The change to Sookie’s mood was refreshing.
As amusing as it had been when she was angry that I’d teased her, I didn’t like how upset she’d been by the article.
While Sookie jokingly made plans to coordinate her family, having each of them record a different network’s news, I weighed options for Rebecca Mills’s staged suicide. Unfortunately, she had an alibi for the night before, so tying up Leland and Rebecca’s loose ends together wasn’t possible. Overdosing on tranquilizers and alcohol was a convenient cliché, but it would suffice. Advancements in pathology had taken all of the fun out of staging elaborate suicides anyway.
Sookie had only just thought to remove her rosary, and warn me that she was putting it in her change purse, when a large SUV pulled out of the tree line to follow us as we reached Bon Temps limits.
The headlights and tinted windows were keeping me from seeing who it was, but Sookie huffed that it was a pair of Weres…
The driver didn’t tailgate or flash his high-beams as though he wanted me to pull over…
Since I was less than a mile from Jason’s house, I stopped in the middle of the road and waited for my shadow’s move.
When he stopped, I left the car and told Sookie, “Climb over and go to your brother’s house. I’ll be just behind you.”
“What? How do you know this is okay?”
“It’s probably just the media… If this isn’t okay, then I’ll kill them and still be just behind you. I’ll be fine.”
She opened her mouth to argue, but thought better of it… She whimpered and climbed over the gearbox while I approached the Suburban.
As though it was choreographed, Sookie put my car into gear at the same time the driver’s door of the Suburban opened.
Seeing the feet appear behind the door hadn’t offered any hints as to who’d been following me, but the laugh did.
Nestor was chuckling before his feet were completely under him. “You’re paranoid, Nordmann.” Noooooo, really?
“Do you not read the paper before your wife disciplines you with it? Yes, I’m paranoid. I’m on my way to tend to business and I thought you were a reporter.”
“Fair enough. What would you have done if I was a reporter?”
Break his neck and drive his truck into the woods.
“Glamour you to think you lost my trail… What are you doing here?”
“You said ‘watch Patty Ingram’. While watching Patty Ingram one of my boys watched her sit on her porch swing with a friend. They talked about how excited Patty was to come out to Bon Temps tonight and that she was dying to tell her kids that her husband was alive. I did my thing and found out Patty Ingram’s husband’s been missing for a while and Bon Temps is where your Sookie is from. I figured whatever the fuck you have going on out here tonight, you didn’t want reporters around. I called my boys and they’re watching for news vans… I met with Sheriff Dearborn and told him we’re with your security company and you sent us as backup in case reporters got more aggressive about getting interviews from locals. We don’t have to play by the same rules as law enforcement. Turns out Dearborn’s on-board enough to radio for our help three times… Your Sookie’s aunt called about being harassed at work…”
“Brilliant. Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. You haven’t gotten my bill… One of my boys wants to know if the Aunt’s yours too. Says she’s really easy on the eyes.”
“She’s only Mine in protection. She actually belongs to Jack Herveaux.”
He chuckled and shook his head. “That SOB… He’s been holding out on me.”
“Not really. His children were just meeting Linda tonight… Since you’re already here, why don’t you follow me to meet Patty. That way if she has a reason to complain about being watched, she knows who to call. Have one of your men stand sentry at the end of the driveway just in case one of the vultures try to get a quote from Jason Stackhouse. He’s listed, so it’s only a matter of time.”
He nodded. “No problem, but I have to warn you. My baby girl’s in tow. After I talked to you this morning, she ran her mouth until she got herself grounded. There’s nothing worse than spending the day trapped in a car with me, apparently.”
Ashley grumbled from inside the car, “Trapped and tortured with country music and pastrami with extra kraut. I love you, but you’ve got bigger fans right now, butthead.”
More proof that Sookie’s ability affected her maturity… Adele mentioned, just last night, that Sookie hadn’t been grounded for anything but fighting with Jason since she was ten years old.
I opted to fly the rest of the way to Jason’s property instead of experiencing what the inside of Nestor’s truck smelled like after he’d been eating cabbage and baking in the July heat all day.
I spent a few minutes looking over the property, checking to see if anyone was brave enough to be lurking in the woods.
Somehow, I wasn’t surprised to see Adele, Pam, Jason, Julie, Linda and Jack’s vehicles on Jason’s lawn. Jules was toddling around the deck with Brandon, Jack and Jason standing at the grill… Pam and Linda were standing next to my car while Sookie explained why I wasn’t with her…
I quickly put myself down directly behind Sookie and offered, “It was only Nestor…”
Pam was the only one who didn’t jump and screech.
I chuckled as I continued, “Long Tooth has been doing their best to purge Bon Temps of anyone who looks like a reporter today… Are the Stackhouses having a Homecoming cookout for a Vampire?”
Linda tilted her head towards Pam and offered, “Hadley, Brandon, Jason and Cuddles did some brainstorming last night with Shawn,” as Jack ran out of the house to see why she’d screamed.
Did Pam come back or did she spend the rest of the night on the phone?
I raised my eyebrows, anxious to hear this explanation.
Pam glared at Linda for calling her Cuddles and started, “I wasn’t on the highway yet before it occurred to me that Patty would be here as early as possible. I went for more blood and came back. Patty sent Brandon back over with some of Shawn’s clothing… Brandon was the one who brought up that Shawn needed a reason to have been gone and not come home. He said the oldest would need it. We came up with a car accident. EMTs couldn’t find his ID and he was unconscious. He had to have surgery because of his injuries. Shawn had to have part of his stomach removed so he’s on a liquid diet and since he was hit on the head, his sight and hearing are sensitive. He’s staying here until Patty can find a secluded house. They’re going to cover his new schedule later.”
“A five-year old is going to understand the concept of a liquid diet?”
“An inquisitive five-year old who has a teammate whose mother had her stomach stapled, yes. Brandon and Shawn said the woman explained it when she didn’t eat at the soccer team’s pizza party…”
Linda added, “The boys thought of having a cookout to explain the extra bodies. Brandon, Hadley and Pam stayed here and helped Jason and Shawn line everything up… Momma spent the day frying chicken and baking pies and we all brought our bathing suits and Pam sent Hadley out for extras, just in case.”
“What happened to meeting Jack’s children tonight?”
She smiled a little wider and offered, “Got together at the house for a while before heading over. They’re going to fit right in with this bunch too. Hadley says Janice is a little nervous about being around Vampires, but she seems to be doing alright even if she’s mostly going along because no one else thinks it’s a big deal…”
The time honored tradition Sookie mentioned the night before.
Linda stopped when Brandon barked from the deck, “Where are you going?”
Jules answered, “Awick,” as though her father was retarded for asking.
She appeared, toddling out from behind the house with Tina at her heels and forging a direct path towards me. She hadn’t wasted a moment looking for me in the group. She had her sights set on me already.
While we waited for Jules to cross the yard, I mentioned, “Linda, the gentleman who helped Dearborn remove the reporters from your office asked for your phone number.”
“What? Why? Did the reporter say something about going to my house?”
“No. From what I understand, the Wolf was interested in you.”
Watching Jack’s face clench as Linda blushed was hilarious.
Sookie picked up Tina, cooing that she missed her while the dog licked her face.
No sooner than I lifted Jules, she offered, “Misser Zahn lyk Awick. Lyk sisser. Hims diffint now.”
I nodded. “Nothing gets past you, does it?”
She shook her head, completely proud of herself for noticing.
Pam rolled her eyes. “She’s better off than I am. I still don’t understand a word she says.”
I translated, “Jules said, ‘Mister Shawn is like me. Like my sister. He’s different now…’ And I’m taking this opportunity to point out that you always learn the slang of a new language first and then the foundation. We were leaving Brussels before you could give the housekeeper instructions.”
Pam shook her head to correct how wide her eyes had become. “She can tell?”
I nodded. “She’s like her father and aunt. She’s a tiny telepath…”
Jules nodded. “Te’paff. Mes… Sisser, Awick, Misser Zahn. Big kite… An’ Assi, Shack an’ Misser Pat massy an’ wed.”
Sookie giggled, “Little show-off. You’re lucky. I don’t remember being around anyone different when I was little. Only once in a while when we were in a store or something.”
Pam rolled her eyes again. “Is someone going to…”
I interrupted her. “Jules said that she’s a telepath. ‘Te’paff’. You’re ‘Sisser’. I’m ‘Awick’. Shawn is ‘Misser Zahn’. Our minds are quiet to her… Jules, is Mr. Pat your daddy’s boss?”
She nodded. “Misser Pat. Pat Fern.”
I continued, “Thank you… Pat Furnin, Jack and Alcide have messy, red minds apparently…” I paused as Nestor’s SUV pulled into view and turned to point towards the truck. “Jules, let me know when you can tell what-”
She interrupted, “Lyk Shack an Assi. Bofe uv’um.”
I looked back to Pam and offered, “Nestor and his daughter’s thoughts are messy and red as well.”
Once Nestor and Ashley joined the group in the front yard, I explained what was happening. I didn’t really have much choice since Linda was so excited to meet Jack’s Packmaster that she invited him to join the ‘party’.
I was just finishing when Hadley ran out of the house, wearing nothing but a red bikini and toting a large toy gun… She sprayed Sookie… with ‘holy water’…
Tina was not amused. She actually barked.
Jules laughed, “Iffa burger dot wadder-dun she oof.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle as I explained, “The other night when we went the house alone, Tina didn’t bark. Jules thinks you’ll be safe from water-wielding burglars though.”
Sookie nodded and snickered, “It’s not just you, Pam. I didn’t get that either… How fast does he pick up languages?”
“I don’t know. He knew most of them before we crossed paths. He flew to Cuba for a week once to pick up that accent. Speaking Spanish proper was a problem for new associates. Asshole sat in the hotel’s lobby and bar and listened to everyone.” She said that like it was a bad thing.
Hadley giggled, “Good for him then… I’m in Pam’s boat with the language thing. After two years of high school French, I don’t remember anything.”
Thanks to the smile on her face, I couldn’t help but ask, “Another good day?”
“It was awesome, thanks for asking. I got the best of all the errands when we divvied up the work. I got to go to the toy store for floats and water toys… and shopping for bathing suits. Pam sent me to Macy’s for an assortment because we didn’t know who’d be here…” She turned towards the house and called, “Shawn, c’mon out, buddy. Erik’s here.”
I asked, “He sequestered himself?”
She cringed and nodded. “He’s going nuts. He was fine for the first few minutes after he woke up, but he’s so nervous and excited he’s pacing fast enough to make me dizzy. If he keeps it up, he’s going to dig the basement deeper.”
Pam put a finger up and offered, “News on that front. By the time we died for the day, Brandon and Jason talked him into a plausible ‘Plan B’. If Shawn can’t adjust immediately, he’s going to ‘join the service’. Servicemen spend several months away from their families for training. When one considers deployments and training, he could spend a couple of years calling them and making occasional visits under the guise of being on liberty. His adjustment period could be made privately and his children won’t feel abandoned.”
“Suicide isn’t an option any longer?”
Pam shook her head. “Not once Brandon told Shawn about someone he works with… that guy passed off three years in the slammer as a stint in the Coast Guard. His children are older too… Patty’s already signed off on the idea. Shawn could stay under your wing and the children would never know he’s local.”
Sookie giggled, “We soooo should have crashed here for the day. It would’ve been nice to wake up to that instead of those jackhole reporters… Alright Hadley, show me and Ashley where to find the bikinis.”
I snorted at her… I couldn’t help it. Being up to her delicious ass in Supernatural business was less annoying to her than dealing with Human fuckery.
Linda offered to take Jules inside to help her change and the females all wandered towards the house, leaving me with Jack and Nestor.
Jack didn’t waste any time. He growled, “Who’s interested in Lin?”
Nestor chuckled, “Doesn’t matter. I radioed to dress him down on the way here. The boys know she’s yours now. They can’t figure out what she sees in you after the way she was described, but they know she’s yours. How the fuck did you two assholes end up… in-laws?”
Jack grumbled, “A while back, Janice went out with friends. They got pulled over and one of them had a bag of pot on her. Since Janice was under 18, they called me to pick her up. Lin was picking up Hadley from the drunk tank.” How romantic.
When Nestor looked at me, I shrugged. “I was just renting storage units.”
Nestor practically ignored me. “Am I the only one who thought he was creepy as fuck for dating a 19-year old girl?”
Jack shrugged. “Probably just because we’re used to normal teenagers… Lin says Sookie’s never been on the same arc. Says she carries herself like a normal girl her age, but she’s never been naïve because of the telepathy…”
Shawn joined the conversation as soon as he opened the door. “You’ll see the difference once my kids get here. Tucker is close to Jules’s age… She’s so far ahead of him we were worried enough to take him to the doctor… Tammy, my five year old, she runs closer to Jules’s speed.”
As he stopped, he gave a deep nod in my direction.
Nestor shook his head. “It’s like seeing a damn unicorn. Your babies don’t do mixed company for a while.”
I offered, “That’s because most of them are unhinged… Shawn’s been…”
Shawn put his hands up to interrupt me. “Please. Don’t jinx me. I did alright last night, but I’m really starting to freak out about holding my shit together.”
At least he was being realistic.
“How long before your family arrives?”
“Someone paged Patty once you got here. Just a few minutes.”
“You’ve fed, yes?”
“Until I couldn’t anymore… Pam brought a ton of blood back last night. She’s been force feeding me… I don’t know how to thank everyone…”
“That’s simple. Next week Linda’s having surgery. You can heal her. She’s suffered long enough…”
Shawn nodded eagerly, saying it was the least he could do after how much the Stackhouses had done for him…
Jack’s mouth fell open… He shook his head for a moment, but before he could argue I offered, “In case you haven’t been paying attention, Linda’s not the kind of person to take their time recovering from surgery. She’d hurt herself trying to return to work too soon. Ludwig already suggested having her healed once she’s cleared of cancer. Shawn has every intention of bonding with his wife once he’s stable, so you won’t have to be concerned about a lingering attachment.”
“After Ludwig’s sure there’s no cancer though, right?”
I nodded, wondering if his late wife’s cancer had been exacerbated by trying to heal her prematurely. I hadn’t begrudged his hesitation when I assumed he’d be territorial enough to resist… Hearing his specific concerns about giving Linda Vampire blood made me wonder.
I nodded. “Of course. Not a drop until Ludwig allows it.”
“And you aren’t going to be sneaky about it?”
“No. Are you afraid to tell her?”
“Have you met her? That woman isn’t a pushover…”
I nodded. “You’re afraid of her.”
He growled at me while Nestor bit his lip and turned away.
“I’m not afraid of her… I’m just not sure how to explain it to her.”
I rolled my eyes and walked towards the house, struggling to keep from laughing at the hurried, curious footsteps just behind me.
By process of elimination, the extra people in Jason’s house had to be Jack’s son and daughter. They were standing in the kitchen with Adele when we walked into the house and towards the bedrooms. Sookie, Pam, Hadley and Ashley were discussing Hadley’s taste in bathing suits in one bedroom, while Linda was telling Jules that Corbett had built the house with his bare hands in the bathroom.
I knocked on the door. “Linda, I need a moment.”
She opened the door almost immediately… Jules was wearing an American patterned bathing suit, but Linda’s suit was the one worth mentioning. In spite of her age, Linda’s body was in phenomenal condition… Her age didn’t show on her face either, but bodies weren’t always the same story. And she didn’t seem at all uncomfortable in the hibiscus print string bikini top and sarong…
I jokingly shrugged. “I forgot what I was going to say.”
Jack growled behind me while she laughed without blushing. “Not bad for an old girl, huh?”
“How attached to Jack are you?” I wiggled my eyebrows, knowing Jack could see me, but not Linda.
She laughed and swatted my arm. “You’re bad… What’s up?”
I licked my lips… She could tell I was taunting Jack and bit her lip when Jules giggled.
“I’m sure you know that when a Human says they owe you a favor, it’s usually an empty promise, yes?”
She nodded. “Tell me about it.”
“Shawn feels indebted to your family for how helpful you’ve all been, so after your surgery he’s going to give you his blood to heal you.”
“His blood?” She wasn’t shocked, just curious.
Hadley opened the bedroom door to reveal more curious faces. I couldn’t help but remember a video Pam had shown me, a cartoon representation of clogged arteries during a heart attack.
I nodded. “When Vampire blood is given to an injured Human, it heals them. Without knowing how determined you are to open Sandwich Island, Dr. Ludwig suggested healing you so you can’t injure yourself doing too much after your surgery. Shawn wants to begin repaying his debt to your family and when I suggested he could be the one to heal you, he didn’t balk.”
Linda leaned towards me to peek around the corner to Jack and then look at me. “Are you telling me because Jack’s opposed?”
“I’m telling you because Jack’s afraid of you. Once he sees you in that bikini, he won’t be able to talk.”
She snickered, but managed to stay focused. “Are there side effects?”
“No negative ones. Shawn will be able to sense your moods and location for a while afterwards.”
“Then I gotta ask, why not just skip the surgery?”
Jack barked, “NO!” behind me, giving me more reason to suspect there was more to his wife’s cancer than he told anyone.
“Vampire blood strengthens Human cells. I asked Ludwig if blood would remedy your particular condition and she explained that it would only exacerbate the already abnormal cell growth. Pam went to night school for nursing as a curiosity because there are some things Vampire blood only makes worse…”
“How does it work?”
“The night before your surgery, Shawn will go to Dr. Ludwig and have blood taken, much like when Humans donate. Once Dr. Ludwig is sure you’re ‘cancer free’ she’ll administer the treatment. You’ll be healed in minutes.”
I nodded. “No scarring.”
“But… and it’s not that I’m not grateful for the offer, but… I haven’t done anything for Shawn. If he owed anyone a favor it wouldn’t be me.”
“In your estimation, who would he owe the favor to then?”
She shrugged. “Jason, Bran and Hadley have been helping him think through everything. He’s staying with Jason… Anyone but me. I’ve just shown up.”
That made things much easier.
As I walked towards the front of the house, I took a mental note of how many lemmings were in my wake… Nestor, Jack, Shawn, Pam, Hadley, Ashley, Sookie, Linda, Jules… Passing the kitchen and asking Adele to join us added her to the horde, along with Janice and Alcide…
I was tempted to wander into the yard to see if I could get Brandon, Jason and Julie to join the team.
Alcide asked his father what the fuck was going on and he was officially welcomed to the family when Adele slapped the back of his head and told him to watch his mouth.
My army gathered on the deck while I offered, “Shawn wants to thank your family for being so helpful…”
Jason shook his head. “Aww, ain’t nothin’. Helping him’s been fun.”
Pam cooed to tease him and called him precious.
“Regardless. He feels as though he owes your family a favor and I thought of a way he could repay you.”
Jason rolled his eyes. “A’ight. What’s your idea?”
“That he heals Linda after her surgery.”
His eyebrows shot up. “He can do that!? Like… Is it like you flyin’? Sook said y’all get somethin’ diff’rent…”
“No. We can all do it. Whatever it is that keeps Vampires alive can heal injured Humans. Instead of two months of recovering from the surgery Linda needs to correct the condition she’s suffered from for years, she can be operating at 100% in just a few hours.”
“No shit!? How’s it work?”
I had my mouth open to blame it on magic since there wasn’t any science to corroborate the event (not that science would have helped him), but Hadley cleared her throat and stepped forward.
She reached for a knife sitting next to the grill and suggested, “A demonstration maybe? So they can see-”
Brandon and Sookie both ordered, “Hadley, don’t!”
She waved a hand and shook her head. “It’s okay, y’all… I… uh… my thing is… My thing is physical too. Remember my car accident, Sook? Me and Momma were talking about it. I can… just go numb.”
Sookie said Hadley seemed to think she was bulletproof. She was just blocking the pain from her injuries.
Her ability was almost as remarkable as Sookie’s.
In spite of the standing room only crowd of gawkers, I was too curious to decline the chance to see her ability at work.
I nodded and stepped closer to her. “Just a superficial wound. Bloodletting with a young Vampire in company isn’t a wise move.”
She nodded and took a deep breath before dragging the knife across the palm of her hand… Adele, Linda and Julie gasped, but Hadley didn’t show any reaction to pain. Her heartbeat didn’t even change.
She held her hand up to show the wound and joked, “I need someone to draw a tattoo for me.”
Instead of using my fangs, I took the knife from her to prick my finger… Jason was so close he might as well have been in my fucking pocket as I rubbed my blood into the gash in Hadley’s hand.
Jason gasped, “Hoooooooly sheeeeee’it!” as the wound closed.
While Hadley used her water gun to rinse the blood away, I offered, “Now, knowing that Linda could either spend weeks convalescing or be healed instantly, would you consider that a family favor?”
Jason nodded, “Fuck yeah, that’s a family favor! We woulda taken turns getting our asses beat for making her take it easy!”
Adele was holding Hadley’s hand, studying the ‘miracle’ when I asked, “Does there need to be a family vote on how Shawn opts to begin repaying his debt to the family?”
Adele snorted, “No vote. I’ll hold her down like a baby if I have to… This is incredible.”
As soon as Hadley’s hand was free she made her way to Shawn and hugged him. She breathed, “That’s awesome, pal.”
He actually returned the hug. “I haven’t done anything yet.”
She leaned back with her arms still around his shoulders. “Not that… You’ve been so worried… You just saw fresh blood. Nothin’… By itself, I think that’s worth a party. You’re going to be fine.”
Sookie patted Shawn’s shoulder and nodded. “The distraction was good for him too… Shawn, your babies are here.”