Ladders and snakes, ladders give, snakes take
Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief
Ain’t got a hope in hell, that’s my belief
Fingers Finney, Diamond Jim
Ya’ better get ready ready, look out, I’m comin’ in
So, spin that wheel, cut that pack and roll those loaded dice
Bring on the dancing girls and put the champagne on ice
~ Sin City, AC/DC
I must admit that the moment I saw the blonde woman walking down the stairs I was fascinated by the ethereal glow about her. She was beautiful, there was no doubt about it, but she paled in comparison to my Sookie: Everyone paled in comparison to her.
When she introduced herself, I fell into silent shock, watching as my Maker vamped in front of her and the pair found themselves in a tight embrace. The beautiful woman was the Ata my Maker had spoken so fondly of on our journey over here? She was alive? I could feel Godric’s happiness in our bond, and while I was pleased it was there, I was angry too: She’d given up on him, accepted the fact that he was dead and just moved on with her life. I analysed my anger for a moment and it dissipated, she’d been a Pharaoh and any weakness would have made her vulnerable to attack. I’d been a Chieftain’s son in my day, and when my father had been murdered I had taken over his position, I could understand her dilemma. I would have looked weak also if I had mourned for too long over the death of a servant.
I watched their reunion carefully, observing their body language and the words spoken between them. The woman seemed sincere in her emotions, genuinely sad that she had lost my Maker two millennia ago.
As another vampire approached the group, my back stiffened and my hold on Sookie tightened a little. While my Maker may trust the woman before him, I didn’t trust the other vampires in the room at all.
When we followed her into the elevator, Ata made a joke about herself and her lack of balance, and against my better judgment, I found myself laughing. I’d always appreciated people who had the ability to laugh at themselves and put others at ease.
I noted how my Maker held her hand, how he leaned into her. It was obvious that after 2000 years he still held a considerable amount of affection for her. True, I was jealous, this woman was giving my Maker something I couldn’t, but at the same time, I was happy that she was making him happy. It had been some time since I had felt this level of contentment and ease in our Maker-Childe bond.
Entering the penthouse, I was surprised by how different it was to the rest of the building. It had a homey feeling to it and had been tastefully decorated. The colours were still light enough to make the room feel big but the dark furniture was a reminder of the nature of the company Ata kept.
The tall blonde vampire leaning against a doorframe caught my attention and I frowned, he looked like someone I had once known in my human life, the son of the Chieftain of another clan that had lived beside ours. We had fought together plenty of times and sailed the seas in harmony. I would bring the subject up later; clearly, the main concern was the reunion between my Maker and his lover.
Ata’s attention turned to me and she regarded me for a moment, “I don’t believe we’ve met but I’m going to go with Viking…” she started and I picked up the slack.
“You are correct. Eric Northman, Sheriff of Area 5, Louisiana, Godric’s progeny,” I introduced myself with my signature smirk: We were in unknown territory and I wanted to assert some form of authority. Ata’s eyes turned to Godric and she tipped her head sideways a little, like the puppies I once had as a human.
“Eric is a fierce warrior and I wanted his companionship,” Godric explained. I couldn’t keep my pride and love for my Maker from flooding our bond, and in return, I received the same emotions back.
Sookie watched Ata and Godric as they interacted, seemingly just as fascinated with them as I was. Of course, she had more reason to do so since she had been the one on the roof with my Maker in Dallas; she’d been the one to convince him to come back inside and away from the sun. She turned to me, her head tipping back to take in my full height. “You know, I’ve never been to a casino before. I’d just love to try and win a buck.” She batted her eyelashes and started to gently tug me towards the elevator. I allowed her to pull me along, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to make me move a millimetre if I didn’t want her to, but I could sense my Maker’s relief and gratitude in the bond: He wanted to be alone with Ata.
Once inside the elevator, my lover hit the button for the ground floor, a large grin on her face. “I can’t believe it! Can you? All that talk about her, finding her sketchbook and everything and then we get here and she’s standing there, looking as if she hasn’t aged a day! And she remembers Godric, and she’s a faery too!” She babbled on in excitement, and I couldn’t suppress a chuckle. Niall, the old bastard, had been right. We’d only been in Las Vegas an hour and already we were having surprises thrown at us from all sides.
When the elevator stopped, we disembarked and were met with the two vampires who had spoken to Ata when we first arrived. Ari and Khai if my perfect memory served me right. “Miss Stackhouse, Mr. Northman,” Ari greeted politely. “Miss Caesar has asked for me to present you with these,” he told us, producing two black casino plaques that I took graciously. “Miss Caesar wants you to enjoy your stay here, so feel free to play any games you wish, whatever you win is yours to keep,” he informed us as both vampires bowed before disappearing off into the crowds.
“I’ve seen those things on the TV before, what’s our limit?” Sookie asked me, rising onto her tiptoes a little, hoping to catch a better view of the plaques. Usually, they had their limit printed on them, but the only detail on these was the hotel’s symbol. I had never encountered a black casino plaque before, but I was certain about the allowance.
“They’re black, Sookie, like my Amex, and my Amex has no limit” I explained quietly, not sure about how much of a good idea it would be to flaunt the plaques around.
I could feel my lover’s shock in the bond, and I turned to look down at her, offering her one of the cards. She shook her head adamantly. “I can’t take it, I won’t take it. I don’t want to spend someone else’s money,” she declared, the stubborn streak I loved so much shining through.
I could understand her qualms, even though I’d lived for 1000 years, I was still wary of the fact I was holding an infinite amount of money in my hand, and that was saying something given the total of all my bank balances. I thought for a moment about how to explain this in a way Sookie would accept, “I suppose it isn’t so bad. If we lose, the money goes back to the casino and back into Ata’s pocket really, and if we win we’ve been told we get to keep it. She’s your family and she wants you to be happy.”
Still shaking her head, my lover put her foot down. “I’m not spending her money, even if she is family,” she decided and I knew that for now, I had lost the argument.
“Well, in that case, I’ll spend it.” I grinned, tucking both black plaques into the inside pocket of my jacket.
“Eric! No!” Sookie protested but I silenced her with a kiss. We were in Vegas, in one of the best casinos on the strip, which happened to be owned by my lover’s kinswoman, and we were running from a psychopathic 3000-year-old vampire. There wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance I wasn’t going to spend some serious money.
Navigating my lover through the array of people and tables, I led us to one of the quieter roulette tables. I figured I would start her off with something nice and simple, poker and craps would come later. Stopping beside the table, I placed myself behind my lover, giving me the perfect position to whisper the rules of the game in her ear. “Roulette is a spinning wheel that contains slots numbered one to thirty-six, as well as two additional slots, zero and double zero. A white ball is spun around the wheel as the wheel rotates, and when the ball loses speed, it drops, falling into one of the numbered slots. Players can continue to place bets as the ball spins around the wheel until the dealer announces no more bets,” I whispered, running my hands over the bare skin on her arms.
“Half of the numbers have a red background and the other half a black background. Zero and double zero have a green background. Aside from the roulette wheel, the rest of the table layout shows various bets that you can make by placing your chips on them,” I continued, gesturing in the direction of the table layout before us.
“There are two types of bets, inside and outside. Inside bets are made on the chart of the various numbers one to thirty-six and zero and double zero. Just put a chip down in the middle of the square with the number you select. It is called a straight up bet. Separating the chart into various squares with numbers are lines. These lines are called streets. By putting a chip on the street between two numbers, called a split bet, you will win if either one of them comes up with the spin.” I spoke clearly and slowly, not because I deemed my lover stupid but because I knew how difficult it could be for newbies.
“You can also place your chip to cover three numbers, known as a street bet. The chip is placed at the end of any row of numbers. Bets placed at the junctions of ‘0, 1, 2’ and ‘0, 2, 3’ are also considered to be a street bet. You can cover four numbers, called a corner bet and you can cover six numbers, which is called a line bet, by placing a chip on two adjoining streets” I concluded my instructions on inside bets.
Checking the bond, I felt a slight tinge of confusion but it was soon overrun with determination. Falling silent for a moment as we watched the game before us, the ball spinning around the roulette wheel, my bonded nodded for me to continue.
“Outside bets are bets made that do not involve specific numbers. You can bet a red or a black number will win – a colour bet. You can bet the number will be odd or even – even/odd bet. You can also bet the number will be high, nineteen to thirty-six, or low, eighteen or less, this is called a high low bet. You can also bet on any of the three columns, this is called a column bet. The thirty-six numbers have been broken up into three dozens; they are called the first dozen, a second dozen and a third dozen. You can bet on these groups, called a dozen bet.” I finished, not bothering to batter my beloved’s brains with the pay-outs that each option would give.
Sookie seemed sceptical, she understood the game but I could feel her reservation in regards to spending her kinswoman’s money. “Ata might be offended if you don’t play and enjoy yourself,” I murmured, knowing it was a cruel way to encourage her to spend money but I knew Sookie’s good Southern manners would stop her from wanting to offend anyone. With a sigh she nodded in defeat, holding her hand out for the black plaque.
Silently triumphant, I watched as the vampire Croupier took one glance at Sookie’s plaque and offered her a box of chips. Clearly, there was no squabble. Tentatively my lover plucked six $100 chips from the set, they were the lowest denominations available and she pulled them back to her body. It wasn’t a lot in my opinion, but it was a start. Looking over her shoulder at me, I gave her a reassuring smile, pushing the feeling through the bond too.
Daintily she leant over the table, popping one chip on the ten, one on the three and one on the thirty-four. Pausing to contemplate her next move, my lover placed the last three chips on the second dozen. With her chips in place, I felt her anxiety in the bond. I was about to check in on the bond I had with my Maker when abruptly I was smacked with a thrum of life, causing me to breathe in sharply and sway on the spot slightly. My Maker’s sudden happiness poured into the bond I had with him and rendered me speechless.
Ever the caring woman, my lover disregarded the game for a moment, turning to look at me as her hands came up to my cheeks. “What’s the matter? What’s going on? Is it Godric, is he okay?” she asked quickly and quietly, obviously not wanting to broadcast our group to the others around the table, but of course, the vampire Croupier would hear. I trusted our location was safe with him though as he had been vetted for the job.
Not sure what the new thrum of life meant, I nodded, giving my lover a dazzling smile before turning her around to face the table once more. I wanted her to watch her first bet. I was praying that she wouldn’t lose. It would be disheartening. Wrapping my arms around her waist, I held her close to my chest as I kissed her shoulder, my eyes trained on the roulette wheel.
An idiotic 3000-year-old vampire may have been hunting us down, but I couldn’t have been happier. My lover was in my arms, she was going to get all the training she could possibly need to help her master her powers, and my Maker was happy for the first time in centuries. For a moment I reminisced, remembering the journey of the past two and a half years from the moment Sookie walked into my bar. I knew then I would have her, and now she was mine, and I was hers. If someone had told me back then that a small, blonde, telepathic faery waitress would turn my world upside down I’d have laughed and then drained them. But then I’d learnt over my 1000 years that life isn’t always what you expect it to be, that things change and you must either learn to adapt or perish.
I didn’t hear their approach, but I felt my Maker getting closer. The ball stopped circling and dropped at that exact moment, sliding neatly into slot number twenty. Sookie was silent for a moment, unsure what to say or do, clearly still trying to wrap her mind around the game. Thankfully Godric stopped at my side, his hand locked firmly in Ata’s and Ata looked upon the board with glee. “My dear, you have won! You placed a bet on the second dozen and twenty is within that category! You placed $300 dollars so I do believe you just won yourself a nice little $600!” she exclaimed happily, a broad grin on her features as she gave her kin a hug.
Shock and triumph sounded through our bond and I couldn’t suppress a chuckle, my lover would no doubt want to save whatever she made and it would take some convincing initially to make her spend it. Looking to my Maker as my bonded embraced her family member, I took in his slightly pink complexion, a drastic change from the awful shade of grey he’d been donning recently. Sparing a glance to Ata as she pulled back from her embrace with my lover, I caught sight of the faint marks upon her neck. To the human and Were eye they would be invisible, but to vampires not so much. Turning back to my Maker I couldn’t help but smile, “You look a lot better, Godric.”
“I feel better, my Childe,” he responded contentedly.
“Is it Ata I can feel? The other thrum in our bond?” I asked, wanting clarification. If it were indeed Ata, as I suspected it would be, then I would have to thank her later. Not only had she fed my Maker and given him back his healthy glow, but she had also given him a purpose.
“Yes, my Childe. I will not lose her again,” he stated firmly and I heard the certainty in his voice. I knew he would use all 2000 years of his experience to keep her willingly by his side.
For the next hour, we played roulette and Sookie had pocketed $4,500 by the end of the night and had only spent about $2,000. I was content and everything was perfect, a little too perfect. There were guards around us constantly, though it never caused us any undue attention. The regulars were obviously used to seeing Ata guarded and assumed that because we were her guests this evening that protection fell to us as well.
Godric and Ata kept their attachment to one another on the lowdown as people came to talk to her, not wanting to draw attention to themselves in case someone decided to use it against us. People complimented her on her clothes or her business and she slapped on a smile and accepted every compliment graciously before returning them. I could see through it, though, I could see how she wavered between people, forcing her smile just a little too much. Clearly, the lifestyle was taking its toll on her.
Finally, as the number of people speaking to Ata decreased, Ari approached our group again. “Ata, you have not eaten this evening yet again,” he reprimanded lightly, giving his charge an affectionate smile.
Turning back to us, she gave a sheepish smile. “Are you hungry, Sook?” She asked.
“Where would you like to eat? We have a variety of Chinese restaurants, a grill, and a bistro, an Italian restaurant…“ She reeled off the list and my lover licked her lips at the mention of all the food
“The Italian perhaps? I’d love some pasta if you’ve got some!” She asked excitedly, clearly hungry. I scolded myself for forgetting her need for food. It would take some getting used to, catering for my Sookie’s needs, but I wouldn’t skimp. She would eat only the best and freshest food, sleep in the most luxurious beds and dress in the finest clothes. I would make sure of it.