Chapter 20 – Where the Road Leads

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They stood on the dais for over an hour. Vampires kept walking up, bowing, and reciting their pledge of loyalty. As each minute passed, Rick became more agitated. Finally, Pam nudged him, "You need to feed," she hissed. "You're driving me crazy."

Eric didn't turn around, but Rick heard him perfectly well, "Find him someone acceptable and stay with him. We will be done here soon. When he is finished, bring him to the office."

Pam swept her hand, indicating a hallway that led to the back of the club. When Rick didn't move, Pam did, and Rick found himself almost jogging to keep up. As he made his way through the crowd, vampires were openly staring and it made Rick feel bullied. That hadn't happened to him often back in Chester, and Rick's natural instinct was to aggressively confront those who were trying to intimidate him. He was halfway turned when Pam caught his arm, "There will be another time for that," she scolded.

"How did you know what I was going to do?" Rick asked.

"I've seen that look on Sookie's face a hundred times," Pam sniffed, "usually right before she does something stupid that gets her hurt."

"My mother isn't stupid!" Rick growled.

"No," Pam agreed, "no, she's not, but she gets brave when she shouldn't and it makes her write checks her body can't cash." Pam was opening the door to what was unused office space. There were storage racks lining the walls and bar inventory stacked on the desk and floor. Pam leaned against the edge of the desk, inviting Rick to do the same. "Those vampires were hoping you'd challenge them. They can see you're young and they wanted to goad you into making a fledgling's mistake. Even if you're under Eric's protection, if you initiate a challenge, tradition will force Eric to allow you to finish it, and with those jokers? You wouldn't stand a chance! You have nothing to prove, Rick. You're the King's progeny. Ignore them! There's nothing they can do and with Eric claiming you, you're pretty much safe everywhere you go."

There was a noise at the door and Karin walked in with a young man. He looked like he might be a waiter because of the uniform. "Chow time!" Karin sniffed.

Rick eyed the young man, who eyed him right back. Rick felt less than enthusiastic about it. "Are you kidding?" the man asked, looking at Karin. "I thought you were offering."

"You should have asked," Karin snarled. "Instead, you assumed and you know what they say about people who assume. Now, assume the position."

"That's okay," Rick started backing away. "I'm not that hungry. I had some bottled earlier with Mustapha."

"You really are a waste of skin," Karin snapped at Rick.

"Shut up and get him someone willing," Pam growled. Karin didn't look in the least interested. She roughly grabbed the young man and as she turned, she gave Rick a look that was just mean. "There you have it," Pam laughed. "Even vampires torture their siblings! Lucky you! Two older sisters."

Rick was feeling shakier by the minute, but he figured he could hold out. Anything seemed better than trying to do this in front of his evil stepsisters. "I'm serious. I really don't need to feed right now," he repeated.

"You are a total bullshit liar!" Pam called him out. She pulled him to the mirror. "See that? The pale circles around your eyes? They even look a little sunken. That's how any vampire knows when someone is starving for blood. You better learn to recognize that look, because with some vampires, starving means unstable, and you may get in fights with them without trying. They may even try to feed from you if they're in enough pain."

Karin returned with a woman this time. She was a little older, but she smiled at Rick and sat down in the chair. She bared her neck without being asked. Karin smirked and Pam rather pointedly studied her fingernails. Finally, when Rick didn't make any move toward the woman, Pam snapped. "Get on with it! We're missing out on all the good stuff stuck back here."

Rick took a deep breath, stepped behind the woman, and told her, "I'll try to be gentle." Rick's palms were sweating and he felt faint.

"You're just fine," the woman assured him. "But do me a favor and heal me after. I don't need to be running around with bite marks."

Rick dipped his head and drank the way Eric had instructed, pulling first one mouthful and then waiting to hear her heartbeat before pulling another. He took care to withdraw his fangs slowly, and then he licked the woman's neck and watched as the punctures disappeared. "You're okay?" he asked her.

"I'm fine, Sweetie," the woman nodded. She held out her hand to Karin on the way out the door. Karin let her disapproving gaze break from Rick long enough to drop a wad of bills in the woman's hand.

"Feeling better?" Pam sniffed.

"I am," Rick nodded. He turned toward Karin. Her look said it all. She considered him on the same level as something she'd found stuck under her shoe, but Rick made a point of using his charming smile, the one that always got him seconds at dinner. "Thanks for finding her, Karin," he beamed. "She was great!"

"Nice try," Karin huffed. "I've seen all kinds of charm, and yours? The worst!"

"Hey," Rick smiled, "at least you admit I've got some. That's progress!"

Karin started to laugh, then caught herself, turned, and stalked out the door. "You're wearing her down," Pam chuckled, and then she cuffed him on the arm. "Come on, Baby Fang, Eric's waiting."

The office across the hall was different. There was a laptop open on the desk and there were chairs and a couch. Looking around, Rick got the impression that normally a woman sat behind the desk in here, but tonight, it was his Father.

There was a female vampire and a man Rick could tell was a Were sitting in the chairs in front of the desk. There was a third vampire, a slight woman who reminded Rick of Thalia, and she was standing in front of the desk, too.

"I apologize," she was saying and she bowed to Eric. "I received the orders. They were clear. Anyone associated with de Castro was to be eliminated. I put out the word that Rubio was not to be touched and then I headed to his home. There has been trouble here, trouble-makers." Pam touched Rick's arm, steering him to the couch.

Rick had an idea what the woman was talking about. George Hermosa told him takeovers were violent, and his own Mother told him vampires held human life cheap. "I couldn't leave Lily Hermosa undefended. There are vampires here who thrive on death and they would have seen killing her as easy and justified. Those orders gave them all the excuse they needed." The vampire speaking seemed uncomfortable, "There were many deaths here. I have had several calls from Makers already, demanding that I exact retribution from some of those who were more enthusiastic. It will take some time to sort things out. It's not an excuse. I am just trying to explain how things got out of hand."

"I am not blaming you, Indira," Eric looked relaxed, but Rick could see his eyes were hard. "No one knew she was with the team here. Things had to move quickly."

Indira bowed lower, "I knew she was here," she told the King. Rick jumped at the hiss that came from Pam. "Sookie was here. She came to the club with the others, the night before the takeover. I could tell she was uncomfortable being here. When I left to rescue Lily, it didn't occur to me that Sookie would be in danger. I didn't think of her as being part of de Castro's entourage. She…" and the vampire bowed lower, her face almost touching her knees, "She was one of us."

Eric didn't say anything, but Rick felt the tension in the room, coiling like a great snake around all of them. He found he was holding his breath, and then the woman seated in the chair just behind Indira said, "I was in the warehouse the next night. Sookie was not among those I found."

"You should leave," Eric's eyes hadn't left the bowing vampire. "It would be best if you were to take an extended vacation. I will let you know when you should return."

For whatever reason, Pam grabbed Rick's arm. She watched the retreating vampire, and Rick saw that Indira was crying blood. Pam didn't say anything, but a look passed between them and Rick could see they were friends.

"The warehouse was cleaned," the seated vampire continued speaking as if Indira had never been there. "I suspect it was done by whoever killed them. Perhaps they were worried about police. They used bleach, but they were sloppy. There was trace everywhere, and, of course, the bodies remained. Beheaded…" and she stopped talking and waited.

"Could you pick up anything? Any trace she was there?" Eric asked.

"I could smell humans," the female nodded, "and I identified Rubio. He was there."

"The human woman who was killed, the one Angie hired from the temporary service. Her death is going to be a problem," the Were started talking. He hadn't turned around when Rick and Pam entered the office. He seemed tense, but Rick thought it could just be that his shoulders were so large. He looked as if he'd been stuffed in the chair he was sitting in and it must have made him uncomfortable. "The company told us that if they can't reach her soon, they intend to file a missing person report with the police."

"We could just glamour them," Pam spoke up from the couch.

"How many people do you intend to visit?" the Were's words were sharp. He turned so Pam could see how little he thought of her, and that's when he saw Rick. His eyes widened, and Rick watched Pam's satisfied smile. The Were continued to stare for a minute more before turning back to Eric, "We have no idea whether she has family or how connected she was. It will be nearly impossible to erase or change what people think became of her."

"Start with the temporary service," Eric's tone made clear he wanted it done yesterday. "I will need you to arrange a reason to meet their representative after sunset, and I will provide someone to handle it. It doesn't have to be elaborate." Eric's grimace made clear he didn't think much of the Were. "Temporary services are just that. All they have to tell people is that she didn't show up for our job and they don't know where she is. This is not difficult and there is no reason it needs to be traced back to us."

"I'm not your servant. You could handle this yourself," the Were snapped.

"No, you're a Shreveport Packmaster talking to the new vampire King of Louisiana. You live here and our peoples have business together. Felipe de Castro was not your friend. You know me. You know I'll do better by you…or not. You lead your Pack. How do you want to play this?" Rick watched his Father lean back in the chair. He never raised his voice. He didn't sound angry or annoyed. He was simply laying out what any reasonable person should know, and that the outcome didn't matter one way or the other to him, personally.

"I'll arrange it," the Were's voice was sulky.

"Then, we know what we need to do," and Eric grinned as if they were all best of friends.

When the King rose, the two sitting in front of him did, too, and Pam signaled to Rick that they were going. As he started toward the door, the Were paused and bowed to Pam. His eyes rested on Rick, "Who are you?" he asked. When Eric came to stand beside him, the Were said to the King, "I don't know what you're planning on doing with him, but a vampire turned this young is going to cause humans to talk. They notice these things now and it causes problems."

"He won't be young forever," Eric replied, then before the Were could respond, the King said, "Rick, this is Alcide Herveaux. He is the Packmaster of the LongTooth Pack. They are based here in Shreveport. There are other Were Packs in Louisiana. In time, you will meet all of the Packmasters." Then, turning to the Were, he said, "Alcide, this is my son, Rick."

Alcide's eyes narrowed as he stared at Rick's outstretched hand, but the female vampire bowed, "It is a pleasure to meet you," she spoke directly to Rick. "I heard a rumor about you. You are Sookie's as well?"

"She's my Mom," Rick stammered. He stayed focused on the female vampire. The way the Were was staring at him didn't feel friendly. Pam must have thought so, too, because she moved a little closer to Rick's side.

"I'm Heidi," the vampire continued. "I'm a tracker. Don't worry. I'll find your Mom."

"What's wrong, Alcide?" Pam purred, "Cat got your tongue?"

"What is he?" the Packmaster growled.

"Mine," Eric growled, too. For some reason, the way Eric said it made Rick feel safe and he wondered if this was part of what had attracted his mother, but then he figured probably not. His Mom was too independent. She didn't like it when people presumed too much, and she made it clear that she didn't need anyone to take care of her; Susan Hale took care of everyone else.

"It just gets better and better," the Were was grumbling, but he didn't sound angry. "I'll contact Pam when I have a time for the temp people," and he nodded at Pam and then he nodded to Rick, too, before he left.

"You look better," Eric's face was a mask. Rick couldn't tell if he was angry, but he didn't seem like it.

"Yeah," Rick shrugged, "I… I fed." It sounded weird, the words. He glanced up and Eric guessed right.

"That is the right phrase," Eric nodded, then looking at Pam, "You will need to drive yourself. Karin has been given an assignment, but let Thalia know I want her there with us." He glanced at Heidi, "Come with me. We will start at the warehouse. Maybe if we search the area we can determine what direction Rubio took."

Rick half-expected Eric to ask him to come along with him, but he didn't. Instead, the King turned away without saying one word and walked out the back door. Rick's disappointment must have shown because Pam said, "Don't take it personally. He's distracted." When Rick shrugged, she decided to explain further, "Your Mother's disappearance is weighing on him. He's not thinking of anything else."

"I guess that's something," Rick mumbled.

Pam sniffed, "And thank you for letting me know so clearly where I fall in your pecking order. I've been nothing but nice to you and all you can do is let me know you'd rather ride with Eric? You'd break my heart, if I had one."

Years of his Mother's drilling in manners and etiquette kicked in, "I'm sorry," Rick apologized. "I didn't mean to…"

"Oh, that was so worth it!" Pam purred. "You should see yourself! So guilty I could spoon it off you!" She arched her eyebrow, "Useful to know. Very useful," then walking past him, she called, "If you are coming with me you'd better move. Eric didn't say you had to come either, and I could just as easily leave you here. I'm sure Karin would love to spend more time entertaining you."

Rick didn't hesitate and in no time, Pam and Rick were driving through the streets of Shreveport. The wheels never squealed, but the minivan was still going way over the speed limit. Pam was dressed in a pale skirt and a pink sweater set. She had heeled shoes and pearls and with her hair pulled back, she looked like the rich, spoiled trophy wives who came into Chester during Parent's Weekends, but she drove like a bat out of hell. Rick chuckled, and when Pam questioned him, he explained, "You remind me of my Mom. You look one way, but underneath you're something else."

"We're all like that," Pam shrugged. "Welcome to life as a Supe." Rick nodded, but it occurred to him that the same could be said of some humans, too.

They pulled into the parking area in front of a boarded-up building in an industrial section of town. The car Rick knew was his Father's was already there. He didn't see Heidi, the tracker, or his Father, but Rick did see another vampire standing near a second car whom he recognized as Thalia, the vampire who had first taken him to his Father. When Rick and Pam pulled over and got out, Thalia approached them.

"Pam," Thalia bowed. "I heard about Indira. She's lucky he didn't hand her the final death."

"Indira is a strong ally and good friend," Pam replied, "I hope this all blows over quickly, otherwise I'll have to find someone else to run Area 5."

"Area 5? George Hermosa told me about that," Rick interrupted. "He told me my Father was Sheriff here."

"That was true," Thalia wasn't smiling. She stared at Rick in a way that made him feel like a bug under a magnifying glass. After an uncomfortable moment, she turned her head, and walked toward where Eric and Heidi had emerged. They were coming out of the warehouse and Heidi kept walking across the front of the building and then around the corner and back out of sight.

"Thalia is fiercely loyal to Eric," Pam whispered. "For all she is not related by the blood, Thalia would fight to the death for the King."

"She's pretty scary," Rick whistled. "I wouldn't want to meet her in some dark alley."

"Not unless she was on your side," Pam agreed. "Come on," and they walked toward where Eric and Thalia had also disappeared.

Heidi was standing near the side of the building, "Rubio waited here for some time. Perhaps he was hiding…" Heidi walked away from the building, first forward, and then to the side. She was sniffing and peering around her. She walked toward the back of the property where there was a break in the chain link fence. "Sookie and Rubio were both here," she announced. She lowered her head close to the jagged metal. "They brushed against this. Since we can assume Sookie came with the others in Felipe's group, I think it's safe to say that this is where Rubio brought her afterward to get her away."

Eric thought about what he'd seen inside. They had found the vampire who was being interviewed that night. He described how those who came to kill de Castro's people had let him and his team go. He confirmed that there had been two women inside, and identified one as Sookie Stackhouse from her photograph. Eric knew based on the photographs he'd seen that were taken after the killing that Sookie wasn't among those found dead on the warehouse floor.

The vampires responsible for massacring Felipe's audit team and Angie had since fled the state once it became known that the woman who was missing was Sookie Stackhouse, the new King's former wife. The mercenaries decided it was better to be safe than sorry. The circumstances of the divorce between the North Man and Sookie Stackhouse were common gossip, but so was the Viking's agreement to adding extra time on his marriage contract in exchange for his human's protection. The last news of the mercenaries had them heading deep into Zeus territory on their way to Canada and beyond.

It was inconvenient. The killers would have been able to tell Eric exactly what happened that night and whether Sookie was injured before she left with Rubio. Heidi said she wasn't sure, that maybe some trace of the blood inside might have been the telepath's. The garment she was using to establish Sookie's scent was in her pocket.

"They had a car," Heidi told the vampires. "Footprints here, and tire treads." Heidi looked around the weed-filled lot. "We're in the middle of the city. The streets here connect to highways and the neighborhood. They could have gone anywhere."

Rick heard a growl, low and menacing, and he realized it was coming from his Father. The hair on the back of neck was standing and he realized he wouldn't want to meet Eric Northman in a dark alley either.

"It would have been late," Pam reasoned. "Rubio would know they needed to lie low and wait out the day."

"The word identifying him as your agent didn't travel very far," Thalia confirmed to Eric. "I know for a fact that Indira was just ahead of those who were on their way to execute Lily Hermosa. Rubio had no idea that the thugs would go after his wife, but he would have known to be cautious about showing himself. Even believing his wife was safe, he still wouldn't have taken Sookie to his house because he wouldn't have wanted to draw danger there either." Thalia gave Eric a direct stare, "I also know Rubio didn't have any safe houses. He was supporting his human wife's three children. Lily and Rubio sent the children away to private schools and it was taking all of his disposable income to keep them there."

"Besides, if he had a safe house and they reached it, we would have heard from them by now," Pam reasoned.

"So, where would he take her?" Heidi asked.

"Sookie has nowhere left here," Eric seemed to be lost in thought. "She couldn't trust her brother. He hates vampires and would have denied Rubio shelter. She wouldn't have gone to Merlotte…"

"Mom told me her old house is somewhere around here. Wouldn't she have just gone there?" Rick piped up. The vampires turned to look at him.

"Your mother sold her house," Eric explained.

"I know, she told me that she did sell it, but she also told me that if she ever wanted it back, she was pretty sure she could have it," Rick replied. "Mom sounded like the house was kind of waiting for her."

"How did she know that?" Pam exclaimed. She turned toward Eric, "I bought the house. I kept it exactly how it was, furniture, landscaping, everything. I didn't even change the locks. Cataliades arranged everything."

"Why did you do that?" Eric asked his daughter.

"For you," Pam said simply, then she turned back to Rick, "but that still doesn't explain how Sookie knew about it."

Rick shrugged, "Uncle Desmond told her."

"Uncle Desmond?" the Viking's eyebrow lifted, but he didn't look pleased. He turned to Thalia, "Do you know where is 'Uncle Desmond' at the moment?"

Thalia checked the time on her phone, "The demon should be in California driving to see the Clan Chief." Thalia was smiling, and it wasn't pretty. She punched at her phone and held it to her ear. When the connection was made, she handed the phone to Eric.

The King walked away from where they were standing. Rick could tell he was talking to someone, but all he could make out was a sound that was more hiss than words. It went on for awhile, and then Eric walked back, tossed the phone to Thalia, and said, "We are going to Bon Temps."

Rick found himself watching Eric, hoping the vampire would look his way and invite him to come with him in his car, but it didn't happen. Instead, Eric beckoned to Heidi again. The Viking didn't even glance at Rick. Instead, he blurred to his car vamp speed, and Heidi did, too. They were in the car and roaring away, leaving Rick just standing there until Pam said, "Well, are we going?"

"He's an asshole," Rick grumbled, following Pam.

"It's why we love him!" Pam chuckled, but when they got into the van, Rick turned to look out his window again. "You're pouting!" she accused him.

"It's my Mom!" Rick said, not turning around. He felt tears prickling and his throat was tight. "I guess I thought if I found my Dad, he would help me, but he is not," and Rick felt his fear starting to choke him. "He doesn't want me around at all."

"You know I can feel him, right?" Pam reminded the tween. When Rick didn't respond, Pam sighed. She was on the road now, her speed winding past seventy as they swung up the ramp and on to the interstate. "Believe me, he knows you're here! He's feeling…"

"Distracted, yeah, you said," Rick could hear the whining in his voice.

"Afraid," Pam told him. Rick did look at her then. "He's afraid, and it's the first time I've felt that from him in hundreds of years."

"Does he think my Mom is dead?" Rick asked, and his stomach churned.

"I don't think so," Pam shook her head. "But whatever he's thinking, it's making him uncertain, and that's new territory for Eric. You're new territory." Pam's smile was grim, "Try to see this from his perspective. Eric thought he knew what was lying ahead of him: a takeover, a kingdom. But now? It's possible that Eric could finally get everything he's ever wanted, and it could be he's worried that it will be like before. His happiness will be just at his fingertips and something will happen to yank it all away."

"He wasn't happy before?" Rick asked.

"He loves your Mother," and Pam looked back to the road.

As the miles started to move past, Pam started to hum a song, and Rick pulled out his pennywhistle. "You want me to play?" he asked. When Pam nodded, he deliberately chose quieter songs, ballads and lullabies. The making of music allowed him to feel calmer, too. He thought about his Mother and things Aunt Fran had said over the years. He found that his playing was like a prayer, wishing that at the end of tonight he would find her and she would hug him, the way she always did, and everything would be all right.

It didn't seem that long before they were turning off the highway and driving through quieter country. The headlights of Thalia's car were behind them, but the tail lights of Eric's car had disappeared some time ago. Pam slowed and took a turn off the road. After a bit, she came to a fork in the road. There was a cemetery in front of them, the headstones gleaming dully in the moonlight. Pam turned left, and after a short drive, turned into a crushed stone driveway. They pulled forward until they reached an area in front of a small, two-story house and parked next to Eric's car. Rick noticed the house was painted in some bright color and the light on the front porch was on.

Rick and Pam got out of the van. Thalia had pulled up behind them and she got out of her car, too. Rick looked at the house, "Is this where…"

"It's your Mother's house, yes," Pam walked to the front steps. The screen door was shut, but the front door was open. There were lights on in the house and Rick figured Eric and the tracker were already inside. Rick reluctantly followed Pam up the front stairs. There was no furniture on the porch, but there was a porch swing suspended from rafters.

Eric walked briskly out the front door, "She was here!" he told Pam. "Heidi smelled her inside."

"And Rubio?" Pam asked.

"He was here, too. The lights were on when we arrived. It must have been them. They must have thought they would return, otherwise, Sookie would have turned the lights out."

"There's no food," Heidi walked out onto the porch as well. "It's likely they needed supplies."

Eric nodded, "Sookie knows the places around here that are open. Maybe they went to a grocery store."

Rick wandered past the talking vampires and into the house. The furniture inside was old and it had that shabby, welcoming look, like the furniture in their family apartments in Chester. Rick wandered through to a kitchen that stretched across the whole back of the house. The cabinet doors were all closed and the counters were covered with a light film of dust. There was a heavy, iron skillet hanging on a hook in the wall, and Rick could imagine his Mother standing at the stove, using the skillet to cook her chicken.

Rick turned around and headed back into the front room. He noticed the fireplace that was located on the far wall. It looked well-used. There was a chair and it reminded him of his Mom's chair at home, the one draped with that old, ugly afghan. His throat hurt as he thought about how she looked, settled next to the blaze, the afghan covering her knees. She told him his Grandmother had made the blanket, and he could see it here, making this place his Mother's home.

"It was her favorite place." Rick spun around. Eric Northman was standing so close, Rick almost hit him. Rick stepped back, so he could see the vampire properly. Eric wasn't looking at him, though, he was staring at the fireplace. "She liked me to start the fire," he said. "We would read. She knew some of the books so well, she could almost recite them from memory."

"Jane Austen," Rick said.

The vampire looked down at him then, "Persuasion," he nodded.

"And "Wuthering Heights"," Rick bit his lip.

"I never understood her obsession with Heathcliff," and Eric smiled.

"Do you think she's dead?" It was the question that kept repeating over and over again in Rick's head.

The vampire's eyes tightened, and then he seemed to make an effort to appear more relaxed. "There's no reason to think that," he sounded confident. "Your Mother… She is resourceful…clever." He looked back at the fireplace. "She is brave. She fights. I think if she were dead, I would know." Eric didn't look so confident at the moment, but still it made Rick feel better.

"I think I'd know, too," Rick breathed. "And I don't feel it. I don't think she's gone." Rick looked around again, "Are we going to wait here for her to return?"

"No," Eric shook his head. "Thalia and Pam are considering what to do next. Heidi says your Mother hasn't been in this house in two days, maybe three. Pam is making calls to check with local people Sookie might have contacted. Thalia has left another message for the demon. It's possible that your Mother and Rubio decided to drive back to where you come from."

"Chester?" Rick didn't think that was right.

"Where is Chester?" Eric asked.

"Massachusetts," Rick told him without hesitation. "It's not like here, although where we live, it does kind of look like this inside," and he gestured toward the furniture and the small knick knacks around them.

"Sookie living in the cold north," and Eric smiled, but then his face sobered, "I can feel that it is important that we find her soon." Eric stalked back outside to stand on the porch. and Rick followed. They stood together, side by side, looking out at the tree line that surrounded the yard.

"It seems hard to think of my Mom living here," Rick said. "I can understand why she said it was pretty lonely. At home, Mom's always got folks around. She says she likes the noise they make."

"When she lived here, your Mother told me how important this place was to her," Eric seemed far away again. "Her telepathy wasn't so well controlled then, and she needed the quiet to recover. Still, she seemed to have a number of friends." He looked at the boy standing beside him, "She never told me she was lonely. She told me she needed her independence and I honored that. She had no desire to…" and then the vampire looked away.

Rick had a pretty good idea that Eric was going to say something he thought Rick would take as a slight, so he shared what his Mother had told him. "Mom said she didn't get to see you much." He remembered the way his Mother's face had grown wistful, sitting on his bed in Chester, talking about the vampire standing next to him. "I guess you were too busy with work back then to have a lot of time for her. She did tell me that when you had time and you were together that she was happy."

"Your Mother has an interesting memory," Eric's voice was clipped, and Rick was pretty sure the vampire was angry. "Your Mother told me she wished to maintain her freedom. I wished to spend more time with her. I wished her to live in my house." Eric's eyebrows drew together. "There were complications. Still, she did not lie. When we were together, we were happy." Eric's eyes moved to the porch swing. "I believe you were made there," he said, and then glanced at the boy.

Rick couldn't help himself. He looked at the swing and then rolled his eyes to hide his embarrassment. "Didn't need that image," he mumbled to cover his discomfort, and then purposefully looked away.

To distract himself from thoughts of his Mother having sex with Eric, Rick concentrated on the dots of light he couldn't stop from forming in his brain. He focused his attention on the dots that moved on an imaginary grid, dots he knew represented vampires. Rick thought about each of the glowing dots and put names and places to each of them.

"Do you think my Mom and Mr. Hermosa would have stopped to talk with the vampires down the road?" Rick asked.

"What vampires?" Eric asked and Rick gestured in the direction of the cemetery they'd passed.

"Over there," he told the King. "I can 'see' them."

Pam was suddenly standing next to them on the porch. She was looking at Eric in a way that had Rick wondering if somehow the King summoned her.

"Is Bill Compton still living in the house on the other side of the cemetery?" Eric asked.

"He is," It was Thalia who answered the question. "I've been keeping tabs on him. He never abandoned the house, although he does not interact with the humans here as he once did. He hasn't changed much, the same sniveling boot licker he always was. My reports are that he runs some kind of software business out of the house now. He keeps the occasional playmate, but he hasn't caused any trouble. de Castro hated him. He thought Compton was purposely screwing up to cheat the King out of income."

Eric glanced toward Rick, "You're sure there is more than one vampire there?"

When Rick nodded, Eric turned to the others, "There is no reason to assume that Compton would mean Sookie harm. Unless something has changed, it's likely to be the opposite. He wanted her and he thought that when I left she would return to him. He was disappointed."

Rick's eyes widened. His mother had only talked about one other boyfriend before his Father, and it hadn't occurred to Rick that it might be another vampire. Rick was still finding it strange to think of his Mother as having dated or having been married at all. In all the time he'd known her, his Mother hadn't had any real romantic attachments.

Pam and Thalia started moving toward their cars. "No," Eric hissed, "It is better to walk there. There is no need to alert Compton to our visit." Rick took a step to join Pam and Thalia, but strong arms grabbed him from behind and before he could protest, Rick was in the air, the wind rushing past his face.

"I'm flying!" he squeaked.

"Yes," said the voice near his ear, "but it's time to stay quiet." Eric landed them behind a huge tree, not far from the front door of a classic Southern house. There were no lights on, but Rick didn't need them. The location of the vampires inside was playing out like moving lights behind his eyes.

Eric became very still. Rick started to ask a question, but Eric signaled him to silence, and then pointed toward the parking area. Rick saw two cars in the driveway, a Ford Focus and slightly larger car. "He has company," Eric whispered. "It may be Rubio."

Pam and Thalia were suddenly there, standing by them. Heidi came next, her movement a blur. Eric waited for them to settle, then asked Rick in a low voice, "Tell me again how many vampires are inside."

"Two," Rick whispered. "One is walking around upstairs. The other is staying put, near the back," and Rick pointed toward the right side of the first floor.

"Circle the house," Eric instructed the other vampires. "Compton is probably the one upstairs. He may try to escape through the windows or off the porch," and Rick found his eyes drawn to the wide furnished porch that ran across the front of the second story. "Don't kill him!" Eric was cautioning the others. "I want to question him."

The Viking told Thalia, "You will come inside. If Sookie is in there, Compton may have hidden her."

"You think my Mom's inside?" Rick was suddenly afraid. Although he didn't need light to see, he knew his Mom did. The thought of her in that dark, silent house made his heart beat hard and his palms sweat.

"I don't know. I can no longer feel her." It seemed like an odd thing for Eric to say, but Rick didn't think the vampire was being sarcastic. Instead, his voice was calm. "But if Rubio is here, then it is likely that Sookie is here, too, or close by." The Viking laid his hand on Rick's shoulder. "You must stay here," and he brought his face close to Rick's. "If Compton has her, he will fight to keep her. If you get in the way, you could be hurt."

"She's my Mom!" Rick hissed in frustration. "I want to help!"

The Viking's hand was against his face, the palm cradling his cheek. It was a surprising move and Rick stood taller. "You are so like her," Eric said, his voice husky. "I will tie you to the tree if I must, but it would be best if you did as you are told. Wait here until I call you. Don't endanger us by forcing us to defend you. We will call once things are secure."

Eric stared, and the other vampires stared, too. Rick realized they were waiting for his answer, so he nodded once.

"Maybe we should make him promise," Pam drawled.

"I agreed, didn't I?" Rick snapped.

Eric eyed him, but didn't insist on Rick saying the words. In an instant, they were gone, blurs moving toward the house. Thalia stopped at the front door, and Eric flew up to the second story porch. Rick could see Pam in the front yard. He assumed Heidi had gone around to the back of the house. Rick watched them move then, entering the darkness.