Dead In The Woods

Written For Valentine Fae's Tale Competition.

Disclaimer : Charlaine Harris owns the characters; I have no rights at all on them. I don't own the fairy tale either. It belongs to the Brothers Grimm.

Original Fairy Tale: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs from the Brothers Grimm.

Author's Note: Thank to BonTempsBeau, my beta reader, for his patience and sense of humour. Without him, this story would taste like a too-much-chewed old chewing gum.

Please, please, please, visit Valentine Fae's Tales' site, which is hosted by Blackdeadorchids or her blog to read the other stories and show us your support. Thank you for your reading, critics, and support.


Dead In The Woods

I never liked my stepmother's business associates. They were either slime balls who say yes to everything she said or very quiet ones, who didn't say anything until they were addressed personally. Even then, I'd be lucky if I can get a complete sentence out of them.

Callisto – my stepmother, never liked my friends either, or to be closer to the truth, she never liked me, especially when I turned eighteen and had the full rights to take over the day-to-day operations of my father's business. She had always thought I was some kind of a spoiled brat, who didn't know anything about business. That thought never changed.

I never knew why my father married her. Yes, she was a beautiful woman, with her long black jet hair and green eyes. Her body was slim toned and built like a Victoria's Secret Underwear model. She was completely different from my mother. My mother had blond hair, blue eyes and full-figured. Unfortunately, she died during child-birth. I never knew how my mother moved or talked, but I couldn't imagine she would be as cold or business-like as Callisto.

It was clear from the beginning for all of us; she wouldn't stay at home and do the house keeping. She accompanied my father to company meetings, business lunches or dinners and from time to time acted on my father's behalf in representing the company. When my father got ill and died shortly thereafter, she took over the company completely. Thanks to Mrs. Arlene Fowler – our family lawyer, my name was included on the will and had 50% of my father's property and shares. I didn't know what happened to Mrs. Fowler. The last thing I heard, she was sick and went to a hospital. Afterwards, I never heard about her anymore.

Jackson Hervaux, my father's friend, Vice President of the Stackhouse Inc. and who had been my advisor for years, advised me to be patient and to focus on my studies before I decided to join the family business.

I had followed his advice and done exactly what he told me.

Two years ago I graduated from the university. I was twenty-four years old, had a lot of ideas in my head and was ready to jump into the business. On that very day, he resigned. His reason was his health condition and family. He wanted to return to New Orleans and spend his time with his family there. His son was building a trading company. Uncle Jackson wanted to be there to help him

"Sookie," he said as he left for New Orleans. "Use your ability. You are alone now; you have to be more careful. Listen to me; use your ability."

Uncle Jackson was among the very few people who knew about my ability. I can hear people's thoughts, loud and clear as if they were spoken directly to me. I tried the best I could not to use my ability, but sometimes it slipped through. It made me feel like I had been invading someone's privacy. It's not always nice to hear what people had in their minds, especially if those thoughts were about you and said bluntly that you were stupid and wondered if you're your father's child or not.

Since then, I had been alone. I tried the best I could to be Callisto's friend. But it didn't matter how hard I tried, something about her bothered me. Once or twice I tried to look into her head to figure out how to get along with her. I couldn't. I felt like there was a wall around her head, I heard nothing but a kind of chanting. The voice inside her head was melodious, but strange. It sounded as if she had been in trance by repeating a prayer again and again.

The business runs well and is even prospering. Almost every second month I read in the newspaper that Stackhouse Inc. is expanding the business by launching this and that campaign. Either it is new technology in communication or fashion, there's always a little Stackhouse's hand in every business field.

As much as I've tried to close my ears and ignore what Callisto and her cronies have been doing, there's always some news that slips through. Lately, there are rumors Stackhouse Inc. is engaged in some dirty business dealings. If one or two companies go bankrupt, you can be certain Stackhouse Inc. was behind it.

Among her business associates, there were two persons that gave me exactly the opposite feeling; Sam Merlotte and Eric Northman.

Sam Merlotte was a quiet man, clothed mostly in plaid shirts, jeans and a cowboy hat. He always has matchstick in the corner of his mouth; according to him, it is his way to stop smoking. His brown eyes are mostly hidden under his sun glasses, but I can always see him smiling or giving me a warm gesture every time we see each other. He's a kind of handy man for Callisto or perhaps a researcher, I don't know.

I meet with Eric Northman once or twice every month. We always met in the evening. His skin is pale as if the sun hasn't touched him for decades. He has a pair of striking blue eyes and long blond hair. At first I thought he was a kind of sunny boy who bleaches his hair, but I was wrong. He was a natural blond. I saw it wafting in the air from time to time and it has exactly the same highlights as mine. Different from Sam, he mostly dresses in black.

I liked the warm feelings I got every time I was around Sam. He had the aura of a big brother, a friend to whom you could tell everything that happened in your life and he wouldn't judge you.

On the contrary, I always felt uncertain around Eric. I could never be sure whether I liked him or hated him. Sometimes he looked at me with such an intense gaze; I swore it could freeze my blood, but at the same time sent a shiver straight to my bones. At other times, however, he ignored me completely as if I didn't exist. I noticed he always did that when I had my period. It made me wonder, did I smell so bad or so strong that he couldn't stand me?

However, that's not the reason for the feelings I had. I could read Sam's thoughts at any time I wanted. His thoughts had always been warm and friendly, but not Eric's. It was as if his head had been empty, blank. There was no voice, not even a sigh; a vacuum.

Therefore I'd always been careful around Eric and felt secure around Sam.

Ironically, it was Sam who had dragged me out from my car, stuffed my mouth with a cloth, tied my hands and feet, and then threw me in his car trunk. I screamed and shouted for help, but nobody could hear my voice. With all my might, I tried to set myself free, but the knots were too strong for me.

"I am sorry, Sookie," were his last word as his face was getting closer to mine. I felt some kind of sting on my thigh and the next thing I saw was darkness.

Xxxxx

His brown eyes were the first things I saw as I opened my eyes. I wanted to tell myself t it had been a mistake, a nightmare, but the ache in my body told me otherwise. Sam Merlotte, one of the very few persons whom I could call 'my friend' had kidnapped me.

Why had he done it?

I didn't have to wait long for an answer. He took out the cloth from my mouth. "I am sorry, Sookie," his eyes blinked. "I really am."

"Why, Sam? I thought you're my friend."

"I have to do it," he helped me out of the car, and then pushed me away. "So I can be free." I heard a metallic clattering and looked to see what Sam was doing. In his hands was a shot gun, pointed at me.

I felt blood rush to my head. My mouth was opened, but I didn't find a word to say. Sam didn't only kidnap me, he wanted to kill me.

"Don't… look at me like that, Sookie…"

I didn't know how I was looking at him, but I didn't know any other way to look at somebody who wanted to kill me. I trembled. My knees were shaking and my eyes were heavy from tears. "At least… tell me why…"

"I have a secret, Sookie. This secret will remain a secret if I kill you. I will be free and can do whatever I want."

"You will have another secret that this person knows. You'll never be free, Sam Merlotte…"

Perhaps you're right, Sookie. But this time, I can take Callisto with me if she decides to use it.

"Callisto…Callisto is the one who ordered you to do this…."

He was shocked. "How do you know?"

"I just did…"

"HOW DO YOU KNOW?" he shouted at me. The gun in his hand was shaking. God…please… keep that hand steady…. "Answer me, Sookie, or I'll shoot you right now."

"I…I can read minds…Sam… and you…you said…"

"Fuck!" he spat on the ground. "Fuck!"

Bang!

I closed my eyes tightly and readied myself for the bullet to strike. I didn't know how long I waited, but the bullet never reached my body. Sam had shot into the air. He threw the gun on the ground and came to me.

"Please…Sam…"

He pulled out a knife from his left boot and cut the rope that tied my hands and feet. "I am sorry, Sookie. If I knew that you were a telepath, I wouldn't have done this."

"Whatever your secret is, I can help you, Sam…"

"You can't, Sookie, but thanks." He opened his arms and embraced me. "I am really sorry, Sook." At the same time he was saying it, his knife thrust into my shoulder.

I wailed in agony. The pain from my shoulder slowly crawled on all over my body. My eyes were hot; my thoughts ran wild; my spine shivered. I grabbed his arms. As my feet couldn't hold my body any longer, I closed my eyes.

"Sookie…" Sam caught me and slowly laid me down on the ground. "I have to do it, Sookie. I have to spill your blood; otherwise Northman would be able to tell that I lied."

Northman…Sam and Callisto…they were all in this together. "Why, Sam?"

"The Board will have a meeting next month. They will elect the Chairman of the Board… rumors said; you'll be the next chairman. The other members of the Board don't trust Callisto anymore. There are too many circumstances around the death of many people, which lead to her. They want to have a clean beginning; a new face. You are the last Stackhouse, Sookie. They hope, with a real Stackhouse in charge, the company will gain its reputation back."

"And she wanted you to kill me…"

He smiled. "I can't. I love you, Sookie, but I can't protect you. You have to leave Dallas."

"Where am I now?"

"Bon Temps."

"Bon Temps…?"

"Don't think about contacting Hervaux," as if he could read my mind, Sam interrupted me. "Stay low for a while." He opened my shirt, put a kind of disinfectant on my shoulder (I screamed as the liquid touched the wound. It was burning like hell!); wrapped his own shirt around me. "There is a cabin in the woods. Try to find it and stay there until I contact you again. Trust me on this, Sookie. Your life depends on it."

"What about you?"

"I'll survive. One way or the other."

Xxxxxx

I couldn't see the sky as I went deeper into the woods.

"Go west," Sam told me. "Keep on going until you find the hut."

I felt as though I had traveled west for an eternity. The trees were getting bigger and taller each step I took. Their leaves and shadows blocked the sun, made the air seem denser. My feet were bloody from all the bushes I'd gone through, my shoes – a pair of black pumps, had failed me some yards away from the road. I had smashed them against a tree, cursed them for being so useless. The stockings had been torn apart and were hanging on my legs like a second skin of mine.

Finally, my body failed me. I fell crashing to the ground. I grabbed the grass beside my face. 'I can't give up,' I told myself. 'I may not. I have to reach the hut. I have to return to the city and get pay back for what they do to me. I am a Stackhouse, I have to continue.'

I didn't know how many times I said it, until finally my eyes failed me too. Slowly they were closing in. 'No…I have to move on….'

Then, I saw shadows moving in. I heard noises…some were growling and some were echoing…they were mixture of real spoken words and thoughts…

I felt a pair of hairy hands lift my body….and I heard him grunting and what was that for a smell? A Skunk Ape? I was saved by a Skunk Ape…I laughed…I am dead.

Xxxxx

The shadows were one by one getting clearer. They moved around me, grunting, growling and snarling.

Where am I?

I screamed as soon as I opened my eyes. I wasn't in a cave with Skunk Apes, but in a hut of naked men…six of them!

"Oh, for crying out loud!" one of them grunted. "Shut the fuck up; you're blowing my ears off."

I covered my mouth with my hands. God…he…he was the one who had lifted me. I recognized his grunt…

"You're a shifter, what are you screaming for?" One of the men came to me, scratching his chest. "Damn these lice, if I find them I'll kill them!"

Lice? Eew… that man had lice on his chest?

"A shifter…?" I tried hard not to look at his chest or any other parts of his body except his eyes. God knows what else he had there!

"The scent's all over your shirt…come on, bitch, don't act…"

My shirt? "This is not my shirt…this shirt belongs to Sam Merlo…" before I was able to finish my sentence, the grunting one jumped on me and as he leapt, he changed into a wolf.

My head spun. The room started to blur…wolves…werewolves…I was in a house full of werewolves….then I didn't see anything anymore.

The second time I opened my eyes; those six men were sitting on chairs and were fully clothed. The grunting man sat beside the bed where I found myself. "We're sorry, Miss," he said. "We thought you were somebody else."

"Who are you…and where am I?"

They introduced themselves one by one. They called themselves members of Long Tooth Pack.

"Brian. You can call me 'Grunty'"

"Scratch-me…Dick," said the one with the lice. I almost said, 'No, thank you,' but I managed to smile instead.

"Smiley…Michael," he flashed his smile, showing me his yellow pointed teeth. Jeez, I wished he hadn't done that!

"Snory… Tom,"

"Tiny… Sean,"

"Tiny?" I looked at Sean. He was a six-foot-tall man and full of muscles, and they called him 'tiny'?

"You know, Miss," Scratch-me grinned. He pointed somewhere between his leg.

Jesus!

"Dick!" the youngest one's face was bright red. "You're really such a dick!"

"Ah, Prudy!" Scratch-me jumped to his side. "Lou is a prude, through and through."

I couldn't call him a prude if he seemed not to have a problem appearing naked in front of a stranger, shifter or no shifter.

The door opened, but none of them seemed to be bothered by it. A tall figure entered and as our eyes met, I felt my heart stop beating. He had the most beautiful green eyes I'd ever seen. They were big and sharp like an eagle's. He had wavy hair and fair sun-kissed brown skin complexion. Who might this be? Hottie?

"Alcide, this is Miss…"

"Sookie, Sookie Stackhouse," I tried to sit down. "Nice to meet you…all."

Alcide nodded.

"We thought she was a shifter, Bro," said Tiny. "We didn't know…"

"Moment," I tried to grab the reality back. I could see now they were decent people, who happened to be werewolves…that's it. "You are not werewolves, right? I'm not dreaming or delusional and you aren't werewolves…"

"No, you aren't dreaming or delusional," said Alcide. "But yes, we are werewolves. I don't think it's worthwhile to lie since you have seen my brothers in their wolf-cloaks."

"Sam had sent me here, knowing that you will be here…" my head started spinning again.

"That son of a bitch Merlotte!" Grunty growled. "I'll grab his tail when I see him!"

"You know Sam Merlotte…" Now it's clear why he didn't want anybody to know what he really was.

"I think you better sleep now, Sookie," said Alcide. "Tomorrow you can tell us what happened to you and we'll figure out what we want to do next."

Xxxxx

The sound of grunting and growling woke me up abruptly. The light that shone through the wooden walls told me it was morning already.

I wanted to tell myself I was in a kind of surrealistic dream, which only existed in David Lynch movies, but I knew I wasn't. I was among the werewolves. I had headache from trying to get my head around the fact that werewolves existed. Shape-shifters existed, Sam Merlotte – the one whom I consider as a friend, is one of them.

Did vampires exist too? Yeah, right. Eric Northman would be fitting as a vampire. Pale skinned, heartless, blood sucking thing!

I pulled my hair. Why did I care so much about what or who Eric was? Clearly he worked together with or for Callisto. Otherwise, why would he be there?

I held my knees closely. Did Callisto know that I can read people's minds, except Eric? My ability was a secret, only my father and Uncle Jackson knew about it. Had my father told her? He wouldn't tell…he couldn't.

And why…in the name of God, did I think about Eric Northman?

"Sookie, we have to talk."

A deep voice pulled me back to reality. Alcide stood in front of me. I looked around and I saw the other werewolves had gone out of the hut.

Alcide pulled a chair and sat in front of me. "You're wounded."

"Yeah, your friend Sam Merlotte did this." I touched the wound.

"I see also that he gave you first aid."

"Yeah, a real gentleman, huh?"

A faint smile was on his face. "What happened?"

I told him the story, short and fast.

He looked at me thoughtfully. "You'd better stay here until we figure out what to do. I'll send one of the boys to Shreveport to check the situation."

"Why Shreveport?"

"Eric Northman has a bar there, it's the easiest way to check if he's in town or not. If yes, then we have to leave New Orleans as soon as possible."

"I don't want to run," I sighed. "Sam made me run from Dallas. To be honest Alcide, I don't want to run from New Orleans either. I want to fight. I am the last of the Stackhouses, I have to protect my father's hard work. I can't leave the company like this and especially not to Callisto!"

"Are you sure you are not a werewolf?" he smiled. Jeez, he had the whitest and the smallest teeth I'd ever seen! He should be the one who was called 'Smiley' and not that yellow pointed teeth owner!

"Why?"

"You've got spunk."

I raised my head. "I am a Stackhouse. We always have spunk."

He smiled wider, "Then, we should do something about that." He rose. "We wait until your wound gets better. I think you should learn a basic knowledge of how to defend yourself; just in case your stepmother decides to send somebody else to finish the business."

"You mean somebody like Eric Northman?"

His smile disappeared. "If she decides to send Eric Northman, I am not sure if the boys and I can handle him, Sookie. Let's hope Northman has his eyes on you."

I didn't like the sound of it. It sounded like giving up before the fight. That's not what my father had taught me. However, I decided not to pursue it.

"Why do Brian and the others have strange nicknames?" I tried to change the subject.

"They aren't yet full members of the Long Tooth Pack; it's a kind of initiation thing. If they pass the test, they'll be full members and can keep the name if they want to. If they don't, they won't be members and they have to keep the name."

"That's cruel," I couldn't stop myself from grinning. I mean, names like 'Scratch-me'? How would he explain to the girls about his nickname? I hoped not the way he had done it in front of me, revealing himself as a lice breeder.

"I have my confidence in them. They are good boys."

xxxxx

My days with the werewolves ran easier and faster than I thought. In the first three days, I could not do anything except sit around, eat and read one of the books they had. The muscle in my shoulder wasn't badly injured, but still it'd be better if I had a lot of rest. Sam hadn't meant to hurt me, they told me. Otherwise, the result wouldn't have been this light. Sam Merlotte was a trained hunter. His skills in combat could be compared with any elite soldier and he would put them in shame.

If he was the way they described him, I wonder why he worked for Callisto. He didn't have to tell anybody about being a shifter and if everybody knew he could change into an animal, what was the problem?

"Sookie, Sookie," Snory shook his head. "You know how many doctors or medical students have come to me and asked me if I wanted to join an experiment to get rid of my snoring? I believe if I registered their names, I could build a large research center and still, the building wouldn't be able to hold them all.

"Now imagine if they knew about Sam's or our ability to shift. I believe they would conduct experiments on every inch of our bodies, from the dirt below our feet to the dandruff on our scalps!"

On the fourth day, I tried to make myself useful by cleaning up the house, taking care of their laundry and dishes. I didn't have to cook because Tiny was a good cook, but he wasn't exactly what I would call a clean one. The kitchen looked always like a battlefield when he finished cooking. Pots, knives and spoons were all over the place. The blood from the animals he had drained was spilt on the ground, giving off such a strong odor that it upset my stomach. I gave Alcide a shopping list with some detergent and other cleaning stuff to make the hut smell better.

"You use too much chemical stuff," said Grunty. "It doesn't smell like a hut anymore! It's like a hospital!"

"Finally!" said Prudy. "Somebody with understanding of hygiene…"

Splat! A wet t-shirt landed on his face followed by a sneer. Scratch-me ran as soon as Prudy removed the t-shirt off his face. Soon, the others laughed seeing the two of them running in circles in the yard.

They were really like boys!

"I think you should start with your training tomorrow, Sookie," Alcide's voice made me turn around, "if you're still serious about being able to defend yourself."

"Yeah, yeah. Sure."

"You will learn the theory and watch how the boys do it. When your wound is completely healed, you can start with the physical training."

"Thanks, Alcide."

Alcide nodded.

"Any news about Eric?"

"He's in town all right. From what I heard, he's been in a nasty mood these days. Not even his right hand woman has managed to handle him."

"His right hand woman?"

"Yap. A real piece of work, his right hand woman. You know why Brian grunts most of the time? She pulled his tongue out and would've killed him if my father hadn't stopped her in time. But it was Brian's mistake; I couldn't do much about it."

"Oh yeah, what did he do?"

"He took an illegal drug at Northman's bar. Northman wants to keep his bar clean from that sort of thing and he's really harsh with those who break his rules. He knows Brian is one of my people, but he doesn't care. And that sadistic woman was more than willing to do the punishment."

I looked at Grunty. One side of me felt sorry for him, but on the other side, he did drugs; he had to accept the consequence. "Why is Eric in a nasty mood?"

"From what I heard, he lost his woman," Alcide looked at me firmly, as if he wanted to get an honest confirmation from me. "I told you, if he has eyes for you, your chance of survival is better."

"I am not his woman," I said, but my heart jumped irregularly. Eric…his icy blue eyes appeared in front of me without being asked.

"Be careful, Sookie. He's not what you think he is." Alcide touched my shoulder. "The best thing you can do is forget about him and concentrate on your training. I mean it, Sookie. Callisto has decided to kill you. She won't stop until she achieves what she wants."

Xxxxxx

The green slimy thing Alcide put on my shoulder worked like a miracle. On the seventh day, my wound was completely healed. I still wasn't allowed to move too much, but now they took me to walk around the hut and even a bit farther.

I admired their knowledge of the plants in the woods and what they were used for. They could see the difference between one plant and the other even when in my eyes they looked exactly the same. Tiny was the best among them. He could tell the difference from five similar looking plants, name them and even tell us if they were useful or poisonous. Scratch-me would scratch some parts of his body and then run like a flash to the book cabinet to check if Tiny was correct or not.

Snory had an amazing way of moving. He could be from here to there in a matter of moments unnoticed. It was as if he had a pair of wings on his ankles! If only he slept as quietly as he walked! I had to wear earplugs to be able to sleep because his snoring was so loud. The first time I heard it, I thought the hut was hit by a runaway train!

Smiley and Prudy were good at hunting. When they left the hut they always returned with good results: sometimes rabbits; sometimes fish. They would bring back birds if Tiny was willing to cook them, but from the beginning on he always yelled, "No birds! Too much work with no meat! If I want birds, I'll go to the market and buy some chicken!"

Sometimes, they would return with some wild apples.

"I love apples!" I said almost screamed. Finally, something that reminded me to home! We had a small garden behind the summer house in Springtown. The apple trees that my grandmother planted there had the best apples I'd ever tasted! The apple pie that she made…hmmh…I drooled at the thought of it. "If you bring me enough apples, I'll bake for you the famous Gran Stackhouse Apple Pie!"

I didn't know exactly what Scratch-me or Grunty were good at, because Grunty was away most of the time. When he's at the hut, he would sit alone and grunt every time somebody asked him something. Alcide told me he still had difficulty swallowing the bitter fact that he had been defeated by a woman and he couldn't forget her. And Scratch-me…well, let me say it in an easy way, he's everywhere and everything. He seemed to know a lot, but didn't do much about it.

"Grunty's in love with Pam – Northman's 'secretary' – you know, his right hand woman," said Scratch-me, without being asked. "Poor guy."

Yeah, it must be difficult for him to be in love with a woman that had almost killed him.

It was early evening and I was about to light the oil lamps, when Scratch-me grabbed me. "You have to leave, now."

"What…?"

"Don't ask, Sookie. Now, before it's too late."

"Take her out now, Dick!" I heard Alcide growling.

"Now, Sookie!"

Following Scratch-me, I ran. I didn't know what I was running from, but I knew I had to do it. The savagery and fear on his face were more than enough to tell me something dangerous was coming to the hut. Perhaps Callisto's people.

Scratch-me took off his clothes on the run. Soon he changed into a big black-grey wolf. He stopped and turned around. His eyes were bright yellow. He snarled. I wished he had told me something before he changed into a wolf. I didn't understand what he was trying to tell me!

Suddenly he leapt. I screamed and fell on the ground. Before I could say anything, he laid flat on me. Jesus! He was heavy and what was that smell? If he returned to his human shape again, the first thing I would do was to ask Tiny to brew some fragrant herbs in a pot and put this stinking lice breeder inside it!

"Dick…" I protested but his big paw pressed my head to the ground.

Suddenly, I heard Alcide's thoughts. Like other werewolves'; his thoughts echoed. Northman…let's hope Dick has a strong enough scent to protect her. All of a sudden, I appreciated the stinking smell Scratch-me was producing. He was trying to protect me from Eric Northman. Eric's sense of smell must have been very good; otherwise they wouldn't have to drag me out of the hut. I didn't wear any perfume, how could Eric know I was there?

"You are entering the sacred ground of Long Tooth Pack, Northman," I heard Alcide saying. "The Pack wouldn't appreciate if they knew."

"Then consider your father's debt paid, Hervaux."

Hervaux? Alcide is Uncle Jackson's son? Does it mean he is also a werewolf?

"She's not here."

"Isn't she? You stink of her!"

I bit my lips. He really had a good sense of smell! Alcide and I had body contact from time to time, due to his treatment of the wound, or if we bumped into each other accidentally. Sure, without deodorant or perfume; I smelt stronger than normally, but I never thought that my scent was so strong that it could linger for days.

"She won't come with you," said Alcide. He growled again. "You'll only give her straight to Callisto."

"Callisto! I should've known."

"You've worked with her too long to see her real intention, Northman! My advice…"

"Very kind of you, Hervaux; but I heard too much advice that I don't need lately. I give you a week's time to give her to me, Hervaux. I will not return empty handed."

"She's not a thing to hand out, Northman. She will answer to you when she's ready, when she decides to. She's a human! She's not…"

"She'll tell me what she is when she sees me; I don't need you to be her mouthpiece, Hervaux. One week, Hervaux. No more and no less."

It seemed like forever when Scratch-me got off me. He helped me to get up.

"Thank you,"

Somebody threw a t-shirt at him and he caught it. "I am sorry, Sook, I should've told you about…"

"It's okay, Dick. I understand."

Their faces looked serious when we sat together in the living room. Their minds were full of questions and doubt if they had dealt with Eric in the right way or if they could continue to protect me without putting themselves in danger.

"Somebody told him," Prudy said.

"There's nobody else who knows Sookie is here," Grunty folded his arms, "except us."

"Sam Merlotte knows," I said with heavy heart. Had Sam told Eric my whereabouts?

The eyes in the room were now on me.

"Sam would never do that!" Smiley shook his head. "He'd never do that," he repeated, as if by saying it, it would be a fact.

"Unless he's under heavy torture," Alcide took a deep breath, "and to be honest, that's what I am afraid of. Callisto will do anything to get you, Sookie. She knows no boundaries; she would even feed her own child to a lion if she had to."

I trembled. "It's all because of me. I'll give her my shares if it will stop her doing harm to the people I care for."

Scratch-me grabbed my hand. "People like her, Sook, can't be satisfied. If you gave her a finger; she would take the whole hand."

"I'll give her anything she wants."

"She wants you, Sookie. She wants you dead." Alcide got up. "We have to move to the South tomorrow. The river will protect us. Eric and his people won't dare to cross the river."

Xxxxx

The bright moonlight revealed a gleaming figure standing quietly on the bank of the river.

I gasped as I realized who it was. Eric Northman.

"What are you doing here? Leave, or I'll scream! The werewolves will come in any minute!"

"No, they won't. It's a full moon. They have to solve their own problems right now. Wasn't that the reason they sent you to be here, as far as possible from their cave?"

How did he know?

After he had come to the hut four days ago, we moved to the South. Prudy found a cave where we all could sleep together. Alcide tried to call his father, but it seemed we were too deep in the woods for a signal to reach us. The good news was we were safe; the bad news was we were cut off from modern technology or civilization.

The werewolves weren't allowed to leave the woods. The night of their first full moon as werewolves was getting nearer, Alcide said. They had to stay put and learn to control their instincts. It wouldn't be easy, but they had to be able to do it, otherwise, they would fail the test.

Earlier this evening, Alcide took me out of the cave and asked me to stay in a temporary hut for the night. If I anything frightened me, I was to climb a tree. He promised to come as early as possible tomorrow.

"How did you find me?"

"By looking for you."

"What do you want?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Aren't you supposed to be afraid or something? The other day you hid yourself from me, what has changed your mind?"

Yeah, what had changed my mind? To be honest, I didn't have any clue. I felt…safe. It's strange….I meant, this man worked for Callisto. "Who said I was hiding and why should I be afraid of you?"

He snorted. "Hiding yourself under that stinking dog didn't exactly make you disappear. I even thought it was rather amusing to see you burying yourself under that dirty old rag. But you're right. You shouldn't be afraid, you should be happy to see me."

"Turn around!" I said, annoyed. He had known I had been there, and he let me do it. As much as I appreciated what Scratch-me had done to me, I had to bear his smell for days and it wasn't exactly 'amusing'. Therefore I had jumped into the river as soon as I had a chance to get rid of that awful smell.

He looked at me, teasingly, but then he turned around. "You've missed a chance."

I snatched my t-shirt, a bright yellow t-shirt with a smiley on it that Alcide had bought from Wal-Mart. I had almost refused it when I saw it, but I had no choice than to take it. He had bought the things according to his wallet's capability. I couldn't refuse it only because I didn't like the color or the style.

"A chance for what?"

"To hear my opinion about your body."

"That's gross!"

"I don't think that your body is gross," he was going to turn around when I said; "Don't you dare turn around!" He raised his hands. "Sooner or later I will see it," he said, "Why not now?"

I put on my jeans. I felt my blood boil. This arrogant, dirty minded son of a…

He turned around. He was taken aback by the brightness of my t-shirt. "Interesting," he said, smirking.

"Alcide's choice."

"You should come with me. Pam can help you with your…taste."

"Pam, your secretary? No, thank you. I still want to keep my tongue intact. Besides, why should I follow you? You're only going to lead me straight to Callisto."

"Pam won't dare to touch your tongue. It's mine," he walked toward me until only a few inches separated us. "And no, I won't give you to Callisto or to anybody else. You're mine."

I raised my hand to slap him. I had to give this man a lesson so that he knew how to talk to me. But before my palm reached his face, he caught my hand, lifting my body as if I weighed nothing and pushed me against a tree trunk. I yelled as my shoulder hit the trunk. The image of Sam stabbing me whilst he was hugging me returned without mercy.

"I am sorry," he said. "I forgot that Merlotte had stabbed you there."

"Please…let me down…"

"Not before."

"Before what?"

My question was answered immediately as his face drew closer to mine. I gasped as his lips touched mine. They were cold! In fact, his whole body was as cold as the river I had just bathed in, if not even colder and as refreshing. The next thing I knew, I found myself wrapping my hands around his neck and my legs around his waist, pressing my body against his, gasping as I felt something hard bumping my inner thighs and answering his kisses. His kisses were soft, but strong. His lips caressed mine. As his tongue was entwined with mine, I could only bury my fingers onto his shoulder.

His erection was obvious now and still growing. He pushed harder against me and at that very moment I realized I had to bring a stop to this. I was having my period, besides… I am still a virgin. My ability of listening to somebody else's thoughts was always more a burden than a gift to me. The voices that I had heard from the men, who tried to get close to me, had rarely been pleasant. It made me avoid them before they had a chance to get to know me. Yes, twenty-six years old and still a virgin.

I reluctantly pushed away from him, causing him to lose his balance, and ..boom! We fell to the ground. I wanted to apologize for my clumsiness, but stopped when I saw his face.

His blue eyes were bright from lust and from his mouth, two fangs were out.

I dragged myself away from him. "You…you're not…." I wanted to get up, but it was too late. Eric grabbed my hand and with one pull, I was already in his arms. Before I could do anything else, he rolled us on the ground. Soon, I was under his body, pinned and locked. I tried to set myself free, but I couldn't. Our bodies rubbed against each other strongly and made his erection even stronger than before. Lust overtook me; I heard myself moaning. My panties were wet from my menstrual blood and something else, something new that ashamedly I had to admit, I quite liked it.

"I am a vampire," he growled. "That's why I could find you. I can smell the blood that's coming out from your body." His face was again lower. "I don't know why Callisto wants you to die, but I won't let her get you."

"You're…you're a vampire?"

"At your service, Sookie Stackhouse," he smirked. His hand was going under my t-shirt, but I stopped him.

"How do I know you're telling me the truth?"

"You've met a vampire before?"

"No, but people don't run around claiming to be vampires."

"Because they don't," he lifted his body and sat beside me. I got up. "But I can prove it to you, if you don't take my fangs as a proof."

"O yeah? How?"

Suddenly he bored his fangs into his wrist. I covered my mouth with my hand. He's a nutso!

He lifted his face and showed his wrist to me. "You see, it starts to heal."

Yes, he's right. His wound started to close.

"If you drink my blood, you will find out that it doesn't taste like blood."

I snorted. "Yeah, right. It tastes like any blood. Don't you know that drinking blood is very unhealthy?"

"Blood is my food," he said. "This is your only chance, you know, to taste a vampire's blood. I won't offer it to you again, and you have to live with the question, whether I am telling you the truth or not."

I looked at him. He's serious. His blue eyes were narrowing. There's no smile or smirk on that face.

"Okay," he said, rolling down his shirt's sleeve.

"Wait," I said. "Give me your wrist."

He bit his wrist again and gave it to me. Blood ran down from his hand, but he looked as if he hadn't felt any pain.

Oh, what the heck.

I took his wrist and started sucking his blood. He's right. His blood tasted rather sweet and not fishy.

"Sookie, what are you doing?"

Alcide's voice shocked the hell out of me. I got up and wiped off the blood on my lips. "I drank his blood."

"I see that. Did he tell you why?"

"Yes, to prove he's a vampire."

"Is that so?" Alcide looked at Eric, who was already on his feet. He snarled. "Did he tell you the result?"

I looked at Eric. No, he hadn't. "What result?" I asked stupidly.

"He will be able to know your whereabouts, enter your dreams and mess around with your head?"

"Now wait. That's not true. I won't be able to mess around with her head. What you heard was a fairy tale to stop people from being too curious. About the dreams…" he smiled at me teasingly. "She's been dreaming about me anyway, blood or no blood."

"You son of a bitch!" I grabbed the first thing I could reach (it was a stone) and threw it at him. "I hate you!"

He jumped to avoid the stone and stayed there. He…floated in the air. He could fly? "I heard Stackhouses had spunk…o yeah, I can feel it now. I'll see you again, my future lover!"

Then, he disappeared among the leaves.

Xxxxx

I felt extremely stupid.

The werewolves had been trying very hard to protect me, and I fell into a trap as soon as I was on my own.

Eric was one of Callisto's people. He was sent to find me and he had.

He was something of an enigma for me. My ability of being able to hear what people thought usually gave me some insight into the people around me. Most of the time, people don't tell you what they're really thinking. They are trying to be nice and avoid hurting your feelings, but if they were deliberately lying to me, I will know. I was, however, vulnerable around this tall, pale, blond man. His mind was closed to me. I could never guess what he was thinking. His face was expressionless most of the time. He had rarely spoken to me too.

On second thought, Eric hadn't actually lied; he hadn't told the whole truth. I hadn't pursued it either. I was eager to find out if he is really a vampire. For me, the existence of vampires, as well as the werewolves, is somehow fascinating. I wanted to know if they really couldn't stand garlic, holy water, crosses and other things that I'd read or seen in movies.

And he kissed like no other. I still could feel my body tingling at the thought. His tongue was soft, wet and cold, which gradually had been getting warmer the longer it stayed in my mouth. The way he sucked my tongue…oh…I got a headache every time I remembered it. It was slow, but strong. I felt as if I had been absorbed completely.

I'd never felt man's crotch being pressed against mine before and I didn't know anything about its shape or size, but dear lord, I swore Eric's was big and hard.

If Alcide hadn't interrupted us, I believed, my virginity would've been his to claim. Instead of a warm white honeymoon bed with curtains made of lace, the river's cold wet bank would've been the place where I had my first man.

But hey, who dreamed about a warm white bed with curtain made of lace anyway, if it wasn't a silly stupid girl like me?

Alcide hadn't talked to me for two days now. He had told us with a very sour face to return to the hut. After that, he was mostly away from me and the rest of the werewolves. To make me feel worse, Scratch-me mumbled the same words again and again, 'How the fuck did he know?"

"Sorry, Scratch-me," finally I decided to make everything clear. "He said he saw me under you…you know, when you were in your wolf-shape."

He scratched his back vigorously. "How? I believed I had sweat pouring off me like crazy. I felt really sorry for you. I must have been stinking like hell."

Well…yeah, but, "It's okay."

"Northman lied," said Prudy. "He's a vampire; he's capable of doing anything."

"Or maybe he's old enough to know all the tricks," said Smiley.

"How old do you think he is?"

"Well," Smiley flashed his smile, "he's been around for a while. He knows how to enter the river area without any of us noticing. I even believe the river people are afraid of him, otherwise he wouldn't be able to find you…"

"The river people? Mermaids or something?" Slowly I felt like I'd been living in Disney world.

"Water Faery, one of the most bad ass folks I've ever encountered."

Water Faery? I definitely lived in Disney World. What would come next? Evil witches?

"From what I heard, he's the oldest one in the Shreveport area, or I dare say in Louisiana, well…except maybe the Queen."

"The Queen? Vampire Queen?" Suddenly I felt the urge to drink something; I didn't care if it was whiskey or the mescal that Tiny drank from time to time.

"I think he's around 1,000 years old."

Good Lord! I felt my head spin.

"Drink this, Sook." Tiny gave me a glass of water, "And take a deep breath."

I did what he said. It didn't make me feel better, but I appreciated the attention.

"We've been wondering…" Scratch-me said, but when Prudy gave him a sharp look, he said, "Okay, I've been wondering….what are you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, Callisto wants to kill you, Northman is interested in you, Jackson had been around your family for years…and Alcide…well, never mind…what I'm trying to say is…" he scratched his arm. "Are you a supe or something?"

"A what?"

"A supernatural being, you know, like us. You aren't a shape-shifter; you aren't a werewolf either. Definitely not a vampire; the water faeries let you take a bath in their river…you have to be something. The water faeries are not known for their friendliness or generosity, you know. You've got to be related to them or to the faeries in general, somehow."

"I wish I knew." I took a deep breath. "But I also wish I was just a human-being."

"Don't we all?" Prudy gave me a sad look.

Smiley came up to him and hit him on the shoulder. "Hey, nothing's worst than being un-human and feeling un-human!" he smiled again. "We're just….like what Sookie said, decent people with a little hair problem…"

I smiled. Now I knew why he had been given that nickname. He is a smiley, on the surface and deep inside his heart. Suddenly, I felt better already.

xxxxx

My training wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. They were seriously teaching me basic self-defense, such as knowing the weak points of the male body; how to use a stick as a weapon, even the tools or food in the kitchen. I'd never thought that tomatoes, in the right hands, could be a deadly weapon.

"Aim for the point between the eyes, Sookie. You could kill a man with this vegetable if you hit him fast and hard," said Tiny. "Or hit his dick. It won't kill him, but he will respect tomatoes a little bit more afterward."

I was also shown how to be stealthy. Snory told me the secret of his sneaking way. "Put the weight on the front part, not on the sole and try to move like a ballerina."

Smiley and Prudy showed me how to crawl on the ground and how to be patient. I had to lie down on the ground, make myself flat and don't move for as long as they said. One day, I had to face a tree, doing nothing, simply stare at it for about thirty minutes or more. After the fifth or sixth trial, I was able to do it. When they said that it was over, I screamed on the top of my lungs releasing the pressure that I had felt during the time of doing nothing.

"That's the key to being a good hunter, Sookie: To be patient and calm when necessary."

I was glad I never thought to become one.

Scratch-me mostly did the talking. He would sit in front of me and tell me stories about the supernatural's world.

"Vampires are very vulnerable to silver. In fact, you can only harm them with silver. You can't kill them, unless you stake their hearts. Garlic…well, it bothers them and makes them angry, but no, they aren't afraid of it. They can glamour you…they look you into the eyes and overtake your self-control. You will do their bidding and you don't even remember it. Don't invite them in. Whatever you do, don't invite them inside your house. Your house is your last defense. They can't harm you unless of course they throw a smoke bomb into your house or burn the house down. But basically, they can't do anything against you."

"What about werewolves?"

"Silver and we're vulnerable between the shapes, you know. Before or after the changing, we're defenseless. But then, you don't want to be around a person who's changing into a wolf, do you?"

No, not really.

"Faeries?"

"Iron and lemon."

That's strange.

"But I don't know about witches."

"Witches? There are witches?"

Scratch-me nodded. "They're very…" he looked at Prudy, "…temperamental. Once I had a witch girlfriend, she's the one who caused me to scratch all the time. Unfortunately, before I had a chance to learn her weakness, we broke up."

"Why?"

"He slept with her best friend," said Prudy, "who happened to be my cousin!"

"Prudy loves his cousin, Sook," Scratch-me sighed. He turned to Prudy. "I swear, again, I didn't know that you loved her! You love her still! Come on, Man, forgive her. She loves you too…"

"I don't want to hear!" Prudy stormed out of the room.

"You are really a dick, you know that?" Tiny went out to catch Prudy.

"But she does and so does he! Why does he have to make everything complicated? Virgins are an endangered species, doesn't he know that? She wasn't even a virgin when she slept with me!"

"But he is and he believed his cousin was. That's all that matters," Grunty grunted. "You really deserve your disease."

"Oh, fuck!" Scratch-me kicked the table's leg. "Wasn't it supposed to be me who gives Sookie a lecture about the supernatural world and not you lecturing me about my disease?"

The dinner that evening was awkward. Everybody was silent and eating their food without any conversation. The table, which was normally alive and loud with jokes and snarky comments, now was only filled with the sound of munching and forks and knives clinking.

I thought they were still quarreling about Scratch-me and his affair (somehow I felt guilty for asking about it) until Alcide, who sat at the end of the table said, "We have to leave the hut, Sookie."

"Again? I thought you said we were safe now that Eric has promised your father not to bother us anymore." A promise that I secretly regretted.

"Not you, Sook, but us – the werewolves. There are still some last steps they have to go through before the Council of my Pack decides to accept them or not. We will go far to the south tomorrow, near the Texas border and meet the rest of the Pack there. It will take around three or four days until the test is over. As soon as it's over I'll come here with a car to take you wherever you want to go."

"Will Uncle Jackson be there too?"

Alcide cleared his throat before he answered. "My father is the leader of the Long Tooth Pack, Sookie. Yes, he'll be there."

The fork in my hand fell and made a loud noise when it hit the plate.

All these years, being a family friend, Uncle Jackson had never uttered a single word about it. So he was not only a werewolf, he's also a leader of a werewolf pack. I realized now he'd never mentioned his son's name. It's always 'my son' or 'sonny'. I thought it was his name.

"Did my father know about Uncle Jackson's …condition?"

A faint smile was on that handsome face. "Yes, I believe he did."

"God, I am so naïve!"

"No, Sookie. Your father wanted to protect you from us – werewolves, vampires and other supernatural beings. That's what your grandmother had wanted; he only followed her wish."

"You knew my grandmother?"

"No, not directly. My father told me about her."

"It's nice of you to look for excuses for them, Alcide. Their intentions might also be nice, but in the end I am the one who faces all those …creatures…beings…whatever. I had the right to know I've been surrounded by un-human…things!" I smashed my spoon on the plate and stormed out of the hut.

The cool wind that came from the wood's direction didn't really calm me down. The sound of night creatures, which came out for their food, made me more and more depressed. I knew nothing, absolutely nothing about the world around me. It made me feel like a total idiot.

Then, I saw him. Eric. He was standing under a tree. His hands were crossed in front of his belt.

I went to him and threw myself in his arms. He might have tricked me into drinking his blood, but he didn't lie about his real identity. He even told me as soon as he had a chance. If Alcide had told the truth about him being in a nasty mood, then at least he cared about me.

"Hey…what is this?" he held me.

"I don't know," I buried my face in his cold and unbeating chest. "I just want to be held, otherwise I'll scream."

"Northman…"

"Evening, Hervaux," Eric kissed my head. I felt the tension in his arms. He sounded calm, but he was on high alert.

"I thought my father was clear about not bothering us."

"I don't come for you, just in case you don't notice. I want to see if my future lover needs me or not," he smirked. "She does."

Future lover…that's a weird thing to say. I let myself free from his arms. "Why are you here?"

"I heard Callisto had left Dallas. I want you to come to my place and stay there until I finish with her."

That sounded weirder. What did he mean until he finished with her? Did he want to kill her? No, I didn't want him to do that. "No," I looked at him. "Thanks, Eric. But no. No murder should be committed on my behalf."

"You'll be in the permanent danger if she's still alive."

"I'll take that risk." I took his hands and pressed them a little. I turned to the seven werewolves who were standing beside each other creating a line. "They taught me how to defend myself and I think it's about the time to practice it."

"I'll regret for saying this, but I like my woman being independent and bad ass," Eric pulled me back into his arms and gave me a long kiss. "But be careful," he let me go just about the right moment before I was completely out of breath. "I want this body to be whole and to bear no scratch when I lay my hands on it. Well, unless the scratches are from me."

You dirty minded son of….

"Make sure that you taught her well, Long Tooth," Eric floated. "Or I'll come to get you all." Then, he's gone, flying into the darkness.

xxxxx

"Take this," Prudy handed me a small brown pouch. "It's a Peruvian Revealing Powder. My cousin gave me this…," he was blushing when he continued, "…just in case, you know, I'd meet shape-shifters or other witches."

"Your cousin is a witch?"

"Yeah, me too."

A werewolf and a witch, that's something new.

"You take care, okay?" he smiled.

"Thanks, Lou." I looked at the bag. "How do I use it?"

"Simply spray it at someone. It will reveal her or his true identity," he whispered in my ears. "She gave me a potion for Dick to heal his disease, but I'll wait until the test is over…," he grinned. "…or perhaps on the day I get married. He will learn not to whip out his dick at any chance he gets, don't you think so?"

I smiled. I couldn't agree more. "You'll get married?"

"Yeah, after the test. I'd asked her to marry me the day I went into these woods and she said yes. But I don't tell anybody. It's our secret. Okay?"

I winked. "Your secret is safe with me."

I waved goodbye as they walked away. I hadn't known them long, but I felt as if I was saying goodbye to my brothers. Their figures were getting smaller, when I heard Alcide's voice.

"I'll show you Shreveport when I return!"

"Yeah, I'd love that," I answered.

Then, I heard Scratch-me hiss, "I'll show you Shreveport when I return? Man, after all this time? You really should work on your line, Bro!"

"Shut up!"

I chuckled. Ah, Scratch-me!

The sky was bright blue and the air was warm, but I felt cold and lonely. It's nonsense to feel this way, but I got used to the bickering, the jokes and the snarling they gave to each other. These feelings grew stronger as I went back into the hut. The plates and food from breakfast were still on the table, dirty and abandoned. Snory's place looked like a battlefield with the rest of food all over his place, opposite to Prudy's, which was clean. He even had crossed his fork and spoon and folded the paper napkin.

After I cleaned up the table, I went to their bedrooms to make their beds. There were three bedrooms in this hut. Two rooms had two double beds and one single bed. The third one, where I slept, had only one bed. Normally, Alcide slept in that room, but since I was there, he had to sleep with the boys. I asked how he did that, because there were only six beds. He said they took turns standing watch for two hours throughout the night. A bed was always free. It's not comfortable, but he managed.

In four days, they would be here again. I hoped they all passed the test. If my own problem was solved, I'd have a party for them. Yes, that would be the least thing I should do for them.

Xxxxx

The werewolves were returning today. It was strange, but I really couldn't wait for them to appear. I knew, it was only four days ago that they had left, but it was like waiting for your brothers coming home after months or years being away. I had gone early in the morning to look for some wild apples. I wanted to make my grandmother's apple pie; I wanted them to taste a Stackhouse delicacy that was made only once a year on the Christmas Eve.

The basket was half full when I saw two fresh footprints not so far from the hut. They were home! I ran as fast as I could and ignored some apples, which fell out of the basket. If there wasn't enough, one of them could go to the woods and found some more. God, how I missed them!

"Sookie, finally!" A sweet melodious voice froze me. Callisto. "I've been looking all over for you, Honey. What in the name of God are you doing here? Look at this place! Look at you! Alone in the middle of the woods? Good God, Sookie. You can harm yourself and nobody will find out about it!"

I turned around and was astonished to see that Callisto seemed to look younger than the last time I'd seen her. Her wavy black hair fell beautifully on her bare shoulders. Her dark blue dress with a silver collar fit perfectly on her tanned body. She gave off an unnaturally beautiful impression that would stun anybody who saw her; her bright red lips emphasized that whole impression. You can hate the things that she did to me, but you can't hate her sense of fashion. It's… perfect.

"Really, Callisto, so that you can try to kill me again?"

"Why would I do that?" she gasped. "That damn Merlotte! Was that what he told you? Clancy!"

Who the heck is Clancy?

From behind the trees, a young man appeared. He looked so young, I wasn't sure if he's of legal age to be around Callisto. In his hand was a brown envelope.

"A new driver, Callisto?"

Callisto smiled. "He will be, next month, I hope." She touched his cheek. "Thank you, dear. Stay here."

Clancy smiled at her and stayed put.

"This is Sam Merlotte's record, Sookie. He served some time in jail for forgery, murder and robbery. I know it wasn't a wise decision when I decided to hire him, but he knows a lot of area in Louisiana and he knows a lot of people, too. Everything was fine until at the beginning of this month. He wanted to have a higher salary and I said I'd think about it. I never thought that he would go this far, kidnapping you and keeping you as a hostage in this God forsaken place!"

"You lie!"

"From whom do you think I got the information about this place?"

"You tortured him, that's why!"

"Sookie, Honey…do you really believe that I am able to do that? How? Sookie!" she sighed. "I know you don't like me, but surely you don't think I am that low, do you? I beg you. Or you think your father had not been wise enough to see the real me?"

I looked at her and then at Clancy. Honestly, I wasn't sure any more. She's hanging around with a boy who could be my brother and she found this place.

God, I hope she believes me. Her thought was loud and clear. Her presence in Dallas is very important for the company. If she can't convince the other members of the board, we have to sell part of the company. It will break her heart if she finds out that her father's hard work is going bankrupt.

What?

"Honey, are you all right?" I felt her cold hand grabbing me. "Oh, dear, you look pale! Don't you think we'd better sit down?"

Callisto took me in the hut and asked me to sit down, while she drew a glass of water. "I have to apologize," she said. "This place is cozy. Did you do all of this, by yourself? My, my, Sookie. You are your father's daughter! Everything has to be perfect, or nothing."

"Thank you," I said as I accepted the water.

"Sookie, Honey. You can't trust a stranger. You and I are family; we have to stick together as a family. I know, I've been neglecting you, but running a big company like ours is not an easy job." She touched my face. "Please, come home. I need you to run the company together with me. I need you, as a friend, as a mother…if you let me."

"I don't know, Callisto. I heard some rumors about the Board Meeting…"

"Ssshh, it's not the place or the time to talk about it. As soon as you're home, we'll talk openly to each other. No more secrets, no more lies. Okay?"

I took a deep breath. I didn't know. I couldn't simply leave this place without telling the werewolves.

"Or is there something that I should know?" She smiled teasingly. "Like a special gentleman who owns this place for example?"

Eric didn't own this place…oh, she meant the werewolves. No, I couldn't tell her about them.

"Can I stay here for a day or two?" finally I said. "There's still something that I have to do. Then, I'll come home."

"Sookie!" she hugged me. "You can't believe how relieved I am!" When she released me, I saw tears rolling down her cheek. "I am sorry for this emotional eruption. I can't help it."

I held her hand. Suddenly I regretted I hadn't tried harder to get to know her better.

"I almost forgot," she wiped off the tears. "I have something for you." She looked at Clancy. "Dear, could you please bring me the box?"

"The pink box?" asked Clancy. His voice sounded as young as his face. Jesus, how old is he?

"He'll be eighteen years old next month," said Callisto as Clancy walked away, as if she had heard what I was thinking.

"Where did you find him?"

Callisto laughed. "I didn't exactly find him. He is a member of the Youth Social Program that I run. We met several times in the meeting. Well, I know it's strange, but we're…connected."

"You run an organization for the youngsters? I don't know that."

"There are things about me that you don't know, Sookie. I hope that will change in the future."

"I hope too," I said honestly.

Clancy returned with a pink box. It held an apple pie decorated with some mint chocolate leaves and some silver pearls… like Gran's apple pie.

I trembled. God, it's been a long time ago since I'd seen this kind of apple pie.

"I know that you'll like it. I had to turn the attic in Springtown's house upside down to find the recipe you. It probably doesn't taste like your grandmother's apple pie, but at least it looks like it. And you know what?" she took out something from her bag.

A bright red and green apple. Only apples from the Springtown's back yard could look like that!

She laughed. "I know you'll like it. Come on, have a bite."

I accepted the apple. Oh, it looked so delicious! It smelt sweet…and like home.

"I read a story once," Callisto said, "about an evil stepmother, who gave her stepdaughter a poisonous apple. In the story, she wanted to get rid of the daughter because she wanted to be the most beautiful woman of the land. Surely, you don't believe such a fairy tale, do you?"

I laughed. "You are more beautiful than I am. You don't need to poison me for that. Besides, it's only a fairy tale, right?" I bit the apple.

"Yes, dear. It's a fairy tale, but where do you think the fairy tale came from?" Her voice suddenly sounded cold, "If it's not from reality?"

Suddenly, she looked blurry. In fact, everything was blurred. My head…oh, it's painful…and my chest was burning…I tried to breathe, but the pain was so strong that I couldn't inhale.

"I'll forgive you for being stupid, Sookie. But I won't forgive you for making me lose my finger nails and it took me hours to bake that pie!" I heard something was smashed. "Not to mention that I had to open some rotten boxes to get that fucking recipe!"

I grabbed my chest. God…the pain now spread to neck and then up to my nose. I felt something warm rolling down my cheek, but I couldn't see what it was. I am dying now. Soon, I'll see my parents again. God, please…release me from this pain and let me die…I felt my eyes getting heavier…and at that moment, when I couldn't stand the agony that crept all over my body, I heard a distant voice. A naughty teasing voice,

I'll see you again, my future lover.

"Eric…" I whispered. I still wanted to see him. I wanted to kiss him again, to feel his cold body on mine…

"Eric? Eric Northman? Don't tell me that you gave him your virginity!"

No…but I would. I can't die. I have to live, I have to fight this!

I forced myself to get up and with my very last power; I grabbed the pouch from Prudy and sprayed the contents at Callisto. The last thing I heard was a loud scream and Clancy's childish voice. "Your face! You…you're …aaaargh!"

xxxxx

The sounds of screaming and cursing made me open my eyes. I jumped to the side as soon as I saw Callisto…or someone whom I believed to be her.

Pacing around in front of me was an old woman. She wore Callisto's blue dress, bag and jewelry, but she's…old. Her hair was black, but her face was wrinkled, so wrinkled that she looked like a used paper bag…the bark of a tree…eeew…this was Callisto?

Clancy was flat against the wall. His face was pale and there was horror on it. "I slept with you? I actually slept with you?" At his feet was some brown stuff which I believed to be the contents of his stomach.

"Shut the fuck up!" said Callisto. Her voice had a growl in it and sounded old. "This bitch has to pay for this fuckery!" She looked at Clancy. "If you were a virgin, I could drag you to the bushes and absorb your essence." She spat on the ground. "Too bad, you're not…anymore." Then, she snorted.

"In your fucking dreams that I will ever touch you again!"

Callisto laughed. "That's not what you said when you came to me and asked me to teach you one or two moves."

Clancy threw up again. It must have been very shocking for him to find out that the woman he's been sleeping with could be his… great grandmother.

But hey…why was no one paying attention to me?

"Carry this bitch to the car!" said Callisto pointed at…me, or my body, to be exact. She – my body was still on the chair with the head lying on the table…I looked around…am I dead?

I followed them as they carried my body away. Where would they take me? What would Callisto do to me or to my body?

"She won't be able to leave the woods," an unexpected voice made me turn around. Standing beside me, out of the blue, a woman was standing. She was wearing a see through shining dress, displaying her slim figure clearly. "Don't worry, Sookie. She won't be able to see us."

"Who are you?"

"I am Claudine. I am your faery godmother."

My what? I had heard and seen so many absurd things in the last several days; I couldn't even find the words to describe my confusion anymore.

"You are one of us, Sookie. Your grandfather is one of us."

"Grandfather Stackhouse was a faery?" The image of a big strong man with a moustache like the handles of a bicycle appeared in front of my eyes. Weren't faeries supposed to be a little bit ….smaller?

"No, not your human grandfather, your real grandfather."

Grandfather Stackhouse wasn't my real grandfather? I bit my lips. I could go on wondering about my grandfather or start focusing on something more important and urgent: my body. I decided on the last one. "What's happening with me? Am I dead and what is she going to do with my body?"

"No, Sookie dear, you aren't dead yet. You are in the world between the dead and the living. As long as your body is still functional, you are alive."

"I'm in a coma?"

"Yes, I think humans say it that way." She looked at Callisto, "I believe she would take your blood and use it as a mask."

"A mask?"

"Yes, she can't afford to run around looking hideous like that, can she?"

"What is she?"

"She's a witch and the most dangerous kind. She absorbs the essence of a virgin so that she could stay young forever… or to look young in front of the others."

"What do you mean with 'absorbs the essence of a virgin'…by having sex…with boys…and girls too?"

"Yes, but don't worry, Sookie. She won't do it to you because she needs your blood to keep her plan going."

"What plan?"

"To build an empire through your father's company."

"But my father's company is going bankrupt!"

"Sookie, don't you realize that she is using you? She knew you could read minds, hence she fed you information that she knew for sure that you would accept at once!"

"I am so stupid."

"No, Sookie. She's extremely clever."

"If you knew all of this, how come you didn't do anything about it?"

"I am bound to the law. As long as you're not harmed, I may not do anything. I may not even appear in front of you."

"And now, am I harmed enough?" I was annoyed.

"You are. But she's covered by that revealing powder on her body. If I touch her, I will be revealed too. If she knew about our existence, she could spread that knowledge and it would be the end of the world as you and I know it. You aren't a full faery, Sookie, but you would be in danger as well."

They put my body in the car. Callisto took out a big needle from her bag and stuck it into one of my veins.

"Ouch," said Clancy. "Can't you be a little bit careful? You stuck her as if you stitching a pillow."

Well, thank you, Clancy!

"What do you care?" Callisto snapped him. "If she opens her eyes, the first thing she will do is to send her werewolf friends to bite your lame ass!"

"Werewolves? There are werewolves?" He turned around. "Here?"

"Coward!" Callisto pulled out the needle. "I think that will be enough for some days. Come, drive. Take us to the hotel."

"I don't have a driving license."

"Oh, don't be such an ass! You didn't feel like you needed a driving license when you were stealing cars! So drive!"

Shaken, Clancy started the engine and drove the car. However, it was not more than some yards, when the car stalled.

"I told you, they can't leave the woods."

Callisto got out of the car. "You think you are stronger than me, you fucking woods?" she spread her arms and shouted words I didn't understand. The result was shocking. Claudine was shaken and thrown backwards, hit a tree and fell to the ground. Soon, she got up and crossed her arms. Her body was shimmering. Slowly a light formed around us, aimed at Callisto.

Callisto's voice was getting louder. The beam of light splintered and exploded. Then, I heard Clancy's voice. "Hey, the car works again!"

Stupid boy! He should've driven off with the car!

Callisto got back into the car.

Claudine raised her hands.

It happened over and over again. They were only able to move some yards from the previous position before Claudine stopped them. I sat on the ground and watched both of them fight against each other. Slowly, Claudine's light was getting dimmer; meanwhile Callisto was getting older and older. Her hair was no longer black, but white as snow. The wrinkles on her skin were getting deeper and she started growing warts on her face. I could see Clancy was getting paler and paler every time he looked at Callisto.

Suddenly, Claudine screamed. Her body was smashed to the ground and she lay still.

"Heh!" Callisto growled. "That should take care of the problem. Drive, Clancy. I want to leave the woods before dark."

Dark…it meant the night came. Eric…Eric could help me. I hope it's true, I hope he could find my whereabouts.

Clancy started the car again. Fucking witch! His head said. I'll kill her myself if I have a chance…

Boom!

Clancy screamed as something fell on the car….He screamed louder as he saw a big black-grey wolf with yellow eyes. Scratch-me!

Callisto growled and spat on the floorboard. Her spit was black. "Werewolf!"

"W…what..? Wer…?" Clancy couldn't finish his sentence as he turned white and fainted.

"I can handle a werewolf like you!" Callisto got out of the car and paled as she realized she had made a mistake. Seven werewolves were surrounding the car. All of them were snarling and baring their canine teeth. One of them, the biggest of them all, flattened his ears against his skull and growled. Without waiting for a second command, all of them leapt on Callisto and attacked her.

I turned around. I couldn't watch this. As much as I wanted Callisto to pay for whatever she had done to me, I couldn't watch her being attacked by wolves like that. I ran to Claudine who was still unconscious.

Suddenly I heard whimpering noises. The werewolves were being thrown away from Callisto. The witch was covered by blood; long, big scratches were on her face. Her beautiful dress was torn apart. However, she still could stand. She raised her hand and started chanting.

One of the wolves shifted back into human form. It was Prudy.

"A witch…" Callisto growled. "You're too late, Witch. Your friend there has eaten the 'Love' Apple."

Prudy's face turned pale.

Callisto laughed mockingly. "You know of it, don't you? Only true love can call her soul back. She has to be kissed by her true love; a pure love that is not attracted to money, beauty or anything else but her heart and soul. A love that is so powerful even death will be defeated. A love that is able to change the person, without the person realizing it."

"Then it's not too late, yet. For you, it is too late. You are covered by my family's powder. Only the person who attacked you with that powder or a member of my family can remove the curse. You certainly don't expect me to help you, do you?"

"Then you have to pay for this!" Her hands formed claws; she swung her right hand and aimed at Prudy. All of sudden, from every direction, the werewolves leapt toward her. Prudy himself put his hands together, formed a triangle and bowed his head. When he raised his face, his eyes shone red. I moved backward. I knew he couldn't see me; still, he looked sinister and dangerous.

Claudine made soft noises.

"Claudine, wake up, please…help them!"

She shook her head and jumped to her feet when she saw the werewolves attacking Callisto. She took a deep breath and spoke something softly. As soon as she finished, the trees started swaying, as if the wind was slowly getting stronger and stronger. Instinctively I grabbed something to hold on to, when I realized the wind didn't touch me or the car.

The werewolves and Callisto were thrown away and fought against the wind. They grabbed anything in their reach and tried to stand on their feet.

"Aaaaargh…" Callisto screamed as the wind threw her to the ground.

Then something happened in front of me that scared the shit out of me. The roots of a tree beside her were crawling out of the ground, wrapped around her and slowly dragged her into the earth. It looked as if Callisto was swallowed by the earth…alive!

"Noooo!" she screamed and tried to fight back, but the tree was too strong. Soon, there was nothing to be seen of Callisto, except her white hair.

"Burn it!" said Prudy. "Oh, shit!" he ran to the car and opened the door, snatched Callisto's bag and shook the contents out on the ground. He found a match and lighted the hair with it. "Die you…effing witch!"

Die you effing witch? I couldn't help but laugh. Oh, dear Prudy…you are prude.

Xxxxx

Snory took the car and drove away with still unconscious Clancy in it. He grinned when he returned. "I think that boy will never touch any older woman or any fancy car again for the rest of his life."

Claudine had said her farewell. As soon as the darkness covered the woods, she took me in her arms and whispered, "You're safe now. I can't be here any longer. If you need me, Sookie, call my name."

I couldn't consider myself 'safe'. Yes, Callisto was gone. She wouldn't be able to harm me anymore, but I was still outside my body. I wanted to return.

Grunty had laid me down on my bed gently. That big man looked distressed. In fact, all of them looked beaten down. Tiny was sitting beside the bed, crying. "I should've stayed," he said. "I should've listened to my stomach."

"Guys," Scratch-me bit his lips, "you heard what the witch said. Only a kiss from a true love can call her back. Maybe we should try. I'm willing to go first if you all agree."

Eeew…not from Scratch-me! The image of that stinking beard touching my face was a bit too much for me. Dead or not dead.

"Don't joke around, Dick," said Smiley. His face was hard. "You know you don't love her and sure as hell, she doesn't love you. Why don't you try, Alcide?"

Their faces turned to Alcide. He looked as if he was being ambushed. "No, I don't think so."

"Oh, come on, Bro. You've wanted her since the first day you saw her. I can smell it, you know," said Scratch-me, which made Alcide shoot a sharp look at him.

"I know what I want, but I don't know what she wants."

"Then, it's time to find out, Bro." Snory patted his shoulder. "Come on…if she doesn't wake up, consider it a present."

What? Is that what they think of me? A present?

Tiny kissed my hand. "I wish I could do it for you, Sookie, but I prefer to kiss Dick than you."

"What did you say?" Scratch-me stopped scratching. "You mean dick as in 'dick' or Dick…." He pointed toward himself.

Tiny snorted. "You wish!"

Smiley elbowed Alcide. "Give it a try. You have nothing to lose."

"Except my ego," he came to me. "May I, Sean?"

Tiny got up and gave his place to Alcide.

"Sorry, Sookie," he said. "I didn't want it to happen like this. Let's give it a try, shall we?" He bowed and started kissing me.

I felt so weird. Here I was, watching myself being kissed by a man. Strangely, I didn't feel anything. Not a tingle, no warmth, nothing. When he lifted his face, I heard the sound of our soft lips parting, but I was still standing where I was, beside the bed, looking down on my body.

Alcide cleared up his throat. He forced himself to smile. "What can I say?"

Bang! Bang! Bang!

A rough knock on the door alerted everybody. Alcide gave a sign to Grunty to open the door.

"What do you want?" I heard Grunty's voice.

Hurried steps barged in. Sam. His face was covered with scars and he carried his right hand in a sling. Dear Lord, what had happened to him? Alcide made room for him beside my body.

"I'm sorry, Sookie. I really am. I wish I wasn't a coward and simply ran away when I had a chance." He touched my hair.

Ah, Sam. I forgave you already.

He turned to Alcide. "What happened?"

Alcide told him everything, including the kissing part.

Sam sighed. "She can't love me, not after what I did to her." He got up.

"Let me in."

I heard a familiar voice. Eric. Eric was here.

"Invite him in, Grunt!" said Alcide.

"Come in."

With a blink of an eye, Eric was beside me.

Suddenly the room felt small. It was either the high testosterone level in the air or the room was simply too small for nine people, plus one ghost.

One by one the werewolves left the room, until there were only Alcide, Sam and Eric remaining.

"I'd be damned if none of us could call her back," Sam took a deep breath.

"Did you kiss her?" asked Eric. His voice was as calm as ever, but I saw his eyes narrow.

"No," said Sam. "Alcide did."

Eric walked towards the bed and sat down. "She's such a stubborn girl," he took my hand and kissed it. "She likes to make us worried."

"How did you get here so quickly, Eric? The sun has only been down for an hour."

"I heard her calling me…in my sleep. I wanted to come, but I couldn't." He rubbed my hand with his cheek.

"You should've killed Callisto a long time ago," said Sam.

"I have a business to run. I can't go around killing people," Eric hissed. "Besides, I didn't go to Dallas for her."

He had come for me? I trembled. God, I am stupid!

He touched my hair softly. "My lover…" he kissed my forehead. "Don't go where I can't follow."

Then, he kissed me.

I looked at my hand. Nothing happened. I didn't feel either a tingle or a shock and when I started to give up; I saw two red lines emerge from the corner of his eyes. Slowly those lines rolled down his cheek and fell on mine. "Don't go where I can't follow, lover…"

Then, at that very moment, I was pulled in by an unseen hand and the next thing I knew, I was laying on the bed. I could feel Eric's body pressed against mine, but I didn't open my eyes. I wanted to know what he would do next, if he thought I still couldn't wake up. I wanted to know if he really meant what he had said.

"Sorry, Eric," I heard Alcide saying. "It looks like that didn't work either."

I felt his cold hand on my face, wiping something away. "I tricked her for nothing."

Uh-huh, that's interesting. So, he admitted to have tricked me.

"You should have seen her face when I told her that I knew she was under that stinking old dog," he snorted. "Anybody could smell that rotten scent on her body even when she had tried to get rid of it by poisoning the fish in the river."

"Hah, I knew it!" Scratch-me screamed in victory from the other room.

"So young and so pure," I felt something cold fall on my face. "I am sorry, lover."

That's it. I couldn't stand it anymore. I opened my eyes and grabbed his neck. I heard a 'click' and something sharp bored into my shoulder. "Aaargh!" I screamed.

"What happened?" Alcide was suddenly beside the bed.

Eric pulled away from my hug. His fangs were red with my blood. On his cheek there were two red lines. They were his tears. I touched them. Like the rest of his body, his blood tears were cold as well. "You played dead!" he hissed.

"If you can trick me, I can trick you too."

He snorted. He turned to Alcide and Sam. "Leave the room, please. Sookie and I have an unfinished business to settle."

Alcide cleared his throat. His face was hard, but he didn't say anything. Slowly he walked to the door. Sam nodded at me and followed Alcide.

"Kids," Eric smirked.

Both Alcide and Sam stopped.

"Close the door behind you, please. This will take hours…"

-xxxxxx