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Pam would also be taking over as sheriff of the area, an irony considering how much she used to hate Compton. But time had a way of turning hate into ambivalence. Indeed, Pam would even be overseeing the upkeep of my home—Sookie's home—until I returned to it, which I knew I would eventually. Thankfully, though she still didn't understand, Pam had learned not to undermine the things I still clung to because I'd once met a mostly human girl named Sookie Stackhouse. In truth, there had been only twelve nights that I had not thought of Sookie—my nights under the witch's spell.

My eldest child nodded and changed the subject. Halloween was the next night, and I had always liked the holiday. But I'd stopped wearing costumes when I honestly couldn't think of a good one that I'd never "been" before. Thus, I now enjoyed Halloween in my "standard" uniform—though I always pulled out one of my now vintage leather jackets for the occasion.

It was, I suppose, a kind of costume. As of November 1, my tenure as Area 5 sheriff would end. And that same night, Kyle and I would begin our travels. Since I'd invested quite well, I had a private jet—run by a battery that was fueled by saltwater, which was, in turn, desalinated in the process so that the "waste" could be used to water crops. I looked up to see Pam looking back at me. She gestured toward my VO. I grinned at her. She was a grade-A bitch, but I'd missed her over the years, and I'd miss her again. I sat down on the ground heavily. I was truly spent in every way I could imagine.

Hell—even my bones hurt. To say that all hell had broken lose after I'd zapped Mab with my light would be an understatement. My grandfather had tried to get me out of the fairy realm, and Claude and his people had also tried to help, but—at the last second—the chasm that would have taken us back to the human realm closed. So we had to turn and fight. My grandfather gave his life to protect me not twenty seconds later, as he put his body between mine and Mab's deadly blast.

After that, many things seemed to happen incredibly fast. Claude ran to get me before Mab could regain enough strength to fire at me again. And we'd literally teleported to the headquarters of the "army" Claude fought for. Its leader was Niall, a fairy prince and my great-grandfather. It turned out that my grandfather had been his son. To say that I was flabbergasted was an understatement. Niall explained that I had found myself in the middle of a war between Fae factions. Mab, his enemy, was trying to bring part-Fae humans to the fairy realm in order to breed them and boost her numbers.

Apparently, the birthrate among full-blooded fairies was low. Meanwhile, Niall disagreed with Mab's policy of entrapping humans by using the light fruit, which I'd—thankfully—not eaten. Unfortunately, it didn't really matter much. Niall also explained the major time difference between the human and fairy realms.

For every twenty minutes that went by in Faerie, a year would pass on earth. Thus, by the time he was done with his explanations, I'd already "missed" five years. Moreover, Niall couldn't return me to the human realm right away since Mab controlled the only remaining portal! The only good news? Niall was determined to capture that portal so that Mab would no longer be able to send fairies to the human world so that they could breed and—in turn—return with their adult part-fairy children so that her numbers could be increased even more, which was, apparently, her "new" plan.

During the four days, four hours, and twenty minutes I spent in the fairy realm, I learned a lot from Niall and Claude. I learned how to conceal myself from other fairies by eliminating my scent and completely shielding my thoughts. I also learned how to alter my appearance using what the fairies called linatinan , which literally meant "changing the air" in the fairy language.

It was one of the few fairy words that I could actually pronounce.

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I was just glad that most fairies could speak English pretty well—since so much mixing with humanity had occurred throughout the years! While in Faerie, I also learned to call up my balls of light on demand, and I learned how to kill with them—when self-defense was called for. In those few days, I learned how truly far from human I was. From the moment I stepped into the fairy realm to the moment that Niall killed Mab and took control of the portal, four days, three hours, and twenty minutes passed.

During my last hour in Faerie, I made the decision that I knew I'd eventually need to make if our side won. Would I stay in Faerie or return home? After the fighting, I gave myself an hour to make my decision, despite knowing that that additional hour would bring my total tally of time lost in the human realm to three hundred years—give or take a month. I'd already given my options a lot of thought during my time in Faerie—at least when I wasn't in the middle of a battle. For I knew what wouldn't be waiting for me if I returned. All the humans and Weres I had loved would be gone.

Less than a day after I'd gotten to the fairy realm, it struck me that Jason would already be dead—even if he'd had a very long life. I'd wept for an hour before I'd been needed to fight when Mab had tried a frontal assault on Niall's headquarters. Over the next two days, I mourned for almost everyone I knew: Hell, even Maxine Fortenberry elicited a tear or two.

I also mourned the loss of Bill, though not his death. He was vampire, after all. But I mourned the fact that—no matter what he might have felt in the end—he'd pursued me as part of his job. He'd had me beaten within an inch of my life, and then he'd fed his blood to me so that I'd be beholden to him— and so that he could control me, even if only by having me dream erotically of him.

Hell—from what Niall told me—Bill could have done even more than that to influence me with his blood. However, just the dreams would have been enough for a twenty-five-year-old virgin who'd never—and I mean never —"enjoyed" the touch of a man before Bill came along. One "good" thing about being in Faerie was that the vampire blood inside of me no longer held any sway, especially not after Niall literally removed it from my system by using fairy magic.

Any lingering love that I'd had left for Bill following my knowledge of his betrayal left with his blood. However, I was surprised to realize that I did have positive feelings about the other vampire whose blood I'd had. At first, I simply found myself glad that he'd still be around if I did return to the human realm.

Later—after I'd been involved in a couple of battles—I began to appreciate some of his actions a bit more. He'd let Lafayette live, despite the fact that my friend had broken "vampire" law. He'd also let Jason go, though he'd been involved in the death of a vampire. I had "heard" that little tidbit from my brother's head in the days following our return from Dallas. He had also shown me respect and affection on more than one occasion.

Though he could be infuriating, he also made me laugh. Though he'd tricked me into taking his blood, he'd also protected me from a bomb. Though he'd initially refused to help me find Bill, he'd eventually relented, even sending Alcide to help me. Though he'd been completely forthcoming about the fact that he wanted to have sex with me, he'd looked like he was ready to re-kill Gabe when he saw my state in the Fellowship basement. Though he'd chained me up in his "dungeon," he'd done so in order to save us all and to prevent me from becoming Russell's blood slave.

Though he'd probably been happy about hurting Bill, he'd made sure that I'd learned the truth about Bill's job for the queen. And—after I'd had a bit of time—I recognized that Eric had been telling the truth when he said that he'd not wanted to see me hurt.

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And then there was that kiss in his office—so full of passion and promise. It had resonated with tragedy and with Eric's sorrow. He truly had thought that it would be our goodbye because he was already counting on meeting his true death in order to try to save his child and me. Minutes before I joined with Niall and his army to begin what would be our final battle with Mab, I realized something very important—something I would have never grasped if I'd not been facing my own death. If there had been one thing I could have asked for in that moment, it would have been a final kiss from Eric Northman.

Did that realization mean that I loved him? No—it was too soon for love. My heart was still reeling from Bill's betrayal and manipulation. However, I realized that I liked Eric. I really liked him. I was attracted to him—drawn to him. I found myself wishing that we'd had more interactions—more time. If I would have met Eric without the taint of Bill's negative words about him, things might have been different. If I could have trusted that Eric liked me for the woman I was and not for the scent of my blood or my telepathy, things might have been different.

But there had been one thing I'd been certain about: The expression in his eyes on my porch the last time I saw him was the expression he'd had when he'd gazed at Godric. No—that's not quite right. It was even more powerful. As I thought about whether or not to go back to the human realm, I considered what Faerie offered me: If I went back to the human realm, I would face graves. My home would probably be in ruins thanks to the savagery of time. And who knew what shape the earth would be in?

I began to understand why fairies like my great-grandfather had once gone to the human realm. They could spend lifetimes there—and miss only a few days in the fairy world. They could have families with humans and watch them grow. I don't know why exactly that I asked my great-grandfather to take me back to the human realm, but I did. And that's what he did, though he suggested that I cover my Fae scent until I knew what I would be facing. I thought it was good advice. We arrived exactly where I'd left from—the graveyard.

I looked down at Gran's now slightly eroded headstone and let out a sob. Niall had brought the remains of my grandfather Earl—fairy dust—and together, we buried what was left of him with Gran. And then Niall did something that surprised me. He looked at me with kind eyes and made me an offer.

He told me that he would stay in the human realm for a month before returning to Faerie. He made the excuse that he wanted to spend a little time in the realm where he'd found love, but I knew that he was staying in case I changed my mind. Since he didn't want to influence my decision by staying with me, he decided to travel a bit. He said he would see me in thirty days' time; only a couple of minutes would pass by in the fairy realm.

The sun was low in the sky, though it was rising as the morning passed. I spent about an hour wandering the graveyard. I found my brother's grave and the graves of most of the other people I'd cared for. To me, it had been only a few days since I'd last seen them, and I wept once more for them. And then I took the path toward my home.

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Returning there was a shock. It looked the same, but not the same at all—a disjunction that was hard to explain. My home had obviously been repaired and rebuilt—not at all the ruin I'd expected after three hundred years. This home is equipped with a ZetaR security system. If you are authorized to enter, you may do so by following standard entry procedures. If you are not, you are encouraged to fuck off.

Have a nice day. I took a surprised and shaky breath at hearing that Eric owned my home, but didn't have time to do much more than that before I heard a buzzing noise. A sensor of some kind came out of the door.


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I internally noted that the feminine voice sounded almost frustrated with my inability to "follow the standard entry procedures. I tentatively reached out and was completely shocked when the house said, "Welcome, Miss Stackhouse," even as the door unlocked and opened by itself. I looked around the room. I shook my body a little. Somehow, I'd found myself in a world that made me feel like I was trapped in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

I took a deep breath and decided to just go with it. After that, I decided to try one and went to the kitchen. There were about twenty in the drawer. I picked the one that said chicken and dumplings. The computer, whose name I learned was Buffy, directed me to get a glass of water, which was—surprisingly enough—safe to drink.

Next, she instructed me to pour the contents of the pouch into the water. I was then directed to recycle the pouch and wait one minute as the powder mixed itself "thoroughly" with that water. Northman used the recipe books in this residence to have human sustenance prepared after the advent of protein packets in The shelf-life of a protein pack is 5 years. Every four years, new protein packs are ordered, and the old ones are donated to charity," Buffy further explained as if rattling off a memorized and much followed set of directions. Northman here right now?

Northman is at the home of Kyle Bellefleur in Shreveport," Buffy responded immediately. Northman does not plan to return to this home until after his travels are over. I am to work with Ms. Swynford De Beaufort to ensure the proper running of things until he returns. I took a deep breath and looked around the kitchen. All the appliances had a space-aged look to them, but other things were as they'd always been. The old kitchen table, which had somehow survived the Maenad's reign, had also survived the centuries.

I smiled a little and then found myself walking through the house. Room after room, there was a convergence of the new and the old. Eric was ever-present—his taste mixing harmonically with the simplicity that the house had always offered. Artifacts of his many years mixed with a few knickknacks left over from Gran's collecting. I walked into Gran's old room and saw the headboard she'd always used, though it had been broken in half the last time I'd seen it.

Eric must have had it repaired. I picked up a picture of Gran and my grandfather, which was on a dresser that had obviously been gotten because it "matched" the headboard in style. Next, I ventured into my room. It hadn't suffered as much at the hands of the Maenad as Gran's room had, but all of the damage it had incurred had obviously been repaired. My room looked as it always had in many ways.

Miss Stackhouse prefers casual clothing, including jeans and T-shirts. Sundresses are also a must, as is a bikini since Miss Stackhouse enjoys sitting in the sun," the computer said as if reciting another set of directives. Apparently Buffy had good hearing. Northman's current theory is that you were taken to the fairy realm and are being held there against your will.

From what he has learned of that realm, he has hypothesized that the chances of you one day returning are 1. Of course, Buffy had to explain how things worked with the newfangled toilet and then gave up explanations and operated the shower "herself. After I was done, I dressed in blue jeans and a Fangtasia T-shirt, glad to see that some fashions hadn't changed too much—or maybe they'd just come back in style. But the bra was the most amazing part! Somehow in three hundred years, someone had figured out how to make them comfortable.

Thank God for progress! I felt relaxed when next I talked to my new "companion. I was directed to bookshelf 3 in Mr. I had to ask for directions to that. It turned out that Eric had added a "cubby" for himself under the house. There, I found a bed, a desk, and several bookcases—mostly full of first editions.

Buffy explained that physical books were becoming more and more rare, but that all of the books that had been in the house upon Mr. Northman's purchase of it had been added to the virtual library. After helping me find bookshelf 3 by literally putting a spotlight on it, Buffy directed me to a large volume that looked like a history book. As it turned out, it was. I spent the next several hours reading about the lives and the ends of most of the people I'd called family and friends. Eric had obviously painstakingly written their histories and had collected applicable newspaper articles, before literally transforming all the data into a book—complete with photographs—for me.

I also learned about some of Bill's doings, as well as Pam's. I learned about some of the things that had occurred in my absence: When the scrapbook was exhausted, Buffy helped me to operate the VO, which I learned meant "virtual office. Tragedy was intermixed with Eric's own particular—and peculiar—sense of humor, and I found myself laughing my ass off many times. It took me much longer than it should have to realize that he'd done all he'd done for me. It was almost sundown when I felt the rumblings of hunger again. I ate Gran's fried chicken—all of the taste, but none of the preservatives.

Still, I missed the texture of "real" food. Buffy informed me that human food was still readily available since "the mastication of solid food promoted dental health. I was also told that most humans ate "actual foodstuffs" once per day. It was as the sun was going down that I asked Buffy the most important question I'd had that day.

As the song ended, I noticed the one I was going to choose. She was, ironically enough, dressed as Little Red Riding Hood. She wore a long red cloak with a hood pulled down so that I couldn't see her eyes. I caught a glimpse of brunette hair, and I inhaled deeply. She was human, though it was difficult to determine her blood type.

As if she knew I was looking, she pushed her hood back so that her face was visible, though her eyes were turned downward so that I couldn't see them. I realized that—unlike my usual choices for meals—nothing really stood out about the woman's scent. In fact, except for the fact that she happened to be wearing the costume of the fictional character that had just been sung about, nothing stood out about her at all.

But there was something about the way she walked. But I couldn't quite put my finger on why that was. One of the new vampires to the area moved to approach her, so I hissed, effectively staking my claim. Only the king could overrule me. I glanced over at Bill, who was dressed as a Southern Civil War era gentleman. I believe he recycled that costume every year.

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Upon hearing my hiss, he—and every other being with supernatural hearing, for that matter—looked at the object of my desire. It was our instinct to do so. The stronger the being who staked the claim, the more interested the others would be. I could hear all supernaturals, including my own progenies, inhaling. An older vampire had staked a claim. The others in the room wondered why. It was their choice whether or not to try to fight me for the "prize.

Almost immediately, the supernaturals in the bar judged the woman to be of little interest. And, soon, all but three pairs of eyes went back to what they'd been doing. Kyle looked at me with interest, having never felt such interest from me before. He gave me a slight nod, and I could feel that he was happy that I was intrigued by someone. His chief emotion was what I would label as "supportiveness. Pam's eyes were also on me as I looked at her. She seemed curious, and she gave Tara—whom she'd called to help her run Fangtasia for a while—a "look" before turning back to her conversation with Chow.

Bill was the third person whose curiosity was truly peaked by my interest in Little Red Riding Hood. He looked at me with a tilted head before looking back at the brunette. He seemed interested for about half a second, but I could tell that it was only because I was interested. He looked back at me, smirked, and then turned back to his newest "soul mate," a lovely, blond actress who had recently starred in the fifth remake of Gone with the Wind.

I'd met her a few times before, and I thought that she was the perfect choice for Bill's next "life-mate. But I didn't dwell on Bill or his lovely companion. I focused on Little Red Riding Hood, who was now walking toward me. After she had told me where Eric would be later that night—a Halloween party at Fangtasia—the helpful Buffy had promised not to "interface" with Eric to let him know of my presence back in the human realm.

Apparently, she'd been told to "obey my orders. After we'd gotten that straight, she'd "interfaced" with a costume shop rental place and arranged for me to get the only garment left—Little Red Riding Hood. Of course, I decided to continue covering the scent of my fairy blood. My human blood would still be smelled, but that was okay.

I figured that Eric wouldn't recognize the A without the B—so to speak. Even though my blood type wasn't AB—or any other human type—I hoped that I wouldn't stand out too much. But I had to smell like something ; otherwise, Eric would have been even more suspicious of me.

My costume came within the hour, delivered by a vehicle without a human driver; the car seemed to hover a little above the ground. That reminded me that—even with a costume—this "Cinderella" had no way of getting to the "ball. Luckily, however, Buffy quickly volunteered to arrange for my transportation.

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She "interfaced" with someone named Deacon, with whom she seemed to flirt. Using Niall's lessons, I could alter everything about my physical appearance other than my eyes. I made myself brunette. I gave myself a few more inches of height. I lessened my chest size a little.

Because it was funny to me, I gave myself a tiny chin cleft to match Eric's. I elongated my throat a little, which would also—I'd learned—alter my voice. As I looked in the mirror, I already didn't recognize myself, but to be sure, I made my lips a bit fuller and heightened my cheekbones. I was taking a big chance. Without my scent and my usual appearance, it was very possible that Eric wouldn't even give me a second look, but that would be an answer of sorts too.

In Faerie, I'd wondered what would have happened if I'd wandered in Eric's bar without my scent. I considered myself pretty, but not beautiful. So—I made myself a version of that kind of "ordinary pretty," only with another hair color. I didn't plan past that night. I wanted to see Eric—to see if the chemistry between us was innate—if it could exist without my blood or his blood in the equation. And—if it did—I'd go from there. If it didn't, I figured I was still pretty lucky.

Buffy seemed ready, willing, and able to help me out with anything I needed, and it didn't seem like money was an object. I figured that if things didn't work out at Fangtasia, I'd plan out my next step tomorrow, and I could always hold up in Gran's—I mean Eric's—house for a month, learning about all of the changes to the earth. There were plenty of protein packs to hold me over for a while, and I'd learned that anything else I needed could be delivered. I hated the thought of spending Eric's money, but I'd already asked Buffy if I still had my bank accounts, and I didn't. Buffy, it seemed, was a wealth of knowledge.

She told me that Jason had closed out my accounts after I'd been legally declared dead, which was—now that I thought about it—really too bad! The morning after I confronted Eric following Bill's disappearance, I'd had just enough time before my shift to go to the bank and open a savings account with the ten thousand dollars Eric messengered to me not two hours after I'd left Fangtasia. The account didn't have a huge interest rate, but—after three hundred years—that ten thousand dollars could have turned into a hefty sum indeed!

However, that money wasn't waiting for me. I'd "died" almost three hundred years before. I just hoped that Jason got good use out of the money. I sighed, knowing that I didn't have much of a choice but to accept Eric's "help" for the time being; maybe it helped that he didn't know he was giving it.

No matter what, I did intend to tell Eric that I was back—though after my experiment was over. It would be unfair and ungrateful of me not to, and I didn't want to be either of those things—especially not with him. But I had to know if Eric could like me for— me. And in a month's time—if I'd not figured out a plan for my new life—I could always go back to Faerie with Niall. And I was pretty sure that Niall could help me pay Eric back too. I put on my costume and then my cloak. In the mirror, I saw a nervous stranger, and I said a quick prayer as I applied the deep red lipstick I found in my bathroom.

In the classic fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood was told to go straight to her grandmother's house, but—being a curious child—she'd wandered into the woods before delivering her wares to her sick relative. There, she'd met a wolf. But, instead of attacking her in his domain, the wolf had toyed with her and had learned of her destination.

Then, according to some versions, he'd raced through the woods to beat Little Red Riding Hood to her grandmother's house. Then, he'd killed her grandmother, after which he'd toyed with the girl further by deceiving her in order to draw her to her grandmother's bed. Then he had—with actions that even someone who'd never heard of Freud before could understand—"devoured" her. All of the "classic" versions had been written to warn little girls not to disobey their elders.

Ironically, after I'd finished getting ready, "Little Red Riding Hood" walked alone through the woods in order to visit her grandmother's grave. This time, I took her flowers from the yard. I'd smiled as I'd noticed that the rose bushes looked almost the same as they always had. The letters of Gran's name in her gravestone were a bit worn by time, and I imagined that her body was in a state of decomposition below me too—despite the fact that her body had been embalmed.

The muck of vampire remains was horrifying, but at least it reabsorbed into the earth quickly. And—if they burned into ash—the process was even faster. I wondered what might eventually become of my corporeal body and then laughed as I remembered where I'd learned the word, "corporeal. I shed a tear, took a flower from Gran's grave, and delivered it to Arlene's, which I'd found that morning. By the time I got back to the house, the vehicle that Buffy had ordered for me was there.

Like my delivery "driver" earlier, my car was a robot. I chuckled as I climbed in as I thought of Jason's excitement over the movie Transformers. We'd watched it together only a month before. The car, whose name was—indeed—Deacon, actually asked me if I was in the mood for talk, music, or silence. I opted for conversation and then asked Deacon to tell me about Louisiana history for the past three hundred years. It turned out that the car was an excellent history teller.

He was also receptive to my request that he "slow the fuck down" when it seemed that we were going over a hundred miles an hour. I have to say that it was disorienting to travel over roads when no physical contact was made between the tires and the asphalt most of the time. The car told me that "hovering technology" had been developed in by Martin McFlemming, a vampire.

From Deacon, who was one of Eric's "usual" drivers, I learned that the Viking had been more-less unbiased in his account of Bill. Deacon also gave me information that Eric hadn't—gossip. The car actually chuckled as "he" told me all about Bill's reputation as "the king of great love. Bill was known for finding a human woman, marrying her, and then being faithful to her until her death. Then, a decade or so later, he'd repeat the process. Bill had been married six times in the three hundred years that I'd been gone. He was currently courting an actress named Principalia Pitt, a descendent of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie—funnily enough.

Deacon told me that automotive and household "units" in his "interface group," which included Buffy, had taken bets on how long it would take Bill to declare that Principalia was the "love of his undead life. The car also told me that Eric had remained unmarried, but no other personal details of his life were available without a special access code, and Deacon—unlike Buffy—didn't offer a hint about the code.

Nor did I ask for one. In truth, it felt wrong finding out about Eric's life from someone other than Eric. It seemed that the Viking was still extremely private. However, his "histories" had offered me some insight about his life. The car stopped in front of Fangtasia—which Deacon reported had been rebuilt following the "big earthquake.

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