A/N- This story, which is the final in the series that began with Dead Wrong/Dead Certain, takes place over the year and a half that follows The Darkest Hour. The reader needs to have read Dead Wrong/Dead Certain, Snapshots, Scenes from a Marriage 1 & 2, and The Darkest Hour to understand how the characters have arrived at where they are.

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.

For Mia, in thanks for her lovely translation skills, and because of her good work and kind heart.

And for all my many, many kind readers and reviewers and those who found me on LiveJournal- a very heartfelt thanks. It's been a pleasure.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

~ Dylan Thomas



Amsterdam, April 2021

I sat cross-legged on the stone floor while Chloë adjusted the needle. I was too absorbed in my book to pay much attention to the needle-stick. I took out my phone with my other hand, pulled up the Babylon app once again and, balancing the phone on my thigh, tapped quickly with my free hand and hit translate.

"Is that enough, do you think?" asked Chloë softly.

I looked at the syringe. She'd drawn about 5ccs from what I could see.

"You can take more. It actually stores well if you keep it cool. You should keep some on hand, just in case, you know?" I whispered back to her.

I looked at the passage again and its crude translation. I'd gotten used to this method over a long year of research, but still, this really bore being quite careful about what I was doing if I was going to be tattooing symbols onto myself. I didn't like to think about my options for removing it if it was wrong, for instance. Although perhaps I could test it unstuck first. I wasn't sure about how to do that. Maybe I could just paint it on myself? I went to a website at Oxford University that I'd found the previous year and tried the same thing but it looked to be pretty close to the same translation. I'd have to ask Mattias, when he awoke, to be sure about it. I was trying to think positively, as if I really knew what I was doing here. I glanced at the other book. Wasn't alchemy usually in more modern times conveyed in Latin? Some of what was in this book really looked like it was Aramaic. But I was definitely no language scholar. No, what I was, was confused. I glanced over at Matthias and realized I was just going to have to wait. Still, I finished writing out what I thought would work. Then I looked in the other book at sticking spells. Chloë was completely unperturbed about the fact that I was sorting through Ani's spellbook as if I was a full-fledged member of the Amsterdam coven.

"Okay, so this is 10ccs. That's enough, then?"

I nodded and she removed the needle. I put my finger on the needlestick point and after applying pressure the mark disappeared.

"Chloë, does this say 'last' ? Sometimes I have trouble with Ani's handwriting," I whispered.

She glanced at where I was pointing and said very softly,

"MmmmHmmmm. You don't want to see mine. I like your sweater. Teal is pretty on you. It goes with your eyes. I'm glad to see you've stopped with all black." She twisted the needle off the syringe and then capped the syringe.

"Thanks," I said softly.

Before she rose Chloë looked me in the eyes and whispered,

"I'm really grateful to you, Sookie. We all are. I just wanted to tell you again. We really love Grooti. The fact that you're helping her means a great deal to us."

I smiled at her.

"I'm very fon…" I caught myself. The vampire b.s. just was not doing it for me. Cool and controlled on the good things and so very over the top on the negative. It was so easy to be angry, violent and oversexed. So far as I could see, anyway. As I'd started to control myself without the aid of razors, knives or anything with which to totally carve myself up, I'd found myself sounding more and more like Pam. Or maybe also, I realized like Cadel. Even with all his humor, Cadel had a hard time with showing that he cared as much as he did. Caring, if you were a vampire, was a dicey business. Because a lot of the time, when you cared, you were very, very let down, according to Pam. Still, I was trying to avoid giving into the whole 'I'm not going to let on that I care' attitude. Caring was, in fact, one of the only reasons I could find to make efforts to be happy these days.

"I adore your great-grandmother. She's been nothing but kind to me. I'll happily give her the blood as long as she needs it, Chloë," I whispered back.

I stretched a bit now that the blood had been drawn. I'd been in the library reading from the moment I rose, after having two bottles of True Blood. I was still hungry but so distracted by the books that I didn't care. I looked up at my reflection in the mirror over the fireplace, which angled down just enough so I could see myself on the floor. I was looking ghostly pale. I really should have another few bottles. Especially since she'd just taken some blood. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I was starved. And that I could hear Chloë's pulse. She smelled… delicious. Which was so very messed up of me to be thinking about my friend or really, anyone. It made me angry. Which of course just made me even hungrier. How I hated my hunger, and the fact that I could be so caught off guard still, after 16 months time, when I was seized by its incredible intensity. I really needed blood. And fairly soon.

"Chloë, can I get another two bottles of the…" I couldn't even finish the sentence. It was weird asking people for blood. Even in a bottle. Even if they were your host or hostess and you were a guest in their home. It was weird asking for blood period. Unless you were like in a café or something. Which I still didn't like to do after my whole bad experience with café accidents in Paris. I never drank in public unless I was with Eric or maybe Pam or Cadel.

"Sure. Do you want the True Blood or that new German one Ani got for you to try?"

"Um, I'll try the German one. Thanks."

I tried not to lick my lips at the thought of it. And Chloë? She didn't even flinch. They were all so sure that I wouldn't ever go after them even if I was young and perpetually hungry. Clearly I was very adept at covering up the intensity of my hunger. Though, when I thought about it, I guess in some ways I'd rather starve than feed from a human, no matter how delicious they smelled. I'd gone ahead and tried it almost a month ago. Well, I almost tried it. I couldn't stomach the idea after just touching the donor. And I'd gone six hours, for good measure, with only two bottles after waking, to make sure that the hunger would be strong enough to motivate me but not so strong that I'd hurt anyone. I'd had someone with me just to be on the safe side though. But the rush of thoughts, emotions, and…. desires, from the big beefy donor were overwhelming from just touching him. I'd pulled away shaking my head and gone straight to the kitchen for a bottle. I just couldn't see myself willingly doing it. Maybe some day. Like a few millennia from now or something. Or… never. Yes, I was thinking never was a really good plan. Say what you will, the nice cold feel of glass on my lips was more than enough sensation for me. Glass had no thoughts and emotions to deal with. Glass didn't find being bitten erotic and therefore require some serious distance or self-control or whatever on the part of the biter. No, I loved glass. It was so… silent.

But part of me was aware of this predatory creature, the other me, as I called it, who was always lurking in the dark corners of my mind. That other me frightened me. It was fast, angry, always horny and always, always hungry. I was very afraid that eventually it was going to overtake me. That I'd bite, and really hurt, someone I loved. Or tap into some of that anger and do something atrocious.

I still hated being a vampire. I hated it.

Chloë left the room, carrying the syringe of my blood as if it was something rare and precious. I found the idea very amusing that she felt that way about my blood. Of course, since I still got some from Eric, I guessed it really was more valuable than a year old vampire's blood had any right to be. I sighed. At least that was a good thing about being a vampire. I could heal someone who was sick by giving them my blood. I was continually trying to come up with good things about being this way. The list was still way short.

Off in the distance I heard Chloë and her twin Anaïs, chatting as Chloë's voice receded toward the kitchen and Ani's seemed to drift off in the direction of Mathilde's office. I loved the sound of their spoken Dutch. And they sounded happy. I knew that they were pleased I was back. Pleased that I was helping Mathilde.

Sitting on the floor of Mattias' library, with my piles of books, I reflected how easy I'd found it slipping back into the quiet and studious life of the Voortens. They had welcomed me back as if I was almost family. I now often found it hard to express my feelings about how kind they were to me without getting into some really intense emotions. Without the benefit of a blade dulling my senses and desires, I'd spent some days feeling like a live wire in recent months. It was a daily battle, though I didn't like to admit it even to myself, not to resort to a blade. I had not cut myself a single time since December 18th. It was a date now engraved in my memory. Some days I felt like I deserved a merit badge. Or one of those coins that they give people who choose sobriety at AA or something.

Mattias's snores rumbled through the room. He'd fallen asleep in his big, stuffed desk chair. I found the sound oddly comforting. He was really ancient for someone human. Well over a hundred and forty years old, according to the biographical information I'd been able to find on him. I wondered how the magic could keep him so strong and healthy, yet be failing Mathilde, who had a dangerous kind of anemia at only 106. They both looked many decades younger than their actual age. Actually all the Voortens did except for Anaïs and Chloë, who were still young at only 27. The fifty year age difference between Mattias and Beatrix was a clear indication that this coven had tapped into something magically odd and life extending. Their mother had had children for fifty years?

Although I still hadn't had a chance to talk to her about it privately yet, I actually wondered whether magic itself had actually damaged Mathilde. Well, my blood seemed to be helping her, so I'd continue to give it. As long as she needed it, just as I'd told Chloë. She'd helped keep me sane at various moments in the past year. I owed her. It was only blood. Ha! If Eric heard me say that he'd have a fit, I thought to myself, with a smile.

I looked back at the passage and pulled over the other book and looked at the symbols. It seemed so ridiculously simple that I couldn't believe that no one had thought of it and actually done it in modern times. Although, maybe there were other people using it. I guessed it was the kind of thing you wouldn't sing from the rooftops if you got it to work. It probably a dangerous thing to know how to do. Sort of like glamouring vampires, for instance.

With a loud snort, Mattias jerked awake. He shifted in his chair and offered some mutterings.

"I almost fell asleep." He yawned fitfully. "Why are you still on the floor, little vampire? At the least, you should have a cushion. What are you doing?"

I rose with my two books and took them to the desk. I moved too fast and startled him. I grimaced.

"Sorry… I guess I'm a bit excited. I didn't mean to unsettle you. I have a question for you, Mattias. But first, can you help me translate this? I just want to be sure of something."

He looked up at me as if I'd insulted him.

"Can I translate a passage in Latin from one of my own books? Hmpf!" He pulled the book toward him and read through the passage my finger had pointed to on the page. He adjusted his reading glasses and tapped the tip of his nose with an index finger.

"I have a better version." He rose quite gingerly, given his age, from the seat, walked over to some shelves to the left of his desk and then climbed up on his library stair and started digging. I floated up to him and he jerked when he realized I was there next to him, without the ladder. He shook his head but then went back to looking.

"Can you get me that flashlight on the bookshelf opposite?" he asked.

Before he'd even finished the sentence I was back with it. He shook his head yet again.

"So handy you are. Really, you may stay as long as you wish. You said you speak French and Swedish?" he asked with his eyes twinkling with amusement.

I shook my head. "Not fluently, Mattias. But I can read and speak French and Swedish passably, yes. And some German. And I understand a bit of Arabic, too."

"No Greek? No Ancient Greek?"

I shook my head.

"Ah! Then it is a good thing you have me."

He yanked a very heavy volume from the bookshelf and then looked at the steps down as if they might be treacherous. I took the book from his hand, held his arm with my other hand and steadied him as he descended. Then I placed the book on his desk for him. He looked down at me with a smile before sitting again. He was almost as tall as Eric. But all of the Voortens were tall. Much taller than me, which was part of how I came by my nickname of the 'little' vampire.

"Quite handy," he murmured again. "Better than Jaap. Such a shame you don't speak Dutch." His eyes twinkled with amusement.

I groaned, since of course, I tried to speak Dutch but had found even back when I worked for the FBI and interviewed people at the Hague that my spoken Dutch came up very short. I had not, evidently, improved with considerably more time spent in the Netherlands. I was teased by the entire Voorten family (except for Mathilde) about my dipthongs and they'd almost given up trying to gain improvement. Chloë was still working with me. Ani, on the other hand, infuriated the family by saying that Dutch was a dead language anyway and that she was sticking to English with me.

Mattias flipped through several pages of the large book he'd taken down and then turning back to the Latin volume for reference, pointed to a page that was in much more indecipherable (to me) Greek in the new book.

"This is the older version. The Greek is probably the oldest description you will find. Certainly the oldest I, myself, have seen. This book was a copy of a copy of a copy of a series of scrolls on the supernatural. It's about as authentic as I think we'll find."

I nodded, soberly, waiting. Mattias had a natural inclination to teach but sometimes I had to really fight feeling impatient and wishing he'd just get to the point already.

"In Babylon, creatures… You realize Babylon is what the Greeks called the Akkadian Babilu? The Gateway of the Gods? No one knows where they came from or when they arrived." he looked at me with narrowed eyes. I just nodded. "In Babylon, creatures unnatural were found descended from the times of Sargon the First." He paused again, translating as he passed his finger along the lines. "This would be almost two thousand years before the Christ, in ancient Assyria," he said nodding to himself. "Creatures unnatural… yes where was I? Ah… Such creatures lived on the blood of the living and shunned the light of day. Created from storm demons, they were called night demons for they could exist only in darkness. They fed on blood and were predatory. And in revenge for one such, named Lilitu, having killed the nephew of Gilgamesh, their kind were punished by the goddess Ninlil, who used her son Ninazu, god of death, to deliver a curse that could poison the blood of the creatures with silver. Hmmm… silver making more sense because it was more available in that area of the world I suppose… In some versions they say that Ninlil is Allatu or Ereshkigal and that her son is Nergal not Ninazu. In others Nergal and Allatu are husband and wife but he is not the father of Ninazu. The early stories of these gods and goddesses are quite confusing. I am always astonished by the fact that they had so many names for the same person. Still, the point is that one of the great gods punished their own creations for their misbehavior, a rather remarkable thing. Interesting creatures, night demons… They would be the original vampires, don't you think?"

I nodded, silently.

He spread his hand across the page. He was puzzled. He looked over at me.

"This is what you came for?"

I met his eyes, smiled slightly and nodded again.

"I had seen the passage in Latin when I was here before, and before that, in a different book in Paris, translated into French. Back when I was researching about ancient Rome and ancient Roman vampires. I was really curious about where vampires came from. Whether they always existed or, if not, when the originated and why. The French book said that Lilitu was Lilith. You know, like from the Bible? I thought I remembered the passage correctly. So it was a curse that made vampires vulnerable to silver, it's not just how they were made?"

"So it seems, yes."

He looked at me soberly then glanced down at the other book.

"And this," he said, pointing to the other book I'd placed on the desk. "Ah, alchemy?" He pulled his glasses further down his nose and regarded me intently with those steel gray eyes that all the Voortens had. "You really would make a very good witch, you know? You have an excellent memory and a natural curiosity about the world. And you seem to see interesting connections between things. That is something that cannot be taught. It cannot," he said with an eyebrow raised, "even be usefully read from another's mind. And what is your question here?" he asked pointing to the book on alchemy.

I regarded Mattias without much expression. I'd never confirmed, even to Mathilde, that I was still telepathic. Much as I trusted them, I was fairly cautious about revealing what I could see or do to anyone.

"From my reading, I know that alchemy also developed in Mesopotamia, right? This would have been about the same time?"

"Yes. The early alchemists were basically sorcerers, witches, shamans. It was a spiritual discipline, as well as a 'scientific' practice, in those times."

I scrolled through the notes I'd scanned into my phone a while back, looking for the image.

"Okay, this is the thing. And you're the only person I've told this to, Mattias. The bad vampire, the one I went to kill? He was a Roman Legionnaire in life. He lived human about two hundred years before Christ. He was turned by an Egyptian vampire, when he was left to die in a battle in Spain, or the Iberian peninsula I guess I should call it for that time. When he was traveling with his sire, who was Egyptian and well over a thousand years old, they met a two thousand year old vampire who he said was probably Sumerian. This Sumerian vampire had a series of odd tattoos on his chest and… silver did not affect him. He even wore silver and wore it proudly. At first, when I was reading back through my notes, I thought maybe it was because he was from like a different bloodline of vampires, right? Not descended from Lilitu or Lilith or whatever we want to call her. Because I remembered reading this passage back when I was doing my research in Paris. But the passage implies they were all cursed. So then I kept thinking about the tattoos. I mean, were they there when he died as a human, or if not, how did they get tattoos to stick on a vampire, right? And why would he get himself tattooed as a vampire? But here's what got me really thinking about whether they came after he was made. The symbols the Roman vampire described to me… the Sumerian had the crescent moon in different orientations along with glyphs that looked like this," I showed him the image I'd scanned into my phone. Ocella had drawn it for me just in case I ever met Naram-Shari, whom he informed me, was a very interesting man. I didn't ask why Ocella had such a clear recollection of the tattoo on Naram-Shari's chest… Ocella seemed to have very fond memories of Naram-Shari many centuries later but he seemed sort of wistful about him. He'd been able to describe his appearance in great detail more than two thousand years after meeting him and told me that he was unlike anyone that he, Ocella, had ever met.

Looking at the drawing, I saw Mattias's eyes widen ever so slightly as he scanned across the glyphs and symbols. It was really odd how being a vampire made you sensitive to such subtle things, I realized. Maybe I would have noticed it because of all my training as an interrogator but since I was so excited, maybe if I was still really human I might have missed it because it was subtle. Who knew? He seemed to be quite cautious and didn't comment, but I thought he looked a bit alarmed by the image I showed him. Anyway, I pressed on, hoping that he wasn't upset by what I was implying.

"When I was in Paris, I remember once seeing a list of alchemical symbols. In the older style of the symbols, silver was the Moon, Luna, and gold was the Sun, Sol, and platinum was actually a combination of the Sun and Moon symbols because they thought long ago that it was sort of an amalgam, right? But the crescent Moons for silver and platinum were reversed from one another, different orientations, like a mirror image. Just like the two ends in this design, see, silver and then platinum? And then this part is like a phrase, right? Like what they used for trying to transmute things. I mean I've seen that in some of the old books where they tried to make precious metal from base metal, even though that never worked. But I know that's the transmutation thing, written in the old style because see, back here?" I paged through the alchemy book to what I'd found earlier, and pointed.

I followed his eyes tracing over the image I pointed to on the page. He was still silent.

"See here they describe people trying to turn lead to gold and stuff like that. So… I wondered if the silver business really was just a curse, if was possible to make a counter-curse using alchemy and tattoo it, with magic, like a sticking spell, so that it would last on even a vampire's skin, and if maybe that was what was on the Sumerian. Because that's silver," I said pointing to the symbol, "and that's platinum, and this whole thing is about transmutation because it looks like this, right here in this book. It's like saying you want to turn silver into platinum, right? And over here, it says they're all what they called noble metals, because they never corroded like iron or anything? So, I mean, in a magical world, or on a magical person, could that really work? Because why else was it on him? It had to be because it made him able to tolerate silver. It's the only thing that makes sense. A human wouldn't have needed one at all so it had to have been tattooed onto him after he'd been turned vampire. Of course, there's a piece missing right here though, where Ocella, the bad guy, said he wasn't 'quite sure' he remembered right. But that missing part could be any of these variations. I really think he was just being difficult, because he was not the kind of person ever to give you all the information because then he didn't have anything over you. Personally, I think he left that little bit out on purpose just because… he was Ocella," I said with a frown. "But I guess maybe that part here is the completion of it, from what's in the book? It looks most like this one."

I paused to look at Mattias and he was still studying the drawing that was in the image on my phone.

"So, Mattias, that's my real question for you. I want to know if you believe it's possible to change the effects of the silver, or really the silver itself, in a vampire to… something else by alchemy? Like silver to another noble metal? And you know, actually, I wonder if the whole thing, the business of the sunlight, as well, is all just the result of a curse from our making. Because if night demons were made from storm demons, the storm demons originally saw the light of day, right? That's what it says back here," I flipped through the Latin book and pointed to the passage on the Chaldean shedu or storm demons. "The Sumerian storm demons were guardians, right? Sumer was called the Land of the Lords of Brightness, the land of gods, of the primordial magical beings, wherever the heck they came from. The demons in their culture were the guardians of the gods and so they weren't necessarily evil, they were just very powerful. The Greek word just means divine, right? So it was only later that the Hebrews and Christians that felt they represented evil. And maybe then they were evil or maybe they just pissed off people practicing monotheism because they believed in a bunch of gods and said they were guarding them or something. Anyway, I don't understand the whole passage because the internet translator I used doesn't know some of the words. But the gist of it is that these shedu weren't all just these part lion things which are kind of like shifters. There were a lot of different types of shedu demons and they were all originally out during the day, which maybe means that the night demons were just created from them or… perhaps they just pissed someone off and got themselves cursed so they could only be out at night? Or maybe they were made to guard at night specifically. Really who knows. Anyway, maybe I'm just grasping at straws here because vampires are supposed to be so evil and I really don't feel evil. I just don't think that because I got murdered and my vampire best friend gave me her blood that I'm ruined, you know? So my point is that if they are just curses upon us, from the perspective of what I know of witchcraft from all of you and from my witch best friend, there always must be counter-curses, right? Because magic is all about balance. So if you make a curse, there has to be a counter-curse. Basically, what I'm saying is, after months of really thinking about it, it seems to me that that Sumerian guy must have been wearing one. And clearly, it worked."

Mattias looked at me for a long, long time. I always tried to be respectful and stay out of his head, but I could plainly see he was astonished that I had come up with this whole idea. Astonished and deeply… troubled. He seemed to consider things carefully before replying to me.

"You are such a clever little vampire. But what would you intend to do with such information?"

And in that moment I detected a ripple of fear in him that I couldn't help but 'see'. He was very concerned about what my intent was. This was at the back of my mind about the risks of asking him. Removing curses on vampires meant removing their vulnerabilities. And that was obviously not something you want if you're not a vampire. And here he was in a room with a young and supposedly ought to be very hungry vampire, who was asking questions about how to do just that. So he thought I was a risk to him if he wouldn't help me, and I was mindful of the fact that with a stake in hand, he was rather a risk to me during the daylight hours. The way I saw it, we were pretty even in that we had to trust each other's underlying intent for good.

As I was about to answer, Chloë burst into the room.

"Oudoom, Sookie, there are two vampires at the door asking for Sookie! Beatrix is talking to them. We called Anaïs."

With bad memories of being picked up in Paris by Delaunier's goons, instantly I felt my fangs go down and I was quickly out of the library and across the courtyard and into the house. Beatrix and Anaïs stood in just inside the open doorway. Beatrix's eyes cast at an upward angle (notable since she was almost six feet tall), and a silver-tipped spear was in her hands, though she'd never need it because whoever it was couldn't enter uninvited anyway. But I was sure she'd been alarmed to have gotten her spear. As soon as I'd drawn even a little closer, however, I'd sighed and relaxed, though, as I felt someone seeking to soothe me before I'd even arrived at the door.

"Beatrix, Anaïs" I said, not wanting to startle as I approached from behind. I put my arm around Beatrix's shoulders, "It's fine. It's just my… abysmally stubborn husband. This is Eric Northman, and my brother in law, Andor Fetsen" I said with a frown. The night was just getting better and better… I'd worried Mattias and now Eric and Andor had shown up at the worst possible moment to further emphasize that worry. And hadn't we had an agreement that they wouldn't just show up? Well… not exactly. One person had stubbornly refused to agree to that plan.

While I could openly admit that there were probably very few people that could willingly take how stubborn I was, lately I was beginning to think that Eric was far and away stubborner than I could ever be. Of course, he was definitely more used to getting his way than I was, having had more than a few centuries of getting his way on his side. But I'd come to realize over the past decade or so that Eric was also much more skillful than I was at digging his heels in on things that he wanted. While I argued, Eric simply steered things his way. And with much greater skill than I'd ever possess. Especially with me. I'd come to realize this after the last veil that really separated my thoughts and his thoughts seemed to have fallen after I'd been turned. Now we had to deliberately tune each other out. He could often hear my thoughts and I could hear his in response to mine. It had been a real awakening. Just as Pam had always assured me, Eric could be quite devious. In particular, he could be devious with me, planning what and when he'd get me to cave in on. He was actually quite proud of his ability to skillfully get what he wanted with me. His modus operandi appeared to be 'pick your battles' and he relied on Pam's and his own quick assessments of how to get me to do what he wanted without making me feel like I was pressed into it and on several occasions, even making me think I'd wanted to do it. I could only be glad that Eric was really an honorable person.

Directly related to the issue of getting his way, if I listened to him, which I was really trying to do these days, we were now married for all eternity. I was reminded of this regularly. He said it implied that I'd be sticking around for quite some time. Of course, I already knew that vampire marriages were a serious business. They usually worked on a hundred year plan. The only vampire couple I knew in recent times who'd married out of genuine affection for one another rather than any obvious political advantage were Rasul and Dani. So far as I could see, vampires usually 'married' for political and business reasons. Actually, to that end, I had to say that on a certain level, having a spouse who was a telepathic vampire who could probably glamour a significant fraction of the rest of the vampire population, without their even being a bit the wiser for it, might be rather advantageous. Frankly, on the face of it, it seemed like it was over the top good fortune. Though, as Andor had informed me in private, if your recklessness with your supposed 'gifts' got you killed, potentially along with your purported sire(s), it was definitely not advantageous. So I had better, pointed out Andor, cut out my usual ways, take their advice and behave myself. He didn't look very pleased with me while delivering that speech, either. And Eric was even less pleased after finding out he'd delivered it. The three of us had a huge argument with each other. Just for a change of pace.

Anyway, I was pragmatic enough myself to see that it wasn't lost on Eric that having me in his camp permanently was potentially a huge advantage if he could keep me, or at least my principal skills, under wraps and well-controlled. But given the feelings I got whenever I hinted at any worries I had about the potential for wavering, or even total loss, of his love and interest, I'd decided that just as when I'd been human, he was a lot more emotionally driven than driven by pragmatic concerns to keep me at his side. Which was rather in accordance with the fact that I had Andor continually warning me that in fact, my skills could cause them all no small amount of trouble if I wasn't very careful. Andor was worried that something could happen to Eric if he tried to protect me. He called me the best thing and the worst thing that had ever happened to Eric. He insinuated that every other glamouring vampire they'd known had gotten themselves killed, along occasionally with their sire. He'd said, while towering over me and giving me a dark look 'that had better not be us'. I didn't want to dig around in Eric's mind for details about that whole dead glamouring vampires business. In fact, I tried to stay out of Eric's mind on the entire subject of 'glamouring and telepathic vampires'. I'd caught him more than once thinking about how to use my skills to 'our' advantage. On one occasion, at the beginning of March, I'd actually glamoured the second to the Area 3 sheriff out of sexually harassing women in his Area. He'd been warned multiple times but had been harassing human, Were and even vampire women. Several had said they'd sue in Louisiana courts if he continued. When it came down to Eric killing him or my glamouring him, it was an easy choice. Eric was so delighted when I agreed to do it that it grated on my nerves. The fact that he had a very nice stake on his desk and asked me while the guy was sitting nearby, wrapped up in silver, writhing and moaning, kind of made the choice a bit easier for me.

Anyway, vampires typically married, if at all, for a hundred years. Eric's plans were, he assured me, quite different. The plan was that this was a permanent arrangement. Because I'd already promised it would be, back when I was alive. A point I was never allowed to forget. He said he wasn't going to let a little thing like dying let me off the hook. He'd even suggested if I didn't believe his commitment to the plan that we could do a nice ceremony all over again, to refresh my memory, and that he'd write out some very nice and clear vows for both of us. He'd laughed when I informed him that he was a royal pain in the ass and that I got the point already. If I were going to be foolish enough to marry the man a third time, I said, I'd certainly stick to writing my own vows and get him to swear in his that he'd quit bothering me already. Actually, I had to admit that at least for the time being, he seemed sincere about the forever thing. But currently, the enitre business was like a higher order of stubbornness on his part, because I kept on wanting to do things that clearly drove him nuts, so I couldn't fathom why he was so keen on the idea of being married to me at all at this point, let alone for eternity.

For instance, there was coming to Amsterdam, purportedly on vacation, to do some research on something which I wouldn't tell him about, but which I couldn't get out of my mind, and staying in a place he couldn't go, with people he didn't know. Oh, and being apart during the day, on top of everything else. Which also meant he didn't know how safe I was while I was totally konked out. Which, in his mind, seemed to mean that I wasn't safe enough. As had been mentioned many, many times to me. And not just mentioned by him, but by his principal minions when it came to me, Pam and Cadel. Even Andor had voiced concern. I was surprised that I wasn't entreated by Hunter not to do it. Or Bronwyn. I was frankly surprised that Rosie the cat hadn't delivered a note on the subject. I'd put nothing past the man at this point. I was tired of being questioned about how sure I was that my plan to even visit the Voortens, let alone stay with them, was a safe plan. I felt like I was being interrogated and they were looking for an inconsistency in my response as an indicator that I was not entirely honest and was likely to get myself staked at noon or something. Of course I was sure, I'd assured them. I was safe among witches. This information simply did not compute in Eric and Andor's minds… Safe among witches? Except for Amelia, that is. Even Andor trusted Amelia and really, Andor hardly trusted anyone. Frankly, if I heard another word from either Eric or Andor about how they were 'this old because they were so very careful'…

Yes, Eric seemed to take the business of making sure I was safe very much to heart these days, even though in theory I ought to be safer than ever because I was a vampire and now very strong and very fast. Safer compared to my having been a fragile human, even if I had been much more capable of defending myself than the average human had been. Of course, I did have that long track record of getting beaten up, shot, tortured, kidnapped or, in general, getting myself into bad situations. As a result of all my shenanigans, no matter how brave and wonderful, I'd gotten myself murdered in the end, as Andor regularly liked to remind me. The previous week I'd come within an inch of hauling off and hitting him for saying it in front of Eric. I wouldn't even have been able to blame that one on the other me. Yes, as Eric was ever fond of reminding me, I was only a stake away from being gone for good. My being gone for good was definitely not in Eric's plans.

In our final argument about my plan to stay with the Voortens for a few days, which I was sure half of the Amsterdam Grand Hotel had heard, I had been reminded vehemently, while pressed against a bathroom wall, that he was not losing me again. I'd started out really mad and arguing but got very distracted because we were naked. It later occurred to me that the naked part was not coincidental. Eric liked to argue with me when he knew I was most likely to be distracted. He called it leveling playing field because I lost my train of thought because of oversexed-vampire-brain. He still seemed quite amused with the newer, stronger, hungrier and hornier me. But he was hopping mad when, afterwards, I still said I was staying with the Voortens. Whatever it was that made me resistant to being compelled by him, and by Pam, I was so very lucky. Because I could tell that he really would have been tempted to compel me, at the very least, into returning before dawn each night. Even though I was absolutely sure I'd be fine with the Voortens. Until I scared Mattias. Although, even at that point, I was pretty sure I'd still be fine. Until Eric and Andor showed up, pressing my luck and Mattias's trust of my motives even further. So now I looked at Eric and my frown deepened. Their arrival was so not a part of my plan.

Somehow, having two huge Viking vampires show up in the middle of a conversation about it being okay to make vampires less vulnerable didn't seem to help me present a convincing argument. I was sure even having Cadel and Markus, who were always kidding around, show up would be a problem. Heck, even Pam would be a problem. I was the little vampire. They thought, in a weird way, in spite of my being a vampire, that I was their nice, little vampire. Even as bad as my Dutch was, it was plainly obvious to me from what they said and thought that they didn't think I'd be chewing on any of their family. I was okay. I looked out at 6'6" and 6'4" of blond menace and thought things were now totally not okay here.

Even if he'd seen me safe and well fed only the night before in a nearby bookshop, Eric was clearly not thrilled with me at present. At least not from the feeling I was currently getting. Even if by all rights, he ought to feel I was safe, since I'd promised him that I wouldn't play any of my little 'let's tune out Eric' tricks at which I was so very adept. But tonight, in spite of all that, he'd flown into a veritable hornet's nest of wards to suss things out. With no warning! I was alarmed and not a little angry at the thought just from the standpoint of their welfare, well beyond the poor timing issue. The Voortens meant serious business with their wards. I was chilled just thinking about it… He seemed to have alighted in a nexus of safety. By some miracle.

And so, as Eric and Andor smiled down at me, glowing softly in the moonlight, I still frowned.

"This is Beatrix van Voorten, and her great-niece, Anaïs," I said completing the introductions. Then I crossed my arms across my chest and shook my head. "Have you lost both your cell phones as well as your judgment? Geez, does it seem like it's not a good idea to go into a enclave of houses belonging to a coven of witches, uninvited, with no warning and start pounding on a door?"

Eric's eyebrow elevated slightly as he looked at me, his eyes sparking a bit. "Well, I've missed you, too. How are you this evening? I'm just fine thank you. So nice of you to let me hear from you? So thoughtful to make sure that I would not be concerned. And, for the record, I rang the bell," he said acidly, pointing to the bell hanging near the door. "I do have some experience with witches, after all, after more than a few centuries of dealings with them. And, I hesitate to point out, perhaps even more experience than you do?"

And I'm just feeling so delighted right now, Sookie. Abuse me in front of Andor and a bunch of witches, will you? You had better watch it, Sunshine. You're supposed to be more respectful in the open, remember? So I look like I can protect you? Remember that concept? This was the plan. I like the plan. And you had better stick to my plan. I mean it. You'd better watch that sarcasm.

Geez, you're so grumpy. The entire square is warded, by the way. You clearly flew in, but that will all be fixed by sundown tomorrow after they realize that you just showed up on the doorstep after flying in and it's a loophole in their security. Not too many people fly around here. Your sire's thing was the flying? Rare gift as it turns out, according to my research. A traceable characteristic. Why Pam doesn't fly, I haven't a clue. Anyway… Nothing important. No concerns… No, I'm just worried you're going to get yourself and Andor fried, Eric. No biggie, min älskade. Nothing that would upset me in the idea of you and Andor being burnt to a crisp? Oh no… And what exactly were the new fancy phones that also worked in Europe for again? Was it to call me before you wanted to visit? Hmmmmm. I seem to be missing something here. Oh yes. The call.

"I'm going outside for a moment to talk to them," I said with a dark look at Eric and Andor.

"If it's your husband, I could go ask Mathilde or maybe Bea can invite…" said Anaïs softly.

"No," I said cutting her off firmly. Leaning close to her I said quietly, "I think only Mathilde can invite them inside and she'd need to modify the wards to do so. Mathilde had issues even just modifying it to let me pass. It was very complex and used my blood and even then the first few times it didn't work? Plus, Chloë said Mathilde was still asleep, right? So I'll just go out to them. It's much less complicated and we don't disturb Mathilde."

I drew a small knife from my pocket and scored it across my index and middle fingertips and pressed my fingers against the doorframe. The runespell on the frame illuminated all around the opening and onto the doorstep and then my blood disappeared, leaving not even a trace on the wood. I stepped over the portal. It instantly re-illuminated and sealed, becoming invisible. Andor, after giving me a peculiar look at my cutting my fingers, then seemed fascinated by the opening. He stepped closer, examining it as if trying to see and smell, nostrils flaring, what was actually there. He also examined the spell that illuminated all around on the doorframe as I passed through. I grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the portal with me before he got even an inch closer.

"It would burn you to a cinder if you even tried to enter. And it's a bloodspell on top of it. I have to give it my blood to cross back and forth. If I don't give it, it will most certainly seek it. I really don't think you'd like what it could do to you. So humor me and keep your nose away from it, Andor. Call me crazy but I like your face just as it is."

He pulled back slightly further at my words as I released his arm. He looked down at me with a curious expression and then back at the doorframe. I grabbed his arm again and pulled him with me, a step back toward Eric.

Mathilde meant serious business with her wards. They were very complex as I understood it. I was the only undead person ever have been invited to pass into a van Voorten home. And they had been here in Amsterdam since the 1400's. In fact, I could only enter three of the seven houses that were in this square. This one, Beatrix's and the house that Ani and Chloë resided in with their parents. And even there, only certain rooms.

In spite of our strong mental words, I stepped forward into Eric's open arms, kissing him on the lips.

"Tjena," I said to both of them.

Eric drew me closer and I rested my head against his shoulder for a minute and felt warmed by happy feelings that quickly pushed my annoyance aside. He felt so very good to me. And I felt good to him.

"I sent you a reply text. Didn't you get it?" I asked softly with concern.

"It was one word, Sookie."

I pulled back from him and gave him a look.

"It was not! It was four words. 'Fine. I love you.' Four words. And I'm totally fine as you can see. I just got carried away with my reading. I woke up and started reading. But anyway, how are you, min älskade?" I brushed my hand through his hair, which was loose, as I smiled up at him. In spite of seeming a bit annoyed he smiled down at me. His eyes didn't glow but I felt some internal warmth from him. I put my hand on his chest and felt a stirring all around inside me. After almost five months back at home with him, it was very hard to be apart, even for a single night. We were already on a second night… I felt this lurch of desire inside just standing close to him. He looked at me and his eyes sparkled with amusement.

"I'm… fine. I just got concerned, Sookie," he said in a low voice. Then, obviously picking up on what I was feeling and thinking, he grinned at me as he put his hand on mine. An empty bed is not something either of us likes, it seems. I'm missing you at dawn and dusk min älskade. It's a very ascetic vacation, if you ask me.

I miss you back. And more than just in bed. I just got a little absorbed in the research tonight. I told you the first few days was for researching something.

Well, I'm only missing the sex. It's all I'm interested in where you're concerned. Always has been. Though, possibly the companionship and conversation. If you drop the attitude.

I don't have an attitude. You have an attitude. I've missed you and you're giving me attitude.

And if you missed me, you certainly don't seem thrilled that I came looking for you.

I gave him an exasperated look. In a low voice, I said,

"I'm sorry but you should have called me before you came, Eric. It's plain crazy to just show up here with no warning. Look around you," I said, turning him back around so he could see the open square. It was filled with faces peering out at us and with the faint glow of magic now arcing around the plaza. Defensive magic, specifically magic that could seriously harm vampires. "It really isn't safe to come here uninvited. They didn't know that you guys were with me. You'll have to meet with Mathilde and speak with her. I'll ask her about meeting you. But I don't even know that they'll let you in the house. They don't know you. They'll probably think that you're sly or something because the two of you are so old."

Eric raised an eyebrow. "Well if they think I'm substantially slyer than you are, they haven't been paying very close attention to you, now have they? And we are standing where we are for a reason. I can see just as well as you can, thank you, and I have far more experience than you do and than you will ever have. I don't need to see their house or even meet your treasured friend. I need to see you and that you are safe, Sookie," he said in a low voice. I don't suppose I could lure you away for an hour or two? Or three? His eyes sparkled with mischief.

"I'm sorry if I seemed annoyed," I said more gently. "I was just caught off-guard."

I smiled, and reached up and kissed him again.

I still bet it's harder on me than it is on you to be apart… besides you'll just spend half the time chattering, Eric.

His eyes widened slightly.

I do not 'chatter' and you are going to pay for that comment the next time I can get you alone.

Promises, promises. Look at me tremble. I tried to keep a very blank expression and added out loud, for Andor's benefit,

"I just don't want to hear the two of you running smack into somebody's wards, okay? Speaking of which, where is Cadel?" I looked up at Eric and then over at Andor.

Andor shook his head with an amused smile. "He met a woman he thought was…" he cleared his throat, "interesting."

I rolled my eyes. Clearly, Cadel was already enjoying himself. He'd clarified several times on the flight to Amsterdam that this was a vacation. I'd been so scared on that flight. I'd never been in a coffin, even with all my travel in my year away. I'd taken many short trips to avoid having to travel in a coffin. When Eric locked us inside his, which he'd recently had replaced with a wider model to accommodate the two of us, an hour before we landed, I'd felt like I was having a panic attack. Eric really had to work to get me to calm down. I'd felt like a vampire many times in the past year. But it was the first time I'd felt resoundingly dead since Rosie had hissed at me the night I'd first risen. Cadel had tried to set me at ease about it beforehand by calling it Spring Break via Black Box. He did make me laugh. It was worth it to have to rest in a coffin for a vacation he told me. Vacations were grand. Maybe even if you were married. (Eric had smacked him for that comment.) True to his words, though, it sounded as if he was making the most of the vacation. Meanwhile, Eric was alone several nights already, so I knew Cadel must be having fun with that whole business.

Eric stroked his fingers through my hair and then rested his chin on my head.

When do you plan to be back at the hotel? I've had enough of this already. I'd had enough before we even started with it. With his chin resting on my head, I could feel him turn to look at the doorway, which now held Mathilde's younger sister Beatrix, Mathilde's great-granddaughters Anaïs and Chloë, Mattias, and Mattias's apprentice Jaap. They were all just staring at the three of us. "I know you feel safe here, but I would really prefer your staying with us," he whispered aloud in Swedish, clearly for Andor's benefit.

"Eric," I murmured back, "I can absolutely assure you, it's the safest place in Amsterdam for me, other than with you. I just need another night, two at most. I need to finish my research. It's important to me. To us. And then I'll be back as soon as I'm done. I promise."

What are you really doing here, Sookie? What is this research? Why won't you tell me what you're doing here? This really starting to bother me and it's bothering Andor and Cadel, as well. We are worried it isn't safe.

I'm fine, Eric. I'll explain soon. Just… trust me, I replied, taking his hand and pressing it to my heart but not letting him see even a bit of what I was up to.

He looked down at me as he stroked my cheek with his thumb.

You need more blood, Sookie. You're too pale. How much have you had since you awoke? It's almost midnight.

Two, I was just going to have two more right before you arrived. Please don't worry. It's awkward to go on silently like this, okay? I love you. One more night.

I leaned against him, in part because it made the silent conversation less obvious and in part because… I really missed him keenly. I felt this stirring internally and suddenly felt an intense craving for a blade. I pushed it out of my mind. I felt his blood in me, soothing me. He always seemed to know now when I felt it.

I can't help you with that in such a public place. And it's only going to get harder the longer we're apart. This whole business worries me on so many levels, Sookie. You are so trusting of them. How can you trust that they will not harm you or that someone else couldn't? I have asked you before and you always seem so sure. How do you know? Hmm? And why do you not tell me how you are so sure?

And how could I convince him? Of course it was more than that I was giving them blood. Blood enough even to store. Blood that was in no small part, his blood in me. I wasn't so sure he'd take that info well. And I was sure that he and Andor would just turn that business around and say they could incapacitate me or drain me dry while I was asleep. Even after assuring him again and again that in their thoughts they meant me no malice, he still seemed distrustful though they'd had countless chances to harm me the previous year and had never done so.

Who else could even enter their home, Eric? I have reasons to trust them. And they to trust me. It will really be fine, min älskade. They will not harm me or allow me to come to harm. I am absolutely certain of it.

He stiffened and shook his head, clearly not satisfied that I still wouldn't do as he wished.

"Well, I don't like it." Sometimes I just can't believe the shit I'm willing to take from… He stopped himself before continuing on that train of thought and in fact seemed to rapidly obscure his thoughts from me. I caught just a wisp of menace about what they'd do if the Voortens harmed me. His face revealed not even a hint of it, however. "Just keep better in touch," he said sternly. "And drink more. At least another three or four tonight, alright? You're too pale. You're young and hungry, remember that? Forget it a moment too long and you'll see how long they treasure your friendship…" You had better listen to me, min älskade.

I stood on tiptoe and kissed him. I sighed as I touched his lips with my own. I really was so tempted to try to meet him somewhere in a few hours. Instead, I whispered playfully,

"I love you, too." I leaned around and looked at Andor. "I hope you get Cadel back," I said with a chuckle. "I'll be mad if you guys lose him."

Andor shook his head with a rueful smile.

"Actually, she's some sort of dancer. A ballet dancer, if you can believe it. Red hair. He was totally taken with her," Andor explained. He leaned down and kissed me on my cheek. "Sookie, Eric's right. You're really keeping him quite on edge. Show some pity. On both of us, since I have to deal with him."

Eric grunted and gave Andor a look. With a quick glance back at the crowded doorway, Eric nodded to them politely.

Be careful, mitt hjärta.

He kissed me goodbye and then took flight with Andor. From right where they stood, almost like rockets. I looked around me and suddenly realized that the two of them had pretty much landed in the safest spot in the courtyard, which was near exactly near the bell. I should have known better than to think he'd been anything less than perfectly cautious. He even knew quite a bit about the Voortens by the time we'd come to Amsterdam. He'd had them investigated. Even financially. Just to be sure they weren't into kidnapping or something. Basically, I knew he was indulging me by our being here at all. He'd wanted to stay in Paris instead, and told me I could do my research there. When I explained about needing things translated, he said he'd pay for translations. But I'd won out in the end. He'd done quite a bit in the past four months to indulge my whims and basically try to keep me happy, or if not happy, 'enjoying' my waking hours. Even though we never spoke of it, he knew I hated being as I was. I had tried to not let him see that in me, but it was hard to block him out of my thoughts entirely. I briefly touched the talisman that never left my throat. He still thought I would hurt myself. Or maybe worse. Maybe he could see that, all too often, I still thought about both things…

I sighed. I turned back to the doorway and saw Jaap, who'd pushed to the front of the others since he was so much smaller, staring at me with amazement. He looked awed. I cut my fingers again, offered my blood willingly to the ward and then stepped back inside.

Anaïs smiled at me mischievously. "It looks like even vampire husbands get a bit lonely for their wives." Then, surprisingly, she elbowed me. "What a looker he is, Sookie. A wonder you'd be away from him more than a minute. How long have you been married?"

"Eleven years," I said, softly.

She looked at me with her soft smile.

"Well he really loves you. You can see it in the way he looks at you."

I smiled back at her and just nodded. That he did, I thought to myself. It was the only possible explanation at this point.

"Chloë's getting your blood warmed again," she added.

Meanwhile Jaap stood right in my path, just a bit taller than I was, and regarded me with awe.

"They're huge! They're even bigger than the Voortens," said Jaap. Jaap was only seventeen and had been living with the van Voortens since age thirteen, as tradition held. "I've never seen vampires fly. I mean, we don't even really have any vampires other than you." He paused and looked at me with his head at an angle. "Do you fly Sookie?"

He reminded me of Hunter in his enthusiasm. Jaap was still such a kid. I still remembered the first time Eric had flown for Hunter.

"I do, Jaap. I just don't enjoy it much, the way they do. You know they were Vikings. Real Vikings. So they don't get bothered by silly things like bugs and smoke and smog and stuff like that, the way I do. I'm quite happy walking or taking the Metro."

Jaap just looked at me open-mouthed. At first I thought it was the idea I'd rather walk than fly but then I could see he was very hung up on the bit about their being Vikings. I couldn't blame him. I remembered about sixteen years before being incredulous that Eric was as old as he was. Of course, I'd met much older vampires since then. But still, it really was awe-inspiring.

"Vikings like… from a thousand years ago?" he asked. I nodded to him. "Wow. And are they really brothers? They actually don't look that much alike other than being so big and blond."

"Brothers in a vampire sense. They had the same sire. And now they've been friends for over a thousand years. So after that much time, in a very real sense they are like brothers. But my husband is Swedish and Andor is Norwegian. They still speak Old Norse with each other."

Jaap wandered off, looking totally awed.

Chloë returned with two warm bottles of a new German synthetic blood, Neue Blut. She waited to see if it was okay and I nodded to her after tasting it. It was slightly different from True Blood. What a refreshing change! I was so sick of the general sameness of blood. Even with different types and positives and negative. It was just… blood. Once you had a bit when you'd been craving it, I actually thought it was boring. It made me understand why vampires risked going after fairies. Just the chance to taste something different or exotic.

"Thank you, Chloë."

"Graag gedaan," she said, smiling.

Sipping from the first bottle, I walked back to the library with Mattias, who closed the door behind us. He walked around and sat back down at his desk, looking again at the two relevant books. He pushed over a wide tile coaster, onto which I could put both my bottles. Then he glanced back up at me, looking over his reading glasses.

"Now my little vampire, you were saying…"

I lay there in the dark cellar, fingering his dark blue sweater, as I waited for the coming dawn. I missed Eric. I kept shifting the pillows and unnecessarily pulling the blanket around myself, wrapping the sweater he'd loaned me to sleep in tighter around myself. I obviously wasn't cold. No, I was lonely and horny. But mostly… lonely. Finally, I drew out my phone and assessed the signal. I was in a cellar after all. I had only two of five signal bars but that should be plenty. I went ahead and typed out a text message to Eric saying I missed him and sent it. The phone rang about thirty seconds later.

"Well, now it's too late. Dawn is in eight minutes according to my watch. I wouldn't trust you could be on this floor that quickly."

I sighed softly.

"I know. Besides I'd wake them leaving the house. It wouldn't be polite. It's a Sunday, after all."

"Promise me you'll stay with me tonight?"

I hesitated.

"I might not be done. I guess… I'll try."

"How about just saying yes for a change? Do you remember how to just say yes? I haven't forgotten how to hear it."

"But I'm not really done yet… I guess they won't mind my going and then coming back again. I just don't want to inconvenience them, since I'm their guest, Eric." I sighed as I glanced around and felt really alone without him by my side. Even just being here, in my now familiar cellar bed, I felt flooded with memories of our year apart, the worst and longest year of my existence. I longed to be next to him. And he was so silent on the other end. I knew he was really getting his patience worn thin with the whole business. "Okay… yes." I whispered.



"What are you really doing there?"

"I'll have to wait to explain it when I really know myself, Eric. What did you and Andor do after you left?"

"We went to a bar and met someone we know. Someone who came to talk to me, at my request. Someone from Antwerp."

I was silent for a minute.

"You mean Feargus?" I finally asked diffidently.

"Why yes, Feargus. He mentioned a very interesting conversation with a curvaceous blond researcher who was inquiring after our sire last summer. She was evidently quite the charmer."

"She was evidently pumping him for information, Eric."

"You did not tell me you went to Belgium to talk to him, Sookie. I thought you had just located him there with your research. You just neglected to mention actually meeting him? I was caught very off guard by it. You certainly made an impression on him."

"Yeah, well he's probably going to be rather embarrassed when he finds out that I'm your wife. I didn't even know you'd care that I'd met him, since you'd never really mentioned him. I didn't talk to him for very long. It was still the summer and I left at sunset by train and was back here in the house by about 1 am in time for Bea to tuck me in and everything. I got almost my regular amount of reading in that night, if that's any indication."

"Why would he be embarrassed?"

"Use your ample imagination, Eric," I said with a wry tone. "I'm sure you know him far better than I do. The guy is clearly not very used to rejection is all I'll say. And he's not very pleasant about it, either. It was good that I'd planned a quick departure and had my return ticket in hand."

"So Feargus was himself and you were unswayed?"

Feargus was an extremely good-looking guy. Like he could be a male model or an actor or something. He made the rest of the population look ugly. I seriously wondered if he had been part or even more than part fairy. But he was really not… well… I was just not a Feargus fan. Good looks had never been enough to do it for me in the first place. And fairy-born good looks? I didn't exactly have the best opinion of most full or even part-fairies, frankly. Plus, Feargus's absence from Eric's little coterie of fellow Ocella children was not exactly lost on me. He'd never been to visit in Louisiana. He'd never even been mentioned. I'd at least heard of Hjalmar in the past for instance. But I'd found Feargus in my database research and had been sure that Ocella was his sire. I had wondered if he'd personally seen or heard from Ocella after Ocella had left Odense in 1819. After all, if he wasn't friendly with the others, he'd be a natural for Ocella to risk contacting. Feargus had not heard from Ocella, though he thought that it was possible that Ocella was in France around that time. It was odd, I'd thought to myself after meeting him. Ocella had kept Feargus, who was tall, beautiful and had shoulder length reddish-blonde hair, only five short years. Eric had been with him for twenty, Andor ten, Cadel a little less than ten and poor Stefan more than fifty (and even then he got hauled back regularly to be abused and sent off-kilter by Ocella's compelling him to do horrible things). But Feargus only five. Ocella probably hadn't liked him much, I surmised. He'd glossed over talking about him, which was pretty surprising when you thought of what Feargus looked like. I'd have thought someone like Ocella would have considered him a real trophy.

But anyway, the fabulously good-looking Feargus had not even been a moment's thought in my mind. All I wanted was the information I was seeking. Though I couldn't quite put my finger on it, even talking to him for such a short time, there was just something I didn't like about him. I wasn't going to chance prowling through his mind to look for the reason, but that was just my take. Didn't like him, didn't trust him, even though I was sure he hadn't lied about Ocella. But I didn't know if Eric liked him or not so I didn't want to get too negative at the cost of reassuring him that I'd been totally uninterested in him.

"Okay, first, I've never been much interested in sleeping around, Eric. Which you know full well. But even so, just trying to picture Andor, Cadel or Stefan in his place would be more than enough for me. The whole vague relative to you kind of deal? So very not a turn on. Between that and some very nice razor work earlier that night, not even the slightest chance of being swayed, no matter who I was around. If I was going to be around guys, I was always thorough in making sure I was quite clear-headed for the night, if only to make sure that they didn't misinterpret me. Besides, you know I didn't lie to you, right? So why bother asking?"

I heard him swallow on the other end of the line and I could tell the razor comment had been a bit over the top for him, even though it was absolutely the God's honest truth. I'd carved myself up handsomely before going to meet Feargus. But it was nothing out of the ordinary. On some nights I'd literally had an extra bottle of blood because I'd lose so much to cutting if I was going to be around men, other than maybe Jaap or Mattias. No amount of flirting or interest had tempted me after such preparation. I was practically numb by then. I sighed. I knew it upset him so much that I had done it. And I still found myself wanting to do it. Especially in the shower, which had been my traditional place, since it made cleanup so easy. It was a hard battle not to lapse back into controlling myself that way. It was faster, easier. But it was… wrong, I told myself. Well, actually, mostly what I told myself was that it upset Eric. But, whatever reason I came up with not to do it, the longer I went without doing it, the more likely I could quit doing it.

I felt a lurch of desire still but it was awash with loneliness.

"I really wish I was next to you in bed," I said softly, still fingering the hem of the sweater. Now, I was mad at myself for not having gone with him earlier or at least having called earlier. I might have been able to go stay with him after my talk with Mattias, for instance.

Abruptly I sank into feeling very alone, just thinking back to the time before I'd gone home, when I'd missed him so horribly and thought everything was ruined. And now I was, by my own foolish choice, not near him. Mattias really didn't distrust me as much as I'd worried he did. Not at all. In the end he probably wouldn't have cared if I'd gone out to stay with my husband for a while.

"And whose choice is it that you are not here, Lover?" he said, as if he read my every thought.

"Do you miss my being warm, Eric?" I asked softly.

"I miss your telling me what you're doing."

"Yeah, well, right now I'm missing knowing what I'm doing. Up until a few hours ago I thought I knew what I was doing but now I'm not so sure and I'm not so sure that I'll be… allowed to do what I thought I was doing, so there's no point in talking about it. But I mean it. The other thing? I miss being warm. Because my being warm meant my feeling your being cool, next to me, and I loved that. Don't you miss my being warm? Eric?" As I waited for him to reply, I listened to the background noise. "What are you doing? I hear you tapping on a keyboard. You're using your computer? I'm pouring my heart out, telling you I'm missing you and you're typing about a hundred words a minute? Geez."

"I am just finishing arranging to have the dress delivered to the Voortens house."

My heart, which had already stopped sixteen months before, would have stopped yet again if that was possible.

"What dress?"

"The one you're wearing tomorrow to make up for all of this. All of it. The entire situation, thus far on this trip. Your being there, not here with me, at dawn and sunset. Not telling me that you actually met Feargus. Your refusing to tell me what you're doing. Just the entire business. This is not my idea of a vacation. So your dress? Hmmm. It's by a Dutch designer. What's the name? Marlies Dekkers? She does lingerie and evening wear, evidently. It's a little hard to see the difference between the two, but I do believe the evening wear covers the body slightly more. But don't worry. What there is of it is black."

I ground my teeth a bit before replying.

"Eric, if it's skimpy, I don't have the right stuff with me to wear it. I don't have the right underwear for it, I mean. Seriously."

And then I could feel him smiling from halfway across town, all the way over in the Amsterdam Grand Hotel.

"What a pity," he said in a biting tone. "For you, I mean. I'm sure I'll enjoy it even more."

"Eric Northman, I am not going to go out in public wearing any dress without a…"

He cut me off.

"Good thing I know what size you are, isn't it? Although, really in this particular case… hmmm. Perhaps I should have added the wrap, just for some sense of propriety."


"You owe me, Sunshine. The way you acted earlier tonight and the fact that we're apart right now? It will be time to pay up. I'll very much enjoy showing you off in it."

"Are you actually expecting me to wear this … dress… in public, Eric?"

"You're going to look fantastic in it. Just trust me. Look at that… It is two minutes past and you are still awake. How intriguing. All I have to do is mention Nan's plans for the post-trial media barrage or clothing you might find objectionable and suddenly you are resilient in the face of dawn. Most impressive for one so young."

I groaned. I wondered if he had really just been teasing me and was working on his email. It was six hours earlier in New Orleans after all…

"So, you were just making the whole thing up to tease me, right?"

"Definitely not. It should arrive tomorrow afternoon. To you, care of Anaïs van Voorten. Wait until you see it. Hold on... You know, I just heard Cadel get back into his room. Talk about cutting it a bit close," he erupted into laughter and banged against the wall.

"Hear that?" he said and then apparently moved the phone closer to the wall so that I could hear some sort of rhythm being tapped against the wall. "Ruhe!" boomed Eric, sounding as if he'd hit the wall again for good measure. After some laughter in response, and something that was probably cursing (I couldn't hear it clearly enough to tell) silence fell on the other side.

Eric laughed and then said into the phone,

"Now, where were we? You're still awake? Yes… I will pick you up at 1 am. That should give you plenty of time there after sunset to work and then to dress. Let them know that we are coming. I would prefer to bring a car, but if necessary, flying in is an option. Although the thought of you flying in this dress is rather amusing. And I have to say that I simply can't believe that I had to marry you in order to pick you up and take you out on a date. To think you call these times liberal. In the past I would have simply carried you off and declared you mine."

"You, know, there's a lot I could point to that would suggest you did exactly that, Eric. Especially in the beginning. I seem to recall a marriage deal without my clear understanding. Are you admitting the whole thing wasn't very modern on your part? Although, in the past, I would be wearing a dress that covered me considerably, out of modesty. So what's the deal? Are we living in the past or not?"

"Touché, Lover. As you point out, on the basis of clothing styles, not the past." he said, sounding so thoroughly delighted. "It's really not what I would call modest."

"If I don't like it, I'm not going to wear it. You better be clear on that point."

"You'll wear it. As I said, you owe me. It will look good on you. I would not purchase something that I didn't think would look good on you." He paused for a moment in the conversation then said, "I am actually feeling the dawn. How about you, min älskade?"

My own eyelids were suddenly like lead weights.

"I'm still missing you so mu…" and then, just like that, I was gone.