**A/N: This chap’s a little longer than the usual wordage, but a bit of chill time was needed for our little group. As always, it’s unbeta’d so graciously ignore any oopses; I own nothing but the original characters, 95% of Andre’s personality, 85% of Sophie-Anne’s personality, and all of Sookie’s smarter-ness, and of course the entire plot. I’m still in virtual contract negotiations with the personality percentages of Sigebert, Wybert, and Rasul but the odds are vastly in my favor (Wybert said so). All rights reserved, no animals were harmed in the making of this chapter, and dammit I need some coffee.**
Hours later a remarkably relaxed group of people had gathered in the main room of Andre and Emma’s quarters.
As he looked around at the uninvited guests who always seemed to congregate in his space now that he shared it with Emma, he felt strangely loathe to run them off with a well-timed glare. The important topics hadn’t yet been broached, and besides, for the moment everyone seemed content to talk among themselves. Their relief that the rescue had been successful and without friendly casualties was obvious, and it seemed the vampires had indulgently enjoyed the sight of their mortal females enjoying a large meal together.
While the air still reeked from the human foods, the fact that Emma now sat on his lap with the nape of her neck near his nose soothed Andre considerably. He inhaled and softly purred in pleasure, and enjoyed the warmth he felt when she sent him a burst of her own satisfaction with the arrangement.
As he lightly glanced over the people gathered – yet again – in his private main room, with more than a little surprise he realized that the amused tolerance, acceptance, and yes, peculiar warmth he felt wasn’t solely because of the sweet, soft body on his lap.
He had never seen the point of useless conversation, never had the patience for such a waste of time, but something about this gathering seemed different. Truly, the conversations floating around at that moment were meaningless, just useless bits of nothingness that changed no tides for the future nor brought no new understandings of the past. Such harmless bits of nattering had never held any use to him, were usually lethally annoying unless he was trying to gather information, and honestly a well-aimed whip or bit of melted silver were much more effective.
Instead of feeling impatient, he felt oddly relaxed. The people in the room weren’t seeking his expertise nor were they pandering, and while his vampire family did rely on his particular skill sets, he knew he could rely upon theirs as well, so that had never been an issue. However, it felt strange knowing the same could be said of the non-familials in the room.
If in the past he had been somehow forced – he scoffed silently at the mere thought – to admit it, he would have grudgingly included Rasul in his miniscule circle of friends. The dark-eyed apparently were-tamed Lothario was loyal, capable, quick, and, he concluded privately, sometimes even amusing. The were-lynx…he couldn’t grant her the title of friend, not yet, but he could see that possibility in the future, maybe…perhaps more of a vicarious friendship because of her relationship with his Emma.
Sookie… Andre glanced at the blonde hybrid whose attention was on some discussion between Wybert and Rasul. He supposed he could call her friend if he had to if for no other reason than that she was also Emma’s friend. Privately he had been concerned at one point over how his outgoing mate would fare living as she was in basic seclusion because of the current risks, and knew he owed much to the Northman’s female for easing his beloved’s boredom.
Dealings with the Northman had yielded an unexpected boon. Inherent in Andre’s personality and position within the vampire hierarchy was the natural inclination to see the tall blond as a potential adversary; at best he would have been seen as a potentially useful tool for the sake of the Queendom, but nothing more.
Instead, things had changed in an indefinable way and now there was this unaccountable connection with the other male.
He had been more tempted to spank his Emma’s sweetly rounded bottom than he probably should have been when she had teased him about his “bromance” with Eric, but silently he’d had to vaguely agree with her; well, once she had laughingly explained what the word meant. His ensuing pout, the one he knew would work best, had still managed to bring about a proper result…
The feeling of building a strong, honest, mutually beneficial amity with beings not of his own family – and who were not his Emma – was bizarre but wasn’t as awkward as he once would have thought.
It was a bit disheartening to know that he was no longer quite the loner he’d always seen himself to be. With luck no one would ever notice that he didn’t actually loathe everyone but Emma and his vampire family… He soothed himself with the knowledge that, regardless of who invaded his personal sphere, he would never be able to tolerate the stupid fucks or the morons who tried his patience, and especially not the fools who desired to deceive him or attempted to insult his intelligence or…
Wryly he admitted his little list encompassed the vast majority of people whether they were vampire or not, but didn’t realize he had automatically held Emma just that much more securely on his lap until she wiggled her butt to get comfortable again.
The hours of her disappearance had affected him badly, and as his astute gaze noted, it had affected the Northman as well – the Viking had also maintained some form of physical contact with his woman all evening, as had Rasul with his were to a lesser extent.
The previous evening had been difficult for all concerned, and vampires would be…vampires.
Just as he had with the Northman and the telepath, Andre had quirked a brow at the darker-skinned male when he and his woman had entered the room earlier. No matter how well-bathed the couples had been, his vampire senses had detected the sultry reasoning behind Sookie and Tracy’s ravenous appetites – the same reasoning behind his Emma’s, he thought with well-deserved arrogance.
A sultry chuckle, too low for the mortals to notice, directed his attention to the other couch where Rasul finally had his were sitting firmly ensconced on his lap.
The new rock on the were’s finger gleamed in the room’s soft lighting, and he was unaccountably…pleased…on Rasul’s behalf. He had initially been surprised by the suddenness of that development, but when he considered how rapidly he had fallen under his own Emma’s spell, he’d let that line of vague concern go. Regardless of whether or not they believed in the mythical version of such things, when a vampire found their mate, they claimed that mate at the first opportunity. To do otherwise was the height of stupidity.
Previously Andre had intended on leaving the trusted vampire behind to tend to their Queen’s safety and the running of the Palace, but his new understanding of how love seemed to work wouldn’t allow for the separation of the couple. Since he planned on the…Tracy coming along as she was good for his Emma, he supposed he could find a place for the dark-haired vampire if he must.
Andre felt a brief flare of impatience with himself over such a deplorable softening in his personality. Logic, however, dictated that if the maid was wilting in some dramatically lovelorn manner, she would fall in her duties to his mate. As such a failure couldn’t be tolerated, it only made sense that the couple be allowed to remain together.
Slightly smug that he had found a reason to explain away his hopefully rare burst of compassion, he lightly nuzzled Emma’s neck, and smirked when, without missing a beat in her conversation, she smacked his hand in light retribution.
Sophie-Anne snorted from her position in the overstuffed armchair she’d had Wybert bring with him for their visit. Andre’s other furnishings were exquisite, naturally, but she was short and this chair provided her with that bit of a convenient lift necessary for properly viewing everyone in the small gathering.
As always she ensured that her location in any room allowed her the best vantage-point possible, and she hadn’t missed Andre’s teasing of the woman he’d yet to allow more than a few inches away from his person. It was cute, she had to conclude, as well as understandable.
She did not wish to imagine how this night would have been had Emma and Sookie’s fates taken a different turn.
As was another habit, she stealthily directed her Maker’s senses toward her current “problem child” Sigebert. With relief she sensed that the odd depression he had been feeling of late seemed to have cleared somewhat.
Battle to retrieve his Brother’s mate was apparently an effective mood lifter for the old boy.
Hell, it had lifted her own mood, come to think of it. She felt a burst of sore kinship with her child – they both missed some of the old ways, some of the things that they could no longer do in their current position in these current times and especially in their current location.
The nights of adventure, of escapades and daring forays into enemy territory…the nights spent dueling with skillful foes…the freedom in not having to watch every word because of royal politics…
Quickly she pushed those thoughts aside. Tonight was a night for quiet celebration then strategy. The strategic part she could fathom; indeed, she looked forward to hearing what the telepath might have, erm, heard, however the hell she did such things.
Hopefully she’d been able to discover a name or something, anything, that could direct them to the identity of the one they must end. Incursions into her territory, much less against her people, could not be tolerated.
Plus, she liked Emma. Too bad she swung the wrong way…
Wybert’s rapid hand movements as he discussed some sort of technique with either Rasul or the were, she couldn’t tell which as both were listening raptly, caught her attention, and then she surveyed the people in the room again.
This business of quietly sitting around and talking amongst those she could trust to varying degrees…this simple chatting with no political, sexual, or other agenda in mind? With a bit of dismay she realized how very long it had been since such evenings were almost the norm…in between those adventures and escapades and forays…
Well, hopefully there would be another battle soon to wile away the boredom.
Finished with his demonstration of the dagger technique he had used to end that rogue vampire long ago, Wybert leaned back against the couch and once again found himself thinking of Circey.
Unbidden a certain softening muted the strong planes of his handsome face. He hadn’t seen her in a couple of nights as her classes were getting harder and she had something called papers to write, but he wasn’t worried. Each day she had left him several texts to find when he rose for the night.
He missed her. He looked around and saw Andre with his Emma on his lap, the Viking with his Sookie, and even Rasul with that Tracy, and looked down at his own empty lap.
The fucking with his…well, he wasn’t sure he could call her “his” yet. It was true that she didn’t offer her blood, much less her body, to any of the other vampires, but they hadn’t exchanged any specific words yet. But the fucking was good…better than good. It was so good that it needed a better name for the activity but he didn’t know one.
Maybe he would ask Circey. She was smart, really smart, but she never once made him feel ashamed of his own lack of book learning. He had street smarts and life skills, she’d told him, and the way she’d said it made him believe her.
The low comforting sound of multiple quiet conversations soothed his ears and he wondered how she would fit in with what was becoming an impressively large inner group for vampires.
Sweet Emma would like her, he was sure of it, and so would Sookie. Both had always been good to him in their own way, had never disrespected either himself or his broder, had always spoken nicely and said less familiar words more clearly so he would have a chance to understand them without making him feel dumb.
They were good people.
Wybert looked back down into his empty lap and imagined his Circey leaning back against his broad chest, his arms encircling her waist as she stretched her legs out atop his. She liked to go barefoot in his quarters, always kicking her shoes off just inside the door…
“Wybert,” came Emma’s soft voice somehow directly right into his ear. He glanced up at Andre’s woman and noted the sweet smile on her face, and tipped his head back to ask what she wanted.
“What has you smiling so sweetly, young man?”
His thought was focused on her softly teasing eyes so he missed everyone else’s suddenly sharp attention honing in on him even while their conversations seemingly continued. He simply shrugged his massive shoulders and was glad his cheeks couldn’t turn red like roses the way Circey’s sometimes did.
“What’s her name?”
His big jaw dropped. How did she know?
“Circey,” came his traitor broder’s answer. “He sees a donor named Circey. He feeds only from her,” he added with a teasing brow lifted at Wybert who now wished the floor would swallow both himself and his terrible sibling.
“Circey? What a lovely name,” Emma replied glancing between the Brothers then giving Sigebert a “stop teasing your brother” look. Sigebert allowed a badly faked innocent look to flood his face but neglected to remove his smirk.
Wybert cleared his throat. He’d never been a coward before and wasn’t about to become one now.
“Circe. Her real name is Circe. She calls herself Circey. Paid donor. And she feeds only me,” he said with increasing intensity. He refused to allow anyone to think bad things about her for being a paid donor.
“Yeah?” Sookie joined the conversation. She understood exactly what the big blond mountain was saying, and judging by her expression, Emma had picked up on it, too. “How long have you been seeing her?”
“So when do we get to meet her?”
Wybert, who had been brave yet hadn’t been anxious to hold anyone’s gaze for too long, jerked his head up to meet Emma’s questioning expression.
“You vant to meet her?” Surprise colored his accent.
Emma blinked in surprise. “Well of course.”
Andre quirked a teasing brow at his Brother in the hot-seat. Surely the big lug knew Emma by now…
Sophie-Anne grinned. Part of her was taking slightly malicious glee in the proceedings – really, Wybert should know better than to try keeping such a thing a secret, but mostly she was simply relieved to finally have it all out in the open. Of course she’d known all along – not only was she his Maker but she was Queen for fuck’s sake, but she hadn’t been able to, well, hadn’t really made time to get a bead on this chick herself yet. The reports on her had been satisfactory and she did trust Wybert to make wise decisions. He had always been smarter and more complicated than he appeared, just like his broder.
As if she would have Turned stupid people. Please…
Emma’s widening grin caught her notice. Trust her to bring it all out in the open in such a nice way!
If she’d been able to Sophie-Anne would have sent her a burst of affection and pride through the bond they didn’t and would probably never have. Instead she sent it to Andre trusting him to know what to do.
Sigebert reclined innocently. He’d done nothing wrong. *pfft* Silly broder trying to keep silly things secret.
“I…I could…she is busy now…classes…might see her tomorrow, maybe?”
Shaking her head, Emma patted Andre’s hands to get him to loosen them so she could stand. She’d have to ask him about that strange burst of pride and affection she’d received from him – it had felt different from what he would normally send, had seemed distorted somehow, but that would have to wait. For now…
She plopped down by Wybert’s side and took one of his huge hands into her own.
“Of course we want to meet her, Wybert. You’re ours and if you have someone special in your life, then we’d like the chance to get to know them, too. But don’t stress it, ok?” The normally placid, almost imperturbable mountain was fairly twitching. “Just broach the subject with your Circey and let her know that we’d like to get meet her sometime. Just let her know she’s welcome here.”
He almost purred when she’d said “his Circey” and knew they’d be having a clear conversation soon.
Conversation, then fucking.
The other way didn’t work out so well.
Wybert looked over at the short brunette who spoke so nicely to him, and nodded. The look in her warm brown eyes said his woman would be welcome, and so he knew she would be.
Emma smiled beatifically at the giant, squeezed his hand, then retook her seat in Andre’s lap. Mission accomplished.
Satisfied with how things had turned out with his broder and now wanting to divert attention from him, Sigebert asked, “Sookie, what did you hear from the ones now dead?”
Surprised at the abrupt turn in the conversation, Sookie straightened up a little but remained firmly ensconced in Eric’s lap. With a sense of warmth she gladly acknowledged just how unwilling Eric would be to let her go anyway.
She hadn’t said anything much to Emma at the time but during her waking moments while kidnapped Eric had kept up a barrage of love, worry, strength, and encouragement, but had not been able to fully hide his deep-seated rage and roiling fear. The entire experience had been exponentially harder on him than on her.
Eric was a proud, strong, justifiably confident man, and the helplessness he’d felt during the incident had not sat well with him.
After their rescue she had anticipated the restorative blood he had offered her. She hadn’t needed it but the look in his eyes had told her how deeply he had needed to give it to her, and so she had accepted it with loving gratitude.
The passion that followed had also been eagerly anticipated, and she hadn’t been at all disappointed. What she hadn’t foreseen, though, was the subsequent tenderness. After the hard, passionate fires had blazed in all their glory had come unexpectedly gentle lips and reverent hands.
She had fervently explored the pounding heat with her vampire, and when the tides had turned surprisingly gentle and sweet, she had gladly welcomed the chance to cherish her Viking in all his heartfelt splendor.
Sadly the driving need to assure himself of her safety and wholeness still plagued him. She’d awakened to find his hand on her hip and his eyes gazing intently into her sleepy face, and other than the time she’d always demanded to spend alone in the bathroom so she could tend privately to her human needs, rarely a moment had since passed when he hadn’t been touching her in some way.
Sookie suspected it would be a very long time before that heartbreaking fear receded, especially considering the news he had already heard from her.
“Nothing,” she finally answered to the group’s shocked dismay.
“Nothing useful, that is. Oh, I heard the Weres thinking a lot of thoughts and most of them were filthy, but none of them were names or even faces of people who weren’t already there. I don’t think they actually knew anything relevant, and you know I can’t hear anything but static from demons, right?”
Everyone gave a disappointed nod except for Emma who slid an arm around Andre’s waist and leaned a bit more into him.
Sookie continued. “Ok, long story short, they lucked up on Emma and me at the café. That’s all it was – pure luck. We were, apparently, an unexpected “two-fer”,” she said with a grimace. “It was just bad timing all around because they had enough of their people on hand to attack our guard while we were in the restroom. From what I can piece together from the Weres’ scattered thoughts, after they knocked us out one of the Dae called their boss who told them where to take us. That boss was going to notify some of his vampire conspirators about us and was going to arrange an auction to sell us to the highest bidders. One of the Weres was annoyed about how long it might take for “them other vamps” to arrive. I think those vampires were going to hold us somewhere else until the sale,” she said dispassionately.
Sensing Eric’s rising tension even though she had already told him more than she planned to reveal here, she snorted to downplay the next news she felt compelled to relay. Andre especially needed to know what was going on though she was certain Eric would have a private chat with him later. Some of the specific things she’d heard them thinking about Emma weren’t things the lady herself necessarily needed to hear. She’d already been told enough to know the situation was deadly serious; there no sense in going into overblown detail about it all.
There was no way of knowing what bit of seemingly useless information might actually prove important to a different set of ears, however, so she’d made sure to tell Eric every disgusting detail and decided to leave it up to him what he’d tell the scary vampire. She suspected some of the most graphic details she’d had the sickening misfortune of overhearing would be omitted, which might be for the best.
At the time it had struck Sookie as odd that the Weres would be so strangely knowledgeable about how the vampires would specifically want to use Andre’s human mate, and it still seemed odd. She had said as much to Eric knowing that bit would definitely be relayed.
“They thought about how it might take some time to round up the parties interested in,” Sookie paused to make air quotes, “”procuring” us but knew that, and I’m going to quote a lot of stuff here, “them vampire enemies of the state of Louisiana and Arkansas’ future so-called queen would pay a damn good price” for Emma. From what I could gather, there’s a small group of vampires who don’t want a “non-vampire usurper” for a queen. I can’t be positive but, from the way they were thinking about it, it didn’t seem like those vampires are from Arkansas, or at least not all of them are. But the Weres spent the most time wondering who would fetch more money because they kept thinking about how I would sell for a good price, too, because of my telepathy. They were really counting on a bidding war,” she ended on a mumble.
She’d stopped speaking when she felt the surge of fierce protectiveness and alarm flooding the bond from Eric whose arms around her waist were almost crushing in their strength. An unintentional snarl erupted and she rubbed her cheek along his shoulder – the only place she could reach – in a futile attempt at soothing him.
Andre was growling lowly and Emma snuggled as best she could into his vibrating chest, her ear resting near what seemed to be the epicenter of the sound. His vice-like hold on her tightened as he, too, reacted to Sookie’s words, and she sent him strong reassurances that she was fine.
Seeing from the corner of her eye how Eric’s facade was slipping and feeling badly for the blond vampire so concerned for his mate, Emma caught Sookie’s eye and gave her a look understood by best friends since time began.
“Sookie, are you ok? I mean, you are ok now, right?”
Catching on quickly because blonde was just a hair color, Sookie patted Eric’s hand as she replied, “Oh, yeah, I’m completely fine. Some time with my mate, a good morning’s sleep, and a huge breakfast were all I needed. You?”
Desperately wanting to lighten the tension in the room, Emma did what Emma did best.
She laughed softly but happily as though she had not a care in the world.
“Oh, yeah, same here. I could use more coffee, though, how about you? Somebody kept me up pretty late this morning…not that I minded,” she added cheekily as she glanced playfully up into Andre’s hardened face.
Emma hoped the seething anger she could see in the depths of his beautiful eyes would ease soon. It was understandable and he had every right to feel the way he did, but such anger wasn’t all that healthy, either. At least her slight teasing had lessened the growling.
Also sensing the tension in the room and wanting to help ease it, Tracy started to rise but was held tightly by her Rasul. The night before she had eventually been able to soothe his beast’s irritation with the chances he’d perceived her to have taken, but his possessive, protective urges had been freed and were never going away.
“I could use some tea in a little bit,” Sookie finally answered, knowing that not one of the three would be “released” any time soon but was genuinely starting to be a little thirsty.
Sophie-Anne wanted to roll her eyes at how badly the youngsters were handling the threats to their chosen women, but couldn’t honestly find fault in their reactions. She was once again grateful to the brunette human for her attempt at diffusing the situation so she quickly produced her ever-present cell phone.
“What is the number for the kitchen,” she asked the room at large. One of the twins could surely answer the door but she wouldn’t trust either of them to do something as complicated as making that coffee or the tea ice or whatever it was the telepath wanted.
At their various expressions, she retorted, “What? It’s not as if I have ever called that place before.”
**Pretend I wrote something witty here. So, what did you think of the chapter (not the pretend-wittiness)?**