“What a fucking mess,” Hennesy grumbled to herself as the elevator doors opened and she rifled through my purse to find my room key.
The mess, of course, was both me and my purse, which had apparently received quite the blast of vomit.
To tell the truth—I was grateful that Hennesy had picked it up at all! She wasn’t pleasant, but clearly she was willing to go above and beyond the call of duty.
The Were unlocked my door, and Thalia had soon put me down on the toilet in my bathroom.
Or—maybe—it was called a commode in this kind of hotel? There was a bidet, too—though I’d needed the bellboy to tell me what it was for.
Sophie-Anne had arranged for me to have a really nice suite, complete with a luxurious bathroom with a tub the size of a small pool, an amazing bedroom with a bed so big that four Eric-sized people would have fit in it, and a sitting room with a small kitchenette attached.
Sophie thought that I should get used to the finer things in life; moreover, she thought that I deserved them.
I wasn’t so sure.
In truth, the large suite had made me feel lonely.
As I made my way to the sink to brush my teeth, I thanked God for Sophie—even if the suite she’d put me in had made me sad. Oddly enough, it had taken a vampire to help me to understand what having a real friend could be like. Though I worked with her, I’d never felt used by her. And—even when I disagreed with her—she still liked me. And she didn’t pity me.
Yes—having her as a friend had been an unexpected and a welcome blessing.
I dared to glance at the mirror and take in the wreckage that was “me,” even as I heard a familiar thought pattern followed by a knock on the outer door of the suite.
I quickly grabbed a washcloth and did my best to rub away the little bit of make-up that was left after my sweat-evoking encounter with the tree’s pot. I’d worn my hair down that night, and I was horrified to see that there was, indeed, a little vomit at the ends, so I bent over the sink and rinsed that part of my hair, grabbing the bar soap to give it a good lather before rinsing it thoroughly.
That done, I blotted my hair with a towel and shucked my jacket, which also had vomit on it. Thankfully, my blouse and skirt seemed sans puke. I kicked off the one shoe that had made it back with me and then “evacuated” myself from my ruined control tops before throwing them into the trashcan with a sense of satisfaction—pathetic though it might have been.
Finally, I put my hair up with a ponytail holder and went into the sitting room to face the woman who’d been kind enough to help me—the woman who was “with” the man I was in love with.
At least a vampire signature hadn’t come into the room with her.
Olivia’s multi-faceted eyes showed nothing but concern as I tried to greet her with a smile, though I was pretty sure that the expression fell flat. Hennesy was standing next to the door, looking bored and/or disgusted. I didn’t know where Thalia had gone.
“I know we don’t really know each other,” Olivia began somewhat nervously, twisting her hands together. “And Eric hasn’t really said much about you—besides telling me what you can do. Um—he wanted me to immediately trust anything you said concerning safety or business—or anything else really. And—as you know—I’m working for the queen now too.”
“He told you to trust me?” I asked.
She nodded. “Yeah. And don’t worry. Your amazing talent isn’t something I would disclose to anyone.”
“Thank you,” I said.
She took a long, shaky breath. For some reason it comforted me to know that someone like her could be nervous.
“Like I said, we’ve hardly met—but Pam has made enough comments to hint that you were with Eric for a while,” she said.
“Pam hints as subtly as a hammer hammers,” I mumbled.
Olivia chuckled. “But she’s interesting to be around,” she remarked.
“Yeah. She is,” I agreed. “Listen—Eric and I,” I paused, “were together for a little while, but you don’t need to worry. He had amnesia at the time. And—uh—he doesn’t remember when we were—uh—a couple.”
“That must have been difficult for you,” she said with a sincere frown.
“Nothing was ever harder,” I told her honestly. I shrugged. “Except maybe for that scene downstairs just now. Thank you, by the way. It was kind of you to help me.”
“You needed someone. I’m glad I was there for you,” she smiled, her thoughts matching her words exactly.
I managed to smile back at her, this time a sincere one. It was, in truth, difficult not to like her. “I’m so glad to have officially met you, Olivia. I hope that you and I can be friends?” I said as if I’d spoken a question.
“I hope that too,” she said genuinely. “Anyway—I just wanted to check on you—and to tell you that Eric said you didn’t need to bother to come to the wedding.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” I asked, trying to stand up a little straighter—to look stronger than I felt.
“Uh—he figured that you were too sick,” she said.
I shrugged. “I’ll just rest for a bit, and then I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure you want to face . . . ?” she stopped mid-question.
“The vultures? Absolutely not,” I chuckled ruefully. “I wanna curl up into a ball and die. But Gran—my grandmother—taught me that I should always try to face my fears. I’m afraid I haven’t always been good at doing that; I used to always put off facing my troubles to another day. And those days always turned into weeks, and then months, and then never.” I sighed. “But, lately, I’ve been trying harder.”
Olivia reached out her hand to me, and I took hers.
Her mind opened like a book.
She loved Eric. I could hear that as plain as day. But that didn’t stop her from wanting to be my friend. I saw lots of friends in her mind in that moment. So she certainly didn’t need the likes of me; she was just a truly kind person. And, most surprisingly, she admired me!
“Promise me that you won’t come if your nap doesn’t help you—okay? Eric will understand. I think he worries about you,” she said.
I wasn’t sure about that.
I squeezed her hand. “Thank you, Olivia—for being nice.”
She leaned in to give me a quick hug and then left the room. Moments later, Thalia came in.
“Shower and dress,” she ordered. “You have been summoned.”
“Summoned?” I asked.
Thalia looked at me through narrowed eyes. “Do you need for me to bathe you?”
Somehow her question seemed like a threat.
“Uh—no thanks,” I whispered as I hurried into the bathroom.
ANCIENT PYTHONESS POV
Truthfully, I had expected a bit more from the woman in front of me. In the visions I had experienced with Sookie Stackhouse in them, she had seemed much stronger. But maybe she simply needed a good test in order to prove her true mettle.
She would soon be getting one.
At the moment, however, she was just looking at me with uncertainty.
“Your child will shift,” I told her.
One would have thought that I had just let all the oxygen out of the room, given the abject horror on her face.
She looked around desperately—as if cataloging everyone who could have heard my words. Only my handmaidens were present, and they were loyal to me.
But, of course, she could not know that.
“Do not worry. Your secret is safe in this room, but you will need to help your child—when the time comes,” I said.
“Who are you?” she asked. “Thalia said that I should listen to you. And you were at Peter Threadgill’s trial. And even Eric . . . .”
Her voice trailed off.
“Even Eric?” I asked her.
“Sheriff Northman—he—uh—seemed to revere you,” she finished.
“I am known by many labels,” I responded with a smirk. “Prophetess, psychic, seer, knower, soothsayer, oracle. My name was once Pythia, but I have not been called by my given name for many years. Those of my kind address me as the Ancient Pythoness.”
“You can see the future?” Sookie asked, her voice awestruck.
I was used to the tone.
“Clearer than I can see the present,” I relayed. “To me, this time is already past. And I have moved along already.”
“Dr. Ludwig told me that my daughter wouldn’t—uh—shift,” she whispered.
“She is right, but wrong,” I returned.
“Huh?” the woman in front of me sounded.
I assumed she was asking a question of clarification.
“How did your essential spark become ignited?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she responded.
“Vampire blood,” I informed, “but not just any blood. Strong blood. Pure blood. Blood worthy to ignite the spark of the Fae.”
“Eric,” she whispered.
“Yes. The Northman has such blood,” I confirmed.
“Are you saying that my baby’s gonna need vampire blood one day?” she asked, even as she placed her hands over her womb.
It was the sign of a good mother.
“Yes,” I responded.
“She will be seventeen. She will be beautiful and stubborn. And she will find herself in peril. But someone who loves her will save her and provide blood.”
“Who?” she asked.
I smiled at her—even though I knew that my smile was off-putting to most people. “Who indeed,” I stated—rather than answering. “Whomever it is will ignite her spark and that magic will incite her ability to shift.”
“But—then—Quinn,” she stammered.
I frowned. That tiger was a waste of space on the earth as far as I was concerned. Thus, I refused to say a single word about him. He was ultimately inconsequential anyway.
“Seventeen years is a long time,” I said instead. “Her eyes will be brown—like yours. Her hair will be blond—like yours. Her mind will be,” I paused, “like yours.”
“She’s gonna be a telepath?” she sighed.
“She already is,” I responded.
Sookie bit her lower lip. “How can I keep her safe?”
“Who has ever kept a child completely safe?” I asked her. “Your daughter will fall and break her skin. She will tumbled and break her bones. She will have her heart broken. She will feel pain and sorrow and loss. In short, she will deal with all human afflictions, for who could save her from such things? Not a mother—not even one who loves her with all that she is.”
“I’ll fail her,” Sookie whimpered.
“Of course,” I returned. “All parents fail their children, just as all children fail their parents. That is just the way of things. But you will be better than most.” I shrugged. “However, that is not why I wanted to see you.”
“Why did you want to see me?” she asked, her voice full of trepidation.
I was used to that tone too.
“Set your alarm for 2:31 p.m. tomorrow,” I told her. “Not a minute before. Not a minute after.”
“Huh? Why?” she asked.
“One does not ask ‘why’ of an oracle,” I told her before motioning for one of my handmaidens to lead her from the room.
“Wait! Please!” she begged. “What’s all this about?”
I smiled and approached her, bringing my hand up to touch her cheek.
It was warm.
“Chaos and destruction. Life and death.”
She looked at me with fear in her eyes.
Another thing I was used to—though she had nothing to fear from me.
“Amidst the chaos and destruction, you will help life overcome death. And you will help death live.”
My handmaiden began to escort her out.
“Please. I don’t understand,” she whimpered.
“No one ever could—not fully,” I returned. “But now you understand enough.”
“She should have my blood,” I growled. “Obviously, given her display tonight, she needs it!”
Eric gave me his smug look. God—how I hated him!
“Sookie was suffering from morning sickness.” He smirked. “I seem to recall my wife doing the same. I believe it is a natural condition among pregnant humans,” I added. “Did you not have human children, Bill?”
I growled. “Yes! But—had I been a vampire then—I would have helped my wife to avoid her discomfort.”
“Ah—but Sookie is not your wife. Is she?” Eric had the audacity to say.
“She will be,” I returned.
Eric seemed to sigh—as if I were annoying him!
“Her future is not my concern, but her present protection is. The queen has ordered that I keep Sookie as safe as possible while she is in Rhodes. And I have been given the added mandate of making sure that her blood is neither taken by nor given to any vampire.”
“But she is my bonded!” I insisted.
“Is she?” he asked. “I cannot tell,” he added nonchalantly.
I growled at him. In truth, I could not tell either.
“Yes—clearly—she’s had a lot of your blood,” Eric said, waving his hand dismissively. “However, she is neither reacting to you nor mooning over you. A bonded human wishes to be close to his or her vampire. From what I can tell about Sookie, she seems rather indifferent to your presence.”
“One could say the same thing about you,” I fired back.
“Well—I don’t claim to have a bond with her,” he returned. “And—after the conflict with the witches—I moved on with my life and so did she. Sookie is the queen’s employee at this summit, and I am the queen’s main envoy here. You seem to be the only one stuck in the past, Bill. Wanting to have a bond with Sookie is not the same as actually having one,” he added smugly.
“Don’t try to tell me that you don’t want a bond with Sookie,” I growled at him.
“Bill, there’s no way in hell that I’d tell you anything about my desires—one way or the other. However—know this—” he said threateningly, “if you try to give your blood to Sookie again—without explaining to her the repercussions of doing so—I will be forced to punish you.”
“You have no authority over me,” I said. “I’m not even a resident of Area 5 anymore,” I smirked.
“Here—in Rhodes—you are my underling,” he smirked back.
“We won’t be in Rhodes for much longer,” I sneered.
“Which is why I feel the need to inform my queen that you were trying—quite insistently—to give Sookie blood when she was ill. I may be mistaken, but hasn’t Sophie-Anne forbidden you from giving Sookie more of your blood?”
“Sookie is my bonded!” I yelled insistently. “Not even a queen can interfere with that.”
“Ahhh—back to that,” he said patronizingly. “You forget; my blood is in Sookie too. I would know if a bond had formed between you two.”
“And—Bill—you don’t have one,” he added.
“You lie!” I hissed. “I feel something more with Sookie.”
“More than what?” he asked. “And why wouldn’t you? You’ve fed her copious amounts of your blood several times,” he growled. “And let’s analyze those blood-giving situations—shall we? The first time you gave Sookie blood, you manufactured an attack upon her by redneck drainers so that you could play the hero. The second time, you lied to her, claiming that I was a threat to her and that she needed even more of your blood before you brought her to Fangtasia to find the thief. Then, you left her alone in the middle of the woods in the middle of the night where she was vulnerable to the Maenad. Tell me—Bill—do you even use your nose? A Maenad can be smelled from miles away. Or maybe you wanted for Sookie to be attacked, wanted another reason to give her a large dose of your blood. And who knows how Sandra Pelt got loose?” he added in a lilting tone. “One would have thought that you’d have checked their restraints carefully before you left Sookie alone with the Pelts. But—then again—maybe you did ‘check‘ them.”
“Shut the fuck up!” I yelled. In truth, I was a little worried by his words. He was right, after all. But there was no way he had proof of that.
“I would never intentionally harm Sookie!” I insisted.
“Of course not,” Eric said patronizingly.
“Regardless of your lies, you have just proven that Sookie is my bonded!” I said triumphantly. “She’s had my blood plenty of times to form a bond!”
He dared to laugh at me!
“No,” he said patronizingly, “what I’ve just proven is that your blood is as impotent and as weak as you are, Billy Boy. Now—get back to your booth and sell the queen’s database. And, remember, I have eyes on you.”
I frowned. “What? You are spying on me?”
Eric tilted his head to the side a little. “You are a weasel, Bill. And I am just looking for a reason to help the queen to see that.” He grinned like the Cheshire cat.
I was momentarily concerned, but then realized that Eric could know nothing about my meetings with Victor Madden. I’d been too careful for him—or anyone else—to learn of my plans.
In truth, since Sophie-Anne had been sending me to all corners of the globe and not recognizing my right to Sookie, I had been looking to jump ship to a different kingdom. Nevada was an obvious choice. Felipe de Castro had shown an interest in Louisiana before, so the information I knew about the kingdom would be invaluable to him. And Felipe was a man of vision. I knew that he would give me more resources and compensation for my database. I knew that he would see my worth in ways that Sophie-Anne never had.
“Go do your fucking job, Bill!” Eric said with a longsuffering sigh. “Before I decide that you’ve outlived your usefulness.”
I scoffed and turned to leave Eric’s room. I hated him! And I vowed to make him pay as soon as I was part of de Castro’s retinue.
The contingency of people from Louisiana was sparse to say the least, so I was pleased to see Sookie and Thalia sitting in the make-shift “chapel” as I entered with Olivia.
Surprised, but pleased.
After all, I’d not wanted for Olivia to have to sit next to Bill. I didn’t trust that motherfucker—and certainly not with my companion.
“You’re feeling better?” Olivia asked Sookie as we approached her.
“Yes. Thank you,” Sookie responded, her smile fake and her jaw set in that determined/stubborn way she adopted in order to “seem” okay when she was not.
At least I didn’t feel intense pain from her anymore—as I’d felt as she’d run from the conference room earlier. I could tell, however, that she still had a headache. And the fucking hotel seemed to have a fucking shortage of adequately padded chairs! I would have given her my own seat in the conference room, but doing so would have drawn more attention to her. Still, I hated to think of Sookie being uncomfortable, and I chastised myself once again for bringing her to Rhodes. In fact, I’d tried to get Sophie-Anne to take her back home after the trial, but the queen had indicated that she wanted Sookie to stay.
“I must take my place up front,” I said to Thalia, even as I gestured toward Olivia.
The ancient vampiress nodded, letting me know that she would watch over my companion as well as Sookie.
Though Olivia didn’t need my help to be seated, I held her hand in mine as she sat gracefully onto the chair next to Sookie. Olivia had changed into a beautiful midnight blue evening gown, which I could tell was Vera Wang. I shook my head, pissed off at myself for knowing that; obviously, I’d spent too much time with Pam.
Sookie was dressed in the same maternity dress she’d worn to Fangtasia earlier that month, though she now filled it out a little more. But I didn’t want to allow myself to linger over her curves or to think about her developing body.
She was, however, too lovely for me to ignore entirely. Sookie was one of those women who seemed to become more beautiful when she was pregnant. Indeed, her body seemed to be ideal for birthing children—at least by the standards of the culture I was raised in. Her hips were full, and her body was strong. Her breasts, already ample, were becoming fuller in preparation to nourish her daughter.
My fangs wanted to drop as I thought about the beauty of her.
But I stopped myself from thinking about that loveliness. And I stopped myself from considering the bravery that it must have taken Sookie to be at the wedding after what had happened earlier.
With my ears, I could hear the gossiping about Sookie. Some people even joked that she should have sat closer to the potted plants on one side of the room. I couldn’t help but to wonder what Sookie was hearing with her extra sense.
However, again, I didn’t let myself wonder for too long, nor did I speak to Sookie before taking my leave in order to go put on my ceremonial robe. In fact, I’d not said ten words to Sookie since we’d been in Rhodes. After all, I didn’t want to torture myself, nor did I want to tempt myself.
But—despite my best intentions—I had been tempted to kill both Compton and the large, bald feline. Compton had skulked his way around Rhodes. When he was overseas, he’d had a vampire named Dominic watching his every move, but Sophie-Anne and I had decided to give Bill a little rope so that he could hang himself. And he was cooperating nicely with Victor Madden. I already had evidence enough of Billy Boy’s betrayal.
And as for Quinn? Well—he’d continued passing around rumors that made him the poor pussy victim to Sookie’s big bad vagina.
Needless to say—although Sookie and I’d had our issues—I knew damned well that she was the furthest thing imaginable from a “whore.” If anything, she was naïve and had let herself get too quickly involved with Quinn, though I had no doubt that he’d been on his “best behavior” with her.
I also had no doubt that the child she carried was the tiger’s. However, Bill’s blood was currently covering up that fact, which explained why Sookie had told me that he was still useful to her. I tried not to wonder what she would be doing to protect the identity of her child’s father after the girl was born. After all, wondering about that was none of my business.
“Northman!” Russell Edgington said enthusiastically as he affectionately slapped me on the shoulder. I knew it was “affectionate” because I wasn’t thrown across the room.
“Thanks for doing this,” Bartlett Crowe said with a big grin on his face.
“Happy to,” I responded sincerely. And I was happy to perform the two kings’ pledging ceremony. It was rare that monarchs pledged for anything resembling love, but these two were exceptions. Plus, I liked both of them. I’d known Barty Crowe for centuries, and—though my first meeting with Russell had been recent and in disguise—he wasn’t the reason why the trip to Mississippi had gone badly.
In fact, since then, I’d had several business dealings with him.
As I put on my official garb and placed the ceremonial chalice and dagger on the table at the “altar” at the front of the room, I glanced at Olivia, though my eyes quickly moved unbidden to Sookie. I was glad that my hood covered the direction of my gaze as I compared the women side by side.
No matter how much I tried, I would never love one of them.
And—no matter how much I tried—I would never not love the other.
I looked down at the table before me.
Bill had been right about one thing. A large part of me had wanted to bond with Sookie Stackhouse once upon a time. And I’d even entertained the possibility of pledging with her. However, I liked to think that I would not have tricked her into either one of those things.
During the past weeks, I’d contemplated giving Olivia some of my blood, though I’d yet to discuss such a tie with her. It seemed like a logical next step for us; however, I knew that I would never wish to create a full bond with her.
In truth, I had no pull to do so.
I was, once again, struck by the difference I felt when it came to the two women. With Olivia, I felt little “pull”; however, she didn’t try to push me away. With Sookie, I felt pulled in a way that went beyond anything I’d ever experienced—or contemplated—yet she did nothing but push me away.
I was torn from my thoughts when Quinn took the stage in front of me. Was Mr. Clean really wearing Genie pants? I shook my head. He should be killed just for that!
After Quinn said some words—thankfully being brief about it—I began the ceremony. However, my eyes kept cutting toward Sookie, for—after her earlier episode—I needed to reassure myself that she was truly okay.
A/N: Wow! I have been so surprised by the reaction against Eric—following the last chapter. Many of you are pissed that he didn’t make sure Sookie had the comfortable chair, for example.
In Eric’s defense, he has seen Sookie very little since the “break up.” And he’s also been trying his damnedest to hold back from her (self-protection). Anyway, Eric wouldn’t want Sookie to sit at the table (because he doesn’t want people to be too interested in her. And if she showed specific care for her, that would seem weird. Plus, he would have been clueless about stuff like chair comfort. I would imagine that perfectly marvelous husbands are sometimes clueless about such things for their pregnant wives, who are with them every day.
That being said, I am so glad to see the love for Sookie. In a way, I wanted to fuel all the negative things one could think about her in Chapters 1 and 2. However, when Sookie found a reason to begin “listening” (for her daughter), and when a vampire began telling her things (not Bill or Eric—though, arguably, Sookie wouldn’t have “received” them for Eric), she is becoming wiser.
Why has Jason been so cruel? Probably because Sookie hasn’t been willing to “beg” for his forgiveness following his initial cruelty and cruel thoughts. The old Sookie might have been willing to beg him to overlook her “sin.” Can’t you just see it now? Her inviting him to dinner to “make up” for all the “wrong” he perceived her as doing?
And Sam? Why has he become so desperate? Because he could sense that Sookie was not buying his “nice guy” shit.
Anyway, the way I see things, Sookie has become a lot stronger, despite (and because of) all the shit that happened to her. There’s only one person who doesn’t believe that at this point: Eric.
And as for him? As much as I hate it, it’s not his job right now to make sure she’s comfortable. And—he has exited her life so fully at this point—that he wouldn’t even know how to see to her needs. However, we can still see him thinking about Sookie; it’s beyond his power not to.
Could he be doing “better?” I suppose. But it’s like pulling fangs to get this Eric to follow his emotions.
Anyway, I thought you’d like a bit more of a peek in my mind as I write these two. Thanks for indulging my ramblings.
Many thanks to Kleannhouse and Sephrenia!