I was weak, but I was still a hell of a lot stronger than a fairy.
I lunged at Sookie’s kidnapper and held her down on the floor, crushing her hands into her stomach so she couldn’t shoot me. I felt Sookie’s ruby biting into my palm. I clapped a hand over her mouth as she cried out, her eyes terrified over the stack of my fingers.
I looked up at Jessica, who’d thrown herself against the wall.
“Is this the woman you smelled at my house?”
Jessica’s pale blue eyes had dilated. As the doctor said, the promise of blood and fucking turned our pupils as wide and black as 45 vinyls. I saw her nostrils quivering as she took in the Claudine’s scent, which was closer to spun sugar than Sookie’s honey. She was very pure, far more so than my “Half Child” wife, and Jessica was beginning to destabilize as her fragrance filled my office.
It did absolutely nothing for me, however. I might as well have been wrestling a garlic braid.
I clenched down harder on the squirming imp and barked, “Jessica!”
She flinched, then bobbed her head rapidly. “Yeah… yeah that’s her. My God. She’s incredible. She’s smells like…”
I ignored her, glaring into the eyes of the woman beneath me. “Stop struggling. Do not try to teleport. You won’t escape before I kill you. If you don’t answer every question I ask you, I’ll rip your head off and let this girl drink it like a beer stein. Do you understand?”
Both Claudine and Jessica whimpered at the thought, one in longing, one in horror.
The fairy nodded frantically. Without lifting my hand on her mouth, I asked with a deadly calm voice, “Did you take my Sookie?”
Her expression collapsed in dismay. Her eyes rolled away from me and I could feel the telltale sign of prey opting for hysteria over the infinitely harder choice of keeping her head. I shook her hard.
“No, no,” I admonished softly. “You don’t get to check out. You tell me right now if you put your hands on my angel, if you touched one hair on her head. If you hurt her, or took her against her will. I felt her fear before she was ripped out of my soul. Wherever she is, she went unwillingly. So how ’bout it, buttercup? Are you responsible for our pain?”
She groaned behind my hand, but brought her eyes back to mine. I saw resolution there.
“Then you’re dead.” My hand was already starting to push down into her mouth. A few more pounds of pressure and her jaw would buckle into her skull.
Claudine sobbed in pain.
Jessica squeaked. “Eric… don’t…”
I looked up at her. “What?”
She looked positively torn between the treat I’d offered her and mercy. She was gobbling Claudine up with her eyes, so she looked away, squeezing them shut. “Please let her talk. You can’t just kill her unless you’ve got a good reason. What if Sookie was in trouble? What if Claudine was trying to help?” She paused, biting her lips in concetration. Bloodlust made her hands tremble. “What if she’s the only one who can lead you to Sookie?”
“She’s admitted her guilt.”
“She nodded once and you asked, like, five different things. Let her explain.”
My Radia throbbed in rage and sorrow. It was still punishing me, and I wanted this woman to pay for it. I didn’t want to be a judicious king right now, nor did I want to concede that this infant vampire was momentarily wiser than myself. Unwillingly, I stopped my slow crush of her bones.
“Is that what Jesus would do, Jessica?” Fucking modern day do-gooders.
From her subdued position, she eyed me knowingly. “It’s what Sookie would do.”
With that simple, devastating truth, my hold on the fairy broke all together. Claudine jerked her head away from my hand and swallowed a huge, ragged gulp of air. Restraining her had taxed me greatly. I rolled to my hands and knees beside her, dropping my head, willing my head and stomach to stop boiling. The fairy rolled, too. From her side, she coughed and sputtered. For two exceptionally old and powerful creatures, we must have made a sorry sight.
“You stupid bastard,” she gasped at me in her clipped, British accent.
“Um, should I leave you guys alone?” Jessica made to move to my side, but hesitated at the smell of fairy on my clothes. Later, when I wasn’t whipped up and pissed off, I would be very proud of her. Ninety-nine vampires out of one hundred would have begged me for this woman’s blood, in any quantity and condition. They would have licked it off the seat of a shit-spattered outhouse. They would have insisted she was guilty without hearing one word about the crime, just eager for the sentence. Or they simply would have taken advantage of my weakened state and killed her themselves, dragging her away so they could gnaw on her in private.
Bill had accidentally turned a goddamn saint.
“No,” I answered. “Stay. Help me up.”
Skirting as far from Claudine as she could get, she eased into my space and offered her shoulder again. As we stood up unsteadily, I said, “You’ll be rewarded for this, Miss Hamby.”
She gave me a nervous smile. “All I want is your shirt.” She shocked me by swooping in and pressing her face into my chest, nearly inhaling my tee shirt right off me. “You smell like the happiest place on earth.”
She led me to the chair in front of my desk. I’d been here less than an hour ago talking to Pam, just before this woman had done whatever it is that she’d done with Sookie. My bloody retchings had already been cleaned up. Another check in Ginger’s favor. She’d scrubbed more than her share of viscera off Fangtasia’s tiles.
I fell into the seat, my eyes never leaving the Fae. As she finally caught her breath, she rose to sit on her heels, her white dress cascading around her. Her fingers traced gently around her mouth, checking for injury. Jessica took my chair behind my desk, putting as many feet and pieces of furniture between her and temptation as possible.
“This girl saved your life. Talk.”
“Sookie is safe.”
I snorted. “My Child is injured downstairs. I’ll turn you into a fucking IV for her unless you tell me exactly what’s going on.”
Her expression became hooded. “Perhaps the girl should leave. There is much to say.”
“The girl is your lifeline. If you continue to piss me off, you’ll need her protection from me.”
Claudine considered this, then closed her eyes and dropped her head. “Very well. I’ll start at the beginning…”
And she did. Two vampires sat in stone silence as the Custos of Magic revealed herself and the job she’d been entrusted with all those centuries ago. She described her brethren as well, the Custos of all description who had been scribbling their observations since time began. She glossed over most of them, knowing my patience was a drying well. When she finally came to the Custos of War, a shiver broke over her skin.
I leaned forward. “Who?”
Her head went high. “Okalo Massawa.”
“There’s no time for bullshit.”
“Apparently there’s time for the most irrelevant history lesson I’ve ever sat through. Where the fuck is Sookie? What does Massawa the Custos of Guns & Ammo have to do with you taking her from me?”
“Everything. And I didn’t take her from you. I removed the Scion from harm’s way. If Sookie dies before his birth, then all hope will die with her. Massawa, arguably the most powerful vampire in the world, has made his intentions clear; kill the Scion and prevent the end of the world.”
I went rigid in my chair, my lips pulling away from my teeth as I hissed at her. She responded with a pitying glance. “I’m sorry for your pain, but when Sookie told me his name, I had no choice. I took her somewhere Massawa can never find. The Scion will be born in safety, and once that happens, I will bring your woman and your child back to you.”
“You will take me to Sookie. Now.”
The arm rests cracked under my clenched hands. “How clumsy of me. That wasn’t meant to sound like a request.”
“The plane she’s in cannot support vampire life. Or human. Or were. She and I are the only people who know of it, and it’ll stay that way. For her protection.”
I rose fractionally from my chair, ready to kill her again. “You left my pregnant angel on some shitty, no-life plane? Alone?”
“She isn’t bound and gagged in some basement, vampire. She is healthy and well provided for.” Claudine flattened her hand and removed Sookie’s ring from her finger. Weary of my rage and Jessica’s hunger, she stayed seated and simply flipped it to me like a coin.
I caught it, holding it under my nose. Sookie’ scent was still on it. Thankfully, it wasn’t saturated in fear. I resisted the urge to stick it in my mouth and savor the taste of her skin, and instead removed my leather necklace. Untying the thong, I slipped the ring onto it, alongside the eagle talon I’d worn since my fifteenth summer. I retied the knot and looped it over my head.
Claudine watched me, her anger cooling fractionally. “She’s furious at me, but she’s well. She begged me to come here and tell you that. And that she loves you.” She gestured to my necklace. “She says she wants that back when she sees you again.”
“You know what I hate, you fucking Fae? I hate stories that sound logical and even pull a few heartstrings, but conveniently can’t be verified by anyone but the author. You, the pixie savior, kidnapped my bonded to protect her from a big, bad man. You have nothing but our interests at heart. Right? How do I know you’re not the Custos of War, hmm? How do I know you haven’t been biding your time until Sookie was unprotected, then you swooped in and imprisoned her in some glitter-stained dungeon? How do I know you won’t kill my son? Or rip him out of Sookie’s arms to raise as your own? What if you’re psychotic? What if you’re jealous? What if you’re certain the Coming needs to be stopped?”
She gasped at the insinuations. “I would never! I told you before! The Coming fills me with nothing but hope! The Scion is the ultimate magic and I am the Custos of Magic! You think I can outwit Fate?! That even if I wanted the glory for myself, that the Scion would allow it? I’m not running a kidnapping ring, you asshole! Nor am I robbing a maternity ward! This is so much bigger! Why can you not see it?!”
Her vitriol pleased me. Perhaps she was telling the truth. “I’m still left with nothing but a ring you could have pried off her severed finger and a promise that everything is a-Okay. It’s not enough. Show her to me. Prove that she’s as you say. Then I may consider your suspicions of Massawa and your request to move my wife and son from his path until Adam is born.”
Claudine drew herself up higher. “No.”
“There I go again, being clumsy.”
“I didn’t come here to negotiate. I came here to inform. You’re wise to suspect me, but I can’t afford to risk the Scion by bringing him back here, just to win your trust. I’ll settle for yours and Sookie’s wrath. I’d rather you despise me for two weeks then bring Sookie back to this plane and see all three of you killed.”
The hot ball of Light in my chest had been listening to the whole conversation. Upon hearing this, it sent an enraged pulse that fried my entire ribcage. I doubled over in pain, clenching my teeth in fear of losing Sookie’s blood. I groaned loudly over the muffled thump of my busy bar. I looked up from my crouch at the bitch responsible, bloody tears blurring my vision.
“Give me Sookie,” I demanded. I wasn’t here to negotiate either.
She shook her head. “Forgive me.”
I was weak. And while I was a lot stronger than a fairy, I was not faster.
Without another word, Claudine popped away.
I gripped the side of my desk and roared. Roared in pain. Roared in anger. But most of all, I roared for Sookie. My Radia, denied its request, went back to cutting deli-thin slices off my heart and torching them with gleeful spite. I had no option but to endure it.
After a few moments, Jessica knelt at my side. She hesitantly laid her hand on my knee. “Eric?”
I was barely aware of her and didn’t respond.
“Please. You gotta tell me what to do. Until Pam gets better, I’m all you’ve got. I know I’m not as smart as her, but I’m ready to do whatever needs doin’. But you’ve gotta snap outta this. The doc says there’s nothing physically wrong with you, remember? I know it hurts, but you’ve gotta just stand up, put one foot in front of the other, and go find Sookie. I’m right here. What’s first? Did you still want me to drive you to your house?”
I uttered an ugly, coughing laugh. Bill’s progeny, Little Miss Home School, was going to be my third in command for the rest of my days. Not only was she a saint, not only was she a thinker, not only was she a soldier, she was quickly becoming a friend. A friend who would one day have what it took to be a general.
Louisiana ran thick with glorious women.
I refused her offered hands and stood up. Sookie’s Light threatened to drop me. I silently shouted it down. Jessica was right. This was a magical pain. My arms and legs were still connected to my body. I wasn’t on fire. I wasn’t strapped in silver. I was technically fine. Sookie’s Light could fucking take a pill. We were on the same side and I was going to find our mistress, so it could chill the fuck out in the meantime.
Jessica stood beside me. I startled her by cupping her face, much like I did Pam and Sookie. “I may adopt you one day. You’re a magnificent Child.”
She dipped her chin in embarrassment. “Is that even a thing? Adopting orphan vamps?”
“If you wish it, yes. Our world would recognize you as mine.”
If she could have, she would have bloomed red. “So. Am I still takin’ you to your place?”
I dropped my hands, and willing my body to stay upright, I stooped and picked up my keys where the fairy had dropped them. “No. We’re going to visit more family.”
We weren’t going far.
Jessica took the time to ask a few questions about fairies and who the Custos were. Rather than ignore them, or lie to her, I decided that if she’d impressed me enough to offer my Maker rights to her, then she’d earned the right to some of my knowledge. If I was serious about keeping her close, then I would not make the same mistake I had with Pam. In this time of battle, they deserved information. I told her what I knew. Her eyes skipped to me nervously when she asked if I really could walk in the sunlight like Ludwig had said. I hesitated for only a second. Then confirmed it.
I risked much, telling a vampire I could not silence as a Maker.
Jessica, who had lost sunlight only recently, shrugged and smiled. “That’s pretty cool.”
I watched the dark forest pass us as Jessica drove us east. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I began to organize my thoughts around Massawa. For the time being, Sookie was my main concern and not rumors about the Magister’s extra curricular work. Nonetheless, it was a serious accusation and while I had doubts, the fairy clearly did not. The man terrified her.
I was never one to be caught with my ass in the wind, as Sookie once observed. Thus, I began to plot.
We pulled up to a modest home on two grassy acres just outside of Shreveport. It had only been acquired recently, but there was already fresh paint, a new deck, and a tree house in a climb-friendly maple tree.
Alcide. Another fucking modern day do-gooder.
“Who lives here?” Jessica asked as she handed me back my keys.
“Sookie’s cousin,” I grunted, opening my door.
She joined me on my side of the car, looking up at the lit windows. We could hear the sound of the television and smelled spaghetti cooking. A boy child asked when dinner was going to be ready. Hunter, I assumed. A deep man’s voice surprised me, telling the boy to wash his hands and set the table.
Apparently Alcide was playing house as well as building them.
Jessica took in the same information, pulling air through her nose and perking her ears. “Do you want me to go ring the doorbell or something?” she whispered.
I shook my head, scanning the trees that surrounded us. “We’re not here for them.”
She looked at me quizzically. “We’re not?”
“Then what are we here for?”
I closed my eyes, slowly filling my lungs, looking for a much fainter scent than a were or a pasta dish. I turned on my heel, screening all directions.
Jessica whispered another question. I reached out and put my finger on her lips without opening my eyes. I needed silence.
I got it.
My body exploded in pain as I ran as fast as I could into the tree line.
I had to act quickly.
My nose led me to her exact hiding place.
A woman’s scream tore through the night as I grabbed her and zipped back to Jessica’s side. I might need her help and I could not afford to lose the only possible lead I had to Sookie.
Jessica’s eyes nearly popped from her head as I reappeared with yet another fairy, this one every bit as beautiful and intoxicating as the one she’d seen in my office.
“Chloe,” I spoke silkily to Hadley’s fairy godmother. “Enchanted to meet you.”
The sprite bucked wildly beneath me, just as Claudine had, her purple accented dress ripping at the seams. I repeated the same ultimatum that if she attempted to pop away, I would kill her.
“Jesus Almighty, Eric! What the hell are ya doin’? Who is this lady? Who the hell are all these ladies?” Jessica’s squealed over the fairy’s muffled screams.
I heard raised voices coming from the house. They had heard Chloe’s caterwauling.
“Grab her legs. If she cooperates, I promise not to hurt her.”
Jessica obeyed in a fog of confusion. She grabbed the woman’s delicate ankles. Chloe sobbed behind my hand. Jessica’s fangs dropped and she moaned in desire.
“I am not your Maker, but I command you not to bite this fairy,” I panted at her.
She locked her fangs behind her lips and nodded frantically. “Doin’ my best, here.”
Forty feet away, the front door burst open. I heard the cocking of a shotgun as Alcide ordered Hadley and Hunter to stay in the house.
I had very little control over the situation. I had to hurry.
Feeling deja vu all over again, I glared down into a fairy’s face and yelled at her. “Where has Claudine taken Sookie? Is she in your realm? Is she injured? Talk, firefly, or I’ll rip you to pieces.”
Through her terror, bewilderment shined brightly in her eyes.
I shook her again. “Has Sookie gone back to Faery? Have I lost her to your world again?” The possibility broke me in half. If Sookie was truly in Faery, I may not see her for years. Mab might imprison her for days, which would equal a century of my time. Her little gift in my chest would never allow me to live that long without her.
“WHERE IS SOOKIE?”
A cold barrel levelled against my back. “Get the fuck off her, Eric.”
In a flash, Chloe’s features changed from terrified to smug.
“Go inside, wolf,” I hissed at Alcide behind me. “This isn’t your concern.”
The barrel pushed harder. “You made it my business,” he growled low. “And you ain’t killin’ anyone on Hadley’s front lawn. Let her up. Slowly, now.”
I hissed at her, ignoring him.
“The bullets are solid pine, man. Don’t be an asshole.”
Jessica met my eyes. I read her silent request to take him out. I shook my head. Sookie would kill me.
I cursed loudly and released my mute prisoner. With a triumphant, Fuck You smirk, she lit up like a lavender flare and disappeared from under me.
I heard gasping all around me as our small audience saw its first fairy escapologist.
I collapsed into the grass. My one and only link to Sookie’s people had vanished. All was lost.
“You fucking idiot,” I swore softly at the man above me. “She’s gone. She’s gone and now Sookie is truly lost to me.”
Another two sets of feet came up hesitantly behind Alcide. “I said stay in the damn house, baby. It ain’t safe out here.”
“It’s Eric,” Hadley countered hotly. “I trust him every bit as much as I trust you.”
“Then why the fuck is he wrestlin’ magic women in your front yard? Eric, Jesus! You wanna tell me why you’re suddenly trying to kill our tail? And what the hell is she doin’ out here in the woods anyway?”
“He can hear my thoughts, Had. No point in keeping it PG.”
But I was barely listening. None of them mattered anymore. My only hope now is that Claudine was true to her word and returned Sookie to me after Adam was born. It was a horrific thought, but it was better than all of the alternatives.
I was so lost in my own misery that I didn’t hear the smallest pair of feet shuffle over to me and squat by my side. I saw Scooby-Do slippers and a set of Spiderman pajamas in my peripheral. A little hand came up and touched my cheek. “Why are you so quiet?”
“I have nothing to say.”
“No, your brain. Your brain isn’t thinking.”
I spared a glance at the serious child sitting next to me. I was grieved to discover another Stackhouse with blonde hair and dark eyes. “I’m vampire. Vampires are silent to telepaths like you.”
The little boy seemed pleased, his large brown eyes staring into mine, finding no thoughts at all. “Are you aunt Sookie’s vampire? The one momma thinks about?”
“Yes,” I answered. “I belong to your aunt.”
“Why are you here?”
“She’s gone away. The lady who follows you around might have known where she was.”
Alcide and Hadley continued to argue in hushed tones above us while Jessica stood awkwardly to one side.
The boy patted my hair like I was a forlorn puppy. “You shouldn’t be sad, you know.”
“But I am. I’ve lost Sookie.”
“Naw. She’s not lost.”
I pulled back, looking at him carefully. “What do you mean? Did Chloe tell you something?”
He shook his head, smiling gently. “She turned her mind off around us.”
“Then where is Sookie?” I felt ridiculous asking a six year old.
He leaned toward me, whispering.
“She’s in the place behind the air.”