Chapter 02: If You Fall
I’d resisted Eric—telling him again and again that I didn’t belong to anyone. That I couldn’t be owned. But I hadn’t acknowledged that a heart wanted to be owned—that it was meant to be owned.
I’d not understood that—when Eric had asked me to be “his”—he’d been asking for my heart.
Not my freedom.
Once I’d scrutinized the scarred—the scared—woman in the mirror, I’d realized that he wouldn’t have taken my freedom from me for all the world. In fact, he’d done all that he could to ensure that I kept it. The bonding. The pledging.
I’d misinterpreted them as him “taking” from me.
But what did he really take? What did he actually demand of me?
He didn’t demand my blood. He didn’t demand my telepathic skills. He didn’t demand that I move in with him. He didn’t even demand for me to tell him that I was “his”—at least, not publically.
Instead, Eric had left me with choice regarding all of these things. He wanted me to choose to give him my heart—my love. I suppose that Eric—better than anyone—understood that, if it was not freely given, then a heart was worthless.
For a variety of reasons—some valid and some not—I had assumed that Eric couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give me his heart.
Just as I’d assumed that he would tire of me.
Just as I’d assumed that he would never love me as much as he coveted what I could do for him.
And—when I’d learned about Freyda—I’d reacted exactly as I’d set myself up to react because I never questioned whether Eric preferred becoming Freyda’s consort over staying with me.
I had simply assumed that he would prefer the power that would come from being the Queen of Oklahoma’s consort.
Just as I’d assumed that he was incapable of putting me first.
But when had I done the same for him?
When I initially learned about Freyda, I’d concentrated on the wrong thing: my anger that Eric had hidden the situation from me. I’d not appreciated the fact that he’d been trying to get out of the contract so that it would never affect me—or us. Yes—I would have preferred for him to have been upfront with me. However—around that same time—I could not deny that I was hiding certain things from him, such as the fact that Sandra Pelt had become a real threat.
And the fact that I intended to break our blood bond if the opportunity presented itself.
Clearly we both sucked at communication skills.
We also sucked at giving each other the benefit of the doubt.
I sighed. If I had given Eric that benefit, things could have been very different. If I’d merely opened my eyes to see that Eric didn’t want to go to Oklahoma—that he wanted to stay with me—I would have immediately thought to use the cluviel dor on him.
Would that mean that Sam would have died? Or would have my actions on Eric’s behalf changed everything from that moment on?
I would never know.
Yes—hindsight was a cruel teacher. Not only did he see things perfectly, but he also laced so many of his lessons with regret. And his favorite phrase seemed to be, “What if,” as if those words could make any difference!
I knew they could not.
“So—would you like an inscription?” Margie asked, breaking me from my reverie once again. Thankfully, this time she attributed my zoning out to my trying to think of words for Sam’s bracelet.
“It’s hard to think—uh—of the right words,” I stammered, being completely honest.
“A symbol then?” she asked.
“Can I get a moon done?” I asked. “Like a crescent—so that it doesn’t just look like a circle?”
“Oh course. If you have time to wait for a bit, our engraver is in today. I doubt it’ll take more than an hour to get it done,” she added with the same smile she’d had in place throughout our interaction.
I succeeded in smiling back at her, but I could tell that it was more of a “Crazy Sookie” smile as opposed to something real. Still, I wanted to try for Margie; she’d been so kind and patient with me.
I’d already paid for my items, so I took the gift-wrapped cologne, which Margie had put into one of those fancy shopping bags with handles. She asked for my cellphone number so that she could call me as soon as the bracelet was engraved and wrapped. Her thoughts told me that she wanted to make sure that I could “maximize my time shopping,” rather than standing around waiting for the bracelet.
I smiled at her—this time the smile feeling warmer on my lips. She truly was kind.
However, having no other shopping to do, I didn’t need to “maximize my time.” Instead, I wandered somewhat listlessly through the mall for a while, stopping only to get an overpriced coffee from Starbucks just to have something to do. And, of course, I did everything in my power to keep my shields up and locked.
But, without any vampire blood in my system, they slipped again and again. And the mall seemed to be getting more and more crowded.
I found myself marveling at how frustrated a parent’s thoughts could become! Of course, the parents I “heard” weren’t wishing their children hadn’t been born—as my mother had often wished.
They were frustrated by little things: like how Timmy was crying because his vanilla shake was gone or how Robin was angry that she’d not gotten a doll she wanted. And—yes—Robin was sulking and literally dragging her feet through the mall. But she was also tired—wondering why she couldn’t have stayed home with her father like she always did on the days he had off from work. Little Robin had wanted to watch cartoons curled up next to “Daddy.” Her mother’s mind told me that she’d wanted Robin to come to the mall in order to gauge what toys enticed her so that her husband could return later to get them for the girl “from Santa.” The whole situation seemed ridiculous to me! Needlessly exhausting and traumatic for the mother and child.
By the time I reached the half-hour mark of my wait, I’d walked a full circuit around the mall and had a headache. Eventually, I ended up in the furniture department at JC Penny, which was literally the “quietest” place I could find in the mall. I wandered back toward the mattresses, pretending to browse. However, hearing the thoughts of another customer who wanted to “have” me on one of those mattresses made me wander in a different direction; I ended up in the baby furniture section.
Luckily, the only other customers in that vicinity were a couple who were thinking only happy thoughts as they looked for cribs for the child they were expecting in the spring.
I sighed and put my hand over my belly. Sam wanted to have children. In fact, my ambivalence on the matter had been why I’d told Sam “no” the first two times he’d asked me to be his wife. The unequal nature of our love was one thing; Sam accepted that I saw myself as marrying a good friend—a trusted companion. Of course, he hoped that I could—one day—grow to love him on a more “romantic” level; a part of me hoped for that too, as a matter of fact.
Meanwhile, I truly did intend to do whatever I could to be a good wife to him. I enjoyed the sex we had, and—unless I was mistaken and my telepathy was wrong—he did too. Additionally, I understood about his dual nature. We ran a successful business together. We laughed at similar places in movies. We could talk about any variety of things. Yes—my relationship with Sam was more comfortable than passionate, but in a lot of ways, we were already similar to an older married couple. And I didn’t necessarily view that as a bad thing.
Sam promised me faithfulness and love and comfort. For me, those three things were easy to promise back.
However, I hadn’t agreed to be his wife until I’d reconciled myself to becoming a mother, too. I hadn’t wanted to saddle Sam with me—even though he’d told me that he was okay if we didn’t have children. Indeed, months before, he’d accepted the possibility of not becoming a father; moreover, he’d told himself that having me was worth the tradeoff. But I’d already felt like I was cheating him out of too much in our relationship.
“Are you expecting too?” the young woman shopping with her husband asked me when she noticed that my hands were perched over my belly.
“Um—no. But my fiancé and I are plannin’ to start tryin’ right after we tie the knot,” I answered truthfully, smiling sincerely as I recalled the look on Sam’s face when I told him that I would marry him and be the mother of his children—if God blessed us with some.
After they congratulated me on my upcoming nuptials and I congratulated them on their baby, the young couple continued their search, and I continued my browsing after checking my phone to see if Margie had called. She hadn’t, but—then again—it had been only fifty minutes since I’d seen her.
I smoothed my fingers along the sides of a pretty oak crib and found myself smiling softly. Indeed, I had reconciled myself to becoming a mother. More than that.
I knew I would be a good parent—at least, I would try my hardest to be. I also knew that—as soon as the child became “real”—I would love him or her unconditionally.
But—in the meantime—I still had my worries. What if the child was a telepath? What if danger found me again? Felipe de Castro hadn’t bothered me too much since Eric had left. I had guessed that Eric had made a deal with de Castro regarding my safety—a deal which had included Karin guarding me for the first year the Viking was gone.
But I didn’t know the details.
Mr. Cataliades had claimed attorney-client privilege. Sam had claimed ignorance about any deals Eric had made, and I’d telepathically verified that. Before he’d left, Bill had claimed ignorance, though I didn’t really believe him. Pam claimed that a maker’s command prevented her from speaking to me about Eric. Karin barely spoke to me at all when she was my watchdog. And Felipe certainly didn’t tell me anything.
Felipe hadn’t been completely absent from my life, however. I had worked for him twice since Eric had left, but I’d never had to leave Louisiana or Area 5 to do it. On both occasions, Sam and I—with back-up from the local pack with which I still had “friend of the pack” status—met Felipe’s people at a warehouse in Shreveport. There, I “read” humans and the two-natured for Felipe. The king had even agreed to my stipulations about the punishment of human criminals. Only drainers or Weres guilty of endangering vampires could receive the “death penalty” from Felipe’s people.
The king hadn’t offered to pay me for my “favor,” and—ironically—I found that arrangement better for my peace of mind. Thanks to Claudine, I now had plenty of money, and I didn’t like the idea of counting on Felipe to help me make ends meet. So far, the King of Nevada, Louisiana, and Arkansas seemed content to leave me mostly in peace.
But would the same thing hold true if I had a telepathic child? Hunter was easy enough to keep a secret from the vampires. After all, though he visited me on occasion, and called me “Aunt Sookie” when we were at the house, I’d coached him to call me just Sookie in public. Most people thought that he was the child of a friend and that I babysat him on occasion, but had no special connection to him.
Hadley had been all but forgotten now, and—since her last name and mine were different—even someone seeing Hunter’s birth certificate wouldn’t immediately associate him with the name “Stackhouse.” Plus, Red Ditch was even less likely to have vampire visitors than Bon Temps was—even now that Bill was gone.
I said a silent prayer that no children I had would be telepathic—for their own sakes. But—at the same time—I vowed to keep them safe if they were. I would help them master their shields at a young age. I would teach them how to hide what they were from the outside world, even as I tried not to let them feel shame about their gift. It would be a difficult line to balance upon, but I would do my best. And I knew that—even if I failed—Sam would be there to help me: To make sure that our children understood how to love themselves—even if their mother never quite had.
“This one is my favorite, too,” a familiar voice said from behind me.
I blinked several times, but didn’t turn around.
“Niall,” I breathed.
“I thought the portals were closed.”
“I have come to you to warn you about a new threat,” my great-grandfather sighed warily.
I turned to him face him slowly.
He looked older than I’d ever seen him and extremely weary.
“It is good that you are not yet with child,” he commented, looking down at my belly. “It would make the present situation even more difficult.”
“Present situation?” I whispered—Neave and Lochlan’s faces flashing across my thoughts.
“I’ve spent much time trying to snuff out all of Breandan’s comrades. But I’ve recently discovered that he had a fairy mate I knew nothing about—and children that I knew nothing about either. Denolt and Serbol are their names. And they and their allies recently overpowered the guards I had at one of the last remaining working portals to this world.”
“I thought you—uh—destroyed them,” I stammered.
“I did—mostly. But to destroy them all would have banished my people to Faerie forever. I thought my magic was strong enough to prevent them from being used.”
“But you were wrong,” I commented, quivering because of the haunted look in his eyes.
He nodded. “Yes. I was. They knew where to find you, Sookie,” he added gravely.
“Sam,” I whispered—whimpered.
Niall looked down at the white institutional floor tiles that spread out throughout the store. “Dead. I went to your home first before I tracked you here. Your fiancé was killed as he tried to keep them out of your home—if that is any consolation. He died fighting.”
I shook. Knowing that Sam had died violently—for a woman who couldn’t love him as he deserved to be loved—was the opposite of a consolation!
I felt my knees buckle, and Niall led me to a rocking chair that I would now never need to lull a child to sleep.
“I am death,” I said, suddenly feeling haunted by everyone who’d suffered or died because of me.
Niall shook his head. “This isn’t your fault. None of the people who died today are your responsibility.”
“It is my fault,” I whispered. “I was so afraid of bein’ alone. So Sam died for someone who didn’t love him enough,” I wept, noticing for the first time that Niall had seemingly enclosed us in some kind of magic barrier. “Wait!” I yelled, looking into my great-grandfather’s eyes. “You said people! People!”
He nodded somberly.
“Oh God!” I sat up straighter and then tried to stand, but Niall held me in the seat. “Jason! Hunter!”
Niall closed his eyes and—for the first time that I’d seen—tears fell down his cheeks, like rivers flowing over sand dunes. “I sent others to check on them,” he said. “Your brother is gone. His wife and child are also dead; all three were killed in their sleep. Hunter and his father . . . .” Niall’s voice broke. “I received word that they met a similar fate as well. You are alive only because you were not at home,” he added with a grief-filled sigh.
“A similar fate?” I asked—not knowing why. Perhaps, I was a glutton for punishment at this point. Perhaps, I was counting on the fact that just a tiny bit more pain would certainly break my heart completely and kill me.
“Hunter and his father were not killed in their sleep,” Niall informed. “But that is all I will say on that matter,” he added sharply. “I have people hunting for Denolt and Serbol as we speak, but they and their people will be hunting you too,” he said. “We must leave this place. Our blood and affection for one another links us, but they will soon figure out a way to track you too.”
“You should let them find me,” I said, dropping the bag with the cologne in it and wondering what Margie would think when I never came back for the bracelet. My phone rang, but I didn’t have the power to answer it. I swiped a hand along my cheek. It was wet.
Funny. I hadn’t even known I was still crying.
Sam: my dear friend and partner—so kind that he was willing to settle for the limited life I was able to give. Had he shifted into a lion trying to protect our home?
Guilt cut at me.
Jason and his family: my werepanther brother who had grown up so much during the past year. He’d loved Michele with his whole heart. He’d relished being a father.
And his beautiful tiny daughter, Marie—with eyes so bright blue that they looked like the pictures I’d seen of the Caribbean.
They’d never open again.
Guilt gnawed at me.
Hunter and Remy: my cousin and his loving father, whom I had just been picturing as safe and sound—who would have been safe and sound if not for me. How had they died? I prayed that their executioners had been nothing like Lochlan and Neave. The thought of such monsters touching little, sweet Hunter made me retch.
Guilt ate me.
“I cannot protect you here, and I cannot take you to Faerie with me. You must understand, the options—they are limited,” Niall said, guilt obvious in his eyes too.
“Huh?” I asked inelegantly, not quite able to understand what he was saying.
“I must hunt my enemies and then return to my people if I prevail. And,” he paused, “no other fairies would be willing to guard you. After Claudine. After Claude. You are viewed as,” he paused again, “bad luck.”
I let out a pained chuckle. “Yes. I am bad luck,” I fully agreed.
“Come,” Niall said, standing up and holding out his hand for me.
I shook my head. “Come? Why did you come here? Why not just let them kill me when I returned home?”
“I don’t want you to die,” he said forcefully. “You are the last of my descendants.”
“Dermot?” I asked. “You took him to Faery with you,” I recalled.
“My son is dead—killed by the same enemies who wish to kill you,” he said—sounding haunted. “I would take you with me, Sookie. I really would. I want to, but . . . .” His voice trailed off.
“But I can’t return to Faerie with you?” I asked.
“No,” he sighed. “After all that has happened, you would not be accepted there. Many of my own advisors have counseled me to kill you.”
“You should,” I said, my chin sticking out stubbornly. I couldn’t think of a single reason to live as I felt all hope and life drain from me as if it were being sucked dry by an army of Victor Maddens.
“I’ve come to take you to Felipe de Castro,” Niall said.
“Felipe? What? Why?” I gasped.
“You will bond with him—for your own protection,” my great-grandfather said decisively. “I have already sent Desmond Cataliades to negotiate a contract with him on your behalf. You will live under Felipe’s protection. I imagine that you will have to agree to use your telepathy for him without restrictions, but—in exchange—I hope that the demon can get him to agree that you won’t have to lie with or give blood to any other vampires.”
“Any other?” I asked, dread and grief now equal battlers for my emotions.
“Of course, you will have to give yourself to the king,” Niall said as if talking to a child. “But it is the only solution I can think of—the only way you will live on.”
I recoiled. “What? You want to enslave me? To a vampire king?”
“I think that the demon can negotiate a contract that you will be happy with,” he said soothingly, though firmly. “And you will be surrounded by vampires, which is the only safe place I can imagine for you. If your Viking were available, I would have asked for his aid, but he is not,” Niall said somewhat harshly, causing more tears to free-fall down my cheeks. “His child is not strong enough. Neither is Compton. No—King Felipe is the best option. He is your only option.”
Suddenly, I felt completely numb, and when Niall pulled me to my feet again, I went with him.
A/N: Well—here is Chapter 2. Thanks so much for all the input I’ve already gotten on this story! Y’all are the best!
So—yeah—this is another example of the Supernatural world just ripping into Sookie’s life. Even trying to live a “normal” life, Sookie cannot escape. I always found the fairies to be the least sympathetic of the Supes. Niall entered her life and brought a lot of storms, and he honestly didn’t offer her many “family” interactions—at least not healthy ones. To me, Niall is a villain of sorts. He stirs things up and then just “leaves,” announcing that it’s for Sookie’s safety. But then—the next thing you know it—his actions weren’t enough to do a darned thing for her. Anyway, we’ll have to see if Sookie can go on after all this.