SUNDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2007, 7:30 P.M. (CENTRAL STANDARD TIME)
I had failed Sookie Stackhouse.
Despite all my self-perceived cleverness—all my machinations to keep her safe.
I had succeeded in one way only: I’d managed to ensure that vampires wouldn’t be the aggressors in Sookie’s life. It had cost me one hundred years, but I’d done it.
And I’d do it again.
But I couldn’t prevent the fairies from destroying Sookie’s life once and for all.
The gods knew—Neave and Lochlan had tried. But Sookie had retained her spirit even after they’d tortured her.
I’d been happier than I could say when Niall conveyed he intended to magically seal the gateways between the fairy realm and the human one. I’d thought that the elimination of Claude had been the last loose end.
I’d thought that having Karin guard Sookie and monitor the Fae portal near her home for a year would be enough—certainly long enough to confirm that the Fae would no longer be an issue. I’d thought that no activity in a year would mean that Niall had fulfilled his oath.
I had been wrong—so wrong!
I growled, enraged at myself.
I should have never allowed Niall access to Sookie, but he’d made his request so “skillfully”—after sneaking up on me and while holding a stake to my heart.
I’d known that—even if I didn’t make the introduction—Niall would get to Sookie. He’d simply used me for expediency.
If I had imagined the trouble Niall would bring to my once-bonded—once-wife—I would have spirited her away, risking her hate rather than allowing her to become vulnerable.
And—ultimately—what had Niall done for her? Because he’d made contact with her, she’d been placed onto the radars of his enemies.
She’d been tortured.
She’d lost so many that she loved.
And—now—she’d be forced to endure more grief and guilt than anyone could take.
And she’d be doing it all as a blood slave—albeit a well-treated one.
My hands curled into fists. I wished to face Niall in that moment—to kill him slowly.
Unwilling to protect his own great-granddaughter, the bastard had delivered Sookie to Felipe on a golden platter!
And then I’d been forced into an “agreement” with Niall’s plans, even allowing the terms of my contracts with Felipe and Freyda to be altered—just so that Sookie would live on. So that her life wouldn’t be so miserable.
I’d thought about denying any changes. Knowing Sookie, she would prefer death to imprisonment. But the thought of more fairies getting ahold of her—the thought of them doing what Neave and Lochlan had once done to her . . . .
It was too much for me to bear.
So—I’d chosen selfishness; I’d negotiated.
I couldn’t yet fathom a world without my once-bonded, my once-wife—my Sookie—in it. Even if she would never again be mine.
I’d expected to have years—decades—to prepare myself for her being gone.
I wasn’t ready.
My one consolation was that the King of Nekana, as Felipe now called his three states (a stupid fucking abbreviation if you asked me), had been “forced” to deal with me because my contract with Freyda and him had been meant to ensure that Sookie would never belong to Felipe—or any vampire.
However, I’d been mostly powerless in the end—mostly because Freyda had refused to “take Sookie in” and protect her, even after I’d offered her another five hundred years and vowed to never again see Sookie.
I don’t even think Freyda denied me out of jealousy or spite; I think she denied me because the inclusion of Sookie in her life simply didn’t fit with her five-year plan.
Or her fifty-year plan.
Or her hundred-year plan.
If nothing else, Freyda enjoyed a plan. And—once enacted—most of Freyda’s plans were followed through to the end.
No matter the consequences.
Indeed, the best I’d been able to get in the renegotiation had been five years of “relative” peace for Sookie—a half a decade during which she wouldn’t be forced to service Felipe sexually.
Yes—I’d failed her.
I pinched the bridge of my nose hard as a knock sounded at the door.
I was expected at court that night, and I would need to put on the mask I had perfected long ago—with Appius.
No matter what occurred, I vowed to be stoic—as I’d been each night since my sentence in Oklahoma began.
Except for one night.
The previous night.
But my reaction to Sookie’s current situation couldn’t be helped. I still loved her. And—much to Felipe and Freyda’s amusement—I’d shown many of my true feelings as I’d tried to argue for Sookie’s freedom.
I suppose it had been a small victory that Felipe had agreed to “limit” the number of times per month he would take her blood and force her sexual submission.
I just wished that I’d been able to convince the king to agree to “the usual practices” of vampire bonding: one blood exchange and one sexual encounter per annum. But that was too much to ask for.
As I walked with my guard toward the throne room, I contemplated my sexual encounters with Freyda—both of them. They’d been pleasant physically. Freyda was beautiful. She was particularly skilled in the art of the blow job. My cock had enjoyed her pussy. But there had been nothing different about Freyda from any other vampire I’d ever fucked.
Except that I was obliged to be her consort. Obliged to fuck her.
She didn’t seem to mind the arrangement.
Granted, being obliged to fuck her was much better than being obliged to get fucked. So I supposed it was a lucky thing that Appius hadn’t decided to contract me to a male “top” vampire.
Anyway, what did it matter whom I screwed now?
I knew fundamentally that no sexual partner would ever be to me what Sookie had been. No other would demand and deserve my fidelity. No other would command my body. No other would capture my heart.
I straightened to my full height as I entered the throne room.
Three, three, and one: that was the math of my life now.
Three nights per week in attendance in the throne room with Freyda.
Three nights per week training vampires throughout Freyda’s kingdom.
One night per week for my own.
On these nights, I would travel to Tom, Oklahoma, the southeastern-most town in the state that I was chained to. Freyda had “indulged me,” allowing me to buy a home there. I was permitted to “sleep” in that home one day per week—as long as I didn’t contact my vampire children or Sookie.
Honestly, I doubted it mattered to Freyda where I spent any of my days as long as I smiled sincerely enough in the Press photos of us—as long as I articulated my “love” for her during the occasional interview since the queen liked to pretend that she was the star of her own fucking fairy tale.
Me? Prince Charming?
Of course—though I had to admit that Freyda was tolerable overall—I didn’t love her. Not in the least. However, contrary to what my maker had taught me, I’d learned that vampires could love.
Even against their will.
My little home in Tom was the only place where I’d truly felt peace since I’d left Louisiana. There I kept some of my most treasured possessions, including a few odds and ends that Sookie had left at my home in Shreveport the last time she’d been there.
A pair of thick socks.
A ponytail holder.
I had things that reminded me of my children too, for I would not be allowed to see them for a very long time. But, at least, I held out hope that I would be able to look upon them again—eventually.
The night was young, and I approached Freyda’s throne with as much respect as ever, bowing deeply before taking my usual place behind and to the right of her.
“You are well, my consort?” she asked, her voice lilting—playful.
She’d enjoyed my discomfort the night before, teasing me after my conference call with Cataliades and de Castro was completed.
Freyda wasn’t particularly cruel. She just found it amusing that I still held a torch for the human who’d rejected my bond.
“Of course I am well,” I responded. “I am in your presence.”
She cackled and began her work for the evening. On the nights she held court, Freyda expected my presence, my protection, and my counsel. She did not discount my opinions either—though she didn’t necessarily agree with them.
All in all, we had a good working relationship, though I knew that I had little true power.
At midnight, the demon Desmond Cataliades arrived, and Freyda asked that he be escorted to her private office. Three hours later—when the rest of her commitments had been met—Freyda motioned for me to follow her to take care of my own business.
It surprised me not at all when Freyda led the conversation with the demon lawyer. It also didn’t surprise me when she insisted upon being the first to read the revisions to my contract—as if she wasn’t a fucking infant compared to me!
Bill fucking Compton was only a decade or so her junior!
When the others in the room weren’t looking, I closed my eyes for a moment. And I refocused on what I needed to: the changes to my world.
Twenty five extra years as Freyda’s consort.
A vow never to communicate with Sookie in any way—by speech or by writing or by signal—when we were in the same place.
I felt my molars pressing together, though I tried to keep my jaw muscles from tensing. Likely, I would see Sookie from time to time once she was officially de Castro’s bonded. She would be paraded to events as “his.”
And—if Sookie initiated communication with me? I would have to ignore her completely.
As if she wasn’t there.
If she said, “hello,” I was to turn around and leave the room immediately if possible.
If she made eye contact, I was to look away as if I didn’t recognize her.
I was to appear in all ways indifferent to her, and—if I did not—Sookie would face punishment in the form of public humiliation at de Castro’s hands. And I wouldn’t allow for that.
Indeed, I knew that the torture of seeing her—but totally disregarding her—would be much worse that never seeing her again.
As Freyda slowly read over the revised contract—commenting on parts of it aloud as if she were at a play—I stood straight and unmoving next to the door.
Only after she’d finished reading did Freyda motion for me to sit. She slid the document to me.
With a maker like Appius, I’d been weaned on torture.
Physical and mental.
To say that I’d learned to control my emotions—as well as my expressions—over the years was an understatement. Only one subject could cause me to falter: Sookie.
“Do not react to what you read,” Mr. Cataliades’s letter began—as if anticipating that I might do just that, given his subject matter: Sookie.
Of course, he was right to caution me.
I used all of my power to keep my face schooled—my eyes free of all emotion, even curiosity.
The demon’s letter explained many things.
His secret connection with Sookie—one she’d not trusted me enough to tell me about.
Sookie’s current state of despair.
The demon giving her an easy method of suicide—if she chose it.
The cluviel dor found by Cataliades not three weeks before—something that he now took as providence.
A carefully worded wish for me to make for Sookie—if I loved her.
I almost lost my composure at that ridiculous word.
There was no such thing as “if” when it came to my feelings for Sookie.
After reading about the part I could play on Sookie’s behalf, I questioned nothing. Instead, I thanked my gods and I asked them to keep Sookie whole. I prayed that she could rediscover happiness in peace.
Mr. Cataliades offered me a pen.
I signed the new contract without asking any questions.
And—of course—I pocketed the pen.
Something unnoticed by Freyda.
I had very little privacy in my queen’s home. Not even my room was left un-surveilled. But my coffin was my own. The pen—the cluviel dor—the miracle—was still in my pocket when I went to my rest.
I gripped it.
But I didn’t wish what Cataliades had suggested. Well-meaning as he seemed to be, the demon’s wish was for Sookie’s safety. But he didn’t know her. And he didn’t know me.
He didn’t know us.
He didn’t know about the happiest time of both of our lives—the time when we were together in her home. Our home.
But Sookie had been right. If I’d stayed memoryless, I would have eventually felt as if I were “missing” something.
No—”safe” wasn’t enough. Not for Sookie.
Not unless she was happy too. Call me greedy.
But I loved her.
With that in mind, I wished.
“Please give me time—time to ensure that she is happy and safe,” I whispered.
And I kept wishing that wish—with all that I was.
Until long after I felt the magic within the object receding.
Until every ounce of me seemed to disappear into the ether along with my pleas.
Until well after dawn.
5:00 A.M. DECEMBER 24, 2007
As I wrote the date in my new “diary,” I remembered the last Christmas Eve Gran had been alive. I tried to recall the scent of her famous pecan pie.
But I failed.
Unsurprisingly, I’d had no chance to stroll to the gazebo and face the oak tree so that I could drink the poison Mr. Cataliades had given to me.
Instead, I’d had to endure Jean’s return right after Mr. Cataliades left. She had more clothing for me. She took measurements of me. And it turned out that there had been time for a quick haircut and color.
At least I wouldn’t die with split ends.
After my wonderful “last” dinner—hopefully—I was told to shower and dress in the outfit Jean had selected for me.
Despite knowing that I was being watched, I managed my shower more easily than I’d thought I would be able to; in fact, I wondered why I’d ever blushed at my nudity before.
After all, my body was merely another of the commodities described in the contract I’d just signed. Even my veins were listed—catalogued.
I dressed in the clothing that had been laid out for me—after saying a sad goodbye to my own clothing—for I knew that it would be disposed of before I returned from my meeting with the king. I placed a pad of paper and “the” pen into a designer purse that had been left with my chosen outfit. And then I transferred my wallet and my small photo album to the purse. Other than my engraved engagement ring, which now seemed to be cutting through my finger, they were now the last pieces of my life that was. I didn’t want them to be taken while I was gone.
I felt barely aware as Felipe greeted me in his cliché Count Dracula cape and with his cheesy accent.
He kissed my hands—both of them.
He complimented my dress.
He shared his condolences at my losses.
He made a big show of cutting his wrist and collecting his “precious” blood in a chalice that looked like something out of a treasure trove.
I took the required sip and then cringed as my own wrist was cut so that Felipe could drink my blood.
He seemed well-pleased with the flavor.
“Until tomorrow night and our next exchange,” he leered before leaving my side.
I felt ill.
Jean escorted me back “home” and supervised as I ate a “required” snack and took “required” vitamins.
While I’d met with de Castro, several racks of clothing had been set up for me—meaning Jean—to choose from. Stonily, I tried on everything presented to me. I endured fittings (because the hems always seemed too long). I smiled insincerely at compliments. I showed a preference for pink things as an inside joke with Pam in mind.
I also wondered whether the world would suddenly just freeze once Eric made his cluviel dor wish in the Central Time Zone. Honestly, it was a mere academic question at this point.
For I intended to kill myself no matter what.
Still—I wondered about the effects of the cluviel dor. Would I be suddenly zapped to a different place? Maybe Eric’s homeland or somewhere he thought of as safe?
What would my “freedom” and “safety” be like to a fairy charm?
Honestly, I held out very little hope for a good outcome. After all the only “good” fairy I’d ever known was Claudine. And maybe Dermot—though his own interest in me was rather suspect. I certainly never would consider Niall to be “good” again. Oh—I think he meant well, but he’d turned out to be a plague when it came to his family—every single one of its members.
Clearly, I’d inherited that quality from him.
I found myself wondering what my life would have been like if Niall had never entered it. I couldn’t help but to think it would have been exponentially better.
After I’d been a Barbie for several hours, I decided that it was time to say “when.” I’d given up on the cluviel dor by then; after all, the sun would have risen in Oklahoma by then. Maybe Eric didn’t love me. Maybe his wish had no potency. Or maybe he threw away the pen that Mr. Cataliades had given to him and signed the new contract with his blood.
I suppose it didn’t matter.
I didn’t really want my second chance. Or was it my third? Actually, it seemed more like my hundredth chance. And I was tired of always being the one who got those extra chances—while the people I loved died or disappeared from my life.
A/N: Hello all! I appreciate all the thoughtful comments I’ve been getting about this story. Some of you have even honored me by telling me ways that the story has reminded you of personal experiences. It’s always an amazing feeling to know that something I wrote connects with others.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting.
Until next time,
As always, I couldn’t do all this without Seph and Kleannhouse. Thanks ladies!