The Princess: Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font.
The firefly wakens; waken thou with me.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Eric!” I gasped. I could barely breathe with his body pressing me to the ground. I’d hurt my tailbone, I knew that much. The pain paled in comparison to the worry. It sounded like semi-automatic rifles were firing into the house, growls, roars and snarls along with screams merging the sounds with the violence. I don’t know if the attack lasted seconds or minutes. I had to concentrate, even as I feared that Eric had been hurt. But his feelings were alive within me, and that would have to be my only comfort for now.
I reached out mentally. The gunmen’s minds were so full of hatred and images of what they were doing, that it was useless to get any information from their thoughts. I cast out a different net, looking for familiar thoughts or mental patterns. I could count vampire minds by their voids. Many were moving under the bullets to attack the attackers. The minds that concerned me were the desperate human ones, blipping out of my own mind as the life within was extinguished.
The bullets stopped, followed by an eerie silence. Only a few vampires remained inside the house, the rest were giving chase.
Eric moved above me, enough for me to look at him. He was wincing even as he looked me over. He knelt, pulling me to him into a fierce hug. I hugged him just as hard, not bothering to hold back tears. Only the feeble sound of a dying mind made me pull away from him.
“Chris!” I called out. She’d been standing next to us. I looked to my left. She’d been hit by bullets, and was alone and dying. Her boyfriend had left her to chase the gunmen. I crawled to her, holding her hand. Her death entered my mind, her desperation to remain alive. “I’m here, I’m here,” I said to her. She couldn’t see me.
A small glowing hand took Chris’ other hand. “I’m here,” Godric said to her. “What do you see, Sookie?” he asked me, not looking away from Chris’ anguished face.
“She’s scared,” I sniffled. “She doesn’t want to die. She has too many plans for her life,” my voice cracked, but I owed her this, so I continued even with the lump in my throat. “She heard your voice and recognized it. She thinks you’re beautiful but she can’t see you,” I said to Godric. My eyes roamed over her. I didn’t even know where she was bleeding from. There was just too much blood glistening in the faint light that was left inside the house.
Without any warning, Godric bent over her and bit her neck, taking one long draw after another. Eric pulled me away because I had been about to push Godric away from Chris. What was he doing? She might have been saved!
“He’s turning her,” Eric whispered in my ear with a strained voice.
I turned to Eric. Before I had a chance to ask him anything, I saw that Eric had been hit by a bullet too. “Oh, God! Oh, God!”
His jacket was torn at the shoulder, his blood staining his shirt underneath. “It’s nothing. The bullet will come out on its own in a minute. It’s just very painful.”
I looked from his shoulder to his face and back. He’d taken a bullet for me. Had I expected any less? I sank back in my kneeling position, the sobs that I’d held at bay taking over me as more and more minds thought their last prayers. I looked at my bloody hands, twined my fingers, and prayed too. So much death… Please, God, take them home…
I heard a soft humming from my left. It was Godric. He was cradling Chris into his small body, letting her drink his blood. There was nothing in her mind. What she was doing was an automatic response, maybe part of the magic too. She was drinking from his neck, and he was caressing her hair as if he was soothing her.
Godric felt my eyes on him and looked up. “I’ll take care of her, Sookie,” he said, and I knew he wouldn’t leave her. He wouldn’t meet the sun and leave his child behind. “I’ve never been a maker,” he smiled, and the sadness was gone from his face.
“I have,” Eric said. Godric turned to look at him, his eyes wide and expectant. “Do you have somewhere to go with her?”
“I was living in Maryland until recently, but I don’t want to take her there,” Godric said. Chris had stopped drinking and was now limp in his arms. “Do you think I did this right?” he asked Eric.
“We will know in three days. Come now. We have to get out of here,” Eric said. Just as he stood up he doubled over in pain. I stood up immediately, my hands fluttering about him not knowing what to do.
Eric grabbed my hand and held it under his shoulder. A rather large bullet fell on my palm. It looked like a .30 magnum, much larger than my brother used in his gun. What were they trying to kill? Moose? When Eric straightened he looked better, and I breathed in relief.
“Honey?” I put my hand on the hurt shoulder. He smiled reassuringly. He was okay, at least.
He procured keys from Stan, who had remained in his own house and was waiting for the human police. “They’re Isabel’s. She won’t need her car for a long time,” Stan said. I really didn’t want to know why that was. I was just grateful for the use of a private car since we were all covered in blood.
“Sookie,” Eric was driving, with Godric and Chris in the backseat of Isabel’s Lexus. “Can you call the hotel and arrange for a room for Godric?”
I did as he requested. I still had Sue’s card, and though it wasn’t Sue who answered, I got the royal treatment from the new concierge once I explained the situation. The new concierge said the room’s key would be waiting for Godric at the concierge’s desk as soon as we arrived. Talk about service… I just wanted a long shower and a clean bed where I could cry in private.
“Thank you, Sookie,” Godric said from the backseat. He hadn’t let go of Chris for a second. He was still cradling her tenderly, and I understood what Eric felt for Pam. I wondered if all vampires were this loving to their children. I knew Eric had said Sophie-Anne was very attached to hers.
At the hotel, we had several vampires approach us. They news had spread like wildfire, so they weren’t surprised to see us bathed in blood. However, the smell of Chris’ blood all over her had them salivating, which put Godric in a right state, and Eric in another whenever any of their gazes drifted towards me. The concierge in charge was a large “other,” and he made the crowd back away from us so that Eric – who was in better control of his protective instincts than Godric – could steer all of us upstairs to our respective rooms.
“Will you be alright for a few minutes? I need to talk to Godric,” Eric said as he changed his clothes.
“Wait,” I said, examining his shoulder. It was smooth once again, only bloody. “Does it hurt?”
“Not anymore,” he hugged me close. I really wanted to cry, but wanted to do it alone, so I held back the tears. “I don’t know what I would have done if something had happened to you.”
Eric pulled away, running his fingers over my face softly. His reverence was a bright light within me. I felt safe inside it, and I knew he would always try to keep me safe. I pulled him to me, claiming his lips, needing his love to ignite. I’d gotten hurt and he was my balm.
He pulled away and put his forehead to mine. “I’ll come back quickly, I swear. Godric needs my help,” he said, needing to explain because he’d felt my disappointment.
I nodded, knowing my voice would fail me if I spoke. I had to be fair and let Eric help. He left and I stripped my dress, tossing it in the trash can along with Eric’s clothes. Even if I could have found someone to remove the blood from it, I didn’t ever want to see it again.
Inside the shower I cried while I left my skin raw from scrubbing so vigorously. I didn’t want any traces of blood on me. I washed my hair again, twice. And then there was nothing else for me to do inside the shower but cry. Eric’s cool hands on my arms startled me. I turned around and sank into him.
“It hurts me to see you cry. What can I do to make it better?” His voice reverberated inside his chest.
“I’ve never seen so much hate. They were happy with what they did. They felt righteous and vindicated. I think they were from the Fellowship of the Sun, but God only knows if it was something the Fellowship put together or if they acted on their own. I just…” I shook my head, “so many innocent people dead to avenge what exactly? Damage to a building?”
Eric smoothed my hair and tried to soothe me with his touch. I wished he could glamour the memories out of my mind. I indulged my tears for a few more minutes, but then turned him to stand under the water. I washed him, and for once neither of us was feeling lustful during this endeavor. He seemed as eager to wash the blood off as I had been. He scrubbed his hair while I scrubbed his body. We moved silently past each other as we got ready for bed. He brushed my hair and dried it a little while I brushed my teeth. He retrieved my old nightgown, the one I’d brought just in case, while I flossed.
“What happens now?” I asked Eric when we were safely tangled in each other under the covers. I always asked him the same question, I noticed.
“Godric is taking Chris to Shreveport. He sold all his properties when he was getting ready to meet the sun, so he has no place to shelter a new vampire. I’ll let him have use of the house I have in Bossier, if that’s alright with you,” he said.
It seemed like a done deal, so I wasn’t about to veto it. “That’s fine. He shouldn’t stay around here with those awful people from the Fellowship knowing who he is.”
“Agreed. We leave tomorrow as soon as we can. I will arrange for our flight and for a coffin for Chris. She will remain dead for a few days and then rise.”
“She’ll be like Hadley, won’t she?” I asked, remembering how my own cousin had tried to eat me.
“I’m afraid she will, though Godric is so old, perhaps his influence over her will be strong enough to curb her baser instincts.” Eric dipped his head and took a deep breath at my neck. He brought his head up and kissed my forehead. He seemed to be reassuring himself that I was there, safe and sound. I knew how he felt. “I watched Godric as we spoke,” Eric continued. “He will be good to Chris, and I think she’s what he needed in order to continue: somebody to look after, to love because she’s his to love. Seems to me he’s been alone for too long.”
“Is that what happened to you?” I asked quietly. I never knew the whole story about how or why he turned Pam.
“Yes,” he answered. “I was very lonely, and she had left her house in the middle of the night to meet with a boy. I knew she was strong and willful, even as small as she is. She defied the conventions of her sex and status. Still does.”
Again I felt that we shouldn’t speak about Pam if she wasn’t present, but I needed the conversation to veer away from the events of the night. “Have you ever turned another?”
“No, she was my first child, my only child.”
I nodded slowly. There was a new sensation rippling through the bond and I was trying to decipher it. I didn’t have to wait too long.
“I would turn you if you asked me,” Eric said in a grave voice. There was longing in his tone. That new sensation had a name after all.
I breathed slowly, trying to phrase my answer correctly. “I’m happy with how things are now. That isn’t something I want at this time.”
“I know, my love. I just want to make sure you know I will do it if you ask me, never against your will or because I’m a selfish old man who wants to keep you forever.” He hugged me tighter. His body had retained a little warmth from the shower, and my own body was feeding it.
“Won’t you miss my warmth?”
“You’re much more than your body temperature,” he answered. “Although it feels delightful,” he admitted, and wiggled a little against me, throwing his leg over one of mine. I hiked my free leg high on his hip, snuggling closer and falling asleep after a prayer of thanks for having him still in my life.
My house felt empty. I started turning on lights, with Eric following behind. We’d both been quiet making our way back home from Dallas. I’d pretty much spent all day sleeping off my depression, and now I was wide awake, though still sad.
Eric moved past me to put our bags in the bedroom and when he returned he found me standing in the middle of the kitchen, arms akimbo and looking around me. I was mad at myself. I knew grief was debilitating, but I had to snap out of it already.
“Do you feel like helping?” I asked Eric.
He looked confused. “I’ll help you with anything.”
“Good,” I nodded with a sense of purpose. “Come wash your hands,” I said. We both washed our hands. I could feel his confusion and a little amusement as I started taking out ingredients to make cookies. I turned on the oven and got to work.
“Can you measure a cup of flour?” I asked, and he looked dumbfounded. I had to show him everything. It was like teaching a very smart kid, since I only had to show him things once.
Eric was fascinated by the mélange of ingredients, so I let him stir everything together and saved me some elbow grease. “Sookie’s cookies,” he chuckled.
“Do you want to put them on the cookie sheet? Just put gobs about two inches apart from each other,” I said, not waiting to see if he wanted to do it or not. I knew he did. He did it, though the cookies were going to turn out all kinds of sizes. No matter. This was not an exercise in perfection.
“Now what?” he asked as I put the cookie sheet in the oven.
“Now we clean up while we wait for them to bake.”
“I can make you cookies now,” he said, grabbing the dirty bowl that still had a little batter. “I remember everything you put in them.”
I smiled. Super vampire retention of memories… it could come in handy. We cleaned everything, and I decided I was hungry. I’d eaten before leaving Dallas, but that had been about five hours before. I could only keep refrigerated or frozen things in the house, lest they go bad, or I developed a sudden rodent problem. I opened the freezer and stared… Hmm… dinner?
“Do you think that’s a museum? Why are you staring inside your freezer?” Eric asked behind me.
“I’m trying to figure out what I could make for dinner,” I said, and reached for a frozen pizza. That would be easy enough. The oven was already hot.
“Let me help,” he said, taking the pizza. This I had to see. He turned the box and read the instructions, nodding.
He remembered where I kept everything, and took out another cookie sheet. He set the unwrapped pizza on it then looked at the oven. “That temperature is not high enough.”
“The cookies will be ready in a minute. I’ll turn up the heat and then you can put the pizza inside,” I said. It was obvious to me, and amazing to watch Eric learn something so foreign to him.
He bent over the frozen pizza and sniffed it, trying to catalog the scents, I supposed. I took out the cookies and they were all shapes and sizes. Eric made a face.
“They don’t look like yours,” he said.
“I like that one,” I said, pointing to one about the size of my hand.
The cookies were cooling on a rack and I was relishing my pizza, which was amazingly good – or maybe I was especially hungry. Eric was sitting next to me, leaning back on his chair with his hands behind his head, watching me eat with a tiny smirk on his lips.
“What?” I asked, returning his smile. I was already used to him watching me eat, but I wondered what the fascination was.
“I haven’t eaten in a long time. I was wondering why it seemed so pleasurable.”
“Oh!” I looked down at my pizza. How to explain food? It was life, necessary. “This pizza is savory. The bread rose in the oven, so it tastes fresh. The cheese melted and mixed with the tomato sauce. I don’t know, it’s just good.”
“I never had pizza… or tomato sauce. We made bread and a type of cheese, but not like that one,” he said, pointing at the melty deliciousness. “We didn’t make cookies.”
“What did you eat?”
“Mostly meats of various animals. We valued our milk. My…” Eric stopped talking and looked down at the table. “For a treat we had berries preserved in honey or sugar.”
“You were going to say something else,” I pressed, curious.
“My mother was a good cook,” he smiled, but something was off. If we hadn’t been bonded I would have dismissed his statement, but I could feel his sadness. It lifted quickly. “You’re a good cook too,” he said, still smiling, and now it seemed more genuine.
“Ah, but you’ve only seen me make cookies,” I said. What a bullshiter. Plus, who was he to judge? He wasn’t eating any of it.
“You’re good at everything you do,” he said and smiled wider.
We curled up on my couch and watched a late show, with Eric making fun of the commercials.
“It seems they wish me to get rid of my Corvette and buy a Nissan,” he said, arching an eyebrow. It was the tenth Nissan commercial. We’d counted.
“Poor Corvette. Hopefully it’s okay,” I said, not quite remembering the damage. I guessed it needed a new bumper, just like my car.
“Do you wish me to exchange it for the truck?” he asked. He was driving a huge SUV that Pam had gotten him as a rental while our cars got fixed. He seemed to like it, but I knew he held a special place in his heart for the Corvette.
“No, honey. Besides, how many people were you thinking of driving around? You can fit all of Fangtasia in that thing,” I said, giggling. I think the SUV had three rows of seats, but I couldn’t be sure. Every time I looked at the back it seemed to go on forever. Like a cavern.
“We’d be vampire circus clowns,” he laughed, “twenty vampires contorted to fit inside the truck.”
We both laughed. We were mending. Everything would be okay and the scare from Dallas would be nothing but a bad memory in the back of our minds. Later we made love, the tender kind, the kind that mended souls.
“He’s been like that ever since…” Sam stopped talking. I’d stopped at Merlotte’s for a late lunch and brought the cookies I’d made the night before.
“Ever since Lafayette,” I finished for him, feeling a quick stab of pain somewhere near my heart.
We were both looking at a drunk and depressed Andy Bellefleur. He’d been put on leave while Alcee Beck and Bud Dearborn conducted the investigation into Lafayette’s death. He was the obvious suspect, though I didn’t see it that way. His brain gave nothing away, just lots of confusion and self-deprecation (my new Word of the Day). It all seemed to stem from the fact that he couldn’t stop drinking, not because he’d killed somebody.
“Can I talk to you?” Sam said, pointing at his office with his head.
I followed him and he closed the door. “I’ve been… meeting… with someone who knows you,” he began.
“Who?” I asked, smiling. Maybe it was an old friend.
“Her name is Phaedra. She’s a maenad,” Sam said in a very low voice.
My eyes were about to bulge out of my head. “Yes, she met me at the side of the road about a week ago. She said she was trying to protect me.”
“She was,” Sam said with utter conviction. “She says you don’t know what you are, but she does, and wants to tell you. But she’s scared Eric will try to hurt her. She was very sorry her snake attacked you. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was busy, I’m sorry. Besides, I didn’t know what to tell you exactly. What is the nature of your meetings with her?” I asked, confused.
Sam smiled sheepishly. “She’s a sort of shape shifter. We’ve been hunting as panthers.”
I had to sit down. “What are you hunting?”
“Rabbits and possums, Sookie. What do you think?”
I held my hands up. “Okay, okay. Look, I’ve had a really horrible week, starting with a freaking cottonmouth biting my leg and ending with a massacre…”
“You were there?!” Sam interrupted. “You were at that house in Dallas?”
I nodded looking up from where I had sagged into a chair. He knelt in front of me and took my hands. I scrambled to shield from him. “I’m so sorry,” he said and meant it with all his heart. I hadn’t been able to shield all his thoughts. “When you said you were going to Dallas, I didn’t really connect the dots.”
“So… Phaedra wants to meet me?” I asked, trying to steer Sam back to his point.
“Yes. I’d be with you. You’d be perfectly safe. That is, if you want to know what you are. You may not want to,” Sam’s voice had a warning in it.
“Let me think about it. I need some time, some peaceful time. We’re going to be really busy at Fangtasia, what with Halloween just around the corner, and I need some time to work through everything that’s happened,” I answered.
“Of course. I will tell Phaedra your wishes, so she doesn’t go looking for you,” he paused, searching my face. “Other than the bad things, are you okay?”
I smiled. “If you mean how things between Eric and me are, everything’s good. We’re getting used to married life, I suppose.”
“He’s treating you right?”
“Of course, you know that,” I said. My ears perked at the same time as Sam’s. There was a commotion out in the bar.
We both ran out of his office, to find Andy fighting with his sister Portia, who had come to pick him up. It was just words, but they were mean and loud. Portia was nearly in tears. After all, she was a busy lawyer, and had made time to come get her brother during the middle of the day. Sam sat Andy down and gave him a stern talking to, while I took care of Portia.
“Are you okay? Do you need some water?” I asked her. She hadn’t ever been friendly to me, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to help her.
“No, thank you, Sookie,” she said politely, taking out a tissue from her purse and dabbing her eyes. She looked up at me, eyes wide. I knew what she wanted before she said it out loud. “Maybe you can see who hurt Lafayette and help Andy,” she whispered. Nobody liked to acknowledge what I could do until they needed my help.
“It doesn’t work that way,” I said. It was true too. What were the odds that Lafayette’s killer was going to be in my vicinity and thinking about his crime all at the same time? Astronomical.
“Please do what you can. Our grandmother has been in distress since all this started, and she’s not doing too well,” Portia said, appealing to my softer nature.
“Okay, Portia. I’ll try my best.”
I drove to Jason’s, meaning to meet him there right after work and before I had to get ready for work myself. He had just arrived when I got there.
“Sooks! What brings you here?” he asked, and actually gave me a half hug, since he had groceries in his other hand.
“I wanted to see how you and Tina were getting along,” I said. It was partly true. The whole truth was that the stuff in Dallas had made me realize my priorities. Jason was my only family, and I was his only family. What would have happened to him if I’d died at that house? I don’t think he’d be able to deal with the loss. He wasn’t as strong as he looked.
“She’s doing good. She already has all her shots and an appointment for spaying next month. Come on.” Jason opened the door, and I was met by the tinkling sound of a bell. Tina came out of hiding and perched on the back of the sofa, greeting me with a soft meow.
“Hi, sweetie,” I pet her, noticing Jason had gotten her a fancier collar than the one I’d gotten her, plus a tag with her name and his phone number attached to it along with the bell.
“The bell is so she can’t sneak up on birds. Sometimes she sneaks out and stays outside all day, but she sleeps inside. Her bed’s over there,” Jason pointed at a corner of the living room. I knew that corner. It got sunshine during a few choice hours of the day. “How did it go in Dallas?” he asked, handing me a cold Coke.
I told him everything, and he remained mostly stoic, until I told him about Eric taking a bullet to shield me. “He did that?” Jason asked; his mouth fell open.
“He can’t get killed by a bullet, but I can,” I shrugged. “The bullet sort of popped out on its own after a few minutes. They used something big, a .30 magnum from the looks of it.”
“Holy shit, Sookie! They use those on elk or moose. They cause a lot of damage,” he said and I nodded. Yes, I knew exactly how much damage they caused.
We talked for a little longer, until I had to go so I could get ready for work. It had done me good to talk to him and tell him everything I’d gone through. He had reacted with the proper amount of outrage, and blamed the Fellowship for everything bad, never once badmouthing the vampires. Maybe I was making some leeway with him.
Eric was just waking up when I got home. I told him everything about my day, including Portia’s request.
“Are you going to do it?” he asked. His hands were roaming freely over me, tugging at the button of my jeans.
“I don’t know yet. Honey we gotta get ready,” I said. His hand had made its way inside my jeans.
Eric grumbled, but withdrew his hand. I hated to see him like that: ready, wanting, frustrated. One of the main problems was that I could feel what he felt, so I became ready, wanting and frustrated as well.
“You’re going to kill me,” I said, and pulled him to the bathroom with me. We’d have to kill two birds with one stone.
His smile was devious as he watched me strip, and as soon as I did he claimed my mouth and moved us inside the shower. I held onto his neck, and he helped me put my legs around him. Instead of using the cold wall as leverage, he simply moved my body on his hardness.
“I can’t get enough of you. Why can’t I get enough of you?” he grunted, moving me faster.
“Eric, I love you, I’m yours.” He filled me completely and began moving me faster over him.
“Mine, my Sookie. Mine,” he held me steady and thrust inside me with every word. “Come for me, I want to hear you. Let me hear you. Say my name.”
“Eric,” I panted. “Eric. Eric!” I couldn’t say his name anymore. He’d sunk his fangs into my neck and I was undone, not letting go of his neck only by the grace of God. My spasms milked a climax out of him, and he curled into me shouting something into my breast.
We disengaged slowly, reluctantly, our lips refusing to disentangle. He smiled and chuckled into the kiss.
“What’s funny?” I asked, and kissed his lips some more.
“You’re not shy around me anymore,” he said and pulled away to give me a huge smile. He’d won, and he knew it.
I made a show of an exasperated sigh. “There’s no point now. You’ve seen more of me than my own doctor.”
“Yes,” he agreed and waggled his eyebrows.
We eventually made it to Fangtasia. We weren’t late but were cutting it close. Pam was furious with Eric but glad to see me. “I needed her early to talk about the Halloween party,” she said, striking her mad pose.
“Talk now. I have to check the mail,” Eric said and sat at his desk.
“Fine,” she said to Eric then turned to me. “I’m sorry, Sookie, but we’re nixing the Harry Potter theme.”
For some reason she thought I would be hurt by that. I shrugged. I was game for anything as long as I wasn’t running around naked. “Okay, what did you have in mind?”