The prisoners knew when Stan Davis was coming. The staccatoed tap of his bootheels echoed ominously on the basement concrete as he escorted Rosalyn through the jail. Rosalyn found that she did not care for his smug, tapping strut. “Knock on the window when you’re done,” he told her, and he opened the interrogation room door.
Costas sat chained to a small steel table, his wrists and feet bound in silver manacles. He watched her take a seat opposite him, beyond the short reach of his restraints. She winced at the sting of silver in the air. “Try wearing them,” he snickered. He looked her over. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
The Greek vampire had dark smudges ringed beneath his eyes, but appeared otherwise unharmed. Rosalyn suspected he had been cleaned up for her. “I came to see if you needed anything.”
“Try again,” he said.
“I’ve been reading up on our laws. You’re entitled to visitors. I wanted to visit. No one but the King has been told you’re here.” King Peter had come earlier that week to analyze the nest’s seized electronics. He had found no evidence to implicate Amleth or his children in the bombing. Costas and Eva vehemently denied any wrongdoing. Godric had not budged. He refused to release them.
“You aren’t fooling anyone with the good cop routine,” Costas said. “Let’s skip to the part where you tell me why Godric sent you.”
“Godric commanded me to arrest you against my will. I’m sorry about that. But I’m not involved in the investigation. I’m here as your advocate.”
He laughed at her. “You read a book and now you want to play lawyer. Cute. You do know we don’t ‘do’ the whole lawyer thing, right?”
“You know I’m an activist committed to social justice – whatever the society. I don’t see much justice in the present situation. I’m offering my help.”
“Bleeding hearts don’t last very long in our world. We eat them.”
“You can waste time with empty threats, Costas, or you can play on my sympathies. Your choice. It’s not like King Peter popped down to see you.” Costas said nothing. She leaned closer. “Oh, come on. I have the ear of the Sheriff. I heard you’re a real operator. It must be true if you can handle London by yourself.”
“I can’t imagine it’s running smoothly without me,” he said, amused.
“I have no idea. I simply came to check on your well-being.”
He held up his shackled wrists. “I have been arrested for the attempted murder of my maker by the head of a bloodline no one knows I am sworn to – a heinous, impossible accusation leveled by a Blood Master who operates with near impunity given his power. I’d say I’m doing great.“
Costas had a point. There was virtually no one who could stay Godric’s dread hand. “What is Godric doing to you?”
A smile slithered across his features. “Nothing that effects the quality of my blood.” A chill settled over Rosalyn’s skin. “You do know he’s only trying to resuscitate Amleth now so that he can kill him himself, right?”
“I believe in Amleth.” She wanted to say more, but they were under surveillance.
“You have no idea what you’re marrying, do you?” he said in disdain. “There’s still time to back out, you know. It’s not truly official until you go through the rites with the priestess.”
“We’re done here.” Rosalyn was up and at the door in a flash. She rapped her knuckles on the reinforced glass.
“Wait.” The chain rattled against the table. “See that Amleth is being moved enough.”
Costas swallowed. “Eva?”
Rosalyn shook her head. “He wouldn’t let me see her.”
Costas nodded and a chunk of his dark brown hair fell forward. “I can sense she’s tired. Tell Godric I want to be drained again. Longer this time.”
She glanced at the camera in the corner of the room. “He’s heard.” Stan opened the door and Rosalyn ducked out.
Godric was waiting for her. He wore a fitted cashmere crew-neck whose pristine white seemed unlikely given what he was holding. Two bags of Eva’s blood were looped through his fingers. “You’ll want to see Amleth next, I suppose,” he said.
“Thank you,” Rosalyn said, glad she did not have to argue further with him. Getting him to allow her this much had not been easy.
“Constantine upset you,” he said as they made their way upstairs. She hummed a noncommittal response. “He is right. You don’t know what you’re marrying.”
“Neither do you. No one ever knows what they are getting into when they marry.” Or blood bond, she silently added. “That’s not news.”
“Telling Constantine the king paid us a visit was news. He’ll wonder why you are cut off from updates on the London Sheriffdom as well.” Rosalyn swore under her breath. She had tried so hard to let nothing slip. “You see now why I cannot let you interfere with my investigation. He ran circles around you without blinking.” Rosalyn tuned him out as he elaborated how her error had jeopardized his process. How every inconsequential detail fed to a detainee had to be tracked. She was more than a little tired of hearing that her compassion was an inconvenience.
Amleth was swaddled in fresh bandages and laid out like a mummy. The bandages had been artfully layered, patterning him in geometric designs. Someone had brushed out his glossy hair.
The candles Eva had placed around the room had been kept burning. The votives cast dancing shadows over his body, creating the illusion of movement where there was none. Rosalyn’s heart sunk when she saw him. “He is not getting better,” she said.
“No.” Godric said. Everyone had hoped that Sookie’s blood would do something miraculous to revive him. It had not. “I’ll move him into a cell next to his children tonight. Perhaps nesting beside them will rouse his spark.”
Two machines cycled nutrition into Amleth’s body at intervals. Godric hooked up a bag of Eva’s blood inside one pump and he turned it on. The machine depressed the liquid through a tube that disappeared beneath the wrappings on Amleth’s chest. “Where does that lead?” Rosalyn asked.
“His heart vein,” Godric said quietly. “There is no place more effective to transfuse on us.”
She gently set her hand over the place where the blood filled Amleth’s heart. “Told you monsters have souls,” she said. Godric did not smile. He did not react at all. “Please tell me Costas was wrong. You won’t kill Amleth. Not even if he’s guilty.”
“Do not ask me these questions.”
“Godric,” she said, frightened.
“I cannot give you answers I do not yet have.”
The machine completed its cycle. Godric began manipulating Amleth’s long limbs. He slowly massaged and stretched Amleth’s prone body to diffuse the magic blood through him. His touch was careful, reverent, familiar. Rosalyn could not bear to watch it, not when she knew that same intimacy might turn deadly. She turned away and occupied herself plucking wilted petals from an arrangement on Amleth’s desk. His journal was still there. She opened it toward the end and flipped back several pages. Her eyes raced over the lines.
History repeats itself. Somebody says this.
History throws its shadow over the beginning, over the desktop,
over the sock drawer with its socks, its secret letters.
History is a little man in a brown suit
trying to define a room he is outside of.
I know history. There are many names in history
but none of them are ours.
“You’ve read this?” She looked up at Godric with alarm. “What does it mean?”
“It means he’s been reading bloody Richard Siken again and brooding about the past,” he said, his anger coming in a sudden rush.
“This is from the night I screwed up renewing our bond.”
It certainly read like Amleth had been more than a little upset about their failed bonding – and that the family’s secrets pained him. History did not know of Amleth and Godric’s tie – a tie that defined so much of Amleth’s life. Had not Costas just intimated something similar? He and Eva were in the same position. They shouldered all the responsibilities toward Godric as their lineage head without enjoying the prestige of openly bearing his name.
Rosalyn flipped the page. Amleth had jotted a few more lines. They were interspersed with miscellaneous notes and stray thoughts. She sensed he had omitted parts of the poem. The flat of her hand struck the desk for support when she hit the last line:
I couldn’t get the boy to kill me, but I wore his jacket for the longest time.
“This poem,” she said, breathless. “Amleth reads this poem and thinks about you. He idolizes you.”
“That’s one way of reading into it,” Godric said, his voice flat.
“You think Amleth was trying to process how he planned to move on? How he was done mourning your bad history? Oh my god, did I tip him over the edge being a jerk?”
Godric left Amleth’s side. He slapped the journal shut and shoved it into the desk drawer. “I think it’s somebody else’s poem. I think his reading choices don’t condemn or exonerate him.”
Godric returned to the blood pump to change out the emptied bag. Amleth’s diary had embarrassed him. “When was the last time you two were bonded?” she asked. Godric did not immediately answer. “I do have a right to know.”
“Many centuries ago,” he said. “Eric was young and there was war. I needed to be able to communicate with him.”
“Did you always make Amleth feel like your bond was merely pragmatic and came after some consideration for Eric?”
“Yes or no?” she said, irritated.
“The past is not so cut and dry, Rosalyn. Yes – it was mostly out of necessity. And no – you are wrong to think that practical deeds were viewed as selfish then. Sacrifice was noble. Amleth’s brotherhood with Eric came first.”
“Amleth certainly knew you weren’t bonding with him out of practicality the night of the bombing. That was love. If you’re supposing that it’s your bad history motivating him to hurt us, dousing him in your blood beforehand would have given him second thoughts.” Godric fell silent and Rosalyn was left resenting his weak excuses. She could only imagine how Amleth might feel after a millennium of Godric’s deflections and rejections. Maybe Godric’s apologies had come too late. Uncertainty stirred in Rosalyn’s breast.
The pump completed its cycle. Godric turned to the second machine and removed a series of small vials from it. The leggy traces left inside the vials perfumed the room with the scent of Sookie’s blood. He pocketed them and refilled the machine with fresh ones.
Sookie had not been forthcoming with her donation. Rosalyn had endured the tedium of multiple board games in order to obtain those vials. Over many rounds of Connect Four, she listened as Sookie shared her fears about losing the vampire who had given her a passport, a business license, and a new lease on life. She had reasons for being hesitant to donate blood to Amleth, as ‘crazy’ as she knew her resistance might make her seem. Sookie worried a lot about how she was perceived. Rosalyn listened to that too, rather than dictating and judging, and soon Sookie was happily sitting opposite Godric with a syringe in her arm.
Isabelle and Stan were baffled. It was not a superpower, Rosalyn had to explain to them. It was common sense. Sookie needed to feel like her opinions were important to others. It might feel slow, but it did not mean that she was less deserving of being heard. And it had shed light on certain troubling aspects of Sookie’s preferences.
In another life, Rosalyn might have tried harder to understand the difficult woman. Rosalyn pitied Sookie. Being told you are special and failing to be could not be easy. She called her telepathic gift a curse and in many ways, it was. The scent of Sookie’s blood in the air, however, reminded Rosalyn that the fairy princess was an apple of discord rolling through their midst.
Rosalyn eyed Godric’s pants pocket. “Can I taste it?”
Godric reset the panel over the pump and snapped the lock of the cover with a decisive click. He turned. “No,” he said, visibly annoyed.
“Have you asked Sookie’s grandfather for help?”
“Prince Niall is her great-grandfather,” Godric corrected. “We can’t. Amleth is the only one able to contact him.”
“Right. And you’ve either killed or made enemies of everyone who might help,” Rosalyn said bitterly. There was no contingency plan for the loss of someone in the family. Godric’s fanatical distrust of others was backfiring on him, as were his millennia of war-mongering. “Amleth said there’s some sort of fairy porthole near her home. Can’t we have Sookie go get him?”
Godric let out a laugh. “Her Fae spark is weak and undeveloped. Even if she could find the door to the Veil and open it, we would be sending her to Faerie. She’ll be kidnapped and ransomed to the Prince before she finds him. We won’t get her back.”
“You mean we won’t get her back in time for the wedding. Don’t act like you’re worried about what would happen to her there.” Rosalyn was more than pissed about Godric’s revised “plans” for Sookie. Using Sookie to lure Roman to the party was one thing. Keeping her around was another.
“Have you eaten enough tonight?” he asked abruptly.
“Because you’re being churlish.”
She snorted. “You might as well ask whether I’m on my period.” His eyes dropped to her womb in confusion. “It’s a manner of speaking, Godric. Jesus Christ. Just because you don’t like what I’m saying doesn’t give you the right -“
“The right?” He quirked an astonished eyebrow. “You’re being downright insubordinate. Do not test my patience or I will teach you exactly what is within my right,” he threatened. “One second you’re criticizing me for having too many enemies, the next, you’re telling me to further offend the ruler of an entire species whose help we need by endangering his heir. Which is it?”
Rosalyn wished she had never floated the suggestion that Niall might want to manufacture a marriage between Sookie and Eric. Godric’s reaction was to do what he did best: convert his own fears into his enemies’ nightmares. “You don’t think parading Sookie in front of a bunch of power-thirsty monarchs at our wedding and calling her your asset endangers her?”
“Eric is the one claiming her, not me,” he said.
“No crap,” she said. “She will still be your responsibility – and she lives in a state where you’re consolidating our family’s power by installing Isabelle. How does that keep Sookie safe? How does that make us safer, come to mention it?”
Godric glanced furtively at the shut door. “As your maker, I command you not to share information about Isabelle’s loyalties or our plans for Louisiana.” Rosalyn shivered, then glared. Godric continued. “Niall installed Eric into Area Five without our knowledge to ensure we would look after her. It was a territory Eric wanted, but he was baited, all the same. By treating Niall’s actions as if they were an olive branch rather than an insult, we control his heir and we turn his power play on us into an indebtedness to us.”
“Not very useful if you can’t even freaking call him.”
“Watch your tone with me, Rosalyn,” he warned. “If you are angry that Sookie has been exposed to our world, it was Queen Sophie-Anne who exposed her the moment she sent an incompetent underling to steal her from under Eric.”
Rosalyn’s jaw tightened. “How long before Sookie is literally beneath Eric?”
“Claiming her is just a formality. You know that. Without Amleth, she is in imminent danger. I would claim her myself if I wasn’t occupied with you. She will be happier in her hometown in any event.”
“Eric is going to take a cut of her business.”
“It is only fair. The strain on his resources from hosting her vampire clients will be significant.”
“That’s not the only thing he’ll try to take. He will use her, Godric. She hasn’t asked for this.”
Godric stopped adjusting the pump dials and gave her his full attention. “Who are you trying to protect? The faeling or your bonded?”
“Both of them. Eric and that woman are a guaranteed disaster together. You were dead-set on keeping her away from us. Now you’ve drawn her into the heart of our House.”
Rosalyn’s words gave him pause. Godric studied her for a long moment. “Changing tactics in light of new developments isn’t a sign of weakness or uncertainty. It’s good leadership.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “We do need your approval, Ros. Don’t put me into an awkward position. I do not want to command you.”
Rosalyn astonished him with what she said next. While Godric had been busy terrifying prisoners in the jail and sneaking off the estate to place calls on Dallas’ few remaining payphones, Rosalyn had kept busy in the library. The Vampire Codex had proven a fascinating, if arcane, text. “Commanding me would put you in rather thorny legal terrain, wouldn’t it? As Eric’s bonded, my right to refuse his claim on Sookie is still trumped by your dominion as our maker. But as consort of the bloodline, I can make things ugly for you.”
Godric exhaled. He should never have assumed his second progeny would be easier than his first. His licked his lips, impressed. “If it was known that you had challenged my decision, it would make Sookie’s status as an asset uncertain. You would render her vulnerable. Is that your aim?”
“I’m not convinced that Eric claiming Sookie isn’t doing exactly what Niall wants.”
“I have considered this, my love. There is a longer strategy in play.”
“Enlighten me,” she said, crossing her arms.
“Niall gave up on this realm when industrialization made it uninhabitable for his kind – steelworks filled the atmosphere with iron. He will almost certainly not have troubled himself with the latest environmental reports.” A tiny smile curled at the corner of his mouth. Rosalyn knew that smile. That was pride perched there on his lips. “Global climate change will sink New Orleans and shift the American supernatural capital into Eric’s backyard. It’s going to happen soon. Sooner than everyone realizes. Eric will be ready.”
Rosalyn’s jaw dropped. “That’s why he lives in that dump. It’s a takeover.”
Godric tutted her. “It’s not a takeover if people come running for help. No one is listening to the warnings. If you want our family to be trusted publicly in a time of crisis and be in a position to ensure peace, you cannot make us weak in the present. Disagreement under our roof would very much signal weakness to others.”
“So you’ll silence my dissent with a command, all to help enlarge your baby boy’s empire.”
“I will not silence you. That compromises your authority as consort and undermines our order from within. I think integrating your mission into Eric’s plans could achieve wondrous things. Sookie could help further those goals. But the choice is yours.”
“Well. Who am I to question good leadership?” Rosalyn straightened the vines of tubing running from Amleth’s chest and gave Godric a pointed look. “It brought us here.”
Godric stretched his arms over the back of the couch in his underground studio. He waited in his robe and boxer briefs while Eric showered and Rosalyn changed into sleepwear. Eric trotted down the stairs, damp-haired. He paused momentarily when he saw the look on his maker’s face. Rosalyn was fussing in the armoire.
“Which one of you would like to tell me why you two are barely speaking?” Godric said. Eric and Rosalyn looked at each other. Rosalyn shrugged casually. She started to reply. “Stop there,” Godric said, before the denial could tumble out of her mouth. “Do not lie to me. Start over.”
His progeny glanced at each other again. “Don’t antagonize him,” Eric warned her.
Rosalyn took a seat on the couch. “It’s not anything we need help with, Godric.” She gave a reassuring smile.
Eric smirked. “She’s right. You’re hardly one to provide couples’ counseling.” His own joke amused him. He plopped down on Godric’s other side, ready for his night cap. In the lead-up to the wedding, Godric was feeding them both nightly to ensure they were as strong as possible.
Godric curled his fingers behind Eric’s ear. Eric leaned into the familiar touch. “I see,” Godric said softly. “You and your bonded are not communicating effectively.” The smile died on Eric’s lips. “So careless, Eric. You still give yourself away in what you choose to mock.”
Eric blinked and swallowed as though Godric’s disappointment had poisoned the air. “I have not done my best, Godric,” he began.
Rosalyn was not about to let Eric fall on his sword. “It’s my fault,” she offered. “I’ve been oversharing. Too sentimental. I’m not a very good vampire yet.”
Eric was not going to let Rosalyn dig herself into trouble either. “That is not strictly true. She stopped herself from feeding on Michael without assistance. I’ve never heard of a two-month-old capable of that. I certainly wasn’t, though I had no reason to try.”
“A deflection, Eric. That does not answer my question,” Godric said.
“Eric gave me his AB-negative stash hidden in the garage,” Rosalyn said. “It helped keep me satiated and out of trouble while you’ve been busy with the prisoners and the political fallout.”
Godric huffed. “According to you, all is well in paradise. Do not play me for the fool.”
Rosalyn put a hand on Godric’s knee. “Eric and I just need more time to grow accustomed to each other. We’ve been thrown together really quickly.”
“And that’s a dissimulation, love. Not quite an outright lie, but not a truth either. You’re getting rather good at that.” Godric traced a finger down Rosalyn’s arm, then folded his hands in his lap. “Alas, you both refuse to answer me, neither of you want me to interfere, and you’re both defending each other, all while being at odds with one another.” Godric pressed his lips into a line. “Do you know: neither of you hesitated a minute when I asked whether you might want to bond. Not a minute.”
Eric spoke up. “I recall many minutes of being fairly fucking blown away by your audacity.”
“I meant once you understood why I was suggesting it,” Godric amended. “And you will watch your tongue. Your bad habits set a poor example.”
“Yes, Maker,” Eric muttered.
“Eric, you have thrown yourself in front of this woman to protect her again and again. You’ve growled at me. Dropped fang at me. Me. Rosalyn, you stood up in Eric’s defense while you were mortal – against me – an ancient maker in a white-hot fury.”
“Sounds like you’re the common denominator, Godric,” Rosalyn said.
A deep furrow formed on Godric’s brow. “Are you arguing over me then? This is what I wished to avoid.” They both rushed to disagree. It was not him. “Make me understand, children. I cannot have us going into battle in this state.” Neither spoke. Their silence irritated him greatly.
“Someone is going to start talking or you’ll both go to ground regretting this night.” Rosalyn and Eric avoided his disbelieving stare. They said nothing. “Gods above. I am too old for this.” He started pacing the common area. “You’ve stopped sharing blood.”
Eric shrugged. “You’re feeding us. Why would we take it diluted when we’re getting it from the source?”
Godric gestured at the travel coffin on the floor. “You started taking your day rest on the floor. I know a man in the dog house when I see one.”
“I didn’t tell him to stop nesting with us,” Rosalyn said quickly. “I like it. I wake up feeling stronger.”
Godric nodded in comprehension. “So Eric is doing this in protest. What did you do, Ros?”
Rosalyn blanched. “I didn’t do -“
“Do not lie to me, little vampiress!” he said and she cowered. “A thousand years and two hundred more I have known that man. You anger me now with this business.”
“Maker,” Eric said calmly. “I know you think that Ros will be the weakest link here and that you’ll make her cry and get what you want, but she’s a tough little nut. I’d rather you didn’t crack her.”
Godric sputtered a foul oath in a lost language. He looked between the two of them and began laughing hysterically. When his fit finally subsided, he sat on the coffee table, facing them, still wheezing and grabbing his sides. He gestured for Rosalyn to scooch closer to Eric. “I am reminded of a story.”
Eric dropped his head back and closed his eyes. “Gods, let’s have it then,” he groaned. Rosalyn did not know she ought to prepare herself.
“There was once a boy who was locked in a cage with no food and a dog,” Godric began, an unsettling smile on his lips. “Locals came to place bets on who would eat who first.”
Rosalyn looked uneasily at Eric and he shook his head. Just listen, he said silently.
Godric continued. “The boy in the cage understood his predicament. People advised him to eat the dog. He had language, you see, but no sharp teeth. The dog, however, he needed only his stomach to know what he must do. He had sharp teeth, but could only bark. The dog barked at everyone who came near the cage to taunt them and their circumstances.
“When no one was listening, the boy told the dog a secret: ‘You have a heart,’ he said, and he convinced the dog to cuddle with him. As the boy slept, the dog kept watch. Though the dog could not tell the boy a secret, he shared one anyway. He had a coat, and it kept them both warm. In the morning, the boy told the dog to be quiet, and though the dog did not understand the boy’s advice, he still listened. He did not bark and people came closer to the cage to tease and to talk. Days passed and neither the boy nor the dog had attacked each other, and the crowd grew bored with the spectacle. The master, confused as to why his survival game had failed and unable to collect more bets, freed the boy and the dog.”
Rosalyn blinked in understanding. “The boy was getting food from the spectators who came close and feeding himself and the dog. An unlikely friendship allowed them to survive.” She was proud to have figured out the odd riddle.
“What happened to the master,” Eric asked, looking at Ros. She really, really needed to learn about Godric’s stories.
Godric smiled. “The boy fed him to the dog.”
Rosalyn blanched. Eric slowly rolled forward off the couch. He squeezed Rosalyn’s shoulder, went to the travel coffin, and chucked the pillow he had been using back on the bed. “What Godric means, lillasyster, is that he’s going to lock us up together until we sort ourselves out.”
“Wait, what?” she said.
“This would be a prime example of how Godric solves things ‘the Godric way’,” Eric said.
“With one exception,” Godric said. He held out a hand to Rosalyn and he pulled her to her feet. “No one will be eating the master.”
“I see.” She twined her arms around his neck. “It’s fine. I get it. You’re unhappy with us. We don’t deserve your blood tonight.” Eric cleared his throat unnecessarily. “That is the moral of the story, right?” she said.
“No,” Godric replied, his eyes round and bright. “There is no master here, for one very simple reason: I was the boy.”
Rosalyn was speechless. Godric was not bluffing. He stood at the top of the stairwell. “You have less than an hour before dawn. Use it well.” He waited.
Eric nudged her. “I’m the uncommunicative dog in this scenario, poppet. He wants you to ask him for advice.”
“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” she said. “Godric, I am not playing your survival game.”
Godric smiled. “Oh yes, you are, young one. You will play it every night of your existence.”
“Stop calling me young one. Stop calling me child and little vampiress while you’re at it. I hate it.”
“Stop swearing like your sailor brother and I’ll take it under advisement.”
Rosalyn clenched her teeth. “What are we supposed to do while we’re locked in here? Kill each other?”
“I’d suggest you try communicating first. But if you cannot, then yes. Pretend to kill Eric as if he were human, then resuscitate him fully. Drain him at the femoral artery. I know you were looking forward to having me teach you myself. Since you’ve been unhappy with my leadership, I’ll forgo supervising this lesson.”
“What?” she said in disbelief.
“Tick tock,” he replied and the door clicked behind him. The security panel did not flash as usual.
“He did not,” she said.
“Oh, yes he most certainly did,” Eric said, sounding far too amused by the situation. Godric had actually locked them inside the studio.
Rosalyn sunk back to the couch and pressed her fingers against her eyes. “Vindictive, psychotic bastard…”
“You don’t know the half of it. What did you do to challenge his authority? He specifically said ‘his leadership’.”
She growled in frustration and dropped her head further into her hands. “I can’t believe he would be so petty!”
Eric squatted in front of her. “Ros, look at me. He’s not being petty. There’s a lesson to be learned here. Let’s get through this quickly. You have to tell me what you did.”
“Why?” she said.
“It’s part of the cipher.”
“It’s how we get the room unlocked and get back into Maker’s good graces. Do not test him. He will literally keep this going until we satisfy him. Whatever you said or did, he suspects it is at the root of why we’ve argued.” Rosalyn did not reply. Eric sat down next to her. “Fine. Let’s start with why you defended me to him instead.”
“What does it matter? You defended me too.”
“I know why I did. I can only assume you jumped in front of that proverbial crazy train out of ignorance.”
“I’m an adult, Eric. Whatever our problems, they are ours. Godric doesn’t get to third wheel us whenever he wants.”
Eric laughed. “I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what Godric gets to do. He made us, baby girl.”
“We made us, too.”
Eric hummed suggestively. “Feeling possessive, are we?”
She ignored him. “Why did you stick up for me?”
“Possessiveness, of course. Godric was setting you up to incriminate yourself. No one sabotages my bonded if I can help it, not even my maker.”
Rosalyn was not sure what to make of that. “He was serious about that story being true, wasn’t he?”
Rosalyn’s fangs dropped. “Tell me.”
Eric shook his head. “I am not at liberty to say.”
“He’s commanded you.”
Rosalyn sucked at her fangs. “Thinking about him cold and vulnerable makes me…feel very much like a vampire.”
“There is always a grain of truth in the creeptastic Parables of Godric. But it’s a parable, all the same. Forget about what is and isn’t true. It’s a puzzle he’s constructed to mirror our ‘predicament,’ as he so sweetly put it. We have to solve it.” Eric chuckled to himself. “I’m almost charmed to be caught in one of Godric’s games again. Then again, it was never my idea of fun.”
“You know, most women who are days out from their wedding would be hanging out of the back of a stupid rental limo with their drunk girlfriends or waiting for a gaggle of male strippers to arrive. Having my husband lock me up with a Viking and a Rubix’s cube of a riddle is not what I expected.”
A wrinkle of concern crossed Eric’s brow. “Pamela said you did not want a bachelorette party – that you did not value these new nuptial traditions.”
Rosalyn balked. “Since when are you my wedding coordinator?”
“It is my job to know these things. If Pamela has disappointed you, I’ll -“
Rosalyn shook her head. “It’s nothing like that. My friends are all from work. I’ve been too buried in my passion projects and my ideals to invest in close friendships.” She shrugged. “Nobody gives a damn that I left Portland.”
He hummed. “They’ll care when they hear why.”
“Exactly. It won’t be because they missed me, Mr. ‘America’s Sexiest Vampire’. It will be because they’ll want to mingle with my new family. Who needs friends like that?” she said.
Eric was not inclined to disagree. “I knew you had Google stalked me.”
“So how does this work? Do I take a big sip from you and we’re in the free and clear, or what?”
He shook his head and chuckled again at Godric’s cunning. The man was devious. “I can walk you through what we’re supposed to do easily enough.” He stood with a grin. “You’re going to get your bachelorette party after all.” With a single jerk, he pulled his black tank top off.
“Eric,” she warned. There was a blur of movement and a pair of sweatpants hit her face. She threw them aside. “I swear to god, I may actually kill you.”
“Oh, come on,” he drawled, shaking his hips. The package in his silk boxers waggled obscenely. “Your lady friends would be green with envy. All this is yours.” He turned slowly beneath the recessed lighting, hands held open inviting inspection.
Rosalyn crossed her arms and sunk into the couch cushions. “Maybe your ego is big enough to break us out of this room.”
He slid beside her in a flash and slung an arm over her shoulders. “Want to know what else is super-sized?” he whispered in her ear. Rosalyn whipped around to strike him. He caught her wrist easily. “And we’ve arrived at the problem between us.” She glared at him. “You want me, Ros. Let’s get it out of the way, so we can move on.”
“There is nothing attractive about your behavior towards me. That you don’t get it, that you think my brain and my panties are going to spontaneously combust in the glorious presence of your -“
Eric crushed his mouth to hers in a heated kiss and wrenched backwards just as quickly. “Ow!” he yelped. Blood dripped from his lip.
“How dare you assault me!” Rosalyn was on her feet, fangs bloodied.
“Never! Ros…” He lapped at his lip, his face screwed up in confusion.
“What the fuck is wrong with you!”
“I apologize. I made a mistake.” He was genuinely rattled. He searched the floor, as if he might find the answer there. “There is something I am missing. I’m locked down here too. Godric has a lesson for both of us.”
“I should freaking hope so! Shame on him for raising such a barbarian. Shame on you! That was inexcusable.”
“Forgive me, Ros. I’ve dishonored myself.” He bowed his head. “I was trying to point out that there is sexual tension between us. I think it is partly what Godric wants us to resolve.”
“So you thought, what, you’d act on it non-consensually? Check the year on your calendar, asshole!”
He swallowed. “I was only trying to show you that I am open to your interest. To give you permission to – “
“That’s not how it works! I give my own permission!” She growled in outrage. She perched on the armrest at the far end of the couch and waited.
“Do you think you are the first of Godric’s lovers to look at me? We have shared many, many women. And vice versa. He invariably took whomever he wanted from me.” Seeing she was neither impressed nor pleased, he added, “But none of them were you. And we have evolved.”
“Have you? Just because I acknowledged our bond doesn’t mean you’re entitled to booty calls with me.”
Eric paused in thought. “Your attraction to me angers you. You lash out at me. You believe it is a betrayal, even though I am Godric’s and I am yours and you are ours. We are one in the blood.”
“You are phenomenally off track, Eric. You love the attention. You expect everyone’s instant adoration, and you lord over people’s weakness for your looks as a way to control them. It’s arrogant and unappealing, and it pisses you off that I’m not so easily controlled.”
His face darkened. “You want your attraction to me to be special. To mean something more than every forgettable creature that has crossed my path. But it isn’t special. Sex is just animal lust. It does not set you apart -“
Rosalyn cut him off before he could explain himself. “What a surprise, Eric. You’re a cold, dead bastard and your attentions are meaningless. And you wonder why I don’t want to be treated like one of your fangbangers.”
“You dare call my treatment of you meaningless?” A growl tore from his chest and he shot to his feet. He stalked toward her. “What more could you possibly want from me, woman? I have given you my wealth. I have given you my blood oath. I have given you nothing short of my soul and my life in giving you my maker. There is nothing left of me to take and yet still you want more. You contemptuous creature! My brother’s life sits on a knife’s edge because of you!”
Eric towered over her and she shrunk in horror. “You blame me for Amleth?” she gasped.
“Do you not see what you have done to us? Our bonds are what motivate us. Our motivations are how we are exploited. You, Rosalyn, are one gaping fucking motivation,” he said, growling in her face. “We have been under near constant attack since you came barreling into our lives.”
“Barreling?” she said. “You dragged me into this!”
“To save Godric’s life!” He prowled the room like a caged beast. “Stop advertising our weaknesses. Stop exposing our vulnerabilities. Stop picking and prying at centuries of our kinship for your own dreamy satisfaction.”
“I am not trying to undermine you,” she cried.
“But you are!” he said. “Everything is supposed to drip with fucking meaning in your ridiculous head and yet you ignore the significance of what we do for you. You want me to go around like a raw nerve, made weak as I was when you nearly fucking denatured in my arms. You and your precious sentiment. You are going to get us all killed!”
Rosalyn burst into tears. “Love isn’t weakness!” she said and curled into a ball.
Eric filled the air with a foul smattering of Norse and he angrily set upon the kitchenette to fix himself a drink. His anger shook through his bond with Rosalyn. She wiped at her tears and steadied herself. “The secrecy in this family is toxic,” she said. “Godric taught you to be this way and he knows he was wrong. One of the last things Amleth told me was how you didn’t understand that. Everyone in this House shares everything with each other except their emotions. Love isn’t leverage, Eric.”
Eric swirled the dregs of the drink in his glass, his artic eyes hidden behind gold lashes. “It is fear,” he said, almost inaudibly. He looked up at his sister, his bonded, the mistress of his bloodline. His features were stone. “It is the specter of loss and I hate it more than anything.”
“The loving? Or the fear of losing?” she asked.
“Is there a difference?” he said.
She blinked in comprehension and softened. Eric Northman did not admit fear. His hardness was a measure of how deeply he cared. His actions were the wellspring of his intent, truer than any of the thousands of fading human words he knew for love. “Come here, you donkey,” she said. He did not move.
Rosalyn went to him and crawled into his lap. He begrudgingly allowed her to pull him into a hug. Slowly, he relaxed beneath her touch. Their skin thrilled in recognition as it always did. The pull of their shared magic was irresistible, drawn together even more tightly by the pull of their bond. She pressed her forehead against his. “You don’t have to say it for me. I’m sorry.”
He buried his face in her neck, eyes closed. His lips moved silently against her throat. “I do love you,” he mouthed. “I don’t like saying it.”
She tightened her arms around him. “You’re going through hell right now. But you’re not alone. I’m here.”
“First Maker nearly left. Then you tried to die on me twice. And Amleth. I cannot process it, Ros. It cannot exist in my world. If Amla is lost…”
“He is not lost,” she said. “We aren’t going to let that happen. Don’t lose hope.” Rosalyn stroked the back of his head and he exhaled. “Please don’t think I take for granted what you’ve shared with me. I appreciate you, Eric, immensely. I need more time to honor all that you’ve given me.”
“You’ll need an eternity,” he whispered.
She laughed quietly. “You’ve got it.”
“Ros?” he said, very serious. He pulled away to see her clearly. “You swore an eternity to me when you became my bonded companion.”
“In a century, three days before your Awakening Night, I want you to ask me about our bond again. Ask me what it means, what to expect. Ask me if I really care.”
A ball of anxiety formed in her stomach. “Why?”
“In a hundred years, you will have your first taste of eternity. We will celebrate our Bonding Night and laugh about the adventures we have shared. Then I will tell you to ask me again what it is to be bonded to me in another century. And so it will go on. Only then will you start to appreciate what forever means when I say it.”
Rosalyn bit her lips and nodded.
“You are the blood of my blood. My lillasyster. My confidante. My co-conspirator. My someday lover. We will be all things to each other in time. But there is one thing you will always be all of the time. You are mine, Rosalyn.” She felt the blood tingle cold in her face, shocked by the gravity in his deep voice. He ran a thumb over her cheek. “Do not ever let me hear you speak of breaking our oath again.”
He stared at her forcefully. The power in his aura flared around them. Release. Renunciation. They were not words spoken in his presence. “I understand,” she said. She hugged him again, whispering apologies in his ear and running her hands through his hair.
He started chuckling. “This is the part of the puzzle where the boy cuddled with the dog.”
She looked at Eric in surprise, perched as she was in his embrace. “Your secret. When we argued, I more or less told you that ‘you had a heart’.”
He smirked. “And I just kept barking.”
Rosalyn sat back. A chill ran down her spine. “Godric knows.”
“He knows.” The amusement faded from Eric’s eyes. “He knows what is troubling us. He knows how we should fix it. He is ten steps ahead of us. He always knows.”
A protracted silence drew out between them. “How does he do it?” she finally asked.
“If I had learned everything he had to teach me, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” He exhaled through his teeth. “It’s unsettling shit like this that makes it difficult when he’s actually wrong once or twice in a millennium.”
She dropped her voice into the barest whisper. “He’s something more than vampire, isn’t he.” The chill creeped over her again and she saw the hairs raise on Eric’s arms. Their eyes met and slowly, very slowly, Eric gave a slight shrug. Neither dared say more.
Well,” she said. “We had better not disappoint him.”
Eric looped his arms easily around her waist. “A human can’t survive losing over forty percent of their blood volume without massive intervention. This is what I am supposed to teach you.” He quickly gave her the formula for estimating blood volume and explained how to adjust it for various body types. “You asked whether you needed to take a ‘sip’ of me for Godric to free us. As I was trying to point out to you before you very rudely assumed I was talking about my cock, I am a very big boy – almost 99kg of pure Scandinavian muscle. Simulating hypovolemic shock in me – the point of no return – is more than a ‘sip’.”
“Okay? I’ve had that much from you before.”
“Not when you weren’t sick and bleeding out.” Eric gave her a long, appraising look. “Drinking that much from each other? Near the femoral artery? It will be intense. It will be intimate. You think we are in each other’s heads now? Just wait.”
Rosalyn let out a very choice word.
Eric laughed. “I almost had it right. I was just being lazy and skipping to the answer. The boy and the dog in our parable communicate differently. One’s verbal, the other is physical.”
She filled in the blanks. “I blab about love, you bark about sex, neither of us realizing we’re arguing about the intimacy of our bond.” She swore again. “The solution is both verbal and physical too.”
“Just like our bond, poppet.”
“We’re bound with words and deeds.” She bit back an embarrassed smile.
Eric licked his lower lip. “At this point in the game, if you shy at the obvious physical half of the solution and want to talk about it endlessly, we will just continue arguing and find ourselves at an impasse – yet again.”
Rosalyn nodded in understanding. “And if you hadn’t just fessed up to actually giving a damn, we would keep butting heads. Godric wasn’t giving us an option. We have to do both.”
“Godric always get what he wants, in the end. It’s an elegant puzzle, is it not?”
“It’s completely obnoxious.” Rosalyn slid off his lap. She fell quiet for a long moment. “Us reconfirming our bond – it’s not just what Godric wants, is it. You want it too.”
“Yes,” he said simply.
“Will he pitch a fit if we don’t follow his directions to the letter?”
“Well, here’s to living dangerously.” Rosalyn had done the math. There was almost six and a half liters of blood in the Viking. There was no way she could manage to half drain him without barfing. She was not going to risk Eric’s wrath by spilling him all over the area rug. She pulled him off the couch and he followed her to the bed, his curiosity peaked.
Eric spread his long frame on the mattress, head propped on a bent arm. Rosalyn sat by his feet, legs tucked beneath her. He was an intimidating prospect. She slid beside him and ran a hand over his chest, the dusting of gold hair sprinkled there soft. His nipples tightened under her touch. She stretched out and crooked a leg in invitation.
Eric raised an eyebrow. “You naughty kitten,” he said. He reached down and stroked the downy arch of her thigh. “Am I to believe you want me to revisit my spot?”
“Consider it a show of my faith and appreciation. Explain what you’re doing and I’ll take back what you’ve had afterwards,” she said.
Eric did not need encouragement. He perched over her instantly, eyes roving over her nightgown in consideration. He leaned down and scented her deeply. He let his fangs drop and he dragged them over her skin, from her collarbone down her chest. “Behave yourself,” she said unsteadily, gooseflesh rising from his prickling touch.
He put his mouth to her ear. “I am behaving – like your bonded,” he said. He held her gaze and held her wrists and dropped back down to her chest. Teeth sunk into her collar. Her back arched at the sudden pleasure of his bite. He withdrew his fangs slowly, letting the punctures heal without drinking a drop. “You are mine,” he said in a low voice. He rucked her nightgown roughly over her hip. “There will be a night, my bonded, when there won’t be an inch of your body that doesn’t know the thrill of my claim on you.” The deep timbre of his voice went straight between her legs and Rosalyn clenched in anticipation. Eric hummed a laugh, knowing precisely what effect he had on her.
“But not tonight. Not for many nights to come. Until then, you’ll remember this, and you won’t doubt what I am to you and what you are to me.” He bit her again, slowly, undrinking, making her watch his teeth penetrate her. “Harder,” she said breathlessly, so quiet Eric was almost unsure he had heard correctly. He obliged, sinking his large fangs into her several more times, claiming her in growling, decadent nips that left her gasping.
He traveled further south between her thighs and ghosted a kiss over her femoral artery. “I haven’t done this in a very long time.”
“It wasn’t but two months ago that – “
“A vampire,” he clarified. He settled in, his broad shoulders spreading her wide.
“Sookie,” she blurted out. Eric’s head popped up. “You wanted to know what I did to challenge Godric’s authority. I told him I don’t approve of your claiming Sookie. I know I can make trouble as consort.”
“Now why would you object to my having the little fairy princess? Are you jealous?”
“Ugh, Eric. Sit up. I really can’t talk seriously while you’re inches from my crotch.”
“So conservative for a hippy.” He nibbled her inner thigh and she squeaked. “I’m busy here. We can chat later.”
Her head fell back into the pillow. “She’ll hurt you, Eric. She’ll get under your skin and make a mess of things. If you and I have this much trouble communicating, she will be a nightmare for you.”
“Okay,” he chirped.
“Okay?” she said, confused.
He shrugged. “Advise me how to proceed and I’ll heed your preferences. But later, baby girl. You’re interrupting.”
Rosalyn was amazed. “Just like that?”
“Just like that.” He smiled beatifically. “I’m incredibly easy to work with when you meet me halfway,” he said. Then he licked a stripe clear up to the crease of her groin.
Rosalyn grabbed a hank of his hair. “Eric!”
“Mmm, that’s more like it.” He gazed up at her. “I cannot help that this is an erogenous zone. It is no doubt why you’re aching to feed here.” He traced the line of the artery beneath the skin and pressed a thumb into it. “Are you paying attention to me or are you thinking about how Godric is going to rail you after watching you finally bite his little doppelganger hunk between the legs?”
She made a garbled groan of a sound. In a flash, Eric rolled her over and settled a lightning-quick smack on her ass. He was back where he had been in a blink. “Pay attention. It is much easier to accidentally kill someone here. You’re liable to get carried away. Do not bite into this artery.”
Her face flushed cold in shock and she started laughing. “How do you know that’s what Godric wants to do?”
“You seem surprised that I know about your maker,” he said. “He is wicked.”
“He is delicious,” she countered.
“He’s a pervert.”
“He’s creative,” she murmured. Eric’s teeth were poised to strike.
“He’s undoubtedly burning with jealousy and lust knowing I’m about to do this…”
A/N: Thoughts? Theories? Let me know! Reviewers get one very thirsty Godric reclaiming what is his. I thought this chapter would take us straight into the wedding, but things were transpiring within Godric’s troubled estate that couldn’t be ignored. Looking forward to hearing from you. xx, M