“Emma! Emma, where are you?” Sookie shouted from the main floor of our residence.
I stepped up to the balustrade of the second floor, taking in the far too familiar irritated stance of my wife in the foyer. I was merely relieved not to be the cause of my wife’s ire.
Before I could address Sookie, a pair of feet lightly lit onto the railing beside me. Crouching down to steady himself with one hand gripping the banister, the vampire asked me in exasperation, “Can you feel Emma at all?”
Shaking my head, I replied, “It has been many weeks since I felt even a passing emotion from Emma. She has been obstinate in her desire to have her ‘freedom.'”
I said the words with a raised brow towards my wife, whom I solely credited for our daughter’s rebelliousness.
She huffed, either outright catching my thoughts or simply replying to my implied accusation. In defense, she said, “She’s going through a stage and if we force her to allow us to sense her, it’ll only make things worse and push her away more.”
I fought the urge to huff in return and turned to the vampire still crouched and waiting beside me. “I take it you cannot feel her either, my son.”
With a disapproving frown, Rune became quite still. To any who did not know my son, it would appear that he was merely stilling his body in thought, but after seventeen years, I knew the look in his eyes. It was so faint, even Sookie couldn’t see the barely perceptible dilation of his eyes, though she said she could always sense his mind when he called to his twin.
Moments later, Astrid looked over the balcony from the floor above where Rune and I waited. She looked across and down the third floor balcony of the as she pulled small headphones from her ears and asked, “What is it Rune? I was working on homework.”
They often held entire conversations in their minds alone, so I knew the audible inquiry was for Sookie’s benefit and mine. Not even Sookie could overhear them if they held their “secret conversations” as Sookie called it. It was galling for a dominant vampire to know his two children could hold conversations without his knowledge, but Sookie usually shrugged it off saying it was no different from human twins who developed their own secret language. Secretly, I wondered if Sookie didn’t overhear more of their conversations than she let on.
“Emma’s missing again, and I have a meeting with the A.P. in a few hours that she said she wanted to go to,” Sookie replied.
For the past seventeen years, Sookie had met with the Ancient Pythoness quarterly to discuss supernatural business and have matters brought before them for arbitration. As a concession to the fact that we had a growing family, their quarterly meetings were held twice in Louisiana, once in the Pythoness’s home in Greece, and once in another location somewhere in the world.
I had never liked seeing Sookie so far away from my side, but if I could not accompany her myself, Jarl, Pam, and several other trusted guards did. At seventeen-years-old, Rune was proving to be an able guard for the women as well. A job he took quite seriously.
“Where’s Em?” Rune growled to his sister, his fangs running out in his exasperation. “Can you feel her? None of us can.”
If it had not been for the fleeting worry in my mind, I would have chuckled at Rune’s tone. Protectiveness was ingrained in his nature; in his mind, his only three charges were his sisters and mother. Even as a toddler, he was not playful like his sisters, instead choosing to stand stoically behind them, keeping vigil during their play.
Astrid closed her dark blue eyes in concentration, leaning forward, bracing her arms against the railing. I never knew quite what it was our daughter was able to do at times like this and Sookie admitted it was different from how she used her telepathy, but when Emma was missing, Astrid could normally find her.
When she opened her eyes, they were fixed on her brother as she spoke directly to him. “She’s up on the roof again, reading a book.”
I leapt to the balustrade to fly towards the roof access and retrieve Emma myself, but Rune moved faster, silently darting upward to retrieve her instead.
Still, I remained in my crouched position, debating whether to go to the roof as well.
“Let Rune bring her down,” Sookie grumbled, seeing my indecision. “She’ll listen to him better than she listens to us.”
“Just like her mother,” I grumbled lowly.
“I heard that!” she groused back. And with so much of my blood in her system over the years, I had no doubt that she did hear me. Her sight and hearing both were almost vampiric. Pity her strength had not come that far.
Soon I could hear the soft protests of Emma as Rune escorted her down the large spiral staircase, stopping at the second floor to present her to me. He knew well that Sookie could see her from her vantage point and that I would want to first address her conduct myself.
Rune deposited his sister in front of me, then stepped back while crossing his arms and showing his sister his obvious disapproval.
It was in times like this that I saw only her mother when I looked at Emma. Her arms were crossed tightly across her chest and her head thrown back in defiance at being forcibly brought before her father. It was a pose I’d seen Sookie take many times. Her hair was blond, but in a household of blonde-haired beings, it was not so strange. But it was the indignant fire in her eyes that said she was utterly Sookie’s daughter.
Turning my back to Sookie below me, I sat on the balcony railing and counted to twenty before I addressed our youngest.
“What were you doing on the roof?” I asked, pleased with myself that I sounded so calm. Anytime I did not know the precise location of one of my children or Sookie I was anything but calm. And Emma’s strange ability to block all of us had left me feeling unraveled many times in the past three months since she’d learned that little trick.
“I was reading,” she ground out.
I felt my fangs press painfully into my lower gums as I gnashed my jaws together.
“Why?” I growled.
“Because there’s nothing else to do in this place!”
“I meant, why were you on the roof?” I pressed, my voice sounding more of growl than words.
“Because it’s quiet up there,” she continued smarting back.
My hands clenched against the railing, and I fought to keep from crumbling the marble under my hands.
“Leaving the residence without an escort is forbidden,” I growled at her, “you know better!”
Her hands tightened on her arms, her eyes continuing to spit fire. “Rune doesn’t have to have an escort. He can leave by himself any time he wants!” she yelled in return.
“I can protect myself, and moder and fader can always feel me to know that I’m fine,” Rune growled at Emma, still as upset with her as I was. I glanced at him and almost chuckled. Maybe he was even more upset than I was. My son was a true testament to the warriors of my youth. Proud and strong, and he took his self-proclaimed duty as the protector of the women in the household quite gravely.
Of course, it was only in the last year or so that Rune had been allowed to travel away from the residence without an escort himself. And then, only for short periods of the night, and never in the daylight when myself and all the other vampires of the household were asleep.
“Astrid complies with the rules and remains in residence, why can’t you?” Rune continued to growl, stepping up to stare down at Emma.
I permitted myself to smile at the image. Rune had grown to an imposing height in his seventeen years, nearly matching my own height, while Emma was even shorter than her mother. But like Sookie, she never seemed to notice the staggering height difference, instead, stepping into her brother and shoving him in the chest away from her.
Rune stepped back, allowing her to push him away, and I almost chuckled at the action. How many times had I allowed Sookie to “buffalo” me and push me back. Rune had inherited all the strength of a full-blooded vampire, while Emma had no more strength than a human did. Yet, just as with Sookie, Emma was unstoppable and could stand up to any being, no matter how powerful.
“Just ’cause Astrid wants to be a good little girl and do everything she’s told, doesn’t mean I hafta!” She glared at both Rune and myself as she continued, “Do you even know how sexist it is that Rune is the only one that gets to have any freedom?” she huffed again and growled in a tone worthy of any vampire, “I hate you all!”
“Enough,” came the quiet but deadly voice of the mother scorned. Even I had learned to fear that tone. I could see Sookie silently counting in her mind as I had done, and Emma’s eyes closed in anticipation of Sookie’s reprimand. Sookie did not so often scald the rest of us with her sharp tongue and heated comments anymore, but we all knew the sting of it. And even worse than that—her disappointment. Truly, a mother’s most valuable weapon.
“Emma Michelle Northman, come down here,” she said, barely above a whisper.
But even with her human hearing, Emma heard the words, and more importantly, heard the disappointment and hurt Sookie had managed to lace those six words with. With her hands shoved into the pockets of her far too short-cut jean shorts, and her head hanging, she slowly trudged down the steps to stand before the deceptively calm Sookie. But we all knew what was coming.
I sensed more than saw even Pam and Jarl come to stand behind me, likely having overheard that tone in Sookie’s voice.
“Do you realize what you do to us when you disappear like that, Emma? The fear and frantic thoughts that race through a mother’s head. Do you have any idea how many days I lay wide eyed, woken in a cold sweat from another dream where one of my children has been taken from me? You have no idea what that worry does to a mother. I would gladly die before I let anything happen to you, but it terrifies me that something will happen to you and I won’t be there to do a damn thing about it. That would kill me. Just kill me, if anything happened to one of you. Do you understand me?” Sookie was visibly shaking, and I alone knew the absolute veracity of her fears. Many times, I had woken from my daytime stupor to find her restless, shaking from the residual grief of another nightmare. It was why we were all so vigilant with the safety of Sookie and the children. None of us would be able to endure something happening to any of them.
I had swiveled on the railing to watch mother and daughter below; Rune had joined me on one side, and I felt Pam and Jarl step up beside my other elbow.
“My mother could do that too,” Pam whispered with a visible shudder, “with a few words of disappointment and guilt she could have my sisters and me to tears, begging for forgiveness.”
Jarl cringed beside her, “I think it must be something they teach every new mother. Makes me right glad my own moder isn’t still around.”
I almost laughed as Pam nodded in absolute agreement. What they both skirted around and avoided saying was that Sookie could and would turn her words of disappointment against any of us. And not even a hardened vampire could withstand the pangs of her disappointment. Even Batukhan, a harsh Mongolian who served as one of our loyal guards, could nearly be brought to tears by a harsh dressing down from his queen. He hardly uttered two words, even to me, but he would begin pleading for forgiveness in every language he knew under her look of profound disappointment. If I addressed him, even as his king, he would barely acknowledge my words with more than a grunt.
Though her back was to me, I could hear the tears that Emma was fighting. “I’m sorry momma. I don’t mean to make y’all worry. I just need some freedom too,” she whispered brokenly.
Sookie pulled our daughter into her arms and Emma wrapped her own hands around Sookie’s waist. Even after all these years, Sookie had barely aged. There were faint laugh lines around her eyes that marked the differences between their faces, but to an unknowing observer, it could well have been two sisters embracing.
Well—until they heard Sookie speak that is. It didn’t take much to recognize the tone and authority in a mother’s voice.
I didn’t know if it was all the blood I had fed her over the years that slowed her aging, or if it was her Fae heritage that prolonged her life. Her fairy uncle thought it might be a combination of both. All I knew was every morning I went into my daytime slumber praying that whatever it was would hold out for many more years to come.
“Shh,” Sookie crooned as she gently rocked back and forth with our daughter. Needing to be part of their embrace, I lightly dropped down to the foyer and encased mother and daughter in my arms.
“I know you yearn for freedom, Emma, but we would be lost if anything happened to you,” I whispered against her head. She made our family whole somehow. Thus, I had named her—the Danish word for whole. That sense of wholeness and completion had filled me when I held her fragile newborn body for the first time.
She did have some of both mine and Sookie’s qualities, but none to the extent of the twins. She was nearly human, more so than even Sookie had ever been. She had only ever rarely had a need for blood, and had only a slightly heightened awareness mentally of the twins and her mother.
She was almost human.
And so fragile.
She brought out the extreme protectiveness in all of us, even Astrid who was so gentle by nature. If there was even the hint of a threat to her baby sister, Astrid’s fangs would come out; reminding all that a vampiress was even more deadly than a male vampire was.
But Emma had her mother’s streak of fierce independence. And that independence yearned for the freedom that the protection from her family often smothered unintentionally.
I stepped back and looked down at Emma, though she still clung to her mother’s arms, surreptitiously wiping her tears against Sookie’s shoulder.
Sookie pulled Emma away, speaking before I could form words, “I know you want freedom, but you’re just not as strong physically as Rune is. He can protect himself and knows how to handle swords and many other weapons very well. But even more importantly than that, he always lets us feel where he is and how he’s doing when he’s away from the residence. He has earned our trust and in return, he’s allowed some freedoms.”
Emma’s eyes were downcast from her mother’s gaze, but I could still see her frowning pout. The truth wasn’t so much that Rune let us feel that he was fine and where he was, it was more that he couldn’t keep us from feeling him. Emma alone seemed able to block herself from the bond we all shared. Though I thought ruefully to myself, Sookie had managed it quite well herself for some months.
Sookie caught my thought and frowned at me, but continued addressing Emma. “I know you don’t like everyone knowing where you are, but it’s for your safety that we need to know you’re okay, sweetie.”
Emma sullenly nodded her head and slowly allowed herself to trickle back into our family’s bond. Pam and Jarl each gave a slight sigh, and I knew even they could feel her echo through me.
I relaxed more than I had in months at having things once again in order within my family.
“Now, I’m leaving in a few minutes to prepare for my meeting with the A.P., did you still want to come with?” Sookie asked Emma. Still silent, Emma only nodded. “Then run up to your room and change into something appropriate.” There was gentle admonishment in Sookie’s tone and I knew she no more approved of the brevity of Emma’s current attire.
“Com’on Em, I’ll help you pick something out of my closet,” Astrid called down kindly.
Emma nodded and quickly jogged up the stairs for her sister’s room. Astrid was taller than both Emma and her mother, but I had little doubt that Astrid would still be able to help Emma find something suitable, perhaps in the clothing she had out grown.
“And you want to have more of them?” Sookie huffed at me. “I already feel like we’re outnumbered just trying to handle Emma.”
I laughed softly. “I confess, at the moment I am unsure why I would want another child myself. I do not remember ‘teens’ being so obstreperous when I was human,” I confessed.
Sookie grimaced. “Well, when you were human, you didn’t so much get to enjoy teen-hood. Y’all kinda had to go right to being adults.”
“True enough,” I conceded, but muttered, “I’m not sure which I’d rather have.”
Sookie rolled her eyes and teasingly elbowed me. Removing her tear-stained suit jacket, she called to the nearest maid, “Denise, could you run and fetch the other jacket to match this suit, it’s a longer cut than I’d like to wear in the summer, but it’ll have to do.”
The maid nodded while taking the soiled coat and scurried towards our chambers. She was one of the few humans allowed within our inner sanctum.
Taking in the sight of Pam, Jarl, Rune, and a handful of other guards still gathered around watching, she scowled and scolded, “Don’t you all have better things to do with your time? Get back to work.”
They smiled and returned to their business as she bid, but I laughed at the sight. I may have been the king of this territory, but all gathered within knew who ruled this residence.
“And don’t you forget it buster,” Sookie confirmed with narrowed eyes, but I could feel the lighthearted mirth within her. It did much to alleviate the emotions of us both.
“‘Buster’?” I repeated, “such names you have for me, lover.” I laughed as I pulled her closer and pressed a lingering kiss to her lips.
I took my time, relishing our first chance to be alone this evening. She’d awoken before me to prepare for her meeting with the Pythoness and I’d immersed myself in paperwork in her absence. Though I had long ago become more accepting of the nights when Sookie was absent from our bed when I rose, I still was not pleased on those nights.
“Me either, Eric,” she whispered against my neck after pulling away from my lips. “But duty calls. For both of us.”
I’d also become quite used to her answering my thoughts as though I’d spoken them. But it was a good reminder that the shielding Sookie had taught me to place around my thoughts was slipping. It was a trick I had been required to learn when we realized Astrid could read vampire thoughts even more readily than Sookie could. And no father was real fond of the notion that his daughter might be able to poke around in his mind.
“I fear the stress of the past months has eaten at the strength of my shielding,” I ruefully told Sookie as I continued to place gently kisses on her neck. She seemed to be in an affectionate mood at the moment and I was never one to pass up such a moment.
“I know. Me too,” she confessed. “At least Astrid’s old enough and strong enough now to mostly stay out of everyone’s minds on her own. She’s far better than I was at her age.” She gave a self-deprecating grunt, “Hell, she’s damn near better at shielding than I am now.” But even in her obvious displeasure with herself, I could hear her pride in our daughter.
“Yes, but you were there to teach her from birth. And though she is a talented telepath, she has none of your Fae magic,” I reminded.
“Thank God,” she whispered as her teeth gently traversed my collarbone.
“Harder,” I growled in her ear.
She obliged by giving a strong nip with her teeth, but was careful to not break the skin.
Sensing my disappointment, she whispered, “Later, Eric. There’s not enough time now for that.”
“Later.” I promised with a searing kiss.
Pulling away once again, Sookie stepped out of my arms and asked, “What are we going to do about Emma? She may stop blocking us out for a while, but I’m not sure how long it’ll last. She’s bound and determined to see how far she can push the boundaries.”
I sighed, and nodded in acquiescence. Far be it from me to guess what our teenage daughter was likely to do. I found myself clueless more often than not.
“Maybe we shouldn’t shelter her so much and let her know just how dangerous things really are,” Sookie suggested.
“No.” The answer was instantaneous and emphatic. But I couldn’t bring myself to change it.
I wanted Emma to be safe and sheltered. At least as best as I could.
“You can’t shelter her forever,” Sookie argued. It was an old argument, but it was never truly heartfelt on Sookie’s part. She wanted to shelter Emma as much as the rest of us did.
Watching the twins growing up had shown me how truly difficult Sookie’s own childhood must have been. No. In truth, I could never understand how difficult it truly was because at least the twins had parents who understood their differences and were able to guide them. Sookie had no tutelage and had only ever received scorn.
But still, it was a taste. Seeing the twins have such a deep understanding of the world around them through the thoughts of others. There had been none of the carefree merriment of naïve children. Even before they could form words to speak themselves, they understood the gravity of the world they’d been born into. They were more like small adults than children. Easier to relate to and speak to. But still I cherished Emma’s ability to grow and simply be a child. Even Astrid and Rune both understood how truly unique and precious it was that Emma could be a child and unaware of the world around her.
They all feverishly fought to protect Emma from seeing the true darkness of the world that surrounded them.
“It makes protecting her that much harder when she doesn’t understand the dangers,” Sookie half-heartedly argued.
“Then we will all work that much harder to protect her.” Sookie looked into my eyes and I knew we both saw in Emma the chance for a normal existence that Sookie was never afforded.
Even without the twins’ telepathy, they would never truly be normal. Their vampiric tendencies meant they were forever gauging their own actions so that no one else would see the truth and realize what they were. To the world, they had to appear mostly human. At least their telepathy they could show to the supernatural world. It was not unexpected in Sookie’s children.
And though I had claimed them in the vampire world as my progeny, general vampire consensus was that the children must have been fathered by a descendant of my own to have my looks. It was the only explanation they could come up with and we did nothing to dissuade it.
I knew the day would come when Rune would join my side as a true “vampire” though he was already, but I was not so sure of Astrid. She was a stronger telepath than Rune; mostly he only heard thoughts outside of Astrid’s if they were thought directly at him. And Astrid was more tenderhearted, like her mother. Perhaps even more so in some ways.
But none of the children seemed to have inherited any of Sookie’s Fae ancestry. Still, to be sure, I asked, “Do you think Emma could have been using Fae magic to block us? Like you did when you were pregnant with the twins.”
We had long since put the incident behind us, and thankfully, mention of that time no longer caused a spike of pain to reverberate through our bond.
“I don’t think so. I can feel when other Fae do magic. And it doesn’t feel like what I was able to do. Plus, Dermot said that was really rare to be able to close down those kinds of bonds that way,” she answered thoughtfully. “I think it’s gotta be something else, but darned if I can figure out what.”
“Do you think witchcraft?” I wondered, knowing that while some witches could study and learn spells to do magic, that some were simply born with magic.
“I don’t think it’s that either. I can feel that kind of magic too.”
We both turned at hearing Emma’s foots skip down the steps.
“We shall have to think on it another time,” I whispered, placing one last chaste kiss to Sookie’s cheek.
“How come the A.P. wanted to come meet again so soon, mom? I thought she wasn’t s’pose to meet with you again until this summer after school was out.” Emma’s words and step were once again filled with her usual bounce. Astrid had obviously talked with her and smoothed her ruffled feathers. I would have to remember to thank her.
“I’m not sure, Em. She wouldn’t say over the phone, you know how little she likes such modern ‘contraptions’. She said she would only discuss it in person,” Sookie answered with an indulgent smile.
The maid returned with Sookie’s replacement jacket and mother and daughter strolled out the door still chatting about what the Ancient One could possibly want.
I was curious myself, but knew better by now than to meddle in the affairs between Sookie and the Old One.
Several guards trailed out the door after Sookie and Emma to escort them as Rune again silently landed beside me in the foyer. I could sense his indecision. He was torn between staying to watch over his twin and the need to protect his mother and youngest sibling. But I could feel the battle raging in him. In some ways, his loyalty would always be slightly outweighed in favor of his twin.
“You may remain at the residence, Rune. Emma and Sookie’s escort should be sufficient.”
He silently contemplated my offer, and then quickly flew back to our family’s private area of the residence.
Several hours later, I was once again immersed in the paperwork it took to run a state when I felt searing pain flood the bond from Sookie followed by the bond with Emma once again vanishing.
I roared in pain and sent Sookie my need for her to tell me what was happening.
Astrid, Rune, Pam, and Jarl had all gathered around my desk in my office when my cell phone finally dialed through to Sookie’s.
“Oh God, Eric! She’s gone! They took her!”
I could barely comprehend my wife’s pained and frantic words through our shared grief. All I knew was that our worst nightmares had come to pass.
A/N: I know, I know, long time, no write. It’s been a busy couple of months for me in real life. I’ve taken on several projects, some unpaid volunteer ones, and thankfully some paid ones as well. But it means my time has been swamped.
Plus, I’ve been helping to host the Unsolved Mysteries Contest. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do so. We’ve got great prizes like copies of Dead Reckoning and other cool stuff. We’ve also got a special prize for first time writers, so if you’ve never written fanfiction before, give it a try, you might win something!
Check out the contest page. It’s saved as a favorite author in my profile. You can find all the rules and such there.
But don’t wait too long, submissions end May 22. So get busy writing some stories. I’ve also got a promo fic written for the contest if you haven’t already read it and want to see an example of what we’re looking for.
I’m not sure how many more chapters I’m going to write in this story, this current storyline was just a little inspiration that came to me yesterday, so I figured I’d run with it.
I’ll try not to take too long with it, but I’ve also been down with bronchitis and laryngitis the past week, so I’ll do what I can. And if you’ve never had both at the same time, let me assure you that it is a complete bitch! My throat hurts like hell every time I cough, which since I have so much crude in my lungs is about every 30 seconds. And on top of it all, I’m way overdue on writing an article for one of my regular magazines, but I haven’t been able to talk for more than a week now, so I can’t even call to do a simple phone interview.
Anyway, hope all you ladies had wonderful Mother’s Day and that the rest of you did something special for your mothers. I managed to choke down enough drugs from the doc to make it through my own plans for my mom’s mother’s day, but I’m sure as hell worn out now. It’s sad how much little things wear you out when you’re sick.
But enough of my bellyaching. Let me know what you think!
Thanks so much to treewitch703 for betaing this and polishing it from its original medicated induced haze!