The crickets were singing their timeless melodies in the dark of her farm. I was on the porch, listening to Sookie fuss over Cantos. She seemed to be trying to jam a thousand years of motherhood into a single night with a battle hardened warrior. To his credit, he withstood her affections with stalwart kindness.
*Leave her be, father. I have rarely known such pampering. It is not a burden to be treated kindly.*
I smiled in the dark. I wanted another thousand years just like this night. The three of us around her table as she dug through the cabinets for nonperishables that Jason had not liberated for his own. They had finally settled on peanut butter and crackers, both making sounds of joy as they ate that it assured me it was tasty and filling.
Cantos had told us a little of what had happened in Fae. “When Niall reneged on his deal, Warlow called us to war. Niall was hated by all sides, but Mab and Claudine had no choice but to fight. Warlow blamed them as he did Niall, and killed without discrimination.”
“What weapons did this Warlow use that were so devastating to the land?” I asked, curious to learn how I might combat him.
“Warlow draws his power from the living energy of the world around him. It is part of his Fae powers that were enhanced when his vampire maker, Lilith changed him with her blood. When he fights he uses the life force of our world to back him. It makes him almost invincible.”
“It’s something he can use, but not his soldiers.”
“But who would stand beside him in such a war?”
“Those who have been promised great reward when he remakes the world in his image, and those who are afraid to tell him no. Greed and fear make the strongest armies.” He had shrugged then, looking down at his plate with a frown.
“They also make the weakest allies. If we can show his soldiers a better way, make them be less afraid they will turn on him.”
“It doesn’t matter now. He was set on killing as many as he needed to find his bride. Now that he has, he has no taste left for killing.”
“I don’t understand, if he is so powerful on his own, what difference does Sookie make?”
“He can destroy on his own. Sookie gives him the power to create.” I definitely did not care for the sound of that.
“How does that work?”
“According to the story, he knew that what Lilith did to him left him unbalanced. When he bargained with Niall to make him a mate, he thought that once they bonded she would fill in the missing parts of him, allowing him to access the parts that Lilith had blocked with her dark blood magics. She needed to be special, his mate. She needed to be strong enough to withstand his love.”
“And you believe all this to be true?”
“I believe that Niall made Sookie to meet Warlow’s demand, and then changed his mind. In retaliation Warlow attacked all of Fae, except those who swore loyalty to him. Fae was torn, seeing what Niall had done as an abomination, but found themselves pushed against their own survival counter weighted with their sense of honor.”
“Some must have rebelled, refusing either side?” Such was always the way when things came to black and white in war. He nodded, taking a drink of water before he went on.
“Claude was one of those. The rebels were a nuisance at best, to both sides, but just enough of a steam valve to let the pressure off. Being a rebel was pointless, but the illusion of choice gave hope to a people caught between who they wanted to be, and what they were forced to become to survive.
“The rebels hid Niall, his location the greatest of secrets, because only he knew where to find Sookie. It was always assumed she was hidden in Fae. It never occurred to anyone that she would be left in the human world.”
“Niall said my blood exposed her location. What did he mean? She had vampire blood before I shared mine with her.”
“Weak inferior blood.” I flicked an eyebrow, pleased at how succinctly he had summarized Compton without ever having met him. “Your blood, and the deep bond you share weakened the magics hiding her. They suppressed her nature, keeping her a secret even from herself. Bonding to you pulled her true nature to surface.”
I had thought on that as they ate, noting that Sookie had been silent during our entire exchange. If she had no questions of her own, it meant that she already knew what we were discussing, even if I didn’t understand how she knew.
Her bonds to me, the ones she had forged in our yard after seeing Claudine the first time had been triggered by that encounter. Something primal in her nature had driven her to claim me in response to sensing Claudine’s intent to possess me. When Claudine had taken me from Russell’s compound, the final shreds of her cloak had burned around her as she followed me to Fae.
It might have been my blood that started this, but it was Claudine’s meddling that had eventually led to the Sookie being exposed. Cantos remained silent as I reached this conclusion. Either he wasn’t listening, or he agreed with my conclusions.
“There’s extra towels, and I changed the sheets for you,” I heard Sookie’s voice as she came down the stairs from settling him in.
“Thank you. It has been a long time since I slept in a bed. I appreciate your kindness.” I followed the sounds of her steps on the stairs, the gentle squeak of her screen door as it opened, and when she slid her arms around me from behind, resting her head on my back, I felt her love for me.
“He’s beautiful and kind, like his father,” she whispered to me.
“I didn’t know,” I said, an effort to explain away what she had been so lithe in accepting. She didn’t say anything. “I would have told you, if I had known.” She nodded against my back, sighing a little. I took her to the swing, and pulled her into my lap.
“I should call Russell,” I told the top of her head.
“Yeah, about that,” she told me what had happened after Claudine had taken me.
“Do you think Russell is dead?”
“No, he was screaming at your team to hold me when I ported out of there. He was singed, and his pride was wounded, but other than that, he should be fine.”
“What do we tell him?” She shrugged.
“Up to you.”
“No, this is about both of us, just like from the beginning.”
“It doesn’t matter really. I am stronger than he is, and Warlow is stronger than me. Our biggest concern was just relegated to the booster seat in the back of our family wagon.” It was a curious image, Russell in short pants, throwing a tantrum as we sped down the highway. It was funny, and not completely inaccurate.
“You intend to go back to his court, submit to his will, or will we fight a war on two fronts when he challenges his rights to our allegiance from the agreements we made to enter his service?”
“We could go back, and toss him at Warlow when he arrives to claim me. It might buy us all of ten seconds before Warlow blasts through him.” She sounded sad and defeated.
“Russell could be a valuable ally in our fight.”
“My fight.” I fucking knew it. I pushed her up to look into her eyes, letting her feel all my frustration in our bonds.
“Since when? Until now it’s been you and me and damn the rest of them.”
“Since I found out that I am the cause of all kinds of horrible things, and that Warlow will kill you if I don’t break our bonds and accept him.”
“You plan to what?” She sighed again, picking at an invisible piece of lint on her leg.
“He said I could release you, to accept him, and that he would leave you in peace.”
“And just when did he fucking say all this?”
“After Claudine, before Cantos.”
“While you were sleeping?”
“Yes. I met him while I was flying across Fae feeling so happy and free. It was the first time I had ever felt that way, Eric. It was incredible!” I could feel the echo of her joy in our bond. “I knew myself, who I was, and everything was open to me for the very first time. Then he came with his sweet dark words of promises and ownership. He will take me, and I can’t stop him. I wasn’t meant to stop him. All I can do is set you free to be with your son. That’s the best I can do.”
“You don’t want to stop him!” I accused her, naming the slippery thing that twisted around her spoken words, casting shadows between us.
“Part of me does not.” Fuck, that hurt. She turned to me, looking me in the eye for the first time. “I chose you, I want you with the woman I was, and the woman I am, but part of me hears him, and feels him. It’s some twisted thing that pulls me to him and makes him feel like nothing else. My free will chooses you, but I was made…fucking made to be his.”
“Do you believe that? In your heart and in your soul?”
“I can feel it, and everyone keeps saying it. Niall may be sorry for what he did, but it was done before he found his honor. I don’t believe I can change it now.
“Belief is everything, Sookie. If you believe you can’t fight him, then you won’t be able to. If you believe you are his, then you will be, but if you believe you are mine, if you believe we can stand to see this through together, maybe we change that.”
“Is it worth losing your son to try? You just found him!”
“What does Cantos have to do with this?”
“My bonds to you, may protect you from his power, but Cantos is alone. He has no bonds to protect him, and I know Warlow will kill him if I fight him, and refuse to let you go.”
I hated myself for telling him that. I never wanted him to have choose between me and his son. I was supposed to be strong enough to make that decision for us both. I had even thought that if I could be strong enough to push him away that he could hate me, and this would easier.
I had forgotten how much his pain hurt me, and how well he knew me. He was right, it had been me and him and damn the rest of them right up until the moment Claudine had tried to steal him from me. She had unleashed a storm that was still gaining momentum around us.
“Call Russell. I will take full responsibility for what happened. I will convince him to take you back. You can serve him and forget me. Once things have settled you and Cantos can take the time to get to know each other.”
“You’re selling us short, Sookie. We can do anything as long as we are together.”
“I can do anything as long as I know you are safe. I didn’t plan for this arranged marriage when my heart chose you, but I don’t see a way out of it. If I free you at least I can imagine you happy with someone else, spending long nights learning about the man your son has become.”
He couldn’t see past the moment of now. He could not imagine a life where he was happy with someone else, but time was long, and there would always been women for Eric Northman. He would survive this, and when I set him free to embrace his future, someday, he would thank me.
Russell arrived at my old farm house the next night, surprisingly alone. He landed in the yard with no pomp or circumstance and gracefully accepted my invitation in. He stopped dead in the doorway, his nostrils flaring as he eyed me with same glazed eyes that had gotten him a blast to the chest at our last meeting.
*Hide your scent from him, or he will not be able to think.*
*How do I do that?*
Cantos was still upstairs, waiting to be introduced, but following the events through my eyes apparently.
*Just do it. Will it. Magic is about belief and will. Pull it from the heart of you. Make it real in your mind, and it will be real in the world around you.*
*No more Deepak Chopra for you.*
Cantos had devoured most of the books on my shelf while Eric slept and we waited for night.
*He’s a hack. Best thing he ever said was, ‘If you meet Buddha on the path, kill him.*
*Christ, are you sure you aren’t a vampire?*
All I heard was his laughter as I tried to concentrate and will my scent away. When Russell’s eyes cleared, and he stepped further into the room, I knew I had been successful. “Your home smells delightful, Sookie, like something I dreamed of once.”
*You can suppress your scent, but our marks on your furniture are not something you can disguise.*
I inclined my head and offered him a seat. We told him everything, Eric beginning with his tryst with Claudine a thousand years go, and me finishing with Warlow’s plan to claim me as his. Russell sat back, crossing his legs as she smiled enigmatically at us.
“My, you two are anything but dull, aren’t you?” It was rhetorical so we didn’t bother to respond. “Who else is here with us?” His eyes flicked to the ceiling above us.
“My son,” Eric said rising. “Cantos?” he called to him. I had already sworn I would fry Russell before I let him hurt Cantos, if this went badly. When he joined us the ancient vampire king vamped into a teenaged school boy, practically batting his eyes at Eric’s gorgeous son. The shock came when Cantos flirted back.
Eric and I looked at each other with wide eyes. It hadn’t come up in our discussion the night before, but apparently, Eric’s son was just as attracted to Russell. Together they moved from the chair to the sofa, while Eric and I remained standing as we had been throughout our story; a show of deference to the King.
“I knew a fairy once, long ago. We had a unique relationship.”
“I can imagine,” Cantos smiled at him.
“Yes,” Russell smiled at him, “Perhaps you can.” He sat back, taking Cantos in from head to toe. “Tell me about yourself,” he commanded waving his hand in a semi-imperious manner. Cantos glanced at us, and when we said nothing he told Russell a little about his time as a soldier. It didn’t take a telepath to know that his life had been full of hard times.
“And before the war?” Russell prompted, hanging on his every word.
“I was a musician and composer.”
“You must play for me sometime!”
“Of course.” Cantos’ face lit up with the idea of performing again. “I have a piece that I think you will love.”
“Yes,” Russell agreed in a tone that made me uncomfortable with what piece he might have in mind.
*It’s fine, Sookie. He’s kind of hot, for a vampire.*
I barely suppressed a snort.
“What lovely ears you have. May I have a closer look?” Cantos leaned in closer, and I felt Eric tense beside me. Russell merely did a close visual inspection before sitting back looking like a kid at Christmas. He stared at Cantos for a long time, something passing back and forth between them that was nearly tangible in the air of the room, and then he turned back to us.
“So, what can I do to help?”
“You understand that none of what happened at your palace was Eric’s fault, and you will take him back?”
“Yes, but I don’t understand how that helps you with Warlow.”
“It doesn’t,” Eric, growled beside me.
“I need to know he is safe, Cantos as well.”
“They will have my protection.”
“Thank you,” I told him, looking into his eyes, pressing my gratitude to him. He measured me a long moment before he spoke again.
“You didn’t ask for my opinion, but I think you giving up is a mistake.”
“I have explained the alternative.”
“I wonder what good safety is, when there is nothing left to protect.” His comments angered me, but I needed him, and he knew it. His eyes went to Eric. “You remember our visit from the Chancellors?”
“I have spies at The Authority that bring me tales of their continued efforts and plans.” What the fuck was this about? I looked at Eric, but he refused me, pressing back in our bond as he focused in on Russell.
“They have recruited more to their side?”
“Indeed. They plan to resurrect Lilith.” I knew that name, and so did Cantos.
“They claim to have her blood. The Chancellors are in the process of determining how to proceed.”
“Do you plan to tell him?”
“Until now I was uncertain where my interests fell.” He looked at Cantos again, his eyes narrowing as he weighed his thoughts. “I can see more advantage to staying out of it now, than I could even last night.”
“If they resurrect Lilith, the Sanguanistas will come from the shadows, and start a war here with humanity.”
“And humanity will meet them with equal, if not greater force. I have it from a reliable source that they have already made plans to suppress us, should we get…out of hand.”
“But Lilith is fucking myth!” Eric said beside me. Russell shrugged.
“So was Warlow, fifteen minutes ago.”
“Couldn’t his maker bring Warlow to heel?” Cantos asked, looking at Eric and then at Russell.
“I think you are missing the point,” I answered before they could. “When Warlow comes through the portal, and finds her here, the battle will be too large to conceal. It will trigger the humans to attack or retaliate if these Sanguanistas make the first move.
“It’s another reason for me to return to Fae and accept him, or accept the responsibility for this world dying as yours has.”
“There is also the possibility of the cure being worse than the sickness,” Russell added. “Lilith was no peach herself. I am not certain we won’t be trading bad for worse, if she can truly be returned to this world.
Eric was quiet for a long time, and then I felt him reach some decision. “Can you get me the plans for The Authority?”
“Probably,” Russell said, his eyes narrowing. “You think you can sneak in and take Lilith’s blood from them?”
“I wasn’t thinking of sneaking, really.” Russell crowed with delight, slapping his leg as he laughed.
“No, you aren’t dull at all.”
Sookie found me in the back yard after Russell left. It was a waiting game with a ticking clock until we heard back from him. “You know I am going with you, even though you clearly have not told me everything?”
“Oh, I am counting on you going with me.” I stopped there. I should have told her about Nora and Salome, but I had not. Anything I said now was an excuse for a vow broken. I was angry that she would hold me accountable for mine, when she had no such feeling for all the ones she was planning to break between us.
“You know don’t you, that if you were being forced into a marriage you didn’t want I would try to support you in whatever decision you made, and love you none the less for choices that were never yours to make?”
“I do not know that.” I growled at her, trying to stand in her shoes for a moment, but finding it impossible. Only a maker could force a choice like that on me, and Godric would never have been so cruel. Niall was her maker, not just family, having created her for this sole purpose. It wasn’t her fault, but I couldn’t stop projecting out the pain of her impending loss. For just a moment I wished I had never met Sookie Stackhouse. I took it back almost immediately.
“I would. I would love you for every minute that you were mine, and pray for the strength to face the nights without you.” She moved closer to me, slashing herself open in deep emotional cuts to show me her soul.
“You so very fucking wrong, Sookie, to think me so strong.”
“No, I’m not. I know you, Eric Northman, inside and out. I love every bit of you, like it’s holy and sacred.”
“You lie,” I snarled at her, “If you did, you would rather than die than leave me!”
“I would gladly die to stay with you. It’s your death I can’t face.” I kissed her then to stop her words that I could not take for another moment.
“You make me weak,” I told her lips as I kissed them.
“You make me strong,” she said back, her hands tangling in my hair as she pulled me closer.
“You make me whole,” I told her as I ripped off the dress she had worn for our meeting with Russell.
“You make me love you,” she swore at me, as if her words were a cursem and not the blessing I saw them as. “I can’t remember when I didn’t love you, Eric.” Her touch slid down to my shirt where she burned it away with her new power that destroyed the cloth without touching my skin. The rest of my clothes went the same way, leaving me warm and pressed against her.
Her hands found their prints on my back, her touch there on my marked skin electric as I lifted her up and entered her. Her head fell back, her long hair falling over my arm as I held her. My fangs wanted her, too, like all of the rest of me. Before I could bite her, she lit up around me and I found myself lying in her yard as she moved above me.
I snarled and flipped is over, driving into her, determined to control this, even if everything else was just beyond my grasp. When her hands moved to my marks again, I pinned them to the ground. “No, I am not your plaything. You don’t get to show me how connected we are and then snatch it away from me!”
Her eyes narrowed, lighting up in her fury. “Why don’t you get it? This isn’t just happening to you? It’s happening to me, too!” She lit up again, this time raising us off the ground while she still moved on me. She turned us so that my back was to the ground. Refusing to submit I turned us back over, using my power to levitate against her own.
We were floating a foot off the ground as we battled each other for control. I fucked her harder, she opened wider beneath me, and her eyes flared defiantly as she met each of my thrusts with equal measure.
He’s going to touch her like this! I closed my eyes to the visions I couldn’t shut out. “Look at me, Eric!” she said, raising her legs higher and crossing her ankles over my back. I couldn’t, but when I felt her hands settle on my ass and pull me deeper I could no longer look away.
“He’s going to have what should only be mine!”
“Never,” she swore as she her hands came up, her arms wrapping around my neck. “I’ll leave my heart with you. It’s the only place it’s ever been alive.” I buried my face in her neck, and fangs in her flesh.
Would I have loved her if I had known it would come to this, I thought as I felt her give over to me, screaming as she came, shaking against me. Flashes of her from our first night and every night since spun through my mind telling me that the answer was yes. Even if it had to end, loving Sookie had been a defining experience for me, like no other had been in thousand years.