A/N- The envisioning of this story actually came to me in a dream, in the summer of 2009, about two months after I'd published Dead Wrong, which I had thought at the time would be my very last SVM/E&S fic. This story, which may be a really hard one for some of my readers to read, just wouldn't leave me alone, and poured out onto the keyboard, almost as if it wrote itself. It was odd in that I went directly from Dead Wrong (and the incomplete sketch that at that time was Dead Certain, the Eric POV for Dead Wrong) to a point out on the plotline that was a full ten years later. I had envisioned certain things that had to have happened to get to this point (which is still not the end point in the series, dear reader) but I had yet to write those events, which largely occur in Scenes from a Marriage.

This story is going to take some getting used to on the part of the reader. A fair portion of it is written from the perspective of a third person omniscient narrator. You will see why as you read. But I'm aware that it's a real transition on the reader used to the first person narration so common in the UF/PR genre. Please just bear with me, and hopefully, the payoff will make it worth your time and trouble. And then there's the content itself, which I've referred to as having a root canal with no anesthesia. Just grit your way through it. And to reassure some of my readers, I'll say at the outset that Hunter knows his business. At the end of the journey (a story tentatively titled "Paradiso") we will arrive in a good place.

The playlist selections noted in brackets are available on the livejournal page, along with other info. The livejournal address is on my profile page.

The characters of the Southern Vampire Mysteries are the creation of Charlaine Harris. I hope she doesn't mind my playing with them for a while.

The reader needs to have read Dead Wrong/Dead Certain, Snapshots, and Scenes from a Marriage 1 & 2 to understand where we are, and… what it all means.

Happy Birthday to Lani and to Nicki!

For Mia, who repairs people for real


The Darkest Hour

It is real and not a dream

I'm in you and you're in me

It is time

To break the chains of life

If you follow you will see

What's beyond reality

-Enigma, from Beyond the Invisible



I

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

It was a day that started like any other day. I went into the office, went over the proposal for the installation of a brand new security system and extensive wards for Queen Maude, in Minneapolis, with Amelia. Maude was a personal friend of Pam's and we were putting extra care into the job. Before I went home we talked about plans for Bronwyn's birthday party, too, which was coming up on January 3rd. She was turning six. Homeschooled, she was a bright and beautiful, though often still rather too obviously blue-skinned, child. She had impressed me the previous week though, by holding a peaches and cream complexion glamour for more than an hour while we ate sashimi on the patio outside the new Whole Foods at the edge of the Quarter. She was learning to use chopsticks and had such dexterity for a child her age. And how she loved raw fish… With her teeth like little razors, she could go through a small fortune of it, too. Amelia was so proud of her. She was already reading at almost second grade level. She was even more accomplished at math and music. And Bert? How Bert doted on his daughter. She was a magical child in every sense. We were all besotted with her. She had even bewitched Pam, and that was really saying something, given how Pam had started out feeling about the whole thing of Amelia wanting a child. Bronwyn had a green thumb and Pam was teaching her about orchid cultivation. She also had a little garden at the back of the house and had recently even, in spite of my eye-rolling at the mere thought, planted what she was sure was a fairy ring. My "Let's hope not…" comment drew a hail of laughter from Bert.

I went back to the compound shortly before 5 pm to get ready to attend a City Council meeting with Pam, since Eric was meeting with his Area 3 Sheriff and several people who had traveled down with her to see him. Eric was already awake and mostly dressed, busy with email and just in general, preoccupied. He had a long night of meetings ahead of him. I tied his tie for him while we briefly discussed what to do for our tenth anniversary. He was distracted as he kissed me and went downstairs. Hunter was out of town, visiting his paternal cousins in Magnolia. He was on break from his first semester at Tulane. He wasn't due back home until Christmas Eve.

In total violation of winter fashion edicts, I changed into a cream-colored linen suit and added a blue scarf as I dressed to attend the meeting with Pam. I'd found the suit on sale in Bergdorf's on my most recent trip to New York, visiting with Ahmed and Nicu. Now that Ahmed had a live-in vampire boyfriend, my visits were more complicated. Jamie and Cadel went with me for this trip. Poor Jamie… When Noor and I had dragged him through Bendel's, Bergdorf's and Barney's in a single afternoon, with endless looking at sales racks on my part ("Me, pay full retail in a place like this? Are you kidding me, Jamie? Never!"), I really thought I might have crossed a line. He'd asked me pointedly why I never shopped at night. Clearly, Cadel always got off easy in his mind.

I smiled looking at the suit. It was gorgeous. Such a flattering cut and I simply couldn't believe that I'd found a size 6 on sale, even though it was clearly out of season. I leaned in and looked at myself closely in the mirror. Still no need for any cosmetic surgery. It seemed as if Eric's plan of regular exposure to his blood was paying off in terms of my appearance. Between his blood and whatever Bert and Branwen had done with me in 2011, I really didn't look a day older than when we'd married ten years before according to Pam. Although, she playfully continued to assure me that as soon as I got tired of Eric, even if I was in my fifties, she'd be more than happy to… I sighed thinking about it. After a decade of living with her, Pam was still Pam and infinitely playful. Or maddening. She had recently called me, in public, her best friend. It only took fourteen years.

Still looking at my reflection, I pressed on my cheekbone gingerly. I'd gotten a pretty bad bruise the previous week training with Uri's replacement. Uri had finally retired from training at age 70, although we still kept in touch. Lev, who was my same age and who had recently left Mossad for consulting work with the FBI in the US, was really something. I was afraid to do weapons training with him. And that was with knowing that I had a vampire who could heal me. This most recent hit was lobbed on me after I'd thought I'd cleverly dodged his attack. But no. Even though Eric had given me a bit of blood, which took care of the obvious bruising, I swore the bone was still tender. Lev told me Uri must have been taming it down with me or something. Maybe, in spite of my looks, I was getting old or slow. Or maybe he was right. Uri and I had known each other for more than a decade. Maybe he really felt bad hitting me and held back a bit. Lev, on the other hand, did not feel bad. Except about the fact that I was 'so slow on my feet' that I was easily smacked. Next week we were supposedly working with knives. Maybe Pam was right and I was crazy. The idea of Lev with a knife, in the same room with me, was rather daunting.

I sighed as I stood back and turned back and forth. I loved this suit and I didn't care if it was winter. I couldn't believe the jacket fit so well. With the darted waist it actually flattered my figure. Sometimes I wanted Pam's figure instead. She looked so good in most things and it was so much easier for her to find things that fit.

I talked to Eric briefly before we left. He was pretty distracted, with meetings scheduled from 7 pm until well past 4 am, according to Stefan. He kissed me almost absentmindedly, but I could see him take note of the suit and it's nicely darted jacket which made my waist look so small considering the light color. I could see he liked it, even if he was too focused on going over his agenda with Stefan to comment at the moment. He got that look around his mouth that always conveyed his thoughts about how I looked. That look was enough for me to know that he thought it was really pretty on me. It still gave me a bit of a bounce going to these things to know that Eric liked how I looked when I was representing us.

As we drove to the City Council meeting we were aware of the usual car following us. It was old hat to us at that point, really for any of us living in the compound. Celebrities get trailed by paparazzi. Well-known vampires and their spouses get trailed by FotS/God's Light people or some other protest group. We ignored them. In the years following my aid in breaking up the God's Light terror plot that drew in some seven FBI and law enforcement personnel and hundreds of people in fifteen states, I'd earned the same hated status as the vampires with whom I lived. Maybe even more so, since I was a traitor to my race, according to some of the hate mail I'd received over the succeeding years. Since I had outed Norm Staunton and his cohorts in late 2011 I'd received quite a few death threats, which I took lightly but which Eric took very seriously. But things had seemed to settle down after a few years and, with time, even Eric began to act as if they were probably just empty threats. I was so relieved when the days of more cumbersome security were at an end. Out with Cadel or Pam alone was more than enough for me. Now there was only a larger presence at announced events.

Anyway, it was a night like so many others in my life. And it was a busy life, but relatively peaceful. I'd been keeping myself out of harm's way long enough now that it was becoming a habit. I hadn't been shot or kidnapped or even beaten (except by Uri or Lev) in years. Though I was still plagued with nightmares jarring my sleep, they remained manageable compared to those of a decade before. Years of no new trauma had helped to keep them more at bay. Frankly, I'd joked the previous week with Eric that I was getting mighty bored. He did not laugh. Pam, Cadel and Stefan didn't laugh either. Markus, who so seldom commented on much of anything, said my boredom looked good on me and even better on Eric. Of course we were alone when he said it. I didn't even bother trying to joke with Andor about it. According to Andor, I was trouble even when I was asleep.

The City Council meeting was long. When we got to the apportionment issue, I lined up to speak, to give our official view, with Pam's blessing. She hated this stuff and by now I was used to people looking at me, the vampire king's human wife, the supernatural rights squeaky wheel. I spoke and some of the friendlier council members smiled. I took my seat again and listened as the others waiting to speak spoke their piece. The meeting finally wound down around 9 pm. It had already been a long day for me. I was relieved to be done and wanted to go home and relax and look online for presents for Bronwyn's birthday with Pam. I wanted to get her a child's pair of red gardening clogs. They'd look cute with her coloring and be easy to find in the garden because of the bright color. She was very given to running around all over barefoot, much to Amelia's chagrin. The cute clogs seemed like a perfect solution.

In the crowded chamber, Pam and I stood in the slow moving line, waiting to exit. She didn't want to head back right away. We chatted about going to Starbucks so that I could get a hot tea and she could get a True Blood. I was tired but said sure, though I grumbled about the slow moving line. I didn't see him coming, or even hear his thoughts. I usually tried to tune out in crowds. And so, as I waited thinking about just getting outside and into the fresh air, I never saw my end coming, my epic fade to black…


[playlist: 1]

He moved forward, past Councilman Saunders, appearing to be one of the Councilman's group. The blade hit her in the chest to the left of the sternum. As luck would have it, the thin stiletto blade passed right between ribs, slicing the aorta at a wide angle as it worked downward, just nicking cardiac muscle. It was a grievous wound. Pam literally tore his arm off and tossed him aside as she turned to see her crumble to the floor of the hall. The knife had been yanked free with his arm, and her blood spurted forth from the wound at an alarming rate. The cream linen suit was turning more and more crimson by the second, blood pooling around her on the floor. She gasped twice, eyes wide. The only word that escaped her lips before she seemed to lapse into unconsciousness after only seconds, was a faintly whispered,

"Eric…"

Hissing to keep everyone away, Pam dropped to her knees and tore into her wrist, pressed it to Sookie's lips, letting her blood flow into her gasping mouth, expecting something, anything to improve. Pressing her hand over the wound to try to staunch the bleeding, she watched vigilantly, in case there were others beyond the screaming man. No one approached even though people encircled them, looking horrified at the scene. She called out for someone to call 911 and several people called out that they had already called. But as she turned back, she realized with shocked horror that Sookie had gone so still after only moments. Warm, soft, but so very still. The pool of blood soaking her suit, spreading on the floor seemed to have slowed and there was no more blood spurting from the wound under the pressure of her hand. She wasn't recovering. And there was so much blood everywhere, that sweet-scented blood that had been hers alone…

The only sound, other than shocked murmurs, were the screams of the man, his arm torn away at the shoulder. Still in shock, Pam slowly drew her almost totally healed wrist away from Sookie's lips and withdrew her hand from pressuring the wound on her chest. Her heart had stopped. She pressed again but there was nothing. The aquamarine eyes stared up at her, vacant. People stood around them, whispering all around them… Their hushed voices filled her ears.

"It's really Sookie Northman?"

"She's really nice. I met her once at a Newman School event. Her nephew was in the same class as my son. She's really a lovely person. This is just so horrible…"

"Can she survive losing that much blood?"

"Oh my God, it looks like he's killed her. She's gone all still."

"There's so much blood… Oh my…"

"When did they call 911? It's taking them so long and we're in the City Hall for pete's sake…"

"Who is the vampire lady, again? Shouldn't that heal her? What is taking the paramedics so long?"

"That must have gone straight into her heart to have caused that kind of blood loss. I used to be a nurse. He got her right in the heart or one of the major arteries if she lost so much so fast… It's only minutes with that kind of injury. She's bled out with that volume lost. She's gone…"

"The vampire doesn't even seem to react with all that blood around. Wow…"

Seconds later the sound of sirens filled the air.

All these voices whispering around her, but no pulse, no breath. Pam looked down at the form that had been her closest friend in her existence and heard… silence. Felt… nothing… nothing… Her eyes filled with tears and still crouching, she sat back on her heels.

For several more minutes, Pam sat next to her, pink tears trailing down her face. She interlaced her fingers with Sookie's, which were growing cooler by the minute. Finally, a Were on the NOPD put his arm around her.

"Miss Ravenscroft, is it? You should have someone to assist you. Do you want us to call someone to come get you? Miss Ravenscroft? She's gone… you're going to need to move. Homicide needs to take over from here. Miss Ravenscroft?"

They literally had to pry her fingers away from her. She might be a vampire but clearly she was in shock. She still wouldn't move from her side and sat just staring at her, hissing if anyone tried to touch her. The Were tried to keep everyone back while they waited for assistance.

Cadel and Andor arrived and took in the shocking scene. Cadel's hand flew to his mouth as he took in the horror of it. So much blood… It was just so horrible. Andor surveyed the scene and instantly understood what he'd felt from Eric. She was lost to him.

They tried to help Pam up but she simply crumbled. Cadel picked her up and after taking a long, studied look at Sookie, carried Pam out to the car. Andor remained and spoke to the officers and several witnesses at the scene. He glanced over, jaw jutting forward, at the moaning man strapped onto the gurney nearby, handcuffed by his remaining wrist to an officer. The man who had murdered her in cold blood and was the source of Eric's future inconsolable depression. Of Pam's shock. Of all of their loss. The paramedics were applying a pressure bandage to him. He looked down again at her as the police photographers seemed to take endless photos and reminded himself of the AVL edicts about not going after humans. Because most assuredly, if he'd had his way, he thought looking back over at the man... He watched as they finished photographing her, and the scene, and while they put her in the body bag and then wheeled her away.

An hour later, Eric sat in the great room that Sookie had renovated just last year, expanding the old sitting room area to make a larger space that was more comfortable for the larger number of vampires now living in the compound. He held Pam's bloodied hand. She still hadn't spoken since Cadel and Andor had brought her back to the compound. She hadn't changed out of her bloodied clothes. There was dried blood all over her knees and calves, on her jacket, skirt and hands. The finest spatters of blood scattered on her face and neck like little red freckles. It was odd to smell Sookie's blood all over someone else. It was surreal. She was here with them and… not. She was… gone.

Pam seemed numb. Vampires obviously couldn't really go into shock, but she looked to be a fair approximation of it.

"It wasn't your fault," Eric said finally. "Andor says that they said he seemed to be with the Councilman's group. Maybe he was a mole for the GL people and just seized the opportunity. Maybe he wasn't even really with Saunders's group and just took advantage of the situation. But it wasn't your fault, Pam. Even I would never have thought she would be attacked in such a setting. I didn't think to send Cadel with you both. No one even knew you both were attending in my place."

She turned to look at him mutely and started to cry again. Eric squeezed her hand.

He had risen early, had been so busy. He looked at the tie now draped over his bent thigh and stroked it. She had even tied the tie standing from behind him because he was so rushed and was typing away at email as they chatted about their anniversary. So busy. Too busy to even to turn around and look into those eyes… He remembered the warmth of her lips on his temple before he'd risen from his desk. He'd barely talked to her when she slipped in to verify one point for Pam before they left for the meeting. She'd looked so elegant in her light colored linen suit. It was new and she seemed as if she was so pleased with how she looked from the way she moved in it. He was busy and didn't mention it. Later, he'd thought. I'll tell her she looks beautiful later. And later? The shock, the sensation and then… nothing. Nothing. For the first time in fourteen years, no warmth, no vibrancy… there was suddenly just nothing. It wasn't like when she turned it off, which she hadn't even done in years at this point. Or when she ran away, when there had still been some mysterious connection. No, this was a different feeling. This was… complete absence.

He had excused himself and practically stumbled out of his meeting, had to sit in his office, absorbing the shock of what he thought had just happened. Andor was puzzled, concerned. It was a good ten minutes later when the police called. Andor and Cadel insisted they should go in case there was further trouble. They hoped it was a mistake. But that feeling of emptiness was not to be mistaken for anything other than what it was. She was… gone. The only woman that he had ever been in love with. A woman who had truly seen him as he was, loved him as he was. She had been murdered in cold blood and he had barely even spoken to or spent time with her the night she died. He felt a hollowness inside and all he could think was… she was gone.

He glanced at Pam. He thought back to their frustration years before, the shared and seemingly absurd attachment to the telepath. These fifteen years of knowing Sookie had been a great emotional investment for Pam. She really loved her, even if not as freely as he did, certainly as she had not loved any other human. Friend, sister. And she'd seen her struck down by a human, in a single blow, before she could stop him. In a manner that simply could not be remedied, according to what Andor had told him. The paramedic he'd spoken to had said that she had bled out in a matter of minutes and would likely have incurred serious brain damage from lack of oxygen had she even made it to the hospital for treatment.

He felt as if his heart twisted internally. How could he face going up to their rooms, with her scent everywhere? Her things everywhere. Their bed. It was empty. He was empty. Alone. So alone. He touched the tie draped across his thigh again. They had murdered her. Because she believed that they all had rights. He felt a surge of hatred for the entire human race and then pushed it aside thinking of Hunter, even more human than she was… And how was he going to tell Hunter? He was distracted by a sob from Pam.

"It isn't your fault Pam. Better that you were with her than that she was alone. It isn't your fault."

White as a sheet, she turned to him.

"You don't understand. I think I've done something terrible…"


The four of them stood looking down at her, where she sat sprawled on the floor in front of the couch. He'd exited the room in such a rage he'd ripped the door and frame partially off the wall as he left. Growling, cursing in Norse, he'd stormed upstairs after pushing Markus out of his way, hard enough to leave dent in the wall.

Stefan knelt before her and held her hand then helped her back up to sitting on the couch. She was sobbing uncontrollably after trying to explain in a rather incoherent fashion. From a rapidly healing cut on her lip, it looked as if she had be slapped hard in the face with an open hand.

"You have to calm down. Pam, tell us again exactly how it happened and what you did. Try to calm down. Just replay it for us."

More coherently this time, she described the man, his appearing suddenly, the silver flash, grabbing his arm and pulling it away from her, pulling off the arm in the process, the knife flung away, the man flung away. Sookie went down. There was so much blood. She just wanted to stop her bleeding. Heal her just enough. She tore at her wrist and let the blood flow into her gasping mouth. She turned and confirmed that someone had called 911, then hissed at people to stay away, in case there were more. It seemed like it was just minutes later, when she looked back, that she realized she'd gone still. So still. She heard no further breath, no further pulse. She had put her hand over the wound but then realized as she focused her thoughts that there was no longer a heartbeat under it. It was over in minutes, mere minutes. The pool of blood was not spreading anymore on the floor. It had slowed… stopped. Her wrist had started to heal rapidly. And it was then… then, that she realized what she'd done.

Andor smile broadly.

"By Freyja… She's done it! We have to get her out of the morgue and away from the coroner as soon as possible. Stefan, we need Bennett to call the coroner and tell him we're claiming the body back," said Andor. "Immediately. No cutting into her the way they do. This was so well done, Pam!"

Stefan looked up at Andor, uncertain he concurred quite to that extent. He turned back to Pam.

"Pam, are you sure? Was she still breathing when you started to give her your blood?" Stefan asked in a calm voice. "Do you remember? Focus on remembering. Did she still breathe? She lost the blood so fast. You felt her heart beat under your hand?"

With tears streaking her face, she squeezed Stefan's hand and nodded mutely, then let out a sob.

Cadel just shook his head and said "Bloody hell… She's going to think Eric had a hand in it, like he'd told us to do it if something happened to her. That's why he's so angry. She's going to think he lied to her. That we all lied to her."

Andor puffed out a twisted smile. "This is a gift. A gift! It's a fine thing however it's been done. It's the best thing that could have happened. Can you imagine what he'd be like if she'd died for good? He's all agitated and angry now, but you have not seen him when he is really depressed. He's absolutely impossible. And he could go on for decades like that. Maybe longer. He thinks she's 'irreplaceable'. He actually told me that once, right before he slammed me into a wall when I asked why he was going to Virginia for a human. And he's so much worse about her now. I've never seen him so attached to anyone. No, she'll get over it. We got over it and so will she. I've told Eric for years that it would work if she was turned. I even suggested that Pam should turn her, back before they were married. She'll forgive him. And Pam. She loves him and she'll definitely get over it. And at least the way it's finally happened she can't blame anyone other than the man who stabbed her. She had a nice long human life for one of our kind. And she is still looking young and beautiful, so the timing was still good. It is the best possible thing that could have happened!"

Cadel looked at him and shook his head in open disgust.

"Andor, sometimes I swear I think you were left behind in the Middle Ages. She didn't want to be turned. What do you not understand here? We don't turn people who don't want to be turned. It's a bloody federal law here. It's the official AVL policy. It is Eric's policy. And Pamela's gone and turned his bloody wife. Are you thick?"

Markus stood silently a little behind Andor and made eye contact with Cadel. The issue was obviously something of a sore point for Andor was the warning in Markus's eyes. Andor looked at Cadel and said,

"What are you saying, Cadel? You've always liked her so much, were so attached to her yourself. We all were attached to her. How can you not want her turned? Do you prefer her murdered and gone? I'm sorry if she has died but she is still going to be with us and if all of us standing here were really honest, we'd admit that we are not sorry at all if she is turned. You're the one always saying she's 'so grand'. Going on and on about how Eric just has a talent when it comes to finding fiery women. How can this not be a gift, Cadel?"

"A gift to fucking whom, Andor? Surely not to her if it's not what she wanted! Bloody hell! She's not a car or an interesting book or a pretty figurine. I like her immensely. And I like her enough to respect her choices, just like Eric did. I'm assuming that Pamela made a genuine mistake. But a mistake is a mistake and you ought to think about what it felt like to have your entire life and death ripped out of your hands and put into someone else's, you bloody, fucking arse! She isn't a gift to Eric. She was a person. And from her perspective, she'll think she trusted us, trusted Eric and that her trust has been betrayed. How can you not understand why Eric is even more upset now? How thick are you? Pamela stole her death from her. And she may well want it back. Do you get it at all? Do you have any concept at all of how stubborn she is? She liked her freedom and having her choices. A decade on and you still don't have a clue about the woman do you? It's the makings of a fucking disaster, this is."

Andor jutted out his chin and said, "I think there is rather a difference between what happened to us and what has happened to her, Cadel. Are you actually comparing Pam… Pam, to our sire? Her best friend turned her and you're comparing that to what Ocella did? Pam has not stolen anything. She has given her, and Eric, a gift, and both of them will have to put it in better perspective. If she really loves him then she'll just get used to it, won't she, Cadel? If we got used to it under duress, I'm sure she can get used to it living as we do here. I've had a problem with her not wanting to be turned from the very beginning. Why do that to Eric? So this is the chance to set things right. She loves him, and she'll get over it. She'll forgive him and all of us, including Pam. Pam saved her, so she can have more time with those she says she loves. A lot more time. She should be grateful. Why don't you try to be happy for Eric? It plays much better from that angle."

Cadel leaned in closer to Andor and growled,

"The problem is that it wasn't Pamela's choice to make Andor! It wasn't Eric's, either. She made her choice. It was ignored."

"I'm continuing to think of it as a gift. To everyone involved, whether she realizes it right away or not, Cadel," said Andor with a steely calm as he stared down at Cadel.

Pam spoke up in a voice raspy from her crying, "I didn't ignore her choice. I didn't know… I didn't know she was dying. It was all so fast and there were so many people around. I was afraid there were others and I just wanted her to stop bleeding. I didn't mean to do it. I've never turned anyone at all! I've never even seen someone turned. I didn't stop to think. I just wanted to buy her time to get to the hospital. I've never even seen anyone human stabbed like that. How could I know? Maybe I didn't… maybe I didn't even want to feel it if she was dying. I just wanted to stop it… There was so much blood but… I didn't think she would die… I didn't want her to die…" Her voice trailed off and she began sobbing again.

Cadel sat down next to her and put his arm around her shoulders. It was clearly a genuine mistake. Pam prided herself on not making mistakes. Stefan shook his head as he reached out and stroked Pam's hair. He and Cadel met eyes. For a decade Sookie had lived among them feeling safe, with the clear idea that everyone knew she did not wish to be turned. And now… Cadel looked away with a heavy sigh, resting his face in his hand, shaking his head. A bad business, seemed to be his take on the situation.

Stefan, his hand still on Pam's head as she cried, stroking through her hair, sighed too. Well, choice or not, mistake or not, the thing was done. And it was going to be up to Eric and Pam to decide what they were going to do. Pam was clearly in no shape to decide much currently, however. Eric was not even clearly thinking yet about getting her back. If the second was too shaken up to take charge then it fell to him to do so. Andor was right. They'd have to move quickly to avoid the coroner starting a formal autopsy.

"Pam is clearly unwell, so I'm taking point. I'll call Bennett and make the arrangements. Cadel take Pam up to her room and sit with her while she gets cleaned up. Markus, try to find Eric and just keep an eye on him from a distance since he's likely to be so… distracted. Andor, just tell anyone still here that the rest of the night is totally canceled. That idiot from Monroe was still lingering out there as if he thinks Eric's not going to be much bothered that his human got murdered and is still going to be in the mood to discuss loans. You can tell him not to expect to come back for several months. He's going to have a hard time getting an appointment out of me. And you need to stop being so cheerful about the situation. It's inappropriate. If you can't control yourself on the issue then stay away from Eric."

Andor crossed his arms and glared at him. Stefan was telling him how to handle things with Eric? His being in charge was little better than Pam being in charge in his mind. A decade ago it had been mystifying to him that Eric had put the two of them, so young, in the positions that he had. The 'polished, front end of the business'…? Admittedly it had worked out fairly well. But now Stefan was going to try to tell him how to deal with Eric? The very idea rankled. However, since Pam was busy wasting energy on what was ultimately good fortune, so be it. And Cadel? What was wrong with Cadel that he didn't see this as the opportunity to put things as they should be? Who in their right mind would prefer her gone versus turned, he wondered? They could think whatever they wanted but he was giving Eric a night or less to come to the conclusion that his child had done him an incredible favor. So much drama over good fortune…

After a preceding roar of anger that echoed through the building, a heavy thud reverberated upstairs. The five of them, even Pam, who cringed in Cadel's arms, looked up at the ceiling. Stefan waved them all off and drew out his cell phone and pushed Bennett's number on his speed dial. After a moment he said,

"Bennett? Yes, yes… it's quite horrible. Actually, I have an extremely urgent matter directly related to her. There's… an unforeseen complication. Please understand this is a matter of utmost discretion. I need her back as soon as possible. I need you to call the coroner… No, Bennett, you don't understand…" he walked out of the room as he spoke.

Two hours later Eric barged into Pam's rooms. Stefan and Cadel were sitting with her. She had finally stopped crying. Eric glowered angrily at her, fangs down.

"I still just cannot fathom how you could be so inept. I simply cannot fathom it! You, of all people! And I'm telling you right now, you are telling her it was all you, your fucking stupidity and that I had nothing to do with it! Did you know that I promised her that if anyone turned her that I'd kill them? Did you know that? So you better tell her it was you before she even sees me, Pam, so you don't make even more of a liar out of me in her eyes. How could you not realize that she was dying? I can't even conceive of it! If she blames me for this, I will never forgive you. She trusted you. She trusted ME!" he raged.

She let out an anguished cry that was almost like an injured animal.

"I loved her, Eric! I loved her. I wanted to protect her, to save her…" she descended back into tears all over again. Cadel put his arm around her, protectively, looking guardedly at Eric, who looked as if he was barely containing himself.

"Do you have any idea of how hard it was to get her to trust me? You have unmade fifteen years for me if she is turned! She loved us, trusted us. And you have handed her the one thing, the only thing that she feared! You have no idea what you have done!" He pointed at her and said in a threatening tone, "You had better hope that she is not turned because I'm telling you right now, if she blames me for your stupidity…"

Pam cowered and tried to slip off the couch, as if to fall to her knees in front of him, but Cadel held firmly her in place.

Simultaneously, Stefan rose swiftly and cutting him off, spoke to Eric in Swedish as he tried to turn Eric away from Pam.

"Enough of this, Eric. You have clearly decided to keep her, so you and Pam have to stop arguing about it. You have to stop it! You can't expect Sookie to survive this kind of fighting between the two of you when she is new. If the two of you are at odds over it, it will tear her apart. What chance do you have of…"

Decided to keep her!? Almost wild-eyed, Eric turned on him and grabbed him by the throat and held him off the ground while Stefan struggled and grabbed at Eric's forearm. Cadel instantly put himself in front of Pam.

"Eric! Let Stefan go. He's not the reason you're upset," Cadel hissed. "You're upset because she was murdered. Put him down. Eric! Put him down!"

"Decision? I have about as little a choice in the matter as she has had! How can I not keep her? Working out well? Fucking hell! She may never forgive me. NEVER! That would be even worse than losing her. So don't you tell me what to do, you fucking bastards…"

He threw Stefan all the way across the room into the beveled mirror on Pam's wardrobe. He wheeled around to look at Cadel who stood in front of Pam.

"What the fuck are you about? Stefan? You're tossing around Stefan, of all people? Get out, before you do something else you're going to regret," Cadel snarled at him. "Bloody hell, I don't care how upset you are! You want to fight, go after the bastard that murdered your bloody wife. Leave Pamela and Stefan alone."

Eric took a swing at him but Cadel easily dodged him, even while pulling Pam with him, behind his back. Cadel's entire face had changed, as his eyes glowed red hot and fangs were down.

"If you want to destroy your entire regime with your anger, it's your business, brother. But you're not getting a hand on her, or Stefan again, while I'm in the room. Go hit something your own age. Go fight with Andor, who's practically celebrating your good fortune at your wife's being turned, instead beating on those who might actually understand your ambivalence on the matter. But hear this: This was your onetime pass, Eric. The next time I see you treating Stefan badly, I leave and I'll get him to go with me and maybe we'll even take Pamela with us for good measure. Stefan had quite enough of that with our sire and I'll not stand by and see you harm him because of some fit of misplaced temper. And you're not hurting her, either. Strike her again, and you'll be sorry you ever laid eyes on me. Let's each of us remember who we're dealing with and where we've been. You may get a hand on me but you'll be sorry you did when you do. Just you remember what you've seen me do in your defense and reckon on it for Stefan's in future. You don't want to fight me over the wrong business, either Stefan, or over your hitting a woman who's almost a thousand years younger than you are and a foot shorter," he snarled, eyes glowing. With real menace he stepped closer and growled, "So leave us alone and get the bloody fuck out of her rooms!"

At the mention of their sire, some of the anger had already drained from Eric's face. He glanced back at Stefan, who had risen off the floor and was bleeding, covered in shards of glass. Stefan looked at him in shock. Eric stared back at him for a moment and then without another word, stormed out of the room.

"Bloody hell," said Cadel in a low tone. "I didn't sign up for this and neither did either of you."

Cadel let go of Pam and walked over to Stefan. The cuts from the broken glass were already healing rapidly. Stefan shook himself off and picked a shard of broken glass out of his arm. Cadel picked several pieces off of the hard to reach areas on his back while cursing in Welsh. Then he drew out his cell phone and called Andor.

"Listen, Andor, you better watch yourself. I've seen Eric angry but never like this. Not in the entire time I've known him, not even with that idiot Nevada guy who said they'd find her and kill her. Yeah well, he just threw Stefan into a mirror merely for telling him he had to stop going after Pamela. Yes, that Stefan, moron! What? Don't be such a wanker, Andor. I'm quite sure he could toss you anywhere he had a mind to with the frame of mind he's in. He's only about a million times faster than you are as a starting point. So why don't you just stay out of his way and keep your bloody thoughts to yourself. And keep an eye open for Bennett because he told Stefan he was on his way with her." Andor started to talk back to him so he hung up on him.

He turned back to Stefan, who now was leaning over Pam, resting his cheek on her head, eyes closed.

Stefan straightened and looked at him. In German he said,

"Thank you for protecting her." His eyes looked bright. He could hardly even speak. He guided her to the couch so she could sit.

"If worse comes to worse, we'll leave with her. Don't worry. I'll go get someone to clean this up. Stay with her. Hopefully, he'll think about it and get a grip on it. If he doesn't, we'll leave. Pamela has friends in Minnesota, right? We'll find something there or we'll go back to Europe. I've got plenty of connections still in Munich. It may not be so grand, but it will definitely be safer than dealing with this business."

Stefan just nodded, hissing as he drew out another shard of glass, this from the back of his leg, and Cadel left the room.

After getting the remaining larger pieces off himself, Stefan knelt down and studied Pam's face, which was just ashen. She was staring at the floor.

"Are you alright?" he asked softly, brushing some stray hair back behind her ear. She didn't respond. He glanced around the room, which was now a mess with all the shattered glass. "Pam, I really don't think you should be alone. You can stay with me today. It's a mess in here anyway. You'll feel better when you've rested. We can talk about what you'll tell her. You have a few nights to try to figure out what will help her. You and Eric will be able to help her understand, to accept it."

He stood again and brushed off the remaining glass fragments, shaking his hand to dislodge the few that stuck into his palm as he did so. He looked down at Pam. How bad must it be if she was letting him, and even letting Cadel comfort her? She had been so afraid of Eric. Really Cadel ought to remember better. Eric's temper, when he finally lost it, had always been so very bad. And this was temper fueled by loss. He could remember Andor's telling him about the rare occasions when Eric had really just lost it. Or even just Cadel's account of the Nevada vampire's demise at the outset of their takeover because of his ill-timed threats to go after Sookie. He glanced away remembering his own losses and realized that he could understand much of Eric's response.

"Why don't you come rest in my rooms. Come on," he said offering her his left hand. "I'll need to change, as it is."

She didn't even respond. Finally, he tried to pull her off the couch but she was practically limp. He picked her up.

"We have a while before dawn. I'll change and then let's go downstairs and get you blood. We both should feed. You'll feel better afterwards."

In the hall he encountered Cadel carrying the bag.

"Is Pamela alright, UB?" asked Cadel, sounding concerned. "He didn't come back, did he?"

"No, no… I think she's sort of in shock. I'm just going to have her stay with me." Cadel gave him a wry look at that idea, but said nothing. "I need to change, then we'll go down and feed. So… that's her?" Stefan said, nodding his head toward the body bag.

"Yeah, and I sent Markus back with Bennett to get the coroner's initial death certificate to be on the safe side. Since Ludwig says she will examine her tomorrow, all the paperwork will be in order. I've never seen Markus so glad to be sent out. Now Andor is with Eric and I'm sure that's going to go so well," said Cadel snidely. "Where should we put her? I just can't see putting her in a coffin, Stefan. I'm afraid it would frighten her terribly when she rises. But Eric clearly doesn't want her thinking this was his idea, so their rooms won't be a plan. I'll not keep her with me, that's for sure."

Stefan thought for a moment and then said,

"We can put her in Pam's bed, since Pam will stay with me. The room will be cleaned shortly, right? Just put her the bed and we'll deal with cleaning her up before dawn. I'll help Pam do it." He paused for a moment and said to Cadel, nodding at the body bag, "Have you looked at her? It is true she's turned?"

Cadel looked down with a grimace and shook his head.

"I didn't look at her, no. But…" he demonstrated how flexible the bag was. "More than seven hours and no rigor. She's definitely turned. I've only turned one myself. She was buried right away and I never saw the body in the hours after I'd given her my blood. I'd had to leave quickly. But I saw someone who'd been turned in Munich about fifteen years back, right after the Revelation. He never went stiff. Look at her…" he bent the leg portion of the bag at the knees almost all the way back to the thigh.

Stefan looked somewhat stunned but for a different reason.

"You turned someone, Cadge? When? You never told me that… When? Who?"

Cadel made a face and looked away as he tightened his grip on the body bag ever so slightly. She'd been the only one he'd told here. He'd never even told his best friend about the bad end to the relationship with little Maggie MacLaren. He glanced back at Stefan. Why'd I even mention it now, he thought to himself?

"1796. You remember the girl, the girl I liked in Glasgow?"

Recognition dawned on Stefan's face.

"The redhead? The one whose lock of hair you had? Maggie something? You turned her? What happened to her, then? I saw that lock of hair in the 1860's. I thought you were just reminiscing! What happened to her?"

"Yeah… Look, I'll tell you about that some other time but it's neither here nor there right now. Point is, the one I saw turned in Munich fifteen years ago never went stiff and Sookie isn't stiff, which to my mind means Pamela here has definitely gone and turned her."

Pam didn't even react to the words of confirmation.

"Well, leave her in there and I'll try to get Pam in better shape so we can clean her up," said Stefan quietly.

"I'd offer to help, but really, Stefan, I just don't think I can see her like this. I have real qualms about what we do from here, you know? She had very definite wishes about things. And the way Eric is acting on top of it… I'm having problems with the whole business." He was still thinking about whether they should just clear out and have done.

"We have to try, Cadge. You always want to leave off things too easily. We have to stay and we have to try. Pam can't leave now anyway, because she has to take care of Sookie. Like it or not, it's her responsibility. Besides, Sookie's ours. All of ours, and we have to try to get this to work. For Eric, for Pam, and for Sookie herself." He hesitated, then said quietly, "It makes me remember Annegret. Grief makes you behave in ways that..." He sighed heavily, looking as if lost in his memories. Then he snapped back to the present. "With Eric... This is just his grief, Cadge. I can forgive him for it. We all know that she's died because of what she did for all of us. So we stay and try to make things right. We cannot let a pack of humans and Pam's mistake break what we have built here. It would be the very antithesis of what Sookie would want or believe in, no matter what the outcome of this is for her," he said putting a hand on the body bag. "We should do what she'd want, which is stick with Eric and make the best."

"I won't stand for his mistreating you, Stefan. Or Pamela. I'll live on the street again before I'd let anyone treat me or you that way. And don't even get me started on her. I can't believe he struck her. I'd never have believed it if I hadn't seen that he had with my own eyes."

"He'll calm down. Andor will get him to calm down. And he felt bad, Cadel. Whether he says it or not, he felt bad about what he did with me and I'm sure the same with Pam. You could see it in his face."

Cadel frowned, but said no more. He'd had his fill of people feeling bad later long ago. It was no excuse after the first time, so far as he was concerned.

An hour later Stefan had Pam back in the room, which had been cleaned up a fair amount. They unzipped the body bag and slipped her out onto extra sheets that he'd laid out on top of the bedspread. They used dressmaker shears to cut the remaining blood-saturated suit and underwear off of her. The coroner had thankfully not started any seriously invasive work before Bennett had recovered her. There would not be any sutures to remove or cut bones to bind. It looked as if the jacket had been cut open to photograph the chest wound. With a grimace, Stefan pulled out a disposable depth gauge that had been left in the wound to gauge the depth of the blade's fatal strike. Pam let out a brief sob watching him remove it. She was incredibly shaky as she used a lavender washcloth and water from a small basin to wash the blood away. It was almost hard to believe that she was the all-so-efficient and capable Pam. She cried the entire time as she bathed her and when she looked at the stab wound she was all but inconsolable, murmuring angrily that she wished she'd killed that man that had killed her poor, beautiful friend. No justice other than death was sufficient in her eyes at the moment and whereas Sookie's death had been swift, she murmured of a long and painful demise for her killer if she could have her way. Stefan sat off to the side, looking away. It was really horrible, what had happened to Sookie, he thought to himself. The thought that she was dead at the hands of some zealot was simply horrible. When Pam was finished, he helped her slip a nightgown on her and he lifted her while Pam pulled away the damp and soiled sheets.

Shortly afterwards, Eric entered the room, looking calmer than before. Andor, looking slightly less confident than he had earlier, hovered in the doorway with a very grim-looking Markus. Eric walked over to look at Sookie in the bed. He picked up her left hand and noted the arm bending at the elbow and the wrist and then the fingers. Definitely turned, his face seemed to say. He turned to Pam, who stood nearby with Stefan's hand on her shoulder, and, with a strained expression on his face, started to raise his hand from his side. But he quickly dropped it to his side again as she winced. Stefan pulled Pam to his chest and met Eric's eyes warily. He had just intended to put a hand on her shoulder after his long conversation with Andor. He shook his head. He would not strike her again. It was wrong to have struck her at all. It was, in fact, the first and only time he had ever struck her, a point about which he now felt painfully aware. He was angry at what had happened… the entire chain of events… but not at Pam. Pam had tried to help Sookie. Save her. She had failed, in a manner of speaking. But not… entirely. He glanced back at Sookie and then sat down on the edge of the bed, again picking up and holding her left hand, mumbling in Norse as he spun her wedding ring on her finger.

Taking advantage of his distraction, Stefan decided to get Pam out of the room. It would be dawn relatively soon, anyway. Better to go and rest.

"Good night, your Highness," said Stefan formally, bowing his head. He turned to leave, guiding Pam away in front of him.

"Don't call me that in private. I forbid it. I apologize, Stefan," Eric called after him in Swedish, without looking at him. "I am just so angry. She was murdered. Murdered because of her association with us and then turned against her wishes. In one night so much was lost. I do not want to lose her twice. I can barely even stand it once. But I am sorry for what I did to you. Sorry to have frightened you with Pam. Sorry for what I did to her. For making you remember the past. So sorry for… this," he said, gesturing with his hand still laced with hers. His voice just trailed off. "It is hard to know where to begin to fix things," he whispered, as if to himself.

Pressing Pam into Andor's arms, Stefan went back into the room, closing the door behind him.

"Eric, I do not agree with Andor's manner but I do agree with his assessment. She will adjust. Her end was abrupt and she had much still to live for. You, Pam, Hunter, Bronwyn, her brother, her nephews, all of us, all her friends, and her good works. What's done is done. This is done and we cannot undo it so we must help her adjust to it. And if Pam is her sire… well, you know how close they were. She will trust that, if Pam tells her it was not your decree, it was truly inadvertent. A fortunate mistake. Fortunate for her, and most of all, for all of us. For Hunter, for Bronwyn."

"Hunter," murmured Eric to himself. "I do not even know what I will tell Hunter."

"Perhaps it is good that Hunter's away right now, so he won't see her right away. It might be too hard on him. But it obviously won't matter to Hunter at all if she is turned. Given the alternative, he will likely even be glad of it, Eric. Maybe if she sees that those around prefer it to losing her, it will make it easier for her to accept it herself. Perhaps it will not be as you think. Just as Andor says, she will adjust. Even if initially it is hard. We all did, so can she. The circumstances are totally different for her. She will be more sheltered even, than Pam was. Maybe we can have friends talk to her after she has risen. Just… to assure her that everyone is glad of having her with us, that her life will not change as much as she feared, in these times. She will be reassured by Amelia, Ahmed, her brother, right?"

When she rises… Feeding her… Eric cringed internally. How was this ever going to work? No matter what Stefan thought, he knew better. It was everything she hadn't wanted. She was going to be so very angry. So very afraid. It was everything he had promised would not happen to her, even if it had come to pass by accident. But what could he do to make things different? His feelings were so conflicted on the matter he could hardly even think straight. He had already done enough to Stefan, and done enough to worry Cadel, from what he'd seen, however. Cadel could barely even make eye contact with him in the hallway, now. He had slapped Pam. He had harmed Stefan, made him remember his dark past. That alone was something that Cadel would not forget, protective as he was of Stefan. And to have hit a woman who was not even fighting? So he was mild in his reply.

"Yes, he said softly. "I'll call them." He paused and looked directly at him this time. "Again, I am sorry Stefan. Just go and take care of Pam. Seize the moment to do so."

Stefan nodded to him, left the room and closed the door behind him.

Eric sat on the bed looking at her. The anger, at Pam, at himself, at the man who stabbed her, briefly surged through him yet again. But it was quickly supplanted by his grief. Tears slowly streaked down his face as he raised her hands to his lips. Their tenth anniversary was in a little over a week. He had not gotten the chance even to order her gift as he had planned. He had been so busy. Too busy. Too busy and too distracted even to tell her she was beautiful. He couldn't even remember if he had told her in the past night that he loved her. It was absurd. Like something out of a bad novel. All the things that he would scoff at, of love and loss. Everything he had thought trite about love or relationships. It was all laid out in front of him. Why had he let them go without further protection to the meeting? How had his life, her life with him, come apart this way?

But, now that he was alone, and seeing her in front of him, he had to face it. The honest truth was that, even if he had knocked Andor into the next room a short time ago for saying so, perhaps it was a gift. For so long it had been exactly what he told himself he wanted even though it was what he had promised her wouldn't happen.

"Min älskade," he said sadly. "I am so sorry that it happened this way. That you had so little choice in the matter."

His eyes coursed over her. He looked at her hand in his, her fingers cool and pliable. He reached out and touched her cool and ashen face. His wife, his beautiful and now very undead wife… To whom he had promised himself for eternity, which was a very, very long time. Forever yours. A vow, made with their blood, to be given only with great gravity and which took on a wholly different meaning in the present context. She had been so apprehensive about the idea of ever being turned. He was sure part of the real issue was her fear that they would separate and that she would be left on her own, alone. Then again, though she might love quite a few vampires, she had certainly despised many aspects of their culture. Even more than the violence, the whole potential for loss of freedom and individuality, subjugation, forced subservience… there were so many things that were the very opposite of her nature. Thoughts, choices, trailed through his mind, glinting in the darkness he felt in his heart and mind.

If she were cremated now, or even just decapitated, it would settle it as she had wished it to be, he thought to himself.

No. He simply could not bring himself to do it. She was already turned, inadvertently and by someone she loved. It was outside any circumstance that he had sworn to. He agreed with Stefan's take, even if he worried that she would be angry with him. What was done was done. He could never bring himself to make another choice.

He drew out his phone and sent a brief text message to Jason simply stating the bare facts. She was dead but that she'd been inadvertently turned by Pam at death, that he would talk to Jason after sunset. Then he started through the contact list of her closest friends.

Ahmed's phone was always silent, and it went directly to a voicemail message that had classical music followed by that clipped and upper crust British voice. He sighed. He wondered how fast the news of her death had traveled. Still, he couldn't see leaving such information without preparing him.

"Ahmed, it's Eric. Please call me if you get the message before 8 am your time. Or after 6 pm my time. It's urgent."

He hung up. He scrolled on. Some instinct, based on something she had said several years back, made him skip Alla.

Instead, he dialed Amelia. It was picked up on the second ring, even though it was close to dawn.

He heard her say in the background, "Give it to me, Bertie…. Eric?"

"Yes."

"I still just can't believe it. We saw it on the 11 o'clock news…" She had been crying. He heard it in her voice even after all these hours. "I tried calling Pam but she doesn't answer. I even tried Cadel. No one answers. Pam was there with her, they said on the news?"

He lowered his head to his left hand and rubbed his temples. He shook it as her glanced over at her in the bed.

"You'll have to talk to Pam for the details. The real reason I'm calling you is to tell you that there has been a 'mistake', Amelia. Pam gave her blood as she was dying. She isn't gone. She is turned. I…" he shuddered. "She's going to be so angry…"

Amelia was in stunned silence on the other line. After a moment trying to absorb this information she asked in a gasp,

"Pam did what?"

"As she lay dying, Pam gave her blood. I guess…" he said, as he tried again to grasp it. "I guess she was just panicked although I have a hard time envisioning Pam panicked over anything. She didn't think about it carefully. She'd never turned anyone. She gave her blood thinking she could stop the bleeding. But they say she was stabbed in the heart and lost a large volume of blood very quickly. It was over too fast. We already have her back in the compound. She is here in front of me and it is obvious looking at her that she is turned. I'm assuming that you don't care if she's a vampire. But she'll care. Would you come to talk to her? Help us? Because we're obviously very concerned about how she's going to… absorb this."

Amelia was just silent for a moment.

"I… well of course, I don't care if she's a vampire, Eric. Of course, I'll come see her as soon as you want me to. Is Pam… alright?"

He curled his lip slightly over his teeth. He could only hope that Sookie herself would exemplify the same degree of concern over Pam as everyone else was.

"Pam is as good as she can be, having betrayed Sookie's wishes, broken federal and state laws, the edicts of the American Vampire League and my express command as her king and sire. Sure, Pam is just fine. You talk to her later. You'll have to forgive me if I don't care about how Pam is doing right now. I'm sure you know, just as I do, that Sookie is not going to be fine with this, Amelia."

"But it was really just a mistake? You said she died too fast for Pam to realize what she was risking?"

"Yes, as I understand it," Eric said with a tight voice. "Everyone seems to believe that it was a genuine mistake, however uncharacteristically inept it was."

Amelia was silent on the line for a moment or two, as if considering things.

"Well, I guess I think she'll forgive her, Eric. You know how they are. Maybe she can be made to see it was a genuine mistake on her part. They just always seemed to have a different set of rules for each other, didn't they? They were so close and I think Sookie knows in her heart that Pam would never deliberately do anything bad to her. I mean Sookie can't really blame you? It's not like you told Pam or any of them to do it if something happened to her, right?"

"No," he said firmly. "My wishes on the matter had been made very clear."

"Well, you say it happened very fast. So maybe it will be okay. Maybe Pam was the one person who could turn her that she would forgive…" her voice trailed off. "She has a lot of reasons to keep going, with you and Hunter and… even Bronwyn, right? And Pam and Cadel. And… maybe it's wrong of me, or selfish of me, but really… I'm glad. I'm glad those bastards couldn't do away with her. I'm glad if she's turned instead of gone. I'm glad for all of us."

He could hardly control the ripple of pleasure he felt at her words. Amelia was glad. Andor was glad. And he himself… Steady, he told himself. Steady. He had to temper his thoughts… He had to remember what her wishes had been and not his, or anyone else's. Even though he was making a conscious decision that appeared not to follow them. And there was the all too difficult matter of how Sookie herself would see things.

Bertram said something in the background. Amelia asked,

"I know… " she murmured in the background. "Look, I really don't mean to be in your business, Eric and I'm not trying to upset you any more than you already are. But we'd even wondered if she really could die without turning, anyway. The feel of her, just within the past year… Bert felt this change in her energy… we'd talked about it privately. There was just a change in her after that car accident she had last year, when that guy broadsided her. We could really tell she'd had a lot more of your blood. She was starting to have this whole otherworldly aura that even I could feel. She never stopped glowing after that accident according to Bert. And so, it kind of made us wonder. Maybe she couldn't permanently die from such a thing? Maybe this isn't anyone's fault at all? She used to talk about worrying that she'd just turn because of having had so much blood. You know, like years ago. Are you sure it was even Pam's doing that she turned?"

"Yes, Amelia, I'm sure it was Pam's doing. She had to have blood at the moment of death. That's just the way it works. All the rest is wives' tales. Unless you're dying and ingest vampire blood, you are not going to turn. It's a possibility if you are injured and ingest a very large amount of blood but even then the sire should feel it happening. This was too fast and she died too quickly and Pam is… inexperienced. She had poor judgment, having never turned anyone in the past."

Amelia was silent for a moment.

"Well... Whatever. None of that matters, anyway. What's done is done. As soon as she rises and you guys think it's okay, sure I'll try to talk to her. And you're right. I don't even want to imagine how angry she's going to be, but I mean a large part of that has to just be her being murdered, right? I mean, if she's still with everyone that loves her, you tell me…? But you can count on me, on..." she paused, "on Bert, too. We'll do whatever we can to help. And as soon as she's calm enough, I'll even bring Bronwyn to see her. Actually, I'm glad to think that I won't have to tell Bronnie that Sookie's totally gone. She'd be so very sad at the thought. What about everybody else? Does Jamie know? He won't care at all. He's way past looking at vampires as a bad thing because of Cadel. He'll be supportive. Peggy once even told me she couldn't understand why Sookie didn't want to be turned because she was so close to all of you. Did you call Ahmed?"

"Yes."

"Don't call Alla. Not yet. It will be harder for her from what Sookie's told me. Maybe Ahmed should tell her. And Hunter? What did Hunter say?"

Eric sighed, shaking his head, rocking her arm back and forth, his hand still holding hers.

"I have not called him yet. I do not believe that Cadel or Pam have either."

"Isn't he back in Magnolia already?"

"I did not know he had left Magnolia? Where has he been?"

"Sookie told me this afternoon that he and his cousins had been out hiking and camping in the Boston Mountains. She was fussing all about his hiking in snow because she didn't think he took the right boots. They were heading back tonight, well, I guess last night, now. You should really try to call him as soon as possible. I mean, you don't want him to find out on the news that she's dead, right? It was all over the local 11 o'clock news. I wouldn't even be surprised if it's on the national news already. You need to tell him as soon as possible. It's such a shocking thing, someone being murdered at a city meeting. And she's really kind of famous, what with all the AVL stuff and the congressional appearances, isn't she? If Hunter doesn't see it, someone in his Aunt's family will. You definitely don't want him finding out from them that she died and especially not that she's turned. Who knows what they'd say. They're so prejudiced, right?"

"What?"

"Well, look at his aunt and uncle's attitude about his living with all of you."

"What? What are you talking about?"

"You remember… I think it was when he was 15 or 16 and she had that huge fight with them? She was really so offended by Claire. Remember?"

"Amelia, I know nothing of which you speak. She never told me anything about a problem with Hunter's aunt?"

Amelia drew a very sharp breath.

"Oh my gosh, then she's going to kill me for telling you, Eric... I didn't know she hadn't told you."

"What was the problem with Hunter's aunt?

"Well… About two and a half years ago, Sookie called his aunt and really had it out with her. She was so upset. They were all put out that Hunter was calling you his uncle and Pam his aunt, and wow… I just really thought you knew. I mean, she called Remy in Oregon and pretty much read him the riot act. Because the aunt and uncle don't really know about Hunter's… skills, and all, and they were spreading hatred about supes in general but what they said out loud, to his face, when you have done so much to protect him, and to financially support them. She told Remy it was unconscionable. It all started because they made some remark about you, specifically, that really upset Hunter, and then they started in on Hadley getting turned and my gosh, when he told Sookie about it, she just about went ballistic, okay? She was so incredibly angry, you have no idea. She called me in the middle of the morning to talk her down just so she could talk civilly to Remy and then to his sister Claire. I can't believe she didn't tell you. I really don't know when I've seen her so mad. Even that afternoon, when she called Remy back from the office after talking to Claire, she was still mad. She had a cocktail in the middle of the afternoon before picking Hunter up after school, Eric. When have you ever known her to have a drink like that? I really think it's the most upset I've ever seen her."

He looked at her lying there and wondered what things she had managed, even after all this time, to keep from him. Neither she, nor Hunter, had ever mentioned that his father's family had frowned on the association with him, or his living with any of the vampires here.

He was silent for several minutes and then said,

"I didn't know that she was still having to defend the association… She never spoke of it. I guess I'm… rather caught by surprise, Amelia."

"You really had no idea, Eric? I mean, if it's any comfort in the present situation, she wouldn't let anyone say anything bad about vampires in general or specifically, any of you all, in her presence. I mean, she got into real arguments with people. Even at Hunter's school. Hunter told me that she'd gotten into an argument with one of his teachers and called him ignorant to his face and complained to the administration that he was poisoning students minds with lies because he said something about vampires being bloodthirsty or something to that effect. You could ask Hunter. I guess maybe they kind of agreed not to tell any of you about it or something? But, Hunter… You have to tell him as soon as possible before they do. His family on the dad's side is just horrible. He only goes because he gets along with his cousin Bobby so well, but you know Bobby is… well, Sookie says Bobby is gay and they're just ignoring it. But anyway, Hunter likes Bobby and says he's a great kid. It think that's why he still goes. Because otherwise Bobby wouldn't have family that's supportive of who he is. And Hunter knows what it's like to feel different. To not fit. Anyway, you have to call him."

He steeled himself. He simply had no idea how to tell Hunter.

"Of course you're right. I've put it off too long. In part, I wanted to be sure of what I was telling him. But sitting here, seeing her… It is obvious that she has turned. So he needs to know that. That she isn't really gone. I'll let you go and call him."

He ended the call and sat looking at her. Pam had told him several years before that she thought that Sookie had still endured a lot of censure for being with them. She had alluded, once or twice, early on in their marriage that the attitudes that people had about them as a couple were offensive to her. But he'd never really explored it further, had never asked what it was that she had found so offensive. And she had stopped mentioning the thoughts of the humans outside the compound. The idea that it was bad enough that she had actually had arguments with people about it- Hunter's family, his school and that she had never mentioned it- rather took him aback. She had never complained, he thought to himself. She had never said a word. He reflected on whether that was part of her resistance to being turned. But he dismissed the thought. She had been different her whole life and he had a hard time believing that being different but part of a larger group of different people was really a problem in her mind. No, he quickly returned to her fears, her insecurities about the relationship as a whole. He remembered an unguarded moment several years before in which she'd said something about Hunter being a reason for her to take care of herself, even if she was left on her own.

He stroked her smooth arm and kissed her hand again. Then he made the hardest call.

The phone rang six times. The call went to voice mail but then, as he started to leave the message, Hunter called back.

"Uncle Eric?" said the sleepy voice.

Hunter was eighteen. A history and philosophy major at Tulane, now. A polished young man with thoughts of going to law school. Eric had enjoyed having him with them for the past five years immensely. Although Remy had moved to Oregon, and Hunter still spent time with paternal family in Arkansas, he was effectively Sookie's son, although he still called her 'Aunt'.

"Hunter, I'm sorry to wake you," he said soberly.

"I actually just got to bed about half an hour ago, to be honest. Wow… it is late. Is everything…" suddenly he gasped and was silent for several seconds, breathing a bit heavily into the phone as if trying to catch his breath. He gasped again. "It is done, then…"

What an odd thing to say, thought Eric. Sookie had trained him to shut out the everyday world. He had learned to shut it out well. He only 'saw' when he wanted to see. She had wanted him to shield himself from the vagaries of what he saw because of the potential for his sight to affect his emotional stability. She had told Eric several years back that Bert had given her a lot of advice about dealing with Hunter's "gift". So he had not felt it, had not seen it, when it happened to her. That was, of course, a good thing. It would have horrified her to think that Hunter 'saw' her die. Still it sounded, thought Eric, like a suspiciously odd thing to say. It is done?

After an eerily long silence, Hunter said quietly,

"Is Aunt Pam okay?"

"Yes," said Eric, laconically.

Hunter was silent on the line for a long time. Then, finally,

"Uncle Eric… I… um…"

"You are not even surprised, Hunter. It almost sounds as if you knew."

Hunter was silent on the other end.

Eric was now caught completely off guard. He knew. Hunter had known this would happen to her? He had the briefest flicker of hope.

"Did she know?" he asked.

After a long silence, Hunter said quietly,

"No. I never told her. It was not something that could be told. To either of you. To anyone, really. I saw it long ago. I saw it after she was involved in the undercover thing in Lafayette, with the terror plot. That she would be… changed. I didn't know for sure when it would happen, but I knew it would. I put it out of my mind. But… I knew."

Eric sat looking at her, gnashing his teeth and fighting the anger he felt surging back up and trying to deal with his utter astonishment.

"So you're telling me that you knew she would be murdered and you said nothing?! How can this be, Hunter? How!? We had an agreement, you and I."

Hunter hesitated in his reply, as if choosing words carefully.

"When I first saw it, I saw her dying a swift death but being turned. So I didn't focus on the death part of it. It was so traumatic for me and she taught me to skip those parts. Besides, how she died was irrelevant. It was so quick, and the main thing was that she was turned. You and I both know you always wished that she would be turned, Uncle Eric. You always wanted her with you longer. What was I supposed to tell you, then? And what could I tell her? I certainly couldn't tell you and not tell her. She would have blamed you for allowing it to happen if you knew. And what if had told her and something worse happened? Like what if she changed something and then she really died? As it is, she will blame me for not telling her. But it was my only possible choice. It is what it is. It is what I saw. It is so much better than her being permanently dead. I… I wanted her to stay, too. I just tried not to think about how this would happen."

"This is what you saw long ago? At Christmastime, long ago?" gasped Eric. He tried to remember that moment, of the child Hunter, sitting in his lap. He'd said things would be fine. Perhaps then, there was reason to hope things would be fine? But she had been murdered! "You said then that things would be fine? How is this fine, Hunter?" he asked, pressing hard. "Are you saying she will rise and not be upset or angry? Because you may be the psychic in the family but frankly I'm not seeing it that she's going to take this so well. Will things just end up fine? What are you telling me? Because I expect answers. She was murdered. You knew she would be murdered and you said nothing? I'm having a very hard time understanding you could allow such a thing to happen. It is… incomprehensible to me!"

Hunter weighed his words carefully. His voice sounded suddenly more distant, weary.

"Uncle Eric, do you honestly think that I'd let something terrible happen to her for no reason? Look, I don't want to give the wrong impression. It will be difficult in the beginning. It is not as you think. She is not as you think. I'm telling you that things will be… Things will work out. How's that? Things will work out. But keep only people you really trust around her for now." He paused and drew a long breath and sounded slightly shaky. "I can't tell you more than that. In a way I don't know exactly what some of what I saw means. I didn't understand all of it. That part was really true. But I'll be home on Sunday. Just, try to keep someone calm and quiet around her with Aunt Pam. Maybe Stefan."

Eric was puzzled. What was he saying?

"I am not calm and quiet? What choices? What does Stefan have to do with any of this?"

"You… Look, it will not take her long at all to realize that it was not just Aunt Pam, Uncle Eric. Choices were made…" He seemed to struggle with what to tell him. "You're making a choice here. And she's going to know that. Stefan is very gentle. I know she's closer to Cadel but it may be harder for him to be there and see her go through your choice. It wasn't his choice to make the way it was yours and Aunt Pam's. It's not like she's going to fail to see that you could have…" He sighed. "It will be difficult for a time. For all of us. That's what I'm saying."

"Hunter…?" He wanted some assurance that it would be alright in the end. He needed to know.

Finally Hunter said,

"I don't want to mislead you. It will be difficult in the beginning. Very difficult. But Andor is right, Uncle Eric. She will forgive you. I… I cannot tell you more. I'll be home on Sunday. Give Aunt Pam my love. Please don't blame her anymore. Both of you have made choices here. Both of you. We all did. And I did, probably more than anyone."

Then he simply hung up.

Eric turned to look at her lying there, so ashen, on the bed.

He knew?

And he knew that Eric was not able to put a final end to her. Clearly, he agreed with that choice. Amelia agreed as well. They all agreed, except perhaps Cadel, and even then, how likely was it that Cadel would not come around? Cadel who loved her so much? No, he would not have let her go either, no matter what lies he was currently telling himself on the issue. They were all in agreement. All of them.

He reflected again on his vow to her. Hunter said she wouldn't be as he thought she would. But how might she have changed? It was daunting to consider. Well, it didn't matter because he had given his word and sealed it in his blood. It was irrevocable. Hunter never would have allowed something to go very wrong for her, for them, he told himself. And it was impossible to consider any alternative, other than keeping things as they were, as far as he was concerned.

He could not do anything other than move forward, he said to himself, resolutely. They would move forward from this. She would have to adapt. It was sad, perhaps very unfair, but she would have to make the best as did he, and as did all of them.

Andor came to check on him a short time later.

"It is good then? You are more settled now?"

"I am resolved. It is not good, Andor," he said in Norse.

"But this is what you wanted," Andor replied. "It is what you wanted and it is for the best."

Eric shook his head, her hand still in his own.

"You do not understand, Andor. You have never understood. It is not as she would have wished."

"She wished you to suffer, then? She did not care if you would feel her loss keenly? What kind of love is that, that you so covet?"

"I wanted it to be her choice, Andor. As was her staying with me, being mine. Those were her choices."

"If she really loves you then this choice was made long ago. Some romantic or idealistic choice is pointless and could have amounted to a waste of her and a waste of your time in missing her. Pam has done you great service in this. This is as it should be."

"You are so confident, Andor. And you know her so little, it seems. Even after all this time."

"I may not know your grand love, but I know selfishness when I see it. It was selfishness that would make her not want to stay with you."

"Is it so selfish to want to be yourself, Andor?"

"Only if being yourself means you are careless of the affection of others."

Eric sighed heavily.

"She was not careless of my affection. If anything, she was afraid of losing it. But perhaps I am careless of hers," he said softly.

"Perhaps you are too indulgent."

"She was not selfish Andor. She had already given up much to be with me. To be here, with us."

"And what have you given? Nothing? What is the point of sorrow over getting what you wanted? For you or for Pam? She was murdered and you still have her! Flanagan will make her a martyr to the cause. In every way I can think of this has been the best possible outcome. She had a good life and now she will continue a good existence here. What is the point of all this drama, Eric? She lived here like a well-spoiled child so far as I can see. She is turned in the best possible circumstances. You can manage her through Pam, enjoy her for as long as you will. I do not see the point of all this… emotionalism."

Eric stiffened. As long as I will?

"Leave me," he said gruffly, in English.

"Hvat?" replied Andor.

"Leave me," repeated Eric, harshly. "Leave me before I get angry all over again. Leave at once and mind your words on the matter in future."

Andor stood looking down at them silently for a moment.

"As you wish, minn bróðir," said Andor quietly. He turned and left the room.

Eric rose, closed the door to Pam's room, locking it from the inside, turned off the lights in the room and then lay down on the bed next to her. He looked at the ceiling and was surprised to see that Pam had affixed glow-in-the-dark stars in patterns of constellations all across the ceiling. Orion, Cassiopeja, Björnvaktaren, Tvillingarna, Lilla björnen, Lilla Karlavagnen, all of which he had learned as a child. He traced them with his eyes. The night. Perhaps she would finally learn to love the night, he hoped. But how she had loved the day, and the ease with which she could move in both night and day. An ease which allowed her to travel for her projects with Alla. Allowed her to live the life she had loved. Sunshine. How often had he resented that she had loved her sunshine? But it had been part of the fabric of her life, her happiness. He had remembered life again, through her eyes. He saw all she had now lost, lost in just a few moments time. It would take her time to see what she might have gained.

With a heavy sigh, he picked up her hand again. At last, the dawn stole his strength and the long night was ended.