One lengthy author's note:

Like many people, I wasn't satisfied with Dead Ever After, or with some events in the previous books. I wanted to resolve things in a way that I enjoyed more, while setting some rules for myself and the story. Among them:

-I expected the major issues going into DEA to be how to resolve the Eric/Freyda situation in a more positive way for Sookie, how Sookie will ensure her own protection going forward, and a threat from the Fellowship of the Sun.

-The problems I had with DEA could not be resolved by either Sookie becoming a super magical fairy princess or a vampire, or by Eric becoming a King and simply sweeping her off her feet.

-Sookie's problems could not be resolved by simply murdering Felipe and/or Freyda, because it would just perpetuate a cycle of violence that threatens her.

-Should avoid the solutions employed by the DEA reworks I'd already seen.

-Sookie has self-respect. The story should feel less ambiguously like progress for Sookie, and should not revolve around Sookie's life seeming to consist exclusively of sex and shopping. The solution to the vampire issues should be Sookie-driven.

-Should pass the Bechdel Test, and allow Karin to become more of a real character.

-It would not be primarily a romance. As a result, while there is physical contact between Sookie and Eric, there is no actual sex between them, and their final situation is left unresolved. If that sounds unpleasant, keep in mind that Sookie/Eric is my OTP. There is hope, in the end.

-There should be no return of Claude, and Sookie should not get kidnapped again (the poor woman has had enough of that, thank you).

-Sookie should not callously imprison Amelia's dad or send him to die. This really bothered me about DEA.

-The alternate POVs would be from different characters than in DEA (there are two, both very brief, in this story).

-Sookie should deal differently with her religious/spiritual thoughts, in a way that incorporates her lived experiences with supernaturals.

-Progress for Sookie should not require that she leave Bon Temps or completely leave Merlotte's; I didn't want to introduce any anti-rural or classist bias in my vision of what Sookie wants.

-And, ***spoiler alert***, Sookie would not end up with Sam. This will be settled fairly quickly.

The story assumes familiarity with DEA, in that I'm alluding to rather than completely recreating some sections of dialogue. It doesn't require you to have read DEA in order to understand the story, but some scenes may be richer if you have. I've made some adjustments to the timeline; for example, Tara's twins were born healthy a few weeks ago for the purposes of this story.

This is only my second fic, and my first multi-chapter. I hope you'll read, review, and let me know if you agree that I've followed my own rules. The story is complete, and I'll post chapters as I can.

Disclaimer: everything belongs to Charlaine Harris, I'm just moving the bits around.

Prologue - A Few Days From Now - Arlene POV

I'd get to see my children.

I didn't much care about why or how the Reverend had gotten me out of jail. I knew it was gonna cost me something, but anything was worth seeing my babies. I never thought I'd get to see 'em outside the prison while they were still little, if ever. I missed them so much. I prayed that one day they'd forgive me.

I couldn't get over the sight of the Reverend, here to help me. I knew he'd been out of the spotlight, but he seemed to take a real interest in me. He was on his way back up, he said, and he thought I'd just love to come along.

I didn't know what he had in mind, really, except that we both wouldn't mind causing some trouble for Sookie Stackhouse. I hated what she'd turned out to be, that she embarrassed me, that she brought that monster around my kids, that she'd lived and I'd gone to jail. All I wanted was to go on the way things had been before, to be safe. And there she was, trying to make everybody feel bad for not welcoming those things into our lives.

I went to Merlotte's and picked a fight with Sookie, like Reverend Steve asked me to, because he said people needed to think she might be mad at me. It wasn't too hard, I just had to hurt her pride a little, which needed doing anyway. Right now I was crouched behind the dumpster, waiting to see if she seemed like she was gonna stay at Sam's for a while. I could be to her house and back real quick. When weirdo Sookie got done talking to the dog on Sam's porch and went inside, I crept off to my car - stashed down the road a tiny bit - and headed out to her house.

Letting myself in with the spare key that was still where I remembered, I went straight to Sookie's bedroom. I didn't mind too much that Reverend Steve wanted me to break into Sookie's house and take something personal, something intimate. I picked a scarf from the drawer of her underthings, looked around while forcing shut the wooden drawer. I remembered when she'd been moving into this room from across the hall. We used to be good friends, she used to clean my trailer and do things for my kids. But things had changed, and I just didn't believe the Lord wanted us associating with those demons.

Reverend Steve had given me a special coin he said would bring good luck to my mission. I called him to report my success. Tomorrow afternoon, I'd find him to return it and the scarf - he'd said I should surely be able to complete this task in twenty four hours. I was just glad to be called to a mission, and to get to hold my kids.

Later, he'd said. Tomorrow.