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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chapter 58 ~ Tara Departs

Sookie stood at the counter sipping on a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. The afternoon sun was softly filtering into her kitchen washing her cabinets and walls with its honeyed light. In the quiet stillness, she enjoyed the absence of the hum of voices usually about and focused on the frothy sweetness of her drink. She looked longingly at her coffee pot and smiled ruefully, but contented herself with the fact she would be getting fresh juice in its stead. She had to admit there were definitely some perks to this “going green” that Ludwig was insisting on. As she drank, she let her mind revisit the events of the previous night.

After she'd pointed out how Sargon had to be using technology to spy on them, and then their enemy had called to confirm that theory, Eric had reluctantly allowed everyone into her bedroom to finish their discussion on how to proceed with strengthening their forces. No one understood why the statue of Isis protected her bedroom, but it was a tool they couldn't afford to pass up … even if Eric had stated quite bluntly that he hated how everyone was fouling their bedroom with their own scents. Sookie had told him to grow up and burn a candle; they had bigger problems.

It had been decided that since the small statue of Isis protected Sookie's bedroom, there was no reason to believe that other such relics wouldn't do the same. That theory was only strengthened when Sookie related that Sargon had planned the attack in New York to see if the old gods were helping her. She suggested that maybe the gods used their statues or artifacts to channel their remaining power to help shield her. The theory had merit, and Eric ordered that they round up every god and goddess statue available to be sent to Sookie's. He would surround her home if he had to, but he would make sure Sargon stopped watching Sookie. Ahmose had been the easiest to contact and the former Pharaoh said he was coming to aid Eric in person and would bring his temple's statues with him and the guard he was bringing along.

The night's discussion and planning session had lasted till dawn. Literally. Han and Ivan had just barely made it back to the guesthouse to reach shelter before the sun's rays could do them harm. Eric had also headed down to their home's underground lair after pulling Sookie aside and insisting that he wanted to speak to her privately when he rose.

She had taken a deep breath as he took her face in his hands but he made no attempt to kiss her. Simply held her and she was damned if she didn't find it comforting and arousing at the same time. She'd lifted her eyes to his, the blueness of his eyes boring into hers.

Eric's voice had been pure determination as he'd told her, “You and I need to talk. Sargon's appearance has waylaid my intended conversation but I will not allow it to be postponed again.”

She'd sighed and chewed her lip as she'd replied, “Eric, I've made my stand and I'm not budging. If you're not intending to apologize, we have nothing personal to say to each other.”

“Sookie,” he said, momentarily distracted by the pull of dawn. He shook his head tiredly. “You are not understanding my position and what is required to keep us safe. We will discuss this. Tonight.”

“O-kay,” she'd exhaled slowly. “We'll talk and I will listen, which I sometimes think is more than you are willing to do.” She had hurried on when she sensed him about to argue. “I honestly don't think I'm up for it, Eric: I'm tired. Really, really tired.”

He'd studied her anxiously. “You're stronger than any other human I know, Sookie.”

His strong arms had gone around her and he drawn her into a tender, protective embrace. He'd inhaled the warm, earthy scent of her skin as his lips softly kissed her hair. She'd held on tight, feeling his pent up passion, his loneliness … but not his regret. She'd known that he wanted to end the animosity between them but he felt no culpability.

She'd pushed him away and frowned as she told him, “Nothing has changed, Eric. Until it does, I would appreciate it if you honored my desire to keep some distance between us. I mean it, there will be no sex and we're not sharing a bed until you apologize. Tonight I needed you, and I thank you for being strong for me, but now I need space again. I'm still hurt by what you did. I want things to be fixed between us just as much as you do, but I'm not backing down. You'd best keep that in mind.”

Ignoring him was impossible but god, she'd been so tired at the moment. Bone deep tired. She felt as if she were a horse that had been rode hard all day and put back in her stall without a proper rub down. Every part of her had ached. Her heart ached because she couldn't find comfort in her mate due to his own damn hard head. Her body ached from the constant state of tension she'd endured over the past three days that had done nothing but shatter her world. Her head ached from the constant, never ending, terrible worry that consumed it. Really, 'tired' hadn't begun to describe her at that point.

Eric had given her a long, lingering look, and she'd felt him testing the bond, gauging her condition, before he'd finally nodded his head, and stated, “We will speak tonight.” He'd left it at that, placed a last kiss on her brow, and left for the underground lair.

After the meeting ended, the vampires gone to ground, and the daytime guards had all arrived, Sookie gave her profuse apologies to her newest guards who she hadn't had time to get acquainted with as she'd promised she would and begged them to understand that she needed to grab a few hours of sleep. They'd assured her that they understood and were not offended in the least so Sookie headed upstairs to lie down. Unfortunately she'd woken up after only a few hours when her stomach rumbled and demanded appeasement. Apparently her son was just as demanding as his father and when he wanted something he wanted it NOW. So she'd gotten up and headed downstairs for breakfast and her timing couldn't have been more perfect.

Just as she was making her way down the stairs, her daytime were guards entered the house carrying armloads of groceries and supplies that Bobby had procured first thing as per Eric's instructions. Her guards had also informed her that the two milk cows had been delivered. A Holstein and a Jersey. There were also a dozen chickens ready to produce her all-natural eggs, and her Were guards were already well under way setting up her greenhouse that Eric had ordered overnighted. It was an industrial model with sectioning so that she could grow different produce from around the world. The structure was so large that Sookie would be able to have varying grow cycles for her fruits and vegetables so that she would never run low.


Sookie had been able to see the newest additions out the kitchen window. The chickens ambled around the yard around the entrance of her barn, picking at the ground for the seeds one of her Weres had tossed out for them to eat, and her cows were grazing in the opposite pasture from her horses. You couldn't really see the greenhouse yet. Since it was so large, it wouldn't fit on Sookie's property. Eric had apparently ordered for it to be erected on the land Sookie's guards had cleared around the acreage that was to the east of hers. It had always been dense woods before, but much of the land had been cleared the day before per Eric's orders to help form the perimeter around her home. Sookie couldn't help but smile. She literally had her own little farm going and once again she wished her Gran were alive to see how their old farmstead had transformed.

As Sookie enjoyed her fresh orange juice, her eyes traveled the countertops, floor and table bursting with grocery bags. Mangos, pears, figs, blueberries and bananas sat on the counter along with grapes, lettuces, sprout paks and bags of dried beans. She grabbed one of the organic muffins out of one of the grocery bags nearest her and broke off chunks to pop in her mouth as her eyes sorted the contents of some of the others. She noticed pomegranates and black cherries topping one grocery bag and cheeses, ruby red tomatoes, avocados and potatoes topping another. Rosemary, shallots, celery and onions shared another bag filled with brightly colored bags of pastas and peppers. Cabbage, cucumbers, radishes and carrots topped another. There were green beans, corn, asparagus and broccoli sharing a bag with a steamer. Bobby had been very thorough. Unconsciously she licked her lips. She drew brie out of a bag on the floor and unwrapped it to slice off a small wedge and lay it across her muffin and continued to eat as she took inventory. It was enough food to feed an army, she thought, and then grinned thinking, 'yes, exactly that'.

She let her mind go over all she had to get done today. Most importantly she needed to meet with her new guards and find out what they needed by way of living arrangements. Eric had made it apparent that he wanted that task taken care of as soon as possible, and Sookie agreed wholeheartedly. Not only because her ingrained Southern hospitality dictated it, but because they really couldn't afford to waste any time on anything to do with security. After that, Sookie was going to have to sit down and have a long talk with her friends. Eric had informed her that Sophie-Anne was gone, and if Tara and Eggs were going to leave, it needed to be now. He didn't want them around seeing the security measures he was putting in place if they were not determined to stand and fight. As much as Sookie disliked the idea of having to rush Tara along, she knew it was the right decision. She also needed to speak to Sam and Lafayette about their roles here. Eric had told her they were welcome to stay, but they would need to work for him. He did not believe in a free ride, and if they were going to stay, they would have to contribute in some way.

Sookie had offered several ideas. First, she suggested that they hire Lafayette as the cook. With so many guards, not to mention her own hectic and sporadic schedule, she might not always be able cook proper meals for herself and her guards as she had been. She'd told Eric that Lafayette was a wonderful cook and knew all of her favorite foods. At first, Eric had chastised her for cooking for her guards in the first place, telling her that it was a menial task and far beneath her status, ordering she never do it again. She just hadn't had the energy to stand up to his pig headedness over every little thing at this point, and would choose another time to argue with him over his views as what was right or wrong for her to do. When she'd offered no comment on his opinions, Eric had said as long as Lafayette knew she was to eat only all-natural foods it was fine with him. Sam was another matter. Eric felt he'd be a better use continuing along with his normal routine as much as possible. Eric didn't think Sookie's idea of adding Sam to her list of guards utilized him as well as making him their eyes and ears in Bon Temps to report back the talk in the town. Her Viking had pointed out that Sam was a common enough fixture that folks would speak freely in front of him so he could monitor the townspeople to make sure none of them turned against her.

The conversations with Sam and Lafayette she expected to go quite easily. The conversation with Tara? She was not as eager. Sookie was very apprehensive about the talk and subsequent goodbye she was going to have to share with her lifelong friend, but she knew it was something she needed to do. When she'd discussed it with Eric last night before he went to ground she'd asked him if she could give Tara and Eggs money to run with. Her Viking had made it apparent that he was not fond of the idea, feeling that her friend was being a coward and traitor, but Sookie's pleading expression had him quickly agreeing. He was desperate to make things right between them, and if money for her friend would soften her resolve towards him any it was an easy concession. So Eric had agreed to please her.

Now, as Sookie considered all she had to get done today, she heard the back porch screen door open before clanging shut. Turning, she watched Liam, one of her new daytime guards and the captain of the fae guard enter with her friends trailing behind him. Liam was still dressed in his fae armor and Sookie made a mental note that Eric wanted her to arrange for them to have clothing that would help them blend in. She was sure that Lafayette would be only too happy to oblige her by taking her Fae guards measurements so her Were guards could go into town to pick up clothing for them. No doubt Lafayette would suggest he needed to double check, then triple check his measurements just to make sure he got the right fit. Shaking her head at her foolish thoughts, Sookie focused on her guard and greeted, “Morning.”

Liam nodded his head at his High Queen and announced, “Your majesty, your—“

Shaking her head in refusal, Sookie interrupted, “I thought we covered that whole 'your majesty' nonsense yesterday, Liam?”

Offering the woman that would literally change the universe a soft smile, Liam said, “Forgive me, Sookie,” he tasted curiously, “formalities have been such a part of my world for so long it is hard for me to abandon them. I understand titles make you uncomfortable and shall endeavor to address you by your given name. However, be assured you are still my queen.” Indicating her friends, Liam continued, “Your friends wish to speak with you, and per our discussion last night, I thought you might like to get these proceedings out of the way as soon as possible.”

Thankful for his concern, Sookie agreed, “Yeah, I guess there's really no point in waiting. Uh … can you give us some privacy?”

Bowing, Liam assured, “Indeed, my la-Sookie. I shall alert the other guards that you are not to be disturbed.”

“Thank you, Liam.” Sookie watched her guard bow once more before he turned and left the house. Looking at her friends, she saw their stunned expressions. It was obvious to them that Liam was something more than human, and it was obvious to her that they were thoroughly confused as to why she was being referred to as “majesty” and “my lady”, and Sookie was just all around not happy about what was going to have to happen now.

Tara, true to form, was the first one to speak. Stepping forward she asked, “Sook, what the hell is going on? Why are all these people taking orders from you? And what's with the whole 'majesty' thing? They're acting like you're their queen or something.”

“I am,” Sookie confirmed, squaring her shoulders. Before Tara could say anything else, Sookie held her hand up to halt her and said tautly, “Hold on, Tara.” Turning to Lafayette and Sam, she suggested brightly, “Why don't you guys get yourselves some breakfast or have some juice. Maybe you can help get some of the groceries put away? Sorry, but there's no more coffee in this house for a while. Not until we get some all natural coffee beans and a grinder. So you'll have to make do with whatever you can find in here. I'm going to take Tara up to my room and have a talk with her. Is that ok with you guys?”

Sam and Lafayette shared a look. Both were fairly certain they knew what the discussion Sookie needed to have with Tara was about, and neither was eager to take part in it. Since they had both already decided to make a stand, they simply nodded their heads as Lafayette replied, “Sure thing, Sookie. We'll do some organization in the kitchen, grab something to eat and chill with the TV. You come let us know when you're ready to talk to us.”

Sookie smiled at her friends before nodding her head at Tara and indicating she should follow her. A few minutes later they were both seated Indian style atop her bed. Sookie took a deep breath and steeled herself. Nothing about what she was about to say made her happy, but she didn't have the luxury of catering to Tara's quick temper or sense of outrage about all that had happened. She was a queen now and that meant she was going to have to make tough decisions and sacrifices for the greater good. Starting with telling her best friend in the world it was time for her to go.

Rallying herself as best she could, Sookie stated, “Tara, if you're going to go, it needs to be today. Bobby dropped off $100,000 in cash for you and Eggs to take with you, and Eric had a half million deposited into your checking account last night. Some of my guards will escort you and Eggs to your house to get anything you want to take with you and then they'll escort you out of town. If you want, they can take you as far as the state line, but after that you're on your own.”

Sookie swallowed past the pained and incredulous stare from Tara to finish. “You need to know, that once you leave here, I can't help you. If my enemies pick you up, if vampires or supes not loyal to me or Eric get you, I … I can't—I'm sorry, Tara, but I won't be able to bail you out. I know that makes me a bad friend, and I know you're only in danger because of me, but, well, like I told you before, I have far too much at stake. I'm sorry. Lord, you have no idea how sorry I am to have to say that, but it's just the way it is.”

Tara's eyes searched Sookie's for a moment before she asked, “So if I was in trouble and called you ….”

As Tara's words trailed off, Sookie's eyes sparkled with tears. Her answer was soft, her words and tone so laden with her guilt and sorrow they were practically a plea, but she forced them from her lips nonetheless. “I won't be able to help you Tara. I can't. When you leave, you're on your own.”

“Sookie, how can you be saying things like this? What is going on that has you ready to abandon everything you are? Your family and friends? What is after you that is turning you into this person I don't even recognize? Why the hell are all those things down there calling you majesty?”

“I can't answer that question, Tara. I'm sorry I'm sending you out in the world where my enemies are going to try and use you to get to me. I'm sorry who and what I am has caused us to have to part ways. I'm … Tara, I'm just sorry about everything, but things are the way they are and frankly I don't have time to lament the fact they're not different.”

Tara was silent a moment, her hand clenched the bedspread as she considered her plight. “What do I do now? Sook, I … I don't know if I can just leave like this, but I can't stay either. I feel like I'm being torn apart. I feel like I don't know what is right or wrong anymore. I feel like I don't know who we are anymore. I … I'm just really fucking lost right now, and I can't believe you're sitting here and telling me you won't help me. We've always helped each other. Always.”

Reaching forward, Sookie grasped Tara's hand. She looked at her friend imploringly. “I'm sorry you feel this way, Tara. I'm sorry things have come down to this, but I don't have time to cry over it. Really, I don't have much time to think on it at all. You know, you've seen, how my life has changed. You've seen that I have big problems and no ready answers. I'm just as lost as you, honey, and I'm doing what I have to. I'm fighting for me and the life I want.”

Squeezing her best friend's hand, Sookie continued, “And you, Tara? You're doing what you feel you need to do. I told you that I'm never going to be the Sookie you knew again. I can't go back. My life is changing. My home is changing. My wants and needs are changing. Hell, I'm changing faster than I can keep up with. I'm not saying I'm happy about all of these changes, but on the whole, what is happening to me is beyond my wildest dreams. I have a man that loves me, a man that is willing to give up everything to keep me safe, and I'm making a home with him. Like I said before, I have what I need to find happiness in life, Tara. You can't be happy here. Eggs literally can't stay. So you need to go. Go and fight with everything you are for your own happiness. That's all any of us can really do at this point.”

Eyes narrowing, Tara seethed, “Eric doesn't love you, Sookie! If he loved you he wouldn't treat you like a fucking pet!”

Sookie's own eyes narrowed as she released Tara's hand to clench her fists in her lap. “Tara, I know you're upset, and I know how things look to you, but the truth is you know next to nothing about what is going on. You don't know what is between Eric and me. You don't know anything about what Eric is doing for me, or has done for me. Truthfully, you've only seen Eric at his worst. I've seen all of him, and while he and I still have a whole mountain of personal problems to work through, it doesn't change the fact I'm madly in love with him and want to spend the rest of my life with him. It doesn't change the fact that Eric would lay his life down to protect me. Is he a jerk? Hell yeah he is, but he's proven to me he's capable of change and I mean to see him through that change.”

Teeth clenched, Tara insisted, “Sookie he's using that damn blood bond thingy you told me about to manipulate you! You would never love a man like that! Can't you see that this is all wrong! You're letting Eric manipulate you again.”

Sookie forced down the urge to argue. Their last moments together could not be only a memory of anguish and vitriol. Resolutely holding Tara's gaze, Sookie said quietly, “Tara, I'm not going to argue with you about this. I don't have the time or the energy. I have a lot to get done today, and as rude as this may sound, arguing with you over Eric just really isn't that important, and I can't waste my time on anything that isn't important right now. You have your view, and you're entitled to it, but I'm not going to let you scream at me to get me to see your side. I just don't have it in me right now.”

Crossing her arms over her chest, Tara countered, “You said you loved Bill too. You said you were willing to die for him too. Look how that turned out. What makes you think this is any different?”

Pain glistened in her eyes as Sookie whispered, “That was low, Tara. Really low.”

“Doesn't make it any less true. Now answer the question,” Tara steamrolled over her friend, anxiety, anger and disbelief fueling her words. “What makes you think you really love Eric? What makes you believe that all of this is real, not another vampire trick? What has you so ready to throw everything that has ever mattered to you, the people who have stood by you your whole life, away? How do you know you're not being played for a fool again?”

Biting back an angry retort, Sookie replied softly, evenly, “The only way I can prove to you that the path I'm taking is the right one for me is by telling you what is going on, and I've already told you why I can't do that. If you doubt my decision, that's fine. You have that right, especially given my past track record. You're right. Bill played me for a fool, and so did Eric, but what's going on right now makes Bill's betrayal trifling, Tara. It's why I have to grow up and stop reacting to things instead of acting after learning the facts, and it's why I'm telling you that I'm done arguing about this. You don't believe I'm right, and that's fine. I don't need your approval. I wish I had your blessing, but I'm not going to waste precious time or energy over it. I've made my decisions, and you've made yours. We are where we are.”

Tara could only stare at her friend in stupefaction. The Sookie sitting so calmly before here was one she didn't know. This Sookie didn't argue until she was blue in the face. This Sookie didn't react to verbal assaults. This Sookie … was acting like a queen. This Sookie was strong in a way Tara had never seen her. This Sookie was a whole new girl … woman, and Tara didn't know how to talk to her.

On one hand, she was proud of her friend for finally realizing her worth. She was proud of Sookie for finally refusing to let what others thought determine her course of action. This Sookie admitted her weaknesses, and, in spite of them, was determined to fight for what she wanted. However, on the other hand, Tara didn't think Sookie was making the right choices. Tara didn't believe that Eric was being truthful with her friend, she didn't believe that Sookie was fighting for the right things. With what she knew of Eric and his actions towards Sookie, Tara fully believed that he was simply using her friend, and she couldn't allow it. She needed to make Sookie see that Eric wasn't the great guy he had conned her friend into believing he was.

Suddenly Tara blurted out, “If you can't tell me what is going on, fine, but I can't leave here thinking Eric sees you as a pet. If he loves you like he says he does, I need you to prove it to me. If you can't prove to me he actually wants a life with you, then I'm going to leave here hell bent on finding a way to get you out of here. I'll cause as many problems for you and Eric as I can in order to get you out of this situation if you can't prove to me he loves you. I … I need to know I'm leaving you to someone that loves you, Sookie. Not someone that wants to use and manipulate you.”

Sookie sat still for a moment considering Tara's words. On one hand she was angry at the implied threat, but on the other hand she understood that Tara was trying to watch out for her. Finally, she decided that if their roles were reversed she would probably be demanding the same things as Tara. Deciding to answer her, Sookie wracked her brain for an answer to give her friend. She replayed her memories, pulling them out one by one, briefly savoring them like cherished family photographs before she went on to another and then another still. Most of the moments Tara was asking to hear of were far too personal to share. She would never betray Eric's secrets. Never speak to anyone else of the private memories he shared with her, so it was hard for her to come up with proof.
Finally, she offered, “He asked me to marry him. He wants to marry me in front of humans and vampires alike. He wants me to have his last name.”

“Bill wanted to marry you too. I need more than that … even though I can admit Eric doesn't seem like the marrying kind. It's still not enough proof.”

Sookie went silent. Her mind searched for further evidence before she finally decided she had no choice. She was going to have to share a part of her past with Tara she'd only shared with Eric. A part of her past that still hurt her to this day. Taking a deep breath, she looked solemnly out the window and began, “Did you know my mom used to beat me?”

Tara jerked back in shock. “What?!”

Nodding her head as tears slipped down her cheeks, Sookie explained, “I never told anyone before I told Eric … and now you. She … she was a drunk. She was so upset about how her life turned out, and she had such a hard time with me, with my gift and the consequences of it, that she turned to alcohol. She would start drinking every day the moment my dad left for work, and once she started drinking she would start in on me.”

Tara's mouth fell open in shock and outrage. “You never told me about that!”

“I didn't want to think about it. I … I didn't want anyone to think that about my mom. She had a hard life and she did the best she could for me.”

“Sookie! How the hell can you say that! She beat you! She deserves to be punished!”

Looking up at her friend, her eyes bright with tears, Sookie returned, “You see how you are now? Your immediate reaction? Eric reacted just like that. He went ballistic when I told him. He told me my parents were lucky they were dead or he'd torture them to death. What you're feeling right now is how Eric feels every time I get hurt. I could give you tons of other examples that prove his love for me, but that would be violating his privacy and I'm not going to do that. I love and respect him too much for that.”

When Tara remained silent, Sookie continued, “He forbids me to cry. He can't stand my tears and whenever I do cry he gets really upset. Buys me ice cream every time too.”

“Ice cream? Why the hell would he give you ice cream if you're crying? If anything, you'd need a tissue.”

Smiling, Sookie laughed, “He's got this foolish idea in his head that ice cream makes women stop crying. I think it's too cute to correct him.”

Wiping the tears from her eyes, Sookie pointed at the star picture on the wall. “He called in favors from vampire kings and queens all over the world to get several thousand people glamoured so that he could buy me a star. Apparently those 'Buy-a-Star' commercials aren't real, and my star is the first official star to ever be named after a person. Those vampire monarchs owed Eric favors for wars he fought, battles he's won, monsters he's defeated, and instead of gaining riches and power with those favors he spent them on me.” Fingering her diamond star pendant around her neck, Sookie whispered, “When I asked him why his answer was simple. He said he wanted to see me in the stars. He said it's where I belong.”

Looking deep into Tara's eyes, Sookie continued, “He demands I dream, Tara. He told me he wants me to want the world so he can give it to me. He tells me I'm beautiful and perfect. He hates that I work, and wants to take care of me. He thinks I'm really smart and challenges me to go as far as I can.” Sookie's face darkened. “And finally, it should be obvious that he loves me by the simple fact that he didn't kill you the other night.”

When Tara's eyes narrowed, Sookie's expression remained impressive. She insisted, “He wanted to. Believe me, Tara, you were closer to death that night than you've ever been before. If Eric didn't love me, if my heart didn't matter to him, you would have been dead before your corpse hit the floor the second you slapped him. Eric's a man of action, not words. He might not say he loves me, but that night he proved it by staying his hand. You insulted and assaulted him in front a room full of supernaturals. His love for me alone saved your life … even if the cost of your life meant I had to suffer.”

“And you're ok with that? You're ok with the fact Eric hands out death that easily? You're ok that the price of his love is your humiliation?”

“No, I'm not, and it's why he's on the couch until he learns he can't do that crap, but I am understanding. Eric is a thousand years old, Tara. He's spent that entire millennia believing that he is incapable of love. He's spent that entire millennia in a world where any weakness, and emotion is a weakness for supes, would get him and those he cares about killed. He's spent a thousand years living in a world where humans are cattle and vampires are supreme. I can't expect to undo that kind of mindset in a few months. That is a completely unrealistic goal. What is realistic is me sticking to my guns until Eric comes to the realization that we're equals on his own, because truthfully there is no getting Eric to see reason until he's damn good and ready. So does Eric love me? Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Is he ready to admit that fact? Hardly, but I'm willing to wait until he is. He deserves that much, and frankly, so do I.”

Shaking her head, Tara mumbled, “I just don't understand it, Sook, I really don't. He's—and you're—just shit, Sookie! I never imagined us in this position!”

Laughing, Sookie agreed, “Neither did I, Tara, neither did I. I can hardly understand any of this either, but I know I want it. Eric and the life I'm building with him are everything I want in life. Is our life perfect? Of course not, but it's right for us. We'll iron out the wrinkles as we go.”

Looking down at her hands, Tara asked, “How can you put up with it, though? The way he treats you? Sook, I know you don't think to highly of yourself, but you don't deserve to be treated that way. He … he forced you to your knees, Sook.”

Sookie took a shallow breath, unable to draw a deeper one as pain crossed her soft features. It was too soon to revisit the dark emotion of that night, the pain and humiliation she'd suffered at Eric's hands, his betrayal still burned, and she was determined it would not happen again and told her friend as much. “I can't stand it, and it's why I'm determined it will never happen again. I made my position clear to Eric, and I'm not backing down. I told him that until he can view me and more importantly treat me as an equal that we couldn't be lovers anymore. Right now in my mind we're allies. He and I are fighting for the same cause, the same end goal, but our romantic relationship is on hold until he gets his act together. He's not too happy with it but I'm not backing down. I've done far too much of that as it is and I literally can't anymore.”

“And will he take 'no' as an answer? Eric doesn't strike me as the type to be denied.”

Unbidden, another raw remembrance threatened her calm and she shuddered. Unwilling to divulge what had taken place between her and Eric when she had told him 'no' the other night, Sookie merely affirmed, “Eric won't ever force me to have sex with him, Tara. We … we talked about that. Again he's not happy with my decision to put our romantic relationship on hold, but he will abide by it. I'm not saying he won't act like a big ol' baby every time I tell him to take a hike when he tries to get frisky, but I'll deal with that as it happens.”

Tara bit her lip before asking softly, “What about Jason?”

Sookie flinched, shutting her eyes against this, the worst hurt. This most egregious, gaping wound, the immobilizing suffering that was the loss of her brother tore at her but she forced herself to respond. “Since you're leaving I can't tell you much. Security is really important right now, and believe me, it's not just Eric that is worried about it. As much as I love you, and trust you, I'm not willing to risk that you could be captured and be tortured for information that is vital to our safety here. Vital to getting Jason back from Sophie-Anne.”

When Tara's eyes went wide, Sookie continued, “I warned you this was real, Tara. Very real. Dangerously real. Once you leave here you will be on your own and will only have yourself and Eggs to depend on. All I can tell you right now is that everything that can be done to save Jason is being done, beyond that it's too dangerous to tell you. I'm sorry, but that's the way it is.”

Tears slipping down her cheeks, Tara whispered, “I don't know you anymore, Sookie, do I?”

Tara watched Sookie's muscles in her jaw clench. Her words pulsed between them reproachfully. Sookie conceded, “Tara, my world is changing, and I have no choice but to change with it. I'm sorry these changes have left us at a point where our paths no longer align, but that's just the way things are. I'll never be able to say I'm sorry enough that who and what I am is causing you to flee your home. I'll never be able to say I'm sorry enough that who and what I am is going to put everyone around me, everyone I care about, in danger, but that's just the way it is. I don't have time to lament what is or isn't anymore. I've got too much to do and not a whole lot of time to do it in. So this is it.”

“That's it? You're washing your hands of me? I can't stay and fight this fight I know nothing about with you so you're giving me money, sending me on my way, and telling me good luck but don't call for help? You're really saying these things to me?”

Her heart breaking, Sookie nodded stiffly. “If you want to break it down to the bare facts, then yes. That's exactly what I'm saying. I could point out that I've offered you a place here, protection here. I could point out the dozen or so obvious signs in my life that this fight is beyond me and I don't have much choice about taking part in it, but I'm just too tired to argue, Tara. You keep asking for answers I can't give you, answers I've told you could get you killed and endanger everyone here that is depending on me. You want answers that I can only give you in time and your impatience is making decisions in the place of facts you lack. As much as I want to be here for you, to help you, I can't. It would mean sacrificing everything and everyone else to do so, and despite my love for you, I'm not that selfish. I love you, Tara Thorton, but not at the expense of the world.”

“I just can't believe it's come down to this.”

“Neither can I, but this is our reality now, and hiding or denying won't help.”

The two lifelong friends stared off. For long moments they held one another's gaze, each trying to find something in the other's. Finally, Tara leaned forward and hugged Sookie. Hugged her hard and tight, putting all of her love into the embrace. “Eggs and I will go pack. We'll take that escort to our house to collect a few things, and then we're running.”

Returning the embrace, Sookie replied brokenly, “I love you, Tara. I hope we see each other again.” Pulling back, Sookie leaned over the side of the bed to grab a sheet of paper out of the nightstand that Eric had prepared for this moment. Handing it to Tara she explained, “Here's a list of ideas on how to stay hidden and how to hide from supes. I know you hate Eric, but he said these are the best ways to stay safe from his and now my world.”

Tara quickly scanned the list and saw helpful hints like staying in well populated areas. Staying in more expensive hotels that had better security measures. Not going out at night unless absolutely necessary. Using disposable cell phones, keeping on the move, and a whole slew of other tips. Pocketing the list Tara said, “So I guess this is it, huh?”

“Yeah. I guess it is.”

“Promise me you won't lose sight of yourself, Sook. You may be changing, and this change may be necessary, but that doesn't mean you have to lose yourself. Don't forget who you are. Don't forget your Gran and the lessons she taught you, taught us both … just … just don't forget you're still Sookie Stackhouse.”

“I won't Tara. I won't.”

...
...
...


Lafayette and Sam watched Sookie and Tara exit the kitchen and began to sort through the groceries. Sam opened the refrigerator and shot Lafayette a look of surprise to find it utterly emptied. Both knew there had been food in the refrigerator the day before, and wondered why it was empty now. Wondered why Sookie had felt the need to buy all new groceries, but decided it was the least of their concerns. They began at once, Lafayette tossing Sam items to be refrigerated and Sam filling the shelves.

At one point, Sam held up a pineapple, and asked, “The only pineapple I've ever seen Sookie eat are the little chunks in her Gran's Better-Than-Sex cake. What gives with all this stuff?”

Shaking his head, Lafayette replied, “I don't know. Sookie's always tried to steer clear of take out and pure junk food most of the time, but she's never been this concerned with her weight.”

As Sam nodded and began filling the crisper with the lettuce heads, Lafayette picked up two long cucumbers, twirled them in his hands and joked, “Of course, maybe she's got other reasons for some of this stuff. Since she's not gettin' any vamp lovin' maybe she's substituting?”

As Lafayette licked his lips and then shook the cucumbers purposefully, Sam could only laugh. “Lafayette! I swear you're as preoccupied with sex as vamps are! Don't you ever think about anything else?”

“My stunning wardrobe.” Tossing the vegetables to Sam to put in the crisper with the lettuce, Lafayette added, “And everyone thinks like I do, they're just too scared to admit it.”

“Heaven help us all if that's true.”

Within short order, the groceries were all put away and it had not gone unnoticed by either man that Sookie seemed to be going overboard with her health kick. Being the men they were, they were lamenting the loss of the munchies as well as the steaks as they now took inventory to surmise what could be put together to make a meal. Neither thought to check Sookie's ice cream freezer which had been emptied of the chemical laden substance and was now full of fresh deer meat, including venison steaks. They'd learn about those later. When they were done putting everything away, both men began looking through everything to see if there was anything they would like to eat.

Lafayette, now aware that Sam was a supernatural as well, looked to his friend for guidance. “Sam, man, we ain't had much of a chance to talk, but I was hoping you could answer some of my questions.”

 “Sure thing. Figured you'd be asking me some questions sooner or later. So what's on your mind?”

“What isn't?” Lafayette joked before he settled on a few pieces of fruit to eat along with some cheese wedges and a muffin.

“The least she could have done is let us have what she tossed. I mean, what's wrong with peanut butter? She even got rid of the canned tuna fish! And I don't know what's wrong with tortilla chips, they got zero calories,” Lafayette groused. He chuckled at the absurdity of complaining about the loss of the junk food when it was really the least of his concerns. “Oh god,” he laughed to himself, shaking his head. He looked up to find Sam grinning at him, sharing the thought. “Sam, tell me, is this really as dangerous as Sookie says it is?”

Sam nodded, sitting down with a container of organic hummus and unsalted whole wheat breadsticks. They each had a bottle of mineral water, each acknowledging silently the grim reality of no coke left in the house. Sam replied, “Most definitely. People are going to die, Lafayette. Eric and Sookie are preparing for war. I don't know against who, but considering they have pretty much the heads of the supernatural community taking orders from them, I'm guessing whatever is after us is major.”

Lafayette released a deep breath before pressing on. “Do you think I should run?”

“I think it would be the stupidest decision you could make. The only chance any of us have right now is Sookie and Eric. Like I said, I don't know what is going on, but it must be catastrophic to have The Ancient Pythoness pledging herself to Eric and declaring his word law. I told you who she is and the significance she holds in the supe world.”

“She was really that oracle chick? She's really thousands of years old? She really knew Alexander the Great?”

“Yes.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah, I'm right there with you. Probably a few rungs ahead of you on the hysteria ladder considering I know the significance of all this shit.”

Lafayette took a bite of an apple, following it quickly with a small wedge of cheese while Sam dipped a breadstick into the hummus and brought it to his mouth. They ate quietly for a moment before Lafayette asked, “Do you think he loves her?”

“Eric?”

“Yeah … the other night-what he did to her ….”

As Lafayette's words trailed off, Sam let out a weary sigh. He knew the situation Sookie was in with Eric was messy and complicated. Probably more than he could even imagine, but one thing was for sure … Eric loved Sookie. The big ass just wasn't willing to admit it, and Sam could understand why. There was very little room in the supernatural world for love, and it usually only caused pain.

Sam finally nodded his head and replied, “Yeah, he loves her, he's just too stupid to realize it. Knowing Sookie, she'll make him fess up. Believe it or not, what Eric did that night was expected of him. In the supe world, power and subservience are everything. Really, if Eric didn't love Sookie, he would have killed Tara for speaking to him like that. More than likely, really slow and brutally. The supe world is unforgiving, Lafayette. Mistakes tend to cost lives, and considering the state of things right now, it's best we all do our best not to make any mistakes.”

“If it's that dangerous here, Sam, why are you staying?”

“Why are you?”

Lafayette thought about it for a moment before offering, “I don't run. I am what I am and won't let anyone tell me different. Sookie has always accepted me, and that's saying a lot since she can literally see the real me all the time. I can't leave here knowing she's in this kind of danger. I can't leave her to face this shit alone. She's saved my life more than once, and never once asked anything in return. The least I can do is not run at the first sign of danger … well, signs really. Big, huge, horned, fanged signs.”

Sam laughed at Lafayette's small attempt at humor. “I guess you can say I'm of the same mindset. I've been running my whole life, and I'm tired of it. I've made my home here. You and Sook are the closest thing to family I've got. I'm not going to give it up without a fight. And frankly, anything Sookie is willing to sacrifice her life, her home, and her family for must be worth it. So I'll stand with her.”

The two men shared a look of camaraderie, before Lafayette murmured, “I just wish we could get Tara to see reason. I talked to her until I was damn near blue in the face the other day, and she wouldn't budge. She's determined to go with Eggs.”

“And there's not much we can do about that. Tara has been through a lot lately, Lafayette, and it's left her in a strange place. I can understand why she wants to go, and I can understand why she thinks it is the best idea for her, but I think it is going to cost us all. If I didn't know it would do more harm than good I'd tie her up and take the choice from her, but forcing Tara to do something she doesn't want to do never ends well.”

“That's putting it lightly,” Lafayette laughed. After a moment he sobered up and asked, “Do you think they'll make it? Her and Eggs?”

Shrugging, Sam replied, “Maybe. It all depends on how badly Sookie and Eric's enemies want to hurt them. The Queen took Jason to hurt Sookie in order to get to Eric, but it's obvious that the Queen isn't the real threat here, she's not the one Eric and Sookie are preparing for. I can't tell you Tara and Eggs' fate anymore than I can tell you ours. I can tell you that they're making a mistake by leaving, and I can tell you that if they get into trouble, more than likely they'll be on their own. We won't be able to help them.”

Lafayette ran a hand over his bald head. “This is so messed up. I never thought I'd be a part of something like this. What happened to the days when my biggest problem was deciding which John I was going to hook up with for the night?”

Sam laughed, and answered, “They flew out the window the moment Bill Compton walked through the door of Merlotte's.”

“Bastard.”

“Amen.”

Another shared smile, before Sam became deadly serious. “You need to understand, Lafayette, that if you stay here, if you swear allegiance to Eric and Sookie, if you choose to fight, you can't let your loyalties be divided. The moment Tara and Eggs leave, no matter how much we love them, they are literally on their own. If they get in trouble, if they get captured, we won't be able to help them. Choosing to stay, Lafayette, means you're picking a side. Once you do, you have to stick to it.”

Lafayette looked at his friend and boss and asked, “Are you telling me that if Tara gets into some shit and calls me for help I'll have to tell her no?”

“That's exactly what I'm telling you.”

“Sam, I can't do that. She's my cuz. I'm choosing to stand and fight for Sookie, but that doesn't mean I won't help Tara if she needs it.”

Shaking his head, Sam replied, “Lafayette, you're not understanding. Allegiance in the supe world is different than in the human world. For humans, their loyalties can be divided and it's accepted. People have allegiance to their family, their friends, their country, and so on. It doesn't work that way for us. When we swear allegiance, it is all consuming. Once Tara leaves she is no longer on our side, which means any actions you take to help her would be considered treason unless authorized by Eric. Even talking to her on the phone without permission could be considered treason, and any form of treason, no matter how small, means death in the supe world.”

“Are you serious?”

“Very.”

Baffled, Lafayette pressed, “So if Tara were to call you in three weeks and say she was in trouble and she needed you to come get her?”

“I'd tell her I'd get back to her and immediately report everything she said to Eric, then it would be up to him how things proceeded after that.”

“You'd abandon her like that?”

“She's the one leaving, Lafayette. She's choosing not to stand with us. She's choosing not to be on our side. She's made her choice and she'll have to accept the consequences of it. I've made mine and I'm staying. Right now I want you to be aware of what staying will mean for you. I know you love Tara, and I know it goes against everything you are to not go to her if she's in trouble, but you have to realize that things have changed. You've become a part of the supernatural world, and you have to play by its rules. Fail to do so and you'll end up dead. By our enemies' hands, or by Eric's if he learns you've betrayed him in even the smallest of ways. No matter how much Sookie cares for you, or how much Eric cares for her, if you betray Eric with even a simple phone call he will order your death and there will be nothing anyone can do to stop him.”

Holding Lafayette's gaze, Sam insisted, “This isn't a game, Lafayette. This isn't a choice to make lightly. Running is dangerous. Very dangerous. Tara is setting herself up to be a sitting duck … but staying and betraying Eric is worse. If you stay here, if you swear allegiance to Eric and Sookie and fail to follow through on that allegiance you will die a horrible death. So make your choice wisely.”

“Jesus Christ,” Lafayette whispered as his chest seized. It seemed like every time he thought he was coming to grips with what was going on around him something else hit and made him feel like he couldn't breathe. Hearing Sam tell him that he might have to deny his own cousin help in the near future, hearing Sam tell him that helping her in any way would be considered treason and end in his execution was like a punch to the gut. His mind was whirling. “This is some heavy shit man. Some really heavy shit.”

“Yeah, it is, and this is how the supernatural world is, Lafayette. Once you're in, you're in. There's no getting out. I doubt Tara stands much of a chance if she runs, but if she does get into trouble and calls us for help, unless Eric gives us permission to help, we can't do anything for her. She's making her choice, Lafayette, and she'll have to accept the consequences that come with it. We have to do the same.”

Lafayette looked at Sam for a long moment before asking, “Do you think Sookie would just abandon her like that? If she calls for help do you think she'd just ignore her?”

“I think Sookie has made it very clear that she is going to do what she needs to do from here on out, regardless of the fallout. We can only do the same. If you're here, you're here, Lafayette. If you can't do that then you need to go with Tara, because staying here and betraying Eric is the worst thing you can do. The threat of whoever is after Sookie cannot compare to what Eric Northman would do to you if you betrayed him and endangered Sookie. No one fucks with that guy or what he considers to be his and walks away.”

The two men stood in silence as Lafayette contemplated the dangerous and bizarre circumstances he now found himself in. Finally, he decided he was going to have to follow Sookie's lead and do what he needed to do. He was going to pick a side, make a stand, and stick to it. “I'm here. I'm here, and I'm in. I'll do what I need to do as well, and I'm going to pray to God that we're all left standing when everything is said and done.”

“That's good enough for now.”





Outside, Quinn and Alcide were meeting with the centaurs and faeries to learn about their living needs. They hoped to get the Fae guards and centaurs organized to lighten the load on Sookie. She was obviously under a lot of pressure. Both Weres had heard of centaurs and Fae before, but neither had ever actually met them. The Fae were reclusive, usually only engaging humans while in this world, and keeping their distance with the rest of the supernatural community. The legends were true, though. The Fae were a beautiful race, for each guard was stunning in appearance. They all had flawless complexions, and superior physical attributes.

The centaurs were also a fascinating lot. Sadly, their numbers were greatly reduced due to the rapidly growing human population and the subsequent devastation of their lands following in its wake. Most of the centaurs now lived in secluded mountain valleys in Eastern Europe after being driven out of their Grecian homeland centuries before. They avoided human settlements at all cost, and most of the valleys they lived in were warded with magic. Apparently, centaurs and fae ate much of the same things humans did. Like Sookie's new diet now, they did not tolerate chemically treated or artificial food products. The burgeoning numbers of guards meant the need for more food storage and refrigeration as well as food prep areas, but natural food wasn't going to be difficult to provide Sookie's new guards. The centaurs did need more room to sleep and such, but made it apparent that they preferred to sleep outside. They were beings that enjoyed nature, and viewed it as sacred. To them, shelter should only be taken in severe weather. The fae guards said they'd appreciate beds, but would make do with whatever was available. They made it known nothing was more important to them than Sookie's safety.

With that in mind, Quinn suggested that Alcide have his architect draw up some designs to have Bill's house remodeled into suitable housing for the Fae guards, and the Weres if they needed to take shelter there, and then they would build a large gazebo-type structure for the centaurs to make use of. Since they hated being enclosed, it seemed to be the best option. Quinn also reminded Alcide that Eric wanted some type of meeting place erected, and that the plans should be loosely formed so that Sookie could add modifications for Cerberus, the minotaurs and the griffins after she talked to them and got all of their requirements down.

After all the information was taken down, Quinn looked at Liam, the captain of the Fae guard, and Lucas, Crown Prince of the Centaurs. “So how do you guys feel about all of this? What do you know about Sookie and the prophecy?”

Lucas crossed his arms over his chest, and answered, “We've known we would be called upon to guard a woman of great value to the supernatural world for some time. Centuries ago when the Ancient Pythoness helped us flee Greece, she told us that we would be needed to help save the world at some point in the future. Centaurs are known as fearsome warriors, and we swore we would be ready for when she called upon us. Once Sargon is defeated, the rest of the centaur nation will move here to swear allegiance to the new High King and Queen. We will help the Chosen Mother to remake the world as she wishes it.”

Liam nodded his head as well and offered, “We have known of the prophecy concerning Sookie for thousands of years. We learned of it over six thousand years ago when Prince Niall first came to this realm to seek the aid of the old human gods. Once Niall returned to Fae and informed High Lord Oberon of the prophecy, we knew we would end up here. We have guarded the House of Oberon for thousands of years, and now we shall guard the Chosen Mother and the house she will create for herself. Even when this battle is done, even after the war between supernaturals and humans is fought and won, we shall remain guards for the Chosen One and her young. Our place here is set, and we are honored to stand guard to one such as her.”

Quinn shot a quick glance at Alcide before pressing, “And who do you obey? Sookie or Northman?”

Lucas and Liam exchanged nods. Before arriving with the Ancient Pythoness and Brigant the night prior, they had been thoroughly informed on the situation and circumstances between the Chosen Mother and her king. While Sookie was, in truth, the true leader, it was not time for her to know that. Sookie was born to have command of Eric, so that she could counter the beast in him and make sure he ruled as a just and wise king. However, this could not come about until Northman himself realized he was born to be at her command. The Pythoness and Brigant had made it clear that attempting to come between the two in any way could be disastrous.

Finally Liam offered, “Lady Sookie was born to be our High Queen, and she was born to be the one that guides us all … even Northman. However, at present she is still learning to fill this role, and until the imminent threat of Sargon passes, we know it is best to allow Northman to handle her as he will. We would and will only step in if we feel violence is at hand. Other than that, it is for the Chosen Mother to secure her place at her king's side. We have faith she will make her king see reason. We have no doubt she will soon have him on his knees.”

“Well then, we know where you stand,” Alcide replied comfortably. “You guys can finish scouting the terrain while Quinn and I go check on the progress with the greenhouse. Northman made it clear he wants it completely finished by the time he rises tonight. The gnome is supposed to be here tonight, too, to begin growing Sookie the produce she requires.”

Liam and Lucas nodded before moving off to gather what men of theirs weren't guarding the house so they could scout the land. When they were gone, Alcide and Quinn hopped into his truck and headed out of the barrier to take a look at the progress being made on the greenhouse. As they were driving, Alcide asked, “Did you ask Sookie about Frannie yesterday?”

“Yeah, she said to bring her in as soon as possible. She was worried about her too, and said not to worry about Eric. Sookie said that Frannie can have Tara's old room in the house. Not too sure how Northman is going to feel about that, but I intend to have Frannie here by tomorrow morning. She's packing up what she wants to have with her now. I'll probably be bringing her with me tomorrow when we get here at sunrise.”

“Bet Northman loves that.”

“I don't give a shit. It's Sookie's house and she says she wants Frannie here.”

Both men grew quiet for a moment before Alcide said, “We need to do something for Sookie.”

Arching his brow, Quinn asked, “What do you mean?”

“She needs something to take her mind off of all of this for a few hours. She's had a really hard couple of days and they are probably only going to get worse. Today she is going to say goodbye to her best friend in the world, her friend who she might never see again, and she's got a whole heap of problems still coming her way. Not to mention she's going to have to deal with Northman again tonight. So we need to do something for her. She's done nothing but cry, worry and be hurt the past couple of days. She needs some time to just be Sookie so she doesn't get lost in all this mess. Sookie's heart is supposed to be what saves us all, so we need to make sure it's not destroyed in all this hate and killing.”

Understanding what Alcide was getting at, and wholeheartedly agreeing, Quinn said, “You're right. She does need to step back for a few hours and just be Sookie, and seeing as how Northman pitches a fit every time she puts a bikini on to sunbathe, how about we take her riding? She hasn't been on her horses in weeks, and you know how much she loves them. After we check on the greenhouse, we should be pulling back up to the house about the time that Tara and Eggs are hightailing it. We'll talk Sookie into going riding.”

“Good idea.” Alcide looked at the road for a moment and offered, “You know I never thought I'd be swearing allegiance to Eric and his yet-to-be-born vampire god kids, preparing to fight a war against the most dangerous supernatural the world has ever known, only to be followed by a war against humanity itself. I never thought I was going to be a part of history. I never thought I'd make history like this. It scares the shit out of me that so much rests on us. I'm feeling overwhelmed and damn near terrified. I can only imagine what Sookie is feeling. She's been through some major shit in the past year from what I know.”

Nodding his head, Quinn added, “You're telling me. That girl has balls of steel, and a heart to match. I don't know if I could go through everything she's been through and still be so fucking sweet.”

“Sweet, huh?” Laughing, Alcide asked, “Did I tell you about the time Sookie hauled ass straight to Shreveport, marched right up to Eric at Fangtasia and bitch slapped him while calling him a lying, manipulative, son of a bitch?” He stole a teasing glance at Quinn and earned a raised eyebrow in return.

Eyes widening, Quinn exclaimed, “You sure as hell didn't! I'm offended, and here I thought we were friends!” Quinn slapped his thigh in delight. “Tell me what happened? Why did she hit him? You know that is a story I'd want to hear.”

“I'm not real sure about the particulars. I just know it had something to do with her friend Lafayette. I suspect Eric was doing something to him, and Sookie found out about it. Needless to say, the moment she found out she tore ass out of Bon Temps. I had just started as her guard that same day and didn't know her very well. I thought she was a couple bricks shy of a load when she hauled off and hit him.”

“What happened?”

“Not what I was expecting.” Pulling up to the area that had been cleared for the greenhouse that was going up quickly, Alcide continued, “I've known Northman almost all my life. He was sheriff here when I was a boy, and from everything I've ever known about him, I never would have thought anyone could smack him like that and walk away, but he never even popped his fangs at Sookie. Didn't even punish her. Well, not that I could see. In fact from what I know, when he made Sookie kneel the other night it was the first time he's ever done anything like that to her in public.”

“Really?”

“Yep. According to Sookie, she's smacked Eric a couple of times, publically too, and he has never once punished her in public. That says something.”

“He still treats her like shit,” Quinn growled.

“Yeah, but I think the problem is he doesn't know he does. I think Northman truly believes he's treating Sookie with respect, and according to vamp customs he is … it's just Sookie ain't a vamp, and neither are we. If he's going to combine so many different cultures, he's going to have to start thinking outside of his vampire-friendly box.”

“That's for damn sure,” Quinn replied. As both men exited the truck and went to check on the greenhouse, he added, “I'll tell you one thing … I'd pay good money to see Sookie slap Eric. That's just damn good entertainment right there.”

Both men shared a laugh. It was good to laugh, especially considering the circumstances. They wanted to get this inspection done so that they could get back to the house and try and cheer Sookie up by suggesting she go for a ride. Maybe they could shift and run with her if her horses wouldn't freak out too much.





Several hours later, Sookie stood on her front porch with Lafayette and Sam as they watched Tara and Eggs loading what few belongings they had here in Eggs' Escalade. Everyone was quiet, and out of respect for Sookie, her guards had moved to the back of the house so that she, Sam, and Lafayette would be able to say their goodbyes in private. There were still a significant number of them hiding in the tree line, but they were far enough away and out of sight to provide the illusion of privacy Sookie and her friends needed. The guards that were going to escort Tara and Eggs to their house to collect some more of their personal belongings before they hit the road were waiting for them at the end of Sookie's drive.

As Eggs loaded the last of their bags before moving to get into the driver's seat, still refusing to so much as look at Sookie, Tara moved onto the porch to face her friends. All four of them had tears in their eyes. “Well—uh—I guess this is it then.”

Lafayette was crying freely and pulled Tara into a bone crushing hug as he ordered, “You stay safe, cuz. You stay safe and you be smart. Take no chances, and don't be afraid to come back if you decide your place is here.”

Tara didn't remark on the last part of his statement. Instead she hugged him back as hard as she could, and whispered, “I'm going to do my best to stay safe, and you do the same, Lafayette. Don't go gettin' into trouble. For once in your life try and stay out of it. If shit really does go down around here, you let the vamps and whatever else is roamin' around here now do all the fightin'. You duck and cover, you hear me?”

“I'll do my best.”

The two cousins continued their embrace for a few more moments before Lafayette stepped back. He didn't want Tara to go, but he couldn't force her to stay. She was making her choice, just like he had made his. Like Sookie had said, it was time for them all to grow up and change with the world around them. They had no choice but to make a stand.

As Lafayette stepped back, Sam moved into the space he'd vacated. There was no doubt that there was a complicated history between him and Tara. Complicated didn't even begin to cover it actually, but Sam did love Tara. He might not love her like a man should love a wife, and he realized that the romantic moments they'd engaged in had been far more about comfort than true romance, for both of them, but he still wanted the best for her. He too wished she were staying, but he could understand why she was leaving. He had spent years avoiding the supernatural world for the very reasons Tara was going, but the time for him to stop running had come.

He threw his arms around Tara and said stoically, “Best of luck, Tara. Stick to the big cities and don't go out at night unless absolutely necessary. Don't take up with new people until you know for sure this whole thing has blown over. Paranoia is your best friend right now. Don't go off all half cocked like you normally do. The time for level heads and intelligent decisions is here, cher, don't let your emotions get the best of you. Stay low and out of sight.”

Tara closed her eyes, fighting her tears as they slipped down her cheeks. Her heart was breaking at the knowledge she was leaving behind everything she knew and loved. Leaving it behind because her friends and family, her home, were changing into something she didn't recognize anymore and wasn't sure she agreed with. She had no choice but to go.

“I will, Sam. Believe me, if the last few months taught me anything, it's that I can't let my anger get me into trouble. I need to think smart, and I mean to. You do the same. If you start to question things here, question what's going on, or if you see that Eric really is manipulating Sookie into all this, you grab her and Lafayette and run. Get them out of here. You know more about this supe stuff than any of us, and I'm trusting you to look after them. I still don't trust Eric, and I think Sookie is making a mistake, so I'm trusting you to look after her and my cousin. Can you do that for me?”

Sam knew that Eric wasn't manipulating Sookie this time and regretted that Tara couldn't see her own decisions here were being very much influenced by that coward, Eggs. His inability to just deal was now putting both their lives at risk. The new supernaturals around them, the signs that something major was taking place, were too blatant. Did he trust Eric fully? Hell no, but did he know that Eric was on the right side in all this? Most certainly. Sookie's belief, the Ancient Pythoness's support, and basically everything else he had born witness to over the last few days made him sure of that fact. Hugging Tara tight one last time, Sam assured, “I will, Tara. I will.”

When Sam released Tara, Sookie looked into the sad and terrified eyes of her dearest friend. She had been doing a good job of keeping control of her emotions, but when Tara turned to her, and the moment to say goodbye was upon them, Sookie couldn't hold it anymore. She began crying in earnest as she and Tara flew into each other's arms. Both sobbing.

“Oh God, Tara! I don't want you to go!”

Tara was just as overcome by her emotions as Sookie was. Her heart ached just as badly. Holding tight to her friend, she cried, “I don't want to go either, Sook, but I gotta.”

“I know, Tara, I know.”

“Sookie, I want you to come with me. Let's just leave all this behind and make a clean break together.” Tara knew her friend wouldn't take her up on her offer, but she felt she needed to try. She was so afraid for Sookie. Afraid she was being manipulated further, afraid, like Egg's said, that Sookie was taking part in a fight she had no business in, and just afraid that Sookie was going to lose herself, or worse, die. It seemed that lately fear, sadness and loss were the only things anyone could feel in the town of Bon Temps, and Tara needed to get away from it all.

Understanding Tara's emotions, seeing in her friend's mind how she felt and what she needed, Sookie didn't begrudge Tara her words. She didn't hold it against her friend that she wasn't willing to stick around and fight a fight that really had nothing to do with her, but that didn't mean she could do the same. Burying her face into Tara's long braids, Sookie whispered, “My place is here, Tara. I can't run from my problems anymore. I have to make a stand.”

“I don't want anything to happen to you, Sook. I'm so afraid that I'm going to leave today and never see you again.”

“I'm afraid of the same thing. I'm afraid you're going to leave and be snatched up by my enemies and I won't be able to help you. I'm afraid that you'll leave today, I'll never see you again, and I'll never know what happened to you. I … I'm just really scared about everything.”

Tara pulled back and looked straight in Sookie's eyes and whispered, “Promise me that you'll keep in mind that Eric has tricked you before. Promise me that you won't forget he wanted to make you a slave. Promise me you won't forget what he did to Lafayette, and how he's said more than once you are beneath him. Promise me you'll keep those things in mind so that you look at his actions closely. Don't forget that vampires have been nothing but trouble for you since you met Bill.”

Knowing the words were not easy for Tara to say didn't make the reminders any easier to absorb. Sookie's voice and face were strained as she promised, “I promise, Tara, I'm not going to lose sight of myself or what I think is right. I told you, girl, it's time for me to make a stand and I'm making it. Stackhouses hold their ground. You know that. Eric's going to be the one doing the bending from here on out.”

Tara smiled weakly. “Bring him to his knees, Sook. If anyone can, it's you. Bring that blonde giant to his knees and make him rue the day he ever tried to control you.”

Sookie laughed, and assured, “Oh I will, Tara, I will.” Stepping back from her friend Sookie moved to grab the bag she'd prepared for this moment. Eric would be angry with her about this, but she didn't care. “Here. I want you to take this with you.”

Tara grabbed hold of the bag, surprised at how heavy it was since it took all she had to hold it with two hands, and looked inside. Seeing the contents, her eyes went wide as she looked up at Sookie in shock. “What the hell?”

“Those are the guns Eric gave me awhile back. He just gave them back to me after we came home from New York. They're loaded with silver bullets, and the spare ammo is silver too. Silver hurts Weres just as bad as vampires. You and Eggs keep those with you. Be smart, Tara. Be smart and stay aware.”

Taking a steadying breath, Tara nodded her head. “I will. Thank you. Thank you for everything you've ever done for me, Sook.” Holding Sookie's tear-filled gaze, she continued, “You're a good person, Sook, better than all that trash in Bon Temps that has judged you your whole life for being different. You're better than them and you're meant for great things. I don't know if Eric is your destiny, but you definitely deserve better than what life has given you so far. You be happy, Sook. No matter what, you be happy.”

Choking back a sob, Sookie said, “I will, Tara, and the same goes for you. You're better than your Momma. You overcame all that crap she heaped on you time and again and you're a strong woman. You never let anyone put you down for anything, and I've always admired you for that. No matter what you've always stood tall and strong, and I hope to be half as strong as you are one day. You've been the sister I never had, and I love you with my whole heart. No matter where we both go in life, no matter if we never see each other again, know that you are my sister, and I'll never forget you.”

“I love you, Sookie Stackhouse.”

“I love you too, Tara Thorton. Goodbye, God speed and God bless.”

Tara gave her friends one last look. Her eyes filled with her love for them, her fear this really and truly was goodbye, and her sorrow that things had come down to this. With one last small watery smile she turned away from her old life and walked down the steps of the house that had been a home to her far more than the one her birth mother had given her. She walked down the steps and got into the car with the man she had chosen to start a new life with. As he started the car and drove away she reached for his hand and squeezed it, forcing herself not to look back. She was afraid if she did she wouldn't be able to go through with it, and she'd already made her decision. It was time to say goodbye to Bon Temps and the life she knew there. It was time to look towards her future. Whatever it may be.

When the Escalade had driven out of sight, Sookie sank to her knees as she began to sob. She felt Lafayette fall to his knees beside her and take her in his arms as he cried with her. Seconds later she felt Sam kneel on her other side to embrace them both. Together they cried. They cried for Tara and themselves. For long moments no words were spoken, just the quiet mourning of the friends that had been through so much in such a short time. Finally their attention was drawn from their grief to the front yard as Thor's growling drew their attention.

Sookie looked up at her puppy's soft growling and couldn't help but laugh. Thor was holding on for dear life to the end of a long piece of rope. The other end of the rope? Well it was clenched securely in the jaws of the middle head of Cerberus. The giant hell hound was softly swinging the puppy from side to side as the puppy growled playfully, trying to steal the rope from the massive beast that had once belonged to Hades and now lived to protect the Chosen Mother. The sight was simply too adorable not to laugh.

“Thor, I don't think you're going to win that one, puppy,” Sookie laughed as she slowly got to her feet with Lafayette and Sam beside her. Sometimes she wondered if Thor was born to be her puppy the way Eric had been born to be her man. There was no doubt that her little bundle of fuzz took easily to the supernatural world he was now apart of.

Wiping the tears from his eyes, Lafayette added, “That puppy is far too much like you, Sook, biting off more than he can chew.”

“Ain't that the truth,” Sam offered.

While Thor wiggled and growled, tugging furiously at the long end of the rope that the middle head of Cerberus held easily, the other two heads nudged the puppy playfully, swiping at him with their long tongues. The sight of it, the sight of such a huge, massive, and obviously deadly beast playing so gently with her puppy lifted Sookie's spirits. The head on the left lifted and let out a series of soft woofs towards Sookie, who didn't understand and said as much.

“I'm sorry, Cerberus, but I don't understand what you're saying.”

We will translate for you.

Sookie watched as the griffin with the star on its forehead, the one she assumed to be the leader of the group, landed beside Cerberus after swooping down from the sky. She watched in fascination as the mighty creature folded its huge wings at its side to sit down on its haunches. She couldn't believe that this was what her life was now. It was both awesome and terrifying. Smiling at the golden guardian, she wiped the tears from her eyes, smiled softly, and asked, “What is he saying? Or they? Can you ask them how I should speak to them? I don't know if I should speak to them as one person, or three.”

Cerberus, having understood Sookie perfectly, let its head on the left turn towards the griffin and barked out it's reply while the middle head continued to play tug of war with a very determined Thor as the right head continued to tease the puppy with gentle licks of its long tongue.

When Cerberus was done barking, the griffin looked towards Sookie and projected his thoughts towards her. First, he reminds you that he can understand you perfectly. He asks that you direct your questions towards him, and we will serve as translator.

“Oh! I'm so sorry! I forgot that you guys could understand us, just not answer back. I'm sorry if I offended you,” Sookie rushed. She knew it what it was like to have people look down on you because of being different, and she didn't want to do the same thing.

Cerberus let out another series of barks and the griffin translated, He says they are not offended. As to your questions, it is hard to answer. They consider themselves as Cerberus. It is all they know, but they have minds of their own. They simply share the same heart. They have the same wants and desires, the same feelings and beliefs, but they think separately. They are Cerberus. No more. No less.

Sookie wasn't sure to say to that, and decided that she obviously wasn't going to be able to understand everything anymore, and she clearly wasn't meant to. She was going to have to start being ok with that. “Well then, Cerberus it is. So what were you saying before?”

Cerberus again let out another series of growls and barks before the griffin answered through mind speak, Cerberus says you should not cry anymore, Chosen Mother. He says you were born to laugh and play, and you should do so. He says come play with him and your little puppy. No more tears for now.

“I wish I could, but I've got a lot to do today. I really think I should get to work.”

Lafayette and Sam had watched the entire thing with varying amounts of curiosity and disbelief. Lafayette, deciding that if he was going to make a stand with Sookie he needed to get used to all of this, stepped forward and asked, “What's going on, Sook? You're obviously talking to them, but how?”

Turning to face her friend, Sookie quickly explained, “Well Cerberus is really smart and can understand what we're saying, he just can't communicate in our language. Just like the minotaurs you saw earlier. Just because they can't speak our language doesn't mean they aren't intelligent. They understand our words, the problem is we don't understand theirs. Thankfully the griffins are telepathic like I am, and since they understand both Cerberus and the minotaurs, they can translate for me.”

“Oh, so what were they saying?” Sam asked as he moved forward to stand next to Lafayette, both still watching the huge hell hound playing with the puppy that appeared no more than a speck in comparison to its playmate.

Smiling at the sight of her determined little puppy still tugging as hard as his little body could on the rope, she replied, “Cerberus says I shouldn't cry anymore. He wants me to play with them, but I told them I have too much to do right now. I really need to get to work getting everything organized.”

“Ah, Sook, that's crap,” announced Alcide as he came around the side of the house leading Balder while Quinn led Freya. Both horses were saddled and ready to go. Beside them were Lucas, the centaur prince, and another centaur that Sookie hadn't learned the name of yet.

“Sookie, you've got plenty of time to worry about everything else later,” Alcide insisted. “Me and Quinn spoke with the centaurs and Fae guards earlier and took down all their information to make things easier on you. So all you have to do is speak to the minotaurs, Cerberus and the griffins to see what they'll need done around here. The greenhouse is doing great and should be up and ready for planting tonight, and I already have the architects at my construction company drawing up plans for Compton's place to house your guards, and a meeting place like Northman wanted. We've gotten plenty done today, so I say kick back for a few hours and have a little fun. After the last few days you've had you damn well deserve it.”
 

Lafayette nodded, “Yeah, Sook, he's right. You love your horses and haven't been riding in weeks. I don't know about you, but I could sure use some time to just let loose. I'm wound pretty tight so I can only imagine how you're feeling.”

Beginning to unbutton his shirt so that he could shift, Sam offered, “They're right, Sook. Let's take a few hours to remind ourselves why we're fighting whatever is coming after us. Let's have some fun.”

Wanting to help convince the Chosen One that it was alright for her to stop worrying about everyone for at least a few hours, Lucas stepped forward and said, “If it will help you decide, perhaps you can ask Cerberus, and the griffins what they require to live here as you ride. Besides, the minotaurs are investigating the woods around Compton's home. You'll have to go to them regardless. Why not ride to them.” Stomping one of his hooves, Lucas added with a sly smile, “And going on four legs instead of two really is faster.”

Sookie laughed. Looking around and seeing the expressions on everyone's faces, she decided what the hell. Focusing on Sam she asked, “What are you going to change into? Dean?”

“I thought I'd make it interesting,” Sam teased as he toed off his shoes. Knowing Sookie's level of modesty he said, “Close your eyes, Cher … unless you want an eyeful of course.”

“Sam!” Sookie laughed as she closed her eyes, heat flooding her cheeks. She heard the swooshing sound that indicating a were or shifter had changed form and then Lafayette's surprised gasp. Of course he kept his eyes open! Opening her eyes she exclaimed, “Oh!”

Sam stood on her front porch, and he was magnificent! He was a huge golden lion with a lush, full mane. He shook his head and let out a soft roar as if to say, “Let's go!”

Lafayette stared in awe at his friend that had just morphed into a lion and held out his hand as he asked, “Can I?” When Sam nodded his lion head, he reached forward and sank his hand into the soft mane. “Holy shit, Sam, you're a fucking lion!”

By the horses, Alcide and Quinn handed the reins to the centaurs and began taking their clothes off as well as Quinn said to Lafayette, “You ain't seen nothing yet.”

Within moments the front yard was filled with a griffin, a puppy, a three headed hell hound, a wolf, a tiger, a lion, two centaurs, two horses, and, at long last, a truly smiling Sookie. Sookie looked at her two saddled horses and then back at Lafayette and said, “How 'bout it, Lafayette? You up for a ride around the property?”

Shaking his head and chuckling, Lafayette headed down the front porch steps as he replied, “Let's do it. I'll take Balder though. Freya's sweet and all, but tricky as hell. Waits for a rider not to be paying attention and then tries to pull a fast one.”

Sookie laughed as she moved to swing up on her white mare. “Reminds me of Gran.”

“Just like Adele,” Lafayette agreed as he swung up on Balder.

The two friends laughed before Sookie looked towards her puppy, and called, “Come on, Thor! Let's ride!”

Thor finally let go of the end of the rope he'd been tugging on and dropped to the ground since he had literally been hanging in the air at that point. He let out a series of barks before turning and taking a bite out of Cerberus's paw before hightailing it towards Sookie as he barked madly, obviously catching onto the playful mood everyone was trying to build. It was time to play and laugh. There had been enough tears.

Sam leapt off the porch to tackle Quinn before loping off after the barking puppy as he looked over his shoulder and let out another soft roar to goad his weretiger friend. Alcide caught in on the action by biting Quinn's tail before darting out of the way to follow after Sam. Sookie simply shook her head and laughed as she kicked Freya's side and took off after them. She would let the wind carry away her worries for awhile. “Race ya, Lafayette! Last one to the edge of the barrier has to do all the laundry for a week!”

“You're on, hooker!” Lafayette hollered back as he took off after her with the centaurs, Cerberus, and the griffin following close behind. Times were certainly changing. 

2 comments:

  1. Yeah its time for tara to go, but I can't blame her for asking the question about the blood and the bond. Glad sam and lala are staying at least. Wait till they find out she's prego. Sam should smell it soon. Was time for Tara to go.... eventually she really would have pissed off eric and been killed anyway. LOL for the motley crew running into playtime.

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  2. good riddance Tara... may your life with Eggs be what you wanted, doubtful..i am glad her guards care for her like they do and her happiness matters... i am sure Eric will not be happy but too bad.... Kristie


    oops
    1-Caps " her were guards were already well under" "her Were guards were already"
    2- CAPS "seeds one of her weres had tossed out for them to eat" "one of her Weres had tossed"
    3-CAPS " guards measurements so her were guards" "so her Were guards"
    4-Caps "However, be assured you are still my queen.” "you are srill my Queen."
    5-Caps "Outside, Quinn and Alcide were meeting with the centaurs and faeries to learn about their living needs. They hoped to get the fae guards and centaurs organized to lighten the load on Sookie. She was obviously under a lot of pressure. Both weres had heard of centaurs and fae before, but neither had ever actually met them." the different facets of supernaturals need to be capitalized Fae, Centaurs, Faries, Weres
    the above Caps includes the next paragraph too

    6- Caps "Fae guards, and the weres if they needed to take shelter there," " and the Weres if they "
    7-Caps "fae guard, and Lucas, the crown prince of the centaurs, a" "Fae guard" "of the Centaurs"
    8-Caps "allegiance to the new High King and queen." High King and Queen"
    9-Caps "so that she could counter the beast in him and make sure he ruled as a just and wise king." " wise King"
    10-caps "Silver hurts weres just as bad as vampires" "hurts Weres just as bad as Vampires"
    11- Caps “Me and Quinn spoke with the centaurs and fae guards earlier and" "Centaurs and Fae guards"
    12- Caps "centaurs, Cerberus, and the griffin following close behind" "Centaurs, Cerberus and the Griffin" since you are characterizing them as a group and it is their name it needs to be capitalized.... there are a lot of them like this in the chapter, i probably missed a few...

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