Linda called to me while she showered, apologizing for taking her time and explaining it had been months since she had the strength to shower without the use of a chair…
And by the time she was stepping out of the tub, the strippers had arrived.
I was concerned, constantly monitoring her mood, while I bathed… The fact that she was expecting to feed didn’t cause a change in her mood earlier, but I was sure knowing her first meal had arrived would affect her.
I was wrong.
She was nervous, but not as nervous as Pam was for some reason.
Even though I showered and dressed quickly, Linda had already folded the contents of the bags that had been covering the bed… and she’d gone as far as folding the bags neatly as well.
I showed her to the stairwell leading to the den, but I stopped to have her lift the trap door.
My clean shirt was ruined as soon as she realized she’d lifted a billiard table without effort. She wrapped her arms around me and wept against my chest, sobbing that she hadn’t been strong enough to drag her hamper just a few days ago.
When she realized Vampires cry bloody tears, she lifted the trap door again and darted down the flight of stairs to fetch another shirt for me.
She was more concerned with my shirt than feeding?
It had only taken Pam an hour to decide she was starving to death…
Linda should have at least felt hungry.
As we walked into the kitchen from the den, the ten strippers were all sitting on the counter, staring blankly at their knees.
Gawain waved his arm theatrically and crooned, “Your buffet awaits.”
I reminded her, “Eat first, then visit.”
She nodded. “I’m just curious. I can hear her, but I can’t make out what she’s saying.”
I concentrated to hear, “She’s beautiful, Gran. Just beautiful…”
Gawain shrugged. “She’s taken the phone to the deck. She’s calling your mother to explain that you’re about to gorge on the blood of Humans.”
Even being in the room with Humans, heartbeats, she wasn’t overwhelmed. She was inconceivably unaffected.
Linda growled at him, maintaining eye contact… After a moment, she hissed, “If you want to pick on families, that’s fine. I know enough about you to play a round or two.”
She was lying…
But he had insight as to her ability before she was brought over…
That sneaky little bitch was letting his imagination do the work for her.
Without breaking eye contact, he snapped his fingers, cuing one of the waiting strippers to hop from her seat.
It had worked. She’d successfully bluffed a mind-reading Vampire.
But Linda was face to face with her first donor and her fangs hadn’t as much as run out.
I took Linda’s hand and pulled it to the stripper’s neck.
No excitement. No urge. No struggle for control.
“Can you feel her pulse?”
Linda nodded. “Yeah. Just bite?”
I wondered if Linda’s indifference was relative to being Fae, but Gawain looked just as surprised as Pam and I were.
“No. You’ll push your fangs into her vein. Her heart will practically do the job for you. She’s completely glamoured, so she’ll never feel anything. I’ll pull you away from her once you’ve taken enough.”
She shrugged. “Alright. How do I make my fangs come out? Or… do I like have to wait to get them or something?”
I honestly couldn’t think of a way to issue instructions for a reflex. Keeping them at bay was the effort.
Gawain snorted, “It seems like you two have this covered… I think I’ll go keep Sookie company… Where did I put that bottle of rum?”
That did it.
Linda’s fangs snapped into place so quickly they sliced into her lip.
Her instinct to feed might have been lacking, but her protective nature almost made up for it.
He chuckled and leaned back against the island. “There they are.”
She licked her blood from her lips and offered, “Thanks for the push, but in all seriousness, Sookie’s like a daughter to me. You had kids so you should know better than to talk shit about someone’s daughter around them.”
She had a point. She was chiding the manners of a Vampire 1600 years her senior, but she had a fair point.
I offered, “Gawain’s going to need to remember Human etiquette. I’ve never known of a Vampire who stayed in contact with their family once they were brought over… Some of us were lucky to hear news through various methods…”
There weren’t many of us who trusted another Vampire enough to expose their Human family.
Gawain argued, “Not true actually. Connelly stayed in contact with his family via letters for a few years. Even arranged for his father to marry his wife to keep his family from fighting over his farm.”
He nodded. “Wartime absence… Cornelius ‘went to the city to look for work’ and sent money home to keep his family from starving. And did you ever notice how kind Demetrius was to certain servants? His descendants. Rodrigo’s vineyards are populated by his increase because, when he was brought over, his will divided his properties to his young children… And now that I think of it, Clovis didn’t leave Orleans. He probably mediated between his sons for years.”
Pam snorted, “Control freak,” but Linda gasped, “THE KING OF ALL FRANKS!?”
History. There was a throbbing carotid under her hand, and she was thinking about Medieval European history.
Gawain nodded. “We were newborns together. He couldn’t stop being Kingly, even as a newborn Vampire… So, perhaps your first lesson should be that Humans do age, Linda. These are going die of old age if you don’t get on with things.”
She sucked air past her teeth and stepped closer to the stripper… She groaned, pulling the girl’s neck to bend her over slightly.
She bit. She pulled from the wound. I laced my fingers into her hair, planning to use it as a handle as well as give her a gentle call.
Pam actually felt sentimental watching me.
No sooner than I tightened my grip in Linda’s hair, just as she took her fifth swallow, she leaned away from her meal of her own accord…
And immediately pricked her thumb to seal the marking as she’d seen me do for Sookie.
She complained, “My God. How often am I going to have to do that?”
I didn’t have to cripple her with my call. I didn’t have to command her to stop. I didn’t have to pry her away from the donor. I didn’t need Pam and Gawain’s help controlling her.
Gawain stepped forward and snatched the donor’s hand from her side to bite her wrist… He was just as shocked as I was and Pam’s mouth was agape.
Gawain shook his head. “There’s nothing wrong with this one. She’s a smoker, but she isn’t spoiled. A-positive.”
Linda pouted, “Did I do something wrong?”
I released her hair and explained, “Linda, I ordered ten strippers, expecting you to need at least five…”
Pam offered, “Feeding should be all you can think about. Blood. Feeding. Gorging yourself. I nearly drained six to eight Humans every night for a month before I could think about anything else before feeding.”
Linda shook her head. “I’m… I’m sorry, but that was disgusting. I don’t know how you can do it.”
“It isn’t a chore. Nothing tastes better.”
We were all at a loss.
I couldn’t begin to calculate how quickly she’d whither from starvation if she didn’t force herself to feed.
We stood there, trading looks between the four of us, without conversation for a while, before Gawain cued another donor to come forward.
He proceeded to grope and chew and prepare the stripper until the entire kitchen reeked of lust…
He towed the girl to Linda and demanded, “Try this one. Perhaps you prefer endorphins.”
Brilliant… and before Linda bit her second donor, Gawain had released a stripper from her stupor so she could watch in terror.
Again, I took a handful of Linda’s hair, but only a moment later I released her. She didn’t show a marked preference for lust…
She hardly swallowed her third mouthful before pulling away.
The look on her face would have been comical if her disgust towards blood wasn’t so troubling.
She whimpered, “Is it wrong that I’d kill for a slab of coffee cake and a mochachino?”
Gawain answered for the rest of us, “Yes,” and yanked the scared stripper towards her. “If you don’t feed, you’ll die slowly. Your malnourishment could affect, if not weaken, your Maker. Try adrenaline.”
“Does it taste better?”
“I don’t prefer it, but some Vampires do. You’re a hybrid, but part of your ancestry is the fiercest breed of Supernatural. You could just prefer fear to lust. Bite it…”
Linda heaved out a deep breath and bit the neck of the donor… but she recoiled instantly without drawing from the wound.
She hissed, “It’s bitter like vinegar.”
Gawain folded his arms to begin pacing…
While I tried to think of a solution (and a reason) for our problem, I healed the donors and sent them back to the counter.
Pam offered, “Melatonin? We could glamour one to go to sleep.”
Gawain shook his head. “They’ve been glamoured for so long, it wouldn’t make a difference. They might as well be sleeping.”
I asked, “You haven’t come across any Vampires who could still eat food, have you?”
He shook his head, but before he could answer, Linda darted from the kitchen to the deck.
I followed, but I was sure Sookie was safe with her aunt… As I passed through the door I heard Sookie gasp, but they were hugging and crying on each other in record time.
After a long greeting, Linda sniffled, “There’s something wrong with me, kiddo. I’m a broken Vampire too.”
Sookie’s eyes widened and she leaned back to look at Linda. “What do you mean? What’s wrong?”
Linda pinched her lips together and shook her head, so I explained, “She’s revolted by the taste of blood.”
Sookie relaxed and smiled at her aunt. “Of course it’ll take time to get used to it.”
I specified, “It shouldn’t. She should have risen with a taste for blood. She should have been crazed for her first feeding. She was apathetic. We’re all…”
Linda blurted, “Stumped. They’re all stumped. Three thousand years’ worth of experience and I’ve stumped them. I mean, I can do it. I can make myself feed, but… worse than anything I’ve ever eaten… or thrown up, for that matter.”
Sookie gasped as though she had a sudden idea and grabbed Linda’s wrist to pull her back into the house.
The girl reached up to shove Gawain’s face out of her way as she walked through the kitchen to the refrigerator… and removed a bag of O-negative.
She took a coffee cup from the cabinet and scissors from a drawer…
While she emptied the bag into the cup she scoffed, “I bet that’s it… I bet there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with you at all… Show of hands, how many of y’all had a gastric ulcer and esophagitis when you were Human?”
I could feel Linda hope… and Pam.
Pam sighed, “The chemo… she vomited blood.”
Linda nodded, but Sookie answered, “It was bad enough they went in to fix it surgically… and they had to cauterize some of the tissue.”
Linda breathed, “I barfed up blood and scabs for a week.”
Sookie held the cup of cold blood up, offering it to her newborn aunt. “You were running a fever at the time. Hot blood… If I’m right, we can chalk it up to the fact that a proper Southern lady prefers her tea iced too.”
Linda grinned and sniffed the contents of her cup. “I’m dead and you’re still taking care of me.”
I could feel bloodlust come to Linda before the first time she swallowed… but thankfully, somehow, Sookie was already prepared.
She moved quickly to open the freezer and removed several empty glasses… she took more knives from the drawer and slid them towards us…
“We’ve already got these ladies, right? Y’all can get their blood into the glasses and still fix the cuts for them, right? That way the bagged stuff lasts longer.”
Gawain sliced open the wrist of the nearest donor without hesitation and chuckled, “I told you, Erik. Your little friend makes things interesting.”
Linda set the empty mug on the counter and kissed Sookie’s cheek. “God bless her… that was much better.”
Sookie Stackhouse, neonatal Vampire nurse.
Sookie took a frosted glass full of fresh blood from Gawain without any sort of reaction and passed it to Linda. While Linda drank with the zeal I originally expected, Sookie giggled, “You’re gonna need to get used to 98.6° though. You can’t live off the bagged stuff. It costs Erik a fortune and… think about how many times you needed to be transfused…”
Linda nodded, understanding she’d need to adjust, but stopped drinking to suddenly blurt, “Stop!” just before Pam could cut the wrist of one stripper. “Not that one. She’s pregnant.”
The rest of us looked at the stripper for a moment… Gawain leaned over to smell her… Pam practically laid her head in the stripper’s lap listening for the extra heartbeat…
Pam straightened and raised an eyebrow as she nodded to confirm there was, indeed, another heartbeat.
Of course we traded a round of looks, including Linda, before she set the emptied glass on the counter and shook her head. “I… don’t… why the hell do I know that?”
Because we could possibly have an answer to that.
I asked, “What sort of sensation do you get?”
She was too focused on the glass of blood I’d just filled so I passed it to her and began filling another while I waited for her to drink.
I couldn’t have been more relieved to see her eagerness.
While she waited for another glass to be handed to her, she offered, “I can actually… I swear, I’m picturing her peeing on a home test.”
Sookie offered, “But she’s… she’s brain dead. She’s not thinking about anything ‘cuz Gawain schmooeyed her.”
Gawain snorted, “Glamour… and I knew a seer as a child. Linda, you might have been able to blame vivid dreams and a healthy imagination when you still had a pulse, but if you know that’s pregnant without as much as touching or speaking to it, you’re officially a seer now.”
Sookie gasped, “Like her Vampire gift?”
I shook my head. “I think it’s more likely to just be a heightening of what she was already capable of.”
Gawain nodded as he began draining another donor. “My ability strengthened when I was brought over as well…” Suddenly the donors who’d already been fed from or tapped raised their arms as though they were on a roller coaster. “And I can combine it with my Vampire gift.”
Pam sang, “Jealous… I was already wondering how they were taking individual directions.”
So was I… On both counts.
Between placing an empty glass on the counter and taking a full one from Sookie, Linda grumbled, “Check her for a tattoo. Dolphin in her bikini line. Belly button ring…”
I let the glass in my hand overflow because I was distracted by the surprised, if not horrified, look on Sookie’s face.
When Linda was done with another glass, she snorted, “A- They’re strippers. It’s not like they’d be offending her sense of modesty. And B- Really? I’m guzzling blood by the bucket, and you’re my bartender, but you’re shocked by that? Seriously?”
Pam suggested, “That can’t be the only one. Try focusing on the others.”
Linda nodded, taking yet another glass of blood and closed her eyes while she chugged from it. “Folks, I’m starting to… I think I’m getting full.”
I offered, “They’re already here and their blood will keep until tomorrow night. Bagged blood is a week old at best. We’ll continue with Sookie’s plan of auditioning models. We’ll just augment the delivery.”
She smiled and took another glass. “Maybe one more.”
If that was the last glass she drank for the evening, she’d have no less than six chilled pints waiting for her tomorrow night.
So relieved. I didn’t want to bring her over just to have to stake her to spare her from wasting away.
She pouted, “Leave it to me to be a pain in the ass when I’m dead too. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. This isn’t as problematic as you might think…”
Pam chuckled, “You know what supermarkets are like just before a hurricane? This is the Vampire version of stockpiling non-perishables. All we need are Zip-Lock bags and a cooler full of ice.”
I was going to remind her she’d said that the next time she insisted upon taking a full wardrobe and a generator and a television and a box full of movies…
Linda laughed, “Gotcha,” and began pointing to the strippers in turn, “Nipple rings and a rose on her shoulder, asthma, bellybutton ring and a tramp stamp- flowers, tramp stamp- swirly, rose on her hip, nothing, nothing, tramp stamp- one of those tribal thingies, appendectomy scar and a butterfly tattoo on her boob, and then the dolphin… Oh, and Gawain has a big scar on his back like he was stabbed and your ears aren’t really pierced. You have to pierce them again every time you change earrings.”
Pam and Sookie had shouted it in unison, but I was thinking along the same lines.
Gawain and I dismissed the strippers (after confirming Linda had 100% accuracy as to each of their markings), Pam, Linda and Sookie cleaned the ‘asses’ from the counters and started a list for Bobby.
As it turned out, the ice-maker in the refrigerator had been disconnected, so Sookie opted to just keep the glasses in the freezer instead of dealing with Bobby more than she had to.
Linda mentioned that iced tea glasses would make our job of draining the donors easier, but just as Gawain and I closed the door behind the strippers, Sookie blurted, “Shit! Are they gone?”
Gawain darted back to the kitchen and crooned, “Don’t worry, dumpling, I’ll keep you company.”
Dumpling? As in ‘chicken and dumplings’ no doubt. Some things never changed.
I joined them in the kitchen just in time to see Sookie elbow his ribs with enough force to make him grunt. He deserved it. He’d slithered up behind her to hug her waist and nuzzle her neck.
Sookie rolled her eyes in my direction and snorted, “You need a full time babysitter for this one.”
“Try telling him you’re a lesbian.”
“Tried that. Pam got her hopes up.”
I shrugged. “Tell him you’re Mine.”
He hissed at me. “Not fair! I smelled her…”
“I fed from her three nights ago.”
Sookie nodded. “Yup! Erik wins! I’m his. Backdated and everything!”
I might have been more proud of myself if she knew what that meant.
Gawain hissed, “You asshole!”
“What? Sookie’s Mine… Better that way anyhow. Given the mysteriousness of their lineage…”
He interrupted, “Don’t do it! Don’t ruin it for me!”
“For all you know, you could be close relatives… You’re telepathic, Sookie’s telepathic. You knew a seer, so I’m assuming you were related somehow, Linda’s a seer… Seems logical. Of course once you factor in the comparative longevity of the Fae…”
He backed away from Sookie and grumbled, “I hate you.”
There were some Vampires who wouldn’t care, but Gawain and I had actually discussed incest… It was how I learned not to encourage one of his rants.
“They could be nieces or even granddaughters…”
Knowing I wouldn’t stop, he asked, “Sookie, now that Erik’s ruined my cock, why did you want to know if the donors were still here?”
She sighed, “Wellllll, Grampa Gawain…” While we laughed at him, he gave us all scathing looks that just made it funnier. “We were discussing drinking glasses and Tupperware and whatnot and I had an idea. If the donors are going to be schmooeyed and lined up again anyway, why don’t we submerge their arms in ice water? If their arms are just chilled, then ice water won’t risk hypothermia… Aunt Linda could feed from their wrists, right?”
I offered, “There’s only so much blood in the arm. Very little, in fact. The heart will quickly pump warm blood to replace it…”
“K… but I think that’s a good thing. She prefers chilled blood, but earlier she said she could force herself to take it warm. She’d be tempering herself… and since y’all don’t have your own body heat, the donor’s wrist and arm will hold the chill better too. Plus… Pam said Aunt Linda needs to learn when to stop feeding from a donor, so this kinda… if it works… could kill all those birds with one stone.”
I couldn’t help but regret finding a flaw in her idea. It was brilliant.
And I wasn’t the only one who recognized that.
Sookie offered, “Just tell me to shut up. It’s not like I know how to be a Vampire after a couple of nights hanging out with Pam. I was just thinking it was worth a shot and we can still chill glasses in case I’m off my rocker.”
Pam shook her head and offered, “That pitcher in the refrigerator would be perfect, I think.”
Linda snorted, “I have a bunch of them at home. Once they got stained with Kool Aid, I’d keep them for dying fabric or pulping paper. They’re cheap as hell.”
I nodded. “Add them to Bobby’s list along with bags of ice. Any other ideas, Sookie?”
She shook her head, but the conversation was put on hold when the phone began ringing.
Not one of our cell phones, the phone I kept in service at the house I rarely used because cellular service had been lacking the last time I was there.
Sookie jogged towards the door. “That’s probably Gran. She’s gotta be goin’ nuts…”
Linda called, “Sook, don’t tell her about my feeding…”
Gawain teased, “Why not? Your mother should already know you’re a finicky eater.”
She chuckled, “Not that. Knowing Momma, she’d have a goddamn blood drive in Bon Temps.”
“She wouldn’t make a blood pudding?”
“My mother’s smarter than that. Unless you fed her bullshit like you did to Jack…”
“Jack’s just a Wolf.”
“He’s my Wolf, Faepire. Watch that shit. You don’t have to be nasty. He loved me enough to go to a Vampire for help.”
“And cut his nose off to spite his face. I seriously doubt you’ll be able to tolerate his smell now that you’ve been brought over.”
“You’re an uppity old bitch, you know that? I liked the way he smelled.”
Sookie returned from the deck with the phone in her hand. “Guys?”
“Did he fuck like an animal?”
“All night long.”
Sookie tried to get their attention again, but Gawain offered, “During full moons, did you get it doggie-style?”
Linda pitched her eyebrow and sucked in her cheeks before answering, “What makes you think we saved that for full moons?”
Proof she wasn’t shy about sex, just protective of her niece…
Sookie squeezed her eyes closed and shook her head. “Damn that mental image. Ew… Folks, we’ve got a problem.”
Gawain ignored Sookie to tease, “Did you wear a Tinkerbell costume for him?”
Linda shook her head. “Jack has simple tastes. We didn’t need costumes. Stockings and a garter belt usually kept us from leaving the house to go dancing.”
Sookie shouted, “OH MY GAWD! I’m never gonna keep a straight face around him now that I’m picturing him tied to your headboard with stockings! Hello! Bickering Faepires! We have an actual problem!”
While Gawain and Linda refused to break eye contact (that was going to be a lovely hobby for me- refereeing their spats), I asked, “What’s the actual problem, Sookie?”
She huffed, “Jason. My brother. He freaked out when he went by Aunt Linda’s place. Gran couldn’t really lie to him, but she fibbed. She said Aunt Linda’s staying at a place on the lake here for some R&R.”
I shrugged, “What specifically makes that a problem?”
“Jason kinda lost it. He grabbed the phone and star-69ed the last number… He’s got the address and he’s on the way here. He wants to be sure Aunt Linda’s okay and nobody’s lying to him about her health.”