The pain I woke up to informed me that I was still alive, to my infinite dismay.
I wasn’t warm and wrapped around my woman and son on a fluffy cloud, surrounded by other dead souls as Enya played over their slightly smug serenity.
My skin felt clammy and cold from the cement beneath me. My head felt skewered and my body crushed. I tried to move. I failed.
There were three female voices talking in hushed mutters around me. One young and frightened. One adult and bitchy. One old and dictatorial.
I groaned, trying to open my eyes.
The voices fell silent.
Someone moved closer. I couldn’t tell whom. My lips were parted by brusque fingers.
I was given blood. The only kind of blood I was able to drink.
“Sookie…” I muttered hoarsely, finally cracking a blind eye. She was stale and thick, but she was on my tongue. She was feeding me. Thank fuck. She wasn’t dead. She wasn’t missing. She was by my side and giving me the sweetness that ran in her veins. In the deluge of pain racking my body, a sliver of joy drove hard into its core.
She didn’t answer me.
“Angel?” I croaked. I was so happy, I didn’t even notice her blood was cold.
“Yes, sugar pie?” the Old Dictator replied dryly.
I winced, rolling the blood on my tongue. It was right, yet it was off. I swallowed, noting how it consoled and confused my system at the same time. My chest erupted with a pleased purr, but my heart was still wrapped in a choke chain. The blood only seemed to anger it. It constricted, the chain biting into the soft tissue. I gasped. Another mouthful of cold blood filled my mouth. I swallowed again. Again, my body rejoiced but my heart cracked wider.
“Please…” I entreated. Perhaps her voice would pacify it. “Tell me you love me.”
“Buy a girl a hotdog first, Northman. Maybe send me a mash note once in a while. Then we’ll talk,” the Old Dictator said.
This was wrong.
I opened my eyes and made them stay that way. I banished the darkness from them by sheer force of will.
I was on the floor of Fangtasia’s basement. I could hear the muffled thump of the music above in the bar. Dr. Ludwig knelt at my side, leaning over me, peering into my face. Jessica stood at the base of the stairs, her eyes darting between me and the entrance above. Pam stood to my left, her arms crossed over her bunched cleavage in her red striped corset that made her look like a circus ringmaster, her expression a cross between rage and terror.
My angel was not here.
“Sookie,” I repeated very clearly, my head rolling as I checked every corner of the dank room. I found Jason Stackhouse sitting on a chair under the stairs. He face held the smooth lack of concern that told me he was glamored. A bucket that reeked of cold deep fry sat in his lap.
The doctor popped the top from a vial filled with blood and brought it to my lips. “Yes,” she answered me, upending the vial in my mouth. “And this is the last drop of her.”
More cold, old blood watered my scorched throat. It wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly welcome. “Where did you get her blood?”
“From her appointment this afternoon,” she replied. “I planned to run more tests with it, until your magician’s assistant over there called me and told me about your fit. I brought them in case you needed smelling salts.”
I fell back in defeat.
“She’s dead then. You should have let me end myself.”
Pam let out an angry hiss and Ludwig clucked her tongue at me in annoyance. She dug in her medical bag and pulled out a pen flashlight, clicking it on and shining it into my face.
I shut my eyes against the brightness, which tortured my head further. “Don’t be stupid. You know vampire pupils don’t dilate against light.”
She smacked my forehead lightly with it, then clicked it off and put it away. “Right, only for blood and fucking. It should burn like a bitch, though.”
“Sookie is fine, Eric. I don’t know what the hell is going on, but she is most certainly not dead.”
“I felt it. My body is melting. Her Radia is killing me.”
“I’m sure it’s pissed off, but that’s a good sign. The fact that you feel it at all proves it hasn’t extinguished, which it would have if Sookie had died. Your skin is still warm. And my UV flashlight didn’t affect you. Ipso facto, Sookie’s alive.”
She knew about my UV immunity. I glared at Pam. She returned my anger, lifting a brow in defiance. I didn’t question just what else she’d told the doctor, not when Jessica was within earshot. Later, Pam and I would have words about discretion.
“Then where is she?”
Ludwig looked over her shoulder at Pam.
Pam, in turn, turned to stare at Jessica.
Jessica looked back at all of us like a panicked deer. “Pam sent me to your house to find her. I found Jason at the gate leaving Sookie a bunch of messages on the phone, since she wasn’t answerin’ his calls. I didn’t know what to tell him, so I glamored him and went inside to look and-,”
“You gave her my security codes as well?”
“Kiss my vage, Stabby Hayes.”
I rolled my eyes, then twirled my finger at Jessica. “And…?”
Jessica looked like a child watching her parents fight. “And…nothing. I’m so sorry, Eric. I looked everywhere, I really did. Sookie had cooked, the mashed potatoes were still in the pot. There were exploded beer bottles in the freezer that were leaking out. And I smelled her adrenaline in the kitchen. She didn’t just walk out the front door. I smelled someone else too, someone amazing. Like, Lucky Charms magically delicious amazing. Anyway, I tried to follow their scents, but they didn’t go anywhere. I checked every room and the whole yard. She was just… gone.”
With great effort, I dragged myself into a sitting position. For all her anger, Pam flashed my side in an instant, shouldering into me, offering her support. I took it. I was too weak to refuse.
I snapped my fingers at Jason. “Bring him here.”
Jessica gently took his bucket away and set it aside before she led him to me and asked him to sit. My heart howled in anguish as he looked into my face with two familiar, dark brown eyes. Fucking genetics. I dragged him into my will more roughly than I should have.
“Where is Sookie?” I barked at him.
His head swung slowly back and forth. “I dunno, man. She called me over for dinner. Said she wanted to talk about stuff. I showed up to the address she gave me, but no one answered the intercom. I figured she gave me the wrong street number or somethin’. Hey, do you want some chicken?” He turned to look longingly at the bucket on the floor.
I snapped in his face and dragged him back again. “What else did she say? Did she mention the fairy?”
“She a friend of Jenna Jameson?”
“Fuck. What time did Sookie call you?”
He casually reached into his front pocket. “Lemme check.”
I snatched his phone from his hand and checked myself. Sookie’s call and text were the last two interactions, forty-six minutes ago.
Is that all it had been?
Jessica hopped from one foot to the other, chewing her nail. “Is it okay that I brought him? I didn’t know what else to-,”
“It’s fine,” I rasped, waving Jason back to her care. She took his arm and whisperingly led him back to his seat.
Pam watched impassively. “You should feed from him. Or someone from upstairs, if you’d rather. You vomited three pints at least.”
“I’m sure Sookie would understand, plus you don’t even have to wake him to get him to-,”
“I can’t, Pamela. The Fae bond prevents me from feeding on anyone who isn’t my fairy.”
She flinched like I’d slapped her. “Are you fucking kidding? Then what the fuck are we supposed to-,”
“Find her. Find that bitch who popped into my kitchen, make her take me to Sookie, then rip her throat open until she dispenses Pez.”
“Her fairy kin? They took her?”
“And you’ll get your very own fairy to play with, just like you always wanted. Once I’m done with her.”
Ludwig cleared her throat on my other side. I’d momentarily forgotten about her.
“Stop talking about murder in front of me, you dumb shits.” She grabbed my hand by the pinkie, which she stuck into the bloody vial, then pulled it out and offered it to me. “Waste not.”
I stuck my finger in my mouth and sucked it clean.
“How do you feel?” She did the same thing with one of the other empty vials. Again, I sucked the blood off.
“Like you harvested my organs and replaced them with broken bottles.”
“Graphic. The good news is that as far as I can tell, there’s nothing physically wrong with you,” she took the now-clean vials and made to put them in her bag. I grabbed them from her. In those tubes were the tiniest pieces of my woman.
“And here I thought you were a fucking doctor,” I spat. Pam offered me a cloth for my bloody face, which I used. No point looking like the hot mess I was.
The crone had the balls to look bored with me. “You vomited, but that’s all. Everything else appears normal. The pain you’re feeling is intangible, caused by the your separation with Sookie. Gallen saw several examples of separated Fae mates. They suffered, but they lived. The pain was meant to compel them back together, not kill them.”
“It works. I can’t think of anything else but finding her.”
“You’ll have to,” Pam replied tartly. “Massawa is now seven minutes overdue. You need to pull your shit together enough to shine him on.” She gave me a haughty smirk. “Unless you want to excuse yourself owing to your sudden case of the vapors.”
“I can’t have a fucking meeting with the Magister when I can barely sit up. Burn this place down, if you have to. I can’t let him see me like this. It’ll raise questions. I want zero attention drawn to me and Sookie at this point. Not until I know what happened to her.”
Another alien wave of nausea hit me. I beat it down. I couldn’t afford to lose what might be my last meal for a long time.
“But Eric,” Jessica’s voice trembled. “You look like shit. Like you have one of those hemorrhagic fevers on the Discovery Channel. You’ll never be able to see anybody lookin’ the way you do.”
She was right. All the more reason to give into my screaming instincts and find Sookie. Her presence would instantly heal any fever I might have.
The door above us shot open and two swizzle stick legs in impractical heels came staggering down the steps.
“Pam!” Ginger cried out, looking wildly at our group. “The Magister’s here! I tried to stall like you said, but he doesn’t want a drink or anything! What do you want me to do with him?!”
“Oh, shit,” Jessica whimpered.
“Keep your fucking voice down,” Pam hissed at Ginger, looking at the ceiling, knowing he was above us somewhere. “You stupid bitch, did he see you come down here?”
“Well, yeah, of course. This is where you are,” Ginger looked confused. Like showing Massawa where her masters were wasn’t another indiscreet action that could have been avoided with a phone call. What the fuck was wrong with my staff? Perhaps I needed to hold a seminar on how to launder our delicates privately and not air them in the public domain. Stupid me for thinking that went without saying.
“Did you tell him Eric was here?” Jessica asked.
Ginger looked at her with guileless eyes. “Yeah, I said I’d see if he was available.”
“Jesus fuck!” Pam reached out and struck her across the face. “So you told him Eric’s here and suggested he had better things to do than keep his meeting? Ginger, I’m going to shove a straw through your chest and drain you like a fucking Capri Sun.”
“Enough!” I roared. “There’s no option. I have to see him.”
Ludwig shook her head hard. “You can’t even stand. Do you plan to hold court in this sublevel shit box?”
The phone in Ginger’s daisy dukes beeped. She checked the message. “Shit! The bartender says Massawa’s coming this way!” She was on the edge of screaming. Again.
“Shit,” Jessica repeated, squatting low on instinct, readying to hide or fight.
“Shit,” Ludwig muttered, moving away from me, but knowing there was nowhere for her to go.
Shit shit shit!
“Oh, fuck this noise,” Pam muttered, striding to the silver cabinet on the side of the room. Ignoring the knives, wires and other torture implements, she grabbed an innocent glass bottle.
She didn’t hesitate.
She ripped off the stopper, threw her head back and downed our entire stock of colloidal silver.
I didn’t even have time to process what she’d done before the echo of her pain lanced into my already broken body and threw me to the floor again. My groans were completely drowned out as Pam screeched in pure agony. Throwing herself away from the cabinet, she collapsed on the floor, writhing as the silver ate into her body like acid.
I had no time. Massawa would be here in seconds.
I levered myself up, nearly retching again. I grabbed the doctor by the arm and threw her towards Pam. “Examine her,” I hissed through gritted teeth.
Pam truly was a genius.
Thankfully, the doctor also wasn’t an idiot. She immediately put her hands on Pam. “Hold still,” she ordered in a firm, loud voice. “Northman, get your Child under control.”
Footsteps were coming down the stairs.
“Pam,” I said just as loudly. “What have I said about screening your donors more carefully? Jessica, quit being a fucking tourist and help the doctor.”
Jessica wasn’t as clever as Ludwig, but she followed orders. She zipped to Pam’s side as she thrashed from side to side, holding her arms as Ludwig peered at the smoke pouring from my Child’s mouth.
Though hunched away from the door, I felt the prickle of a very old vampire enter the room.
Pam screamed nonstop. The sound was deafening.
“She’s had quite a lot,” the doctor said stoically. “I assume her donor drank silver before letting Pam feed from her.”
“No fucking shit!” Pam bellowed up at her.
I let her continue to scream for several more seconds. Even though it was my Child who’d paid the price, I wanted him to see the show. When I finally felt he’d had a decent eyeful, I turned towards the stairs. Ginger stood on buckled knees at the base, Massawa stood above her in another impeccable suit as he watched our little pageant, and Jason sat beneath them on his chair blinking with vacant curiosity.
“Magister,” from my low position, I still bowed. “How are you this evening?”
He squinted at me. “Running behind,” he said. “Though it appears that my night is less colorful than yours.”
I gave a deliberate wince. “I’m afraid you’ve caught us at a bad time. My Child has been targeted by a poisoner.”
“And the human woman? She is a medical professional of some sort?”
Ludwig looked at him with her default bitch expression. “You think I’m here for the fucking ambience?” She turned to me. “You. Quit looking so goddamn awful and help me. The redhead’s too young. If your Child’s pain hurts you that much, shut down your bond with her, but staple her ass to the ground so I can look.”
I sighed, the bored Maker, and shuffled over to help hold Pam still as the tiny woman continued to poke and prod. I gave Massawa a look of pained apology. “Might I take a raincheck? I’m afraid I’m having trouble concentrating with Pam in such pain. Fuck knows I tell the staff to glamor their meals to ask about silver, but Pam gets overeager for a good set of tits.”
From his side, his hand rose fractionally in dismissal. “Of course. We can postpone until tomorrow night.” He sniffed the air, cocking his head in recognition. From his position, he could not see Jason, but it didn’t stop him from pinpointing his presence.
“Who is the male in this room?”
“A..a donor,” Jessica stuttered, looking at the floor as she addressed a vampire miles beyond her in status and age. “A clean one. I…I brought him for Pam, to keep her strength up.”
“Last chance on the chicken, people. The gravy train is sailing.” Jason’s ultimatum was ignored.
Massawa stared at the baby vampire as she tried her very best to melt behind me as we continued to restrain Pam.
Pam’s shrieks had lessened into delirious moans. I shushed her in an unhurried, fatherly tone.
I looked up at the Nubian. “Until tomorrow night then. Please forgive the inconvenience.”
He watched for several seconds longer. More than was necessary. “Not at all,” he responded finally. “For the first time tonight, I’m ahead of schedule.” He looked at me pointedly. “Give Miss Stackhouse my regards.”
With that, he turned and retreated back up the stairs.
He’d barely closed the door before Ginger let out a string of shaky expletives. I barked at her to shut up.
Waiting another twenty seconds in complete silence, until I was sure he was gone, I finally let myself collapse onto my hands. The entire production had taken my last bit of strength.
I finally let myself look at Pam with the terror I’d hidden from Massawa. She had quieted now that the show was over, but her pain was breaking my already shattered heart. Her eyes were bleeding. Her ears, her nose, her mouth. She was leaking heavily from them all. With trembling fingers I reached out and caressed her cheek.
“I fucking love you,” I whispered, looking at her helplessly. “What can I do?”
Through her tight mask of pain, she smiled. “Give me forty-five seconds alone in Tiffany’s. Whatever I manage to put on, I keep.”
“You’ll have ninety seconds.”
“I love you, too.” With great pain, she lifted up slightly and brought her lips close to mine. “If I ever catch you with a stake against your heart again, I’ll ram it through your dick hole.”
My Child. She was a piece of work.
I kissed her palm, then rounded on Ludwig. “Heal her.”
She snorted, sitting back and dropping her faked urgency. “She chose too well. Massawa would have noticed if we were all worried about something as easily fixed as a silver chain around her neck. But she drank the shit. It’ll take time to work its way out of her system. There’s nothing we can do but keep her fed and comfortable.” She looked down at Pam with something akin to respect. “Very well played.”
Pam coughed a laugh. “Thanks. Now heal him,” she jutted her thumb at me.
“Easy. Find Miss Stackhouse.”
I closed my eyes, willing my blood in my lover to answer me. But just like in my office, my call echoed without a reply. I shook my head.
“I need the fairy.”
“What the hell are y’all talkin’ about?” Jessica whispered conspiratorially.
I ignored her question. “Get me to my house.”
She nodded quickly.
I looked up at Jason and called him over again. When he knelt beside me, I asked him, “If a vampire had injured herself helping your sister, would you offer your blood willingly?”
Jason’s smooth brow wrinkled in thought. “I dunno. I guess so. She good lookin’?”
I pointed to Pam. “If you weren’t glamored, would you feed this woman of your own free will?”
Normally I would never ask, I would simply command it. Pam was careful with her meals and they were never the wiser afterwards, so I knew he was not in danger. But the last scrap of sanity I had left told me that Sookie would never allow Jason to be used against his will. He was an idiot, and he was convenient, but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t risk taking him out of his trance, but I would ask for his consent, at the very least.
After a moment, he gave a slow nod while he stuck his lower lip out. “Yeah, sure. If she helped Sookie, no prob.” He gave Pam a practiced, if minor league smirk. “What’s your name, Blue Eyes?”
Their black coffee eyes were where his and Sookie’s similarities ended.
I looked down at Pam again. “I have to go,” I whispered, hoping she understood.
She exhaled stiffly. “Thanks for dinner.”
“Be gentle with him. Then wipe the whole night and send him on his way. He fell asleep in front of the tv, okay?”
Jessica offered me her shoulder. Placing my hand on it, I staggered to my feet. Ginger’s eyes were nearly popping out in fear. One of the reasons I’d passed her over in favor of Jason for Pam. Her coping mechanism under duress was for shit. That, and she weighed ninety pounds soaking wet.
My head hurt. I couldn’t muster another glamor.
“Oh, sure,” she saw my gesture at the woman’s eyes. “Ginger,” she stared her down. “Everything’s fine. You didn’t see any of this. Go on back upstairs, now. It’s just another shift. Eric and Pam are out. You don’t know where they are or when they’re coming back. Kay?”
Ginger gave her zombie nod that I’ve seen a hundred times. “Sure,” she murmured. “Just another shift.”
I turned to Ludwig. “Stay with Pam. For your help tonight, I’ll pay you enough to send your grandsons to Harvard.”
“Both. I don’t care. Just…thank you.”
She lowered her head back to her task, taking Jason’s wrist and placing it to Pam’s mouth. I turned back to the stairs before I saw my Child bite. I didn’t want to be here once the smell of Jason’s blood hit the air. I might have to contend with it smelling a little like Sookie, and I couldn’t handle that right now. Jessica and I took the stairs as fast as I could manage. I stopped quickly in my office to get my keys to the Jeep I kept out back for emergencies. I cursed that I’d flown tonight and left my Lotus, and after being so pleased that I could fly off to get to Sookie faster. That decision mocked me now.
I turned and tossed the keys to Jessica. “You’re driving.”
She raised her hand to catch them.
They never made it to her hand.
A bright flash erupted between us and another feminine hand plucked them from midair.
Claudine stood between us, my keys dangling from her fingers… one of which bore the ruby ring I’d given Sookie.
“Eric,” she breathed. “There’s very little time. I need to tell you about what’s happened with Soo-,”
I did not let her finish.