A/N- This brief story is a sequel to Dead Wrong and Dead Certain. It details a few things you will be seeing in a much longer sequel titled Scenes from a Marriage.
The Southern Vampire Mysteries and Sookie Stackhouse Series are the creation of Charlaine Harris. I hope she doesn't mind if I play with her characters for a while.
I sat bolt upright in bed and heard myself crying out. Then, as I became more aware, I realized that I was safe at home in our bed. I breathed heavily in the darkness. It was a dream, I told myself. Just a bad dream. Okay, a nightmare… one of the many, but just a nightmare. I was safe. I lay back down and closed my eyes. It was almost as if could still hear the sounds of machine gunfire echoing in my ears. My heart was just pounding. It was so real. Every time. Still, I told myself, it was just a very bad dream.
It was so dark in the room that I could barely make out anything, other than the faint glow that was Eric, and the even fainter glow of me. I reached out and stroked Eric's cool, still cheek. We'd been asleep for just a few hours. Based on experience, I pretty much knew that it must be around 10 am. I reached out and turned the clock toward me so I could see the time and sure enough it was 10:24 am, my usual timeframe to have a nightmare jolt me out of my sleep. Today was a rooftop in Islamabad, with a lot of bloodshed, me getting killed, not saving my friends and really hurting someone I loved in the process. A frequent one lately. My nightmares were back. In spades. Even Neave and Lochlan were making the occasional appearance these days. Maybe three or four of those a month. Eric's or Bill's hand flaking to ash after being amputated was a bit more frequent, although clearly one that I hadn't seen or endured watching personally, so there I was fueled by pure imagination. Sadly, I had a very imaginative mind. The rooftop firefight in Islamabad had rekindled the light in some of the darkest corners of my mind. I wondered if maybe every new trauma you have sheds new light on old trauma. It sure felt that way.
I couldn't get my heart to settle down. I sighed heavily, gave up and got up out of the bed. I paused to turn on the lamp on the nightstand to it's lowest setting and then walked over to the long chest of drawers that now stood in front of the blacked out windows. After pulling on one of Eric's t-shirts, I disconnected my iPhone after from its charger. I looked at his phone and saw the battery was low and connected it to his charger with a sigh. I picked up the socks and underwear that had missed the laundry basked and placed them inside. I walked back to my side of the bed, turned off the light on the nightstand, and used the light from my phone to guide myself out of the room, into the library and over to my little office. Rosie, who'd been sleeping at the foot of the bed, jumped down trotted after me, with her fluffy tail straight up in the air. At least she was happy. Getting her way about sleeping on the bed had been a major victory for Rosie. After my rooms had been connected to Eric's he'd suggested that she could be locked out of the bedroom at night. She promptly began hiding under the bed and coming out at inopportune moments or very, very close to dawn. Seeing my cat stare down a vampire over a thousand years old was really something. She purred and made happy hands while she did so. In the end, Eric had laughed at her and given up.
I sat down on my daybed and Rosie jumped up next to me. I petted her and tried to relax. The building was totally quiet, not a human mind within easy reach, since the nearest human was likely two floors down and on the other side of the building near the kitchen at this time of day. Normally, I'd find the silence relaxing, but typically after these nightmares I just felt keenly alone. Sometimes I felt comforted just staying in bed next to Eric, but sometimes it was frustrating. I suppose it was the downside of loving a vampire. Half the day he just wasn't quite there. Whatever comfort or reassurance was needed was going to have to wait until a few minutes after 5 pm, or maybe if I was lucky, if Eric's mind woke up early, just a bit earlier. But it wasn't like I planned on telling him that I was having terrible nightmares because of my latest little foray into harm's way. He knew I had occasional bad dreams about the fairy fiends, and their charming prince. He knew that in some of those dreams he would die or Bill would die or that I would just go on being endlessly tortured and not die. But he didn't know about my bad dreams about what Felipe de Castro had done to him and to Bill. And he definitely didn't know that I was now plagued with nightmares about that rooftop firefight in Islamabad.
I guess I didn't think Eric would really understand those dreams. An amalgam of guilt and fears of futility all rolled into a scenario in which everything possible went wrong. The potential consequences of going back to get Ahmed and Alla and all those other people out of the embassy had been something I hadn't thought about, however fleetingly, until I was on that roof thinking that I might really actually get killed this time and how that might feel to Eric. I'd chosen to go back because I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I hadn't helped to rescue my friends and the other people in that building. I'd done what I wanted and then thought about what the consequences might be for Eric in the middle of it. If I had gotten killed, it wasn't like being hit by a car or killed in a plane crash or getting sick. I'd made a choice to put myself there. Sometimes I thought my choices made me a really lousy partner.
And then, there was the other guilt factor in my dreams. Killing people, lots of people, more than I could count. The raw feeling of shooting two people directly in the head after yanking Birch out of their sights. And all the ones I shot after that. In those minutes I was definitely not shooting to injure. And I was a damn good shot. One of the guys on the helicopter had even commented on it. Of course it was easy to justify my actions as self-defense, defense of others, of my country, or whatever. But the point was that I had killed a lot of people and it haunted me.
On a practical level, I didn't think telling Eric I was haunted by having killed people who were shooting at me was something that Eric could relate to very well. I mean… after all… No, I really wasn't going to get into my nightmares with Eric. Instead, I did what I had been doing for the past few months. I called Ahmed.
I listened to Mozart on his ringback tone until he picked up. I really liked the Vivaldi one better. It had been more cheerful.
"Hang on, Sash" he said picking up.
I heard him talking in the background ordering a triple shot macchiato. He was in a Starbucks, I guessed.
"Sasha, how are you?" he said, sounding a bit harried.
"How are you? What are you up to?"
"I'm getting ready to fly to New Orleans tonight. I'm going to this freaky wedding of a friend of mine who seriously into vampires. Oh, wait a minute, it's your wedding. Strike that. Progressive. I'm going to a socially progressive wedding. A really racially mixed marriage. It's one of those opportunities to at least look liberal that I so much enjoy."
"Ha, ha, ha, Ahmed."
"So, it's what, 10:30ish in New Orleans? You don't reply about how you are, so I guess that means you had another one, right?"
Yes, it was that predictable. I'd really called him a few too many times with the same problem. I could hear him walking out into the street.
"So where are you?"
"57th and 5th. Trump Tower. I was buying a wedding gift for my aforementioned friend in Tiffany's and felt a dire need for caffeinated sustenance. So what was this one? The usual rooftop debacle? Did we all die, or just Alla and me? Or did you die and I get to break the cheery news to your beloved? Or was this one of the other gruesome ones that you call me about, seeking comfort for that which you will not reveal. Frankly, I still think those sound scarier because I can't imagine how bad they are if you're afraid to tell me what they're about."
I sighed. Ahmed had started to move past sympathy into the range of 'you're stubborn beyond belief that you won't see someone about this shite'. On the other hand, his sarcasm really had a way of settling me down mentally. His sharp edged humor shook me out of my tension much the way Alla's playfulness used to. I couldn't talk to Alla about my Islamabad nightmares, though. She was dealing with her own, and she talked to me about them and I wasn't about to stress her further. Ahmed was more… resilient.
"MmmmHmmm. Rooftop debacle. An accurate description, yes."
"You know, I'm really thinking about telling your big, bad vampire all about this stuff, Sasha."
"You better not. I'm not having as many and so it's getting better. It would just upset him and it would be lousy to upset either one of us right when we're getting married, now wouldn't it? Besides, we go to sleep at the same time and it's not like he could be waking up and doing anything about it. So why make him feel bad about something he can't even help me with?"
"What a load of bollocks, Sasha. I'm betting he'd be more upset about not knowing that you wake up having nightmares after three or four hours of sleep than he'd be about not being able to do anything about it. I spent several days in Walter Reed talking to him, remember. I'm sure he'd be totally pissed off that you are having bad dreams about all this stuff and not telling him. And I don't know about you, but the idea of anyone like him being pissed off at me would be rather daunting. But perhaps you know better, being the charming vampire consort that you are."
"I just knew I could count on you for sympathy and warm support, Ahmed."
"You should count on me to be enough of a friend to tell you that you need more than three or four hours of sleep a day, Sasha. Or that, if our wonderful tour in Islamabad is costing you sleep, you need to see someone and get it worked out. And that the person you're marrying, who you told me you just love so very, very much, when you were under the influence of a load of opiates, would probably be upset not knowing what's going on with you if he's even worth your while. And he seemed to be worthwhile, based on what I saw, no matter who or what he is. You need to see someone or do something to help yourself with it. Really."
"And have you? Seen someone, I mean?"
Ahmed had told me that he, too, had had stress and flashbacks. Loud noises could leave him rattled for hours. Construction in a building neighboring his spacious apartment had left him so rattled he'd needed sleeping pills and his brother had finally stopped prescribing them and told him to see a psychiatrist for a post-traumatic stress evaluation. Alla, who was working for the State Department now, had really serious PTSD but Ahmed didn't know how bad her situation was. She'd been sexually threatened, almost been raped, had been beaten, humiliated. She was in a very bad way after all the hubbub had died down. I'd been shocked at how much the experience had changed something fundamental in her. It was pretty crushing.
"It's very hard to locate a really fluent Arabic speaking therapist, even in Manhattan. It would be difficult to talk about it in English for me. Cursing in particular just lacks verve and color. English is such a sterile language for some things, Sash. And much as I want to think I'm British or American, when I think deep, I think in Arabic still, just as I did when I was a child."
"So basically it's the same bullshit, Ahmed? It's the pot calling the kettle black? I won't go and you won't go, either. What's the difference?"
I heard him get into a taxi and tell the driver his address on 5th.
"Look, what do you want me to tell you? You went back because of Alla and me, and yeah, I guess all those other people, too, and now you're having even more trouble sleeping than before and… I feel bad, Sasha. How can I not feel bad about it? I don't mind being your ear, but clearly I'm out of my depth with some of the other stuff that's happened to you since you won't even tell me about it. And it all started with that other stuff so maybe I think it can't be fixed without digging deeper into that. Islamabad I get, but the other stuff? Allusions to torture? That is serious business and you've obviously had much more happen to you than I can even imagine. It really affects you and I think you should tell Eric. Or I'll have to. It bothers me that you don't tell him something like this. And I really do think you should see someone. Maybe just talking about it will help you." He said something in Arabic to the driver but the driver responded in broken English.
"Ahmed?" I said, snidely.
"Darling?" he said, as dryly as could be.
"I'm talking about it now. With you. Do you really expect me to explain to a therapist why I went back to the Embassy? That I was going to telepathically locate every Westerner in that building along with my two friends? We'd waste several years on the whole telepathy thing before we'd get anywhere at all. And all my other shit? You've got to be kidding me. A waste of my time and money is what that would be. Besides, I've told you before- there's simply no way I can talk to a therapist. Manny tried to get me to see someone when I first started with the Bureau. Call him and ask him. I heard all his thoughts about treating me and it was a mess. Besides, how do I tell a therapist about all the other stuff that's happened to me? Supernatural stuff, Ahmed. No. No way. Just simply no way."
He sighed audibly. He knew I was right. When I'd told him that there was more in the world, or had been, than just vampires, Weres and weres and that some of those beings were absolutely savages or fiends, it was plain that talking to your average mental health professional was pretty much off the table and he knew it.
"So, what was it this time? Did we even make it out of the stairwell in this one?"
I relaxed and stroked Rosie's cheeks. Ahmed was a brick, as he'd say about me sometimes. I smiled ruefully and shook my head.
"Nope. They couldn't find you and Alla. Because I couldn't find you and Alla. We went back and I couldn't sense where you all were. It was like I froze but the clock kept ticking. I was wearing an analog watch and the hands just seemed to spin around faster and faster. We all died on the roof. Even Birch." And Eric felt me die, so I'd finally let him down for good with all my stubbornness and refusal to accept, and really return, his love, returning home, everything. Maybe it was the ultimate in running away, dying.
He sighed again and I heard him paying the driver. He greeted the doorman and continued, as he waited for the elevator,
"So was it like the last one, the gunfire? Or the missiles? What got us? What got you?" he asked in a low voice. Clearly, it wasn't your average polite conversation to be had in the entry area of your swanky 5th Avenue apartment building.
We chatted on for a while about my nightmare, as he rode the elevator to the twelfth floor, and I heard the alarm being disarmed as he exited the elevator. I felt more and more relaxed just talking to him. I envisioned his walking around in the apartment with its different hues of white walls, plate glass windows and all the genuine art on the walls. The apartment was the entire 12th floor, right on 5th and 70th. I'd stayed with him, along with Jamie, my bodyguard, the previous month while doing a quick consulting job for the NYPD. Ahmed's younger brother, Abby, lived on the 11th floor with his girlfriend. Their family owned the entire building. I heard Scirocco, his cat, meowing insistently in the background.
"Rocco sounds hungry," I said.
"When isn't he? Abby's girlfriend gives him all kinds of stuff. Yesterday it was poached salmon. He's become accustomed to a lifestyle that is simply appalling."
I laughed out loud at the comment.
"Noor's Egyptian, right? She probably just has a healthy respect for him. I could understand a bit of cat worship. Rosie is very manipulative, and she's sure she has me under her paw."
"Noor was born in Peoria, Sasha. She's been to the Middle East once and said it was too hot and dried out her skin. She's only Egyptian enough to stuff my cat and that's about it. He's spoiled rotten."
Ahmed's younger brother Abdullah was an oncology resident at Cornell's medical center. Noor, his girlfriend, was a literary agent. Ahmed got along very well with them, and Abdullah was just about the only one in his family that he could really be himself with.
He sounded more relaxed to be back in the quiet of his place but soon started in again…
"Seriously, Sasha, why haven't you told Eric that you're having these dreams? I got the impression that he doesn't like it when you do stuff like that. He seemed totally taken aback when I told him you'd been talking about quitting the FBI for about a month back when you got shot. I mean he's a pretty cool customer, but I really got the feeling he wants to know just about everything where you're concerned. He was nice about it, but it was really like 20 questions whenever he showed up to take over for watching you when you were in the hospital. I've been an interrogator and I know when I'm being interrogated and I was interrogated, politely mind you, about you."
"You're so prone to exaggeration for some things. This just isn't so important, Ahmed. And it's something I have to work out on my own. It's not anything that he can fix and it's just going to make him feel bad so there's no point in telling him. Besides, I'm doing much better in just the past few weeks. I'll be fine. Don't worry about it. So, you'll call me when you land and I'll come pick you up, okay?"
Ahmed was silent, as if disapproving. Finally he just said,
"The gift should arrive the day after tomorrow, by the way. It was really hard to come up with something that you could give to a Southerner and a Viking vampire. The shopping assistant looked quite thrown by the whole concept and I had to just give up on her. All I could think of is what Alla said she got you. Alla is always pitch perfect for such things. The only thing that keeps me from really resenting her is that my Arabic is much more refined than hers and her Urdu is truly awful."
"I'm just happy you're coming. That's what matters, not any material things, so don't worry about it. Showing up is the best gift you can give me. And we have to think of something fun to do on Wednesday during the day. I really haven't made many plans beyond lunch that afternoon. Sammy already thinks we're all going dancing. I frankly don't know how that's going to work. Eric gets rather… possessive, at times."
"You know, I think I noticed that," Ahmed said with a chuckle. "Is that a vampire thing, or an Eric thing? In case I ever go out with one, it seems like it might be a good thing to know ahead of time."
"Vampires are possessive." I tried to decide if it was prudent to liken it to a dog and his bone, or trying to take away food from that same dog when it wanted to eat. Because a lot of vampires could act just like that and the food analogy was rather apropos... But that was absolutely not Eric. "But Eric has his own special twist on possessiveness. I guess you could say that with vampires it's pretty much the same as with humans. Lots of variation. Some vampires will act like you're a meal to fight over. But some are lovely."
"Since he's lovely enough to be marrying, you should tell him about the bad dreams, Sash."
I groaned. Talk about not letting go…
I couldn't go back to sleep after we finished talking, even though I felt much better. I decided to cook something for lunch. Not eating would probably be even worse in Eric's book than not sleeping. I'd struggled to gain a bit of weight but it was really hard since I was only cooking for myself and that got pretty boring. I hardly ever went downstairs because I didn't want to take any risks after what had happened over the summer. Ruben would usually bring me something if he thought I'd enjoy it but most of the time I'd just make my own meals. It was pretty easy to skip them, unfortunately. So I was at an admitted all time low. But, even though Eric grumbled about it, I was kind of attached to the more slender me. I was still getting a lot of exercise, working out four days a week with Amelia. Plus there were always those workouts with Eric, I thought with a smile. I went off to the kitchen to see what I could prepare that would inspire me. I ended up just making a salad. I added some leftover grilled tuna after giving a piece to Rosie and made myself some coffee. Less than four hours of sleep a night, I thought to myself, was really not going to cut it in the long term. Really, Ahmed had a point about my dreams. But I just couldn't see burdening Eric with it. I'd nap in the late afternoon, I decided.
I ate, checked email, did some work. I called Amelia and spoke with her for about half an hour as we made plans for work after the beginning of the year, when I'd returned from my mystery honeymoon. That would be the trip I wasn't even allowed to pack for. Pam was packing for me. And she was forbidden to tell me where I was going, too. In the late afternoon I went back to bed for my nap. I snuggled up against Eric's cool form. As far as I was concerned, waking in his arms did not appear to be something I'd ever be tired of.
By 8:30 pm Eric had gone down to his office and I'd connected with Cadel to head to the airport. Ahmed's flight was arriving at 9:03 pm, ten minutes early. As usual, Cadel and I argued about who should drive and what would be driven. I suggested letting him drive to the airport and letting me drive on the way back, so as not to terrorize my friend. Cadel's driving usually left much to be desired, since he apparently had unfulfilled dreams of being a Formula One racecar driver if you judged by his natural inclination for speed and love of torque.
Cadel and I had evolved a rather humorous friendship. He was quite possibly even more mischievous than Pam. He definitely had Pam's joie de vivre, as well. He was the background security, keeping an eye on everything that went on in the compound and he did all of Eric's investigative work. Cadel was great at these tasks, due in no small part to his incredibly devious mind. There was little that got by Cadel because he said he'd surely either done it, or thought of doing it, all before. In spite of all his mischief, like Pam, I really found him quite pleasant to be around. These days Eric preferred to have Cadel keep track of me at night if I went out rather than Rasul. I thought it was probably because Eric thought Rasul was too inclined to take my wishes into account, ever since Rasul had failed to kill Charlotte, the donor who lived in the compound and who had attacked me because of her rather deranged interest in Eric. Rasul knew me well enough to think better of draining the woman, convinced Cadel that it was a bad idea, too. Much to Eric's disapproval and my relief. Actually, Rasul and Cadel had sort of become friends over the past year, but Cadel had this edge about him. I knew that if there was any question of my safety that Cadel was probably going to act exactly like Eric would act, much to the potential detriment of anyone posing even a bit of risk to me. Even if that thought was a little unsettling to me it made Eric very comfortable sending Cadel with me at night.
Cadel didn't look scary at all and like Eric, his humorous manner could really set you at ease and make you forget that he was hundreds of years old and could, in the bat of an eyelash, do what vampires can just… do. I'd seen go after someone who got too close to me once in the French Quarter. His manner and appearance seemed to be at odds with the stereotypical vampire manner. He was about 6' 2", had huge dimples and sparkling dark eyes. He was very playful and expressive. Of the three vampire children of Ocella who were with Eric in New Orleans, Cadel was the only one with dark hair. He was less than a hundred years older than Stefan, originally from Wales, and spoke a fair number of languages and was presently learning Swedish, thanks to Stefan, who was his best friend. Cadel and Stefan were improbably different, in looks, in manner, but got along famously. At about 350 and 300 years old, respectively, they were the younger siblings in what I referred to as the 'band of brothers' that comprised Eric, Andor, Cadel and Stefan. Eric and Andor were only ten years apart, which was practically nothing when you were over a thousand years old. It was interesting that Eric and Andor had 'children' close in age, too, Pam of course, and Andor's 'child' Markus, who was Pam's opposite in every way, being tall, quiet and very, very respectful and cautious about disagreeing with Andor. (Eric never missed the opportunity to point these characteristics out to Pam, who scoffed at the idea that being so respectful and reserved was at all useful.)
Although some might have found watching over their king's or boss's future wife quite annoying, Cadel, like Pam, seemed to think that I was quite amusing and said I was, therefore, worth the trouble. His driving habits were our longest standing discussion/dispute.
As we entered the garage, we started our usual banter.
"Now, where is this friend going to sit, may I ask?" Cadel asked me with a wry look as I stood with my hand suspended in front of the key cabinet in which all the car keys were kept.
"Well, I guess if I'm driving, to be polite, in front, right?" I could already see exactly where the conversation was headed. I was reaching for keys, implying I was going to drive. The idea of Cadel not driving was totally inconceivable to him.
"Not right. You must be under the mistaken impression that I'll ride in the back of the car? We keep reviewing the same points, sadly. My natural place is at the steering wheel of any car, Sookie. If you really can't remember it, search your feelings. You know this is the truth. If you like, you can ride in back with him and pretend I'm your driver. Because really, I am your driver and not your passenger."
"Cadel, don't be so self-deprecating. You're not my driver, you're kind of like a brother in law, which is how you will be introduced if questions are asked by friends in the future. It would be insulting to call you my driver and if I wanted to insult you, I'd pick something better to do it with. But, while we're on the subject of your driving," I said as we slowly walked toward the cars, "can you explain to me why it is that if we've been stopped so many times in the past few months there are still so few tickets? Because I started to ask you about that yesterday but you got all defensive in front of Stefan. That last one, you know, coming back from Bon Temps two nights ago, when I woke up with the flashlight in my face? I don't even know how fast you must have been driving since we were almost back home in only three hours. I think I went to sleep out of self-protection. I want to know how you got out of the ticket. I have suspicions. But I never see you doing anything obvious to glamour the troopers."
Cadel put his arm around my shoulders as we walked further into the garage.
"You can't expect me to reveal all my secrets to a mere mortal. Not even to you, Sookie," he said with a very mischievous face. "Now, what have you selected?"
I chirped the alarm on my humble Toyota Camry. In a garage with a Corvette, two Porsches, a Jaguar, a BMW and a Maserati, my car was simply not what Cadel had in mind. Other than Eric's Corvette and my Toyota, all the other cars had belonged to Felipe de Castro or Victor Madden. Eric thought spending money on a Maserati was just ridiculous and pondered how much revenue from his own Area had gone into that car. Expensive cars were not either of our styles. But there were no complaints from Eric's inner circle. The other cars had evidently been claimed right away when Eric took over. Pam had the Jag. Stefan liked the Beemer. Andor and Markus managed to squeeze into Porsches. Cadel liked whatever promised to go the fastest that would accommodate the trip of the moment, preferably the Maserati. He borrowed 'freely', which had been a sore point among the brothers at times. Thankfully, today required a four door vehicle.
"The Jaguar maybe? He's English, right? He sounds English when I hear you talking to him. One of those snotty upper crust types?"
I turned to him with narrowed eyes. Listening to my conversations? Oh, those vampire ears… I wasn't even going to reply to the snotty upper crust comment.
"He's actually Saudi. He went to boarding school and university in England. But he was born in Riyadh. He's a dual US Citizen now, though."
"Sounds like serious money. Definitely upper crust, with a certainty of snottiness. We probably really need a Bentley. But it will have to be the Jaguar, then. Unless, we want to squeeze him into the Gran Turismo. Is he a tall chap? No matter how you slice it, we can't pick him up in an inferior vehicle like a Toyota. It's unseemly. We have appearances to maintain."
'Um, Cadel, we're taking my car." I shook my keys. "He's my friend and he's been very comfortable in my car in the past, so I know he'll survive being in it again for about twenty minutes. He doesn't care about Eric's vampire kingdom, okay? Take my word for it. It's really not his thing. I promise you. He's very low key. And I'm not sure he is ready for a vampire driving experience like the ones you usually offer. We're going in the Camry. Four cylinders is all you're driving if my friend is in the car."
He looked at me like I'd just told him I wanted him to walk into a patch of sunshine.
"I really don't know why Eric likes you so much. I'm starting to think you're even worse than Pam. You're ice bloody cold, aren't you?"
"Like you really thought I would let you take Pam's car? You drive Pam's car? Cadel, do you know what she would do to both of us if you did anything to that car? She'd probably be able to tell if the lint had shifted on the dashboard. She loves the car and Eric gave it to her. It's not Eric's anymore. He gave it to her. So you're not borrowing it without asking her. Not while you're with me, anyway. And if you borrow it at all, I'll tell her."
"So I guess my saying 'what Number Two doesn't know won't piss her off' won't work for you?" He looked at me with a wry smile. "Ah… no, clearly not. You do have that informer look about you, don't you? How about I'd tell her it was my idea if she got mad. It's just borrowing. What's she going to do to me? She can't fire me. I'm almost a foot bigger than she is and at least two hundred years older. She's fast but I'm much faster. Is she going to stake me for borrowing a car? Eric wouldn't let her. It's just a car, and it's got much more pickup than a Toyota. Oh, come on, Sookie… She'll probably never know unless you tell her. I'll even make sure I put the seat back exactly where it was. I'm good at that. Excellent visual recall."
I listened to his entire speech and promptly got in my car and started the engine. He stood there for a moment at the driver's side door, groaned, shut my door and then appeared to almost instantaneously appear on the passenger side. I couldn't tell whether he flipped through the air or had flown or zoomed around the car. Cadel enjoyed the acrobatic moves quite a bit but he was so fast that it was ridiculous to even try to figure out how he got from A to B. The passenger door opened sharply and slammed shut as he glumly settled into the seat.
"Killjoy. Got the safety belt on, have you? Keep it tight. I don't want you to slump forward and hurt yourself on the steering wheel when you fall asleep from the sheer boredom of the drive."
"Put your seat belt on, Cadel. I'm not getting another ticket because of you…" I waited to put the car in drive while he examined the seat belt as if it was a strange and foreign object. "You know, I notice you don't even suggest taking Stefan's car. Why is his BMW off limits when Pam's car isn't?" I could only imagine that discussion if Cadel got caught borrowing Stefan's car without permission to do so. Stefan had this special look that he reserved for Cadel and his antics. As close as they were, Stefan sometimes got very angry at Cadel's antics.
"Sookie, if there's one thing I'm not, it's stupid," he said with a satisfied smile. "Risk management is another personal strong point. I'm sure I've mentioned it before. I've seen Stefan in a fight and I'm not playing with any of that. He looks all mild until he's really fighting and then…" he gestured an explosion with his hands.
"Because I like you, Cadel, I'm not going to repeat the thought that you respect Stefan's property and not Pam's property to Pam. You're very welcome."
I just shook my head as I drove out of the garage.
"So Number Two says tomorrow you have the final fitting for the dress that will knock our socks off."
Number Two. These days I think he was calling Pam this to anyone who knew it ticked her off, hoping it would get back to her. But anyway, I was inherently wary of anything that Cadel claimed to have heard from Pam about me. I had a very hard time believing Pam had told Cadel any such thing about my dress.
"Oh really?" I said in a noncommittal voice.
"I've heard rumors about this dress. I've heard rumors it isn't white."
"Cadel, the Welsh fishing expedition is over before you've even put the boat in the water, okay? What investigative work are you up to these days? Anymore scam artists? Everyone downstairs keeping out of trouble? No housing of internet identity thieves in the compound this week?"
He'd kicked out a purported donor for just that last week and actually turned the guy over to local authorities with tons of accrued evidence. He smirked while watching the road in front of us and using the visor mirror, along with the side mirrors, to vigilantly look behind us.
"I was honor bound to try for info on the dress, and you know it, Miss Stackhouse. Honor bound to try."
I turned to him briefly when I was at a red light and rolled my eyes.
As I drove to the airport we rambled on for a while about movies, which Cadel loved, and the book by Ondaatje that he was reading to prove Pam wrong about whether he ever read anything serious at all (she said no, of course), and his latest high score on some video game in which the previous week he had topped Stefan's high score by some 5 times. The idea of Stefan playing video games was really funny to me. We also talked a bit about Samantha, a girl we'd all met in a local bar and who he had been dating for six months, although her friends were fairly disturbed that she liked a vampire, even if he was 'very cute and funny'. Cadel debated the wisdom of having a reputation of being 'cute and funny' when you were a three hundred and fifty year old bloodsucker. He thought it was a little unseemly. I pointed out that he did little to present himself differently. He pointed out in turn that in earlier times, the disarming manner had been quite useful in getting a good meal and 'pleasurable diversions' without resorting to too unpleasant means. Well, that was a little chilling to think about… Really, sometimes I got the feeling that some of the vampires around Eric almost forgot I was a human with some of the stuff they said to me. Pam said I smelled too good for anyone to forget, though.
Ahmed had only carry-on items, a garment bag and a briefcase. For a five day trip, it was light luggage even for Ahmed.
"The rest was Fedexed and is already at the hotel" he said, as he kissed my cheek and hugged me, noting my puzzlement over his lack of bags.
He extended a hand to Cadel as I introduced them to one another. I took his hand in mine to make the awkward look Cadel gave to Ahmed's hand less obvious for both of them. Ahmed turned to me and made an embarrassed expression. He just couldn't seem to get it with the shaking business, he thought to himself.
"Excuse me. Sorry," Ahmed said to Cadel. "I forgot. Don't have much opportunity to polish up on my vampire manners, you know," whispered Ahmed to me as we walked toward the car.
In a fine Welsh accent, Cadel said snidely,
"Does your friend know about our famed vampire hearing?"
I just laughed as I grabbed Cadel's arm and jostled it and smiled at Ahmed reassuringly. At the car there was a brief discussion about the driver and passenger seating arrangements. I finally let Cadel drive, sat in front passenger seat and chatted with Ahmed while we drove. Twisted in my seat and looking back at Ahmed, I could only feel what Cadel was doing by my sloshing around on turns that were taken too fast, and the look on Ahmed's face, which I had to admit, was worth the price of admission.
"Just be glad it's only a four cylinder engine," I said comfortingly.
"Sasha, does your friend know we're not dead yet?"
"Boyo, you are alive and well and have type B blood. I'm pretty sure you'll survive the drive to your hotel," Cadel said, looking darkly at Ahmed in the rearview mirror, fangs down a bit, nostrils flaring. "But… you never know."
I rolled my eyes yet again and shook my head.
Ahmed looked at me and said simply,
"Never a dull moment with you, is it?"
I was waiting outside Pam's door at 5:20 pm. It had been a busy day. I'd gotten up at 11:30, run off to brunch with friends, then worked until 4:45 pm at the office, and finally arrived home to get some snuggle time around 5 pm. The sun had set at 5:06 pm and Eric complained, though very half-heartedly, that I was taking off right after he had awakened. Pam zipped out her door in uncharacteristically casual jeans and a pink t-shirt with a bag containing the undergarments for her dress. As we headed down to the basement garage, I texted Amelia and Miss Penny that we were on our way. Miss Penny had given us a special private final fitting appointment to accommodate Pam's schedule.
While she drove (in her Jaguar, of course) at an alarming speed, weaving through rush hour traffic to the bridal shop, we chatted about whether or not to spend the actual day of the 25th at Amelia's house so that we could just leave together at 7 pm instead of driving separately and Amelia having to bring the three dresses on her own. Amelia had offered to spell a room totally light tight for Pam to sleep in. Pam didn't say it but I could tell she really wasn't comfortable with the plan. After a lull in the conversation, I asked,
"Pam, did you say anything about my dress to Stefan?"
Pam stared at me as if scandalized by such a question.
"Of course not!"
"Pam, just… could you keep your eye on the road please? You're driving really fast. Cadel hasn't inured me to speed entirely… but he does watch the road. The reason I'm asking is that Cadel knows the dress isn't white. He implied that you told him we had the fitting tonight. But I thought he was teasing and that maybe he found out from Stefan?"
"I wrote myself out of the schedule tonight for a meeting with Area 3. I reminded Eric we had the fitting. Cadel is such a wanker. How did he find out about the dress, I wonder? Does he know what color it is or just that it's not white?"
"He just said he knew it wasn't white. I think he was just giving me a hard time for laughs."
"Frankly, I wouldn't put it past him to have gone to the shop and glamoured Miss Penny into showing him the dress. Cadel is like Puck. I wouldn't put it past him to have bets on the color with a few people, either."
"I don't think he's really up to much mischief. You know, actually, I wonder if he just overheard the message Miss Penny left me about the shoes being dyed to match. He's listened to my phone calls before, to the voice of the caller. Maybe he just overheard her message and figured out the dress isn't white if the shoes are dyed to match the dress."
"I'll talk to Stefan about it. Stefan will sort it. Don't worry. Stefan can always get Cadel to behave himself." She sighed. "How Stefan and Cadel can be so close, I can't fathom. Stefan is so reasonable, so easy to work with. And Cadel? I don't know why Eric says that Cadel is like me. He's always stirring up trouble."
I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye but simply held my tongue. I couldn't suppress the smile though. I looked out my window so she wouldn't see it.
When we got to the shop, Amelia was already there and trying on her midnight blue dress. It fit perfectly and she looked beautiful in it. She'd been deliberately avoiding the sun for almost two months so that it would look nicer with her coloring. Since I'd gone for a deep red wedding dress, we'd had a challenging time finding a good color for bridesmaids dresses that would fit both Pam's very pale coloring and Amelia's golden tan coloring but still complement the wedding dress. Midnight blue had worked out well. The shade we'd chosen was just slightly bluer than black and the dresses had just a scattering of crystals on them, like drops of rain. Amelia was looking much fairer after a month of avoiding the sun and her sparkling blue eyes were enhanced by the dress. Pam would look like porcelain in it. If she had a fair amount of True Blood before the wedding, she'd look slightly pink in the dress. Miss Penny was fussing over the flats that she'd had dyed to match Amelia's dress, which were just slightly off-color to her eyes. The wedding was in two days and I told her that really, we'd make do. Pam's heels were fine.
Miss Penny left Amelia getting Pam into her dress while she helped me into mine. I'd pinned up my hair earlier, to try to get a full sense of what I'd be looking like. The last time I'd tried it on, I'd been in braids and didn't have the right strapless bra. Miss Penny had sewn a bra into the dress. In addition to the zipper at the side, there were points where Pam could sew me slightly more tightly into the dress.
The dress fit like a charm. The capped sleeve straps that Miss Penny had sewn in from excess fabric in the back hem rested just on the outer edges of my shoulders and made me much more comfortable and enhanced the lines of the dress. Now I felt secure the dress would stay up. The amount of cleavage did not look vulgar, as I'd worried it might. It was a fine line between something I thought Eric would like and something I could live with. I wasn't very comfortable with showing a lot of skin anymore. Ever since my bout with the fairies, I'd spent most of my days very covered, either because I was interrogating Islamic terrorists, or because I kept thinking I saw scars. Having a dress that showed off my assets somehow felt daring to me now. But, if I was on Eric's arm, I knew he'd be delighted with this dress. Miss Penny tugged and fussed and clucked. She wanted me to walk in it to make sure the skirt and slight train moved well. Even if she was scandalized that I was wearing a red dress, it would fit me perfectly. I turned around on the stepstool and away from the trifold mirror to face Pam and Amelia.
"You look spectacular!" said Amelia, with a broad smile. "I love the detail just below the bust now. The fit is much better with the built in bra. It looks beautiful on you. And I like it full length red, rather than that ivory petticoat sticking out. Now it has the clean lines I think of when I hear Vera Wang."
"You do look good enough to eat," chuckled Pam with a mischievous smile and a raised eyebrow. "I'm betting you leave the reception early. If you get me on that one."
Amelia and I smiled. Yeah, we got her on that one and hoped that Miss Penny, who was so concerned with propriety, had missed the whole comment. But I couldn't help smiling and not too shyly. I was really sure Eric was going to love the dress.
Miss Penny showed Pam where she could stitch me in tighter if I lost any weight, but I knew with friends in town that that was unlikely since I'd be eating more. Slightly tighter was no problem.
"You're really sure about no veil?" asked Miss Penny. "I dyed some net to match and can have it beaded or embroidered."
"I'm sorry, Miz Pen," I said with a sad shake of my head.
"I know no veil is the modern thing," she said without much approval for the idea.
"I'm going just as I am, in his favorite color. No need for a veil. This will work just fine for me," I said with a nod. "And I know it will work fine for him."
After I stepped down from the stepstool, I slipped back into the shoes, and I pulled Amelia and Pam to stand next to me in front of the trifold mirror. We stood there with arms around each other's waists and just smiled.
"So we have to decide who's paired with Andor and who's with Stefan, Ladies," I said winking at Amelia.
Pam and Andor were like oil and water in some respects. She had had serious issues with Andor's attitude about Eric choosing tiny (compared to him) Pam to be his second. Eric had clear and well justified reasons for choosing Pam. Pam had worked with him since the Revelation as his second while he was Sheriff of Area 5, and unlike Andor, Stefan or Cadel, had lived in the States for decades. She was familiar with US and Louisiana law, Eric's way of doing business in the modern, post-Revelation world, and as Eric's child was really a safer bet than his friends from Europe, whom he'd known for centuries but had not worked with directly in quite some time, since moving to the States. Pam made total sense to me. Pam was mind-boggling fast and efficient at everything she did. And she complemented Eric well. She could be dispassionate where Eric hesitated and she was not afraid to speak her mind, at least in private, when she disagreed with him and Eric really valued her opinions. Andor didn't dislike Pam. At the time, evidently Andor just didn't think that Pam was a wise choice for Eric's second. He thought having a woman in such a position was rather risky. After all, look at what had just recently happened to Sophie-Anne, he'd evidently said. Even a second needed to be unassailable.
Although Eric was completely confident in Pam, Andor's comments, made many months before, had really left a bad taste in her mouth. She had never quite forgotten or forgiven them. Andor had never said anything about it again, but Pam remembered and she'd actually seemed to get more annoyed about it over time. I think that she had decided she didn't like Andor's general attitude with women, which was a bit old fashioned. She had told me shortly after I'd moved back to Louisiana that Andor had angered Eric back in May, by questioning why Eric cared enough about a human woman in Virginia to go visit her for two nights while leaving important business pending at home in Pam's hands. He'd blithely suggested that Eric should just try to find some other human here in Louisiana if he was so taken with the idea of having a relationship with one. Pam said with much satisfaction that Andor had never really tried to argue with Eric about his attachment to me ever again so far as she knew. From her grin, I did not get the feeling Eric's response to Andor's suggestion was very pleasant.
In any case, the upshot was that there was not a chance that Pam was going down any aisle at the end of a wedding on Andor's arm. Amelia, who was almost 5' 9" was a much better match for Andor's height, which had to be a good 6' 6", anyway. Stefan was a little shorter than Eric, maybe 6' 2" or 6' 3" and with Pam about my height in heels it seemed obvious that she should be paired with Stefan, but I told Amelia I'd was going to tease Pam for a change, since she so enjoyed teasing me just about my every waking moment.
Right on cue, Amelia said,
"Well, I guess if Andor is really Eric's best man then that makes the decision for us. After all, you've known Pam longer than you've known me. She should be maid of honor. Was that your idea, Sookie?"
Pam went rigid as her eyes alone slowly drifted to meet mine in the mirror's reflection.
"It is very important for a friend to know when something is simply too much to ask, Sookie," she said darkly. "It is enough that I'm agreeing to be a 'bridesmaid' in a human's wedding. But to have to walk more than two steps on the arm of that man would be beyond the pale."
"Pam, Andor likes you. Really. I've actually heard him compliment you to others. He says you're very efficient."
"Like a maid, perhaps?" she asked in an acid tone. "I refuse. Amelia will do. The decision is made."
"Excuse me?" said Amelia, chortling. "Whose wedding is this, Pam?"
"It is the wedding in which I refuse to walk anywhere on Andor's arm, so it doesn't matter whose it is," she said with her fangs slightly down. She turned to me with a very, very dark look. "If you think you are teasing me, Sookie Stackhouse, you are sadly mistaken. I have already discerned your little plot. If it isn't enough that Amelia is simply incapable of keeping a straight face, your winking is of little help. The witch is it, and you are treading on the dangerous edge of some heavy reading material for your trip if you press on."
I shifted my arm from Amelia's waist and hugged Pam around her waist with a smile.
"I refuse to read Eliot or Dickens on my honeymoon, Pam. I won't. You're out of luck. Now, are you really sure you can't do it?"
She made a low, growling sound and I dropped my head, laughing.
"Fine Pam. Stefan it is for you."
I put my arm back around Amelia and turned my face to her in silent laughter and winked again. After a moment for us to compose ourselves again, the three of us looked back at the mirror at ourselves. Even with our hair not fixed up, and little or no makeup, we looked really nice. It was a special moment. Miss Penny took a photo of us from our reflection. The three of us just enjoyed the happy moment of camaraderie, though Pam continued to grumble about Andor and the mere suggestion…
As we got undressed and back into our everyday clothes, Amelia conferred in a low voice with Pam about the sleeping arrangements. Pam still seemed a bit edgy about it. I knew it wasn't that she distrusted Amelia but more that she distrusted anyone who might find out about it. Vampires just don't like people knowing where they rest. And who can blame them? And she was Eric's second after all. She was more cautious than ever about some things.
"Okay here's my idea," I said. "We get someone to drive us to Amelia's house just before dawn, so your car's not even parked there. And I'll stay in the room with you. I'm used to sleeping pretty much those hours already, so it's no problem. If anything were to happen, I'll be there and I can easily wake up, right? No worries then. We'll also have Jamie and Bert, so it really should be safe. But I'll be in the room with you, and armed. So that should make you feel safer. I've protected you before when you were asleep, after all…"
Pam looked at me with a pleased expression, turned to Amelia and said, "Yes. If Sookie and I share the room, that will be fine."
As we headed back to the compound, Pam didn't say much as she drove. Finally, a few blocks from the compound, she said quietly,
"I am very happy. I am pleased that you will be here for many years. I am very used to your company."
I looked at my changing reflection in the car window as we drove by the streetlights and I smiled.
"I love you, Pam. Your friendship means a great deal to me. In fact, as happy as I was to move back to Louisiana to be with Eric, knowing we'd all be together was… well, it made me even happier. I really appreciate your friendship. So much so that I've even told Cadel if he tries to borrow your car again without asking, I'll tell on him."
Pam turned to me with narrow eyes.
"He's such a wanker."
I snorted with a laugh.
"Eyes on the road, Pam. And I really like Cadel. I love his humor and he's so smart. You know, really, there are even things I like about Andor. He truly does say that you're very fast and efficient. If Eric likes him, I know there must be a good reason. I don't think that Eric's good opinion is gained all that easily. Andor must really be okay, Pam. Even if he gets on your nerves."
"He's an überwanker, Sookie."
I burst out laughing at the term.
"Look, I really think you ought to let it go. He said that stuff a year ago, for gosh sakes. He hardly even knew you. You've totally proven him wrong. Do you really expect him to apologize? Let it go."
"Next century," she said.
"Pam, it's only 2009."
She turned to me and smiled with her fangs down.
We were still laughing as we pulled into the garage. We raced upstairs to change for the evening's outing. I was hoping that our dance party was not going to be too stressful.
My dance partner, Sammy, loved to dance. We'd met through Ahmed and danced regularly on Tuesdays and Saturdays for well over a year, whenever I had been home in the DC area. During the months Eric and I had reconnected and before I'd moved back to Louisiana, I'd continued to dance with Sammy whenever I was home. Sammy had been disappointed when I moved away at the end of September. So it was totally inconceivable to him that he would come all the way to New Orleans (as much as he loved to dance, he hated to fly, and he and his partner had taken the train to New Orleans) to my wedding and that we wouldn't get to dance beforehand. After the fitting, since the next night was Christmas eve, was the only chance we were going to get to cut lose and have some fun. I was spending Christmas eve with Eric, Pam, Jason, Sam, Bill, Remy and Hunter, in the compound.
Eric agreed to the dance outing seemingly to humor me. He'd had Stefan make arrangements for a private gathering at a local dance club, Café Brasil. Their DJ would play whatever we wished. Eric said he didn't care if I danced with Sammy. After all, he knew Sammy was gay, that his partner, Richard, was his guest for the wedding. And of course, Eric and I could dance together, too. I looked at it as a fun plan.
Sammy had brought a professionally made CD mix. He apparently thought we'd dance for hours. I'd looked at the playlist at lunch that afternoon and just shook my head. I got Ahmed to explain to him a third time that we were doing three dances and then we'd see where we were. I still wasn't too sure how Eric was going to take it. He hadn't liked seeing me dance with Sean back in August very much at all. He'd hated seeing me dance with Barry Horowitz long ago. It didn't appear to me that Eric had much tolerance for seeing anyone male, human or vampire, with their hands on me, frankly. No matter what Eric said, I wasn't sure that being really pretty openly gay was going to be enough of a pass where Sammy was concerned. But try as Ahmed and I did, Sammy still didn't quite seem to grasp the situation. The whole vampires and possessiveness thing was really lost on him, even when I explained it twice over lunch in the early afternoon. It was all "just dancing" to Sammy.
I wore a mid-calf black ruffled skirt and a red long-sleeved leotard that was typical of my de rigueur outfit for much of the time I danced with Sammy. Not flashy, not a lot of skin. I was in modest two inch heels. Sammy was dressed in black and really, it was pretty understated for Sammy. Sammy had shown up to dance in some outfits that could only be described as highly questionable, or at the least, colorful, for a person working for the US government.
Sammy and I had danced together for so long, for well over a year, and so frequently to some specific pieces of music, that it was really easy to lose yourself in the music and forget that your very prone to being jealous vampire fiancé was sitting watching you.
We started out with Baila Me by the Gipsy Kings and after Sammy started making snappy comments about my moving about as smoothly as the Tin Man needing more oil, I finally started to loosen up. By the time we got to Pacifika's Paloma I was in full "Sookie is having fun dancing" mode. We were fast, smooth and loose. Sometime around the time we hit Bamboleo, as Sammy spun me by the area where Eric, Pam, Stefan, Cadel, Andor, Rasul, a vampire named Danielle, and the others were sitting (Alla and Mercan were out on the dance floor, too by then) I had this fleeting impression of some open mouths and wide eyes. For all the time I was in Virginia, dancing had been the only real outlet for physical expression that I'd allowed myself. (Other than Krav Maga, and fighting was really not very fulfilling in my book.) I'd reveled in the dancing. If there's one thing that I know I'm good at, other than reading minds, it would be dancing. I was comfortable with Sammy and Latin dancing tends to be pretty hands on. Since I really hadn't picked up any massively furious vibe from Eric from the first dance, I stopped worrying about it. I actually had the impression he was talking to Ahmed. So I went past my self-proclaimed three dance limit with Sammy wanting to tango to Estrellas de Miel. Then Sammy and I started dancing to Respira which is sort of like flamenco music with a more Moroccan overlay. He wanted to dance somewhat closer and with the slower pace of the music and closer dancing I suddenly I became aware that things had switched from 'no worries' to somewhat tense. I hadn't exactly been paying attention for while, since maybe the second or third dance and I suddenly realized that maybe there had been a steady increase in tension. I briefly glanced over at Eric as Sammy turned me past him. He was sitting next to Ahmed and no longer deep in conversation with him. No, he was quite focused on me. I got a good look at his face. It was not filled with happiness and enjoyment. It didn't take long for me to tell Sammy I was hot, fatigued, thirsty and wanting a break when the music finished. Sammy handed me, literally offering Eric my hand, to Eric and grabbed Pam, who looked as if she had been hijacked, to dance to strains of Ojos de Brujo.
I sat down next to Eric, still holding his hand and took a sip of my gin and tonic with a sigh. He didn't say anything but at least he no longer looked displeased. Amelia got up to dance with Bert, while Alla and Mercan were still dancing, as well. I was actually glad for a break. I guessed I was really getting out of shape after a few months of without dancing. While we sat watching them all, Cadel leaned over to Stefan, who was sitting next to me, and said in a whisper even I could hear,
"I guess saying we want to dance with her too, is a bad plan, right?"
Andor, who was sitting on the other side of Eric and Ahmed, leaned forward and simply stared darkly at Cadel.
In a low voice, and with a wry smile, Stefan said,
"Only if you value your appendages."
"Which ones?" asked Cadel.
Andor leaned forward and looked at Cadel again.
Cadel pressed on, undaunted. "I think Andor wants to go first."
Stefan erupted into laughter and Andor scowled. Eric was just silent, watching the dancers out on the floor.
Pam looked mildly alarmed out on the dance floor. Sammy was really a confident dancer. He used to say he could get any woman to dance and dance well, no matter how stiff or unsure she was. Latin dancing is really one of those things where you have to let the guy lead. Unfortunately, it looked like Sammy and Pam were engaged in open warfare. Pam was not keen on the idea of Sammy leading. Not at all. At one point, Sammy went to push Pam's hip slightly for one move and she side-stepped him and he was so off balance he almost fell. Cadel almost fell off his seat in laughter. I felt bad for Sammy. He'd finally met his match, but not in a good way. One could only conclude that Latin dance, with a human guy she'd known for all of half an hour, was not quite Pam's thing.
After couple of minutes of holding my hand, Eric had leaned over and said, close to my ear,
"Really, you looked beautiful, Lover. It's such a shame about your friend," in a dark tone and then straightened back up.
I paused for a moment trying to grasp what he was saying. I felt a moment of alarm. A shame about Sammy for presently dancing with the very contrary Pam? Because he lost his partner, since I moved away from DC? Poor Sammy because Eric presently disliked him intensely….? I glanced up at Eric who had a very amused look on his face as he watched Sammy struggle valiantly to dance with Pam. Then I realized he was both teasing me and enjoying watching Sammy suffer with Pam after his having made Eric not too thrilled with his dancing with me. I smiled.
After only one dance Sammy eagerly guided Pam back to her seat and glanced at me. Eric abruptly rose and pulled me to my feet. He smiled down at Sammy, who looked a long, long way up at Eric. Suddenly, I could see a light bulb go off in Sammy's mind. He finally got what I tried to explain at lunch time. He turned away sharply, thinking loudly Por Dios, I have really pissed off the vampire… look at how he looks at me. He doesn't even want me touching her. She really wasn't kidding…He turned back and smiled up at Eric. Then he turned to Danielle and cautiously asked her to dance after taking in the fact that Rasul's arm was around the back of her seat. Sammy sat a safe distance from me, next to Richard, for the rest of the evening, chatting with all of us, after he had danced with each of the ladies in the group.
Eric and I danced for the next half-hour, took a break so I could cool off and then danced for a while longer before we decided that we were done for the evening. We couldn't do all the stuff that I was used to doing with Sammy, but I realized that I just felt happier dancing with Eric. We improvised really well even with the height difference. I felt like I was just in synchrony with him, even though we really hadn't danced together nearly as often in the years we'd known each other as I had with Sammy in only a year and a half. No, I just felt happy dancing with Eric. Stefan danced briefly with Pam, but she still hadn't recovered from dancing with Sammy, whom she kept glaring at every once in a while. Cadel asked her to dance and she gave him a dark look as she said no. Andor didn't dance at all.
I went to the ladies room with Amelia and Pam. Amelia just looked at me in the mirror while I was putting on a bit of lip gloss and, grabbing my arm, laughed softly, shaking her head.
"You should have seen their faces, Sook…"
With a quick glance over at Pam, she nodded and said, "Andor, Stefan and Cadel. I think they were rather… ah… surprised by what a good dancer you are. After they got over the shock they were mostly watching Eric. Bert tried to make me dance because he was afraid I was going to get them annoyed by watching them instead of the dancers. It was a riot."
Pam, who was basically along just to make sure I was safe in the ladies room, turned to me and said,
"I just don't see what is enjoyable about it. I prefer more modern dancing, where I get to move as I wish. For such a headstrong and independent person, who's always telling everyone that she wants to do as she pleases and not as she's told, you have some rather odd inclinations. Why you would let that man push you around on a dance floor and you won't let me push you around, for instance, is just a mystery."
I met Amelia's eyes in the mirror and we burst out laughing simultaneously.
"I really don't see what's so funny," said Pam.
"I know," I said laughing even harder. "Pam for gosh sakes, it's just dancing! It's passing the time, exercise, whatever."
"So the next time I want you to do something that I've been told to get you to do, I should tango? Will this make a substantial difference? At least you, I might enjoy dancing with," she said with a mischievous leer as her eyes scanned my face and then moved across my figure.
"Pam, I believe I'm already spoken for," I said with a smile. "I really think my dance card might be full after tonight. I honestly have to say that there's only one person I really want to dance with at this point."
My nails dug into his butt as I gasped, the echo of my voice in my ears. Moments later he cried out and then slowly relaxed against me and we lay back, my leg lazily draped across his hip, my left hand in his right one, and his face was cradled near my head and shoulder. After a few minutes he shifted slightly, kissing my neck, making me shiver. I leaned my cheek over against his.
"I love you," I whispered.
He pressed his lips to my right ear.
"So, it's still yes? We're getting down to the wire after all…" he whispered in my ear playfully.
I sighed heavily.
"Are you ever going to quit teasing me?" not even bothering to whisper back.
"Probably," he murmured softly. "Eventually."
"Well, after later tonight, it would seem to be kinda pointless, right? I'll finally be off the hook?"
"It will be something else after that. I'm sure there's always going to be more with you. You've only got about 15 hours left, now. You're really sure?"
I sighed again as I leaned my cheek against him and rested my hand on his shoulder.
"Eric, for pity's sake! I didn't say I didn't want to marry you. I said I didn't know why you'd want to marry me if I piss you off as much as you say I do. And it was almost a month ago, already. I just want you to quit trying to control everything and to let me run my business with Amelia. I want you to keep your nose out of my business unless I'm asking for advice, which I already do a lot of the time, anyway. I do want to marry you and you know it. I really love you."
"I know," he said with a very self-satisfied smile.
I poked him in the ribs with my elbow.
"That's not the right reply to someone saying they love you."
"Really?" he said with a chuckle. "I've heard much worse, I'd have to say. Let me see, oh yes, from you. But since I loved you, I took it."
He bent down and kissed me then shifted, rolling to his side, pulling me onto my side and looked at me. He touched my cheek and then traced my lips with his finger, then trailed it down onto my chin and onto my throat, which he stroked gently. Then he shifted his hand to my waist and pulled me closer. I just relaxed into his arms, resting my cheek against his cool shoulder.
"So the obey thing is still definitely out? Not a chance?" he murmured playfully.
"In your dreams," I mumbled.
"Maybe if you obeyed me, we'd argue less."
"You're kidding yourself on that one, buddy."
"I'd cut out the 'buddy' thing if I were you," he said tickling my waist a bit.
"Listen, bud…" I said laughing before I was cut off.
He rolled back on top of me and his mouth clamped over mine and after a long and very intense kiss from which I could hardly catch my breath, he said,
"There's a difference, a distinction, between obeying and simply listening and changing your mind based on what you've listened to."
"Eric, I listen to you all the time. Sometimes, like now," I said, pushing on him and not budging him even a millimeter, "I have no choice but to listen. And sometimes I listen but simply don't like or agree with what I hear. Tunica and Salome's casinos being a case to make my point."
He stiffened and rolled back on his side with a heavy sigh.
"You are not doing anything for Salome unless you do it my way. Which means four or five people going with you and Amelia. I talked to Andor and he'll do it. If you agree to take Andor and Cadel, and a few Weres to watch you during the day as I said, you're free to go there and do the work. But you're not going there on your own. And Bertram agrees with me."
"Amelia doesn't have to do what Bertram says either, Eric."
"There's a difference between being stubborn and being foolish, Lover. You're free to go wherever you wish. On terms I'm comfortable with. If you want to ward Salome's casinos and install better security for her, you are free to do so. But you go heavily guarded and stay with those guards at all times. Those are the terms. Otherwise, you're not doing it."
I sighed. At least now he was now talking terms under which we could work. That was a significant improvement over the flat out 'absolutely not!' that I'd heard three and a half weeks ago, and the arguing that had ensued between Amelia and Bert after Eric had a brief conversation with Bertram about Salome. I'd had a huge fight with Eric over this prospective job three weeks ago, and it had culminated with Eric shouting one word at me while jabbing a finger toward my face. "NO!" That had made me about as interested in listening to him as I was in seeing fairies again. I simply couldn't believe that Salome would hire us and not keep us safe while we worked for her. Eric and I hadn't talked about it in over a week. Talking in bed was usually better than arguing over in my dayroom but not by much in this instance. But Eric had softened a bit recently on the topic and had said he would talk to Andor about it. I just really wanted to do the job. With three casinos, Salome was a good source of revenue for our business. But more than that, it would be great to say that we'd done the security for her casinos. Amelia agreed with me. The only things preventing us from doing the work were really Eric and Bert.
"I want you to really explain it to me. How is working for Salome so different from working for Russell? If it's safe for me to work in Jackson next month, why not Tunica? Are you telling me that Russell can't control his own Sheriff, Eric? Like Salome is a law onto herself, or something? How can that be? You would never tolerate someone like that working for you."
"Sookie, you don't know the first thing about Salome. If you do go, my way of course, I'll be amazed if you ever even get a dime out of her for the work. So you ought to keep that in mind. I'm sure that eventually, I'll be able to get Russell to cover your costs, but you had better be prepared to lose money in order to be able to say that you did her security. And it ought to tell you something that I'd rather have Andor guarding you in Tunica, than guarding me here. Think about that and draw your conclusions about how safe I feel you'd be on Salome's home turf."
"But it would look bad if something happened to us and we were working for her, right? It would probably upset Russell, because it would upset you and Russell must like you and respect you because he helped you in the takeover, even if he did get Arkansas out of the deal. It would just look bad if Salome did anything to us. How could she explain something like that away?"
"You assume that Salome would be troubled by having to explain any problems to me or anyone else, including Russell. You don't have any idea what you're dealing with. Just think about someone deciding to turn Mickey, Sookie. And keeping him."
I frowned. Okay, he might have a point on that one. Mickey was horrible. But I wasn't working for Mickey. I'd be working for Salome. Maybe Mickey was Salome's 'mistake' child. Although, I remembered her cackling laugh I'd heard with my human ears through Eric's cell phone long ago when Eric called to complain about Mickey for me. But Amelia and I had really wanted to take the job because it might give us more vampire casino business throughout the US, which would be lucrative. Maybe I should just accept going with a whole cadre of bodyguards, I thought to myself. I really didn't want to spend more time thinking about it right then. Besides, I could already feel him getting all edgy and annoyed just talking about it.
"Well, fine. You know, I don't want to talk about Salome anymore, anyway. We'll just end up arguing and I don't want to argue with you, especially not today. It Christmas. We're getting married. I just want to be happy. I don't want to think about anything that we'll argue about. No heavy subjects."
"Who raised the topic of Salome, may I ask? What do you want to talk about?" he asked as he bit his finger and worked a dab of blood into the bite on my right breast. Then he sat up a bit and looked at the bite on my left inner thigh and did the same. He looked back at my breast with a critical eye as he lay back down. He'd yet to leave a scar on me and was very annoyed several months back to have found several faint scars, apparently left by Bill, when looking at my neck in a strong light in the bathroom one night. I could hardly see them, but he'd pointed out the bite size was different from his with much distaste. Bill was never careful about patching up my bite wounds the way Eric was. I frankly couldn't imagine what a long term partner of a vampire would look like if their bite wounds really weren't healed. Eric had once made a snide reference to the fact that a vampire who left evidence was obviously insecure about their ability to signal their claim to their partner. Insecurity about almost anything, let alone his claim to me at any point in time, did not seem to be a characteristic I associated with Eric.
"Okay, where are we going?"
"It's a surprise. Remember, that means you don't know until you're there?"
"Not even a hint?"
"Not even. Next topic?"
"Not even a hint?" I reiterated looking into his eyes, but he shook his head with a smile.
"Is it someplace far away?" I pressed.
"It's someplace that's a surprise, Sookie" he said laughing at me.
"This is so unfair. Pam won't tell me, either. She said you've forbidden her to tell me anything, even hints. But even if she could she probably wouldn't because she says she's mad at me. Did you like Mill on the Floss?"
"No. I didn't even finish it."
"Pam's mad because I told her earlier that I'd rather go to the dentist and get fillings in all my teeth than finish it. I have a hundred and fifty pages left and I sneaked a peek at the end, and I just don't get why she liked it."
"I thought you were still on Dickens duty?"
"No, I finished Dickens duty, remember- Little Dorrit? Then I read Middlemarch. That one I really liked. Those were for the whole Pakistan thing because she 'hated worrying about a human'. But I didn't even care because I really liked it. And then, because I wanted her to be a bridesmaid and she thought it was asking so very much of her, she told me I had to read Mill on the Floss or she'd bail."
Eric erupted in rumbling laughter.
"Sookie, she hates the book. I still remember her reading it in the 1870's. She really hated it. She's just making you read something she doesn't like so that you share her dislike of it. She just wants you to finish it so you can hate it with her."
"Oh… That would be so Pam, now wouldn't it? Do you know the other night she told me she doesn't understand why you think she and Cadel are so similar. It took a lot of self-control not to erupt in laughter. She was driving. She's scary at the wheel of a car when she gets mad. It's such a long book… I guess I'll just have to finish it, then," I said with a sigh. "It will make her happy."
He was silent for a time as I leaned against him with my eyes closed. I started to feel sleepy although I kept feeling as if Eric was somehow still edgy about something. His mind seemed to really be churning away. His voice jolted me a bit and vibrated in my ear as he said,
"You know, I really don't want you to feel that I don't want you to work where you wish. Your work is the thing we have always had our worst arguments about. So, I really mean it, my suggestion of sending Andor and Cadel with some Weres with you. Andor knows Salome, too. She knew Ocella. I'm sure it will be safe if Andor goes with you, if you truly wish to do the job. I realize that you and Amelia might like the idea of jobs for similar businesses. But we need to be careful, Sookie. You really have no concept of what she's like, how manipulative and underhanded she can be. But I know that Andor and Cadel will be able to assure your, and Amelia's, safety."
"Mmmmm," I murmured into his chest. I was so drowsy. "It's true that she wasn't particularly nice according to the Bible and that was before she was turned… Anyway, later. We can talk about that another day," I said with my hand on his sternum.
"Night. Another night," Eric said slinging his leg over mine and jostling me gently.
"You said you wanted to stay awake until you left."
"I just feel so sleepy. It was such a long day. I got up before eleven," I said with a yawn.
He thought for a moment and then said,
"Let's get dressed."
I groaned at the idea.
"Why? It's only 4 am."
"Come on, get up and let's get dressed," he said with a smile as he rose from the bed and offered me his hand. I grimaced but took his hand.
He dressed quickly and pocketed his keys. I, on the other hand, dressed wearily. I looked down as he put a heavy sweatshirt of his on me and was puzzled to noticed he was just wearing socks. After I'd slipped on a pair of flats, he pulled me after him.
"Where are we going, with you only in socks, Eric?"
As we left our rooms gestured with his eyes upward. The roof?
We went around to the stairs on the north side of the building and then he led me a single flight to a heavy metal door I'd never really much noticed. He unlocked it and we passed through the door and up another flight of stairs on the outside of the building and onto the roof.
He put one of my arms around his neck and one of his firmly around my waist.
"Close your eyes a minute," he whispered.
I did and then I felt us taking flight. I opened my eyes just a bit and let out a brief whimper. Eric made a disapproving sound. I really didn't like heights much and we were really high, and near the edge of the roof. He brought us down on a sort of turret at the south corner of the building. In the distance we could see the river and the Quarter, and could even hear the strains of jazzy Christmas music on Bourbon Street. I sat in his lap with his arms snug around me. The air was crisp and really cold but there was no wind. It was probably in the upper forties. But I felt warm in his heavy sweatshirt with his arms around me. We sat silently, looking at the lights of the French Quarter, listening to the sounds of the night for some time.
"It has been a long journey to this place, to this point in time," he said quietly, after a while.
I tried to imagine living almost eleven hundred years. It was really hard to imagine. So much history, so much change and he'd ended up so far away from where he was born, died, turned. Having lived in so many places, and survived much more dangerous times. It was almost impossible to comprehend in my mind. And now he was in here in New Orleans, a vampire king. Almost popular really, since many of the vampires that were left in the state after recent times were loyal or really seemed to like working under Eric. Eleven hundred years I said to myself. It seemed impossible for me to grasp. To have lived so long, through so much. And now he was here with me and later tonight we were getting married. Part of me got nervous and pushed some of the thoughts about what that meant out of my head. I'd gotten quite expert at doing that in recent months. I was trying pretty hard to not think too much about certain aspects of marrying Eric.
"Are you happy, Eric?" I whispered.
His arms tightened around me a bit more for a moment and he brushed my temple with his lips.
"Right now, I think I'm the happiest I've been since I was turned. Things are good, Lover," he said softly in my ear with the slightest accent. "In just about every way I can think of, things are good. I'm good, we're good." Then with a soft laugh he added, shaking his head, "Even Andor is good."
I peered around Eric's arm to see Andor, about twenty feet below us, standing with arms crossed, barefoot on the roof, dressed only in his robe and glaring at us with very obvious disapproval.
Andor and Eric had some sort of brief conversation in Norse in which I took it from his manner that Andor was telling Eric off for coming out of the building without telling him.
"How did he even know we came up here?" I whispered a bit incredulous. Eric was always so quiet when he moved. Maybe he heard me? We hadn't even talked as we'd come up to the roof. It was as if Eric had some sort of GPS chip in him as far as Andor was concerned.
"Do you have a machine gun with you?" Andor called out to me, meeting my eyes with an odd, almost challenging look. Oh my, he was mad at me, too? "Nej, modiga flickan?"
Brave girl… I stiffened, felt a knot in the pit of my stomach and a wave of queasiness at the thought of roofs and machine guns. He didn't even wait for me to respond.
"Ja, well then, I protect you as well, so not too many questions about it," Andor said to me.
Eric's arm tightened around me a bit and he turned slightly and said something to Andor in an ugly tone of voice but I didn't even pay attention or ask what. I was just too distracted with dark thoughts about that other rooftop. Andor ignored Eric and took up a position on the edge of the South wall about fifty feet away from us.
Occasionally, I had the feeling that Eric's affection for me really rubbed Andor the wrong way. As if Eric was somehow too indulging of me or my 'whims' or too indulging of himself to have gotten so emotionally entangled with a human. Most of the time, Andor was really very cordial with me, especially since I had moved back to Louisiana. But this was clearly one of those moments where I was ticking him off by what I guessed he saw as my luring Eric into some bad judgment of sorts, even though, really, this had been totally Eric's idea. After a few silent moments of trying to leave thoughts of a rooftop in Islamabad far, far behind me, I glanced over at Andor. He was vigilantly looking around, like a sentinel perched on the edge of the roof. He looked poised to react in an instant. As crazy as I thought someone would have to be to go after Eric, the thought of tangling with Andor to go after Eric was pretty daunting. I thought of how Pam said she disliked him and brushed it aside, instead thinking of a huge seventeen year old boy being protected by a twenty-four plus ten year old vampire, from the apparently truly nightmarishly horrible Appius Livius Ocella. Andor took his job of protecting Eric, in return for those times, very seriously, I thought to myself. And… I could only be grateful to him.
After a sitting silently for a while, Eric said in my ear,
"And are you happy?"
I turned slightly in his lap and rubbed my cheek against his shoulder.
"So much so that I'm almost afraid to believe it's all real," I whispered.
He kissed me and we sat there for a while longer before going back downstairs.
Jamie was meeting us at Amelia's since I told him I thought it was silly to rise an hour earlier just to come and get us. Cadel drove us to Amelia's house. Cadel and Pam argued the entire way. Of course, he was driving her car. I still wasn't quite sure how that happened. I sat in back, determined not to fall asleep. They were pretty funny, Cadel and Pam. I didn't think they really meant any of what they said to each other. Hopefully.
When we arrived, a very sleepy Bertram let us in, saying Amelia was sound asleep. Jamie was sacked out on their couch with a huge thermos of coffee, a stack of magazines, the universal remote for the TV and sound system. A very nice Glock, which I knew was loaded with silver, was on the coffee table, along with a few stakes and extra clips of bullets. Pam took it all in and seemed pleased. I'd brought my Glock, too. I was surprised when Cadel kissed me on the cheek as he wished me a good rest and I chuckled as he offered to do the same to Pam. She acted as if she was aghast at the suggestion. But she smiled and shook her head as he left.
Pam and I trundled off to the specially spelled bedroom and locked ourselves in. As I got under the covers after changing into my pajamas she said,
"You know I really hate to admit that Eric's right, but you're really getting too thin. You need to eat more. If I were as pale as you are thin, you wouldn't leave me alone about it. It isn't healthy, even if he is really old, Sookie. I know he's not getting blood from anyone else at all since you moved back. You really need to take it seriously. You need to eat more."
"MmmHmm," I said sleepily, burrowing into the covers.
"I'm siccing Ruben on you as soon as we're home," she said in a whisper after turning out the light. "Desserts. Breakfasts. Amelia said you liked breakfasts when you lived together. Reuben will get you to eat. I cannot believe I am reduced to looking after you in this fashion. This is very wrong. You're not even mine. You're really so much trouble. And admitting Eric is right is always so distasteful. It happens so frequently. Both things happen too frequently."
I reached out and took her hand and her glowing, cold, slender fingers laced firmly into mine.
"I hope my being with Eric is going to work for you Pam," I said, yawning. "For all the 'amusement' I seem to provide you, it seems like I'm also such an annoyance."
"Almost anything involving you providing relief from the five of them would work for me," she said sharply.
Wow. I took a moment to absorb that comment. Then she added,
"Frankly, if Eric hadn't gone to get you, I would have. Eric was already bad enough when you were gone. But you have no idea what it's like dealing with the five of them. Charlotte McCann and Area 2 are the tip of the proverbial iceberg. You and I will keep each other sane." She squeezed my hand slightly tighter in hers.
I had definitely noticed that Pam seemed very relieved when I moved in. As with Eric, it had gotten to the point where Pam and I connected daily, even if just by email, while I was back in Virginia. I'd wondered if it was hard for her to be happy a human was moving into the compound and firmly into her life. I knew she really cared for me a great deal, but still… I was surprised that she would so openly admit being happy that I was becoming even more firmly ensconced in their lives. I smiled in the darkness, closed my eyes and said,
"Works for me, Pam. Can you help me convince Eric that Amelia and I will be fine working in Tunica?"
She was silent for a moment. Then she opined,
"You are entirely on your own on that one, I'm not even going there. And really Sookie, I think you should know by now that if Eric says something is a bad idea, it's a bad idea. I've only met her once, but when I met Salome, Eric stuck to me like glue. He even implied to her that he hadn't released me, even though he'd released me about fifty years before. He's known her a long, long time and I think he must be serious, if he tells you that you shouldn't do any work for her."
I sleepily remarked, "He's kind of changed his mind, I think. He said he'd send Andor and Cadel with us, along with a bunch of Weres."
I heard her turn toward me in the bed.
"He's sending Andor if you go?" she said almost gasping.
"Well then, if you were mine I wouldn't let you go at all."
"Wait 'til I tell Eric that he's more liberal than you are. He can get a lot of mileage out of that. I think you've finally messed up, Pam."
"Eric is very liberal. He controls everything liberally. Which seems entirely necessary in your case. You're the most refractory human I've ever known."
"Like you've even known a lot of humans? Like you'd even want to? Such a shame you slipped up and let me know you like me this way, Pam. Such a shame…" I murmured and yawned.
She let out a low, rumbling laugh. And then, still holding hands, we both fell asleep.
Jason's shock as he took in my dress was really palpable. He made the requisite remark about Scarlett O'Hara. I smiled but didn't respond. Looking at the mirror, I adjusted the bodice one last time and walked over to take his arm.
I held my breath for an instant as I watched Hunter, in his little tux, walk out bearing the rings, then Amelia and Pam in their exquisite midnight blue dresses walked down the aisle.
Jason, however disapproving he was of a sister marrying in crimson red, said softly as we waited,
"You look beautiful. I really hope you'll be happy, Sookie. You deserve it."
After Pam had moved forward, we stepped into position at the doorway.
I looked straight ahead, with chin held high as I ignored the gasps of the standing guests. I smiled and met Eric's eyes.
I would never forget the look on his face.