A/N: First, thank you everyone who left me birthday wishes. :D I realized a few days late, that it's also the same week I joined the fanfiction SVM community a year ago. I can't believe it's already been a year. Time really does fly. It's been an interesting year, to say the least.

Has everyone read chapter 2 of Deadlocked yet? I'm excited. My thoughts on the subject are available on my blog finiteanarchy . wordpress . com

Chapter 21

"I am Jack's complete lack of surprise."

- Chuck Palahnuik

November 14th

And we so did. The idea of leaving Nikki, my Were boss at the hotel, who had also come to be a nice friend, short-noticed and short-staffed bothered me. I had made a commitment, one that I now had to break.

Needless to say, when I told her that I decided to fly back to America, she wasn't pleased.

"Personal issues?" She questioned. She was really thinking that I didn't start acting odd until that vampire guest showed up a couple of days ago. Even though I'd only been working there around a month, she considered me reliable. I showed up on time, frequently early and always got my work done quickly. She liked to think her first impressions of people were usually right and I didn't feel I could say they were.

"You wouldn't be the first, I suppose." Her brain, while harder to read, still gave off some thoughts that I could catch. No one expected the young holiday visa workers to stay very long. Though usually they finished out their contracts.

"Do you need me to help search for someone to fill my position?"

Nikki looked startled, as if she couldn't believe I'd ask such a question. "You want to do that?"

"It's the least I could do," I said. And probably the only thing I could do to help, really. Nikki had been nothing but nice to me since we met. Though two days wouldn't be much time, I could at least look through applications, put some notices online and see if there are any bites. In between the regular work during that day, searching for a replacement was exactly what I did.

By the end of the day I was dog tired and in desperate need of a fourth cup of coffee. Eric and I had plans for after he woke.

Enki presented another problem. The telepathic half-elf Niall found had been wonderful and in the short time I've come to know him, he's been both a friend and confidant. I didn't want to lose that when I left. We met after I got off work.

"This is what you want to do?" He asked, when I told him of my decision.

"I miss my home and my life in Bon Temps," I said. We were walking along the beach, the sun behind us in its descent. I still couldn't quite get over the flip-flop in seasons in this part of the world; with it came longer days in what I thought of as the winter months. There were at least three more hours until full dark.

"This place was never met to be permanent," he said. "That was always clear to see." He watched as two toddlers led their mother on a chase around the beach, a bottle of sun block clutched in one hand. "Have you accomplished all you needed to?"

Victor was dead. I got to see Niall again. I'd proven to myself that I could survive somewhere else if I needed to. And I had the unexpected bonus of making a new friend or two. "I think so." I even managed to make my shields stronger. All in all, things were looking up.

"Will you go back to working in your friend's bar?" He asked.

"Probably," I said, without thinking about it. I enjoyed working for Sam. And I had proved to myself I could be comfortable working in other places if I wanted, if the atmosphere was right.

"You've been a big help, you know," I said to him. "With everything you've done."

Enki gave me a small smile and I got a brief flash of something else. The other side of him; the one that was less human. Enki could pass very well for human and he didn't look like the other elf I had seen in Mississippi but I realized also that looking human was only a part of him, one that he was able to sustain through whatever magic he possessed. "I am glad I took Niall's offer to come here," he said.

We walked for a while in silence. "Will you…what will you do now?" I asked. "I suppose you have your own life to get back to? I won't ask you to follow me to Bon Temps."

"I haven't decided yet. The portals in America are still closed as far as I know, though there are other means of getting around." He fished out a small card from his pocket. "If you need something," he said. The small white card held only a phone number.

"I'll hold on to it," I said.

When I got back to the apartment I had to make a decision, pack or nap. While packing would have been more prudent, napping was much more satisfying and I am tired. It was always strange though, entering such a dark room after being in the natural light. It took a minute for my eyes to adjust. Eric was there, on his side, still dead for another two hours or so. I didn't take it for granted that Eric trusted me enough to share a bed while he was at his most vulnerable but it still gave me the hee-bee jeebies to see him so…lifeless. I was working on that. I took off my slacks and light jacket, leaving just the singlet top and lay down next to him, pulling the sheet up over me.

I woke to a hand moving up and down on my thigh. "Hey," I said. "What time is it?"

"Just after eight," Eric said.

A light switched on from Eric's side of the bed and I shielded my eyes from the sudden brightness. I was groggy. One of the problems with napping during the day was I always felt groggy when I woke. It threw my body off. Eating usually fixed it.

Eric got up to use the shower while I dressed. Looking in the fridge there were some things I'd have to throw away if we were leaving the day after tomorrow. I sighed. I didn't like the idea of wasting food. Well, I'd use as much of it as I could and started cutting up some tomatoes.

Eric and I had talked last night about some of the things I'd been doing here since I arrived and a few things I wanted to do. I was looking at these next two nights as a gift, something separate from everything else with no one around to intrude. In the back of my mind I knew it was the calm before the storm and plenty was waiting for us back home. But right now, I was in my happy place.

I heard Eric on the phone in the bedroom. With the time zones, it was like vampire phone tag. I figured everything had to be alright though, otherwise he wouldn't have said he could spare two more nights.

The next two nights we filled with whatever we wanted to do. It was nice and for the first time I felt super coupley. Spending the night with your honeybun was supposed to be like this, I figured – at least, every once in a while. We went to the opera house and around the harbor bridge. We'd also gone into an art museum and Eric made dirty jokes – literally, dirty jokes – about British people and hygiene in the 16th century.

But all too soon it was over and Eric and I found ourselves packing up the things that I'd bought. There wasn't much, but I still didn't want to leave anything behind if I could avoid it.

Anubis was a domestic airline but they did have sister companies they worked with who took great care in transporting vampires while they were inside their coffins. We were flying one of these airlines. The plane was large, the front half full of human passengers while the rear filled with shelving to secure any vampire travelers. The door to the rear of the plane looked sturdy with a heavy lock in place.

Due to the flight patterns and the switch to Anubis after landing in LAX (I wasn't going to pay the high charges of using vampire friendly air transport), it took over a full day's travel to land in Shreveport, with stops in Los Angeles and Memphis before finally reaching Shreveport. Anubis would shuttle Eric and his coffin to his house, while I called Sam to pick me up.

He wrapped me a big hug when he saw me. "How are you, Cher?"

"I'm good, Sam. Really good," I said and couldn't keep the smile off my face seeing his familiar face again.

He helped haul my luggage to his truck. "I've been real worried about you, Sookie. I expect a full explanation," he said.

I let out a breath. "You'll get one," I said. After I'd slept in a bed for at least eight hours. "You spoke to Jason?"

"Yep. He figures he'll see you around the bar." I picked up enough from Sam's clouded thoughts to hear that Jason hadn't realized I was gone until two weeks past.

I wasn't going to think about the what if it had been me kidnapped by a jealous werepather.

"So I guess I still have a job then?" I asked.

"I can't say I'm not pissed at your for leaving. But I couldn't ever fire you, Sookie."

I smiled at that. "I'd understand if you did," I said.

"What would you do if I did?"

I thought about that for a minute. "I'm not sure. Try to find another job, of course," I said. "I might look into some online classes."

Sam nodded. "You have a financial investment in the bar now, so I wouldn't expect it'd be that easy to get rid of you."

Yet people still keep trying. We continued the drive toward Bon Temps, talking about small things happening around town. The protesting around Merlotte's had stopped for the most part. Business had picked back up some. Most of the town suspected vampires had something to do with why I was away for so long. Not untrue.

"By the way, there's been a new vampire in town the past few days. Bill's been keeping an eye on her."

My head shot up and I looked at him. The last "new" vampire in town had been Jonathan, a scout for Felipe De Castro before the takeover. New vamps in Area Five didn't regularly hang around Bon Temps.

"The vampire say where she's from?"

"I caught a glimpse of a license when she paid for a bottle of blood but not enough to see what state."

"What about Bill?"

"Bill's been coming into the bar more since the vamp showed up. They talk. She hasn't said much about what.

"Does Pam know?" I asked. "If she doesn't then Pam could send some of the Area five vamps to pick her up."

"Shouldn't you be asking if Eric knows?" Sam asked as he glanced from the road to me and back. "But you already knew he wasn't here." The way he'd said it told me he wasn't at all happy about it.

Eric supposedly was looking for Victor on Felipe's orders, though those orders were being kept quiet. According to Eric, if anyone asked, Pam was to inform them he was on an assignment for the King and leave it at that. "I'm asking if Pam knows," I said.

"I think so," Sam said. "If I wasn't so sure Bill had told her as soon as he saw a strange vamp in the area, I'd call up Fangtasia myself."

We were rounding the sign welcoming us to Bon Temps. "I'm sure Bill will tell me something about her." Well, he'd at least tell me if he suspected she was a danger. "Any other things I should know about?"

"Jannalynn and I are getting pretty serious," he said.

Not exactly what I meant but, okay. "That's great, Sam." I didn't really like Jannalynn much. I knew that Sam would always come second to Alcide and her pack. I also worried about her impulse control. But I didn't think I had a leg to stand on when it came to other people's significant others. "Everything good with her?"

"The pack's been having a few issues," he said, turning on to Hummingbird Road. "She's been tight-lipped about it but whatever it is, it isn't a little problem."

"I'm surprised she hasn't told you."

"It's pack business," he said. He made the turn for my house.

"I know but…" I stopped mid-sentence, too distracted by the numerous cars in my front drive.

"What the hell?" Sam pulled around back. Thankfully there was still a place to park, but it was tight. Claude's new impala was there too. His car insurance covered the damage the fire did to his old car.

"I asked Claude to keep an eye on the place, make sure no one tried to break in. I didn't tell him to plan a sleepover," I said, half to myself and half to Sam.

"I've got a shotgun in back," Sam said. A shotgun might have been overkill but I wasn't going to say no to being armed.

There were maybe a dozen minds in the house. None of them were human. I closed my eyes, searching for Claude. "Claude's there, in the living room." I've been around him long enough to recognize his signature, even if I couldn't read him, his mind was familiar to me. I searched for Dermot. "Dermot is upstairs, in the attic. He's alone." What were the others? "Some are other fairies. There's at least one elf. I can't tell what the others are." More importantly, what the hell were they all doing in my house?

We got out of Sam's truck quietly and Sam took the shotgun out of the truck bed, switching the safety off.

"Hold on a second," I whispered. He could hear it, even though we were a car's width apart. Moving toward the shed in the back, I pulled my keys out, cupping them in my hand so they wouldn't make any noise. I pulled up the key for the gardening shed and unlocked it. It made a small creaking sound and I looked back to the house for a moment. No one was in the kitchen, so they wouldn't see us.

Actually, Dermot might. I looked up, but the sun was harsh and the glare on the glass was too strong to see anything. Couldn't worry about that now.

Once the shed door was open, I grabbed my grandmother's old iron trowel. Maybe I should start wearing it around my neck. Sam gave me a curious expression.

"Iron?" He asked.

"Iron," I said. I had hope that if Claude and Dermot were there these were not unfriendly Fae. But…safety first.

Moving as silently as we could, we made it to the back door. I pulled on the screen door and it wasn't locked. My hand moved to the knob on the door. Slowly, I moved it but this one was locked. I kept my keys in my hand so they wouldn't jangle and pulled the backdoor key out and slowly slid it into the key hole.

Then I had a thought. Why was I trying to be so quiet? They'd probably heard Sam's truck come up on the gravel. Damn. I looked at Sam.

"I'll go in first," he whispered.

I nodded. Sam did have the gun. And…shapeshifter.

I turned the key fast and pushed the door open. Sam stepped in front of me with the gun.

With the trowel gripped in my right hand, I was right behind him.

We moved, quickly and coordinated toward the living room. I guess Sam's army training was kicking in. I could hear raised voices.

At the edge of the hallway, Sam cocked his shotgun and stepped into the living room. I stepped in behind him.

Everyone stopped talking when we appeared. "Would someone please tell me what the hell you're all doing in my house?"

Oh those fairies! What might they be doing there?