In the end, I decided to go against my own advice.
As Eric collected the last of his things, preparing to leave for Fangtasia, I told him I was going to tell Jason about the baby. He had his wallet in his hand. He didn’t look up as he flipped it open to the empty picture sleeves and carefully slid Adam’s ultrasound image into one of them. His eyes were a thousand miles away as he gazed at his son, hidden away whenever he wanted to look at him.
My hands warmed up in response. My Light always wanted to reward him when he proved so loyal and lovable. I looked down and saw my palms glowing faintly. Eric saw it out of the corner of his eye. His legs braced slightly, readying for the hit. I wanted to give it to him, but I clenched my hands and willed them to dim. Now was not the time to distract him with love shots.
He finally looked at me and nodded his thanks. I still felt the ripple of disappointment in the bond, though.
“What exactly will you tell him?” he asked.
I shrugged. “The basics, I guess. I’ll keep it as simple as I can.”
“You said you never told him anything before. Will you tell him now that you’re a fairy? About Claudine? About the prophesy?”
I shook my head emphatically at each one. “Hell no. I’m not even sure he knows that vampires can’t make babies ordinarily. I’ll just say that you and I are deeply in love and that somehow, maybe because I’m different from normal people, I’m able to have your child.”
“In just one month? Surely even he will notice your stomach.”
“I dunno, babe. I’ll think of something.”
He Sookie-smiled and walked over to me. His hands rose to my head, where his fingers began to comb through what I can only imagine was a tornado of sex hair. “Will he demand I marry you? He seems the type.”
I snorted indelicately. “Fuck him if he does. I’ll start naming every woman he’s ever nailed and ask which of them is the lucky girl he plans to hitch. Being an uncle is his business. My relationship with you? Well. I’ll just remind him that his nose is for smellin’, not for snoopin’.”
I felt the tangles in my hair being patiently pulled apart, the long hairs smoothed down.
I leaned into my vampire brush. “Isn’t this usually my job?”
“Am I not allowed to play with yours as well?”
“Play away. I love your hands. They’re beautiful.” I blushed a little. I still felt silly paying him compliments.
He saw it and chuckled softly. “You’ve come screaming my name while your ass nearly severed my cock off, yet you blush because you say my hands are beautiful?”
My blush went from pink to red and I looked at the floor. “Jeez, Eric,” I breathed out. “Not all of us are as liberated as you, okay? Yes, I still get embarrassed around you sometimes. I know I was in Faery for months, but it didn’t seem like it to me. As far as I’m concerned, five weeks ago I was screamin’ for you to get your cement-covered ass off my porch and outta my life forever. Now you’re mine and you can make me blush just by staring at me for one second too long.” I ventured a gaze up at him.
He was no longer smiling. His fingers stilled in my hair.
I wasn’t sure why, but I felt an argument coming.
Our bond felt calm enough on the surface, but I could sense an undercurrent. The wheels turned behind his eyes. His response took its time.
“You do far worse than embarrass me. You weaken me. Even when you hated me, I couldn’t smother my horror at losing you. Your time in the Fae world brought me lower than all the torture, all imprisonments, all deaths I’ve ever endured. Even Godric’s.”
“I know that now,” I soothed, reaching out and putting my hands on his shoulders. “And I hate that I hurt you, even unintentionally. One day, one day very soon, you and I are going to sit down and start at the beginning. You’re going to tell me everything about Eiríkr inn sigrsæli and his thousand years on this planet…”
He flinched hard under my hands at the use of his true, given name.
“…And I,” I continued, “will tell you absolutely everything about me. Every memory, every emotion, every last, boring detail about my twenty-six years in northern Louisianna. About my Gran. Why I worked at Merlotte’s. Why I agreed to be Bill’s. Why I fought against you for so long. Everything. No holds barred. What do you say?”
He loomed over me. “You know my name. No one knows my name. Not even Pam.”
“Pam wasn’t on the sidelines watching your pale butt get drained on a funeral pyre in 995AD.”
The bond spiked sharply and his hands, which had still held pieces of my hair, cupped my head, holding it in place as his eyes drilled into mine. I thought he might try to shake me like a Magic 8 Ball, impatient for me to divulge my secrets. He looked incredulous at my knowledge of his past.
“Are you an angel, Sookie? A valkyrie after all? My valkyrie? Watching me from the skies? Choosing me of all the men fighting that night?”
I smiled gently at his wide-eyed awe, that I might have perhaps flown down as a raven and Chosen him to be my dead champion in the afterlife, all those years ago. It spoke to just how amazing he found me.
I shook my head. “No, ya nut. I’m no angel. I wasn’t there, but Claudine was around. She remembers it all.”
The bond retreated from its rapidly approaching boil, simmering quietly at such an obvious, logical response.
“Of course,” he muttered, loosening his hold on me, looking away. “Of course.”
I surprised him when I reached up and caught his chin, bringing his eyes back to mine, just as he’d done a hundred times with mine. “Hey,” I said. “I still want to know. We’re going to be together for a very long time, and I want you to tell me every tiny little shard that makes up your life. All of it. Even the ugly shit.”
“There’s a disproportionate amount of ugly shit, lover. Only outweighed by the boring shit. I don’t want to inflict on you.”
“Hush,” I said, my lips turning up impishly. “If you love me, if you insist on spoiling me with things I want, then give me your life. I want it all, Eric. All of you.”
He hunched down, bringing our faces together.
I pecked his nose. “You promised me anything I wanted. Don’t make a liar out of yourself.”
He exhaled slowly, his chest bowing inward in defeat. “I can’t imagine giving you anything less beautiful than my memories, but I cannot refuse. They’re yours. Name any day and I’ll tell you how I spent it.”
I laughed. “I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast four days ago. Your brain must be brimming if I can name any day and you can remember it perfectly.”
“A vampire perk. I can still see them all.”
I whistled, then pushed him back out of my space. “You’re gonna be late. If you find a good time, you should bring Pam up to speed. I’m sure she’s feeling neglected.”
“Pam’s a big girl,” he replied, letting me go unwillingly.
“Pam’s a water balloon wrapped in razor wire.”
Eric’s brow went up. “What an odd image.”
“I just mean that once you finish getting all ripped up and bloodied by her exterior, she’s a pure squishy center. Especially for you. Maybe only for you. My point is that she’s not as tough as she seems. She’s still a Child and she still loves and needs you. And once you tell her that you’re having a real child, she’ll need that reassurance even more. So go be fatherly and tell her she’s still your favorite.”
He looked at me blankly. “Even if it’s no longer true?”
Pleasure and sadness struck my chest at the same time. Yay me. Poor Pam. “Especially if it’s not true.”
He nodded and robotically filed away my suggestion. He’d lie through his teeth and tell Pam she was still daddy’s little girl. As we walked towards the front door, he turned again, dragging me into his arms, playing dangerously with the side zipper on my dress. “And what of Claudine? What if she appears?”
“If Ludwig is right, then she’s got alotta e’splaining to do.”
“You still trust her? I don’t like the idea of you being alone with her.”
I waved him off. “I’m fine. She’s fine. I’ve been alone with her bunches of times. No matter what, Claudine’s on our side. I just want to know if she is a Custos. If she is, which one? Why didn’t say tell me? Does she know more about the Coming than she’s letting on? If it’s no big deal and she turns out to be the Custos of dolphin migratory patterns or Peruvian wood carving, then at the very least, I can introduce her to Jason and we can all have a nice meal together.”
“I doubt the Custos are that specific in their categories.”
“Pardon me, Dr. KnowItAll. I only heard about these people a couple days ago. Pray tell, might you be the Custos of Smartassery? Hotassery? Kissmyassery?”
He growled and felt me up while I giggled. “That last one. Definitely.”
I wiggled out of his grip. “Git. Have your meetings. Go be a big shot.”
He swooped low, bowing deep at the waist, he arms out in supplication. “As my queen commands.”
A reach-around slap to my ass for good measure, and he was out the door. I heard him reengage the security system from the pad outside.
Laughing to myself, I padded over to the entry table where I’d dropped my purse that afternoon. The floor was chilly under my bare feet. I fished my phone out of my purse, punching Jason’s number as I headed for the stairs. I thought I’d seen some fuzzy slippers in my section of the closet.
He answered on the fourth ring.
“Hey,” I said, taking two stairs at a time. “You ready for that gold leaf beer, another apology and a home-cooked meal?”
“Jenna Jameson get back to you about bein’ that beer’s ass cozy?” he asked. It sounded like a genuine question.
“Don’t be stupid, Jason. Do you want food and to hear what’s goin’ on with me, or not?”
“Yeah,” he answered quickly. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I do, I just um… I got some important work that needs… you know… doin’ and I-,”
“Call up that important work and tell her your sister had a breakdown and needed her big brother to come make her feel better. You’ll earn brownie points for the next time she booty calls you.”
“But I called her.”
Of course he had. “You’re such an ass. Fine. I’ll just crack a can of cold soup and eat all by myself.”
“Aw, come on now, Sook. All right. You win. I’ll head over in an hour or so. I’ll bring a bucket of chicken. I’ve got the rotisserie shakes.”
At least I wouldn’t have to bake. “Thanks, Jase. I ain’t at the house, though. I’ll text you the address. Bring enough chicken for three.” I considered Jason’s appetite and amended, “For five.”
“Cool. See you soon. I expect that beer, though.”
Eric had cast a wide net when buying me food. The pantry had been stocked with four different kinds of beer, which I didn’t drink as a rule anyway. But he’d covered all bases, filling his wine rack and the library’s liquor cabinet. Clearly, he wanted me comfortable. Equally as clear, he still wasn’t all that familiar with my preferences. It was funny to think that given how melted together we felt, our relationship was still shiny and new.
“You go it. See ya.”
I hung up and quickly texted Eric’s address to him.
I found those fuzzy beige slippers in the shoe rack. Putting them on, I stretched out my arms above my head. Eric’s blood was already ornery about his absence. Where it usually tingled with pleasure at his presence, it snapped like a piranha school now that he was gone.
I never did like fish.
I tried my best to reassure it.
Heading back downstairs, I went into the pantry and grabbed half a dozen bottles of beer, three of each brand, and brought them out into the kitchen. I put four into the freezer for emergency chilling and put the rest in the fridge. I had no idea of Claudine drank alcohol, but just in case, there’d be a cold one for her, me and two for Jason.
Knowing that there was no real proper place to try, I stood in the center of the kitchen and threw my telepathy awareness out into the world around me. I still wasn’t sure how summoning fairies worked. I didn’t know if Claudine was capable of seeing me all the time, or if she could hear my thoughts across the divide between our worlds, or if my actively calling to her lit up some sort of interdimensional bat signal that clued her in.
I stood quietly, wiggling my fingers and my toes, listening to the confines of my own head, willing her to appear.
I need to see you, I sent out. I need answers. Please. Can you come now?
I repeated the message three more times before opening my eyes and deciding that while I waited, I’d make some mashed potatoes and salad to go with the chicken. I found everything I needed and quickly lost myself in the easy comfort of making food. I boiled the spuds. I mashed them finer than ice cream. I found butter and grated some cheese. I made dressing out of oil, balsamic vinegar, oregano and dijon mustard. I tossed the lettuce, tomatoes, spring onions and cucumbers into a large wooden bowl.
I was pulling out dinner plates and silverware when the air shifted into golden tones and the atmosphere felt thicker and warm.
And Claudine was sitting expectantly on the counter next to me, her hands propping her up as she leaned back. She wore the same dress, except this time it looked white instead of pink.
I wiped my hands on my apron, smiling at my kin. “Hey, Claudine. How are ya?”
She shrugged. “Busy, as you can imagine. Our council has been meeting nonstop since your last visit. Your news has sparked quite a commotion in our realm. In the last few days I’ve heard you called the Virgin Mary, the Harbinger of Death, Kasturba Gandhi, and my personal favorite, the Mother of Dragons.”
I rolled my eyes. Sweet Jesus Christ.
She seemed happy to drop the subject as she looked around the kitchen. That was fine with me. “Are you well?”
“Fine as fine can be,” I replied. I flattened my dress to my swollen figure, ruining the artful concealment. “As you can see here. I’ve had an interesting coupla meetings with Dr. Ludwig.”
Her eyes widened as she took in my new look. It took her longer to process my second sentence. “Dr. Ludwig?” she said at last. “The supernatural doctor?”
I picked up one of the ultrasound images that I’d gathered from the floor and handed it to her. “Congratulations. You’re the fairy god-grandmother of a bouncing baby boy.”
She held the photo up, squinting. “My goodness. A boy child?”
“Ludwig conducted this scan? Is she aware of your…situation?”
I nodded. “She’s been helping us, even agreed to be my midwife of sorts. She seems real knowledgeable about certain things. Says she schooled with texts written by the Custos of Medicine.”
My name-dropping had the desired effect. Claudine looked flabbergasted. “The Custos of Medicine. Your doctor is schooled in the teachings of Galen.”
I smirked. “So you know about him, huh? Yeah. She had some very interesting things to say about the man. About the Custos in general, actually.” I waited a tick, looking expectantly at her. But she had recovered quickly, her eyes dropping into their cool, indifferent gaze.
Instead of questioning further, she simply changed the subject. “Your Chosen. Where is he tonight? I don’t smell him here.”
I played along. We were going to get there, dammit. She was going to spill her guts about everything she knew, I don’t care if it took all night and every beer I had in stock. She wasn’t leaving until she did.
So I just smiled. “He’s at Fangtasia. I asked him if I could skip it tonight. My condition bein’ what it is. That, and my brother’s coming over. Would you care to stay for dinner? Chicken and mashed taters? Gran’s recipe.”
She lifted her head and scented the air, checking the food quality, before nodding. “I would like that. We’ve never simply eaten together.”
I took off my apron and tossed in in the pantry before coming back in and drawing up a stool from the bar, facing her as I sat towards the counter.
She let her eyes wander to my belly again, which was sitting rather prominently in my lap now. Her gaze wasn’t quite as glazed as it had been the first time she’d seen Adam’s Light, but it was close. She looked like a strange combination of pure fascination and dopey, like a pot head staring at a lava lamp.
She spoke at it. “Does anyone suspect your condition at your vampire’s bar? It’s of great importance that you take care, cousin. The Scion is still vulnerable in your mortal womb.”
I sat up straighter. “I thought you said the Scion was unkillable.”
She nodded sagely. “And he will be, once he’s born and freed from his dependence on your body. But I’ve told you before that you yourself can be killed. If you die while pregnant, he’ll die with you.”
“Thank God I’m only pregnant for a little while longer.”
“Thank no one, cousin. Not until he’s safely with us. I strongly recommend you remain in this house until that time. Take no chances.”
“I’m very careful, Claudine. Eric is almost always with me. He never leaves my side except when royal duties demand it. If we’re going to reap the protection of the Authority, he needs to keep up his kingly appearances. Tonight he has to meet with several vampire factions, one of them is the Magister.”
She looked surprised again. “The Magister? I understood him to be dead.”
I shook my head. “Dead, mopped up, and replaced. The new Magister was recently promoted. He asked Eric to become king of Louisiana and Mississippi the same night as his own announcement. He seems nice enough. He even knows a little bit about us, not that we told him anything. Okalo Massawa.”
The second the name left my lips, the air turned freezing in a flash.
Claudine had popped from three feet in front of me to practically sitting in my lap, her hands digging painfully into my shoulders as she shook uncontrollably. The cool, disinterestedness was gone. The interest in small talk was gone. My wise and ancient kinswoman had vanished. A banshee had taken her place.
“Massawa,” she hissed, looking wild with fear. “Massawa has seen you? He knows you?”
I gasped as frost filled my lungs. I coughed, pushing at her as tears filled my frozen eyes. “Claudine!” I hissed right back. “Get offa me! What the hell is wrong with you?”
She shook me hard. “The Magister!” she screeched. “Massawa! Tell me he’s never seen you!”
“Let go!” We struggled hard against each other. The bar stool was knocked out from under me and I fought hard to bear up under her grip. “What the fuck, Claudine! Stop it!”
“HAS HE SEEN YOU?!”
“YES! FUCKING YES, OKAY?! HE CAME TO THE BAR RIGHT AFTER I BONDED TO ERIC! HE KNOWS I’M A FAIRY! HE KNOWS-,”
Claudine cried out hysterically. Her hands shot to my wrists. The air changed again, this time swirling into the open aperture that signaled a leap to Faery.
“NO!” I screamed, no longer pushing her away but actively fighting her. “Don’t! No! No! No! NOOOOOO!”
The swirling hole ignored me and swallowed us both.
For an endless second, we fell. That horribly familiar feeling of moving through space and time engulfed me.
On instinct, I clutched my stomach, curling into a protective ball as I braced for impact.
By some mercy, wherever we popped out, I landed gently.
My belly was perfectly fine. Adam was safe.
I barely registered the grass beneath my hunched position before a pain like I’d never experienced speared into my body.
“FUCK!” I screamed, clutching my head in agony. It hurt so bad that I instantly prayed for my skull to burst and release the pressure. But no, the pain was in my chest. No, my arms. My legs. My back. My lungs filled with air and it felt like I’d inhaled fire. I screamed again as tears pricked my eyes. I writhed on the ground. Every position felt like agony. Every cell in my body was poisoned.
Eric. My entire being convulsed in sorrow without Eric. An invisible noose clenched my chest, dragging me into the ground, wanting to propel me in every direction as it tried to seek him out, but not knowing which way to go.
I felt a gentle hand on my back. I yelped in pain and lurched away, my face pressed in the grass, my eyes shut tight as I tried not to vomit.
“It’s the bond,” Claudine’s now infinitely calmer voice explained. “Try to breathe.”
“FUCK YOU!” I shouted, pulling my knees into my chest, only to release them again as it made the pain in my belly explode. “TAKE ME BACK! IT’S KILLING ME!”
“It’ll pass, Sookie. Your Radia is commanding you to return to your mate and the vampire’s blood is rebelling against the distance between you. It must be very painful.”
“FUCK FUCK FUCK YOU!”
“Try to relax.”
I cried like my heart was breaking. It was breaking. It continued to pump the acid that was my blood and treacherously delivered it to every vein in my body. If I’d been a vampire, I would have sworn I’d been injected with liquid silver.
“Take me back,” I moaned again. I opened my eyes, but I saw nothing. I was blind with pain. “I’m dying, Claudine. I need Eric. PLEASE!”
“I can’t,” she sighed regretfully. “Not if Massawa knows about you. We’re lucky you’re alive at all.”
I didn’t really hear her. I coughed and gagged, finally retching as I could no longer handle the thousand nails puncturing my stomach.
I felt her patiently waiting by my side with her pity and understanding, that monstrous bitch. As soon as I could stand without passing out, I would kill her.
The air felt like mustard gas against my skin, but I drew a huge breath, my lungs demanding and terrified of it at the same time. The smell of cookies was awaiting me, no doubt. When I could finally open my eyes, I’d see golden, Bedazzled shit everywhere. Only this time, the queen and Claudine would probably keep me here forever. Even a few days, and my world would age and move on without me. Eric would die in weeks, if not from the same pain I was feeling, then from starvation since he couldn’t drink any blood but mine.
This was the cruelest punishment imaginable. And my own people were the cause.
I hardly noticed that I didn’t smell cookies, or that my surroundings disturbingly lacked color of any kind, when I looked up at her with murderous intent burning in my eyes. “Fuck you. Fuck Mab. Fuck whatever it is you plan to do with me. Take me to Eric, or I’ll kill you myself.”
I felt her enter my head, skimming my thoughts as if she were reading ticker tape. The light, tickling pressure felt like ax blades.
“Mab is not here, Sookie. No one is here. I haven’t brought you to Faery. I’ve brought you to the only place that’s safe.”
“Liar,” I croaked, spitting out bile as it clogged in my mouth. “This isn’t safe. Eric’s safe. The only safe for me. This is Hell.”
“Breathe,” she instructed like a bitch who didn’t realize she was dead. “When you’re stronger, I’ll explain.”
“EXPLAIN NOW!” I roared, then fell face-first into the grass again, heaving. “There’s no time to wait! Eric will die without me! Tell me what the fuck I’m doing here, then bring me Eric! BRING ME ERIC!”
Tears exploded down my cheeks, enough to kill the grass beneath them with salt poisoning.
She did nothing. She was going to wait me out.
I sputtered, trying to swallow instead of gag and puke. I felt tortured, but tried to push it down. I needed to try and gather myself enough to talk calmly. She wasn’t going to budge until I did.
With the image of Eric’s Sookie smile and the memory of Adam’s heartbeat firmly in my mind, I drew another horrible breath and tried to rise above the pain. It pushed back. I gasped, gritting my teeth, and pushed back harder.
For them, I had to be strong. For them, I needed to get my shit together and figure out a way to get back. Claudine wasn’t going to play ball. I needed to follow my Chosen’s example. Eric would ignore this agony and think.
I needed to think.
I took another breath. And another. I drew them through my nose, looking for cookies. I found nothing. Nothing. Only a strange, sterile stuffiness. Not even the grass under my nose had a scent. I moved myself carefully, eyes shut and breathing slowly, until I was sitting on my butt.
I opened my eyes and made them stay that way. Willing myself not to be sick again, I forced myself to process my surroundings.
Claudine stood by my side, love welling in her eyes.
With as much accuracy as I could muster, I spat at her feet. Direct hit.
She made a face of disgust and I was glad.
I made my eyes focus beyond her.
Yes, I was technically outside. There was a dim, silver sky above me. And all around me, about one hundred yards away, in every direction, and fifty feet high, was one enormous, curving wall. It was a massive structure, circling all around us, as if we were in the heart of the Colosseum. Despite my anguish, I was beset by wonder. The wall around us was not filled with seats. It was filled with books. We were in the largest, strangest, outdoor library that I’d ever seen. The individual texts were too far away to make out, but I could tell by the sheer volume that there were thousands. Tens of thousands.
I dropped my head again, shutting my eyes against such a peculiar sight. It hurt my already splitting head.
“Tell me where I am,” I rasped darkly.
Claudine sighed, the sound of strained pleasure that I’d finally used my indoor voice. Carefully, she lowered and sat next to me.
“This place has no name,” she answered quietly.
I looked up and found her gazing around the wall with vacant pride. She looked back at me. “I simply call it The Seam.”
“The small strip of nowhere between Faery and your world.”
“How can it be nowhere? I can see it. These books look real enough. We have to be somewhere.”
She shook her head slightly. “No. It is literally Nowhere. Now and here. It exists in time and space, but only just. It exists only for these,” she gestured all around us. “Nothing more.”
“What is this place? What are these books for?”
She looked at me wistfully. “I think you already know.”
I cracked one eye open and looked at them again. Acres of books. Where no one could find them. I closed it again. “You’re a fucking Custos. These are your texts.”
“Very good, Sookie.”
“Fuck you. What about Eric? How does time move here? Has a year passed back home already?”
She rose her hands gracefully. “No,” she assured me. “Time is here as it is there. This realm is not time warped.”
“And Eric?” I hissed. “I thought our bond could protect us from people like you. How dare you take me from him like this!”
She looked tired and sad at my words. “Your bond knows I’m trying to help you, not hurt you. I brought you here to protect the Scion, and here you will stay until he’s born.”
I uttered a horrid animal cry and tried to lurch to my feet, only to fall back down. “No!” I gritted as the world spun all around me. “I can’t! That’s weeks away! I need Eric! I NEED HIM!”
“And it pains me, cousin, but I cannot take you back. Massawa-,”
“Fuck Massawa!” I shouted.
“Fuck him, indeed. You have no idea-,”
“I have every idea! You’re the fucking Custos of Crazy and you’re taking me home right now!”
She rose to her feet, her Light swirling around her, the only thing with color in this drab world. Her eyes glinted with power and a growing fury.
“I’m the fucking Custos of Magic!” she shouted down at me. I moaned as the volume beat into my broken ears. She leaned down, cupping my cheek and forcing her eyes into mine.
“And you’re not going back. The Custos of War has found you.”