“Children,” Godric reprimanded with a shake of his head. “You will cease this, NOW! What did you learn from Isabel, Stan?”
“I don’t know if I should say,” Stan goaded. “Pam over here might get her ego bruised.”
“Fine,” he grinned. “She finally confessed who her Maker is.”
“How is that going to bruise my ego? She certainly isn’t mine!” Pam scoffed. “Like a Childe of mine would ever wear those things she calls clothes.”
“It’s Niccoló,” Stan revealed, ignoring Pam momentarily, his gazing finding her again with a triumphant grin when he delivered the second titillating titbit of the night, “Seems he’s quite the strategist, even she can hardly keep track. Mexico was a ruse, he commanded her to engage them, elicit the fight so they’d be weakened, and told her to make sure they lost.”
“Impossible!” Pam denied. “I defeated that bitch fair and square!”
“Of course you did,” Godric agreed gently, hoping to avoid another scuffle and overpriced decorating bill.
“Don’t you take that Tara tone with me!” she huffed. “Isabel’s a fucking liar.”
“Wouldn’t be so sure of that, Pumpkin,” Russell piped in. “Outside of this room, there are very few who know of Niccoló and his position. Whether it’s true or not, the information is relevant. Whatever is between them, there is a connection there.”
Pam had started to scowl indignantly, only to be disrupted by the alarm system blaring at full blast. Tallulah, the court witch, rushed in with worried eyes, “Something tried to breach the wards! It came out of nowhere!”
“We didn’t see anyone approach,” Logan supplied while reviewing the security footage. “They appear to be on the lawn just outside the perimeter now.”
“Fuck, yes!” Stan cheered. “I’ve been waiting for a good fight!”
“Get your weapons,” Pam directed, her previous composure instantly transforming to the hardened battle-woman in command.
“Wait!” Logan urged. The vampire contingency, however, had already sped from the house, chasing after them as fast as he could.
Pam’s eyes narrowed at the sight before her, “So good of you to join us,” she mocked with a hiss and a set of gleaming fangs that descended at a teasing rate. “Aw, how sweet! You brought dinner.”
Pam could barely contain the glee at the sight before her, her long lost Maker beside his shiny little mate, even if he had brought an assortment of bizarre, rotting, party favours. She twirled her hair, cocking her head while drinking in the sight before her, a huge grin painting her face, “Who’s your friend?”
“Fetch Tallulah!” Godric commanded an underling while taking in the sorry state of the creatures with his long-lost Childe. “Make sure they can enter, now! Nobody leave the barrier!”
“Baby!” Jason exclaimed with a pant, once he sighted the shyly hiding Cecily, blissfully ignoring Godric’s order and running towards her in a few short strides, up and twirling her around in his arms in seconds.
She smirked, a long lost twinkle in her eye resurfacing, “What did I say about calling me ‘baby’?”
“Not to,” he grinned bashfully. “Missed you, baby.”
She flushed red momentarily with his continued dismissal of the much hated pet name, softening at the sight of his excited face, “Missed you, too. Why are you wearing those clothes?”
“You like it?” he grinned, showing off the camouflage outfit.
“You know I do,” she purred into his ear. “Though I think I like you better out of them.”
“Later,” Sookie coughed with annoyance.
“Oh, hey, Sis!” Jason greeted dumbly, “Didn’t see you there.”
She rolled her eyes before grabbing him into an embrace. “So glad to see you safe,” she whispered.
“You, too, Sis,” he replied with a similar affection. “Next time leave a note!”
She laughed along with him, “I’ll try to remember that.”
They were interrupted by the arrival of Tallulah, taking in the large crowd beyond the boundary. “I don’t know if we can keep that many safe,” she whispered to Godric. “Is it even wise to let them all in?”
Godric eyed her sternly, the witch wasn’t one to complain quickly. “They are injured,” he said, “they come to heal, not to fight. My Childe would not be with them if they came to attack us.”
“I will do my best,” she replied eagerly. “But you must think of the safety of us all.”
Claudine stepped forward, “If you let me, I can boost your power.”
Tallulah eyed Sookie with worry, she gave an encouraging nod, and consequently, Claudine was the first to enter through the barrier cautiously.
“You will not harm our guests,” Godric reminded the vampires who eyed her like a prime choice of beef. Together with Claudine, the witch strengthened the carefully constructed magical barrier, allowing the contingency of worst-affected Fae in. Pam flew into her Maker’s arms while Godric stood to the side, awkwardly awaiting his turn to greet him, only to be knocked off centre by an eager Cecily.
“You’ve changed,” Godric noted with surprise. No longer was she something lost between flesh and air. “Returned to what you once were.”
She winked back in return, “Well, one of us had to.”
“Glad to still see you here,” Sookie remarked to Russell who watched the proceedings with amusement.
“I see you’re coming through with your end of the deal,” he grinned with a glance towards Claudine.
“She’s amazing,” Tallulah gushed. “Not only are we cloaked by magic, we’re no longer even visible to the outside world, thanks to her.”
“I simply channel the power Sookie provides us, I am but a medium.” Claudine added modestly.
Niall was one of the last to stumble in, Sookie and Claudine quickly came to his aid when he nearly tripped in the soft grass, clutching desperately at his chest while inhaling the cooler air with great gasps.
“Old comrade,” Russell greeted with concern, helping the women keep him steady. “In need of my help once more?”
“It appears so,” he smiled softly. “Though a place to rest my eyes would suffice for now.”
“Very well, old friend,” Russell agreed, lifting the frail form into his arms and speeding him to the house.
Sookie breathed out a sigh of relief as Eric came up beside her, “We’re safe.”
“For now,” he added. “This is but a drop in an overflowing bucket of what’s to come.”
“I know,” she whispered with sadness. “They need our help. We need to keep them safe.”
“Let’s hope we can.”
“He is not doing well,” Dr. Ludwig announced to the worried assembly of faeries. “Vampers, a donation would be helpful.”
“Will he make it?” Sookie asked with a tiny sob, the inexplicable love she felt for her newly discovered Great-Grandfather overwhelming her with the possibility of losing him just as quickly.
“That’s up to him,” Russell spoke gently. “It’s his to give up or not. Considering the pain he is in, I imagine it’s the more enticing offer right now.”
“He can’t die,” Cecily denied desperately. “We left our home, he can’t return to the Summerlands. Where would he go?”
“This was a sacrifice we knew would come with leaving Faerum,” Claudine tried to rationalise. “The dead went somewhere before when this was still our home, if he seeks that, he will find his peace.”
“If he chooses too,” Cecily added firmly. “He’s stubborn, like Sookie. He won’t leave us now when we need him most.”
Claudine didn’t argue with her, but she didn’t necessarily agree either, and turning to Sookie, she said, “He named you his heir, you must take responsibility now that he’s ailing.”
“ME?” she shrieked. “How am I supposed to know what to do?”
“We will guide you,” Claudine spoke gently. “You will have to work together with the vampires here, your mate will prove useful in that.”
“I don’t know,” she replied hesitantly.
“You’ll make mistakes,” Eric offered. “Everyone does, you’ll learn and do better. It’s who you are.”
She nodded, taking a deep breath, “I guess this better means we get caught up on what’s been happening here.”
“Well, we were dealing with something before you so rudely interrupted,” Pam chimed in. “Our little birdy Isabel finally started chirping.” The vampiress in charge wasted no time relaying Stan’s findings.
“This Niccoló is an Authority member?” Sookie questioned with confusion. “His actions speak of something else.”
“He’s attracted to power,” Russell offered, being the one most familiar with the manipulator in question. “He has no interest in what serves, rather what it commands.”
“So basically he’s always backing the winning team?”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Russell grinned.
“Get me Hugo,” Sookie said confidently, surprising even herself, instantly demanding to know why he once warned her away from Isabel.
“It was not difficult to ascertain she worked on another’s orders,” Hugo offered. “She played obedient well, but she behaved without loyalty to the authority she was sworn to.”
“Godric,” Eric questioned, “She was in your employ the longest, you would know best.”
“She never sabotaged me, she was a good deputy,” he assessed honestly. “Then, my office was one of little power or influence. I apologise.” He sighed heavily with the strain of it all. “I am of little use, she could be speaking the truth. After all we’ve been through, it is more likely that she is lying.”
“She could be speaking the truth, an attempt to save her hide,” Russell mused aloud. “There are not many outside this room aware of Niccoló’s position. The members of the Authority remain a closely guarded secret. She knows something of use.”
“She’ll have to prove it then,” Sookie said with sudden insight. “She has been kept in this boundary all this time, correct? If it kept Talbot to go undetected by his new Maker, Isabel’s Maker must have assumed she’s dead or something. If she truly is his daughter, sending her outside of the boundary will alert him, if he cares for her as she claims he does, he will come for her.”
“And if he doesn’t care for her?” Pam scrutinised.
“He’ll still come,” Sookie beamed, “He likes power, there’s a bunch of it here now.”
“And if he show up with an army?” Claudine worried.
“Then we have him exactly where we want him,” Stan grinned, nudging an excited Jason. The two had become quite close in the confined living space, competitively burping and belching to everyone’s great annoyance, most especially Pam who’d tossed them out of the house on more than one occasion when their rough-housing threatened to destroy more than one priceless piece of furniture. With the confined living quarters, they’d been spoiling for a good fight for far too long. “Fight them on home turf, they’ll never know what hit them.”
“What army are we fighting exactly?” Godric asked with concern.
Pam huffed, “Don’t go all pacifist on us now! What do you want to do, hug them to death?”
“Do not be silly,” he scoffed. “We are a house full of injured, not to mention Tara will give birth any moment now. The home advantage is perhaps not as favourable as you think, knowledge is important here.”
“It has to be the Water Fae, right?” Sookie whispered to Eric. He gave an agreeable nod, having come to the same conclusion. “Do you think he’s being blackmailed, too?”
“I doubt it,” Eric replied. “He’s not the type, he’s seduced by power and manipulation. Niccoló wouldn’t comply if he doesn’t feel in control. If it is the Water Fae, it’ll be unlikely they’ll come with him, they have yet to engage in open combat and they won’t start now. I doubt they value him for his true worth with their prejudices.”
“Get Isabel,” Godric commanded to Stan, having made his decision.
“I will take her out,” Russell informed, leaving no room for objection. “I’ll know what to look for, and after-”
“Claudine will help you with Talbot,” Sookie finished his sentence.
He grinned in return, “You catch on quick, little nugget. Let’s go strike while the iron still hot.”
“In, out,” Russell sang with Isabel in his grasp, jumping back and forth over the barrier with the song. “Now shake it all about!”
The vampiress warily complied, she was happy enough to be out of the confinement of her bedroom and desperately tried to communicate to her Maker in appeasement. “He’s coming then,” Russell ascertained when he saw a contented look fall over her.
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Do you love him?” he probed. “Wait, that’s a useless question, what I’m really interested in is if he loves you.”
“Yes,” she answered convincingly.
“Like a daughter, a Childe or a lover?”
Isabel remained painfully silent in reply, granting Russell all the information he sought. “The first one then,” he grinned, “Possibly the second, definitely not the third.”
“We have activity,” the head of security announced to Godric, silencing any retort from Isabel.
“He’s alone,” Logan confirmed through his headset.
“What happens now?” Sookie asked with a whisper.
Eric smirked, confidence brewing with the promise of what was to come, “I guess now, we’ll have ourselves a nice little chat.”
“Guess you mean something to him after all,” Russell noted dryly while holding Isabel firmly behind the boundary and out of sight. He was about to hand over his captive to Godric, per the agreement, only to launch a silver-filled syringe in her neck instead.
“Russell!” Godric cried out in rage. “This is not what we agreed!”
“I’ve adhered to your wishes long enough,” he spoke evenly. “Agreed with you for the most part, now is not a time to be anything but cautious. She is our leverage. There should be no chance for her to escape. We are in different times now.”
Godric nodded reluctantly, holding Isabel’s ailing body, and rocking her gently. “Next time,” he warned. “You will not surprise us like this.”
“No can do, my little buddy,” Russell smirked. “It wouldn’t be me if I did that. Now let me go greet the imbecile who thought taking my Talbot away from me was a good plan.”
“The plan is to bring him in,” Godric reminded sternly, adding quickly, “alive.”
“Would you expect anything less from me?” Russell grinned before stepping out. “Little Niccoló! Where’ve you been all my unlife?”
“I fear we are making a huge mistake,” Godric whispered under his breath.
“Don’t,” Pam retorted coolly. “He doesn’t get off on physical violence, it’s the mental torture that he enjoys. There are few with the mental capacity to make that a challenging exercise, Niccoló is a rare one.”
“Pamela, if you tell me to ‘turn that frown upside down’ one more time,” Godric mimicked with air quotes, “I may become violent after all.”
“That is something I’d pay to see!” she grinned widely, “Hush now, this will be fun! Aw, look, he’s nervous.”
“You pull enjoyment from the strangest places,” he mused with a shake of his head, a gentle prod from Pam forcing him to pay attention to the ancient vampire as he approached his prey with an eager ease.
“Fancy meeting you here,” Russell taunted while Niccoló’s jaws only seemed to clench down further. “Looking for someone? Oh, give it up, my little Italiano Vero, wee, little, Isabel spilled all the Mexican beans, and you showing up here only confirmed it.”
“What has she told?” he demanded with a quiet rage, initiating Russell’s cackle to reverberate around them in the otherwise eerily, quiet woods.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Russell preened. “Where’s the fun in that for me? You’ve been having plenty of fun with me all these years, haven’t you? It’s only fair that it’s my turn now. So, it appears your Achilles heel is not unlike the rest of us. Really, Niccoló, the Children?”
“What do you know?” he asked with suspicion, the worst of his nerves abating.
“I’ve spoken with a few old friends,” he shrugged. “They’re not so pleased with you, knowing who you’re working for.”
“With,” he emphasised, “Not for. You can, too.”
“Interesting,” Russell mused. “Then you did always have a weakness for a display of power. Though I think you forgot the most important lesson I once gave you; never forget who you are in the midst of power.”
“I have not forgotten,” he replied in a clipped tone.
“I think you have,” Russell ascertained, carrying a look of genuine care. “My lost little boy. You’ve been chasing power for too long, how have they been treating that long, lost bastard of theirs? Did you and Salome bond over your Daddy issues? Is the old bat even alive anymore?”
“Yes,” he replied tersely.
“Ah,” he grinned. “Not for long then, and she’s your connection to them, isn’t she? Dear old Salome and her stories. Have you even met them? Do they even grant you an audience? Did you really think they’d let their long, lost daughter live in their new Aryan utopia, with you, as the only vampires left on this godforsaken Earth? As equals, feeding you their precious blood?” Niccoló stared at him quietly, rage boiling in his eyes. “I hate to remind you, you’re no full-bred faery, not even a half-bake, and you know what they think of those. You’ve succumbed to their lustre of power, and lost yourself in the process. I expected better from you.”
“And where do you stand?” Niccoló questioned, “With the weak and the meek? This is not your style.”
“I know where to place a bet,” he smiled. “I thought you did too. You have the wrong horse.”
“What of your horse? Wishing to democratise power? Co-existence?” he spat. “Despicable. I don’t even recognise you anymore.”
Russell delighted himself, tapping the tips of his fingers against each other excitedly, “Ms. Stackhouse, will you come out please?”
“You have the Telepath?” he questioned with a mocking grin. “She’s hardly going to win a war. Her importance was lost long ago.”
“Sookie, don’t,” Eric growled, trying to retain her when he sensed her determination to step outside the protective boundary that hid them from view.
“It’s okay,” she assured with a smile that did little to convince him. “He can’t hurt me.”
“Yes, he can,” he spoke sternly. “I’m going with you.”
She shook her head in return, “I have to do this on my own. He can’t know of your connection to me. I won’t let him hurt you, so he can hurt me, or the other way round.”
“Sookie, please,” he urged, not liking her plan one bit, but failing to find the arguments to keep her safe beside him.
“I’ll only take one step out, you can stay behind me the entire time,” she offered while squeezing his hand gently. “You can pull me in at any time, but only if there’s no other way.”
“Alright,” he finally conceded, “I don’t trust either of them.”
“But you trust me,” she smiled, to which he gave a reluctant nod.
“Ms. Stackhouse,” Russell sang in an impatient tone, “come on out my little weapon of mass destruction.”
Niccoló rolled his eyes, “Like I said, a telepath isn’t going to win any war, especially this one.”
“A telepath won’t win a war, no,” Russell agreed. “She will.”
“I’ve seen her once,” Niccoló noted warily, “She’s not that special. I’m beginning to think you’re bluffing.”
Sookie stepped out, eyeing the man who had been orchestrating so much misery, and finding him remarkably unimpressive, “Sorry to disappoint,” she snorted, sensing Eric hovering tensely behind her. Another small step was taken while Niccoló looked her over, unable to sense what exactly he was supposed to see before him.
“She’s an Eternal,” Russell sing-songed and intuitively a display of power surged between her hands. Russell beamed with the sight of Niccoló’s look of genuine shock. “It’s a shame you no longer have the ability to soil those fancy designer pants of yours, it’s the only thing that would make this moment better than it already is.”
“Where? How?” he whispered while Russell made a gesture for Sookie to step back into the safety of the barrier once more, disappearing from sight.
“I’ll never tell,” Russell continued to tease. “Now where is that power boner of yours pointing? Do I even need to ask?”
He grinned back in return, the balls of his eyes shining again with the promise of something new, a knowing nod was given before launching into the air at great speed.
“He is not doing well,” Ludwig informed the closest of Niall’s relatives. “Prepare yourselves, he does not have long.”
Claudine was struck the worst by the ominous news, clammy hands squeezing hard with the family members at either side. “The vampires’ blood is not helping?”
“Superficially, yes,” the small doctor informed. “He refuses to ingest it. I can only treat the pains for now, I cannot stop the inevitable.”
“If he takes the blood, he will live?” Cecily asked tentatively, “But he won’t?”
A confirming nod was given in response, “Stackhouse, he asked for you.”
Nervously she came to stand, all too aware of the expectant eyes on her, and the convincing argument she would have to give to a man seemingly set in his ways. She crept into the darkened room, by all appearances her great-grandfather looked better than when he first revealed his deteriorated state to her, but it was undeniable that death had started its course, his skin sallow and greying.
“I hear you have been acting well in my stead,” Niall smiled, his hand beckoning her forward.
“I hear you’re refusing the doctor’s orders,” she replied sternly. “Do you really think you’ll heal on your own?”
“I know what I am committing to, my child, death is near,” he sighed. “We all have to go sometime.”
“Do you want to die?” she asked in a whisper while taking her seat, dabbing his sweaty forehead with one of the cold compresses beside the bed.
“No,” Niall admitted while staring at the ceiling. “I’d imagined something more befitting than this, not my body wreaking havoc, but rather a worthy opponent in the midst of battle.” A small cough escaped him, and Sookie was quick to move her hand, gently soothing skin of his aching chest with the wet cloth while she urged him to spare his voice.
“It could still happen,” she tried. “Dr. Ludwig said-”
“No,” he protested. “Besides such a moment of glory has passed me long ago.”
“Why would you refuse a cure?” she demanded, “Why die when you don’t have to?”
“It comes with a cost, a cost our people cannot afford,” he replied rationally. “If I take their blood, I put our people under their dominion, whether they exert it or not. A Faery Prince with ancient vampire blood coursing through him, it will not be accepted. I have already asked much of our people, this I cannot ask. We’re divided enough as it is, I will not add to it!”
She scrunched up her face in confusion, “I’ve taken Eric’s blood. Even when he tried, he had no influence on me, it doesn’t have to be like that.”
“You are young. You have your health, your strength. You can resist it. You have-” he wheezed, “our people’s support.”
“No,” Sookie denied with wet eyes. “I can’t do this without you, I can’t care for all those people in these difficult times. I don’t even know how, and you can’t die,” she sobbed. “I need you.”
“Surely it’s not just you who needs me, don’t you see? I fought the Water Fae since they were convinced we’d come to stand under the authority of the vampires with our move back here, if I take their blood I will make that true, that we are giving up more than we are gaining. The fight that has wrecked Faerum, families, and our people will be for nothing. Everything I fought for will be lost.”
“Their influence disappears over time, and you will strengthen,” she urged. “We could lie, nobody has to know.”
“We cannot lie,” Niall scoffed.
“Now is not the time to be noble!” she cried out, anger heating her words. “Now is the time to fight and if you’re determined to die, make it worth something, make it hurt. God, I’m so sick of people dying, wanting to die, killing, and disappearing! Just fucking live already!”
He held her hand with both of his over his laboriously breathing chest, “You misunderstand,” he replied in an effort to calm her. “We cannot lie, we are powerful beings, but we Fae simply cannot speak a lie, it is our greatest weakness and pride.”
“I can lie,” she said, surprising him immensely with that knowledge.
“The human component,” he whispered with awe. “You’re a more powerful force than I ever imagined. Please, show me.”
“Yes,” Niall pleaded. “Lie to me.”
“You’re the picture of health,” she smirked.
He guffawed before falling to another fit of coughs, pulling her closer to him when he finally managed to even out his breaths, a calculating glint resurfaced in his eyes, and patting her forearm gently, he smiled, “This might work just yet.”
“When were you going to tell us Isabel was your Grandchilde?” Godric posed, somewhat devoid of the accusation that the statement should have carried.
“I did,” he shrugged, causing Godric’s brow to rise suspiciously. “When she arrived, I told you she was mine to with as I please. By all rights, she is Mine.”
“So is Niccoló.”
“Well, was,” Russell amended. “The boy had himself adopted by the emperor of Italy, rewrote his lineage, and even convinces himself of that truth, but the blood that runs through him will always be mine. I has suspected it was him who took my Talbot away. When he was no longer of my blood, it was confirmed. Only Niccoló would have such ambitions to replace one Maker’s blood for another. Niccoló was born of admiration, not of love, and I never let him forget it.”
“You consider him a mistake?”
He shook his head, “No, he is probably my greatest accomplishment. Niccoló could never stand the possibility of weakness in himself. As much as he denies it, I am his chink in the chain.”
“But he is not yours.”
“No, he knew that well in taking Talbot away, that would elicit an emotional response, I’d mourn Niccoló for the loss of his mind, but nothing more,” he sighed. “I trained him too well to betray his guilt, without the Maker-Childe bond, it was difficult to ascertain.”
“Yet you knew?”
“Of course I knew,” he scoffed. “However, what use is that knowledge in the larger scheme of things? I lacked the proof I have now. Things play out when they do, we needed our ‘Eternal’ trump card to convince him, I would have lacked the conviction to do so before, and we will need him on our side if you wish to win this war.”
“He’s that good?”
Russell scoffed, “He’s my Childe! Like I’d let anything less continue to rove this earth?”
“Why not bring him in like we agreed?” he questioned, his annoyance with the proceedings as they played out still bothering the Gaul.
“Into our little lion’s den? And expose our greatest weakness along with our strength? The Viking will have to adjust to his new position as the First Lady. He made her what she is now, but he is also the thing that can undermine her power, the Eternal don’t mate for a reason. Niccoló is my Childe, he’s betrayed me once, and I may forgive him for that if he proves himself worthy again, but the price will be steep.”
“You’ve put our fate in the hands of one you can’t trust?”
“Sometimes faith is all that we have left.”
A/N: So that was a lot of information to take in… Guess who had another baby in Niccoló? I have to admit that I do so enjoy Russell and his rather shifting morality and pragmatic moves but it’s a little frustrating to everyone else! So alliances are shifting and you’ll have to wait and see how it all pans out in the end… Let me know what you think!
Much thanks to msbuffy for her editing work on this!