Sookie opened her eyes to find a strange shape attached to the strange voice. She sat up quickly.
“Who the fuck are you?” Sookie asked as she took in the cloaked form.
There was a cackle, and then Sookie’s mysterious visitor lowered her hood.
The light of the eternal Fae sun was entering through the open flap of the tent now, so Sookie was able to make out the shape of the being in front of her.
“Are you the?” Sookie gasped and stopped mid-question as she took in the older-looking vampiress in front of her. Based on Eric’s description, she knew who her visitor was.
There was another cackle as the crone sat down at the foot of Sookie’s little bed. “The Viking, I think, would be quite encumbered by such a small bed,” she smirked. “However, an encumbrance now and then is a good thing—especially for my little cat.”
“Are—uh—you the A.P.?” Sookie tried again.
“Who else could I be?” the ancient vampiress answered flatly, and then she chuckled as if she had told a joke.
Sookie looked at her in confusion.
The vampiress continued, “‘The A.P.’ is what the child of my child calls me. But then again, he was always an audacious one.”
Sookie saw what she thought was twinkle in the old vampiress’s glazed-over eyes. Sookie moved so that she was sitting up completely in bed. “Why are you here? How are you here?”
The vampiress chuckled again. “I have come to see you, child. And how I am here is of little importance. Let us just say that when I knocked, Niall was obliging.”
“But don’t you need fairy blood to come here?”
There was more cackling. “As I said, Niall was obliging.”
Sookie inhaled sharply.
The A.P. spoke again. “You are very pretty, my dear—prettier than in my visions. But that is not why he loves you as he does.”
“Eric?” Sookie asked.
“Of course,” the A.P. answered with a wave of her hand. “Who else?”
Her gaze softened. “Without knowing it, my little cat spent a thousand years looking for you, Sookie Stackhouse.” She chuckled, “However, I never told him just what he was looking for because when he knows too much, he tends to get in his own way.” She chuckled again and then became more serious. “He had many reasons to resist love; thus, he needed to be struck with it without warning in order to succumb to it.” She paused. “I celebrated with a lovely AB-negative donor on the day the Viking finally met you—not that you made things easy for him, at least not at first.”
The A.P. continued with another almost surly chuckle. “I liked you from the moment I first saw you in a vision, little fairy. The Viking did not stand a chance when faced with your,” she paused, “charm.”
Sookie couldn’t be sure, but she thought that the A.P. had winked at her. She didn’t know what to say and just listened as the A.P. kept talking.
“I have so enjoyed how you have tamed the Viking—while still letting him run feral at times, dear child. You brought him humility.” She paused, “Of course, his brashness was one of the reasons why I have always loved him more than all but one other being, but you never tried to take that from him.”
“Um—thanks, ma’am?” Sookie managed.
The A.P. seemed to be looking right through Sookie. “You were always his only hope for surviving, my dear, both in body and soul. In fact, you helped him to remember his soul, and though it is unfair to ask it of you, I hope that you will also save his corporeal life. I do not wish to outlive another child.”
Sookie found herself reaching out and touching the A.P.’s withered arm. “Godric,” Sookie whispered. “I am so sorry you lost him.”
The A.P. did not shrink from Sookie’s touch as another vampire might have. Instead, a slight smile touched her lips. “I understand well why he fell in love with you―despite his best efforts.”
The vampiress’s smile disappeared as an air of melancholy settled over her. “Eric would have found Godric in that awful church regardless of your presence, but I needed you there so that Eric would not perish and Godric could find some measure of hope again. I am sorry you had to suffer in that church, but I knew my child would save you—no matter what chain you found yourself in.”
“Chain?” Sookie asked.
“Yes,” the A.P. explained. “Different versions of the future.”
The aged vampiress’s face took on an even more forlorn expression, and her eyes were closed tightly. “In one chain, Eric met his death alongside Godric on the rooftop in the city humans call Dallas. Eric was on his knees and burned slowly as the sun crept ever higher, but his loyalty and love for Godric would not allow him to leave the roof even after Godric was gone.” She paused. “Eric was crying at the loss of his maker when the true death took him.”
A tear rolled down Sookie’s cheek.
The vampiress went on, “Eric experienced great pain in that chain, for he did not let go of his magic as Godric did.” The A.P. shook her head as a red tear fell from her eye to complement Sookie’s. “My little cat experienced tremendous loss and a painful death in that chain. I did not like it at all. I would not have it.” She sighed. “But once he met you, I knew that that chain would not come to be, and I was glad of it.”
Another tear fell from Sookie’s eye.
“Let us not cry, child,” the A.P. said as she brushed her own tear away. “After all, you saved him.”
Sookie once again looked at the A.P. with confusion.
The A.P. responded to the question in Sookie’s eyes, “It was only because you were on that roof that Eric was able to leave it unscathed by the sun. Godric’s orders would not have been enough to keep my little cat from dying by his maker’s side. You, my dear, were pulling him to safety. It was the magic of your touch and your care for him that kept him alive that morning.”
Sookie gasped. “But I thought vampires always had to follow their makers’ commands.”
The A.P. chuckled. “The Viking was always more stubborn than was good for him. What are commands in the face of such grit and determination?” She raised her hand to Sookie’s cheek. “You know something of this type of stubborn resolve, I think. It is one of the many reasons why you are an excellent match for him―and he for you.”
Again, not knowing what to say, Sookie just nodded.
The A.P. continued. “So, young Sookie, it was your call—the call of your heart—that made Eric walk away from the sun that morning. And it was also your heart that gave my child—my Godric—a sense of peace that morning. I had been trying to give him that for hundreds of years, but it was always only you who could save them both. My debt to you, therefore, is greater than I will ever be able to pay.”
The A.P. took Sookie’s hand. “And I hope to owe you even more before I meet my final death.”
Sookie looked at her in confusion. “What do you mean?” she asked.
The A.P. chuckled. “Well—at the very least—I hope that you will save my little cat’s life. After that, the world will be open for us all, and perhaps I will owe you even more,” she continued enigmatically.
Sookie sighed. “Eric always said that you liked your riddles.”
The A.P. chuckled again. “The future, my dear, is a riddle with many possible outcomes. But the longer you and my little cat stay alive, the more I like those outcomes.”
Sookie rolled her eyes, which elicited yet another chortle from the A.P. “You, my dear, are much better in person. I am glad that I came to visit with you.”
“Why did you come?” Sookie asked, now with a bit of trepidation in her voice.
“You know why,” the A.P. stated. “You are a smart girl—more than worthy enough for my little cat.”
There was a moment of silence while they just looked at each other.
Realization hit Sookie, and she shook her head. “I can’t do that to him.”
The A.P. shrugged. “Then do it for him. It is time, and you must.”
“But if I go into Faerie, he’ll face another time lapse, and if he dies while I’m there, then,” Sookie started.
“Then he will die knowing you are safe and tucked away with Niall,” the A.P. stated sharply. “Many chains result in Eric’s imminent death.” She paused and her tone softened. “However—because of you, none of those chains will come to him before he has found love—before he has enjoyed the love of his wife and his son. If he is to meet his true death soon, he will meet it with you and Hunter in his thoughts. Trust me when I tell you that these chains are far superior to all alternatives if he had never met you, my dear.”
“But,” Sookie started again, with more tears threatening to fall.
“But nothing,” the A.P. stated. “You have had all the time you may have here, Sookie. I stayed away for as long as I could—so that both of you could strengthen each other. You are almost done with what you must do here, and it is time for the next thing. Eric, too, must move on to what he must do next. And you must take your leave of each other for a while so that I may have what I wish.”
“What do you wish?” Sookie asked quietly, still trying to take in everything that the A.P. was telling her.
The ancient one sighed. “My wishes have been whittled down to just two now.”
“What are they?” Sookie probed.
“The first is for you and my little cat to defeat your enemy.” She closed her eyes. “If this comes to pass, then all future chains show you and your Viking living long and living well―together.”
“Together,” Sookie repeated.
“Yes,” the A.P. smiled. “I cannot see so far into the future anymore, and I cannot promise you a life free from strife if you are able to overcome the hurdle that is looming; however, if you survive, I can tell you that your joy eclipses all else that I see.”
Fresh tears fell from Sookie’s eyes. “That’s my wish too,” she said softly. She looked up and saw that the A.P. had a faraway, glazed expression. “What’s your other wish?”
The A.P. smiled a little, but the smile told of tragedy. “I will tell you my other wish once you save Eric’s life.” Her smile turned more playful as the tragedy left her features. “Call it an extra incentive.”
“What’s your name?” Sookie asked out of the blue, not even sure where the question was coming from. However, she wanted to call the vampiress something more than just a nickname generated from a title.
The A.P. chuckled. “I have been called a great many things over the years, but only one other remembers my name.”
“What is it?” Sookie probed.
The A.P. smirked, “It is not you, young Sookie, who will pull that knowledge from me; it will take the one that I cannot resist asking me the question.” She continued enigmatically, “But that does not mean you will not learn my name eventually—if you manage to live, that is.” Again, it seemed like she may have winked.
“Are you sure that I have to go to Faerie? Is there no other way?” Sookie asked after a few moments of silence.
“To save him, you must.”
There was another moment of silence.
The A.P. sighed. “I have to tell you something because of what I owe you, my dear.” She closed her eyes for a moment as if to gather her thoughts. “There is a chain for your life that would allow you to survive the upcoming threat and be somewhat happy.”
The vampiress closed her eyes again as she spoke of it. “In the chain, you make your life here—in this place—with Hunter. You two come and go from the human realm and see your family there. You do not travel into Faerie, but you will have many from there that come to depend on you and help you have a life that has some measure of contentment. Hunter is your chief source of cheer in this chain, but you will have your family, my dear, and your family will have you.”
“But Eric will be dead, won’t he?” Sookie asked quietly.
“Yes—we lose him in this chain,” the A.P. confirmed. “But we will no longer lose you.”
“Niall doesn’t know about this one, does he?” Sookie asked astutely.
The A.P. smiled, “This one came to me only yesterday, so no, Niall does not know of it. The chains are prone to shift, my dear, depending on what links are placed in the present. This new chain has come about because of your feelings for Hunter. If he stays with Eric and then loses him, your cousin will want to claim him. The turmoil of also losing his family―following so quickly on the heels of his father’s death―would cause Hunter much pain, but his distress would be mitigated to some extent when you gave him a way to be with his mother and keep his family in the human realm. You would offer to live with him here. Your love for the boy—your maternal feelings for him—formed this possible chain.”
“What if Hunter chooses to go to Faerie to live with Hadley?” Sookie asked quietly.
The A.P. sighed and closed her eyes. “I can see only into his young adulthood. I have seen new chains for the little one that show him mostly unhappy in Faerie—always missing the family that he left behind.” She scoffed. “I do not like these chains.” She paused. “Then there are chains that show him content in Faerie; in these, he finds a place at Niall’s right hand.”
“And if Eric lives and Hunter chooses to stay in the human realm?” Sookie asked.
The A.P. responded, “Then the joy shared by you and your mate will spill over to the child—and the child’s joy to you.”
Sookie sighed and looked at the A.P. dead in the eye. “I have to fight for that joy.”
The A.P. smirked. “I thought you would, but I needed to tell you that there was now another way for you to live.”
Sookie sighed again, “And I don’t really think I could live without Eric anyway.”
The A.P. sighed and her expression clouded. “You would have lived for Hunter. However, you would not have survived for long—just long enough to see Hunter into his adulthood. And then the bonding sickness would have finally pulled you toward your mate to the point that your body could no longer survive.”
Sookie’s face fell. “Eric’s gonna be sick again when I go.”
The A.P. nodded. “Yes―he will once more feel the vampire bond pulling, but he will survive that.”
“I was always gonna have to go into Faerie, wasn’t I?” Sookie asked astutely. “Niall was wrong; there was never a way for me to learn what I needed to while I was here.”
The A.P. shrugged. “Niall knows only what I need for him to know in order for things to go as they must. He was not trying to mislead you, and I wish I had not needed to mislead him, but it could not be helped.”
“How do you keep all these balls up in the air?” Sookie asked, a little incredulous. “So many chains and so many outcomes, and then once you change something, there are new chains!”
The A.P. smirked. “Practice. Thousands of years of practice.”
“Why not just send me into Faerie right away?” Sookie asked.
The A.P. shrugged. “Several reasons. You did need to prepare yourself by learning all you could here. And your mate needed,” she stopped for a moment. “Well—he just needed you for a while.”
A tear slipped from Sookie’s eye.
“I am sorry that I see no other way for you both to live,” the A.P. said with regret. “And you have done well here.”
“Have I?” Sookie asked, longing for the A.P.’s approval all of a sudden.
The A.P. nodded and let out a long sigh. “Yes, young Sookie. You have done in one month what it takes most full-blooded fairies years to accomplish, yet you punish yourself.” She smirked. “That is another sign of how well-suited you two are for each other.” She chuckled. “My little cat beat himself up over the fact that he was not able to stop the waves of time in order to get to you sooner!”
“I know,” Sookie said quietly. “But that’s why I love him.”
“Yes—and that is why you were made for him, young Sookie,” the A.P. smiled. “I am certain no one else would be able to handle him.” She chuckled.
There was a moment of silence between them.
The A.P. finally broke that silence, “You must go into the Faerie realm in order to properly feel your power in no more than three days’ time, my dear.”
“Not right now?” Sookie asked.
The A.P. grinned toothily and gave Sookie what looked to be another wink. “Take your time, child. Prepare as you will for your time apart from my child’s child. And trust that you will be in time to save you both, my dear. Trust that I have given you the time you will need—the exact time.”
The ancient vampiress rose.
“Can you tell me who our enemy is at least? Is it de Castro?”
The A.P. looked at Sookie with some regret. “I will tell you no more than I have told your mate on this matter. I cannot risk tampering with the outcome that I wish for.” The twinkle in her glazed-over eyes was back.
Sookie nodded as the vampiress paused in the doorway of the tent. She turned. “I would spare you of all this, young Sookie—just as I would spare my little cat―if I could. I have tried many, many times to see another way.” She paused. “I would give away my own future happiness if I knew it would guarantee your lives, but I have seen no future where my direct interference would spare you.” She paused again. “However, I have faith in young love, dear child. I always have.”
Sookie felt an urge to hug the A.P., but the ancient vampiress held up her hand.
The A.P. grinned like the Cheshire Cat. “It would be best if you did not tell my little cat that I was here tonight. He will find out soon enough.”
Sookie looked confused. “But then how will I explain that I need to go to Faerie within three days’ time?”
The A.P. seemed to wink again. “Oh—he will believe that it is his idea, which will be good for him. He does not like what he has called my,” she paused and smirked, “meddling.”
The A.P.’s expression became serious. “You have both kept things from each other. Air those things out tonight, my dear. Let nothing remain unsaid. Let nothing remain undone. Just remember all that you have been told by me, and,” she paused and chuckled, “do not forget the rules.”
“Rules?” Sookie asked.
“You cannot go to him in the human realm, and he must stay with Hunter so that the child remains safe.” Once again, the Cheshire Cat was back.
Sookie nodded. “Believe me. I remember. Niall won’t let me forget.”
The A.P. chuckled and then became serious again. “Have you read the human play called Hamlet?”
Sookie nodded. “Yeah, I read it in high school.”
The A.P. smiled. “Today, many say that Will Shakespeare was not the author of his works, but he was—at least in a manner of speaking. Things were quite communal in London at the time, and Will was a good playwright and actor. Of course, there were other playwrights and actors who gave him ideas or changed his scripts, but Will was the one who crafted the character of Hamlet.”
Sookie looked at the A.P. with interest. “You knew William Shakespeare?” she asked.
“Indeed,” the A.P. said with a wave of her hand. “Where else do you think he came up with the idea for the witches in Macbeth? In fact, I thought about making him my child for a while.”
“Why didn’t you?” Sookie asked curiously.
The A.P. chuckled. “You do not even want to imagine the chains of time that act would have created.” She scoffed. “Will was already quite egotistical at times; granted, he may have had the right to be. And given the popularity he had already garnered, he would have become completely intolerable as a vampire.” She chortled, “And vampires would have been unable to cover up our existence with him around. Because of him, we would have had to make ourselves known much sooner than was safe for us.” She sighed with regret. “No—Will was a man for his time. His plays are for all time, however.” She seemed to wink again. “However, I was careful to stash away good copies of his work to publish when the time was right. I made a pretty penny on them too.”
Sookie chuckled at that.
The A.P. stayed standing in the doorway as she smiled at her memories.
Sookie also smiled. “Hamlet is okay.”
“A bit long-winded,” the A.P. sighed. “I almost cut it down myself. But it is excellent in places. The character of Hamlet has always been interesting to me.”
“He thought like a vampire in some ways,” the ancient vampiress responded.
“‘To be, or not to be,’” Sookie whispered.
The A.P. nodded. “There is a passage in the play that I have thought about a lot for the last fifty years or so.”
“Why?” Sookie asked again.
The A.P. chuckled. “Because it is about time and its perversities. It speaks to me on many levels, and it continues to baffle me―especially when I think I have finally figured it out. All the best things are thus.” She sighed and definitely winked this time. “Perhaps I should have turned Will. At least―then―I could have asked him what he meant.”
Sookie smiled. “Are you sure that he knew what he meant?”
The A.P. laughed out loud and—much to Sookie’s amusement—snorted. “Likely not!” She walked back to Sookie and took her hand. “I sincerely hope you live now, my dear—and not just because I want my little cat to survive. You are entertaining in and of yourself.” She nodded. “Yes—you two are an excellent match!”
There was a moment of silence as Sookie smiled up at that A.P.
“What part of Hamlet have you been thinking about?” Sookie asked. “Will you tell me?”
The A.P. smiled. “It is in the final act. Hamlet is about to face Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, in battle. He is about to be poisoned and die by his enemy’s hand. But he will also cause the death of his true enemy, Claudius, and he will reconcile with Laertes, who was but a pawn in Claudius’s game.”
Sookie smiled. “Men—” she sighed, “always killin’.”
The A.P. snickered and once more stroked Sookie’s cheek affectionately. The vampiress continued, “Horatio is Hamlet’s truest friend, and these lines are said by Hamlet to him―and him alone―so we know that they are from Hamlet’s truest heart.” She paused almost dramatically. “He says thus: ‘There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. / If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it / will come: the readiness is all. Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is ’t to / leave betimes? Let be.’”
“What does it mean?” Sookie asked.
“It means that the sparrow is important, and I hope that it will be ready.”
And with those enigmatic words, the A.P. disappeared into the light-filled night of the Fae.