Bon Temps, as such, hadn’t changed significantly in the time I was gone. Shreveport had changed, but it merely looked as I’d remembered it prior to using the cluviel dor. All in all, we were back home. As to whether we were happy about it, we had yet to make up our minds.
Eric’s house had been kept beautifully by Bobby Burnham. My house in Bon Temps had been kept up by my brother, but he had rented it out and it was currently leased – not that we could have used it anyway. Pam had sold her house with Bobby’s help, thinking that she hadn’t really been attached, and we were always together anyway so that when we returned, she simply stayed at Eric’s until she found something worth buying or renting.
The vampire atmosphere in Louisiana was chaotic, however. After the summit in Rhodes ended with a literal bang – this time a gas main was the culprit – Sophie-Anne and whoever was left of her two kingdoms had returned and were in hiding. We didn’t know who would try to usurp her throne. We didn’t know how she would die, who would take over, or who even had his or her sights on Louisiana and Arkansas. Unfortunately, we didn’t even know what Felipe de Castro was up to in Nevada. News from that side of the country were nonexistent.
Almost everything I knew about the future had been changed or no longer applied.
Some things were still the same, though, like fairies wanting to avenge the deaths of their loved ones, and I was a target. Again.
“Same ol’, same ol’,” I muttered as we drove to a restaurant in Shreveport, the same one where I’d met Niall Brigant for the very first time.
Eric chuckled beside me. “I haven’t seen Niall in a couple of centuries. Does he still smell delicious?”
“I don’t know.” My arms were folded over my chest. I was not happy about this meeting that Eric and Niall had brokered.
Understandably, my husband wanted Niall to figure out a way to get us out of trouble for killing the fairies in Scotland. Niall had refused to listen to Eric’s reason for contacting him and said he would only listen to requests over a meal with his great-granddaughter. He either didn’t know that I had been turned, or else he refused to believe it until he saw me with his own eyes.
“What happened the night I picked you up and brought you to Niall?” Eric asked, wanting to make conversation. He knew I was in a bad mood and he also knew I didn’t want to talk about this part of my past. He tried his luck anyway.
“On our way back home you took a bullet for me, again. You got shot by a werewolf right here in this car. You tried to use it as an excuse to feed from me.”
“Sounds like a great excuse. Did I feed from you that night?” He was salivating at the thought.
“No. I was not dating you, so no.”
“You are cruel and heartless,” he tsk’d.
“On the contrary. I loved you more than you ever loved me.”
The car came to a sudden stop at the side of the highway as Eric turned to me. The air was electric inside that cabin. “Don’t ever say that again, Sookie. I may not have lived it, but I know – I know – that I loved you more than anybody that has ever been in my life, ever.” He waited for me to say something, his eyes dark, his expression just as ominous.
“You’re right,” I conceded, which surprised him. “The more I think about all the things you did for me, the more I realize that you loved me more than I could understand. I’m sorry I said that, but at the time I did feel like you didn’t care about me.”
Eric nodded in understanding, threw the gear back to first and we continued on our way. “Even though I’m not perfect,” he continued, “I would like to think that striving to be who you want has made me better. You forget that our relationship is new to me too.”
His confession, if it could be called such, and his observation were enlightening. Usually, learning and understanding is an organic process that takes time and immersion. Sometimes, though, comprehension hits all at once; a door opens; light pours in; everything is illuminated.
In trying so hard to stay the same and digging in my heels whenever something new entered my life or changed in my world, I had failed to see beyond myself at everybody else, including those that I loved the most. Poor Eric had probably suffered the most, followed closely by Pam for seeing her maker suffer, and then myself for denying what my heart clearly wanted. I could blame Bill for seducing me, making me love him like I’d never loved anybody before him, to then hurt me in the way that he had. I’d almost forgiven him everything, but when I found out that he had been ordered to seduce me, he had handed me a brush with which I chose to paint all others, a measuring stick to which all would be held against. Eric wouldn’t keep still and kept moving away from the figurative brush and breaking the stick, yet I kept procuring new ways to hold him to a standard of excellence that was absurdly unattainable no matter who chose to love me.
In the end, Eric had to make me more like himself for me to finally understand why he had behaved towards his human wife the way that he had. He wanted to keep me safe at all costs. Always had. Telling me more than I’d be prepared to hear would have been like teaching algebra to a 5-year-old. Impossible. Actually, it would have been worse. Dangerous.
With new eyes I turned to my husband as he pulled into a parking space in front of the restaurant. As soon as he turned off the car he turned to me too, feeling my gaze on him.
“Thank you,” I said, “for helping me.” It was a simple statement, but I hoped he understood that it meant so much more. I reached up and caressed his cheek tenderly. He leaned into my touch and relaxed the set to his shoulders. Not until then did I notice how my stress over this meeting had been affecting him. “I love you so much.”
Eric took my hand and kissed my fingers, sending sweet shivers like his touch always did. Whenever he was sweet it made me wonder how we ever arrived at our passion.
Inside the restaurant, where I tried to take very short breaths to taste the air, we found my great-grandfather sort of hiding, sitting at a remote table where I hoped we would enjoy some privacy. The hostess pegged our species right away and handed us the blood list as soon as we were seated, and Eric wasted no time and ordered for both of us. Then we got down to business.
“Sookie,” Niall nodded solemnly at me then turned and nodded at Eric. His face was impassive, completely devoid of emotion, which could only mean one thing: he was disappointed. Oh, well! He would have to get used to it.
Niall shifted in his seat looking a little uncomfortable, but then he regained all his usual composure and leveled Eric with his gaze. “You must be held responsible for the deaths in Scotland.”
Eric didn’t answer immediately other than to flare his nostrils in anger. After a moment he narrowed his eyes. “What will it take for Sookie to be safe?”
Our server chose that moment to deliver our blood and Niall’s meal. The interruption seemed welcomed to Niall, who smiled at his plate like a little boy being offered French fries. He cut the food into many smaller bites, taking his time about it. In the meantime, Eric made a face of impatience but lifted his glass to sniff it and set it down after a sip. I mimicked him and found that the taste was not altogether bad. It must have been the good, non-synthetic blood.
Finally, Niall was ready to give Eric an answer. Of sorts. “One of your children is a queen, correct?”
“You know she is,” Eric shot in anger, never raising his voice because of the setting.
“Yet you sought to make another.” Niall pointed at me.
“I didn’t seek to make her my child. I wished to make her my equal and she wished me to be hers. This was the only way.”
“Without regard to her family.”
I intervened. “Wait a minute, Niall. I’d already told you I didn’t want y’all around me, so you have no say in my life whatsoever.”
“You forget your place,” Niall said with an angry huff.
I looked down at my hands, biting back every uncivilized thing that I wanted to say to my elder.
How dare he? After all I’d gone through because of him! After all I’d lost because of him! I’d lost my parents. I’d lost my grandmother. I’d lost my sanity and my LIFE! I knew my place and it wasn’t as a punching bag for fairies or as a delicious asset for vampires.
I wasn’t even sure if Niall meant that I should be quiet because I was younger or because I was female. Either way, if I said something I was sure to cause a scene.
Eric’s hand appeared in my peripheral vision. He was silently asking for mine and was already standing from his seat. Standing up myself, if not for myself, I took his hand and squeezed, silently thanking him for understanding.
“We will find another way,” he said, more to me than to Niall.
As we neared Eric’s Corvette, Niall appeared before it out of thin air. I couldn’t stop from rolling my eyes like a fed up teenager.
“There is only one way I can help and you will forever be rid of our kind that you abhor so much.” Niall’s eyes were fixed on Eric’s and my hands. He still held mine in his in solidarity, in love, in comfort.
After too long a pause, during which Niall seemed to be gathering either his thoughts or courage, he looked me in the eye and declared, “You must make me a cluviel dor.”
A laugh burst out of me not too elegantly. “I don’t love you. Like at all,” I cut through the air with my free hand. “I might have felt some sense of longing for family, but I’m way past that now. If that’s your price, I can’t pay it.” No sense in mentioning that I was no longer fairy in any way, shape or form.
“You have what it takes.” Niall pointed at my hand in Eric’s. “Neave and Lochlan are ready to avenge the deaths of their kind,” he warned.
My ire coursed through my whole body, tempered a little by the terror of the memories that I still carried with me. “Somehow I can’t seem to care,” I said nonchalantly, putting on a cool face that in no way mirrored what I felt inside. Eric shifted beside me, probably because my words and my feelings were at complete odds, plus he hated it whenever I was feeling like I was in danger. Also, he knew what I was about to say next. “You couldn’t prevent their coming after me the first time. This time I will eat them instead of them eating my flesh.”
Niall seemed to blanch at my statement. His expression filled with pain and he seemed to finally understand what I was telling him. I ventured to read his mind, and was surprised to find it open yet completely alien. His thoughts were not something I could interpret or understand in any sense. The language was different; the images did not exist in my world or in any other that had been imagined; the bursts of blinding light and deep, abysmal darkness nearly burned out my synapses and I had to shield quickly. I would not be doing that again.
My great-grandfather seemed to understand what I had done, and even offered an explanation. Or it could have been an answer to my earlier statement. “You are more demon than angel now. Our species are enemies.”
Eric turned to me and took my face in his hands, his eyes roaming, ascertaining that I was all right; whether he was gauging my mental, physical, or psychic well-being, I don’t know. When he was satisfied he took my hand again, and without a word led me to the passenger side of the car and opened the door for me, helping me get in – not that I needed it.
Vampire fast he got in Niall’s face, baring his teeth, his fangs, and his full anger. “Never again, old man, do you understand? She is mine now and nobody hurts her. Ever.”
“That is my blood, Northman,” Niall pointed at me in the car. “You should beware that you have robbed me of family and fomented despicable acts against her kind-”
“I AM HER KIND!” Eric interrupted as his fury exploded out of him. “Not you! Never you!” He returned to the car and got in the driver’s seat. A few moments later he was peeling rubber back to the highway.
“That was a complete waste,” I muttered looking out the window at the world passing by in a blur.
“Not entirely,” Eric said with an actual smile in his voice. When I looked at him, he was actually smiling. Color me confused. He chuckled and continued, “You can make a cluviel dor.”
“You do understand that’s demented, right?”
“This whole situation is demented,” Eric gestured grandly with a free hand. “If Niall says you can make it, then you can. Now we just have to figure out how…”
“And then what? Sell them on the street?”
“You turned back time.”
“Not going to do that again. That was not my intention at all.”
“That’s not what I want either, since there’s no guarantee of ending up together or that you’ll keep your memories. But,” he turned to look at me with mischief in his eyes, “What if we could change something so fundamental that it would make the world a better place?”
I swear I didn’t mean to giggle, but I did anyway. “Like make everyone love each other?”
“Not that. We cannot play a deity and toy with people’s feelings and emotions. That is just a good way for karma to come calling. But we can change one event or reverse it. Do you know what I would like to do?”
My mind went to thinking: one event to change it all. “You want to go back in the coffin.”
“Why? Weren’t things among vampires chaotic then?”
“Not really, certainly not more chaotic than now.”
“You’re insane,” I declared with finality.
“Admit that it makes sense and that there’s no need for us to be out and about. We lived among humans for millennia and nobody knew. We were fantasy, a myth, fiction. We didn’t exist, except we did. We’ve always been here.”
“So, let me get this right: you want to go back to living in the shadows?”
“There won’t be a blood substitute, since that’s what precipitated our ‘coming out of the coffin’ deal.”
“The world could use less True Blood.”
“And a lot of humans wouldn’t get transfusions.”
My argument was good enough and it made Eric pause for a good answer. “This whole point is moot if we cannot figure out the means to make a cluviel dor.”
Eric parked the car, but we weren’t home. We were at Fangtasia, which had not changed one iota, not even the name. The outside of the building looked exactly the same as ever with a line of patrons eagerly awaiting entrance. We had parked at a “Reserved” spot, or we would have otherwise not had a place to park.
“Let’s go say hello,” Eric said winking and exiting the car.
All eyes drifted to me as we made our way inside through the front doors. Since I was always on the lookout for danger by listening to everybody’s thoughts, I was able to ascertain that the enthusiasm at seeing us enter the bar was nothing more than harmless fans wanting to do what fans always want to do – and in our case, perhaps a little extra. Lust ran like a wave through each mind, one infecting another, and most people waiting in line saw no reason to split Eric and me. They’d feed us both, or have sex with us both, and the more innocent were simply imagining a photo op with us both.
The bouncer was a familiar face to me: Palomino. Her slender, tanned form and blond hair shone under the bright lights at the entrance. She nodded at us professionally and let us cut the line. Inside, the bar was brighter than I remembered, but only because I was a different being. As soon as we entered, we were joined by Pam, and in the distance I saw Clancy’s red head making its way through the crowd.
“Something is going on tonight,” Pam whispered.
“Is it wolves?” I asked, jogging my memory. Pam nodded but I didn’t say anything else as we were being ushered to the back by a nervous-looking Clancy.
Once in his office – or Eric’s old office – he asked us to sit but otherwise paced. “Did Pam tell you?”
“No,” Eric answered for both of us.
Clancy began, “The Shreveport pack of mutts is at it again-”
“They’re fighting a pack from New Orleans that wants to take over,” I offered. All eyes turned to me. “What?” I asked Eric and Pam. They knew that I knew the future.
“Who is the victor?” asked Eric.
Clancy interjected. “How do you know?”
“I know Alcide.” Although, come to think of it, I didn’t know Alcide at all. He could be a psychopath this time around. Doubtful, but then again, look at Bill Compton. However, I knew for sure that the Weres from New Orleans would lose and die. That part was written in stone, just like all other deaths.
Clancy nodded, apparently satisfied with my answer, but his worry didn’t leave him. “There’s also talk that you will be named sheriff again,” he said to Eric.
“Worry not, Clancy,” Eric nodded diplomatically. “The queen merely mentioned it, but I have no wish to take over your office. We simply wanted to return home.”
Finally, I understood Clancy’s jitters. He thought Eric would fight him to be sheriff. Meanwhile, Eric, Pam, and I had plans of our own and we needed Clancy exactly where he was. Sadly, he would die in a few months anyway.
“Do you have any idea where Sophie-Anne is?” Clancy asked.
“Not a clue. I know she was injured in Rhodes.”
“How odd that you all left the hotel before it exploded,” he pointed out, unwisely. It gave me a reason to listen to his thoughts. There had been rumors that my power was to tell the future. The rumors were even more convincing because the Ancient Pythoness had specifically asked to meet me, and she was THE Oracle, after all. Maybe she thought I was her competition, or so the gossip went. That’s what Clancy was alluding to. He was also trying to ascertain whether it was true or not because another vampire had asked him for the information. And that’s when I took over his brain so that I could have a private conversation.
“He’s seen Ocella,” I announced.
If Eric could, he would have vomited. All his dread, fear, aversion, downright disgust of his maker hit me sideways and Pam too. Soon Ocella would come asking Eric to give his other child, Alexei Romanov, some blood, and Eric would comply because he had to. Or so he thought.
“Eric,” I put my hand on his shoulder, “I can manipulate Ocella. He will not force you to do anything.”
“I hope you’re right.” He was past somber as he stood. “You know what to do,” he said to me and pointed at Clancy.
I replaced Clancy’s memory of us with one of his closest friends, so that he would not report back to Ocella. Also, I tried to get Ocella’s whereabouts from him, but to no avail. However, it was clear that Ocella was hanging around trying to get something from his child, and that something was me. I was doomed to always be a pawn, or a desirable object for all these men. Vampires. Beings.
“He can’t make you marry Oklahoma, so he’s thinking of whatever else will make him some money,” Pam noted after I told them everything I’d found in Clancy’s thoughts.
“Fucking bullshit,” Eric mumbled under his breath. There’s no way to describe how he was feeling at that moment, but frustrated and betrayed were close to accurate. He turned to me. “We will research how to make a cluviel dor. We will make it,” he said resolutely.
It was the first time Pam heard about us making another cluviel dor, and she chuckled in an unladylike fashion beside me. “And then my unicorn will run away with Bigfoot and have beautiful, hairy centaur babies.”
Even though I thought Pam was right, I nevertheless knew that I would have to try, if not for my sake, then for Eric’s. I knew that if I didn’t, at least, try, then Eric would lose his sanity.