Chapter 18: We Change, We Wait
We rode through Dallas in silence. There had been a car at the airport waiting to pick us up, and I recognized the driver as one of Stan’s guards. Eric had returned to his previous silent and detached demeanor, and I was too tired to even try holding a conversation. I did ask him if we were headed to Stan’s place or to a hotel, and Eric informed me in as few words as possible that we would meet with Stan before retiring to a nearby hotel.
I was frustrated with Eric’s cool attitude, but I guess it was better than him snarling at me. I wanted to figure out how to repair the damage between us, but I was clueless as to where to begin. A part of me was still too hurt by Eric’s distrust to even want to try repair the damage. I shook my head to clear my thoughts, tonight was not the night to be considering this. I needed to focus on finding Barry.
We entered Stan’s nest with me trailing behind Eric. It didn’t take long before we were shown into the living room of Stan’s palace. The home was much bigger than the first one I’d been to, but it still had that plain suburban house feel to it.
I was several steps behind Eric since my waddling tended to slow me down a bit anymore. Eric was just rising from his bow and addressing the King as I got beside him. “You are looking very well, your majesty. You seem completely healed from your ordeal at Rhodes,” Eris said, the puzzlement evident in his voice. The extent of Stan’s damage should have taken years to heal.
I was surprised by Eric’s statement. I had assumed Eric had met with Stan before coming to look for me, but it appeared he hadn’t. I only paused slightly by Eric before walking up to Stan as he waved the guards away, leaving the three of us alone in the room.
Taking my hands, Stan pressed a gentle kiss to my cheek as I kissed his. He still wore his trademark taped glasses and looked for all the world like a quiet geek or computer nerd, but I’d come to learn that there was much more underneath his geekish façade than most anyone was allowed to see. He let go of one of my hands to lightly touch my protruding belly. “You look stunning as always, my dear, and I see the children have grown much since last I saw you. You’ll hardly be able to walk soon,” he said with a smirk. One of the babies gave a strong kick, and Stan’s face broke into a bright smile. “They are already strong like their mother!” he laughed as he stepped away and gestured to the couch in his living room. It wasn’t lost on me that Stan would prefer to “hold court” in his very own living room than a palatial palace hall.
I rubbed the spot where my son or daughter had kicked, saying ruefully, “Yeah, they’re strong all right. I just wish they’d quit trying to kick holes in my belly.” I carefully lowered myself onto the couch with Stan gently holding my elbow to steady me. I was grateful for the help since it was only a few hours from sunrise and I was exhausted. Stan took a seat next to me on the couch instead of moving away from me to sit elsewhere, and I was grateful that someone in the room could stand my presence.
“It seems you underestimated your skills after all, Eric, you were indeed able to track down the lovely Miss Stackhouse,” Stan replied to Eric. I glanced quickly at Eric and almost laughed at the complete look of confusion on his face, but Stan began speaking to me again. “I would have simply called you myself, my dear, if only I had a way to reach you.”
I gave a half smile, “You know it was safer this way. I needed Barry to be able to get a hold of me, and my number can’t be glamored from him. The less you knew about me, the safer you were from Felipe and his henchmen. Plausible deniability and all that. Besides, I had planned on meeting with you next week, remember. You could have talked to me then. And anyway, I’ll really have to be more careful since Eric was able to find me, who knows who else could have?” I told him.
“Yes,” Stan sighed, “Felipe and his ‘henchmen’ as you say have become a problem. One that needs must be taken care of.”
“Do you think Felipe is responsible for Barry’s disappearance?” I questioned.
“It is possible, though I am more suspicious of Victor than of Felipe. I think he is the one to be more likely to be so bold as to take another monarch’s asset. What is your opinion, Eric?” Stan said, turning to face the Viking.
Eric was still planted in the middle of the room, staring at me incredulously. I was still tired enough and bitter enough that I enjoyed seeing the Viking speechless for the first time ever.
I could see the question in his eyes, so I said, “What? You didn’t think I was sitting in Monterey at my little beach house doing nothing all this time, did you?” Still he said nothing, so I continued. “I’m more dangerous now, than I’ve ever been. I’m a mother protecting her children, and I will do whatever it takes to keep them out of the hands of those who would seek to use or hurt them or those I love,” I said threateningly though my hands soothingly rubbed my belly.
“You still manage to surprise me, Sookie,” Eric whispered, though he looked surprised that he’d even spoken.
Stan looked back and forth between us and then gestured to the chair across from us. “Sit Eric, we have some things to discuss before you both retire for the day.” He turned back towards me. “I should have asked right away my dear, have you need for any food or drink?”
I smiled slightly. “Actually, I haven’t eaten since we left Monterey, and I could really use something to eat and drink. My stomach’s gotten so small with the babies pressing on it, that I need to eat more often.” I was just glad that I had some blood before Eric had shown up at my door.
“Eric, you should have seen to her requirements on the plane. There was human food available onboard,” Stan admonished. Eric looked taken aback, but didn’t respond. I could see Stan focusing, and I knew he was calling one of his children. A young looking female vampire appeared in the living room. “Kristine, please get some food for Miss Stackhouse.” Turning back to me, he asked, “What would you like, Sookie?”
“Oh, just a little something to eat and drink, whatever you have,” I started to say, but I could see Stan was going to press for me to be specific. “Maybe some milk and some celery with salt?” I had really been craving salty foods, but was trying to get that craving along with something healthier. Kristine simply nodded and disappeared. I wondered if they would have celery and milk in the kitchen for their humans or if she would have to run out for them.
Turning my attention back to Stan, and trying to ignore the Viking who for the first time since he’d shown up was staring at me, I asked, “How are you feeling, Stan? Have you fully healed?”
Stan took one of my hands as he answered, “I am well, thanks to you, dear Sookie.” He raised my hand to his lips and pressed a soft kiss to the back of my hand, and I heard a soft growl come from Eric’s chest. Stan ignored it, but released my hand. “I am already indebted to you for your healing, so I hate to ask you for more, but I do need my telepath back,” he continued.
“Stan, you know I would help find Barry anyway. How long has he been missing?” I asked.
“He disappeared more than a week ago,” Stan explained with a sigh.
Well, it’s been more than a week, and I guess we won’t find him tonight. Now let me see your arm,” I said reaching for his hand and pulling it towards me to unbutton and roll up his sleeve. He seemed amused that I would just take his arm like that, but didn’t stop me.
His chest and torso had been the worst damaged, so I’d worked on healing his torso in stages first. His right arm and hand had been very damaged as well, and the last time I had visited him and Barry I had focused on healing the delicate bones in his hand. It had taken a lot out of me, and so I’d left the rest of his arm for another visit. I rolled his sleeve back as close to his shoulder as it would go, and inspected the hard, dark skin. It had almost formed a crust where it had been burned by the sunlight. I inspected his hand again, and was satisfied that all of the small bones seemed to have healed completely. “Is it still painful?” I asked pointing to the darkened skin.
“No more than one becomes accustomed to over the centuries,” he replied with a stoic face.
I rolled my eyes, “You know, you vampires don’t always have to play the big bad tough vamp card all the time. It’s ok to admit to feeling … well, anything.”
“It is fine,” he insisted, though the corner of his mouth twitched.
“Which translates to ‘yes, Sookie, it does hurt.’ Good thing I’ve learned how to translate vampire speak,” I mumbled as I studied his arm.
“You do not have to heal the arm tonight, my dear. I know you must be tired from your flight,” Stan said, gently trying to pull his arm away when I laid my hand over the damaged area. After the first time I had met Stan and Barry in Dallas to heal Stan, we always met in different places, like Chicago, Baltimore, Denver or other big cities all over. I let them both think I had flown from wherever I was, but instead I always teleported, so I would be a little tired when I first got there. I guess that was a benefit of flying here with Eric.
“Now you hold still, buster. I may be a bit tired, but I can heal it just fine, thank you very much. So you just sit still and let me,” I said irritably. He raised an eyebrow and I scowled, “Cranky and irritable is different than being too tired to do this. I’m pregnant; I’m always cranky and irritable.”
I closed my eyes and focused on the damaged area of his arm. I’d learned that it was best to visualize what I was doing when I was trying to heal, so I’d spent a lot of time studying how burned skin and flesh healed so I could project in my mind the small cells and nerves of his arm repairing and multiplying as the dead cells sloughed away. I knew it was especially painful when I healed the damaged nerves, but Stan remained still and let me work.
When I opened my eyes, I could see that the skin was once again smooth and unblemished. “There you go, all better,” I said with a satisfied smile. I’d come to love my ability to heal almost more than my ability to teleport. It was nice to fix things, instead of destroying them.
Stan rolled and flexed his arm before he pulled his sleeve back down in a hurried manner. I wondered why until I saw Kristine returning with my plate of celery and a cup of milk. I knew it had taken a while to heal Stan, so I figured Kristine or someone else must have had to run out for my food.
Like all vampires, Stan had been trying to hide the extent of his injuries all along, and even while I was working on healing them, he tried to hide how much he was still hurt. I guess it wasn’t surprising that he was hiding it even from his children. Vamps didn’t like for anyone to see their weaknesses. But I guess none of us do.
I took the food with a soft thank you, and sprinkled salt over the celery before I dug in. I balanced the plate on my belly and the milk in one hand as I ate with my other. I sighed happily at the wonderfully salty taste.
“You remind me very much of an otter,” Stan laughed. He had a faraway look his eyes as he added, “I remember my own wife in my human life craving salty meats and dishes when she was with child.”
I didn’t know what to say. I had never heard Stan talk about his human life before, but I knew it was usually a pretty painful subject for them. Trying to lighten the mood I said, “Mmmm, some salty jerky sounds pretty good.”
He smiled gratefully at me and turned to Eric, asking curiously, “For whatever reason would you send this creature away? True, it is obvious she has been unfaithful, but surely you could simply kill the man that fathered the children and accept her back.”
My cheeks burned at the accusation. I set the empty glass and nearly empty plate on the floor and stood as quickly as my body would allow. I knew vampires thought differently than humans did, but I couldn’t believe his casual suggestion. I had honestly been surprised Stan hadn’t asked more questions about my pregnancy or my leaving Eric before now. I had simply told him that Eric didn’t want my children, and I had left. But now I was wondering just what the rumors around the supe community were. I had carefully avoided finding out anymore than I already knew. The little I had heard was that I had disgraced Eric and he had either sent me away or a witch had broken our bond so that I could leave without him finding me.
I hated the rumors, but it wasn’t like I could stand up and tell the world I was pregnant with half vampire children. I was terrified about what would happen when the world did find out, and I feared it was an inevitability.
Eric sprang to his feet as well and snarled before I had a chance to say anything. “Regardless of her disgrace, I would not leave her children fatherless!”
Stan stood next to me, and for the first time, I saw the terrifying vampire in him. Knowing that he was upset about another vampire yelling at him in his kingdom, palace, and home, I held my hands out to both of them to intervene, no matter how tempting it was to let both of the asinine jerks go at it. “Look Stan, that stuff is really between Eric and me. It’s not anybody else’s business, not even yours. Besides we’ve gotten really off track here, we’re supposed to be looking for Barry. Why don’t you tell me what you know and I can start looking for him tomorrow?”
Stan’s face became carefully blank again, but he nodded and sat back down, gesturing for Eric and me to do the same.
I sank back onto the couch as Eric said forcefully, “No, you will not look for Barry tomorrow Sookie. You are my pledged and as such, I am responsible for your welfare, regardless of what you have done. You will remain safely in the hotel tomorrow and we will come back to the nest tomorrow to find out details about the telepath’s disappearance then. It is close to dawn anyway and we will both need rest.” He stood in front of me, and though his face was still harsh, he offered me his hand to help me stand.
“Perhaps that is for the best if we speak of the situation now, you’ll only take it upon yourself to look for him anyway,” Stan said stiffly. “It will give cooler heads a chance to prevail. We are all a bit ‘irritable’ with dawn so near.” I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was still angry with Eric, and I knew I was still angry with the both of them.
Ignoring Eric’s hand, I pushed and heaved myself to my feet. “Fine. I’ll see you tomorrow evening,” I said as I started to walk away as Eric paused to bow to Stan.
As we were walking out the door, he grabbed my elbow lightly and whispered harshly in my ear, “You should have bowed or acknowledged the King before you left.”
I pulled my arm away as we got closer to the car that would take us to the hotel and whispered back, “Don’t touch me! I wouldn’t want to ‘disgrace’ you anymore than I already have!” I slid into the backseat before he could respond.
He joined me in the back, but the ride to the hotel was somehow more silent than the ride to Stan’s nest had been. We were both upset, frustrated, and probably pissed off with each other, and the air vibrated with that tension.
When we got up to the room, I was displeased to see that we were apparently sharing one. I looked at Eric with a glare, which he returned saying, “It is safer if we share a room. It has separate bedrooms so you may have privacy. I am still responsible for you.”
“Yes, you made that very clear! No matter how disgraceful I am,” I snapped as I grabbed my bag from him.
I could hear Eric growl, but his voice came out steadily as he said, “I think you owe me an explanation. I had no idea you had been in Texas to see Stan after you left, nor that you were capable of such magic. You need to explain these things to me and what you’ve been doing.”
“I don’t owe you shit! You won’t believe anything I say anyway, so why tell you? You’re the one who didn’t want anything to do with me, so you don’t have the right to decide to ask questions now,” I yelled.
“Regardless of what has happened, I am the one who is trying to keep you and your children safe! I deserve to know what you have been doing and where you have been since you left so that I can keep you and you children safe!” he said heatedly as he stood towering over me.
I was still as angry as a skinned badger, but I knew Stan had a point earlier. We all needed to cool down, and my pregnancy hormones weren’t helping. Crying over stupid things wasn’t the only thing my hormones were making me do. Stepping back I took a deep breath and said, “Look I’ve got crazy pregnancy hormones running rampant, and I’m getting tired and cranky. I just hate the thought of what’s running around the supe grapevine and I’ve gotten myself worked up over it. You’re pissed off too and hate me anyway, so let’s just call it a night—well, day, I guess—and talk about it more at first dark. I’ll explain what I can.”
I started to turn away, but Eric gently grabbed my arm. “No matter what, I cannot bring myself to hate you,” he said quietly, looking me in the eye. My heart softened some. I was surprised how much it comforted me for him to finally look me in the eye.
I pulled away from his arm, and slowly made my way into one bedroom. “Sure seems like hate’s about all I’ve felt from you since that night,” I said quietly as I shut the door. I could feel the dams finally break and my tears begin to flow. “Stupid hormones,” I lied to myself as I wiped my eyes and got ready for bed.
A/N: Someone had asked if I plan to finish this story and how often I post. Well, I will finish this story, I’m not good at quitting, and it bugs me to leave things unfinished, so you guys will see the end. As for posting, it’s really erratic. I write and post when I have time. Sometimes I need to work more and I’ll work on this less, but right now, I’m really getting into the meat of this story so it’s been hard to stay away from it. But I can’t give you any kind of posting schedule.
Also, I know you guys are impatient for Eric to learn the truth, but it’ll come in due time. He had enough big news for one night and there’s more to come. 😉
I’m sorry for once again not responding to everyone’s reviews, but it was a beautiful day and I needed to get a couple of my young horses ridden, and then I wanted to get this chapter up.
Let me know what you guys thought!