Chapter 22: Stall Tactics

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Chapter 22

Stall Tactics

**

Giving Sookie my blood to heal her broken nose hadn’t caused the temptations it had before. It didn’t matter which one of the horrifying realities I was focused on from one second to the next… enjoying anything wasn’t an option and probably wouldn’t be for a while.

Again, she excused the strangeness of my mood, assuming I was preoccupied by thoughts of losing Pam…

Explaining the life of the other Sookie had been relatively easy thanks to the fact that Her life had been so similar to the one who’d married My Sookie’s Shifter friend.

Knowing we had a thumb-drive full of information and recent photos of her lost family made Sookie anxious to use my computer as soon as she could.

Because skipping wasn’t bizarre enough in its own right, we had to wait for the sun to set again before we could go to my office…

Sookie didn’t want to leave me alone because of my mood.

Sookie gave me the chore of explaining what I knew of our host’s current situation while we dressed…

She was beaming as I told her about Ana Louis’s series of books, when Klaasje knocked on the door…

She seemed surprised to see us up and moving instead of what she’d walked in on the night before.

“Good evening.” That was a matter of perspective.

“How was your think tank?”

Her eyes lit up. “Charlie is a godsend for the effort. I didn’t know about his background. Granted, he’s familiar with American marketing, but I think enough of it translates. And it seems that Pamela has been fully immersed in Human society as well. Sheriffs frequently deal with the public, yes?”

I nodded. “They have to. They act as middle management between Humans and other Supernaturals. It’s a copacetic arrangement not all of the Sheriffs practice. How else can one bank favors with local packs if one doesn’t perform the occasional act of diplomacy? The relationship between Supernaturals is more strained in the States.”

Klaasje snorted, “Must be the fact that Vampires scheme and fight for their silly little territories. If a Vampire is willing to betray their own kind, who wouldn’t they betray?”

“Precisely… It wasn’t as blatant when we first arrived, but relations were hostile at best by the time I left. It doesn’t help that there isn’t a single American King or Queen that comes to mind who could be trusted as a Lord here. Sophie-Anne did nothing but solidify her incompetence when I spoke to her.”

“You didn’t mention that… Why did you speak to her?”

“To inform her that Sookie is Mine now and everything belonging to Roth, Ball and Compton would be liquidated and remitted to Sookie as recompense for her losses at their hands.”

Klaasje’s eyes widened. “How did she take that news?”

“Delightfully.” Sophie-Anne needed to die too… She hired Gwen Roth. She practically gift-wrapped Sookie for a lunatic. I had a brief fantasy of skipping back to the States.

Klaasje rolled her eyes. “I’m sure… Charlie and Pamela discourage the open use of glamouring because of their familiarity with Humans’ hasty reactions.”

“But you don’t seem disappointed by that news.”

“Not at all. They suggest we bring our findings to a small consortium of psychiatric professionals with the help of our case-study practitioners… We can provide the explanation for the covert terminology when we show them results and let them decide how they proceed on an individual basis. Using his preferred plan depends on referrals and word of mouth within the medical community, but it would still be widely available as ‘new’ or ‘experimental’ and keeping the practice quiet would allow for more supervision.” At least something was going smoothly.

“Good. Is there any other news?”

She shook her head. “I did research for most of the night. Charlie was already beginning to tire when Pam left with Gawain, so I left him to rest… Did Gawain have business to discuss or was it his usual visit with Beignets?”

“He brought Bourgers this time, but there was actual business. Der Butzemann struck again in Tandel…”

Sookie snorted, “He has a name?

Klaasje huffed, “There wasn’t any other way for Vampires to publically renounce his sloppiness. Recycling the old folklore to call him Der Butzemann should have drawn him out… The moniker is too appropriate considering the way he takes defenseless children.”

While Sookie nodded as though it made perfect sense, I offered, “It’s come to our attention that he was spoiled by his Human family and his Maker. He was turned as a boy after a lifelong illness and went mad soon after. He hasn’t celebrated his first century yet.” And wouldn’t.

“How did you discover his identity?”

I answered carefully, “I met someone in the States who knew of him… Not only are we looking for Alexei Romanov, but Appius is the troglodyte who brought him over.”

Her jaw dropped before she blurted, “I told you! I knew I wasn’t imagining the resemblance!”

I snorted, “At the time, I didn’t know the boy had been brought over. I was just teasing you for your reaction to meeting Bubba.”

She smiled and shook her head. “At least it feels good to be right… Are you going to try to reform him?”

I barely shook my head before Sookie politely excused herself to go to the kitchen so Klaasje and I could discuss ‘Vampire business’.

Even if I had to fabricate a reason for the topic so we weren’t bogged down with the details of skipping, I needed a moment alone with Klaasje.

As soon as the door was closed behind Sookie, I started, “No. He’ll still be put to death. He’s nearly a century old. If Alexei isn’t broken by now, he never will be… Have you smelled Sookie?

She took a nervous step backwards. “No… She’s yours. I wouldn’t.

“Fuck…” It was an act of desperation, but I went to the bathroom to take her towel from the hamper. As I walked back towards Klaasje, I explained, “You have more experience than I do… I’m concerned she could be pregnant.” Saying she had more experience was a colossal understatement. Not only had she been a midwife who administered to pregnant slaves and servants over the centuries, but the paths I’d taken hadn’t crossed with many families.

She stared at the towel with her lip curled. “Why? She was held by Vampires… Did she mention missing her cycle or…”

“It isn’t like her to vomit. She’s been sick a few times over the last few days.”

“Food could be shocking her system. If she’s missed her cycle, that could be starvation or being given blood…”

“She talks in her sleep. In addition to everything else they did, Ball punished her child by giving his pet to a Human.”

She made a sickened face and shook her head on the verge of tears. “He couldn’t control her, so the smell of a Human man… Why did you kill them so quickly?” I asked myself that very question hourly.

“It’s what Sookie wanted. She wanted it to be over.”

“That poor thing…” Klaasje finally took the towel from me and balked…

I was on pins and needles waiting for her to lift the fucking thing to her nose, but I didn’t have to wait for an answer.

The red haze in the corners of her eyes surged and spilled over.

She whimpered, “I’m sorry, Eric.”

“Fuck! After what they did to her, how the fuck could she still be pregnant!?”

She shook her head. “There’s no rhyme or reason. I’ve seen some women fail after being coddled. I’ve seen a pregnancy survive a fall down a flight of stairs, another made it through hypothermia… And those were Humans. I can’t even begin to guess how much stronger a Faerie is.”

The other Sookie miscarried because of scar tissue… ‘the fetus hadn’t been viable’… The other Sookie lost a baby for no reason and Mine was tortured for months…

“I’ve seen what they did to her. There’s no reason she survived.”

“There is another reason for her to smell like she’s pregnant, but it’s not exactly good news. A cancerous growth could cause hormonal…”

“Stop there… Her aunt died of uterine cancer… After as much of my blood as she’s had…”

“Wait. Try to stay calm enough to remember tumors put an earthy flavor in the blood stream… Does Sookie have that?

“No.” As soon as I answered, I hated that cancer would be better. I could preemptively bring her over before she would suffer.

“Then considering what you told me about what she’s been through, I think the small amounts of blood she was given probably strengthened the baby enough to withstand her abuse…”

“What the fuck is going to help her withstand the shock of finding out she’s pregnant thanks to the abuse?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I wish I could be more help… I could help her end it in the old way if she doesn’t want to see a doctor.”

“I haven’t gotten as far as thinking about her options. I’m more concerned about her reaction.”

She nodded. “Of course.”

“I’ll suggest she talks to you though. You’re the resident expert on the matter.”

Just in time to miss the conversation, so I’d have to say it, Pam walked in without knocking.

“What the fuck is going on that you’re so upset so early?”

“Sookie’s pregnant.”

She snorted, “No, seriously.”

I took the towel from Klaasje and tossed it to Pam. “Seriously. Bill was punished for not being able to control Sookie by being made to watch Sookie be raped.”

Pam dropped the towel like it was made of silver. “Because the rest of what they put her through wasn’t enough!?

“Apparently not. Do you have any idea of how I should tell her?”

“She doesn’t know!? How did you… Nevermind… Verbena and pennyroyal tea will do the job. She’ll cramp, but not much more than with her monthly. She won’t ever know.”

“I can’t do that…”

I can. She’ll be polite and try my ‘old family recipe’… Americans hate English tea…”

I shook my head. “Let me rephrase… I WON’T do that.”

“Eric, it could break her… she’ll struggle with the decision to keep it or end it. She’ll…”

“But it’s a decision SHE’LL struggle with. We won’t make it for her. She’s had enough choices taken from her.”

“Why would she want…” Pam interrupted herself and stared at me for a moment before grumbling, “Erin.”

I nodded. Yes, Erin. Sookie Northman of the November version had set the fucking precedent for choosing to suffer a permanent reminder of her rape.

Pam shook her head and sighed, “It’s not the same thing.”

“No it’s not, but it’s still Sookie’s choice.”

Klaasje sighed, “I’m not sure who Erin is…”

“A friend of hers was raped and kept the child. Erin is two.” And a ranking favorite among the various children in the journal.

“When are you going to tell her?”

“When we retire for the night. My mood aside, she’s in good spirits. She’s looking forward to spending some time with the family…”

Klaasje and Pam gave a nod and stared at the floor for a moment.

Pam finally offered, “Klaasje, care to help me preset a few things?”

The lure of being helpful almost made Klaasje’s eyes light up. “Such as?”

“Sookie exhausted most of the elements of her spell. Roses, candles, salt… we’ll need to make sure there’s plenty of pot on hand… She might hope you’re wrong about her scent, so it would be a good idea if there’s a pregnancy test on hand.”

Klassje nodded thoughtfully. “It would make sense for her to verify the pregnancy the new way… tissues will be mandatory…”

Fuck… I was never one to ask for help, but I couldn’t have been more grateful…

If I was going to be able to help Sookie through this, I was going to need their help.

I stopped them. “Do you think pot would be a good idea? If she opts to keep it…”

Klaasje nodded. “It’s fine. She should try to slow down, but it’s prescribed for the treatment of nausea and hypertension during pregnancy often enough…” At least Sookie had that much going for her. “I’m sure we’ll think of more things to plan ahead for. I’ll shower so we can run our errands.”

Pam waited until we were alone, idly strolling while she waited to hear Klaasje start the water in her shower.

“What brought this on? This sudden realization Sookie’s pregnant.”

“Another skip. I rose in the hotel in town and the other Me woke with Sookie next to Him. He fed from her when she offered and as soon as she realized He wasn’t me, she bolted from the bed. She tripped over His laundry and broke her nose and hit her head hard enough to lose consciousness…”

“Laundry? You never leave…”

“Let me finish. The hotel room was inhabited by another Sookie. Sookie Auers and her daughter and cousins. Lindy will be new to the journal, but Misty and Jenny are variations from another version. That Sookie’s been writing professionally for years and promised Her entry is quite thorough. She’s been keeping notes on Her trials dealing with a version of Me who lost You in the 70s.”

“We quarreled in the 70s instead of the 80s? I wasn’t wearing gouchos then.”

“They didn’t quarrel over a prank. Halfdan ended Liz by proxy… From what I gather they never crossed the pond. They were living in Paris…”

“The coin toss!? Instead of Los Angeles, they went to Paris.”

I nodded. “Their Halfdan abducted Liz and Appius as collateral to have me overthrow Clovis.”

When her eyes bulged, I realized how dangerously close I was to the topic I made Sookie promise to avoid.

“That’s just… I’m assuming You didn’t take that lightly.”

“That’s an understatement. Moving on to the topic in the spotlight… When the other Me explained why my Sookie was covered in blood in His bathroom, the fact that she’s vomited caught His Sookie’s attention. She’s only ever been prone to being ill when she’s pregnant.”

“I thought it was stress.” At least I wasn’t the only one.

“So did I… Right now, Sookie is excited to show Brandon and the children recent photos of Corbett because the hosting Sookie’s father is still alive. Jason has three children…”

Pam sighed, “She has to know something’s off about you.”

I nodded. “Seeing the other You during our first skip broke me. It’s why I went to Indiana… She knows how happy I was to have you back so she believes I’m in a foul mood after seeing a version where You were gone.”

She nodded. “Alright… That won’t last forever, but at least it’ll buy you some time… You haven’t been this upset in a long time.”

The last time anything bothered me so much had been when Pam and I parted ways.

“This is going to devastate her.”

“What’s going to be done for how devastated you are?”

“I’m not…”

“Eric, don’t bullshit me. She’s happy as a lark right now. You feel like you’ve been crushed… What if she decides to keep the baby?”

“Why the fuck would she keep a constant reminder of what happened to her?”

Pam shook her head and shrugged. “I won’t even begin to guess since Topaz Sookie didn’t explain what made her keep Erin… You should prepare yourself for the possibility. Your opinion is the only one that matters to her right now.”

“Fine. What should my opinion be?”

She raised an eyebrow. “You’re kidding, right?”

“You can start by telling me why I should have an opinion at all.”

“You’re completely neutral on the topic of what she should do? Jesus Eric…”

“No womb. No opinion…. What I care about is her reaction to the news.”

“It’s called a uterus nowadays.”

“Technicalities? Really Pam?”

“Sorry… I know you’ve never cared about the abortion debate, but… this is different.”

“It is different. Sookie’s Mine. She isn’t a name on a petition… Other than that…”

“Think ahead nine months…”

“We don’t know how far along she is…”

“Now who’s spouting technicalities? Nine months, six months, whatever. How supportive are you going to be able to be if she’s trying to raise a rape baby?”

“Don’t call it that. If it’s a problem, it will be taken care of. If Sookie chooses to keep the baby, then it will be a baby. That’s it. It’s either a problem or a baby.”

“Eric.”

“What?”

“If you hate it… Sookie will too.”

“I already told Klaasje I haven’t gotten that far along in my thinking yet… you worry about ‘what ifs’ and I’ll worry about now, telling her, keeping her as rational as possible until she makes her decision.”

“You’re refusing to think about it so that you don’t form an opinion, aren’t you?”

“Yes. It’s completely her decision… Last night she asked me how I felt about shaving. She hadn’t been allowed, but she prefers to… She presented the topic to me neutrally because she didn’t want me to tailor my answer to her preferences.”

“You could tell there was more to it so you’re ignoring the train of thought… Eric, a baby cannot be… a bikini line? Really?

“I’m trying to be neutral. Stop giving me a reason to think about it.”

“You’ll support her either way?”

“As long as her only reason to keep it isn’t her Christian upbringing, yes… Let me worry about telling her… You and Klaasje can kibitz and cvetch while you run errands.”

She nodded and started for the door. “Alright… I’ll stall her so Sookie doesn’t have to worry about spilling the beans about skipping while Klaasje’s around…”

“Thank you, but… she needs to know. I only held back that information because there was too much last night. I don’t want her to think I’m hiding anything from her. She’s with me more often than not.”

She only said, “Consider it done,” as she closed the door behind herself.

**

I knew ahead of time I should have resisted the temptation, but… I had to know.

I leafed through the stack of Ema’s sketches… the ones set aside to burn individually with Sookie’s spell…

Separating them into piles…

One pile where there couldn’t possibly be clues. The ones with clear depictions of Compton, Ball, or Roth… The drawings of Sookie’s torture… The drawings of her tied down and left…

The other pile was to be studied.

There were only three drawings of Sookie being mistreated in any way where the face of her assailant wasn’t shown…

But one in particular was worse than the others… the scene was unique. It seemed to be different in that it wasn’t in her cage. There were pillows on the bed and Sookie was partially dressed as opposed to the usual nudity she was forced to suffer.

If I had to guess, I’d say it was the hotel room Gwen kept in the Holiday Inn for feedings.

The look on Sookie’s face was horrified…

The man on top of her was holding her down with one hand on her throat, the other hand was pinning her leg to the bed…

Dated in early October…

The most unique thing about the drawing…

The arm was tattooed. A large ‘tribal’ design covered most of the bicep… Compton didn’t have tattoos before he died, and even if both of his arms weren’t in other drawings and unmarked, I was sure he wouldn’t have a tribal.

The inked arm was all I could focus on as I recalled something Sookie said when I first met her…

It was the only story she’d told part of, and hadn’t forced herself to finish.

“I messed up my shoulder trying to open the door to my room… It’s a new way to control me… they just grab it. It’s fun for them because they know I won’t say anything about how much it hurts after the first time… I thought I was taking Tylenol… They gave me four ecstasy tablets.”

Over and over…

The way her face contorted, the way her body stiffened as she spoke…

Giving her to a Human had to have been inspired by the mood Sookie was in thanks to the drugs.

I wanted to kill them all over again.

**

As I stepped into the gallery from the basement level, I heard Pam and Klaasje asking everyone if there was anything they wanted since they were running errands…

Everyone had taken a turn saying they didn’t want for anything by the time I reached the kitchen and suggested, “Klaasje, find a jewelry store. Pam will explain why, but don’t let her influence your decision. Pam, we need large thumb-drives and find something unique for our room. I need a large billfold and Sookie needs a handbag large enough for a change of clothes and a stake.”

Sookie had been smiling, happy to hear I was doing something to prevent the immediate problems of skipping, but as soon as I mentioned a stake she gasped.

She wouldn’t have argued with me about keeping it in her ‘skip kit’ as the other Sookie called it, but she wouldn’t have used it tonight if she had it. That much was written all over her face.

As Hunter left Rosalie’s side at a mixing bowl to approach me, Charlie took his leave to go with Klaasje and Pam because he hadn’t explored yet…

I lifted Hunter, prepared for his questions and wondering if it was going to be a nightly ritual.

It threw me off when the first thing he did was hug my neck. When he leaned back, he offered, “You’ve got a lot on your mind.”

I nodded. “That’s an understatement.”

“You up for some questions?”

“I think I can manage a few.” Please… I needed the distraction.

“K… What kind of horses do you have? Why is Cornelius different?”

“Why didn’t you ask Cornelius?”

Hunter shrugged. “He thinks in Dutch words.”

Unfuckingbelievable.

I was only teasing him, doing my best to bide the time enjoyably until I had to face Sookie and the ugliness later…

I had no fucking clue… animals too?

Him? Just him? All of them?

No.

There was no way to know how long I gaped at the boy before he cracked a smile… and everyone else began laughing.

“You got me, didn’t you?”

Hunter nodded. “It was awesome. You were all, g’uhhhhhh.”

In spite of everything, I laughed. “Congratulations. That doesn’t happen often.”

He laughed and offered his hand to shake. “No hard feelings?”

His tiny hand disappeared in mine when I took it. “None. That was brilliant… Did you really want to know what kind of horses they are?”

He shook his head. “Nope. Bastiaan told us. It was a set up… Ummmmm… Can we have the computer you’re throwing out? Me and Julie can share it for games and stuff.”

Gwen’s computer couldn’t be out of my sight soon enough. I’d only kept it out of necessity…

“Dinh, have you bought Ema’s computers yet?”

“Yes sir… She’ll have plenty to play with when she returns. Everything is in her room. Brandon helped me put together her desk.”

“She isn’t back from Maastricht yet?”

He shook his head, but Brandon offered, “She called a couple of hours ago. She’s back in town, but she’s at Dillon’s place. They’re discussing courses and whatnot. Neither one of them ever planned to go to college, so they’re trying to narrow down their choices to a major they could both get into… Ema told me to warn you that Dillon’s mom is trying to organize a holiday in your honor…”

Sookie laughed, “I gotta call her then! I wanna be on that bandwagon. Pam and Klaasje would too. ”

Seeing her smile actually hurt.

She had no idea she was a deer in headlights.

I tried to recover by getting back to the topic. “Dinh, go back and buy three laptops…” It was too late to ignore my morbidity. Sookie was already giving me a sad look. “Sookie will need one as well. Purchase bags and accessories accordingly.”

He nodded. “Yes sir. Is there anything else you need before I head out?”

“If I think of anything, I’ll email you.”

As Dinh and Saskia walked out, Hunter shook his head. “I don’t mind a used one. I was just askin’ since you’re throwing one away.”

“I was only using it because I didn’t have a choice while we were in the States. I detest Microsoft. It was a loaner.”

“K… but I don’t really need it.”

“Perhaps you don’t need it now, but I think having it will be helpful when you begin homeschooling. You should play with it for a while beforehand.”

“That’s a big thing though…”

“And you’ll be able to teleconference with your father any time you like. Pam can add movies. And I’m sure Brandon will know where to find games for you.”

He nodded and stared at me for a moment before Sookie offered, “Baby, it’s not you or the computer. Eric’s had a rough night. He woke up in the sun and nearly killed another Him… We skipped again and it wasn’t pretty.”

Talk about your colossal understatements.

Brandon gave Sookie an angry look. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

Sookie explained, “I was just waiting for Dinh and Saskia to leave.”

“Then what happened? Why would he want to kill…. Himself?

I braced myself and said, “He hurt Sookie…”

Sookie’s hand shot out to grab Brandon’s wrist as though it would halt his reaction. She argued gently, “Eric, He didn’t hurt me. I tripped…”

“He fed from you and His actions caused your injuries. He hurt you.”

She sighed and I was actually proud of her for feeling frustrated by my stance as she specified. “I didn’t know I was in bed with the wrong Eric…”

I added, “His Sookie wouldn’t have been feeding him regardless.”

She huffed, “I tripped when I left the bed, bonked my head on the doorway…”

I corrected, “You stumbled over the slob’s laundry. And a broken nose and a concussion serious enough to knock you out does not a bonk make.”

She stared at me and I could feel how aggravated she was, but she was forgiving me for being contrary… for the same reason she forgave Him for being a careless ass.

“And since being worried about me wasn’t enough for poor Eric, we skipped to a version where Pam was murdered. That other Eric was a wreck.”

I waited to growl until I put Hunter down so he could return to the mixing bowl he’d been whisking.

Brandon gave an annoyed grunt as he asked, “So… you thought you were in bed with him?”

Sookie nodded. “I dozed off reading. I was barely awake. I’m not sure if my eyes even opened to notice what the room looked like…”

He cut her off to blurt, “So you’d expect him to be draining you?”

Fuck me.

The last fucking thing I needed to deal with was his fuckery.

Sookie’s mood was anxious instantly. Before she felt as though she needed to defend the behavior of another Eric, I ordered, “Brandon. My office.”

He scoffed, “Don’t bark orders at me…”

I walked out of the kitchen and growled, “You’ll walk, or I’ll carry you.”

**

I sat at my desk, and listened while Sookie told her brother to stop being a dickhead because I didn’t deserve it.

When he finally trudged into my office, I growled, “Close the door and shore your shields.”

“Why? So Sookie doesn’t…”

“Shut the fuck up. Close the door. Shore your shields. I’ll let you know when it’s your turn to speak.”

The obstinate set to his jaw was the last thing I could take.

I left my seat, closed the door, placed him in the chair in front of my desk, and returned to my chair before his furious expression had the time to develop.

“I’ve had more than enough of your accusations. I’m not feeding from your sister. She isn’t healthy enough… She was seriously injured tonight and the only thing that kept me from staking the prick responsible was another Sookie. I’m not going to hurt your sister.”

“If another you…”

“Blah, blah, blah… That doesn’t matter. I, me, the asshole sitting in front of you won’t do anything to hurt Sookie… Unlike you.”

“Me!? How the fuck do you figure I hurt her?”

“You make her feel stupid. You make her feel conflicted. Your derision has completely eclipsed how excited she was to show you the thumb drive we received tonight. It includes recent photos of various versions of your family.”

“And your shitty mood doesn’t have anything to do with that?”

“Actually my mood made her feel slightly guilty. She thinks I’m mourning the loss of another Pam while she’s celebrating living vicariously through her other selves. The Sookie we met tonight has been writing children’s books and has amassed a list of other Fae-hybrids with abilities as well as a few orphaned Daemons and Weres who were otherwise disenfranchised.” She’d jokingly suggested using some of her settlement to start a summer camp to bring them all together so they could connect, receive coaching, learn about the pitfalls… even as distracted as I was, I thought it was an inspired idea.

“What?”

“That Sookie has the same foundation as Sookie Merlotte in October’s journal. She was raised by the Packmaster of Hotshot and moved to Switzerland to marry a man named Auers. Their daughter reminded me of Julie. Sookie was educated there and began writing when she was confined to a wheelchair temporarily after a car accident. Your father inspired Sookie to turn diary entries into a novel… She geared them towards young adults and the first-person character is a young telepathic girl named Tina… As the books gained popularity, readers began coming forward to ask Sookie why her characters abilities were so realistic. She gave us copies of the manuscripts so My Sookie could do the same… She’s ecstatic over the idea of being able to reach out to more, especially children because that’s when her ability was the biggest burden.”

He huffed, “So our Sookie…” Fuck him.

I corrected, “MY SOOKIE.”

“She’s MY sister… saying ‘our’ was throwing you a fucking bone!”

“She’s your sister, but I’m bonded to her. If you want me to spend one fucking second of my night considering how you feel about anything, you’re going to have to stop being territorial long enough to fucking care about her feelings.”

**

Brandon’s mouth was open to continue arguing because he refused to realize his opinion didn’t matter when my sudden company almost made him shit his pants.

Edward, ever the impish boy at heart, put his mouth to Brandon’s ear to whisper, “Boo.”

I managed to laugh at the look on his face as he nearly jumped out of his skin… Gawain and Edward hadn’t made a noise as they entered my office and quickly moved to flank Brandon.

Gawain grumbled, “You’re in my seat.”

Brandon turned to look at him, but didn’t reply… So Gawain, being Gawain, sat on Brandon’s legs while Edward made himself comfortable on the edge of my desk.

Gawain shifted to dig his hips into Brandon’s thighs and offered, “Our Sookie tells me you’re in a foul mood.”

I nodded. “Tell me you brought me something I can kill.”

Edward laughed, “It’s your lucky night… Gawain called last night to give me the news about Der Butzemann. Alexei Romanov, what a clusterfuck… Quite enjoyed the hunt thoughPity really. I was pulling for him when he was a lad.”

Again, at least something was going well.

“Your softness for little princes with barbarians at the gate aside, how did you catch him?”

While Edward laughed maniacally, Gawain explained, “Richard used himself as bait.”

I growled, “Because he doesn’t look a day over 13. How did Richard fare? Is he here?”

“Alexei staked him, but missed his heart. He’s healed thanks to the tender, loving care of a team of donors.”

Edward snorted, “Fucker was fast. Not fast enough for both of us… He was too preoccupied with hunting to realize he was being hunted… He didn’t learn to hunt from the right Vampire apparently.”

Gawain snorted, “Don’t flatter him, Edward. You’re already a Lord. The only place to go from there is…”

I finished, “King Edward.”

“HA! Fuck that! Don’t want the job.”

“You wanted the job at one point.”

Human King of England was my birthright. And I was just a boy. Lordship is fabulous. You should try it.”

“Prick… Did you bring him to the house?”

Edward nodded, “I did… Miles is currently babysitting. Love that lunatic.”

“You left a Shifter to watch a Vampire… Do I want to know?”

“As fast as the Tsarevich is, I barreled him so he couldn’t gain momentum… naked… submerged in salt-water… and silver leaf… Miles is currently rocking the barrel to keep the silver moving. Did I mention there’s a battery attached to the drum?” Silver-plating a Vampire… one of my favorites. I was too proud of him.

“You’re an evil little fuck.”

“I learned from you. It isn’t as though Mother has an evil bone in her body.” He was 500 years old and still calling his Maker ‘mother’… Old habits die hard… and it was still amusing.

Gawain chuckled, “More proof that in a perfect world, Eric and Francesca could Make an army of perfect Vampires.”

Without thinking, I grumbled, “Don’t even suggest alternate realities.” This one was hard enough.

Gawain’s eyes widened. He blurted, “You’re in the braid.”

Anyone else would have had to ask what the fuck he was talking about.

The word ‘braid’ made perfect sense… individual strands, overlapping and separating again…

The draw of what Gawain could know…

I nodded, waiting for him to offer more.

He shook his head and chuckled as he sat back, ignoring Brandon’s resistance. “I thought they were just stories. You’ll have to tell me about it.”

“You don’t know anything?”

He shook his head. “Not in relation to Vampires. I’ve heard the happy little Faerie realm they continually go to is nothing more than another plane only they can access.”

Edward huffed, “I’m going to introduce myself to the children before one of you is boorish enough to tell me to leave… Gawain, should I take your perch with me?”

Gawain’s eyes never left me as he shook his head. “No need for that. We’ll talk about it another time.” He seemed just as surprised as I was as he stood from Brandon’s lap.

I nodded again, grateful for the promised discussion. That was a conversation I needed a clear head for…

It was only then I realized there was another option for Sookie… If the fear of guilt kept her from being able to abort, Gawain could erase the one detail and she’d never remember it to feel any guilt…

She’d been adamant the night before, worried that having any part of her memory altered could be more of a curse than a blessing. She wanted to remember because she wanted to ‘win without cheating’. I added the conversation to my short list of humbling moments… she was braver than she gave herself credit for. I wished I hadn’t seen the videos and wouldn’t think twice about the opportunity to forget them.

As much as she wanted to remember, this wasn’t the same thing. It couldn’t have been said enough. This wasn’t the same thing.

**

As we joined everyone in the kitchen, Sookie only glanced at the sword in my hand for a split second before she offered a humble smile to Gawain.

He offered a nod. “Are you sure you’re related to this clown?” He grabbed Brandon’s ass, making him lunge to get out of Gawain’s reach.

Sookie giggled, “I’m sure. Did you scare the crap out of him like you did me?”

He shook his head and pointed to Edward. “Blame Edward.”

She offered a warm smile in Edward’s direction. “Nice to meet you, Edward. I’m Sookie… this is Hunter and Julie and our good friend Rosalie Love. I guess you already met Brandon.”

“Truly an honor to meet you… Eric, have you started teaching the little ones to swing a sword yet?”

“Of course not. They’re too small… A proper sword weighs almost as much as they do.”

Edward laughed, “But you’ll get a good laugh again… Remember the first time Richard tried to swing a broadsword? He tasted grass for days!

“Proving my point. He was only ten, bigger than Julie.”

Hunter’s eyes widened as he breathed, “Is Eric your Maker too?”

Edward shook his head, but Gawain offered, “I’ll tell the story. You ramble…” Gawain lifted Hunter to set him on the counter and started, “Once upon a time…”

I rolled my eyes and argued, “Really? Once upon a time?

Gawain shrugged. “They’re children. Do you want me to turn it into a limerick?”

“Only if you use that cocked up accent you had when I met you.”

“I’m Welsh! You sounded like you had a yo-yo stuck in your throat when I met you… The only people to take Swedes seriously are other Swedes…”

Edward scoffed, “Christ almighty, I’d be done by now…”

No, you wouldn’t.” Gawain and I spoke in unison, making the children and Sookie laugh.

Gawain cleared his throat for dramatic effect and started over, “Once upon a time, there was a King who had many children, but only two boys. He became ill and died while his children were still quite young. It was a very violent time in England and since the only two sons of the King were babies…”

Edward blurted, “Were not!” While he was trying to explain that thirteen was the age of adulthood, I shoved the end of his scarf into his mouth to keep the story from being dragged out.

Gawain shook his head and pressed on. “Young. They were young enough to be questionable as leaders… and easy targets. It didn’t take long for the boys’ mother to hear about a plot to kill her sons. She had them put in the Tower of London for safe keeping until she could come up with a plan. She went to King Tyson, the Vampire King of England…”

Julie interrupted, “She knew about Vampires?”

Gawain nodded. “Her mother, the Princes’ grandmother, was a very influential Witch… So Elizabeth contacted Tyson and pleaded with him to help her save her sons so they might live. She’d all but given up hope Edward could be restored to the throne, but she didn’t want to see them murdered like her brother had been. King Tyson agreed, sending his most exalted Knight to remove the Princes from the Tower and take them to distant relatives in Luxembourg. The boys were completely useless…”

Edward’s jaw dropped. “We were royalty! We had servants and weren’t old enough to join a hunt yet. Don’t make it sound like we were fat and lethargic! We learned quickly enough… Tell them, Eric.” Sookie, Rosalie and the children were too engrossed in the story to pay much attention to Edward’s outburst.

I nodded to support Edward’s argument while Gawain continued, “The boys didn’t know how to start a campfire or hunt or prepare their game so they could eat it or stay hidden during the day while Eric rested. Travel wasn’t as easy then. A carriage would have been too obvious. Eric could only fly short distances with them at a time because they needed air. It took more than a month for them to travel 800 kilometers, but by the time the boys were delivered to their cousins in Luxembourg they could have looked after themselves. More importantly, the boys weren’t Princes anymore. Eric taught them so well, no one ever knew they lived a charmed life in a castle before they arrived in Diekirch. They’d gotten a crash course on adaptation from a Vampire who’d been pretending to be Human for centuries.”

My eyes rolled. “Lovely story, Gawain. Will you tuck me in now?”

He cooed, “As soon as you finish your chores.” Fuck. He meant ending Alexei, but his answer reminded me of other chores.

Hunter blurted, “He’s not done! When did the Princes become Vampires!?”

Gawain continued, “A few years went by, Richard and Edward weren’t boys any longer by the standards of the time. They were on their way home from a hunt when a Vampire noticed them… They were excellent fighters by then, but the Vampire was too strong. She almost didn’t take them. She was looking for someone who could act as her husband. Back then women couldn’t own property or travel without an escort… but Edward and Richard were the right age to be her sons…” He started chuckling, “When the boys rose as Vampires for the first time, they told her they belonged to Eric the Northman and she…”

Edward sighed, “Fuck… I still hate how scared she was… Mother took us to London to find Eric and explain what happened. She was pretty sure if she didn’t own up to bringing us over, he’d make her suffer… He made her take us to see our Human mother so we could say goodbye before we sailed for Italy… Tuscany for a century, then got front row seats to America’s birth… We left New York when Eric asked us to serve as Lords… Ah, yeah. The End.”

Finally. “Does this mean I can take the garbage out and then I don’t have to play King for the rest of the night?”

Sookie glanced towards the empty bin. “You’re not talking about kitchen trash, huh?”

I shook my head. “Edward brought Alexei to me. I don’t have any intention of dragging out his execution. I’ll be back…”

She whimpered, “Be careful. You know how nuts he is.”

“I do, but acumen trumps insanity. Alexei’s been in a drum full of silver since last night. He’ll be too weak to put up a fight…”

Hunter probed, “You’re going to kill him?”

I nodded. “There isn’t much that can be done about an insane Vampire. He’s been draining children and moving to another town for years. He needs to be stopped.”

“Can we… can we watch?

I shrugged. “There won’t be much to see. Get your coats if you’re curious.”

As the children ran from the room to find their coats, Sookie followed. Hesitant, but curious… Of course, Brandon was right behind her.

**

As everyone gathered outside, Edward disconnected the battery from the drum and released the straps.

I sliced open the drum to let the water out… kicking it over to make sure it was drained…

Gawain took one end, and I took the other to release the boy inside and Hunter likened to process to cracking an egg.

While Gawain began recording, Alexei was sprawled across the cement coughing and spewing the water from his lungs. The silver burns streaked over every bit of his pale blue body. If he’d been left in the drum for much longer, he probably could have been left to whither from silver poisoning in a cell.

“Can you stand?”

He tried to push himself up, but he’d been too weakened by the silver to put his feet under himself. He gave up once he was on his knees.

“Do you know where you are?”

He barely managed to shake his head in the negative.

“Alexei Nikolaevich Romanov, child of Appius Livius Ocella, you’re in the North Sea Empire. You’ve been poaching children since your Maker was ended in 1987 and you were captured by Lords Edward and Richard. You’ve used the same method to brutally drain and murder 218 minors in 14 Kingdoms. Do you have anything to say for yourself before you’re punished for your behavior?”

His eyebrow twitched as he croaked, “You haven’t found them all.”

“Normally, I would ask if you care to deny the charges… Do you care to reveal the locations of any of their graves?”

“No.” Of course not, but Charlie might be willing to help with that.

“Are you willing to identify any of your victims in an effort to bring peace to their families?”

“There is no peace.”

“Have you had the gall to create any children?”

He breathed, “Not for lack of trying.”

Brandon grumbled, “Piece of shit,” quietly… At least we agreed once in a while.

“Your execution is being recorded and will be sent to the authorities investigating the deaths of your victims as well as the rulers of the Kingdoms you poached in. Do you have any final words?”

He shook his head minimally and began whispering a quiet prayer in Russian.

The entire situation was anticlimactic… Hearing what other versions had to go through to end the ‘deceptively innocent looking’ psychopath was my reason to remain watchful. If he was putting on his reaction to being barreled, looking away for only a moment would have been an epic display of Darwinism.

I cautiously waited for him to finish begging God for absolution…

The little prick smiled and offered, “Going to meet your Maker, da?”

I nodded, “That’s what they say.”

He nodded and lifted his chin. “Meeting my Maker.”

“Good. You deserve each other.”

Normally, I would have gotten a certain amount of satisfaction from ending the little prick. For that matter, when I’d recently executed a Vampire for draining just two teenagers, Gawain and I joked about how much fun it was to be ‘good guys’. Listening to Vampires beg a God who wasn’t listening for forgiveness they didn’t deserve was always entertaining.

Alexei was a blight, a blemish on Europe’s acceptance of Vampires…

Righteous kill or not, I was thinking about Sookie’s pregnancy again before Alexei’s head hit the ground.

**

The red-tape of the execution included uploading the video and drafting the announcement for hundreds of Human and Vampire Kings, Lords, and Inspectors…

Riffling through the contents of Alexei’s car to look for anything of value… finding an envelope full of old identification and credentials, a box full of keys for safe deposit boxes that would take ages to identify, and probably the largest collection of Imperial Faberge eggs and Crown Jewels in one place… It seemed like Alexei had been reclaiming them. The curiosity over what might be in the safe deposit boxes (especially if Alexei was keeping Faberge eggs in his trunk) gave Gawain something to look forward to at least.

Gawain and I worked from both sides of my desk while Edward filled his time by telling the children about being a prisoner in the Tower… that it sounded much worse than it was since they were still treated like Princes, but they hadn’t been allowed to keep their dogs.

I’d just decided that Alexei certainly wasn’t worth the trouble of sorting out his slew of murders when Gawain offered, “The brother doesn’t know whether to be pissed at himself for thinking so little of you or pissed that you failed to shield his daughter from seeing Alexei nude.”

I snorted, “Silly me. I assumed the execution would be a reason to keep her inside.”

“She’s a tough one… she was upset, but engrossed by the process… Are we talking about other matters later?”

“Unless you can’t possibly wait, yes.” Compartmentalizing Pam’s fears and concerns from my own while trying to protect Sookie from them was almost too much.

“Are you still pissed about what happened last night?”

“No. I excused it before I died for the day. You were thinking about Sookie’s safety and since she’s my priority at the moment as well, I can’t begrudge you that.”

“Say no more, Majesty.”

“Stop calling me that unless you want to be barreled next.”

He snorted, “Royal Highness.”

“Fae-pire?”

“No.”

“Fampire? Vaerie?”

“I’ll silver you.”

“You’ll try… One question.”

“What?”

“Are you tempted? You sat on Brandon. Does his scent…”

“No… It might be because I was semi-Fae, but even full Fae don’t tempt me. I wouldn’t act on it though. You know that, right?”

“I suspected as much. I asked because I’m concerned with Sookie’s reaction to her family once I bring her over. They’re all the family she has left. Keeping her distance from them until her hunger is under control will be hard enough…” Knowing from the journal that she won’t die during the day meant that she could keep the baby and still care for it, but if it’s scent was tempting, taking it from her so she wouldn’t drain it…

Fuck. Why the fuck couldn’t I stop thinking about it?

**

Gawain and I were just finishing (deciding we’d done enough) when Pam and Klaasje returned from their errands with Charlie… They parted ways in the hallway so Charlie could check on his mother and Pam and Klaasje didn’t waste any time coming to me.

The hesitant look on Pam’s face when she realized I had company was almost amusing.

I started the conversation. “Edward and Richard went hunting last night and found Alexei. Gawain and I were just tending to the business end of the execution. How was shopping?”

Klaasje stepped forward and handed a jeweler’s bag to me. “I chose rose gold since it’s beautiful, but not popular. A range of simple pieces.”

I nodded. “Rose gold is new as far as I know. Good choice.”

Pam approached with her collection of bags and set them on my desk. “Everything else you asked for is here except for the large collage style photo frames. I thought the ‘something unique’ for your room could be some of Sookie’s favorite family photos. And there’s a donor in the drive. You need to feed.”

I hadn’t even thought of feeding.

“The frame is inspired. She’ll love it… we’ll have to wait until later to load the thumb drives, but take as much cash as you can from the safe… Fuck. We should have Dollars and Euros…”

Pam rolled her eyes. “It’s not going to happen again tonight. Go feed.”

I growled at myself as I left my office… feeling childish for knowing I wouldn’t enjoy the feeding.

Not only did I know I was ruined for blood that wasn’t Sookie’s, but I knew she wanted to feed me.

It was completely foreign to me to feel as though I was cheating on someone… Unfaithfully feeding from a donor because Sookie needed her blood more than I did.

As bland as the woman’s blood was, I took more than I normally would…

Then again, until very recently, I would have only taken a swallow or two because I would have fucked and fed from the donor like I had with the donor the night before and the night before that…

Taking twice as much as I normally would still wasn’t too much, but it kept me from having to settle for the inferior flavor as often.

**

By the time I convinced the donor that her only purpose was donating blood and returned to the house, my office was empty.

Pam and Klaasje had left the jewelry on my desk, but since they weren’t in the kitchen, I was sure they were downstairs being reliably, painstakingly efficient.

Everyone else was in the kitchen… the children were at the counter while everyone else socialized happily and Gawain and Edward said their goodbyes, because it was their ‘suppertime’ too.

Four Stackhouses, two Loves and me…

All of them stared at me as though they were waiting for me to do a trick.

Sookie’s mood wasn’t nearly as light as it had been… even though she’d been bothered by Alexei’s execution, her mood had improved again while she’d been working in the kitchen.

She was feeling sullen and jealous… She’d felt that I fed.

She finally broke the silence, offering, “You have the thumb drive and everyone’s curious.”

That was easily remedied. I reached into my pocket and tossed the drive to Brandon so he could begin show and tell while I circled the counter with the jeweler’s bag.

Everyone else gravitated towards Brandon, giving me the opportunity to whisper, “You know I didn’t enjoy it. Try to not think about it.”

She breathed, “Fine… is this the jewelry? What did Klaasje pick?”

“I haven’t looked at it yet. She chose rose gold.”

Sookie sighed and reached into the bag, pulling out a long narrow box…

A three-tiered necklace, nothing more than delicate chains… I offered to clasp the necklace for her, but she announced she wasn’t a baby and she could do some things for herself…

She obstinately struggled to clasp the matching bracelet with one hand and scowled when I complimented how nice they looked.

She stabbed her finger through her ring, complimenting Klaasje’s taste, and tossing the empty boxes back into the bag and making a snide remark about the five-carat diamond on the ring being ‘flashy enough’.

For a brief moment, I didn’t care that she was being irrational because she was being refreshingly difficult…

Then it occurred to me that being hormonal might be the reason for her behavior.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be in the room with her and pretend everything was perfect because I couldn’t shake what was going to come next.

**

I left the doors open to make eavesdropping easier, but I just couldn’t fucking do it.

Pam and Klaasje were leaving my room when I arrived…

Both of them stopped to watch me sit on my bed and make myself as comfortable as possible… and take the book from the bedside table…

They shared a long look with each other as though I couldn’t see them.

Pam cleared her throat because… I forgot she was watching me?

“Are you sure this is the right time to be reading?”

“What else should I be doing?”

“I don’t know… just… Reading, Eric? Really?

“I can’t stop thinking about it. She was jealous that I fed from a fucking donor… I almost let myself be proud of her for acting like a brat… then I wondered if it was a mood swing. I’m taking myself out of circulation.”

“You’re hiding.”

“I don’t… Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m hiding.”

Pam and Klaasje reminded me in unison, “You don’t hide!”

I’d have done nearly anything for a camera. The looks on their faces were priceless…

Pam repeated, “You’re hiding?” I don’t know if she thought something had been lost in translation, or if she was thinking it would change my mind, or if she was just checking her hearing.

“I was doing well enough while I had work to do, but everything she does makes me think about it. She’ll think I’m just sulking about the skip and…”

“And what?”

Testament to how thrown the situation had left me… Sookie followed me and I didn’t realize it.

As Sookie stepped into our room, she repeated, “And what?”

It was almost hilarious that Pam and Klaasje darted out of the room before I could formulate a reply.

Sookie narrowed her eyes and closed the door behind them before walking towards the bed to sit next to my feet.

“I’ll think you’re just sulking about the skip… If you’re not upset about the skip, what is it that’s on your mind?”

“You have plans with your family… we should discuss it later.”

“I can’t think about anything but how miserable you are. We might as well get it out of the way.”

No… this wasn’t a conversation that could be had and then the rest of the evening could progress as planned.

“Sookie…”

“You told Klaasje and Pam, didn’t you? They aren’t right either… What are you hiding from me? Does everyone know?

“I’m not hiding anything… I just didn’t want to ruin your evening… You’re looking forward to telling Brandon about the books… and your Summer Camp idea…”

“So you were just stalling?”

I nodded. That was the essence of it.

“Because you think whatever you have to tell me is going to go over like a turd in a punch bowl.”

I nodded again.

“Is it because there’s a few Sookie’s in the journal who flip their lids over every little thing?”

I shook my head. “No… no, this isn’t a little thing.”

She sighed before crawling up to sit next to me on her knees. “I know I can trust you… but I’m really starting to freak out.”

I stalled by pulling her onto my legs, but I still wasn’t sure of how to explain.

I’d never been one to sugarcoat anything, but I’d actually gotten worse since I’d taken the throne.

This was the first time it ever bothered me.

I finally started, “The night we first skipped, you told me you’d hurt your shoulder and thought you were taking something for pain…”

She shivered and took a hard swallow.

“What happened when you were given ecstasy? Do you remember?”

She swallowed again before whimpering, “I guess asking if I have to talk about it is moot, huh?”

I nodded. “Sadly.”

She closed her eyes and pulled her lips over her teeth… I watched her face and felt her mood deteriorate from anxious to pained…

I already knew I didn’t want to hear her answer.

By the time she’d taken the deep breath she needed to let herself start, I imagined another million ways to torture Compton for what had been done to her.

She choked, “They’d all given me their blood by then… Gwen thought it was funny that I was starting to relax so she played with my hair. Just running her fingers through it, but I couldn’t help liking it… It was spinning up Bill too. Messing with my hair was his thing. He tried to take me to the room, the one they kept for feeding, but Lorena told him he didn’t deserve it because he couldn’t control me… She grabbed me and started dragging me back to the room… She was ‘smart enough’ to give me something that made me submissive so she was going to take Bill’s turn… He started arguing about me being his…”

She began gasping between sobs, showing no signs that our bond was helping her mood.

She forced herself to continue when I wanted to stop.

“It got ugly between them… she did that Maker thing that put him on the floor because he tried to go after her… She ended up thinking it was a good idea to knock on this other guy’s door… She glamoured him… told him I liked him and her and Bill wanted to watch… it… was… horrible… by then I could barely stand up… Lorena kept egging him on… telling him he wasn’t being rough enough… he was just in town for a job interview… when he was done she drained him… she left him on top of me… I don’t even know what she did with his body… It… was… horrible…”

When she was finished giving me the details she could bring herself to voice, she buried her face against my neck and pulled herself into a tight ball.

Panting and sobbing while I realized I could have been perfectly happy to not hear the details for the rest of my life.

When she finally managed to calm her breathing, I asked, “When was this?”

She whimpered, “A couple of weeks after they took me. October sometime. It’s hard to remember.”

“Was that the only time something like that happened?”

She nodded. “They threatened to do it anytime Bill argued with them, but he backed down.”

Four months ago… If it wasn’t for her scent, I might have let myself hope since she’d have to be showing some signs by now given how thin she was…

“Sookie, the other You listened to your thoughts while you were unconscious.”

She fisted her hands into my shirt and whined, “If you already knew all that, why’d you make me talk about it?”

“I didn’t know the details. She couldn’t bring herself to do it… She was… Sookie, She was more preoccupied by hearing that you’d vomited. It wasn’t something I spent any time thinking about, but when She mentioned that She’s only ever been known to be sick while She’s pregnant, that was all we could think about.”

She sat up quickly, looking like she was going to be ill again and shouted, “NO!”

“Once you went upstairs, I had Klaasje sample your towel because she knows the scent…”

“NO! No nononono! NO!

Her body sagged… she rested her head on my stomach, repeating ‘no’ until it was a low drone.

“Sookie, whatever you decide…”

She wailed, “Why can’t it just be AIDs!?” without lifting her head.

If I hadn’t already suspected that Pam was eavesdropping, the fact that my eyes were suddenly burning thanks to her sudden flood of sympathy was all the evidence I needed.

“No one will think less of you for ending the pregnancy and you’ll have all the support you need if you decide to keep the baby…”

Not that I could think of much more I could have said, but Sookie suddenly began struggling to leave the bed to make her way to the bathroom.

Instead of waiting for her, I followed… wetting a washcloth with cool water and resting it over the back of her neck.

She’d more than emptied her stomach, heaving until her ribs hurt, miserably holding the commode…

And the only thing I could do was keep the cloth cool for her.

I wasn’t foolish enough to think it was helping, but at least I was doing something.

She finally took the cloth from her neck, used it to clean her face and pushed herself back to lean against the wall.

She gulped a few times before she managed to breathe, “How likely is it… could Klaasje be wrong?”

“One of the errands they ran was for a pregnancy test so you could be sure.”

Her face turned, contorting as another wave of tears came to her.

She sobbed, “It’s a good thing Gran’s gone… she’d hate me… but… Eric, I… I can’t do it…”

“I doubt your grandmother would think less of you for not…”

She lifted her hand and shook her head. “The baby isn’t the monster… a mother has to chose to hate her own child… it wasn’t my fault I wasn’t her idea of perfect…”

“Sookie, this isn’t the same thing as your mother being a closed-minded cunt who couldn’t understand your ability. The woman described in the journals would be proud of you for living through what happened. Your Gran was sage enough to know if you have doubts now…”

Sookie shook her head again and began pushing herself from the floor. “She’d say the rational, supportive thing… but she’d be thinking with her heart afterwards. Do you know where the pregnancy test is?”

I opened the medicine cabinet, guessing since the only other option was the cabinet where I kept towels…

It had only ever held a stake before, but Sookie had used the lower shelf for the toiletries and makeup Willis had bought for her…

The second shelf was still home to the stake and one box containing two pregnancy tests.

Sookie offered a snort at the irony of the two items being stored together as she took the pregnancy test from me.

**

I sat on the side of the bed, waiting for what felt like hours before Sookie emerged… She’d numbed herself and came directly to sit on my legs facing the door and pulling my arms around her.

Before I could ask, she sighed, “I heard it’s the longest five minutes in the world…”

“You don’t have the results yet?”

She shook her head. “No… It has to cure or whatever.”

Fuck.

“What took so long then?”

“I think I was afraid to pee on the damn thing… Will… do I need to go to a doctor or… do you think Klaasje would be comfortable helping me?”

“She’s already offered…”

She leaned back to rest her head on my shoulder. “I thought… I thought I was going to be coming down here to give you a pep talk… ‘Eric, I’m not going to let you have a private funeral for another Pam. You still have your Pam. The only peace I get is from knowing the last thing I said to Gran was that I loved her… Don’t ruin what you have by being afraid of something that happened to someone else. Hug her, tell her you love her, laugh at her when it makes her cry.’ I thought it was the skip.”

“That sounds very convincing. It might have helped.”

“Good… Part of me keeps saying ‘it’s not the baby’s fault’. I can’t help but wonder what made Topaz Sookie keep Erin.”

“Perhaps it was because she awoke in a hospital bed after being raped once while unconscious. You were abused for months. Are you starting to rethink your initial reaction?”

“No… I’m thinking I’ll feel guilty… I’m thinking about asking Gawain… just this one thing… when it’s all over.”

“Understandable.”

She began crying again, quietly soaking her face while the pain in her chest echoed through mine.

She finally sat forward as though she was going to the bathroom, but stopped and whispered, “I’m afraid to look.”

“Do you want me to do it?”

She shook her head. “Not really. I want… I want a brownie… and one of Rosalie’s hot chocolates… or two or three…”

“What makes her recipe special?”

“Chocolate liqueur.”

I nodded. “Are we stalling?”

She bit her lip and nodded. “If we just keep changing the subject… If we ignore it…”

I put my arms around her to pull her back to me. “No… It’s still there. The sooner we know, the sooner we can act.”

She breathed a ragged breath and called, “Pam? Can you do it?”

Under any other circumstances I would have laughed. Pam was only a few months old when I gave up trying to discourage her nosiness. I’d spent the past few centuries letting her believe she’d just gotten better at hiding it, but the eavesdropping wasn’t going to go unnoticed with a seasoned telepath in company.

Pam walked into the room slowly with a fist full of bloody tissues… while Klaasje waited just past the threshold with the same handful.

She avoided eye contact like she was intruding even though she’d been invited.

No sooner than Pam was in the bathroom, she was gone again…

She yanked Klaasje with her as they went up the stairs and into the main part of the house.

While I tried to decipher Pam’s mood, shock and caution were the most I could get, I heard Charlie chuckle, “Easy ladies, not with my mom in the room…”

And then Brandon bark, “What the fuck are you doing!?”

Sookie and I battled our confusion by listening for clues until Pam and Klaasje returned to the room with startled looks on their faces…

“I’ll repeat Brandon’s question… What the fuck are you doing?”

Pam brilliantly offered, “Ummm.”

I nodded. “Oh. That explains everything. Thank you… Klaasje, care to share?”

Her chin bounced a few times before she offered, “I’m sorry, Eric…”

While I bit back the urge to ask her why the fuck she was apologizing to me, Sookie doubled over and began hyperventilating.

“What are you sorry for?”

“They… I told you I hadn’t smelled her… I hadn’t smelled any of them… they all… Eric, they all smell the same.”

“What? Who smells the same?”

“Brandon and Charlie, they smell the same as Sookie. The children aren’t a strong… I… they’re all sweet.”

I growled and forced myself to ignore that Sookie was beginning to feel lightheaded.

“What does that mean? I’m almost certain Charlie and Brandon aren’t pregnant.”

She shook her head. “It’s not the same kind of sweetness as I’m used to, but…”

Pam walked towards the bed and knelt at Sookie’s feet. “Sookie, are you still with us?”

Sookie panted through a nod, tightening her arms over mine.

“Good… now repeat after me… Negative.”

No.

Sookie panted, “Neg… negative.”

Pam glanced up at me before giving Sookie a smile.

“Negative. The test is negative, doll.”

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54 thoughts on “Chapter 22: Stall Tactics

  1. Oh my god! What a roller coaster ride that was. I couldn’t decide, I was happy she was going to get rid of the problem, I was confused that she wasn’t keeping the baby. Then bam! Negative. Wow! This is why I always say you are awesome. On the edge of my seat the whole time.

  2. Great chapter once again. I am really glad that Sookie is not pregnant. Now we need to find out why she is vomiting. Maybe it is just stress. That is pretty grusome what they did to Sookie and the strange man. Not the rape but leaving him on her dead. Great job. I am always looking forward to more.

  3. Crazy awesome chapter! I loved that it was long and emotional and climatic! Emotional turmoil, a Hunter intermission, an execution, and good news…talk salve for the twitches:) This is, without a doubt, my favorite skip and I adore each update!

  4. Oh THANK GOD!! The stress of reading this chapter was really getting to me.

    I really like Edward, and Gawain. Interesting choice, to write the children observing Alexei’s execution. I guess if they’re going to be hanging around the residence of a Vampire King, they need to get used to seeing things that might be of a disturbing nature.

    Good chapter.

  5. While reading this chapter I had a sour taste in my mouth. Watching those around Sookie walking on egg shells trying to decide how to bring up the subject of a rape and possible pregnancy was nerve racking. As an author you know how to keep us on our toes. Excellent chapter!

  6. oh thank goodness! I was totally not sure how to feel about that potential bomb. Holy shishkaballs darling, that was one hell of a nail biter of a chapter… and I had to take a break halfway through because someone showed up to inspect our apartment!

  7. Absolutely wonderful chapter, as always. It’s so full of detail, I’m going to need to read it through a few more times! Anyway, you had the tension set so high that I was chain smoking through it. My thoughts are scattered, so I’ll list my brain salad as follows:
    a. Really glad she’s not pregnant. I wonder if she’ll choose to become pregnant later, now that the idea of a baby is in her brain.
    b. I wonder why she keeps vomiting. I really hope it’s not cancer. If it is, however, I’d love to get a look at Sookie as Eric’s childe.
    c. Edward and Gawain were wonderful. I loved them, and want to spend more time with that duo.
    d. Alexi – so glad he’s gone. Loved the silver electroplating.
    e. Hunter. What can I say? He’s just all kinds of awesome.
    f. Sookie’s reaction to the jewelry. She was probably very distracted by Eric’s mood and all, but Eric, you need to improve your game if that’s how you present a girl with diamonds. Having someone else buy a diamond solitaire for her must have been like letting air out of a balloon. Yeah, I get it, you were stressed, and you don’t adhere to human custom, but when a girl imagines getting a ring from a guy, she imagines a few hearts, rainbows and unicorns. Don’t worry, my husband of nearly 23 years is almost as clueless, except he wouldn’t have his assistant purchase it. Then again, for my first married birthday, he got me a vacuum.

  8. Yay!!! And the ring looked much different to me earlier on fb. I couldn’t tell it was rose gold, it looks twice as beautiful now that I can see the color of the metal more clearly. Wonderful chapter. I’m off to take some muscle relaxers since I think I took all three of the Northern Sea Empire vamp’s tension in my body.

  9. It is so completely brilliant the way you have added the characters of Gawaine and Edward to even out the horrible dark experiences that Sookie has lived through. The comic and fun banter of them with Eric and then with the kids in the kitchen… just so totally completely brilliant. I am in awe of your ability to weave all these different stories and continue to stay true to the characters. Do you have any original works of your own to buy? I just cannot believe that you wouldn’t. If not, maybe you can be the next to have an original story grow from your fanfiction. People would eat up a multi-verse novel. It really is amazing.

  10. What an emotional chapter. Poor Eric and Poor Sookie. Love how the others rally round to help out and Brandon gets the schooling he needs. I wonder why the others all smell like Sookie? Telepath smell maybe? And just who was that awful tattooed man. Great gripping chapter as always ❤

    • Hi Emily,

      You mentioned the smell – It’s the part-fae scent. When Sookie & Eric find Charlie in the hospital Eric notices that Charlie smells like Sookie. Charlie’s family tree & powers are different, so it’s not just a Stackhouse or a telepath thing. I hope that helps 🙂

  11. As always missus Brilliant…. the NW Sookie is not going to be popular in that household…
    keep it coming JoXx

  12. Wow. Negative. That’s good. That mean something else is causing Sookie to vomit. I’d say stress is a good culprit. She’s certainly had enough stress for all the Sookie’s together.

  13. Oh my god, where did all of my fingernails go. Another great chapter. Thank heavens that they didn’t get to at least take away Eric and Sookie’s choice on whether or not they wanted to have a baby but definitely great story telling.

  14. I just want you to know that this – this chapter right here – is why you are awesome. Not because you entertain me, but because you make me ‘feel’ something. I am so thrilled that your characters were able to have a serious conversation about the implications of keeping or not keeping a child conceived from rape. There are so may people that would say there is no choice to be made but to keep the child without even considering what carrying and birthing the child would do to a woman who has already be too traumatized for any lifetime. To have a constant reminder of what you endured…I just can’t imagine! I applaud the way you wrote this situation.

    That being said, I am also thrilled that the test was negative. I look forward to seeing how this brings Erin and Sookie closer and strengthens their relationship.

    If not pregnant, why is Sookie getting sick??

  15. Oh, wow! What to say about this chapter?! Awesomesauce as usual 🙂 Hunter–Precious as usual. Love Pam and Klassje. Edward and Gawain! Those two are just trouble together, LOL! I hope we get to meet Francesca sometime in this story. Love how Edward still calls her Mother.

    The whole angst of the possible pregnancy. Definitely had Eric out of his element. But, yes, what is it with all the vomiting? Is it well and truly stress?? I hope it is only that. And I love the idea of Sookie’s Supe Summer Camp. Sounds like the castle grounds would be a great place for it, but that is probably a security risk. Who knows?

  16. Heysus Christ!! Freaking mind blowing. I was on the edge the whole time. I can’t believe it but I’m oh so thankful for the result. I felt a little bad about wanting her to end it when I thought of Erin, but like Eric kept saying its just not the same.
    Thanks for sharing your awesomeness with us. Now I can take that much needed deep breath. Lol

  17. thank goodness!!! geeze that was some ubber angst over nothing!!!! but damn WHAT A RELIEF!!! thank you for updating again.

  18. Oh phew! Wow. So glad Sookie doesn’t have to really go through the extra torment of having to make a decision on that one.

  19. THANK FUCK! As if this Sookie needed another reminder. More power to a woman who could keep a child conceived in rape but I don’t know if I could. I was strangely relieved that the human was glamoured into participating. Bill, Lorena and Gwen need to be resurrected so they can be killed in very creative ways.

  20. thank the gods…lol it’s amazing how vested i become in your stories. i was freaking out for sookie…lol

    wonderful chapter!

  21. So Sookie is not pregnant. That is good. Now why did Klasje think that was a pregnant smell coming from Sookie or did she just confuse the faerie smell they all have or is it something more??

    You keep us on the edge of our seat reading these chapters and we love you all the more for it. THANKS!!

  22. Oh thank goodness. I just couldn’t see her bouncing back from that. At least she would have asked Gawain to make her forget an abortion though. That’s progress. She really is incredibly strong to even be standing but there are some things no one she have to face.
    Love Eric’s putting Brandon in his place.
    Cheers, Balti K

  23. You’re right, a little angst is good for the soul… as long as the writer also remains true to the characters, and builds in arcs she follows through on, and plans connections and subtext and layering so the angst is actually believable and the resolution is satisfying. THAT my dear, you do in spades!! Thank you. I breathed a sigh of relief when I started reading this, angsty nature notwithstanding. I feel I can trust you in a story; I feel safe. That is worth a lot after the fuckery of May 1st. **sigh**.

    Great exploration of the issues. So glad the test was negative!! This one is so fraught, but well worth it. Thanks!!

  24. thank f*ck for that!

    Now, if Brandon does shape the F up pronto, Eric needs to ship his ass out. (which is hard to think of since you have Jax ‘playing’ the role of Brandon here, making it really hard for me to diss him). She is NOT ‘his’ Sookie and it really kinda creepy he thinks of her that way. I vote for him being put in his place hardcore by Sookie – no minced words – AND getting his ass kicked. Although as it stands now, not sure either of those things would adjust his pompous and sour attitude.

  25. great chapter, I’m not sure if I’m happy with Brandon, I would say he needs some type of reality check, but he’s never been abused and I think is protective by nature, and is not sure about vampires. So glad Sookie is not pregnant, I think it would have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. great story and you can tell one like no other.

  26. Yay it was negative. That should make sure Eric happy it means she really was jealous and acting like a brat all by herself.

  27. damn that was an excellent chapter and i am glad and happy Sookie is not pregnant, but that does not mean that her and Eric would not have been great at being parents as i am sure Eric would have put his name down as father. and he would of been great to the baby no matter what since it would be a part of Sookie love the new cast of characters and i am waiting to meet mother……… until your next update my best Kristie

  28. I have to admit… I exclaimed out loud “Oh Thank God!” at the end of this chapter. I read everything you post here and I find myself more emotionally invested in your stories than books I have bought off the shelf. This Sookie/Eric brings me close to tears, a sign of a truly great story teller. How you balance your genius with everyday life is astounding! Thank you yet again for giving us a few minutes escape into another world 🙂

  29. A great Mother’s Day present. Brandon needs a good ass kick. He can’t be very bright that he doesn’t realize how his attitude affects Sookie. He definately needs an attitude adjustment.

    Love the new characters and so happy that Sookie is not pregnant. That decision would have been over the top. Glad she was willing to have Gawain glamor her to forget if she needed an abortion. This Sookie definately does not need any more trauma. ~ Great chapter.

    • I ment to also say: I’m very disappointed that Klasje didn’t do any testing before making Eric believe Sookie is pregnant. She is doing medical testing in other fields. Why wouldn’t she do a simple smell test on Sookie’s family?

  30. …..pout. BUT, it’s been about a week and Sookie has regained her sweet smell. I’m still holding out hope that she is pregnant. It could be the win without cheating that Sookie wants, the growth that follows the harsh winter, badass rain and muddy condition. Craving twins.

  31. Enjoying some rereading & wondering if Shawn Ingram (of Alpha) could b the forced rapist….his tattoo/might have been picked since closeness with Brandon makes him favourite choice 2 Vampires. If it was him; it may decrease odds of Sookie being pregnant (I know test shows negative; but reading can be wrong after 6 weeks); if this one took nut shoot……oh well

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