Massawa had insisted we meet early.
Otherwise, I would have stayed wrapped in Sookie at the house and simply ignored Fangtasia and the appearance I was due to put in. My inbox was littered with Pam’s emails, heavy with lists of people that had come to see me whom she’d had to turn away. No one of significance, of course, mostly vampire residents who required mediation over disputes, blessings for businesses they planned to open, and the more piddly shit that the Sheriff of Area Five would deal with on top of two monarchs rolled into one.
I needed to get off my ass and just name Pam the new sheriff. I barely had time for royal matters and even less patience for them. Sheriff business ranked last on my list, which meant it got practically zero attention.
I would ask her tonight when we had a moment alone. There was a good possibility she would refuse, given her laziness and low tolerance for civic bullshit, but there was an equally good possibility that I would order her to take the job. With Sookie so thoroughly attached to the area, I would be operating as king in Area Five, which meant I needed a local sheriff I trusted who didn’t give me hemorrhoids. That was a short fucking list of candidates.
The night air felt warm and heavy as I shot through the sky. My clothing whipped harshly against my skin from the high speed. I’d been using my cars less and less in the last month. I found my separation from Sookie, even for a few hours, to be so trying that concentrating on speed limits had become intolerable. Flying was faster, and I didn’t have the confines of a vehicle to add to the sensation of being trapped and unable to get to her quickly. Out here I was free. And I was fast.
I landed in my parking lot. It was empty, save for one car that belonged to a waitress in a bar across the street. She’d been polite enough to ask me last year if I minded. She worried about thieves and rapists in the dark, isolated lot behind her work, and figured no carjacker would risk stealing a car in my well-lit space, especially if that car might belong to a vampire. I’d given my permission. Humans who asked vampires for help regarding their safety always piqued my interest. They were not afraid of us on principle. This woman was especially astute, using other people’s fear of us to protect her property. Respecting her trust in us, I’d painted a VIP stencil in a space just for her. She’d laughed. The next night, she’d come into Fangtasia and handed me a picture drawn in crayon by a small child’s hand. The picture was of a beach on a bright, sunny day, little stick figures playing with crude shovels and pails. One of the stick figures had fangs.
“From my daughter,” she explained. “As a thank-you for my parking space. I asked what we should get you for a present, and she said you probably missed days on the beach.”
I had missed them, as a matter of fact. I hadn’t yet seen a beach since Sookie had Chosen me. I thanked her. And the sight of her car always made me think of the picture, which hung in my office.
I walked alongside it to go through the back entrance.
Ginger was setting up tables and nearly broke her kneecaps as she fell tactlessly to the floor. She gave me a painful, flirty smile. “Master,” she purred at me, her head dropping in what she probably saw on tv as a studied, graceful greeting for royalty. Fucking BBC and their period drama.
“I’ve told you before, Ginger, this isn’t high court. Get off your ass and set up. I’m not paying you to simper and scrape.”
Disappointment flashed across her features and she lowered her head further, hiding her painted face. She got to her feet and quickly continued with lifting the chairs off the tables and righting them on the floor. I honestly had no idea how many times she planned to set herself up for such humiliating rejections. She seemed to have a very selective memory about just how many had come before. Every night she presented herself to me like a red-assed baboon and every night I made my disgust quite clear. I’d fed from her once in desperation for human blood, and never had I touched that bleached scarecrow sexually. And yet, her hope sprang eternal. She’d regroup, come to work the next evening in a sluttier outfit than before, slather on another layer of make-up, and try try again, looking for that magical combination of skin and rouge that broke the spell and made me want her. I shook my head in resignation. She adored vampires and knew how to mix a decent mojito. In the service industry in the Deep South, that was another short fucking list. So I kept her and put up with the mawkish offers of pussy and blood.
I found Pam on the phone in my chair, red stiletto boots crossed and propped on my desk. She stared at the ceiling while she put in our extensive stock reorder from memory. Her fingers played with the ends of her long, dagger nails that gleamed the same color of her boots. When she finished, she hung up and looked at me expectantly.
“As I don’t live and breathe, the king of Louisiana.” She bowed her head deep with the same irritating, obsequious deference that she knew I hated. “My goodness, sire, what could possibly bring you to our humble digs? Slumming? Surely a grand patriarch like yourself has far more important things to be doing with your limited time than visiting a dive of our sordid reputation-,”
“Go ahead, get it all out.”
“Oh, and you absolutely must forgive the proprietor for not being here to blow you personally. He’s been extremely delinquent in his duties lately. If you ask me, it’s because of his new hobby. He’s become an apiarist, you see. Don’t ask me why, I fucking hate bees, but I believe he’s becoming addicted to his product. He’s never around because he’s drinking and fucking his honey all day while his businesses turn to shit-,”
“Enough.” Riding me was one thing. She wasn’t allowed to demean Sookie.
“But sire,” she oozed in contempt. “I’m simply explaining why I’m up to my tits in backlog and can’t offer you proper hospitality since my asshole of a boss and maker can’t find his way out of a honeycomb cunt long enough to answer emails or gladhand the occasional VIP. I’m starting to worry that he’s actually mired in the sweet, sticky shit like it was his own personal La Brea tar pit. He fell dick-first and now his bones will be on display for all eternity as a cautionary tale. I’m sure he struggled against its hold, but honestly, when honey’s got you by the dick, your options are limited. Speaking of bees,” she finally let her facade drop to confront me, “which one stung your ass to finally get you in here? Fuck knows it wasn’t me. What’s one more message on top of three hundred and twenty-nine?”
“If it makes you feel any better, you’re being promoted. Welcome to the shit, Louisiana Sheriff of Area Five.”
She pushed her feet off the desk and propelled the chair backwards as if shit were actually creeping towards her. “Fuck. No. I wouldn’t touch that bureaucratic equivalent of VD with your hands. I’m done with this, Eric. If you can’t be bothered to play with me anymore, then I’ll just take my ball and go home. You are NOT saddling me with this inbred steakhouse of an area. I’ll go traveling again, like I did in the forties. I hear Argentina is the new Monaco. You can stay here and continue trying to break your dick off in Sookie. I’ll leave as soon as you find a manager for this place.”
“Sookie is pregnant. The child is mine. Her Light has revived me enough to make it possible.” I stared hard at her. “My heart to yours,” I offered her in the Norse words of congratulations. “You’re an aunt.”
“A new manager won’t be that bad.”
“I’m serious, Pam-,”
“I’m serious, Eric. I’m done, I tell you. People think you coddle me anyway. I love you. I’m glad you’re happy. But this business isn’t fun without you. If you’ve outgrown it, then I’ll pack my bindle and be on my way. Consider this my petition to my king to leave the state and pursue redder pastures.”
She spoke calmly and her words made sense, but I could feel a deep sorrow that she tried to lock down and away from my bond with her. She felt abandoned. Like I hadn’t had the decency to free her, I’d just wandered away at the sight of something shiny. I didn’t blame her. I had abandoned her for something shiny.
As I reached for my wallet, I couldn’t help but bark with laughter. “Bindle, my ass. You’re the only woman in the last hundred years who isn’t Liz Taylor who travels en valet.”
I pulled out the photo I’d tucked in there an hour before and offered it to her. “You can’t leave, Pam. I need my second. Trouble is coming and I want all of my family close.”
She leaned over the desk and took the picture from me. “What the fuck am I looking at?”
“A child,” I repeated. “My son. Ludwig says that Sookie’s fairy genes have accelerated her pregnancy and she is now equal to six months along.”
Her eyes drilled into the photo, the smugness leaving her expression as she gazed at the image, understanding dawning. “So you’re a prop comic now?” she asked quietly.
I shook my head. “This is real. He’s real. I’ve held him between my hands and listened to his heart. I’ve smelled him. He smells of Sweden in spring, before the Industrial Revolution and perhaps even before my time. And the fairies have confirmed it. Somehow, a human-fairy and a vampire have made life. Now they’re certain it’s the sign of the end of the world. Or the eve of a glorious revolution, depending on which of those indecisive ballerinas you talk to. It’s enough to worry all of them, and they can’t tell me who else knows of this prophesy or what they might do to stop it.”
Her ruby lips parted slightly, eyes wide as she slowly extended the photo back to me. “You are serious.”
I took it, rehoused it, and pocketed my wallet. “Perfectly.”
“Do I get to say I told you so for falling dick-first into honey like I warned you shouldn’t? I knew being yours would make Sookie more trouble than she already was, but Armageddon? Honestly. You’d think she’d be taller, if she’s that damn important. Perhaps once society bites it and books are burned for warmth, the illiterate survivors can boost her a few inches in their songs. Maybe give her a blue ox.”
“You’re just precious, darling. And your petition is denied. You’ll be here when my son is born and you’ll stand with me to protect him from whatever shit the fairies or anyone else decides to bring to our door. Yes?”
When she bowed this time, she did it with a conviction that erased my previous displeasure. “Yes,” she confirmed. “And I… I’m… amazed by your news. And pleased. I hope a child with Sookie brings you joy.” She rolled her tongue in her mouth, unused to the taste of sincerity. “Do we have any ideas about who would wish him harm? Are you giving me an execution order?”
I quickly explained about the tome and what the fairies had told us. I threw in the information about Ludwig and her belief that Claudine might be a Custos. She listened intently. Oblivious, I sat in the chair opposite her, uncaring of how it appeared to anyone who walked in that she’d taken my seat.
“The fairy queen is even more squirrelly and useless than I would have imagined. If she knows who would act against us, she isn’t talking. She simply said the Coming meant a great shift in the supernatural world and the Scion was of the most powerful magic on earth. We might all be killed. We might all win the PowerBall Lotto. None of them knew, but she was sure that other supes in the know would assume the worst.”
“In other words, kill Sookie before the Scion is born and avert the Coming?”
She clasped her hands together and put her elbows on the desk, her eyes going blank as she began to plot. Now, and many times in the past, I silently thanked Pam for forcing my hand to turn her. She had a brilliant mind for war.
“Do you know anything else about these Custos people? Sounds like bullshit to me.”
“Outside of the legend, no. I’ve only heard stories. Ludwig might be full of shit, but her knowledge of Sookie’s kind would suggest she’s privy to some insider knowledge, just as her knowledge of Claudine is equally suspicious. I can’t discount their existence.”
“Are they powerful? Could we contact them somehow? Use them for our cause?”
“I don’t know, however I understand from the stories that the Keep tasked them with surveillance and record-keeping only. Outside of watching history, they do not interfere.”
“Shit,” she drawled. “Hippie, draft-dodging fuckers. What about the Authority? The whole reason you agreed to be king was so you could call on their army in case Sookie was threatened. This abso-fuckin’-lutely counts. Will you play that card?”
I sat back in that uncomfortable chair and mused. “Until I have a better idea of who is threatening her, no. The Authority won’t just hand me an army. They’ll want a reason. I can’t go on record as saying that fairies are most definitely real and are declaring that I’m married to one of their own and father to the anti-Christ. The Council will raze this state into the sea looking for them. Massawa won’t be able to quell their desire for the finest blood in existence simply as a favor to me. I doubt they’ll give a fuck about the prophesy, but if it’s true, and if other ancient supes are aware of it, then chances are good that they’re in high places… like the Authority. We could end up with a fairy war on one hand and the extermination of Sookie, our son, me, you, probably everyone we’ve ever known on the other, just to eliminate the threat.”
“I just had my nails done, Eric.”
“I apologize in advance when you chip them in someone’s eye socket.”
“Fuuuuuuck,” she breathed out. Despite her slitted eyes and pissy expression, I detected a glimmer of excitement. “Massawa’s going to be here in half an hour. What’s on the agenda?”
“He’s part of the AVL entourage as they tour the states garnering public support for vampire equal rights. Midterm elections are in three months and the AVL is gunning for a more fang-friendly Senate race. They’re pushing hard in the red states. Louisiana and Mississippi couldn’t get any redder.”
“So you’re going to gab about human politics?”
“And what I should be doing at the state level to help further the cause, yes. I’m a very big deal, Pam.”
“Save it for your memoirs, you vainglorious prick.”
To prove I wasn’t above rough housing with my Child, I shot across the desk and tossed her across the room. She landed perfectly upright next to the door, skidding on her high heels and hissing though her smile.
“Out of daddy’s chair. He has work.”
“Don’t forget the liquor tax increase comes into effect next month. You’ll need to recalibrate our booze budget, if you still care about profit margins.”
“No. I’m busy. Teach Jessica. I want that girl to learn how to squeeze a nickel until the buffalo shits itself.”
A few parting shots about my newfound habit of collecting women who needed babysitters, and she slammed the door behind her.
As a reward to her steadfast, though bratty loyalty, I sat down and rapidly answered every last email she’d sent me. Another email from Herveaux & Son informed me that my new home was nearing completion. I’d hired the company through one of my real estate fronts. Alcide had no idea he was building a mansion for me and Sookie in the middle of nowhere, nor would he even suspect. There were no light-tight rooms in the blueprints. No strange vaults or hidden rooms. Just lots of windows, a heated pool in an enclosed conservatory, and a jungle gym. No vampire would ever design such a magnet for sun and children. It would still be secure to a presidential degree, but that alone wouldn’t raise eyebrows. Rich men always built with the assumptions that the rest of the world was thieving, raping and generally untrustworthy. I gave the job to Herveaux knowing that the man could build a decent house and, even though I hadn’t told her, it would make Sookie very happy.
He was now asking for instructions on interior decor. I gathered up the magazines and notes that I’d asked Sookie to assemble, and sealed them up in a FedEx envelope. I replied that he’d receive them the next day. He thanked me, Mr. Kurt Coppersmith, and would start with the finishing touches once my package hit his mailbox. I tossed it on the Outgoing pile.
I opened another email from my accountant.
That was as far as I got.
Shooting pain erupted in my chest.
“FUCK!” I garbled out. Then I lost my ability to speak. White, hot panic that wasn’t mine completely engulfed me. I gasped in horror as I felt Sookie fight like an animal. And lose. Our bond reeled wildly in my mind, running its entire length like fishing wire as it zipped at a terrible speed away from me. Sookie was moving. Being moved. Hundreds of miles at a time.
I felt the bond go rigid as it hit its limit, the long wire finally running out, straining against too much pull. It started fraying, the thousand points of connection snapping at a terrifying rate.
And then, just like that, our connection broke. Sookie was gone. Ripped out of my body. Her moods, her thoughts, her happiness that had become so entangled with mine. Nothing could have prepared me for the pain. Having my spine removed would have been a blessing in comparison.
Screaming, so much fucking screaming.
The chair under me disappeared as Sookie’s Radia detonated in my chest and threw me to the ground. I clutched at it, groaning in agony as the sunny little ball turned into an ugly black hole. It had been protecting my heart because I’d given it to Sookie. Now that I’d lost her, it was going to swallow my heart whole. Gnawing, tearing, burning, hacking.
Blood exploded out of my eyes and coursed down my cheeks.
I roared again, only to cough up a river of blood.
I fought savagely against this onslaught and tried to tap my blood in Sookie, ripping my own brain apart as I tried to pinpoint her location. I had no idea what was happening, but the action required was clear. I had to get to her. Now. Right fucking now.
Something a million times worse than a werewolf kidnapping had befallen her. This pain in me, this unnatural separation, my mind leapt to the most obvious conclusion.
“NO!” I bellowed around the blood in my mouth. “NOOOOO!”
Dead, a tiny voice whispered amid the internal chaos. She’s dead dead dead dead dead. You left her. You left you son. And they got her. They cut her. Broke her arms and legs. Broke her beautiful neck. Cut out Adam to take back as proof that the Scion is gone. Wrote you a thank-you note in her blood. They’re dead. You failed them.
A stake. I needed a stake. The sun had set two hours ago and I couldn’t wait that long for dawn. Now that Sookie was gone and her Radia was punishing me, I would have gladly walked outside and met it, but there was no time. I needed death much sooner than that.
I tried to push up onto my hands and knees.
I retched again, collapsing under my own weight.
My chair sat upended a few feet away, its four wooden legs sticking out towards me in what was clearly a sign.
I just had to reach them. Break one off. Find the strength to impale myself. Find her in the afterlife. I had no doubts that I would, even though it was filled with billions of souls. I simply had to find the prettiest angel of them all.
Spending everything I had, I propelled myself those three feet. Gasping, moaning, I grabbed a leg and snapped it off. I had to hurry. My eyesight was dimming. My chest was melting from the inside out. I was dying anyway, but not fast enough.
I held the splintered end to my chest, gripping the leg with weak, bloodied fingers.
Just one hard push. That was all I needed.
I grit my teeth and put my last ounce of concentration into not missing. I didn’t think once about my true death. It was nothing. A speed bump. A minor inconvenience that was in my way to get to Sookie. A thousand years of life, and suddenly I couldn’t wait to leave fast enough. I’d already died seven seconds ago when I felt Sookie leave me, and it had already felt like years.
I braced myself. I pushed hard, breaking the skin and piercing an inch of flesh. Yes. Victory was near.
The door to my office blasted open. I roared over someone’s cry of anguish, a rush of air, and my suddenly empty hand over my heart.
“NOOOO!” I screamed again, falling back, smashing my head against the concrete.
A blur of long blonde hair fell over my face.
“Eric! Jesus, ERIC!”
“Sookie.” My eyes failed me. I reached up and fingered a tress then reached for her face. I couldn’t see it. Was I dead already? Had I found her this easily? My fingers found her cheek.
Cold as stone.
My Sookie was warm. Even in death, I knew she’d be warm.
That Radia really was a mean-streaked bitch.
Blackness took me.