Eric had hated going to rest in his own home that morning, a notion that was completely illogical, given the fact that he was not aware at all during the daylight hours, except for about forty minutes since he awoke before true dark due to his age.
Still, he missed being at Sookie’s home when he succumbed to his death and missed it even more when he’d awoken from it. Actually—no—that wasn’t quite accurate. He didn’t miss being in her home. He missed being in her proximity.
As he finished packing a duffle bag with some more clothing to stow at Sookie’s home, he thought about how quickly he’d adapted to practically cohabitating with Sookie; though the two hadn’t discussed making that arrangement official yet, he trusted that they would—and soon.
In the meantime, he just hoped that he’d continue getting invitations to stay in her home during the daytime. Though the little cubby wasn’t luxurious, Eric preferred the cramped space to his rather opulent bed, for—like all things in Sookie’s home—the space smelled of her. It also seemed to have absorbed her spirit.
More to the point—now that he’d begun allowing himself to love, he found that being close to the object of that love gave him more peace than anything in his long life ever had.
He marveled at how quickly time seemed to be moving.
And at how much his life had changed in that quick, though short, time.
In the past, he’d been open to change, even embracing evolution to ensure that his life was more comfortable; however, he had never changed. Rather, he’d adapted—ridden the waves of time, so to speak. But he’d never allowed those waves to alter him at his core.
His maker had not succeeded in truly changing him—though Appius had certainly tried.
Years of hiding what he was from most everyone around him had not altered him.
Becoming a maker had not fundamentally transformed him.
However, Sookie Stackhouse had succeeded where everyone and everything in his life had failed. And she’d succeeded because he let her—because he wanted her to.
And with those fundamental changes, his night-to-night existence had altered as well.
He shook his head. It was just three weeks before that he’d visited Sookie regarding going to Jackson to find Compton. And it had been only a week since she had sent Compton packing for good; sadly, that stain on vampirism hadn’t dared to defy Eric by returning to Area 5. No—he had skulked around New Orleans for a few nights before Andre sent him on an international trip related to the damnable database. Sophie-Anne still hadn’t decided whether to actually market the database; the Viking’s report to her had cautioned against it. However, since the queen hadn’t made her final decision, she was content to let Bill scour the earth—away from Louisiana—in order to gather information.
Eric liked the fact that Bill was very far away from Sookie, but he didn’t trust the younger vampire not to have some kind of machination in the works. He was too stupid—and, more dangerously, too obsessed—to simply accept defeat and move on.
Somehow, Bill had developed the belief that he was entitled to Sookie, which was why Eric had sharpened his sword.
Indeed, he hoped to be able to use it soon.
Of course, now that Batanya was in place, Eric no longer feared that Bill could do any physical damage to Sookie, not that he’d ever doubted Thalia. However, the added element of the Britlingen had eased the Viking’s worry considerably. He frowned, wondering if he should tell Sookie more about why he was so pleased with Batanya’s presence. It was because the Britlingen had absolutely no allegiance toward him—no care of him beyond the fact that he helped to care for her charge. Thus, she would not hesitate to kill him—while Karin might—if Appius showed up and “did his worst.”
For the thousandth time, the Viking wished that he could simply ask Karin to assassinate his maker. Why he could not be direct about such a preference, however, was no mystery to him. He could still “feel” the power of a thousand-year-old command that Appius had given to him. “I command that you never harm me or task another with doing so or perform any plotting to that would lead to my demise.”
Indeed, sometimes Eric marveled at the fact that he’d been able to even present Appius’s demise as a possibility that Karin could choose—if she wished it. As for himself, the Viking couldn’t even bring himself to want Appius dead—though he wondered how much of that was an effect of the commands he’d been given. After all, Eric had always known that the world would be a far better place without those like his maker in it; he just couldn’t bring himself to add his maker specifically to the list. Indeed, he felt ill whenever his thoughts led him in the direction of Appius’s demise, and he had only managed to overcome that discomfort as much as he had because of the potential harm Appius could bring to Sookie.
“Which I will not allow; I’ll kill Appius before I let that happen!” he said fiercely, even as he doubled over in pain and then sunk to his knees due to his momentary “rebellion” against his maker. It took the Viking several moments to gather himself enough to finish dressing, even as he tried to eliminate thoughts of Appius from his mind.
“I have done all I can do in regards to him,” he spoke to himself in the mirror, confident in the truth of his words. He truly might not be able to harm his maker, but he had been able to ensure that he himself would be harmed if his maker decided to use him as a weapon. “Appius does not deserve the ability to taint this night,” he said to his reflection—giving himself a kind of pep talk.
And—indeed—it was a special night. It was, after all, his first time to celebrate Christmas in many ways, and the excitement that he felt from Sookie through their blood tie was more than enough to offset any dark thoughts. He saw himself smiling as he thought about how excited his beloved was to host a holiday celebration for her family and friends.
More than a friend.
Different from family—at least, for the time being.
That thought—the thought of Sookie and him becoming “family” in a permanent way—warmed him in a way he’d never believed that a vampire could be warmed. A vampire’s life was “cold,” after all—just as cold as his “dead” skin.
“But not cold at all with Sookie,” he said to himself as he took off his shirt to change it. He’d initially put on a black shirt to go with his dark blue jeans. But he opted to exchange it for a green sweater, knowing that the most important being in his life would like that color better since it fit with the holiday.
Of course—in “not” celebrating Christmas—Eric had “celebrated” it by giving his child, who had been a Roman Catholic during her human life, gifts. Moreover, when Pam decided to tease him about being “Scrooge,” he would accept any gift she gave to him. But he’d never “felt” the holiday before. He’d never been anxious to give a gift before.
But he was excited—like a young child—that night, so much so that he’d spent the day in Shreveport (instead of at Sookie’s home where he would have preferred to have been) so that he could pick up Sookie’s gift and get to Bon Temps as soon as possible after sunset. With that in mind, he quickly took his bag to his garage, even as he texted Colonel Flood to be sure that all was ready with the puppy he was picking up for Sookie. Even though she knew a puppy was his gift to her, she had no idea what kind he’d opted for.
He opened the back of the SUV he’d decided to drive—due to his future companion—and took a silent inventory of everything he’d gotten for the animal; it turned out dogs required a lot more than he’d initially thought. He’d bought several dog beds, a plain leather collar (despite Pam’s input that he ought to get a black, studded-leather one), a few leashes (again ignoring Pam’s input), a sturdy harness (he’d also bought a pink one of those—with studs on it—for Pam as a Christmas gift), a travel crate, bowls, food, treats, toys, and grooming supplies (including lint brushes for human clothing).
Shedding—Eric had found over the centuries—was just a fact of life with canines. He shook his head and got into the vehicle after placing one of the dog beds, one designed with car travel in mind, in the middle seat section.
In addition to all the supplies, the vampire had arranged for the proper veterinary care for the animal. He’d also organized for Colonel Flood himself to visit Sookie once per week for training sessions. Given the fact that the Colonel had already been training the puppy and its litter mates in the kennel that he owned, the vampire figured that he was the best to continue the task, though Flood had assured him that the puppy already followed basic commands and was housebroken. Moreover, the Were had relayed that the breed of dogs he raised was very intelligent and would adapt quickly to Sookie’s command style.
As soon as Eric felt the sun set fully, he opened his light-tight garage door. He had a party to get to, after all.
“Welcome, Pam!” Sookie enthused as she opened the door to Eric’s younger child. She couldn’t help but to look over the vampiress’s shoulder—just in case Eric was with her.
Pam smirked as if knowing exactly what—who—the telepath was looking for. “I did bring another vampire with me, Sookie. But it’s just Molly.”
Sookie rolled her eyes before waving at Molly. The younger vampiress was dressed in what Sookie guessed was the “churched-up” version of Goth-wear. Everything she had on was black—but, instead of her normal black T-shirt, black jeans, and black jacket, she had on a black blouse, black flowy skirt, and black blazer. Her lips and fingernails were black, as usual, and she seemed to have put “all the smoke” available through cosmetics into her smoky eyes.
Having been in the house two nights before to work on the Internet connection, Molly bounced in, “Bubba here yet?” she asked, chomping gum.
Sookie kept meaning to ask how she could do that without getting sick.
“Yeah. He’s hanging out with Jason and Tray in the living room,” the telepath responded, though Molly was already on her way to that room.
“Thanks. I’m gonna help him open an email account,” she informed, bouncing away.
“That should be amusing,” Pam snarked as she moved to follow Molly. However, once inside, she stopped quickly, turning around to look at Sookie.
“Why does your home smell like,” she sniffed deeply, “seven different Weres—not including your guards?”
“It’s for a surprise—for Eric,” Sookie said in a whisper.
Pam’s eyebrow rose. “Eric will not suspect you of anything untoward with the Weres, Sookie. But unless you want for him to be distracted all evening long, you will need to show him your gift when he first arrives in order to explain the scents.”
“No, she will not,” Thalia said, somehow managing to sneak up on Pam, though Sookie had been following the older vampiress’s path with her telepathy.
When Pam realized that she had been startled—and had shown it—while Sookie had remained placid, she scowled deeply, though she was equal parts pissed off at herself and amazed by the progress of the telepath. In less than a week “on the job,” Sookie had managed to impress Eric’s younger child, and that wasn’t easy to do.
More than that—Pam was beginning to enjoy Sookie’s company, beyond the fact that it offered much ammunition for teasing her maker.
Pam addressed the older vampiress. “You have known my maker even longer than I have.”
“By centuries,” Thalia concurred.
“Well—then you know that he will be curious about those unfamiliar Were scents. Moreover, he will be concerned,” she added.
Thalia held up a vial. “Courtesy of the witch employed at Les Deux Poissons, the scent of the Weres will soon be covered up.” She looked at Sookie. “Christa Larrabee wanted me to convey her apologies that the spell was not here sooner; the witch’s potion was ready only an hour ago.”
“Amelia’s worth her weight in gold!” Sookie enthused. “It was always only a bonus to have it, and it beat Eric here anyway!” She turned toward Pam. “I knew havin’ the workers here would mean that I couldn’t really surprise Eric, and I had planned to show him right when he got here, but when I mentioned that to Christa yesterday, she came up with the idea of a covering spell, and Amelia put it together.”
“It will work only for the Were scents made available to the witch,” Thalia supplied. “And—even then—only for twenty-four hours. Let’s just hope Herveaux took what was required from all of his workers so that the spell could be made properly.”
“Blood?” Pam asked with an evil glint in her eyes.
“If only,” Thalia responded. “A strand of hair sufficed.”
Pam pouted. “The best spells require blood.”
“Indeed,” Thalia agreed.
Sookie shook her head at the two vampiresses. It seemed as if the two were blood-thirsty about everything. “Well—uh—alrighty then. Um—how does that thing work?” she asked, gesturing toward the vial. “Eric’s due any time,” she added with a mixture of nervousness and excitement.
Thalia handed the vial to the telepath. “Go upstairs and uncork this there since it is the place where the Were scents will be most concentrated. Walk through each room the Weres visited and then bring the vial back to me. I’ll then walk it around the yard where I can scent them. I’m afraid that some of the Were scent may linger out here, but if Eric questions the new scents, I will convey that there were different Long Tooth guards here from normal, given the holiday.”
“Liar, liar pants on fire,” Pam smirked.
Thalia looked at Pam with absolutely no expression on her face. “If there had been a battle today, Herveaux and his crew would have quickly become back-up soldiers. And they are Long Tooth. And they were here related to the holiday.” She looked at Pam more pointedly. “One need never lie if one is clever enough with the truth.”
The younger vampiress rolled her eyes. “I’m going to go see if that brother of yours is as delectable as Molly said,” Pam said, showing a little fang before spinning on her heel before going inside.
“But you don’t even like guys,” Sookie muttered, even as Pam cackled in response.
With a chuckle of her own, Sookie nodded to Thalia respectfully and then entered the house as well. She thought about telling Pam not to do anything regarding Jason so as not to make waves between him and Onawa, but she stopped herself. Jason was a big boy, and his mind told her that he wanted to pursue something with Onawa—that for once in his life he wanted something beyond a night or two. Plus, if Pam’s flirting could change that desire, then it would probably be best if Jason and Onawa didn’t progress too much farther into a relationship.
Although Sookie didn’t think for one second that anything that happened between Onawa and her brother would affect the shifter’s work performance, she didn’t want Onawa hurt either. She didn’t want either of them hurt.
“Is there an amount of time I have to—uh—be in each room? And—uh—let this thing—uh—do its thing?” Sookie asked Thalia just before starting upstairs.
“About half a minute in each room should do,” Thalia informed.
“Alright, be right back then,” the telepath informed brightly. “Get a TrueBlood and join the others for a few minutes if you want!”
Thalia crossed her arms and stayed where she was.
“You should consider throwing her a bone; being social for a moment wouldn’t kill you again—after all,” Pam said snidely as soon as she knew that Sookie was out of earshot. Eric’s child had returned from the living room—after immediately recognizing that it was improbable that Jason Stackhouse’s attention could be drawn from the shifter.
At least, not without bloodshed.
“My existence has only included one instance where throwing a bone was called for, and—trust me—there are better weapons,” the elder said darkly.
Pam rolled her eyes. “Sookie is a worthy sort of human—worthy of friendship and maybe a bit of socializing.”
“I trust her,” Thalia said. “And I have agreed to turn her in case of emergency. That is,” she paused, “worth much more than ‘throwing a bone.'” She looked at the younger vampiress pointedly. “You—too—agreed to be her maker if the need is dire.”
Pam nodded. “I did it for my maker.” She looked at the staircase. “And because the telepath is,” she paused, “growing on me.”
Thalia scoffed. “She will make a horrible vampire!”
Pam looked at her in surprise. “I disagree. I think she will be remarkable as a vampire.”
She reflected for a moment. “She will be different as one of us,” she emphasized. “But she is already different now—different from human, different from Fae.”
Pam nodded. “It is what draws my maker to her.”
Thalia did not feel the need to verbalize or otherwise indicate her agreement. “Sookie is embracing the use of her telepathy, and she no longer questions the need for her guards.”
“I’ve noticed,” Pam remarked. “I thought she’d have more resistance—given how she behaved during her initial introductions into the supernatural world.”
“Did your maker tell you what happened to her in Jackson? In the trunk?” Thalia asked.
Pam growled. “I have inferred that Compton was seconds away from raping her, about a minute away from draining her, and likely ninety seconds away from being her maker.”
“That is my knowledge of that night as well,” Thalia said in a low voice. She looked at Pam pointedly. “You are lucky to have a maker you respect and love. You or I must always be close to her at night—when Eric is not—so that we ensure she does not end up with a monster as hers.”
“Eric thinks Bill isn’t done being a nuisance,” Pam frowned.
“There are bigger nuisances. And—it is for that reason that I wish for you to find out all you can about the witch who is working at Les Deux Poissons.”
Pam’s eyebrow rose with her curiosity. “Why?”
“The spells she has concocted up to now have been relatively simple, but they are strong. With the right amount of specific training, she could learn to put together things that would benefit Sookie much more than a stasis spell or a temporary scent concealment.”
“Such as?” Pam asked.
“Protective enchantments.” Thalia looked around the property. “There is much land to cover here, and—though it would be difficult to get past even the day guards—a protection spell would be useful. Her quarters in the places where she travels for work would also be well-served by protective features.”
“What do you think is going to come after her?” Pam laughed a little.
“Perhaps nothing,” Thalia said, not really answering. Her tone, however, spoke of a level of threat that Pam wasn’t certain applied to Sookie’s situation.
“I know a little about the witch already,” Pam said, instead of asking Thalia to justify why she felt Sookie might need additional layers of protection—beyond her current day and night guards, not to mention the Britlingen.
“So do I,” Thalia smirked. “But I have not been intimate with her.”
Pam chuckled. “She is easy on the eyes, and who was I to discourage her desire to experiment with women? And vampires?”
“Well?” Thalia asked.
Pam rolled her eyes. “I assume you aren’t asking me how she was in bed.”
Thalia shook her head.
“Fine. As soon as the witch moved to Area 5, Eric had me investigate her extensively. Amelia Broadway is the daughter of Copley Carmichael, a prominent New Orleans businessman. Her mother was something of a free spirit and an act of rebellion on Copley’s part.”
Thalia nodded. “Copley Carmichael is shady but effective in business, someone to be aligned with only when he sees the benefits for himself—but not someone to count on for his loyalty.”
“You seem to know a lot already,” Pam huffed.
“I don’t know what Miss Broadway thinks about her father,” Thalia challenged.
Pam rolled her eyes. “Like many children, she dislikes the firm hand he has tried to take in molding her future,” she relayed. “He wanted her to go to Law School or to get a business degree. He disapproves of her ‘free-spirited’ nature and blames his deceased wife for it. He’s blamed her even more since Amelia legally changed her name from Carmichael to Broadway, her mother’s maiden name. And he refuses to even consider the idea that Amelia is truly magical; he dismisses her every time she mentions witchcraft as being real.”
“Do you know how Amelia’s mother died?” Thalia asked. “Through research, I found an autopsy report, but it indicated undetermined causes.”
Pam scoffed. “Matilde Broadway was a powerful natural witch—though completely untrained. Of course, that kind is usually fine as long as they allow themselves some kind of outlet. Most find that outlet in simple things—even human things—such as gardening or making home remedies.”
“Or an outlet finds them—in the form of a coven,” Thalia added.
Pam nodded. “From what I have learned, Octavia Fant sensed Matilde not long after she came to New Orleans; Octavia began trying to help Matilde understand herself. However, by then, she was already with Copley. And—also by then—he had begun to regret his choice of her—over a debutante his parents had advocated. The addition of ‘odd friends’ into Matilde’s life was met with,” she paused, “judgment from Copley. Thus, she worked with Octavia in secret to learn something of her craft, and she had great natural skill. What Octavia did not know was that Matilde’s motives for becoming her apprentice were not to grow in her magic, but to learn how to rid herself of it.”
“A dangerous objective,” Thalia said softly. “And almost always a fatal one.”
“That is what Octavia told Matilde. Yet to please her husband, she attempted to stifle her power anyway; as little as she understood it, that did not go well. By the time Matilde became pregnant—also to please her husband—she was already weak; however, she still attempted to perform a transfusion spell.”
Thalia’s eyes widened. “She wanted to pass any remaining magic into her unborn child.”
The younger vampiress nodded. “The spell worked. But Amelia’s mother was a shell of herself following Amelia’s birth. She died when Amelia was only two years old; before she succumbed, she asked Octavia to look after Amelia when she came into her magic.”
“Amelia knows of this?” Thalia asked.
“I learned most of what I told you from Octavia. However, Amelia has figured out enough to be bitter toward both her parents, though she is receptive to her own magic,” Pam relayed.
Thalia nodded in understanding.
“Amelia lived in New Orleans up until three months ago. She refused college, but accepted her father’s offer to run one of his apartment complexes. He figured that he could eventually manipulate her into having a role in other aspects of his business, but she was managing the place only for the free rent.”
“Is that where Octavia sought her out?” Thalia asked.
“No—she approached the girl long before that. When Amelia was eleven, her power began to manifest. Octavia began teaching her then, going so far as having a vampire glamour the girl’s nanny to bring her to Octavia’s store once per week.”
“That is good,” Thalia remarked. “Octavia is known for her ability to train new witches to hone and control their ability, even as they respect it. Why is Miss Broadway not with her mentor now? Surely—even beginning to learn at a young age—she is still too young to have been cut loose.”
“Octavia has temporarily expelled Amelia from her coven because Amelia performed an unsanctioned spell. The young witch is,” Pam paused, “somewhat impetuous with magic, according to Octavia. However, the episode was not deemed problematic enough to prevent her from settling in Area 5.”
“Octavia endorses the girl?” Thalia asked.
“Yes. Despite Amelia’s flaws, Octavia believes her to be good at heart and potentially quite powerful.”
“Why the expulsion then?” Thalia asked.
“It is more like,” Pam paused, “a time out—to use a modern turn of phrase related to child rearing. Amelia’s father was also pressuring her to do more for the family business, as well as threatening to kick her out of her rent-free apartment if she did not. Octavia is friendly with the owners of Les Deux Poissons. And they wished to have a witch join them in their work. Given the more exotic nature of some of their ingredients, Amelia’s stasis spells have been quite helpful. Amelia is receiving her punishment, even as she gains some experience as a working witch; in addition, she is further out of her father’s sphere of influence. Octavia believes the situation to be beneficial for all involved—except for Copley Carmichael, of course.”
Thalia nodded. “I will contact the coven leader to see whether Amelia has the capability to safely perform protection spells. If done incorrectly, they can cause havoc.”
“Why not just ask Octavia to do it?” Pam frowned.
“Older isn’t always more powerful in terms of witches,” Thalia remarked. “Octavia is wise and well-studied. However, her strength is more in craft than in natural skill.” She inhaled deeply, even as the vampiresses heard Sookie nearing the staircase from above. “The originator of that spell,” she said pointing upward, “has a great deal more power than her mentor; thus, it is wise that Octavia is trying to curb her more foolhardy inclinations, even as she encourages her responsibility. If Octavia did the kind of protection spells I have in mind, then powerful people—such as those who might get around Maria-Star or myself—might also be able to arrange for countering magic.”
“What of the Britlingen? As you know, human magic would have little effect on her. Why worry with her here?” Pam asked.
Thalia shook her head. “I am grateful for Batanya’s presence, but I am operating as if she is not here. Complacence, I fear, would be the one thing that could lead to Sookie’s demise. And I will not have that.”
The vampiresses stopped speaking about witchcraft and threats as a smiling Sookie made her way downstairs.
“Do you have another brother, Sookie? Yours is broken; he seems to prefer a shifter to me!” Pam said as if horrified.
Sookie chuckled. “It’s a Christmas party, Pam, not a hook-up place for you.”
“Whatever,” the younger vampiress said before turning to go back to the living room.
Sookie handed Thalia the vial. “I—uh—guess it’s working?”
“It is,” the vampiress confirmed as she took what seemed to be an empty vial from Sookie’s hands.
“Do I need to take it into the living room?” Sookie asked.
“No need. The Weres did not enter any other room of the house,” Thalia responded confidently before leaving the house without another word.
“Oh—uh—thanks!” Sookie yelled out even as she looked anxiously toward the road as if intuiting that Eric would be there any minute. On impulse, she decided to grab Gran’s old shawl and step out onto the porch to wait for Eric. She closed her eyes and imagined the two of them joining the others together. She couldn’t have explained in words why she felt that it was so necessary to wait for him, but nothing felt more right in that moment.
A/N: Hi all! I don’t have much time for a note today, but I hope y’all have had a good week! And I hope you enjoyed the chapter! Please leave a comment if you have the time and the inclination.
Until next week,