I rose early after falling asleep late. Once Pam left last night I hadn’t been the least bit tired and I went outside to spar with Karin, practicing with my fireballs and then centering myself with some Tai Chi. I would have liked to have one more evening with my katana, but since I wanted it with me, I had given it to Quinn to hide in Oklahoma. After I’d worn out my body, I’d gone inside and put away the clothing that Pam had gotten me from Tara’s. Pam and I had packed a suitcase of things I would need, but none of the items contained were the new stuff we had picked up. I didn’t want to risk losing it and it wasn’t needed during the battle. I had already purchased a plain black rolling suitcase for the trip to match the one that Marie would have, that way there’d be nothing to give away the fact that I wasn’t actually going to Rome. I wondered now if I’d ever get to take a trip somewhere far off and exotic like Rome. I would have loved to see the Coliseum.
Mr. Cataliades and Diantha were already up and I could smell the coffee. They were leaving shortly to head up to Oklahoma. They would get there before Pam, Karin, and Bill. Mr. C would check in with Freyda’s people as soon as he arrived. Diantha had not been invited so she would be with Mustapha, Warren, Thalia, and Palomino on the outside. I could see the excitement for the upcoming battle building in her eyes, but I would be going in alone. I would meet up with Quinn tomorrow in the early afternoon to prepare for my undercover infiltration, though for me, the part I’d be playing wouldn’t really be undercover. We had considered bringing me in as a donor, but decided that my blood was too sweet and distinctive; therefore it would be too dangerous.
I glanced around the kitchen and wondered briefly if this would be the last time I’d sit here drinking coffee and enjoying the early morning sun that slanted through the window over the sink. I didn’t allow the thought to linger though, choosing instead to stay optimistic. Mr. C and Diantha cleaned up after themselves and gathered their luggage together before hugging me and saying their goodbyes. Diantha bubbled out of the house in a bright pink tutu with black and white striped tights, a bright purple t-shirt, and pink knee-high Chuck Taylors. I wondered if she even owned any clothing even remotely suitable for sneaking into Freyda’s compound under the cover of darkness. I shook my head of the irreverent thought.
Mr. C was still in front of me. “Sookie, my dear, I just wanted to remind you to be safe. Yes, you have developed many skills, but we will still be outnumbered and outgunned. You must focus on keeping yourself alive no matter what else happens. Even if the unthinkable happens and Eric is killed.” I sucked in a gasping breath and felt the pit of my stomach drop. “I’m not saying that he isn’t a ferocious warrior, but all it takes is one mistake for life to end. I would not deny you your chance at vengeance, but I would ask you to be careful. It will take all of our wits to stay alive.”
I nodded to him, feeling even more resolved to bring all of us home in one piece. I squeezed him tightly and wished that there was some way we didn’t have to fight. He had tried to find a loophole in the Eric’s contract, but it was to no avail. He had one last trick up his sleeve, but none of us held out much hope that Freyda was remotely that noble since it involved an ancient Norse code of honor. She had Eric and we were fairly certain she wasn’t going to give him up without a fight.
I whispered to him, “Thanks Mr. C. You and Diantha be careful too. I’m not foolish enough to think all of us will come out of this unscathed, but I’m still hoping that we will all return home.”
We released each other and he left through the front. The screen door banged shut behind him, echoing through the empty house. The rooms had been so full of people coming and going in the last few months that I felt the vacuum left by their exit keenly. I refilled my cup of coffee and headed into the backyard, wanting to enjoy the outdoors before I finished off the last few things I had to do before heading to the airport.
I grabbed the plastic lawn chair that rested next to the stairs, opened it and drank in the sun the shone down wanly on the chilly day. The summer had finally relinquished its hold on the south. I looked about the land and imagined my Gram out there somewhere watching over me. I liked to think that she’d be proud of how far I’d come. Oh she would have been sad that Sam and I hadn’t worked out, but I think she would have known before me that I was still in love with Eric. I closed my eyes for a second just remembering and sent a silent prayer to her to keep us all safe. When I opened them again I noticed that there was a letter growing out of one of the plants and I chuckled to myself thinking I heard from my great-grandfather more now than I had before he had closed the portals.
I walked over and plucked it gently. It made me remember the night that Eric had taken me to meet Niall and how I would never have felt safe enough to do so if Eric hadn’t assured me that he was there with me. I knew Niall watched over me from his realm and therefore must know of our plans and I opened the letter expecting a pep talk or a rallying cry, but it wasn’t that at all.
I knew you always wondered which vampire I referred to and I am happy to see that you have discovered the answer on your own. May you stand together now as equals. I am proud of you. Be the fierce warrior I know you to be and stay safe.
It took me a moment to figure out what he was referring to and then I remembered the conversation where he told me that the vampire loved me. I had wondered at the time who he was talking about and now I knew for sure. A few tears slipped out, but I quickly wiped them away and whispered a thank you to my great-grandfather. I knew he was listening and I wanted him to know I appreciated his note. I missed him and I was glad there was still a way for him to communicate with me.
There was no time left for reminiscing. There were still things to do before I left Bon Temps. I loaded up my car and went back to close up the house. So many memories assailed me as I locked the door behind me. My hand reached out and I placed my palm on the door as if in farewell despite the fact that it was only a house. I turned and walked away. I wouldn’t look back, now was the time for strength and resolve. I started my old beater of a car and pulled down the driveway.
My first stop was Jason’s house. It wouldn’t be right for me to leave without saying goodbye to him. The conversation Pam and I had a couple evenings ago had sunk in. Though I couldn’t tell him the truth of the situation, I needed to tell him I loved him in case the worst happened. He and Michele had settled into married life nicely and I was happy for them. I had no doubt that there would be a new generation of Stackhouses soon enough and hoped I would be around for it.
I pulled up to the house that Jason had lived in since he was old enough to move out on his own. It had been our parent’s house, but I had never felt as close to it as he had. I knocked and waited for him to answer. It was late enough in the year that he would still be home since his crew didn’t start until nine.
The door opened and I was greeted by a smiling Michele. “Sookie. What a surprise. Come on in. What brings you by so early this morning?”
I walked in and hugged her briefly. I really liked the woman and she obviously loved my brother as much as he loved her. “I’m taking a trip and I just wanted to let him know so he didn’t worry if he couldn’t get ahold of me.”
Just then my brother came out into the living room. “Hey Sook. How’s my favorite sister doing? A little early for a visit.”
“Just wanted to come by and let you know that I’m going on a trip and I’ll be gone for a week.” I flinched at the lie, but it was better to keep him safe. He needed to know the cover story and I worried that if he knew the truth, he might be harmed to get to me. I couldn’t risk it.
“Where ya going?”
“Rome, believe it or not. I’ve decided to use some of the money that I inherited to get away for a while.” Right then I made the decision that if I did make it through this that I would actually go to Rome, and maybe Athens, Pisa, heck, maybe even Paris.
Jason whistled in appreciation. “Wow. My sister, the international traveler. You couldn’t start somewhere closer for your first big trip? Maybe Palm Beach or something?”
I laughed. “Nope. I’ve spent most of my life here in Bon Temps and I wanted to explore. You remember when I fell in love with Charlton Heston after I watched Ben Hur right?”
He snorted and agreed. “You couldn’t stop watching that movie, and man was it long. Well, guess that makes sense. You need me to pick up your mail or anything?”
“Yeah, that’d be nice. I wouldn’t want the mailbox to get too full.” It’s not like I was worried about someone knowing I was gone and robbing the house. This was Bon Temps, not Atlanta, but it’d be nice knowing that Jason was looking in on the place.
“No problem Sis.” He looked at his wrist to check the time. “Well I hate to cut this short, but I gotta head into work. You have fun and be sure to bring me back a souvenir.”
Saddened at the shortness of the conversation, but not wanting to draw attention, I simply hugged my brother, holding on a bit longer than strictly necessary. “You take care Jas. I love you and I’ll miss you.”
“Jeez Sook, you’re squeezing the life out of me. It’s not like you’re leaving forever.” He eyed me suspiciously. “There isn’t anything going on that I should know about, now is there?”
Guilt crept into my heart again. “Nope. Sorry. I’m just nervous about the flight is all. I’ve never been on such a long trip.”
He chuckled at me and hugged me quick again. I soaked up as much love as I could from his embrace. “Awww now don’t worry, you know they say it’s safer than driving.”
I simply smiled and acknowledged that he was probably right. He jogged over and gave Michele a quick kiss goodbye. I waved, said my own goodbyes and she told me to have a good trip. Jason and I walked out the door together and he jumped in his truck waving while he pulled out of the driveway. I stood there for a minute watching him drive away before I got into my car and did the same. I had one last stop to make.
I pulled into Merlotte’s parking lot, saw the lights on inside and knew that Sam was already there setting up the bar for the day. He’d be alone since the others wouldn’t come in for another half hour or so, which is the way that I’d planned it. I wasn’t sure how our conversation would go and it’d be easier if we were the only ones in the bar. I walked through the employee entrance in the back and came around into the main bar area. Sam was taking the chairs down and even though he saw me he stayed silent, so I grabbed a chair and proceeded to help him. Once they were all down, he walked behind the bar, grabbed a bottle of tequila, and placed two shot glasses in front of us.
“So. You’re leaving then.” His voice was empty, devoid of any emotion.
“Yeah. I’ve got a flight out in a few hours. Little early for a drink isn’t it?” I tried to ask kindly.
“Nope, not considering it could be the last time I’ll see you.” He filled the two glasses with the amber colored liquid and placing the bottle down on the bar next to them.
“Sookie, don’t. I don’t want to hear your excuses, or your ‘explanations’ as it were. Drink.”
“You know I can’t. I still have to drive to Shreveport.”
He downed one shot, shrugged and then followed it up with the other. “So.” He said, a bit more caustically. “This is goodbye.”
“Sam…don’t be like this. I know you have a right to be angry, but I thought I explained that I have to do this, for Eric.”
He laughed bitterly. “Ya. For Eric. Because he’s done so much for you.” The sarcasm was thick and I could feel the tension building.
“He has Sam, whether you see it or not. And I can’t just leave him in Oklahoma, it wouldn’t be right. He would come for me.”
He sighed, his head falling into his hands. His fingers ran aggressively through his hair making it stand on end and giving him a harried look. “I’ve tried to understand Sookie, really I have, but I just don’t get why you have to risk your life for him. He’s a vampire for Christ’s sake. Let him and his other vampire friends deal with it.” He looked up and poured himself another shot.
“I came here to say goodbye to my friend, not get berated. I’m sorry you don’t agree with my decision Sam, I really am, but it’s the right decision. I couldn’t live with myself otherwise. We’ve talked about this. You’ve been okay with the situation until now. What’s changed?” I asked trying to keep my temper under control. I’d come and let him know when I’d be leaving a couple weeks ago and he hadn’t seemed so angry then. I didn’t want to part with Sam angry. No matter what else had happened between us, I thought we were friends.
“I wasn’t okay with the situation, I just thought you’d come to your senses.”
“Listen. I really don’t want to fight with you. You’re right, this really could be the last time we see each other and I want to part as friends. I’m hoping that’s not impossible.”
He threw back the third shot of tequila. “Hmmmph.” He grunted. “Sookie, I’m just terrified of losing you, I’m sorry, I guess I’m not dealing all that well.”
I let out a puff of air. “It’s okay Sam, I get it.”
He came out from behind the bar and wrapped his arms around me fiercely. “What you’re doing is dangerous,” he mumbled into my hair. “I don’t want to let you do this, but it’s not my choice. It’s yours. I can only ask you to try and come home in one piece.”
I burrowed further into his chest, allowing myself one last bit of comfort from the man who had been one of my best friends. I had hope that someday we’d get back there. “I’ve got your mom as back up too. So don’t worry yourself too much, or at least drink yourself into a stupor. You still have a bar to run,” I said as I pulled back, trying to lighten the mood.
“Yeah, I’m not real happy with her either, but Barry was taken on her watch, so I get it, not to mention she’s a shifter so she’s got that going for her. But you, you’re mostly human.” I just looked at him. We’d talked about my new powers. He laughed and simply said, “Okay. Okay. Just be as safe as you can Sookie. Please.” He looked me directly in the eyes and I could tell he was trying to hold back tears, whether for my sake or his, I wasn’t sure.
“Of course. I’m not ready to die having only just really taken hold of my life. I’ll be back here waiting tables before you know it.” My smile was small, but sincere. “I gotta go Sam. I’ve got a plane to catch. But I have one thing to ask of you.” I hesitated not really wanting to bring it up, but I pushed through. “If for some reason I don’t come back. Will you make sure Jason and Michele are safe and they know that I had to do this? And check in on Remy and Hunter as well? It would mean a lot to me.”
“Of course. Just, you know, try to avoid making me have those conversations, okay?”
“Sure thing. I’ll do my best. You take care now, ya hear?” I grabbed in one last hug not wanting to leave, but needing to go.
“Anything for you.” He released me and walked behind the bar to place the bottle of tequila back on the shelf.
I looked around at the bar that I had spent so much time in. “Bye Sam.”
With that, I wiped the tears from my eyes, walked out the door, got in the car, and drove out of my hometown.
Somewhere off I-235N
I pulled off on an abandoned exit, not because we needed to stop, but because we needed to get a few things straight. I looked at the surrounding landscape. There was a deserted gas station and nothing but weeds and overgrown trees for miles. Perfect. “Out of the car Compton.”
“Excuse me?” his smooth southern voice asked. I could tell he was wondering if we were going to kill him, but I doubted Karin or I would be so lucky this evening. But he needed to believe that we would.
“You heard her. Get out. Now.” Karin was angry and it wasn’t often that she let her emotions come through in her speech, but tonight was the exception.
We had talked before we left and both agreed that we would ensure that Bill knew that if he stepped one toe out of line that we would take him out before he even got a chance to betray us. We had debated just refusing to allow him to come with us, but then we wouldn’t be able to watch him and that could be much more dangerous, not to mention it would look suspicious to Freyda. If he didn’t show, she’d wonder why. We decided that we would both keep an eye on him in the compound having a feeling that we couldn’t trust him. We just didn’t know what his plan was yet. He obliged us by getting out of the vehicle of his own volition; though I would much rather have preferred dragging him out by his short and curlies.
“Now listen up and listen good Compton. I don’t know what your plan is, only that you think that somehow in all this you are going to win Sookie back. I’m here to tell you, not only is it not going to happen, but also that I don’t trust you.”
“Nor do I.” Karin interjected, arms folded across her chest.
“So, as you can imagine you are walking a very, very thin line here. Both Karin and I would very much enjoy kicking your lily white ass from here to Toledo, just so you know what page we’re on.”
He looked at us insolently, as if he were a teenager and not a vampire of over a hundred years. “Do you really think that I would risk Sookie’s life, simply because I dislike Eric?”
My answering eyebrow arched at him. Karin’s body tensed in preparation to rip him to pieces. I placed a hand on her arm to keep her calm. She had become quite protective of Sookie over the time she’d spent with her.
“No. I don’t. But I do think that you would allow Eric to die thinking that you’d then have the chance to win her back.” The look on my face dared him to argue with me. “I’m here to tell you that if Eric dies. You die. Whether it’s your fault or not. There is no version of this where you get the girl. She doesn’t want you as a lover or a friend, though she’s too nice to say it so bluntly. So here’s what’s going to happen. You will fight. You will help take down Freyda and save Eric. Then when we return, Sookie and Eric will live happily ever after and you will pack your bags. You will leave town immediately and never return. Is that understood?”
The muscle in his jaw ticked giving away his anger. “I will do no such thing. Bon Temps is my home. I will not…”
Karin decked him. She had been waiting to do so and I simply smiled. “Try again asshole,” she said her voice cool acid. “I mean I’d really enjoy beating you senseless, tying you to a rock here in the middle of nowhere, and leaving you for the sun, so if that’s what you’d prefer, I’d be happy to oblige. I’m sure Pam here would love to help.”
“Oh yes,” I said showing him my teeth and letting my fangs run out to their full length. “So please, disagree again. I’ve been waiting a long time to send you to your true death.”
“I love her.”
“And I don’t care. In fact I think you’re delusional,” I said taking a step closer to him.
“I will win her back. Eric will betray her and I will be there to pick up the pieces.” I’ll give Karin credit. She allowed him to finish his sentence before she hit him again, breaking his nose in the process. I enjoyed watching the blood run down his crisp white button-up shirt.
“Try again. The next words I want to hear coming out of your mouth are ‘Yes Sheriff. After the battle, I will leave Bon Temps and never return.'” I glared at him. Part of me wished that he’d say something else and I’d get a chance to hit him, but he didn’t oblige me.
“Yes, Sheriff,” he spit out. “After the battle, I will leave Bon Temps and never return.”
I knew he was lying, but it was the best we were going to get from him. I figured Eric would simply kill him when we returned. “Good. As long as we are understood. Now get back in the SUV and for fuck’s sake, clean yourself up. You can’t meet your Queen looking so disheveled.”
Karin sniggered and headed toward the passenger side. Bill huffed out his irritation and I elbowed him in the nose one last time for good measure. He didn’t dare say anything. I popped open the back allowing him to grab a clean shirt out of his luggage. I was really glad we drove. It was practical since there was a good chance we’d need a getaway vehicle, but also because it allowed us to torment Bill for the five hour drive. Maybe if we were lucky, he’d go to his room and sulk once we arrived. After we’d greeted Her Majesty of course.
I climbed into the driver’s seat feeling more relaxed than I had. I knew my body was aching for bloodshed and roughing up Compton had let the pressure off temporarily. But I needed to kill something and I needed to do it soon.