with it. “I’ve worked almost nonstop since I was sixteen, and a little time off would be a good thing.”
“You wouldn’t have to work if you were with me,” Alcide said.
Dermot practically growled. “Or me.”
Alcide looked at the fairy with new eyes—jealous and disgusted eyes.
Well—at least Alcide and I agreed on the disgusting part.
“What the fuck?” the Were asked Dermot. “You’re her uncle or something!”
“Fairies don’t have the same rules as humans do,” I said calmly, as I put some sliced ham on the bread. I turned to look at Dermot. His eyes—so intense—seemed to be looking into me, and the only thing I could think about was how much he looked like Jason.
And how the feeling that he elicited in me reminded me of Uncle Bartlett—even though I didn’t think that Dermot would use force.
Still—the situation was more than enough to freak me out!
“No, fairies don’t follow the same rules,” Dermot agreed.
“But I have my own rules,” I said decisively. “While I appreciate the offers of protection and whatnot, I need to resolve the Eric thing before I do anything else. Please understand that,” I entreated.
“But what if the vamp hurts you tonight?” Alcide asked with concern that matched the look in Dermot’s eyes. Meanwhile, for a split second, Claude looked downright pleased at the prospect of Eric hurting me.
“Then Eric will have failed the test,” I said, turning back to my sandwich-building task. “Anyway, he can’t hurt me too much—right? I have the king’s protection.”
“The king could very well decide to take you—to take you away from Northman. Away from here,” Dermot observed.
“That’s why Eric and I got pledged,” I said as I added tomato slices and lettuce to the sandwiches. “Listen—Eric’s really not as bad as he seemed last night,” I added confidently before finishing the sandwiches. After taking them and some plates to the table, I once again refilled the coffee cups like the good hostess I was.
But—in my head—I was already counting down to the time when I wouldn’t have to play hostess at all.
One thing was for sure. Now that I was paying close attention, I could see things I hadn’t before.
Still—I tried to smile and engage in casual conversation as I ate with them.
In other words, I pretended to tolerate them.
Just like they pretended to care about who I really was and what would really make me happy—even as they tried to dictate it.
After he ate, Alcide left—hoping that Eric would “punish” me enough for me to finally “grow up.”
“So—are we going to have to stay away again tonight?” Claude asked a bit abruptly—not that that was abnormal behavior for him.
“That would probably be best,” I said.
“You shouldn’t stay here,” Dermot frowned. “You should let us take you away and protect you from the vampire,” he tried again.
Talk about a broken record.
“But Eric would find me because of our bond,” I reasoned.
“You should let your witches break it,” Claude said offhandedly.
“Yes—you should,” Dermot agreed. “It’s unnatural for a fairy and a vampire to have such a connection.”
“Maybe,” I allowed, holding in my true feelings, which amounted to a whole lot of anger and disappointment in that moment.
I’d been so keen to have a family that cared for me that I’d ignored the obvious.
The proof was on the faces of the fairies in my home.
They sure as hell didn’t care about me like a family ought to!
I wanted to un-invite them from my home so badly that my mouth opened to do it several times. But I didn’t. I had to be patient.
Patient. I simply needed to be patient for a little while longer, and Sookie Stackhouse would be mine.
Of course, I’d already been patient.
I’d patiently endured Felipe’s foolish notions that Eric Northman could be spared, given his potential value as an asset.
I’d patiently waited for Northman to do something irrevocably stupid so that I could take his head and his so-called “pledged.”
Yes. I’d been patient.
And—as I’d been patient—I’d observed Eric Northman. Like a hawk.
The Viking had proven to be “odd” for a vampire—especially for one as old as he was.
He showed care for his child and his minions.
Actually showed it!
And he cared for his “human” enough to risk his hide for her.
Just as one example—he’d risked the king’s displeasure with the pledging stunt.
And he’d also been willing to face down fairies for her.
Meanwhile, Sookie Stackhouse had seemed like a cold fish when it came to him.
Good for me. Bad for Northman.
But now the telepath had finally pushed him too far. I’d known that I’d simply needed to be patient for that to happen, too.
All the questioning looks she’d given to him—even during the brief time I’d been around them—had spoken volumes.
But even a vampire as pitifully in love as Eric Northman had his breaking point. And that had come when Sookie Stackhouse had decided to look into bond- breaking.
Of course, I’d doubted the claim that such a thing existed, but—after I’d received Jock’s very interesting report—I’d had a New Orleans vampire loyal to me find and glamour Octavia Fant, who was Amelia Broadway’s mentor.
Yes—glamouring witches could be tricky since it was possible that they might remember it, but—given the situation—I’d decided that the pros outweighed the cons. And Ms. Fant had sung like a canary.
The witches hadn’t been lying. There was a way to break bonds!
At first, upon hearing that Northman intended to punish Sookie Stackhouse, I’d determined that killing him during the punishment phase would be best.
After all, Miss Stackhouse would see me as her savior if I did.
But—then—Northman had presented me with an even better opportunity to kill him.
During the hunt of Sandra Pelt—a hunt where accidents might very well happen.
I closed my eyes and let my mind wander as I contemplated how I would punish a defiant pet.
I imagined Sookie Stackhouse on her knees—naked before the Fangtasia crowd. I imagined her whipped again and again—her flesh peeling away and her blood rising to the surface of her body. I imagined Northman allowing all vampires present to feed upon her—to fuck her.
Pussy, ass, mouth—I pictured them all being filled.
With me being the one to take her ass.
But then I shook my head. No—if I hoped to gain Sookie’s affection and trust later on—I would have to refrain from participating in her punishment. I would have to pretend as if I were troubled by whatever penalty Northman exacted upon her. Perhaps, I could even find a way to “stop” him at a certain point.
And, then, later I would kill him.
Yes—Sookie would “owe” me. She’d be desperate for the protection of the only one who’d shown her any compassion as the Viking had punished her.
And it would ultimately be good that Sookie was punished. She’d be stripped of some of her more “troubling” qualities: her propensity to defy, her desire to question, and her inclination to make her own decisions.
Indeed—in the end—Eric’s punishment would help me with the telepath.
But his death would help me more.
Eric Northman wasn’t as bad as most “rulers” I knew.
And—make no mistake about it—even though he was “just a sheriff,” he was a ruler. Eric inspired loyalty because of his strength. Only idiots like Compton and the current bartender at Fangtasia took what they found in Area 5 for granted.
I would have told Eric to watch out for Compton—if the “Southern Gent” weren’t so transparently shifty.
I would have told Eric to watch out for Jock—if the bartender knew anything about subtlety when it came to his “spying.”
However, the Viking wouldn’t have deserved his well-earned reputation (or my loyalty) if either of those two “tools” had fooled him for a moment.
Granted—I knew that I could take Eric out in a one-on-one fight. I was stronger, faster, older.
But it would be an enjoyable fight because I was pretty sure that he was slightly craftier than I was.
“Yes,” I said to myself with a fangy grin. “The Viking and I would have an amazing fight!”
Just to savor such a fight, I was almost tempted to challenge him. But I knew I’d be hard-pressed to find another ruler of equal merit—especially one whom I could also tolerate. When I’d opted to settle in the Americas years before, it had taken me a long time to research and decide upon which territory I wanted to live in. And I didn’t want to have to start that process all over again!
After the Great Revelation—when Eric decided that a portion of every vampire’s “duty” to him would be spending time at Fangtasia—I’d almost had second thoughts about staying in Area 5.
The truth was that being around fangbangers who revered me was annoying, but it wasn’t without some benefits. For example, I was able to take out my annoyance on them. Many of the ones who’d joined my “fan club” enjoyed the rougher aspects of sex and didn’t mind a more “rigorous” feeding. And all of them were easily influenced.
I’d kill anyone who found out, but I’d created my own anonymous “username” and had recently joined the social networking site that was devoted to my “followers.” As “thalias_favorite_bite,” I’d suggested things that “I” did to make “Thalia” want me: certain soaps to use, certain foods to avoid, certain habits to give up, etc.
I figured that, in addition to having better meal choices, I was also “helping” the humans who had given up smoking and fast food for me.
“I’m a regular humanitarian,” I said dryly to myself, somewhat disappointed that no one was there to enjoy the joke with me.
Despite my personal policy of staying out of political shit—especially when it hit the proverbial fan—I’d noticed more than my fair share of “propelled fecal events” during the previous years. Many of them had involved Sookie Stackhouse.
I was an old vampire—older than the Viking.
I had smelled Sookie Stackhouse’s uniqueness the first time I’d encountered her.
I could have told Northman that nugget of information, but—truly—for vampires as old as we, “mystery” was a greater gift.
I’d been “serving my time” at Fangtasia the first time Sookie had walked into it. Bill Compton, the clueless fool, had been incorrect (unsurprisingly) when he’d proclaimed that Eric Northman was the oldest thing in Fangtasia that night, but—in Bill’s defense—I was good at hiding how strong and formidable I truly was.
Perhaps that was my vampire gift—since I didn’t seem to have inherited any others from my maker.
But stealth and subterfuge were enough; after all, they had helped me to survive for a very long time. Thus, it wasn’t remarkable that I’d recognized those two impulses in Northman when he’d asked me to be his second the night before.
I’d opted to tolerate the “job”—as long as I didn’t have to do it for very long.
I didn’t think I would.
My first piece of evidence? Sookie.
My second? Pam.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know why Northman’s previous lieutenant was currently MIA.
Though rocket scientists could actually be quite tasty.
I’d made a point of trying several astronauts, just to see if there was a difference between their “pre-space” blood flavor and their “post-space” blood flavor.
Thanks to the limited food choices in space (especially early in the program), there had been! Indeed, Neil Armstrong still ranked right up there as one of my favorite bed companions.
I’d preferred his blood “post-space.” It had seemed “purer” somehow.
Probably because of all of the gelatinous food he’d been forced to eat.
That thought aside, when Eric had “ordered” it the night before, I’d guessed immediately that he didn’t actually want me to be his second. I’d also known that his supposed attack against Sookie Stackhouse had been staged.
Yes—I’d witnessed Eric and Sookie together the first night they’d interacted. And I’d witnessed them on subsequent nights.
In my time, I’d seen real love. And I’d seen attempts at it.
What Eric and Sookie had was not an attempt; it was real.
Not that the two didn’t try to deny that.
Amusingly, they had been stuck in the “we’re just attempting it” mode for years. But that didn’t make their love any less real.
Thus, I knew that there was no way that Eric would publically—and cruelly—attack Sookie unless it was as some kind of ruse. Just as there was no way that Pam would disobey her maker—no matter how much she liked her dying human lover.
Whom I figured was dead by now—though soon to be rising.
At exactly 9:00 P.M., I parked the sedan Eric had loaned me—since I didn’t keep my own vehicle—in front of Sookie Stackhouse’s home. It was a quaint farmhouse, and most humans in the area would have considered it “old.” I scoffed. Humans, especially those in the United States, had very little conception of the word “old.”
As I got out of the car, I inhaled deeply.
Fairies—a full-blooded male and a half-blooded male from the scent of them—had been at the home recently, though they were not there presently. I knew that the fairies lived with Sookie, so I was not surprised by the lingering scents.
As a rule, I had nothing to do with fairies. They were more trouble than they were worth—especially since the meal garnered from one of them could hardly be remembered.
Trust me on that.
My memories of my one and only meal from fairies were hazy at best—but I did recall that I drained three of the “candy-smelling” creatures.
After that, I’d been lucky to get out of the sun in time not to meet my true death when I “missed” the orb’s impending arrival.
I’d been too drunk to recall that anything—even sunlight—could be a danger to me.
It had taken me weeks to heal from my burn wounds!
So. Not. Worth. The. Trouble!
And—clearly—even part-fairies attracted their fair share of dilemmas. I didn’t need to ask the Viking to confirm that either.
In addition to the fairies, I also picked up the scents of several Weres, two of whom were nearby in the woods—Sookie’s “guards” no doubt.
The only scent that surprised me was the smell of brimstone. Demons had been there recently; in fact, they’d likely left only ten or so minutes before.
Before I could knock on the door, a nervous-looking Sookie Stackhouse opened it. She was dressed in the first garment I’d ever seen her in: a white dress with red flowers.
“Ready?” I asked her.
She nodded and locked her door before following me to the car.
We’d been driving for a few miles when she spoke up for the first time.
“Thalia, you need to know what to expect tonight.”
The tone of her voice made my fangs click down.
But not necessarily unwelcome.
A/N: I hope that you enjoyed this chapter! The next one will go back four hours and get us caught up on what Sookie was up to and on her meeting with the demons.
Please leave me a comment if you are inspired to do so and have the time.
Many thanks to Seph & Kleannhouse!