Sookie sighed as she opened her eyes. She’d just spent twenty minutes rooting around in the heads of every one of Russell’s Weres, but none of them had been given permission to enter the basement. She was disappointed by that information.
However, she couldn’t help but to be ambivalent about the other piece of information she’d learned: Yvetta was dead. In the short run, it was an “inconvenient” development, but in the long run she was glad that another bad penny was out of circulation forever.
Quickly, she motioned for the group consisting of Jesus, Amelia, Tara, Tray, and Scott to come over to her. Jarod, who was working in the back of the van she was in, was already moving to sit next to her.
She began by looking at Scott. “There’s no need to worry about bringing the equipment,” she smiled ruefully.
“None of them have an invitation?” Jesus asked sadly.
Sookie shook her head. “I also learned something else.” She took a deep breath. “Two nights ago, one of the Weres saw Lillith carrying Yvetta from the basement. She was dead.”
The air seemed to be let out of the little group for a moment as they all realized that once Sookie went into the basement, there would be no helping either her or Eric.
Jesus felt Sookie grip his hand; her eyes were searching for reassurance.
He gave her a confident smile. “I’m still betting on you, Sook.”
She took a deep breath and then smiled back. “And I’m bettin’ on Eric.” She looked at Jarod, who had taken up her other hand. “Where are we at?”
The shifter gestured toward the equipment behind him. “I’ve transmitted Molly the signal, and she’s already broken the encryption from her end. The feed just shows the main entrance, probably so that de Castro can monitor Russell’s comings and goings. She’s already walked me through making a loop of the signal, and she’ll adjust the lighting when she gets here so that it will look like dark. We’ll be ready—with about forty minutes worth of feed—when you go in there, and if need be, we can loop it again. Let’s hope that if they do notice, it will be too late for them to do anything about it.”
“Is your guy in place?” Tray asked Sookie.
She nodded and gave him a little smile. “Yeah—Henry’s where I thought he would be, and it won’t be a problem getting him to do what I need him to do.” She shook her head a little. “He was special forces, Tray. He’ll be perfect. His head was like a freakin’ storehouse of knowledge!”
“That’s good, Sook,” Tray smiled.
She looked up at the Were. “Remember—I don’t want Henry hurt. I’ll bring him to the third floor after we’re done downstairs, and I’ll tell him to stay put and hide, but please make sure he gets out okay.”
Tray nodded. “Of course, Sookie.”
Jarod looked at Sookie significantly. “Miranda says that the A.P. has arrived at the house, and because of her age, she’s already awake—even without the fairy juice.”
Sookie bit her lip. “Has she said anything that will,” she paused, “change what we’re doin’?”
Jarod shook his head. “Not that I’ve been told, luv.”
“Okay then,” Sookie said with some relief. She looked around the group. “How long?” she asked no one in particular.
They all knew what she was asking.
Jarod answered, “About thirty minutes until sundown. That means that we expect Niall and Molly in fifteen.”
“And Molly will be okay?” Sookie asked.
“Niall said the fairy blood will protect her long enough,” Jarod assured. “And we’ll get her inside the van lickety-split.” He motioned toward the thick black curtains that were draped over the windshield and some TruBlood that was already opened and waiting for Molly just in case she was hurt by the sun at all.
“Plus, there’s no direct sunlight anymore,” Tara pointed out as she gestured toward the tall building to the west. Indeed, it was shielding them from the waning sun.
Sookie nodded and took a deep breath. “I’m gonna go sit somewhere quiet until Niall gets here,” she informed them.
Tara looked around at all the Weres in little clusters within the privacy spell. It was a rather large circle, but there didn’t seem to be a private space in it. “How the hell are you gonna find somewhere quiet, Sook?” she asked.
Sookie gave her a wink and a half-hug and then went around to the front of the van and sat on the ground; she was literally in the center of the circle and surrounded by vehicles. But the vans and the SUVs shielded her from the gazes of others.
She closed her eyes and tried to relax in the seclusion of the moment. She closed out everything except for her bond with Eric. She knew that he’d be waking up soon, but for now, she felt only the thrum of his life. It centered her.
She went over the next parts of her plan. Claude was to “pop” there with Pam and Duncan right after sundown. Then he would go back for Jessica. She knew from Tray’s head that Rasul had arrived safely and had brought with him a strong vampire named Kibwe Akinjide, who was a member of the Authority. Apparently, the A.P. had contacted Kibwe the week before and “suggested” that he visit his friend, Rasul.
Sookie sighed. As mysterious as they were, she wasn’t about to question the A.P.’s ways. If she had gone to the trouble of making sure Kibwe was around to be a part of the fight, then Sookie knew she had a reason for it.
Sookie bit her lip and wondered about the time again—before she remembered that she was wearing a watch. She chuckled at her own nerves and looked down at it. Niall would be there soon, and he had one more part to play for Sookie before he left to confront Mab. He would need to put her to sleep. Right after Sookie felt her mate stirring—hopefully before Russell noticed he was awake—Sookie wanted to draw Eric into a dream and to let him know her plan. She’d need him—need him dearly—if that plan was to work. And she needed his advice on one important point, which could either make them or break them. She wasn’t willing to bet their lives unless he was all in with her.
Sookie sighed. With any luck, Russell would just think that Eric was having a difficult time waking up because of all of his wounds. She didn’t want the elder vampire to question why Eric was sleeping past sunset.
She tried to steady herself as she tucked her legs into her body. She thought about her boys. She clung to the moment when Hunter and she had been on the third floor—when he’d come to the decision that she belonged there with Eric and him. Strangely enough, that had been the first time that she’d felt that she’d truly come home.
In the dreams that she and Eric had shared, they’d often talked about how she would fit into Hunter’s life. Sookie had been worried that the boy would see her as a kind of encroacher—someone who was now taking a lot of his daddy’s time away and dividing Eric’s attentions. Apparently, during the last several months, Eric had handled that potential problem as he always handled things—he’d faced it head on.
As they’d swum in the pool that afternoon, Hunter had chatted easily with her. He’d told her how his daddy and he had talked about the time when she would come back.
Eric had explained to Hunter that they would still do just as many things together as they always had, sometimes with Sookie joining them—like for their dinners and their riding lessons since Sookie liked horses too. Other things could stay for just the two of them—like their sword training and their woodworking. Hunter talked about all of this as if it were happening already. And Sookie knew that he’d processed and eliminated the fear that Sookie might try to take Eric away.
That made Hunter’s inviting her to watch their sword training a big deal in Sookie’s eyes. It was Hunter bringing her into an activity that Eric had said could be for just the two of them. It was a very big deal.
Sookie smiled to herself. Hunter truly was an extraordinary boy. Just as she’d done for him earlier in the day, Hunter had “invited” her into his head during the late afternoon after his nap. It had been her honor to “listen” to all that he’d wanted to share with her.
From Hunter’s head, she’d found out that he had four categories of people, and he’d put her into his fourth category. His first category was his night people and included his Sissy, Jessica, Duncan, Thalia and Bubba. His second category was his day people, which included Miranda, Jarod, Godric, his Uncles Lala and Jesus, Tara, Amelia, Tray, Maria-Star, and Uncle Jason―though the latter was quickly morphing into a night person in Hunter’s mind because Jason was always with Jessica. Batanya fit into both of the first two categories in Hunter’s head—because she was always with him. The third category included people that Hunter didn’t get to see all the time—though his still thought of them as “his.” This list included people like his mommy, Uncle Claude, and Emma. The fourth category seemed to include only three members in Hunter’s mind: his daddy, his aunt Sookie, and himself.
Sookie had felt surprised—blessed—that he’d put her there. Then again, she shouldn’t have been surprised. Given who Hunter was and their kinship in both being telepaths―and given the man that her husband was―Sookie should never have doubted that she would be in that core group in Hunter’s mind. Yet she was ecstatic to know about it all the same.
However, she felt guilty that Hunter’s core group didn’t include Hadley—that the child that had come to Eric and her had also come at Hadley’s expense. But, in the end, they could all only do their best—be their best—and guilt would not change the situation.
Hunter was where he belonged. Hadley was where she belonged. And the truth of that was hard, but it was still the truth.
Sookie resolved to make sure that Hunter saw Hadley a lot. But Sookie would never allow the life Hunter loved and had chosen with Eric to be compromised. Still—she was sorry that Hadley would have to be hurt, even as Sookie was blessed with the immediacy of Hunter’s presence.
Sookie heard a familiar voice above her, though its tone was softer than she’d ever heard it. “Dear child, you can’t be sorry for loving Hunter, and when he begins to think of you as his mother—and he will soon enough, if you live through this night—you must not feel guilty. And you must not resist him, or he will read it as rejection.”
Sookie opened her eyes to see the Ancient Pythoness, standing outside and in front of her in the dwindling sun.
“How?” was all Sookie could say.
“My brother was accommodating,” the elder vampire chuckled, as she took a seat in front of Sookie on the asphalt. “His blood will sustain me until the sun has passed under the horizon.
Sookie almost laughed at the sight of the elder vampire looking so at ease on the dirty concrete.
“Why did you come?” Sookie asked. “Am I doin’ what I need to?” Her eyes were pleading. “Is my plan gonna work?”
The A.P. smiled. “I am not certain, child, but you have a better chance than before. Only two threads remain which tell of your and my little cat’s future. In one, you succeed. In the other, you fail.” She smiled a little. “But in neither will your bonds weaken. You and Eric have passed that hurdle.”
“So why did you come?” Sookie asked again.
“I am here to,” the A.P. paused, “wish you well, child. Also—from here I will go with my brother to face Mab.”
“But you’ll be killed if you go into Faerie,” Sookie said worriedly.
The A.P. smirked. “Fear not for me. If I die, it will be welcome after all these years of waiting to join my beloved.” She laughed ruefully. “Plus, it is not in Faerie that we will be facing the bitch. So I will not be dying yet,” she said with certainty and sadness, “for Artegal’s prophesy has not yet been fulfilled.”
“You think Eric and I can do that?” Sookie asked.
The A.P. smirked. “I think I would like to see you try.”
“And you’re gonna help Niall deal with Mab?”
“What is an older sister for?” she asked.
Sookie frowned. “I hated having to ask him to kill his own wife.”
The A.P. scoffed. “Viola Stackhouse is my brother’s wife. Mab is not.”
“Will he be okay?” Sookie asked.
The A.P. smirked. “My brother has a way of landing on his feet even when the ground is slippery.”
“You don’t really answer questions―do you?” Sookie deadpanned.
Not answering, she asked, “Where would be the fun in that?”
There was a moment of silence between them.
“Did you find the help you needed in there?” the A.P.’s eyebrow waggled upwards.
By contrast, Sookie’s eyebrows furrowed. “What do you mean?”
She chuckled. “The Were is quite studious—is he not?”
“Henry?” Sookie asked.
The A.P. chuckled. “When the Were showed Russell the article that led him to your blood and to the completion of the talisman, he thought that fate was on his side.”
“You?” Sookie asked in surprise.
The vampiress’s lip quirked up even more. “I simply made sure that the Were got ahold of the obscure journal he found that very useful article in.” She paused and then shrugged. “And I may have asked Clovache to mark the page with what you call a post-it note. I cannot remember the details.”
Sookie knew that the A.P.’s sudden “memory loss” was a lie, but she didn’t let herself get sidetracked. “Then you wanted Russell to make the talisman?” Sookie asked. “But why?”
“So that you would do what you plan to do, my dear,” she answered smoothly.
“So it’s gonna work?” Sookie asked.
The A.P. shrugged. “It’s the only thing that could work.” She contemplated. “I give you a 30% chance.”
“Thanks,” Sookie said sarcastically.
“But I’ve bet on you from the start,” the A.P. added. “Even when your odds used to be much, much less.”
“Thanks,” Sookie said again, this time sincerely.
The A.P.’s glazed eyes seemed to trail over Sookie’s shoulder for a moment. The ancient vampiress closed them and then spoke almost as if looking at the future even then. “Tonight, you will be rid of all of your enemies if the thread we prefer is the one that comes to pass, child. All is ready and in place; now we must simply live through the time and see what happens.”
Sookie mumbled, “It seems so Godfather.”
The A.P.’s brow quirked up and her opaque eyes opened. “Godfather?”
Sookie nodded. “Yeah. At the end of The Godfather—you know the movie?—Michael Corleone takes out all of his enemies at the same time.”
The A.P. laughed. “I am familiar with this film.” She paused. “You are certainly amusing, my dear. I am glad you came along to keep my little cat on his toes. He was growing too full of himself.”
Sookie smirked. “Well—let’s just hope it works out like in The Godfather. Thalia will take out de Castro. You and Niall will deal with Mab. And Eric and I will kill Russell.”
The A.P. nodded. “Yes. If fate blesses us, we will,” she paused, “have a Godfather ending.”
There was another moment of silence between them.
“Do not forget to work together with my little cat,” the A.P. told her.
Sookie grinned. “I can’t imagine another way now.”
The A.P. smirked. “No—I cannot imagine you could. And, child?”
“Yes?” Sookie asked.
“It is always good to err on the side of caution,” she said.
“What do you mean?” Sookie asked.
“I mean what I said,” the A.P. said with a twinkle in her eyes.
Sookie’s eye roll was epic.
Chuckling, the A.P. rose much more gracefully than Sookie might have thought was possible from looking at the seemingly frail body in front of her. Of course, Sookie was not fooled by her appearance. “It is time, my dear,” she said, offering her hand and helping Sookie to rise. “My brother awaits you, and your mate will soon rise.”
Sookie took some deep, cleansing breaths as she watched the sunlight fade. She lay down in the backseat of one of the SUVs since the vans were not very accommodating. She looked up at Niall. “Be careful.”
He smiled. “You as well, my dear.” He kissed her forehead.
She looked over at Jesus. “Give me five minutes, and then wake me up, okay?”
“Give her seven—exactly,” the A.P. said from behind Niall.
Sookie chuckled and then nodded at Jesus.
“Seven it is,” the brujo said.
“Ready?” Niall asked.
Just as he was getting his bearings to start the night, Eric heard two distinct voices: Russell’s taunting him to wake up and Sookie’s calling him into a dream. Eric answered only one of those voices.
She was by his side and pulling him into her embrace. They were by the pool next to their home and in the sun.
“Eric,” she whispered. “I’m coming, but I need your help, so listen to me. I don’t have much time here.
He looked at her and nodded.
Exactly seven minutes—on the dot—later, a pensive Jesus shook Sookie awake. He looked down at her.
She answered the question in his eyes with a smile. “He’s in.”
“Ready?” Sookie asked Molly a few minutes later.
“Almost,” Molly said. “Give me five minutes to sneak our signal over theirs.”
Sookie nodded and gave Molly a smile. The adorably “geeky” girl had turned out to be one of the most immediately “likeable” vampires Sookie had ever met, probably because she was so “new,” but Sookie could tell that Molly really knew what she was doing.
Sookie turned to Duncan. She’d also liked him immediately. He had a sense of fun about him that reminded her a lot of her mate. Their connection as “brothers” was obvious.
“So how’s your project going?” Sookie asked him.
“Very well,” Duncan said as he sent another text.
Duncan had awoken to an email from Thalia, requesting that he find out all he could about de Castro’s guard detail for that night. Though it was still daytime in Las Vegas, Duncan had found out the night’s guard rotation from a Were whom he trusted.
“Any problems?” Sookie asked.
“Nah,” the Scotsman answered. “The opposite―actually. One of the guards that Felipe is using tonight can be trusted to help.”
“Are you sure?” Sookie asked.
Duncan nodded. “Oh yes. She was quite a fan of mine in Vegas.”
Sookie heard a growl and turned to find that it was Batanya, staring fiercely at Duncan.
The vampire winked at the Britlingen. “Obviously, I will not be having any more fans in the future.”
“Just one,” came Batanya’s terse reply.
“Just one,” Duncan agreed sincerely as he shot an intense look back at Batanya.
Sookie snickered. Luckily, the Britlingen was appeased and the scene did not digress into something Rated X.
Duncan looked back at Sookie. “Maggie detested de Castro more than I did, but she likes Vegas, so she’s stayed on. But I’m certain that she will help. I’m sending Thalia a report and Maggie’s information right now.”
“Two minutes,” Molly said from the van.
Sookie nodded and then picked up the heavy backpack containing what had been her back-up plan. Jesus helped her to put it on.
Seeing his concerned look, she squeezed his hand a little.
“See you soon, Sook,” he said.
She nodded and looked at Jarod.
“We’ll be waiting for your signal, luv,” he assured. “We’ll be ready.”
Sam grabbed her and gave her a big hug. She grinned up at him. “He’s gonna growl when he realizes I smell like you.”
Luna chuckled from next to her husband.
Sam smirked. “It serves him right for always teasing me about marriage agreements and bride prices and such. Would you please remind him that Emma’s not even ten years old yet?”
“I think Eric was twelve when he got married,” Sookie deadpanned
“He was eleven,” Luna teased, enjoying her new husband’s discomfort.
Sam choked a little.
Sookie giggled. “You know it’s inevitable—right? Hunter loves Emma, and he’s got big plans.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “And I have big plans for putting Emma into a chastity belt as soon as she hits puberty. Hunter can talk to me when she’s eighteen.”
Sookie leaned up and kissed Sam on the cheek.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Pam groaned. “If you don’t stop all this sentimental shit, I’m gonna stake myself, and what a shame that would be before a fight.”
Sookie grinned at Pam. “I love you too, Pam.”
The vampiress rolled her eyes. “If you love me so much, make Mr. Fairy here give me some more of his blood when I can actually fuckin’ taste it.” She nudged Claude almost affectionately.
Claude chuckled and then spoke to Sookie sincerely. “I’ll see you in there.”
Sookie nodded, took the tube that read #1 from her pocket, and drank it down. She looked at the Weres around her.
Tray smiled. “I can see you, but I can’t smell you or hear your breathing anymore.”
She jumped up and down, and the contents of her backpack rattled. “Can you hear that?”
Tray shook his head.
Amelia smiled in triumph at the efficacy of the spell.
“You’re clear,” Molly said from the van.
Sookie nodded, took a deep breath, and then walked away into the darkness.
FYI: I’m a huge fan of The Godfather and The Godfather II. As Michael Corleone might say, “When they come, they come at what you love.”