The cold, rigid stones under me were a stark contrast to the unsettled warmth pressing into my back…
My head was turned so the first thing I could see when my eyes opened was the bloody bottom step leading to the main floor of the house…
The staircase was steeper… the door at the top was smaller… everything in my line of sight was swaying…
I’d either skipped into a Dali painting or I’d taken a serious blow to the head.
A puddle of blood gluing my cheek to the floor… it was big enough to make me sure I bled for a while before I healed…
Whatever opened that door could have ended me and would have killed Sookie if she was the one to walk up those stairs…
Sookie screamed, “DON’T YOU DARE!”
I managed to lift my head enough to see boots instead of bare feet. It was My Sookie.
She was sitting on my back…
My voice hissed back, “I’d be doing you a favor!” My voice? Expected, but still so bizarre.
I’d been crushed between the door and the wall behind it by Myself… while He was on the way to His Sookie…
Sookie argued, “They’re both unconscious. We don’t know what the fuck happened! You’re going to have to hurt Me to get to Him before We hear details… Go see to Her.”
I hadn’t done a single fucking thing to deserve her protection.
“Go! Look at what He did to Her… He bit her. Her nose is broken! If you’d been feeding Him, He’d have an excuse for the bite… Will you still defend Him if you hear He thought that was you!?”
He made a good enough argument, I couldn’t help but agree with Him.
I moved, pushing myself up and realizing I was still healing… ribs, back, legs… I managed to grunt, “I did think it was My Sookie when I bit her… I thought she was trying to manipulate me… When Yours realized I’m not You, She ran away and tripped…”
Sookie took my hand, tugging earnestly to help me up and chided over her shoulder, “I fucking told you… He wouldn’t have done that…”
“How the fuck would you know!? You said he’d been rough.”
“I also told you it hadn’t been anything I couldn’t handle and I can tell when You’re lying. Besides, I stabbed My Eric last night at dinner and all he did was grab my arm… Go see to your Sookie.” At least I wasn’t the only one she harangued.
She wasn’t any more intimidated by His glare or fangs than she had been by mine… pressing her back into me, keeping herself between me and the threat…
She didn’t have a chance if He wanted to strike.
As He stomped away, He tossed a stake aside and growled, “If she wakes and tells a different story, you won’t have the chance to say goodbye.”
Sookie turned slowly, keeping her weight against me… making me realize I was still leaning…
She stretched up on her toes to feel the back of my head in spite of how matted my hair was with blood and asked, “You alright?”
“Why aren’t you more concerned with the other You?”
“Because She has Him… You’re my concern and you just got brained by a brick wall and a flight of steps.”
“I just fed. I’m already healed…”
She raised her eyebrow. “Yeah? So how was dinner? I can’t believe you thought I was trying to manipulate you. What kind of shit is that?”
I shrugged. “I thought you were operating under the misguided belief you could manipulate me by using your blood like I can.”
She chuckled wryly, “You’re such an ass… Even if I didn’t already know I can only manipulate my half of the bond we don’t have yet, why would I trick you?”
“I didn’t think it would work… When we talked this morning you said you’d try to think of a way to help me focus…”
She shook her head and snorted, “And then you woke up with a willing donor in your bed… You were thinking with your fangs.” Yes.
“Something like that… What’s wrong with Her? She was terrified…”
“Were you an asshole?”
“No. I didn’t have the time. I asked how You were planning to manipulate me as soon as I was finished taking Her blood.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Are you sure you weren’t rough with her?”
I thought about it for a moment, replaying what happened, before I nodded. “I’m sure… I was still coming back to myself when She kissed me. She tasted like honey and said She wanted to surprise me. She bounced Her face off of the door jamb trying to get away from me and when She was finished vomiting…”
“Wait… She got sick?” I couldn’t help but wonder why Sookie was suddenly worried about her other self.
“Yes. Did the other Me feed from you, the first one?”
“No… His fangs were down, but he had other things on his mind… Are you sure she got sick? Did She throw up or did She just retch a few times?”
“There was vomit…” I distinctly remember that my confusion over Her reaction was accompanied by the awful sound.
She winced and sighed, “Shit… How much blood did you take?”
“Not as much as I wanted… is that flavor…”
She interrupted me by snorting, “She isn’t well. She can’t afford to lose much. In the journal there’s this tool named Compton. Every time he was mentioned he tried something different to get his hands on a telepath. Wooing, isolating, mainstreaming and moving to marry Sookie in Canada… Eric, Compton took this Sookie prisoner. She was tortured and raped for the last four months. She was being kept in a moldy, hooch cellar… This Eric’s only had Her for a week. He gave Her His blood to make Her stronger, but they ended up needing to bond so He could have better control over Her emotions. She’s really gun shy.”
“She offered to feed Me though…”
“He’s only taken enough to complete Their bond… She wants to feed Him because She feels like She owes Him for flying all the way to Louisiana to save Her…”
She trailed off as the color drained from her face, ignoring me when I asked what was wrong…
While I watched tears pour over Sookie’s cheeks, I listened to Me call my chambers a pig sty and suggest burning the castle down would be easier than trying to clean the room.
I’m not sure Sookie realized that she was holding my wrists, or that her grip was tightening…
And I’m positive she didn’t notice when she buried her face against my chest to begin leaning on me…
Her knees tried to fold under…
Her back arched as though she was receiving lashes…
When she finally pushed herself away from me, releasing my wrists to put her hands on my chest, her face was contorted in pain…
She choked, “Eric, can I get you to do me a favor?”
“You can ask.” I knew better than to say yes before I heard the favor.
“Could you take the girls? Maybe go back to the hotel to get our things? Just keep them busy… I don’t want them here right now.” I didn’t quite understand. The only thing I could be sure of is that her telepathy was the reason for her episode.
Her jaw clenched as she shook her head slightly. “No… Dreams are hazy… She’s reliving what she went through…”
“Does the pain actually transfer?”
“Not usually… I usually just get the mental pain, the misery, the depression… It’s all so real… I don’t know if it’s because She’s me or what, but… I don’t want to risk the girls seeing it.”
I nodded. “You’re trusting me with your children?” Stupid.
She sighed a heavy breath and nodded slowly. “You were a daddy long before laptops bought peace and quiet. I’m sure you’ll manage long enough for us to wake Her up.”
I’d been too stunned to stop Sookie from tending to me… before I was sent to babysit, she used a rag to wash the blood from my hair and neck, and rifled through my closet for a shirt and sweater that weren’t soaked with blood…
She hadn’t acted as though it was an imposition or like she was trying to hurry me through the door.
I had to concentrate on how considerate her care was in order to ignore the temptation to ask why she’d bother.
I opened the front door to see the children were in Sookie’s SUV watching, waiting… Lindy bounced from the car and gasped, “Why isn’t Mommy with you?”
Jenny and Misty followed with concerned looks on their faces.
“She wants me take you away from the castle for a while…”
Misty barked, “Why!?”
“The other Sookie is having some sort of nightmare your mother doesn’t want you to see. Someone was cruel to her and according to Sookie, Our Sookie, she’s reliving it.”
“What did you do to her?”
“She was in bed with me when I rose… When She realized I’m not Her Eric, She panicked.”
“You’re leaving something out.” It would be so helpful if they were stupid.
“I am, but what I’m leaving out isn’t your concern. I’ll go as far as telling you she hurt herself during her panic.”
Misty rolled her eyes and groaned, “So what are we supposed to do while we wait?”
“It was suggested that I take you back to the hotel to collect your things…”
“That won’t take long though. We packed when we woke up… We were supposed to go to Amsterdam today.”
I slid onto the driver seat, realizing He drove because the seat was already as far back as it could be.
While the girls climbed into their seats, I asked, “Why did you stay in Eijsden?”
As Jenny buckled her seatbelt, she offered, “Amsterdam survived Nazi occupation. It’ll still be there when Sookie isn’t so worried about you.”
“Does Sookie plan to incorporate your visit into your homeschooling?”
Jenny nodded with a grin on her face. “She always does… Selma has fun planning Sookie’s book signings to make sure there’s time for lessons. She used to be a governess. We went to Virginia just to go to Monticello… we learned about Thomas Jefferson all day long. Michie Tavern was awesome… It’s a restaurant like old colonial times.”
“What did Sookie have in mind for your studies in Amsterdam…”
Misty grumbled, “Anne Frank.”
Jenny snorted, “And art… we were going to the Van Gogh museum… and to…”
“And to see where Anne Frank was trapped before she died… Because reading her diary wasn’t bad enough.”
I could have laughed. “It wasn’t the page-turner you expected it to be?”
“It was insane! Everyone thinks she was all kinds of okay with things… I think it was crap… that apartment she was hiding in… that wasn’t a safehouse. It was a mass grave and they were the only ones who didn’t know it yet. All that positivity in that diary, all that ‘Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart,’ crap… it’s what she had to tell herself so she didn’t just give up… And I mean, the kicker is that she didn’t even buy it all…”
Lindy whined, “Oh God… Here we go…”
Misty argued, “That’s right, here we go… ‘And finally I twist my heart round again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside, and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be, and could be, if there weren’t any other people living in the world.’ Eric, tell me, does she or does she not acknowledge that not only is she capable of negativity, but there’s plenty of it in the world too?”
I nodded. “She does, but I think the point is that she was trying to be optimistic about her situation and her future…”
“A future she didn’t get. She died at 15… do you think, between Amsterdam and Auschwitz, she realized how full of crap she was? That all the positivity in the world doesn’t change some people? Some people…”
Jenny grumbled, “Just say Sookie if you’re going to-”
“Fine, Sookie thinks that Anne Frank was genuinely hopeful until she died of typhoid in a concentration camp…”
It was becoming more difficult to resist the urge to laugh at her little rant. “And what does Misty think?”
“I think she was too, which is what gets me so pissed… I want to find out she died pissed as hell over being wrong. I want to find out she regretted wasting her time denying herself from being pissed when it was totally called for. I want to know the epilogue should include an epiphany… ‘screw them for beating me’. Positivity is one thing, but that girl was hopelessly hopeful…”
“What would you have her do? Try to end the war by herself?”
“No. I get there wasn’t anything she could do, but she didn’t have to lie to herself in her own diary. That book just makes me mad because hate kills time faster than praying. I’d know.”
I watched the rearview as Jenny practically stared a hole into the side of her sister’s face, only then realizing I hadn’t started the engine yet.
I’d been too amused.
“How much time have you killed with hate?”
“Sixteen months, four days. Mom came home from a ‘girls night out’, married to a guy who just got out of jail for beating his last wife. But I guess I could just write in my diary that at least there’s lidocaine so stitches aren’t so bad.”
Jenny whimpered, “Misty stop… he was messed up… his father did…”
Misty shook her head. “Yeah. Go ahead… Tell me how we should try to understand Darrell’s perspective because he didn’t know any better… And that Mom only went along with it because she’s empathic and there are bad things about our ability too… go ahead and get that out of the way so I can remind you what it was like to shower with pins in your arm… and how skinny Mom got while she had her jaw wired shut… Oh yeah… and remember that time the cop asked me how I broke my leg in McDonalds… it was totally understandable how our stepfather dotted my eye just for thinking about telling the truth.”
Lindy offered, “You guys need to stop… You just cope differently.” That was an understatement… but at least it was accurate. Lindy was somewhere in between her cousins when it came to tempers, it seemed.
In an effort to prevent the brewing argument in the backseat, I suggested, “Dylan Thomas is more to your liking then, yes?”
Misty yelled, “YES! Exactly! Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light… And he was just mad about his dad getting old and weak… Get mad or do something. Why lie to yourself? What’s the longest you ever stayed in a safehouse without going stir-crazy?” Success. Back to Anne Frank.
“Just over a week… but you can’t use me as a gauge. It isn’t as though I’m a defenseless Human.”
“What did you hide from? Were you there long enough to forgive whatever you were hiding from?”
I finally laughed at the little cynic. “Weather. A few blizzards and floods. Situations where I couldn’t defend myself from the elements.”
“You can’t drown… can you freeze to death?”
“Vampires are susceptible to frostbite more than Human’s are… it happens faster because we don’t produce our own body heat. The hotel is closer if we walk, but the breeze would probably put my ears at risk. I’ve had to wait for a few fingers to regenerate.”
Misty let out an evil giggle, “No wonder He drove five minutes! Nothing but a robe!”
He was probably more concerned with freezing temperatures slowing Him down too much for fighting if it was necessary, but judging by the way the deviant laughter spread across the backseat, they were telepathically listing extremities… and I was almost positive fingers, toes and ears weren’t why Jenny and Lindy were still blushing when I parked the car at the hotel.
As the girls slid out of the car, they all concentrated on the person leaning against the wall next to the entrance…
He was wearing a thick coat and gloves, but it was still cold enough out that he was breathing into his hands for warmth.
“Is that the boy from last night?”
Misty nodded and started walking towards him. “Daan… not just last night… Today too.”
I moved to put myself in her path. “Even at his age, if he’s stalking Sookie…”
She grabbed my hand to take me with her. “He’s not stalking… It’s okay. Mind-reader, remember?”
“You’re mother’s going to stab me with another fork if I let something happen to you.”
She giggled, still pulling my arm with her. “Hey Daan, miss us already?”
The boy gave me a nervous glance before stammering, “Where… where is… where is your Mom?”
“She’s back at the castle. What’s up?”
Daan shrugged, shifting nervously, but he didn’t offer an explanation…
Misty sighed and shook her head as she turned away, “C’mon. We’ll talk about it inside while we grab our stuff. We’re moving to the castle tonight.”
“The castle? With him? He’s…”
She cut him off, “He’s. Our. Friend.”
I was tempted to ask when I’d been designated their friend, but her tone was so unyielding, he immediately began following…
I wasn’t sure an adult would have argued with her.
The boy twitched and fidgeted… through the lobby, waiting for the elevator… I was almost certain he was going to rattle apart once the elevator doors closed behind us… And once we were in Sookie’s suite, he leaned against the door and stared at me anxiously while Misty, Jenny and Lindy moved about to gather their belongings.
I couldn’t have been more relieved when Lindy called me into one of the rooms.
I found her standing at the door to the bathroom with a washrag in her hand and a strange grin on her face. “You’re too tall. I can’t get all the blood off the jamb.”
She’d washed away as much as she could reach, cleaning up what would have looked like a crime scene…
I took the rag from her to begin scrubbing. “Did Sookie stab Him too?”
She giggled, “No… Poor guy skipped to Mommy’s bed while the sun was up… I guess this is from blisters.”
As though finding his bonded pet in a bloody heap on my bathroom floor wasn’t enough to sour His mood, He had the added excuse of a rude awakening.
While I rinsed the rag and looked for more of ‘My’ blood, Lindy explained, “We were out when it happened and Jenny almost had a heart attack when she saw the blood… Mommy thought you sent someone to get us.”
“If I had a reason, I would have come myself… but I thought you were in Amsterdam. I thought I’d be waiting for a couple of hours while you drove back to Eijsden… You said you were out. How did you spend your day?”
“We slept in because we were up late working on the journals for you… then we went to Eijsden School to visit Daan…”
She was interrupted by Misty growling for me to join her in the sitting room…
My sudden popularity was going to take getting used to.
When I reached her, she had her arms crossed and her jaw was set angrily. “You might want to sit down for this.”
I snorted, “I’m sure I can handle it.”
“Sookie usually handles this kind of thing… Daan wants to run away from home.”
“And what is he running away from?”
The saying ‘preaching to the wrong choir’ came to mind considering what Misty mentioned going through… He looked too healthy to have a sympathetic audience.
“Human guardians who think he’s crazy for thinking he can hear people’s thoughts.”
“He’s a telepath?”
Misty nodded while the boy turned green.
“You found a telepath? in Eijsden? on your first night here?”
“It’s because of Sookie’s books. They come out of the woodwork… kids, adults, some whole families. There’s more here in Europe than back in the States. Sookie guesses it’s because the Faeries here are more social. Anywho… ‘Nobody understands him’ and ‘no one knows what it’s like’. He’s sure he can help Sookie. He’s willing to be an indentured servant just so he can get out of the house.”
That was how… How Sookie knew of hundreds of people with abilities.
The first Sookie mentioned finding a few… Pam mentioned finding a few…
This Sookie found hundreds because her father inspired telepathic serial novels… and as the audience grew, there would have to be people who would read them out of curiosity… Like Vampires who read Stoker, Yarbro and Rice novels.
“His family is unaffected?”
“He’s being raised by his mom’s half-sister because his mom overdosed and he never knew his father.”
“Running away isn’t practical.”
Misty shouted, “THANK YOU!”
“Since you’ll be in Eijsden for a while, he could just visit you at the estate, yes?” His infatuation with Sookie might have time to run its course.
“You wouldn’t mind?” It wasn’t as though I was going to adopt him.
I shook my head. “Does he know anything about horses? I’ll need to hire someone to tend to the stables once your horses arrive.”
Misty’s eyes lit up. “That would work… any idiot can muck stables and the job would give him the excuse to not be home… That’ll buy you a few months of coaching. You’ll be fine.”
Daan breathed, “Scheiße.“
He looked towards the room Lindy had been in for a moment before she called out, “Sorry, Eric. I forget sometimes… I was just telling Daan that Mommy can’t just take him in… he isn’t the first one to ask…”
The boy cringed and mumbled, “Your mom said… your mom said to stay away from…” He looked at me to finish his argument.
Sookie warned him to stay away from me? She couldn’t have thought I’d take advantage of a child… not when she had an adult cousin…
Jenny dragged a pair of suitcases into the sitting room to leave them next to the door. “She told you to stay away from Vampires in general because you can’t look out for yourself. Even if you can’t be glamoured, you can still be conned and mistreated…”
At least I wasn’t specifically mentioned.
Misty finished, “Eric’s okay because he doesn’t care about our abilities.”
He frowned and grumbled, “What about that other one?” Scheiße.
I asked, “What other one?” There wasn’t a reason for there to be another Vampire in the area… It was why I traveled to meet with my Lords.
Daan shrugged. “I don’t know. I thought he was a friend of Ana’s. He drove by the hotel twice while I was waiting. He noticed me… I could feel it.”
Before I could ask any details, Misty ordered, “Show me. Remember it.”
As many complaints as I could make about the girl, there was something to be said for the fact she was impressively dominant…
Dynamic, if not passionate in regards to everything.
After pacing the floor and studying the carpet, Misty finally blurted, ”Scheiße!”
“Do I want to know why you’re cursing in German?”
She nodded. “Yeah, but it isn’t anything we can talk about in front of Daan. We need to get back to the castle.”
“Can you tell me who the Vampire is?”
She walked past me to grab a computer bag and a suitcase.
“Yeah… Probably the reason for your company… It’s a good thing you brought us here too. Daan would’ve been dinner… Your brother’s in town.”