Life and Death in New Orleans
A Let Love In side story
By Terri Botta
Disclaimer: I don't own the Southern Vampires. Sole copyright belongs to Charlaine Harris. I'm poor so don't sue.
Rating: M for later chapters.
Timeframe: Post-From Dead to Worse
Summary: Eric and Sookie head down to New Orleans to take care of business.
A/N: This is the next short story in the LLI universe. It follows Let Love In, Kodak Moment and Best Laid Plans. If you have not read Let Love In, this story will make no sense to you. It takes place in early March 2006. In 2006, New Orleans had its first Mardi Gras after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the city. It was a small Mardi Gras, and Fat Tuesday was on Feb 28th, 2006. LDiNOLA takes place on the Sunday immediately following Mardi Gras, so it is March 5th, 2006.
Life and Death in New Orleans
She helps him dye his hair. She has never done such a thing before, but he is a master of disguise and well versed in these arts. A thousand years of pretending to be something he is not has given him a decided edge. Back then it was lead oxide and henna, now it is L'oreal. The procedure is much the same.
She hands him the bottles of dye and developing cream, much like a Norseman's wife would hand him his shield and sword. These are the weapons he will take into battle. He puts on long latex gloves and a smock, then he heavily coats his face, neck and ears with petroleum jelly to protect it from the dye. The color must look natural or else they will rouse suspicion.
They have been careful, so careful. No one can trace the purchase of the dye back to either of them, nor the other… acquisitions they have procured for their mission. Some of the items would have raised many eyebrows, but Tom Collins is a nobody. Just a name on a credit card and an address. No one is the wiser. No one suspects, not even his beloved Pam who he has purposefully left in the dark for her own protection.
He mixes the dye and developer in the squeeze bottle – ah the wonders of plastic. It has greatly minimized the mess of the procedure. His mate has covered the bathroom floor with a cotton drop cloth. It will be burned when they are finished, and the plastics taken with them to dispose of somewhere along the way. There must be no evidence left for anyone to find.
She sits on the commode and watches him as he spreads the mixed dye on his scalp and long tresses. He uses two full bottles of blue-black colorant and makes sure the coating is even by combing through his hair with a wide-toothed comb. It, too, will be disposed of once it has served its purpose. Once the dye is applied, she hands him the clear processing cap and helps him put it on, tucking all of his sodden locks into the plastic snood.
He knows she wants to laugh, but the seriousness of their mission keeps her silent. He smiles for her and whispers something about how it will be the last time she ever sees him in a smock and shower cap. She snickers and says she'll dress him up as Dr. Frankenstein for Halloween so she can put him a "mad scientist's" lab coat and gloves.
"No, no," he says. "I would rather be that mean doctor from Scrubs. The one everyone fears."
That gets a real laugh out of her.
When the fifteen-minute processing time is over, he instructs her to wait ten minutes before filling the soaking tub with hot water. He will need it to warm up when he gets back. Then he goes out into the cold March night and finds a clear running stream to dunk himself in because he will not rinse out the dye anywhere near any of their nests, especially their Ruston house. When he finds what he needs, he strips off his clothes and immerses himself in the frigid water. It is a good thing vampires can't die of hypothermia because it takes a long time to wash out all of the coloring.
When he is done, his hair is ebony. Perfect.
On his way back, he lights the fire that he has already laid in a pit adjacent to the driveway. He throws the gloves and smock and his clothes into it, then enters the house naked. His mate gasps when he returns. He thinks his appearance shocks her. Even though she knew what he was doing, and watched him do it, somehow the sight of him with black hair still startles her. She reaches out to touch it lightly, as if she is afraid it is a mirage.
"It's all wrong on you," she whispers.
He gives her a tender smile. "Not to worry, my lover. I will shave it all off, and it will grow back its natural blonde over the course of the day."
"Will you save it?"
"No. We'll burn it like we agreed."
"I don't know which will be worse. Seeing you like this, or seeing you with shorn hair." Her eyes fill up with tears. "It seems so terrible for you to do this. I love your hair."
He wants to kiss her, but he is ice cold from his bath in the stream. "When I was alive, to cut a man's hair and shave his beard was a punishment. Men who were disgraced were shorn and shaved. But what I have done is no penance, my love. It is a willing sacrifice. And my hair will be back by Tuesday. Two days is not all that long a time."
She leaves him long enough to tend the pyre outside, and to add the towels and drop cloth to the flames, then she returns to sit beside him on the edge of the tub as he soaks the chill out of his dead body. They had sex earlier, but now they will not have sex again until at least they get to New Orleans. He thinks this is a pity because she is wound up tighter than a spring and an orgasm or two would do wonders for her stress. But she is not "in the mood," and he feels this. He could push the issue, but he chooses not to. They are on a limited timetable.
"Is everything ready?" he asks.
"Yes, I put the bags in the truck."
There is a late model pick-up with South Dakota plates sitting in the driveway. It will be junked in less than 48-hours.
"Excellent, my lover. Do you have everything you need laid out?"
She swallows and nods, and her reluctance gives him pause.
"You can still change your mind, you know," he tells her.
She gets that stubborn look on her face that he both dreads and adores, and shakes her head. "No. It's the best disguise. No one will ever suspect us."
"That is very true, but if the ruse hurts you…"
"I'm okay with it," she says swiftly.
He doesn't believe her, but he also does not push that issue either. It is something he can do nothing about, so dredging the realities into the light will do them no good.
He is warm enough now so he rises from the tub, sloshing water on the floor purposefully just to tease her because his refusal to tidy up after himself is an ongoing argument. He hears her exasperated sigh and feels her irritation as he carelessly leaves a trail of wet footprints and dye-stained towels behind him. He laughs when he hears her cursing under her breath – as if he cannot hear the litany of admonishments coming from her mind.
He goes to "her" bedroom because there is a vanity there with a lit mirror and a supply of cosmetics that he purchased specifically for this night. His hair is still damp, so he pats it down with yet another towel that he drops on the floor just as she comes stomping in, and he smirks at her as she grabs it and stomps down the hall to throw it with the others onto the pyre outside. They bought two six-packs of cheap bath towels at Wal-mart, knowing they would be burned once they were used. Again, there must be no evidence. No scrap or clue left behind.
He pulls on the long-sleeved, flannel shirt and faded, second-hand jeans he bought for his disguise, and sits at the vanity, perusing his choices and deciding what is next.
'Hair,' he concludes, and begins brushing his black locks in preparation for putting them into two long braids that will be wrapped in red cloth.
His mate comes in and sits quietly on the bed, bearing witness to his transformation from undead Viking to red skinned warrior. She watches as he separates his hair along a central part and braids it quickly. The strips of red cotton are already laid out and waiting, and he sees her looking at him in the mirror as he winds the cloth around each braid, tying it off at the bottom by tucking it into itself. The Lakota didn't have safety pins.
When his hair is done, he takes the box of cosmetic powders and mixes a paint for his skin. It is different than the usual light makeup he uses for photographs. No, this paint will make him look alive again, give his white skin the deep red tan of a man born in the sun and out in it all his life. He sees his mate's eyes open wide as he applies the mixed foundation to his face, making sure to get his ears and throat, and gives his skin an even coating of the color. He blends it into his hair, but he is not too concerned about the hairline. He has a hat for his head.
He uses mixed kohl to color his eyebrows the same hue as his hair and powders the matte makeup to seal it. When he is finished all that is left is for him to put in the colored contact lenses that will turn his blue eyes dark brown, but he will not put them in until the last moment because they irritate his eyes. He finishes off his costume with genuine Native American jewelry: a pipe bone choker, a dangling turquoise earring (his mate gasped when he just shoved the post through his ear lobe), a bear claw necklace, and carved bone buffalo belt buckle. The only non-costume pieces of jewelry he wears are his Hammer, Elena's ring of protection and his platinum wedding band, and he smiles at them fondly. It is almost a shame to cover the rings with the gloves he will use to hide his pallor and prevent fingerprints.
When his metamorphosis is complete, he turns to face his bonded, looking at her from his seat. She covers her mouth with her hands and shakes her head.
"I wouldn't recognize you if stood in front of me with your fangs down," she whispers, her eyes wide.
He smiles. "That is a high compliment if I can fool my very own wife and bonded."
His mention of her as his wife makes her glance down at her left hand, and he sees the light flash off her wedding ring. He reaches out to grasp her palm and kisses the platinum band with its small inset of diamonds. It does not look like a piece of jewelry that is worth what he paid for it, but the finger that bears it is priceless.
"I should play dress-up for you more often. I'm told I make a very convincing queen," he teases.
She laughs. "I can't imagine you in stockings and heels."
He grins. "You obviously never paid much attention to the fashion of Europe in the 18th Century."
She snickers as he stands, bending to kiss her, but she pulls back.
"Won't that mess up your makeup?" she asks.
He shakes his head. "No, my lover. This makeup was designed to last all day under hot lights and weather. It isn't going anywhere until I take it off."
"Oh," she says and smiles as his lips touch hers. "You look like a real Indian. Are you going to carry me off like a red raider and ravish me until I beg for mercy?"
"That might be a fun game for later. I think I remember a few Sioux war cries."
"Just so long as you don't try to scalp me," she warns playfully.
"Never. I adore your hair," he murmurs, kissing her again.
She deepens the kiss, needing the contact and reassurance. He strokes her back comfortingly, and lets her take what she needs from him, because now it is her turn to sit at the vanity, and she must begin her own metamorphosis. Her disguise is not nearly as involved or complex as his own, but her transformation will be nearly as startling.
She places herself in the spot he just vacated and relaxes as he brushes her hair until it is very smooth. There is a wig for her to wear so he takes her long, blond locks and pulls them back, securing them with a band at the nape of her neck. Then he folds her hair up over her head and holds it in place while he fits the wig cap on from the nape forward, flattening her hair underneath the snug material and tucking in the loose ends until all of it is hidden under the cap.
"I know you've done this before, but it's still strange to see how well you do it," his mate says in a conversational tone that is anything but.
He shrugs and makes sure no tendrils are peeking out. She is thinking about the last time she wore a wig – in Dallas on that fateful day she was trapped and almost raped by that son of a bitch from the Fellowship of the Sun. Had that blood bag succeeded in violating her, he would have known no bounds to deliver his retribution. Not even Compton would have believed the violence he would have visited upon Gabe had the human survived his meeting with Godfrey, and Sookie hadn't even been his at that time. Had she been his… Well, lets just say that there would have been many more casualties than there actually were that night, and Gabe would have been begging for death. As far as he is concerned Godfrey hadn't made him suffer nearly enough.
He huffs to clear the red haze that has fallen over his vision. His bonded felt his irritation, but she recognized its source, so she stayed quiet and still until he shook it off. He smiles at her, and kisses the wig cap, before fitting the auburn-colored, shoulder length hairpiece onto her head.
He remembers that the wig Compton bought for her was short and brown. The color was all wrong for her eyes and skin tone. Even if Isabel's human pet hadn't betrayed them, her disguise would have been discovered. Not so with any of his disguises. He has chosen a color that will not raise flags, and no one will be able to tell that it is not her natural hair by the time he finishes with her.
Once the wig is in place, he colors her eyebrows with dark red powder just enough to make them match the color of the hairpiece. She recently went to the tanning salon so her skin has a summery glow to it, but he dusts her face with a slightly darker shade just to even out the tone. She has contacts that will turn her blue eyes green, but they, like his own, will go in last.
The most significant part of his bonded's disguise is not the makeup, but the prosthetic she had him purchase. Fitted over her shoulders and tied to her waist, it will give her the appearance of pregnancy once she is dressed. There were many models to choose from in the on-line store, but she chose the one that will make her look six months along – enough to be showing, but not so much as to make her uncomfortable or unable to get around easily.
It was all her idea. He would never open that wound on purpose.
He helps her fit the stuffed bodice so that it rests in the proper place just below her breasts. There were models with built-in extra padding there, but his mate has enough natural bounty so as to not need it. Their feelings are mixed as she slips the blue floral maternity dress over her head and buttons up the front. Warm, calf-high sheepskin boots will hide her non-existent swollen ankles.
His eyes meet hers, and he once again offers her a way out.
"You don't have to do this."
She shakes her head. "No. No one will be looking for an Indian and his pregnant wife. It's the best way."
He nods, giving in because it really was a stroke of brilliance, and he was stunned when she suggested it. He never thought she would ever poke that hole in her life with such a sharp stick.
It is not something they have discussed, but he has seen the wistful look she gets in her eyes when she sees a mother and child. He can give her the world, but the one thing he cannot give her is a child from his own loins. He does not say he cannot give her a child. He does not even say that he cannot see to it that she bears her own infant. Technology being what it is these days, if his mate truly wished to become pregnant and give birth, he could see it done.
He can even see to it that she carried a child that could be traced back to his own bloodline. It is a very closely guarded secret that he fathered an illegitimate child while he was alive. He did not know about the boy until after he was turned, but he did discover his existence some years later when he dared to sneak a quick peek to see how his father and mother were faring in his absence. By that time, four of his six siblings were dead, including two of his three brothers and one of his sisters, and all that were left were his little sister, Edda, and his youngest brother, Björn.
Since all one had to do was take a look at the bastard child to know who had sired him, his father had acknowledged the boy and brought him into the household. He'd even named the child Erik in memory of his deceased eldest, and raised him as his own son. Eric had been proud of his father, and proud of the boy who grew up to be a merchant instead of a raider – and thus lived long enough to marry and sire children of his own.
Eric has kept an eye on Erik's descendants, and, theoretically, he can find one of them to use as a donor if his mate wishes to carry a child related to him. He also acknowledges the very real possibility that, if they wait long enough, someone will discover a way to resurrect viable DNA from a vampire's dead flesh, and it could become possible for him to sire a child himself.
He knows that there are many vampires who wish to be able to father children. He thinks he will see this happen in his lifetime, but he doubts it will ever be possible for vampire females to become pregnant. It is one thing to harvest genetic material to use in fertilization. It is another thing entirely to gestate a living thing within a dead one. Even if it were possible, he cannot even begin to imagine how screwed up any child would be that had developed inside a cold womb with no motherly heartbeat to offer comfort and reassurance.
When she is finished putting on her disguise, they face the full-length mirror on the closet door, and look at each other in the reflective surface. Once the contact lenses are in, not even their closest friends will recognize them, but that is the point, isn't it? He does not comment on how it makes him feel to see her looking with child, and the muddy currents of emotions such a vision presents to both of them.
He sees his alternate self nod in the mirror, and his mate nods back. Her hand reaches for his in the image, and he grasps it lightly in his own, threading his fingers into hers. She is his world. His sun and his moon. He will do anything for her, and he is sure that he will before all of this is over.
They wait a moment more, then decide that it is time. He packs up the cosmetics, knowing that they both will need to do touch-ups over the course of the next 36-hours, and does a final check to ensure that they have not forgotten anything. He makes sure he has the cases with the contacts, and the precious box of enchanted mint leaves, then he puts on an old sheepskin coat and a wide-brimmed, black cowboy hat with an assortment of feathers stuck under the band. His mate slips a multi-colored woolen shawl around her shoulders, and she looks like a real Lakota's woman as they head out to their rusted, beat up truck.
He checks the burning pyre on the edge of the driveway, making sure the drop cloth and towels and the clothes he wore to dye his hair are completely reduced to ash. He stirs the smoldering pile to inspect what is left, then, satisfied, he douses the flames with the hose. When it is nothing more than a harmless pile of sodden ash and residual smoke, he buries it and then reaches for his mate and guides her to the truck.
They get in and she finds the little gift he bought her – a small bouquet of Prairie wildflowers wrapped in crinkly paper and placed on the dashboard in front of the passenger seat. She gives him a small smile and raises the flowers to her nose as he turns the key in the ignition and brings the old behemoth to life. It grumbles like an angry bear, and sputters a time or two, but then it lurches into gear and begins rolling down the driveway. He frowns. Nothing about the truck is sleek or fast, but it is all part of their necessary disguises.
He hears her giggle at his irritation, and he manages a smile. Across the ripped and faded bench seat, her hand finds his. He clasps her small palm in his much larger one, sending her courage and strength across their connection, and turns the old pick-up onto the highway, headed south to New Orleans.