Sookie’s eyes widened as she heard Susie’s scream in her head and she raised her gaze to take in his features more carefully. Now that she knew she could see him more clearly. “Yes, well, I’m a big believer in freedom of choice, and I choose… ERIC!” Sookie screamed as she pulled herself away from him. “It’s him!”
Warlow smirked, not caring that he was outed. He had the ability to disappear easily enough. “Pet, that’s rude,” he scolded. “I won you — or your dance.”
“The betting was for vampires only, and I am no one’s pet!” Sookie snarled as Eric and Russell appeared at her side.
“Ahhh — but there was a were! Your own Maker purchased him, and you yourself have played with the kitty. However,” he turned to Eric, “I am not above negotiation. My woman. She is pleasant. Obedient. A good fighter. Good in other areas.” He smirked. “We can trade, you and I. Eric, in all your years have you ever had a Danann?”
“You can’t be serious!” Sookie spat, disgusted that he was trying to trade her with Eric.
“Woman, quiet!” Warlow ordered, waiting for Eric’s response.
“No,” Eric replied. “I would trade Sookie for no one.”
Warlow’s eyes flared with anger, but he just sighed and shook his head. “Then we’ll do this the hard way.” He laughed, disappearing where he stood.
“Where the fuck did he go?” Nora asked, her eyes darting around the large room, searching futilely for him.
Eric had his arms around Sookie, examining her closely. “Are you okay?”
Sookie nodded her head but said nothing. She couldn’t believe the audacity of Warlow, showing up as he had was a huge risk, and Sookie was just beginning to understand the danger of the entire situation.
“Did Thalia take Susie?” he asked her quietly.
“Yes,” Sookie answered, her tone low as not to be overheard. She had heard Susie shouting in her head as Thalia had taken her and run. Her young niece hadn’t wanted to leave, she had wanted to stay and help, so Sookie was grateful to Thalia.
“We need to go,” he murmured to her, knowing Susie would be panicking. The vultures were circling too; those who sided with Warlow had no reason to switch sides now that they had seen his confidence in entering a den of vampires.
Sookie nodded her head in agreement as she saw the way some of the other vampires were looking at her. They needed to get back to Nora’s place and regroup. Eric placed his hand around her waist, and caught Nora, Russell, and Roman’s eyes on the way out. Without waiting, he walked her outside, took her by the waist, and flew to Nora’s home.
As soon as they landed in Nora’s compound, Sookie wrapped her arms around Eric and buried her face in his chest. With no one watching her, she finally gave into her fear. Eric just picked her up, wrapped her legs around his waist and went into the house. He needed to speak with Thalia and make sure everything was fine, but he would first make sure his Sookie felt safe.
Blood tears fell from Sookie’s eyes, soaking Eric’s shirt as he carried her through the house. Eric gently rubbed her back and quietly shushed her; not bothering to murmur useless words platitudes. He had faith in her and him that they would be able to best any foe necessary.
When they reached the living room, Eric gently sat on the couch beside Susie, who scrambled to get her arms around her aunt’s neck to hug her tightly.
Sookie pulled Susie into her arms as she sniffed back her tears. She held her niece tight as Eric held her.
“I’m sorry, Aunt Sookie,” Susie whispered. The girl had dried tear tracks down her cheek, yet her eyes were once again welling up.
“What are you sorry for, sweetie?” Sookie asked confused.
“I should have realized sooner,” she murmured quietly.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Sookie told her, rubbing a hand over her back.
“It was! I was so busy looking elsewhere, paying attention to Maryland, that I didn’t realize…,” she trailed off.
“Susie, none of us knew,” Sookie replied, trying her calm the young girl down. “I should have noticed when we were dancing. We had no way of knowing he would show up as he did.”
“He had magic done, to help us not notice. Even his appearance was magically altered. I tried to read as much as I could and I wanted to stay to get more information,” she added, turning heatedly to Thalia.
“No!” Sookie said firmly, seeing the look Susie was giving Thalia. “Thalia did the right thing in getting you out of there.”
“No!” Susie yelled. “She shoulda let me do it!”
“No, she shouldn’t have,” Sookie replied unwaveringly. “If Warlow would have realized you were there he could have tried to take you. Thalia did what she was ordered to and got you out at the first sign of danger.”
“He didn’t know I was there,” she responded, turning to glare at her aunt.
“He never got the chance because Thalia did the right thing and got you out of there,” Sookie said.
Susie crossed her little arms across her chest and stared at her aunt, though the effect was somewhat muted due to the fact that even standing on the floor she had to look up at her aunt. “It woulda been fine!”
“You don’t know that, Susie,” Sookie replied. “You weren’t aware Warlow was there until the last minute, so you also don’t know if he had anyone with him.”
“He…he…I didn’t sense anyone like him!” she replied.
“That doesn’t mean he was alone,” Sookie told her. “There were hundreds of people there tonight, Susie. He could have had people outside the hotel waiting for his order. Now both me and Eric told Thalia to get you out of there at the first sign of trouble and she did. She did what was asked of her. She doesn’t deserve your attitude.”
“Fine,” Susie replied pouting, turning to leave the room and sulk.
“Susannah Adele Stackhouse,” Jason barked, stepping into the room and cutting off his daughters’ exit. He had been standing in the hallway listening in as his daughter went toe to toe with his sister. While he was proud that Susie had the strength to stand up for herself, he wasn’t happy about how she was talking to Sookie or treating Thalia. “I agreed to let you help out tonight on the condition you were kept safe at all times. Now I hear you wanted to stay back and put yourself in danger because you think you might’ve been able to help. Your aunt and the scary but lovely vampire were right to bring you back here. Now apologize to them.”
Susie’s face paled and she immediately stopped her tirade. She looked up at Jason, doe-eyed and full of tears. “Yes, Daddy,” she said softly. She closed her eyes and turned to face the two female vampires. She looked at them, her eyes turning into slits as she glared before she yelled, “I’m sorry that I’m not sorry! I could have helped!” She went to run past her Daddy’s legs.
Jason grabbed hold of Susie’s arm as she went to run by him. “Right, that’s it,” he said, his voice taking on a firm tone. “Susie will no longer be helpin’ you at all,” he told the vampires. “It’s clear to me she can’t handle it. Her behavior proves that.” Lowering his gaze to his daughter, Jason frowned as he added, “I never raised you to be a brat, Susannah. Right now I’m ashamed to be your father.”
“NO!” Susie yelled! “You can’t! I can do it! I’m the only one who can! Please, Daddy! I’m sorry! I’m sorry. Please don’t!” Tears streamed down her cheeks as she desperately clung to his pants, dropping her feet out from under her to hang from him. “Please!”
“No,” Jason replied, feeling his heart breaking at his daughter’s tears. He used all the tricks he had learned over the years to keep Susie out of his mind for a little while. Scooping her up into his arms, he turned to leave the room. “You showed me tonight you can’t handle it. You were gonna put yourself in danger. My mind is made up.”
“No! I can handle it! I went with Thalia! I did! I listened! Please, Daddy! Daddy, please!”
“No,” Jason repeated. “You fought with Thalia and your aunt. You think you know better than them. You could’ve been seriously hurt or kidnapped tonight. My decision is final. Now it’s time for bed.” Susie pressed her face into Jason’s shoulder and her sobs echoed in the spacious rooms as Jason took her upstairs to their room.
Sookie rested her head on Eric’s shoulder once Jason and Susie were out of the room, the night’s events taking its toll on her.
“She’ll be fine,” Eric assured her.
“I hope so,” Sookie whispered.
“She needed a reality check, Sookie. She’s six years old and your brother’s only child,” he told her.
“I know,” Sookie replied, tilting her head back so she could look up at him. Eric leaned forward slightly, pressing his lips to hers reassuringly.
Sookie smiled against his lips and whispered, “Thank you.” Eric pulled her closer against him.
“Thank you for ignoring her,” Eric told Thalia.
“I don’t take orders from children,” Thalia replied. “Even when they are threatening to tell Uncle Eric on me.” Eric chuckled, his chest vibrating against Sookie’s cheek as she laid her head on his sternum.
Sookie closed her eyes and let her mind rest as Eric and Thalia discussed the night’s events.
“How did it work in the other room?” Eric questioned.
“Well, for the most part. The child is skilled at what she does, if not a little over cocky,” Thalia reported. “She fails to realize Sookie and herself are not the only telepaths. She was able to read a large number of vampires and gather the intel we needed.”
“Good,” Eric said. “She’ll learn as she develops her skills and encounters more skilled people.”
“I will be happy to guard her if you require it,” Thalia offered. “I would never allow her to put herself in danger like she tried tonight.”
“That would be appreciated. I would trust her with you, and tonight I’m sure you proved yourself to Jason,” Eric responded.
“She did,” Sookie mumbled, opening her eyes. “I saw it in his head.”
“Then that’s that,” Eric said with a nod. “You will be her guard.”
“I will guard her with my life,” Thalia swore.
They sat quietly, waiting for the others, or Jason, to join them. Sookie hadn’t moved from Eric’s lap the entire time.
It was ten minutes later when Jason rejoined them having put Susie to bed. “I’m sorry ya’ll had to witness that,” he said as he took a seat next to Eric and Sookie. “Susie’s usually a good kid.”
“She is a good kid,” Eric replied. “She just doesn’t think she has limits with it yet.”
“She needs to learn she does,” Jason said with a sigh. “She needs to understand she’s not in charge here. I know you’ll need her help, but she ain’t gonna be no help if all she does is put herself in danger and distract y’all.”
“She’ll learn,” Eric told him. “She’s a six-year-old girl who is feeling like her abilities finally mean something and hold importance in an intimidating world. Roman and Thalia will work with her more.”
“For now she thinks she’s not gonna be able to help ya anymore,” Jason replied, running a hand through his hair and scratching his scalp. “I want you to act like that until she apologizes and means it. I won’t have her actin’ like a brat and thinkin’ she can get away with it.”
Eric nodded, respecting Jason’s authority here. He had no problem ensuring Susie understood she had to follow orders if she was going to be working with them. She could have put herself and by extension all of them in danger.
“Thanks,” Jason said, leaning back on the couch. “Hopefully when she wakes up in the morning she’ll understand and apologize, but I’m not holdin’ my breath. Susie can be as stubborn as Sookie at times.”
“Hey!” Sookie cried, turning to face her brother. “I’m not stubborn.” Seeing the amused looks on both Eric and Jason’s faces, Sookie let out a huff as she amended, “I’m not as stubborn as I used to be.” Eric chortled, and gently shook his head, remembering her stubbornness from so long ago — a whole week. Maybe she had reformed her ways this past weekend.
“Sure, Sook,” Jason replied with a laugh as Russell, Nora, Roman, and Quinn finally arrived back at the house and joined them.
“What happened?” Roman questioned Sookie immediately.
“Warlow showed up,” Sookie answered simply. “Susie recognized him and warned me.”
“You got her out?” he asked, turning to Thalia.
“I did,” Thalia replied. “The child wanted to stay and help, but I refused her demand.”
“Good,” Roman said. “Where is she? She needs to learn that she cannot go against orders. She was told to leave as you were told to take her.”
“She’s in bed sulking,” Jason answered. “She was being a brat so I sent her to bed and told her she can’t help y’all anymore.”
“That’s not truly the case?” Roman prompted.
“As far as Susie is concerned, it is,” Jason said firmly. “I’ll allow her to help you, but she’s not to know that yet.”
“Sounds good,” Roman replied. “Will you allow me to speak with her? I can continue the charade that she will not be working with us anymore, but as I was training her, she needs to hear from me how unacceptable it was for her to try to go against orders.”
Jason took a minute to think about it before nodding his head. “I will.”
Roman stepped towards him, allowing Jason to lead the way upstairs to the room he shared with Susie. He watched as Jason walked in. Susie was curled up on the bed, still sobbing silently.
Roman had to harden his expression so he didn’t immediately comfort the girl.
“Daddy?” Susie asked, looking up, but when she saw both Jason’s angry face and Roman’s intimidating look, she bit her quivering lip and closed her eyes tightly.
Jason forced himself to stay where he was and not go to his daughter. Her tears felt like a knife to the heart to him. “Susannah, Roman would like to speak to you.”
“Yes, Daddy,” Susie replied. She pushed herself up and sat crossed-legged on the bed.
“Would you like to tell me what happened tonight?” Roman began, starting with a simple question.
“I was preoccupied. Maryland had a bad plan. He wanted to do awful things to Aunt Sookie, so I was watching him closely, listening, taking notes. Even after someone outbid him, and it was too late. I didn’t realize until after they were dancing that it was him.”
“I see,” Roman replied, as he leaned against the door. “Then what happened?”
“I told Sookie — she had told me not to scream, but I was so scared. I screamed in her head. I was listening to him, trying to see what he planned. He thought something about Ishata? I don’t know what that is, and he was wanting Aunt Sookie. He started to think about what he did to Niall, how ‘Niall would help now properly,’ but I didn’t get to hear what that was because Thalia took me away.”
“As she was ordered to do,” Roman said, eyeing the young child. “Was that all?”
“Yes,” Susie replied. “That’s all I got from him.”
Roman nodded. “That was more than we knew yesterday.” Susie nodded in acknowledgement of the praise.
“I wanted to get more, but Thalia made me leave,” Susie tattled.
“I know, and I will reward Thalia for it,” Roman said, giving Susie a sour look. “Thalia was following orders. You, however, disobeyed me, Eric, Sookie, and your father. You foolishly placed yourself and the rest of us in danger.”
“I didn’t put anyone in danger though, I could have helped. I was getting information and she wouldn’t stop!”
“You put us all in danger,” Roman told her firmly. “None of us, you included, know the full extent of Warlow’s abilities. We know he is part fairy, so he could also be telepathic. He could have been reading everyone as well. If he discovered you were there he could have come for you. What do you think your aunt would have done if Warlow would have got his hands on you?”
Susie’s mouth opened, but she didn’t know what to say. She looked up at him, eyes wide. She could picture it in her mind:
Warlow was reading her while she read him. He managed to move really, really fast like she had seen him do, and get Thalia out of the way before grabbing her. He brought her before Sookie telling her she could come with him and Susie, or she could ponder the fate of her niece and never see her again. Of course, Sookie would go, and then what? Susie couldn’t imagine. She had seen also how roughly he had handled her aunt at her daddy’s house. She could imagine being pushed around the same way, or watching her aunt be pushed around like that again.
Susie finally closed her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she said, looking at him and her daddy. “I can’t help, but want to help as best I can, but I’ll do my best to listen to Thalia. I’ll follow orders.”
“Your father has forbidden you from helping us,” Roman replied. “After tonight, I have to say I agree with him.” He stuck to what Jason had said. Although Susie seemed sorry now, she needed to understand there were consequences to her actions. If they went back on their words now and told her she could still help them, she would think she could disobey them all whenever she pleased.
Susie’s bottom lip quivered again as she looked into the mean faces of her Daddy and Roman. Daddy never punished her like this before. He always encouraged her to use her ability, telling her how special she was, how much she could do with it when she was older. Tears filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. She began sobbing, blubbering nonsensically and hugging her knees to her chest. She pressed her face into her knees, not caring that she was getting tears and snot all over them. She just didn’t want to see how mean her daddy and Mister Roman were looking at her. She didn’t want to think about how excited she had been to use her telepathy — stronger than even her aunt’s. She didn’t want to consider not being able to use it, not being able to help. She was a heartbroken six-year-old girl whose daddy told her “No” for the first time.
As much as he wanted Susie to understand what she did was wrong, Jason couldn’t bear to see his daughter so upset. Crossing the room to the bed, Jason sat down on it and pulled his sobbing little girl into his arms and held her tight. He whispered nonsensical words into her ear as he tried to comfort her.
Susie clung to Jason. As harsh as he was being, he had been her rock. When Mommy had been in a mood, Jason had taken care of her. When she had hurt herself, Jason had made sure she was cared for. She had always been a daddy’s girl, and even mad it was no different.
“Shush, baby,” Jason cooed, rocking her gently.
“Daddy–” Susie said softly, her breathing slowing as she sat in Jason’s warm arms, face pressed against his gently breathing chest. She began to drift off as Roman left the room and returned downstairs.
“It’s okay, pumpkin, I’m here,” Jason whispered. “You go to sleep.” Susie didn’t reply, but instead cuddled into her father’s arms and soon was sleeping quietly.
Jason held Susie as she slept, offering her the kind of love and security only a father could. He knew Sookie, Eric, and the others were talking about Warlow and what they would do next, but at that moment he didn’t care. They could have a meeting and plot out strategies, but he was where he was needed most, with his daughter.