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Uninvited

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Chapter 01: Balls

EPOV

Eric Northman was angry—really fucking angry.

For the first time in his long existence, he was losing control of a situation. Actually, he had already lost control.

And the source of his consternation had a name: Sookie Stackhouse.

He'd felt her panic and then her pain even as he'd been in his day-rest. Her emotions had been so sharp that they had woken him the fuck up! Nothing had ever done that to him before.

Nothing!

At first, Eric had feared that the source of his pain was his progeny's death. His child, Pam, was currently being held by the Magister—that self-righteous, self-important son of a bitch who had been tipped off about the V sales Eric had been forced to make for Queen Sophie-Anne, who was yet another thorn in his fucking side.

After a few moments of agonizing worry that afternoon, Eric had realized that his child—thankfully—was in her day-sleep, obviously having been given some time to rejuvenate so that the Magister could reinjure her body the next night. He was, after all, well known for his preference for having a healed, clean slate as he started each new night of torture.

The sadistic bastard.

Though Pam was relatively fine for the moment, Eric had been acutely aware of his progeny's pain for the last two nights. However, he knew that his child would not break under her torture—at least not so soon. He'd taught her better than that. But her agony had been profound and prolonged. Eric almost admired the Magister's zeal for his task. He hoped that Pam was taking notes.

No—the source of his pain and the cause of his waking had been his blood inside of one Sookie Stackhouse: the telepathic barmaid who'd been captivating way too much of his attention lately. The thing that pissed him off the most was that he couldn't seem to stop himself from being captivated, especially since he'd maneuvered his blood into her.

"My blood in her was supposed to give ME the fucking power," he thought ruefully. However, Eric suppressed a sigh and kept his face expressionless.

The Viking had so many fucking balls up in the air that the very last thing he needed was for Sookie Stackhouse to be added to the mix, but there she was—as fucking usual! The biggest and most unwieldy fucking ball of all!

Eric calmed himself. He was a warrior. He was a strategist. He was Godric's child—for fuck's sake! And even if he wasn't in control right now, all he needed was a plan, and then he would be again.

He did an inventory of the various balls that were hovering around him. He tried to visualize each one as a game-piece. He just needed to move all the pieces around until he could visualize a winning strategy.

Ball one. First and foremost, he had to save Pam from the Magister. And, unfortunately, he needed Russell Edgington's help to accomplish that task.

Ball two. He had to plan and execute the final death of that same vampire, Russell Edgington, who he had just found out had been responsible for his human family's deaths more than a thousand years before. Oh—and, of course, Russell couldn't be the run-of-the-mill vampire. No! He had to be three thousand fucking years old! Eric hadn't been able to hold a candle to his maker's strength, and Russell was a thousand years Godric's senior! As far as Eric knew, Russell was the oldest vampire on the continent and one of the oldest in existence. And he was a king to boot!

Oh—and he came with his own personal army of Weres, Weres strengthened by and addicted to vampire blood.

Ball three. He had to eliminate that two-faced bitch of an ex-queen of his, Sophie-Anne Leclerq, who'd had him selling the V that had gotten him into this fucking mess in the first place.

He'd been looking for a reason to do away with her for a while now. Truth be told, that bitch had signed her fucking death warrant when she poached into his territory for the telepath. Had she just told him about Sookie Stackhouse, Eric would have secured her as an asset without all the fucking subterfuge. Given what he knew about Sookie, Eric figured that she would have worked freely for Sophie-Anne as long as she had been given a fair contract and could maintain a somewhat normal life. All Sophie-Anne would have had to do was to pay Eric the normal tribute for securing such an asset, which Eric would have likely waved in exchange for the occasional usage of Sookie's telepathy. It could have been a civilized business arrangement between everyone involved.

But no! Sophie-Anne had to be a twat!

Despite her age, the queen continued to view the world as a spoiled child viewed toys. She felt that she was entitled to everything in the fucking toy box, and she didn't share!

Also damning Sophie-Anne was the fact that she had betrayed him, even though he'd been a loyal sheriff to her for decades. It had been she who had tipped off the Magister that the V would be at Fangtasia. It was her fault that Pam was in pain. The Viking's hands literally itched for his sword so that he could take her fucking head!

Ball four. Sookie Stackhouse.

He should have killed her long ago because of all the trouble that seemed to follow her around. She was defiant and foolhardy. She was naïve and annoying, especially when it came to her reckless devotion to Bill Compton, who was one of the most insipid vampires Eric had ever met.

But there was something about Sookie Stackhouse that drew Eric in, like a fucking moth to the flame. Yes—she was defiant, but the novelty of having someone stand up to him after so long aroused a fire within Eric's dead heart. Could her fire match his own? Could she make his life less dull and monotonous?

Did he even want to bother with her at all?

At least he knew the answer to the last question: yes. Though she was likely more trouble than she was worth, the answer was yes.

Sookie was foolhardy, but she was also loyal. And though her blazing devotion was wasted on the likes of Compton and her shifter boss, it was still something to be admired. She was only naïve because Compton had endeavored to keep her that way so that she could be controlled. But she was not stupid. It was true that she was inexperienced; however, Eric saw within her the potential to become a great warrior. And he'd not seen such a thing since he brought Pam to his side.

In fact, if he was telling the truth, his initial attraction to Sookie far eclipsed even that which he'd felt for Pam.

God help him, but now that he had gotten to know Sookie, Eric couldn't allow her to be lost to the clutches of someone like Sophie-Anne, who would display her pet telepath like a fucking zoo animal in a cage.

Sookie's fire burned too hot for a cage; thus, she would surely defy Sophie-Anne at every turn, which would lead to the queen losing control one day and draining her dry.

Eric could imagine the aftermath now. A dead Sookie at her feet, Sophie-Anne would likely let out a dainty laugh and cover her mouth coyly, before wiping away Sookie's blood from her lips and chin with a white lace handkerchief. "Oh well," she would say in that irritatingly shrill lilt of hers, "It was her own fault for being so delectable. Compton! Compton!" she would call. "You will need to procure me another telepathic fairy immediately!"

The thought of Sophie-Anne's sense of entitlement and lack of responsibility made Eric want to retch, but he kept his stony countenance in place.

And—of course—the damage that Sophie-Anne could do to Sookie paled in comparison to the damage that Russell would likely inflict upon her.

Eric would have cringed at that thought if he hadn't had an audience.

As far as Eric was concerned, Bill-fucking-Compton was the chief reason why Russell knew about Sookie anyway. Compton wasn't important enough for Eric to consider a ball in the air, but he was most definitely a pain in his ass. Compton was inferior in every way, yet he had managed to enthrall Sookie because of his blood. Eric knew that the younger vampire had gotten pints and pints of his blood into Sookie, and he'd obviously had her blood too. The Viking could only imagine the kind of influence Bill had established over her.

Moreover, Compton and his mainstreaming nonsense just annoyed the hell out of Eric.

The Viking wouldn't have ridiculed Bill nearly so much if he had believed that the younger vampire was genuine about the lifestyle he had professed to be taking up. But Bill was the worst kind of apologist, always offering excuses for who he was and what he did. In Eric's experience, the only vampires like that were the ones who had a disproportionately large number of things to apologize for.

And the Viking had heard things about Bill, especially about when he was still with Lorena. But he'd also heard rumors about more recent occurrences in Sophie-Anne's court. According to Eric's spies, before Bill had decided to "mainstream," he was well known for finding women who appealed to Sophie-Anne's tastes—women who would not be missed if they simply disappeared. The lucky ones—like Hadley—pleased the queen enough to be kept around and became "donors." The unlucky ones were banqueted upon by the vampires at court.

Eric knew for a fact that Russell Edgington planned to utilize Bill's talents in a similar way. Talbot had been very forthcoming in telling him about Bill's "job interview" a few nights before. Apparently, after Russell, Lorena, and Bill were finished with the dancer Bill had procured, the interior of the limo had needed to be redone.

And the dancer—of course—had been dead.

Obviously, such actions were "forbidden" by the AVL, but even if they were not, Eric wouldn't have chosen to participate in them. There was nothing less appetizing to Eric than the thought of sharing a meal with someone like Sophie-Anne or Russell Edgington. Eric had fed off of humans with Pam and Godric before, but that was for practicality or more "innocent" pleasure. And those occurrences had not turned into blood orgies with human corpses as the end product.

The Viking was not blameless, but he wasn't a depraved miscreant either.

Eric had killed many in his thousand years—mostly enemies, but some innocents as well, especially in the wars he fought as a human. He couldn't help but to recall the sword that was swung at him haphazardly in battle one time. The swing had been weak and unsteady, but the blade had bitten into his lower back. Without thought, Eric had turned and was swinging his own sword. The body that he had cleft in two belonged to a boy, probably no more than five years of age. That child's sky blue eyes—and the surprise in them as he'd died—would always stay with Eric. But even that kill, the Viking would not apologize for. The boy had chosen to fight. And he had died well and bravely. Eric had burned his body and sent him on to Valhalla with his own fallen warriors.

As a vampire, Eric had been trained and tested by Godric from the start. Up until recently, the smartest vampires had traveled in the shadows in order to conceal their natures. That was why Godric tended to follow battles—at least until more modern weaponry began to be utilized. Drinking from the already gaping wounds of dying soldiers on battlefields did not draw any attention. A thousand years before, Godric had taught Eric to drink only what he had to from glamoured townspeople and to gorge himself on the battlefields.

Certainly, in his travels with Godric, Eric had seen decadence and lack of control among his kind. Huge blood orgies were common in larger cities as vampire royalty would send their procurers or their Renfields to round up orphans and prostitutes and the homeless—large numbers of people who wouldn't be missed. Godric had given him a maker's command to never attend one of those "events," but—in all honesty—Eric had not needed such a command. The Viking enjoyed fucking and feeding as much as the next vampire—probably more—but that level of depravity for its own sake was never something he'd been tempted by.

On the contrary, Bill had—if even a fraction of the stories about Lorena and him were true—reveled in his life among the underbelly of society. And Eric knew that at least one such story was true; he'd seen the after-effects firsthand. Certainly, Bill was not all to blame. He had to follow his maker's lead, just as all younglings did. But as far as Eric could see, Bill was that kind of weak vampire who would revel in his degeneracy—only to wallow in guilt and blame after it was over. Casting themselves as martyrs, vampires like Bill would insist that their malevolent acts were not their fault. Yet they would still feel the guilt for them. However, that guilt rarely led to anything other than words of regret—words that became meaningless once the next degenerate and self-indulgent act was to be committed.

Given what Eric now knew about Bill's real reason for coming to Bon Temps, the Viking had zero sympathy or patience for the Civil War veteran. Eric just had to make Sookie Stackhouse see the truth about her "true love" before she became another dead girl for Bill Compton to feel guilty about.

Eric once again had to hold in his sigh.

Indeed—by far—Sookie was the slipperiest of the balls he had in the air. He would have to look pretty fucking far to find someone who didn't want to possess her in some way: Bill, Lorena, Russell, Sophie-Anne, Sam Merlotte, and even Alcide Herveaux now. Eric recognized that he was not immune to Sookie either; everything within his body called out to him to make Sookie Stackhouse his own. To make matters worse, most of the people on the list of Sookie's "admirers" didn't just want Sookie; they wanted to control her—to own her.

The telepath had an annoying habit of attracting every supernatural malefactor around! Hell! Even Maenads came out of the fucking woodwork when she was near! So Eric was certain that the list of "Sookie fans" would only grow in the future. Eric once more stopped himself from sighing. He should have just killed Sookie the moment he first felt any kind of attachment to her. Instead, he found himself "volunteering" to be the president of her fucked up fan club!

The scent of her blood had been enough to draw him in. Finding out that she was a telepath was a bonus. And now he'd discovered from Hadley that Sookie was a fairy—a fucking fairy! Yet, none of those things held a candle to the main reason he found himself wanting her more than any other woman he'd ever encountered. Simply put, she stirred him—right down to his undead soul. Truth be told, if he'd been asked, he would have denied even having a soul before Sookie Stackhouse walked into his life. But it was there, a cesspool of swarming emotions that would probably get him killed. But instead of avoiding that pool—as he should have been doing—all he wanted to do was to dive headlong into it.

Eric mentally chastised himself. Here he was, distracted by Sookie—again—when he needed to be on the top of his game.

The Viking stared impassively at his erstwhile queen and the psychopathic Russell Edgington sitting across from him in the back of the purple stretch limo, which had been one of the more ostentatious and tacky pieces in Sophie-Anne's "car fleet." She claimed that the color stood for her royalty. Eric wondered what color signified a royal pain in the ass. He hoped it was the same color as the queen's blood.

The two monarchs were squabbling over the percentage of Louisiana's treasury and income Sophie-Anne was going to hand over to Russell as her "dowry." Eric didn't even try to reign in the rage on his face when Russell disclosed that Sophie-Anne had huge secret bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, apparently filled with money she'd been siphoning from Louisiana for as long as she'd been queen.

And she'd had him selling V!

Eric growled. Sophie-Anne's greed had been the sole reason why Eric had been busting his ass and risking his undead life in order to sell the blood of his kind. Even worse, in doing so, Eric had been going against every precept that Godric had ever taught him about the sacredness of the blood. The really fucked up thing was that if Eric had refused, Sophie-Anne would have been able to execute him for treason.

It had been the very definition of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. And now his child was suffering for Sophie-Anne's greed!

During the seemingly never-ending limo ride from Sophie-Anne's palatial estate just north of Baton Rouge to Shreveport, Eric had had to stop himself several times from ripping out the queen's throat. Even more difficult, however, was having to keep up his current façade of loyal lapdog to Russell. First, Russell was a fucking lunatic. Even more, however, he was the fucking lunatic who had killed Eric's family.

Eric had needed to harness every one of the lessons in control taught to him by Godric in order to stomach sharing the same few feet with the monarchs in front of him. They both needed to fucking die!

But not yet. If he tried to kill them now, it would be he who was cut down. And where would that leave Pam? And Sookie?

Eric could feel that they were nearing Shreveport even as he felt the connections to two of the three women who had his blood growing stronger. Pam was in pain again, so the Magister had obviously recommenced his "games" for the night. However, from Sookie, Eric felt very little in that moment. She was closer than before, though she was not in Shreveport. He found himself thankful that she was not in pain, but was disconcerted by how weak their tie was. She was most certainly unconscious and likely in what humans called a coma.

The third woman who'd had his blood, Hadley, was on her way to Mississippi with the rest of Sophie-Anne's "favorite things." Giving Hadley his blood had been a calculated move on the Viking's part. He'd not wanted her dead because of her kinship to Sookie, but he could also track her now. And where Hadley was, the queen was likely to be as well. Eric intended to use his blood tie with Hadley to his advantage as much as he could.

Russell's phone interrupted both Eric's thoughts and the king's "lovers quarrel" with Sophie-Anne. Russell gave the queen a sharp look.

"You will keep your mouth shut if you want to avoid the true death, dearest," he said, his tone a disconcerting mixture of ruthlessness and sing-songedness.

Russell winked at Eric. The Viking smiled flirtingly in return, though his blood was boiling with hatred for the king.

"Talbot. Darling," Russell said warmly as he answered the phone. Sophie-Anne rolled her eyes, but smartly kept her trap shut.

Though Eric kept his face mostly blank, he was amused by Talbot's narrative, which was spoken mostly in Greek and which contained a multitude of expletives in a variety of languages. Clearly Sophie-Anne did not know any Greek, a fact which seemed to irk her to no end. But the Viking understood every single word. Of course, Russell didn't need to know that; thus, Eric showed no reaction beyond general curiosity about the call.

Talbot informed his paramour that Compton, along with two human females, had escaped. They'd apparently gotten help from a Were. One of the human females was the girl that Franklin Mott had planned to turn. From the scent he'd smelled on Mott the evening before, Eric concluded that the girl must be Tara Thornton, one of Sookie's few friends. Apparently, the girl had also brained Mott to within an inch of his un-dead life. Eric was disappointed that she hadn't finished the job. Mott was an asshole—a sociopathic asshole—and the world would be better without him.

Eric didn't need to hear Talbot's report to identify the other girl who had escaped. His blood had already told him that she was much closer to him than Jackson, Mississippi.

Sookie Stackhouse.

He wondered if she had been injured during the escape, but then discounted that theory when he heard Talbot telling Russell that Bill and the others had gotten away several hours before Eric had been woken up by Sookie's terror and pain.

Not for the first time, the Viking was glad that no others—except for Pam and Compton—were privy to the fact that Sookie had had his blood. Thus, Russell had no idea that Eric could track her. Despite his overall uselessness, at least Compton had kept that fact from Russell—so far. However, Eric knew that he could count on Bill's discretion only as long as the younger vampire's own life wasn't threatened.

In addition to the escapes, Talbot also reported that Lorena had met the true death. Eric had to work very hard not to give away his glee at that fact. Lorena had outlived her usefulness as far as the Viking was concerned. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

A couple of Russell's Weres were also killed, including the leader of the pack, who'd had the unfortunate name of Cooter. Eric would have been happy if all the tattooed Weres in the fucking world were done away with, but Cooter was a good start.

As Talbot ranted, Russell tried to sooth his frazzled lover's nerves by cooing at him in Greek, but the younger vampire was not to be placated. His pitch got higher and higher until Russell was literally holding the phone away from his ear.

Russell winked at Eric again, and the Viking somehow managed to give the king a coy smile in return.

As Talbot began to screech about an apparently rabid Were-bitch named Debbie Pelt who was requesting the duty of hunting down Sookie Stackhouse—so that she could "revenge her Cooter"—the king had finally had enough of the conversation.

"I will call you later, my love," Russell said—as cool as a cucumber—into the receiver before abruptly ending the call.

Eric steeled himself as Russell smiled at him. A thousand years of hiding his true feelings from others was put to good use as Eric returned Russell's grin.

"Men!" Russell said with mock frustration.

Eric chuckled. "That is why I have always preferred short-term dalliances to relationships," the Viking said, as if confiding in the king. "However," Eric leered as he slowly moved his eyes up and down Russell's body, "for a worthy lover, I could be persuaded to alter my usual habits."

Russell leaned forward and dragged one of his hands unhurriedly down Eric's chest until he brought it to rest at his crotch and began to rub what he found there. Feeling anything but aroused, the Viking quickly put aside his disgust and growled as if Russell's actions were welcome. Eric closed his eyes and brought forth the most arousing thought that he could muster in that moment—Sookie Stackhouse standing before his throne at Fangtasia in a white dress with red flowers. She'd been both innocent and fiery that night.

"Well, aren't you sweet," Eric replayed his comment in his head.

"Not really," had been her response.

Armed with that memory, Eric felt his cock beginning to stiffen to the touch, which he now imagined was from Sookie's hand.

"Mmmm," purred Russell even as he thankfully pulled away his hand. Eric opened his eyes and managed to give Russell the lust-filled look the elder vampire was expecting. "I can see you could be of great service to me, Mr. Northman."

"I would be honored to serve, my liege," Eric said, his voice conveying both reverence and desire.

"Ugh," came Sophie-Anne's annoyed voice. For the first time that night, Eric was grateful that she had not yet met her true death. Her interruption was extremely welcome.

Eric, my boy," the older vampire said in a slightly patronizing tone, even as he ignored Sophie-Anne, "my blushing bride-to-be has told me that you're her most profitable sheriff. Your skills, however, seem wasted in this shithole area. My flower here will be returning with me to Mississippi for the time being, and I believe that my reign . . . ." He stopped for a moment and looked apologetically at Sophie-Anne. "I am so sorry, my dove; I meant our reign."

Russell smirked at Eric as Sophie-Anne rolled her eyes. She had self-preservation enough, however, not to say the snide comment that was obviously on the tip of her tongue.

"As I was saying," Russell continued, "Our reign would be better served if you relocated—say to New Orleans. Area 1 seems a better fit for someone of your age and talents.

Eric held his smile in place with difficulty. He hadn't needed another reason to hate Russell Edgington; however, the monarch had managed to insult Eric's area even as he gave the Viking a backhanded compliment. Under the surface, Eric seethed. Area 5 was not a fucking shithole! On the contrary, it was the quiet corner of the world that he had always longed for—or at least it had been.

And Eric had worked very hard to build up the vampire population and the profits in the area. No—Area 5 was most definitely not a shithole, at least not in the realm of vampires. Moreover, the last thing Eric wanted was to be in charge of Area 1, which was full of idiotic vampires who tried to pretend they were characters out of Anne Rice's novels. Eric didn't want all the fucking headaches that would certainly come from being in charge of the Area that included New Orleans! But—once more—the Viking had to hide his displeasure.

"My liege," Eric said—again with both deference and suggestiveness in his tone, "it would be my honor to serve you in any capacity you see fit—even if I must wrangler a half-dozen Lestats." He winked.

Russell chuckled and then leered once more at Eric, though he spoke words directed at Sophie-Anne. "See, my dear moon flower, despite your protestations to the contrary, young Eric here seems quite willing to do whatever is necessary to please his monarch. Perhaps," he said as he settled his hand onto Eric's inner thigh, "you simply didn't challenge him enough."

Sophie-Anne once more rolled her eyes and grunted inelegantly.

Eric couldn't help but to scoff at Sophie-Anne's immature reaction. He'd had to deal with her shit for way too long. The Viking settled his own hand over Russell's and looked him in the eye, though his words, too, were meant for Sophie-Anne. "It is my pleasure to attend to a monarch who deserves my allegiance." He turned his gaze to his ex-queen and leveled a savage glare in her direction, causing her to cower into the seat of the limo. Eric basked in the few moments of satisfaction he received from her reaction.

However, his celebration was short-lived as he felt a particularly sharp stab of pain from Pam. Though he could have remained impassive to the discomfort he felt, Eric decided to cringe a little. He knew that Russell would see the reaction, and—just as he'd hoped would happen—the king removed his hand from Eric's thigh and sat back into his seat.

"It is my progeny, your majesty," Eric offered by way of explanation—before Russell could ask what had caused his reaction. "I'm afraid the Magister has resumed his torture of her."

Russell scoffed, "The Magister and the Authority that employs him are both antiquated notions! I look forward to a new world order—one formulated by me."

Eric nodded. "As do I, your majesty," he said with bowed head even as he tried to send his child confidence through their bond. Hopefully, at least one of the balls he had in the air would soon be taken care of. He just hoped that Pam could hang on until he got there.

Chapter Text

Chapter 02: Playing Rough

Twenty minutes later, the limo pulled into Fangtasia's parking lot. Eric looked at Russell expectantly.

The ancient vampire's voice was once again laced with a patronizing tone, "Eric, you may proceed. My dainty flower and I will follow along directly."

Eric nodded and dashed away. Within moments, he was in the basement of his business where the Magister was getting ready to pierce his child's eyelids.

"Well, well, well, Mr. Northman," the Magister intoned, his creepy voice immediately grating on Eric's nerves.

However, the Viking's eyes were only for his child. She was chained to the table with silver; there was hope in her pain-filled eyes.

"Where is our Mr. Compton?" the Magister asked snidely.

"Mr. Compton did not accompany me," Eric said, keeping his tone even. "But I have brought along the true culprit behind the V sales in my area."

"Ah," the Magister said in a bored tone, "the 'true culprit.' Do tell. I'm all atwitter with anticipation." He pulled the chains tighter around Pam's waist.

Eric cringed as he felt his child's pain and saw her agony. Luckily for the Magister, Russell chose that moment to enter the basement. Otherwise, Eric would have pulled his fucking head off—consequences be damned.

The Magister's expression immediately changed from smug satisfaction to surprise as he saw Russell coming down the stairs, pulling a pouting Sophie-Anne behind him.

Russell clapped his hands together once as if he were a director trying to get the attention of his cast and crew. Eric figured that was an accurate simile. After all, Russell was most definitely orchestrating things.

Ignoring the Magister, the ancient vampire addressed Eric, "I just love what you've done with the place, my boy! And this basement! Inspired! Why—it's your own little torture chamber/playroom! We absolutely must discuss franchising! You will have to open one in New Orleans—when you get there! And I want one in Jackson, too! Perhaps your child could run that one."

Eric nodded deferentially before his eyes darted to Pam.

"Ah yes," Russell said his own gaze following Eric's, "here is your child now. Pam—correct?"

Russell bowed in the prostrate vampire's direction. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, my dear," he said pleasantly.

"Pleasure's all mine," Pam drawled, despite her obvious pain.

Russell grinned and slapped Eric on the back as if in celebration. "I like her already! Now—let's get her out of those ridiculous chains! Skin like hers ought not to be tarnished with silver! And then—we'll talk some strategy about our new franchise!" He clapped his hands together again.

"What is the meaning of all this?" the Magister asked, finally finding his voice. His confusion at the appearance of the two monarchs was clear.

Annoyed, Russell sneered at the Magister and spoke in a condescending tone—as if the Authority representative were a bug underneath his shoe. "Your purpose here is three-fold. One—you are to shut your goddamned mouth unless I give you permission to open it—because your nasally voice fucking annoys me! It always has! Two—you are to perform my wedding ceremony to my lovely queen here. Three—you are to get the fuck out of my sight and crawl back into your usual hole! Oh—and on your way there—you are to let Northman's progeny go."

Eric seethed on the inside. He had known that Russell's helping him rescue Pam was more of an afterthought than the main objective of the king's "visit" to Fangtasia, but he was still enraged at that thought. Russell needed the Magister to perform his wedding ceremony to Sophie-Anne so that it would be legal and binding among vampires. And Eric had given him the perfect opportunity to find the Magister in a relatively vulnerable position.

The Magister scoffed at Russell's words, "What makes you think I'm going to let Northman's child go? There has been an offense against the blood, and until I have the real culprit or culprits, Northman and his progeny are to blame for it in my eyes."

Russell chuckled. "Well—have no fear. The culprit is here!"

"What are you talking about?" the Magister asked, his face twisted as if he were constipated.

Russell smiled cheekily at Sophie-Anne. "I'm afraid it was my beautiful honey blossom here that was responsible for the V sales. However, she is very sorry and has promised to mend her ways—right my little peach?"

"Sure snookums," Sophie-Anne intoned sarcastically. "You know I will do anything to please you, sugar lips."

"You are responsible for the blood sales?" the Magister exclaimed in Sophie-Anne's direction.

"What? Are you slow?" Sophie-Anne asked, rolling her eyes. "That's what I just said. But I'm very contrite—blah, blah, blah."

The Magister leveled a heavy stare at her. "Then it is you who needs to be on my table." He gestured toward where Pam was still lying prone.

"Enough!" Russell yelled impatiently—as if having any words spoken against his plans caused him to "snap."

Within the next second, the king of Mississippi had freed Pam and had replaced her on the torture table with the Magister. He was wrapped securely in silver. Even Eric had not been able to follow all of Russell's lightning-quick movements.

As Eric reached for Pam and took her into his arms, the Viking once again wondered how in the hell he would ever be able to defeat Russell.

"Master," Pam said weakly as she sank into his embrace. Eric knew that Pam sinking into him for comfort was a clear sign that her torture at the Magister's hands had been very profound indeed. He also knew that she would hate being perceived as weak, especially in front of Sophie-Anne and Russell.

"Go feed on Ginger," Eric ordered in a low tone. "Then, arrange for other donors for our honored guests. Make sure they are of good quality and variety for their majesties. And stay in the bar," he added, not wanting his child to be anywhere near the dungeon at that moment. If things went south and Russell killed the Magister, then there would be consequences for anyone who had been a witness to his final death.

"Ah—yes!" Russell said gleefully. "Thank you, Eric. I foresee that I will be quite parched after I'm done here."

Pam bowed to both of the monarchs as she left the basement at human speed. Eric knew that it was the fastest she could move at the moment, and his anger at the Magister threatened to boil over.

With expert precision, Russell quickly cut off all the Magister's clothing with a small dagger that had been lying on a table that held other implements of torture as well. The king smiled down at the prone man as he picked up the Magister's thin silver sword.

"This is truly lovely. It's Spanish—correct? Made during the Inquisition?"

The Magister didn't answer. His face was contorted in both rage and pain from the silver chains around his neck and knees. Eric couldn't help but to think that the more appropriate emotion would have been fear.

Russell used the sword to open up a shallow, sizzling wound from the Magister's throat to his sternum. The king waited for it to heal—as if he were a scientist following the progress of an experiment. Then he drew another wound in the same spot. Again, he let it heal, and—again—he drew another. After letting it heal a third time, he looked back at the Magister's face.

"Now," Russell said with his voice full of contempt, "you are going to perform a marriage ceremony between me and my queenwithin the next ten minutes, or you are going to become disenfranchised from your mother-fucking head!" He paused and sliced a deeper line in the Magister's body, this time from his throat to his balls. "Which will it be?"

"Why must you be so melodramatic?" Sophie-Anne sighed, the picture of melodrama herself.

Russell glared at her, and Sophie-Anne proved her stupidity once more when she rolled her eyes. Eric, on the other hand, stood motionless and expressionless, every single one of his muscles taut and ready for whatever happened next. The Viking was very much aware of both Russell's power and his insanity in that moment. Luckily for Sophie-Anne, the Magister began speaking, which took the king's attention away from her.

"How dare you!" he half-growled and half-groaned, even as Russell made another cut into his flesh. "When the Authority hears of this," he grunted, "you will be removed from your position as king and placed into silver for a hundred years!"

Russell sneered. "The Authority! Ha! That antiquated institution is on its way out soon enough, and they will not learn of our time here, Jorge, because you will not tell them. Will you?" He made another wound, this time all the way from the Magister's throat to his thigh, before dragging the blunt edge of the silver weapon over the vampire's cock.

Sophie-Anne cringed and wrinkled her nose at the smell of the silver burning the Magister's flesh, but Eric remained stoic.

"Will you, Jorge?" Russell repeated.

When the Magister clenched his jaw to keep himself from speaking or crying out in pain, Russell seemed to momentarily lose his grip on sanity once more.

"So—you wish to," he paused, play rough? Good." The king snarled as he picked up another of the Magister's toys, a small silver knife with a bone handle. Soon he was flaying the skin off of the Magister's thigh, and as Russell's knife work approached the tortured vampire's cock, he broke.

"I'll do it!" the Magister yelled out in agony and defeat. "Just let me the fuck off this table!" he begged as blood fell from his eyes.

Eric scoffed. The torture had been going on for only seven minutes at that point. He couldn't help himself as he spoke to the prostrate vampire. "You may be able to dish it out, Magister, but it seems you cannot take it." In that moment, Eric felt pride in his child. She had withstood ten times more agony, and she was hundreds of years younger than the Magister.

"Now, now, Eric," Russell chided almost lovingly. "We were not all designed with a warrior's mentality. And Jorge's decision is a wise one—as I was beginning to lose my patience. After all, we have better things to do this night."

"Of course, my liege," Eric bowed to the elder vampire.

Russell motioned for Eric to take the silver off of the Magister and then allowed the Authority representative a few minutes to compose himself.

The Magister looked up at Eric. "Clothes!" he demanded.

Eric smirked and walked to a closet at the end of the room. He pulled out a sheer, pink woman's robe, which Pam liked to have her pets wear when she was in a "romantic" mood. He threw it at the Magister, who glared and growled at him as Russell laughed gleefully.

"I don't want to have to get married staring at that—thing!" Sophie-Anne said, gesturing toward the Magister's sorry excuse for a penis. "And that robe is see-through!"

"Come now," Russell said, "Jorge's cock was just frightened of being cut off." He winked at the Magister. "I'm sure it's generally more impressive than a roll of pennies."

"Eric," Russell said with a chuckle, "would you be a dear and find something that will better cover up the Magister's little friend? It seems that my lovely summer rose is offended by it."

Eric smirked and quickly found the Magister a black sheet to wrap around his waist.

"Will that suffice, sugar plum?" Russell asked Sophie-Anne.

The queen of Louisiana glared at him. "Just great, cupcake!"

"Wonderful!" Russell exclaimed, clapping his hands together once more and then looking expectantly at the Magister.

The broken vampire sighed and then spoke formally, even as the visible parts of his body healed. "Russell Edgington, King of Mississippi, do you pledge yourself to Sophie-Anne Leclerq, Queen of Louisiana?"

"I do," the king answered eagerly, putting his arm affectionately around the shoulders of a disgusted looking Sophie-Anne.

"Sophie-Anne Leclerq, Queen of Louisiana, do you pledge yourself to Russell Edgington, King of Mississippi?"

Sophie-Anne looked like she was about to vomit, but she answered in the affirmative. "I do."

"By the power granted to me by the one, true Vampire Authority . . . ," the Magister started.

"Wait—aren't you forgetting something?" Russell interrupted.

The Magister glared at him.

"Where's your ceremonial knife?" Russell snarled. "I know that you carry it with you at all times. And I know that it is steeped in magic so that it records all ceremonies you conduct with blood."

The Magister's eyes darted to his suit jacket, which he'd hung on the back of a chair before he'd started his torture session with Pam.

Russell motioned for Eric to get the jacket. In the inner pockets of the garment, Eric found the Magister's cell phone and a small leather pouch. Inside of the pouch was a small knife, no more than three inches long from handle to tip.

"Well," Russell sighed, "it's not that impressive—I have to say."

Sophie-Anne giggled. "It looks like he has two little daggers," she said, gesturing toward the Magister's sheet-covered crotch area.

Russell chuckled along with her. "True, my dear. But I suppose that at least one of them is utilitarian."

With a growl, the Magister took the knife from Eric. "Do you have a chalice?" he asked Eric.

The Viking laughed a little and produced a bright red plastic party cup. "Will this do? Or I could go get a wine glass from the bar?" He quirked his eyebrow in Russell's direction.

The king laughed heartily. "No—I think that will make an appropriate 'chalice' for my angel and myself. Don't you agree?" he asked the queen sarcastically.

"Perfect," intoned the redhead.

Nonplussed, the Magister approached Russell and Sophie-Anne. He quickly made shallow wounds on both of their wrists and let the blood drip into the plastic cup. "Drink and bind the pledge," he recited.

Sophie-Anne took a tiny sip of the blood before Russell finished it off. Both seemed unimpressed by the taste of their essences mixed together.

The Magister sneered. "By the power granted to me by the one, true Vampire Authority, I pronounce that you are pledged in marriage for a period of no less than one hundred years."

Russell and Sophie-Anne made movements as if they were kissing each other's cheeks, though neither one of them touched anything more substantial than air.

"The pledge must be consummated before witnesses for the marriage to be legally binding," the Magister said, looking somewhat self-satisfied since he knew that such a "duty" would be most unwelcome to both monarchs before him.

Immediately, Sophie-Anne looked disgruntled, even as Russell's smug expression remained. He chuckled, "I think that my blushing bride and I will forego the usual exchanges of," he paused, "affection."

"You can't do that!" the Magister insisted.

"Oh—but we can," Russell said confidently. "You are going to report to the Authority that you witnessed the consummation after you performed the ceremony, or I am going to pick up where I left off with skinning you alive. Again—the choice is all yours, Jorge."

Russell signaled to Eric, who threw the Magister his phone.

"NOW!" Russell's yelled, his voice echoing in the basement. The king once again picked up Magister's sword and held it threateningly.

Defeated, the Magister began to dial.

"Please be so kind as to put the call on speaker," Russell said, his rage-filled tone having been replaced by one of pure congeniality.

Eric studied the Magister for a moment, wondering what he would do. The Magister, Jorge Alonso de San Diego, was reputed for being strong and resilient. He had been turned in the 1500s and had been one of the most feared Inquisitors of the Spanish Inquisition. He'd advised some of the greatest leaders—both human and vampire—throughout history. He carried with him the protection and the sanction of the Authority. A man in that position ought never to succumb to coercion in any form. A man in that position ought to yell out what was really happening as soon as the phone was picked up—whether it cost him his life or not. But that was not what the Magister did.

On the contrary. The Magister kept his voice even and detached as he reported the marriage of Russell Edgington and Sophie-Anne Leclerq. He also indicated that the marriage rites had all been properly adhered to and witnessed by Eric Northman. Finally, he reported that the ceremonial knife had sealed the pledge. Indeed, he was incredibly cooperative—until after he hung up the phone.

At that point, it seemed as if the Magister's self-preservation skills simply left the building. He should have kept his mouth shut, but he didn't.

"You won't get away with this coercion," the Magister seethed, through clenched lips.

Russell laughed flippantly. "I already have."

And with that, the—at least partially insane—king launched himself at the Magister, whose head was separated from his shoulders with one swift swipe of his own sword.

Sophie-Anne recoiled in shock and fear when she realized what Russell had done.

Not really surprised by the king's irrational act, Eric kept his face stoic and nodded his head deferentially so that Russell would not think about taking it too in the midst of his obvious bloodlust.

When Russell nodded back, Eric knew that he'd dodged one bullet and caught one ball. Pam was safe.

However, in that moment, another one of his balls in the air moved further away from him, as his blood in Sookie Stackhouse sensed that she had weakened once more. She was slipping away.

And he could do nothing to help her—at least not while Russell lingered.

Nothing at all!

Chapter Text

Chapter 03: The Signal

Russell's phone rang just as he and Sophie-Anne emerged from the basement. Eric was following close behind.

The three-thousand-year old sighed when he heard the ringtone. "I apologize, muffin cakes," he said in Sophie-Anne's direction. "However, I must take this. I'm afraid Talbot is already quite vexed because of our nuptial bliss, as well as the stress of what happened during the day."

"By all means," Sophie-Anne said with false magnanimity. As soon as Russell's back was turned, she rolled her eyes dramatically in Eric's direction. "What does one do for fun in Podunk?" she asked as she checked her nails. She looked up and saw Yvetta walk in the door. "Oh—I see!" She took in the Estonian dancer predatorily as she licked her lips.

"Ah—that is Yvetta," Eric said as he followed her gaze. "Help yourself," he added offhandedly.

Sophie-Anne quickly zipped over to Yvetta; however, the dancer shrugged off the queen's touch. Instead, the supposed Estonian looked at Eric possessively.

"I cannot. I belong to Eric only," she said in her heavy and probably fake accent. Eric had heard many people from the region of the world that included Estonia, and she didn't sound like any of them.

It was Eric's turn to roll his eyes. He spoke from across the bar. "I never said that, Yvetta. Now—be a good little girl, and be nice to the queen of Louisiana and Mississippi."

Yvetta's eyes immediately changed from offended to almost awestruck as she took in Sophie-Anne again. The gold-digging dancer curtsied, gave her apologies about not knowing who Sophie-Anne was, and then gladly let herself be led to a corner of the club.

At that moment, Pam, who was now mostly recovered thanks to Ginger's donation, came into the club from the back offices. Eric smiled as his progeny complained about the flavor—or lack thereof—in their blond worker. However, as far as humans went, Ginger had—surprisingly enough—proven to be one of the most loyal he had even known. Of course, being glamoured to within an inch of her life helped with that. Still, Ginger's blood had tided both Pam and himself over in a pinch a few times, though the one time he'd had sex with her had not been pleasing. Too many bones had poked him, and she'd called him "baby" over and over. She'd also made noises that made him wonder if she was the offspring of a washed-up porn star and a whooping crane! No—he wouldn't be "enjoying" her again. In fact, he'd glamoured her to "forget" that sex and to never want him again!

"I called in Domitri and Kenneth," Pam said quietly. "I figured Yvetta would be fine for Sophie-Anne."

Eric nodded as he glanced over toward the corner where Yvetta was already servicing the queen's pussy. "Good choices," he said.

Both of the young men Pam had called worked at the bar—Domitri as a dancer and Kenneth as a bouncer. And both were willing donors. Eric had been told that Kenneth, who had B-negative blood, was especially flavorful, though Eric had never tried him. On the other hand, Domitri had a rather ordinary blood type, O-positive, but he was quite limber. Kenneth was quite masculine, while Domitri was effeminate. Both favored men and would service Russell well if he desired sex as well as blood.

Eric just hoped that he would be able to get out of "servicing" the king. The Viking had tried sex with a few men during his long life and had even grown to enjoy the act with Godric; however, it was not his preference. And he—most certainly—wasn't a bottom, and he figured that's what he'd have to "pretend" to be with Russell. Moreover, the thought of having sex with the vampire who was responsible for the murders of his family disgusted him! However, the Viking would do whatever it took to get close enough to Russell to end his miserable life, even if it meant using his body to do it.

Eric's thoughts were interrupted by the Estonian, who was now moaning wantonly from across the room. She was trying to catch his eye with an alluring gaze as Sophie-Anne kissed her neck. It was obvious that Yvetta wanted him to join her and the queen.

Eric turned away, repulsed by Yvetta's misconceptions much more than by her shamelessness. She was deluded if she thought that he actually cared for her. He sighed. After a thousand years of life, one vagina was pretty much like the next to him. Oh, there were nuances in girth and wetness and depth, but they all felt pretty much the same to his dick. No. It was the blood underneath the skin that he really craved, and at the moment of orgasm, it tasted sweetest. Other than the blood's taste during orgasm, very little would compel him to enjoy revisiting the same sexual partner multiple times.

It was the incessant "whooping" sound that Ginger made as well—as her ordinary-tasting O-positive blood—that had made her a one and done in Eric's book. Someone like Yvetta, however, held his attention for longer. The Estonian had inspired him to fuck her four times—though the session in the dungeon had been longer than most because, even having her tied up and at his mercy, he'd not found his release for a while. He had to hand it to Yvetta, however. She had lovely skills with her mouth and even lovelier B-positive blood, but she had begun to annoy the hell out of him with her signs of possessiveness. Who the fuck did she think he was—her boyfriend?

And it was not as if he craved Yvetta's blood or her oral skills. They were above average, a B+ to match her blood type. But—like all women he'd revisited for sex over the years—Yvetta was no longer holding his attention. And, given the sounds that Sophie-Anne was making as she fed, Eric figured he'd be able to convince the queen to take the dancer off his hands.

That nuisance solved, Eric couldn't help but to let his mind wander to the only individual he'd ever been able to fathom holding his attention for long: Sookie Stackhouse.

He had genuinely craved only her during his long life—and that was without even having tasted her yet! He was disgusted with himself—really. He was way too hung up on Sookie! Even now, he was worried about her, instead of focusing a hundred percent of his energy onto Russell!

Again, he noted his own disgust and shock. He should have simply fed from and fucked Sookie months ago—saving himself a lot of fucking stress. But he'd not been able to bring himself to force her; he'd never had to force anyone during his long life, and he wasn't about to start with someone who really intrigued him.

Perhaps, he would have glamoured her if it had been possible. He shook his head almost imperceptibly. No—he didn't want to seduce Sookie through glamour either. He was struck by the thought that he wanted to win her affections, but then pushed that notion out of his mind—angry that he'd had it to begin with.

Still, Eric checked on Sookie through their weak tie. She was obviously still unconscious and seemed to be weakening even more—slipping away from the world and from him. "Fuck," Eric muttered under his breath as Pam looked at him funny. He shook his head, signaling to Pam that now was not the time to ask about what was troubling him.

Eric forced his thoughts of Sookie from his mind. There was nothing he could do for her right now. "Let Compton deal with her! That is what she would want anyway," he thought bitterly to himself.

He had more important matters to deal with, like the murderer of his family, who was standing twenty-two feet away from him and talking animatingly in Greek to Talbot. Eric had been monitoring the conversation, which had mostly been focused on Russell reassuring his paramour. Talbot was very angry, given the events of the day. But Russell was managing to slowly placate his lover; the king had even managed to manipulate the younger vampire to view Sophie-Anne's imminent arrival as another opportunity for him to showcase his wonderful hosting skills. It was during that part of the conversation that something caught Eric's attention enough to make him lose his control for a moment. He tensed up considerably. Thankfully, however, Russell had his back turned to the Viking when that happened.

Pam had been studying her maker carefully, trying to follow his lead.

He was leaning against the bar, casually taking in the scene as Sophie-Anne finger-fucked Yvetta and Russell spoke on the phone. Though she didn't understand Greek, Pam marveled at the fact that Russell still seemed to maintain his genteel Southern accent as he spoke it.

All night—even as the Magister had been "having his fun"—Pam had been trying to interpret the odd mix of feelings coming from her maker. He was concerned, but controlled. He was feeling unimaginable hatred, yet he showed none of it. She was also trying to figure out where the Magister was. He certainly wasn't in the bar with the others; she couldn't help but to wonder if he was still wrapped in silver. The thought of that brought a wry smile to her lips. However, that smile faded immediately as she felt a jolt of anxiety from Eric. It was like nothing she'd ever felt before.

She also noticed a change in his posture. He went from seemingly relaxed to tense in the blink of an eye.

Eric quickly turned toward Pam and gave her a subtle signal with his hands. His eyes were ominous and dark with fear for a moment, but he managed to hide that emotion almost instantaneously.

Pam looked up at Eric with wide eyes and a sudden fear. He repeated the hand signal and mouthed the word, "Now," before turning away and reestablishing his relaxed pose against the bar.

With fear gripping her un-dead heart, Pam immediately straightened her body and used all her control to walk casually toward the offices and then straight out of the back door of the club. She quickly got into her car and drove it to her nearest house, a residence that acted as her "public" home. After parking in the garage, she quickly stripped and threw her clothing into the washing machine in the garage. She opened the cabinet above the utility sink and grabbed a bundle of nondescript clothing—jeans, a T-shirt, and a hoodie. That clothing had been spelled by a witch so that it would help to cover her scent. After dressing quickly, she exited the side door of the garage.

Then she ran at her top vampire speed to a seemingly abandoned home at the end of the block. Once there, she dug under the elm tree near the garage until she pulled out a small satchel. Inside was a potion, the origins of which Pam did not know. What she did know was that it would hide her scent fully.

She went into the dusty garage and got into the nondescript gray sedan she found there. Then she quickly opened the bottle that held the potion and poured a few drops of the liquid onto the fingers of her left hand before rubbing it onto her forehead—following the directions that had been given to her by her maker to the letter. That task completed, she carefully sealed the bottle and left the neighborhood slowly and quietly, not even turning on the lights of the car.

From there, she drove out of town and got onto State Highway 7. The car was full of gasoline, and she estimated that she would be well into Arkansas by daylight. She would easily make it to the safe house Eric and she kept in that state by morning. From there, she would continue north and then west, changing cars each day, until she reached Wyoming, a state that boasted only two vampires—though they were two vampires that owed Eric their lives—Thalia and Bubba.

Thalia was the "queen" of the state and so unpleasant that she drove all others away. However, Eric had saved her life long before Pam was even turned. The queen of Wyoming was also quite powerful in her own right. Bubba was—well—he was Elvis Presley. The Rock & Roll legend had been turned into a vampire after overdosing. It had been an ill-advised turning.

Bubba was a relatively harmless vampire—simple even. To put it nicely, other vampires would say that he wasn't "all there." After many "Elvis sightings" through the late 70's and 80's, Bubba was shipped to Thalia's territory so that he could stay out of sight. And—even after the Great Revelation—he was told to stay there since vampires didn't want humans to see what happened when a turning went "wrong."

However, even though Bubba was a liability—and had been ever since he was turned—no one had the heart to end him. Though vampires were not sentimental by nature, they did recognize an individual who brought about real change, and Bubba was respected for that. Plus, on occasion, he could be coaxed to an event, where he could be further coaxed into singing. But mostly, he and Thalia kept to themselves—far away from other vampires.

Rumor had it that the two vampire residents of Wyoming had become very cozy indeed, but a love affair had not been confirmed. Thalia didn't like others in her territory, but that was not particularly inconvenient either. Since the human population was the sparsest in the United States and the population density was so low, no other vampires wanted to be there anyway. Simply put, the Authority had decided to make Thalia a queen and then hide her away. And that suited everyone involved quite well.

But none of that really mattered to Pam as she drove with one eye in front of her and the other one constantly checking the rearview mirror. What mattered was Eric's signal to her. He'd taught it to her after she'd been vampire for about a year. And every year following that—like some kind of anniversary—they'd found a deserted place and discussed what that signal meant and the instructions that she was commanded to follow if it were ever given.

The signal meant one thing: run—fast. It meant that the danger against them was more than Eric could handle. It meant that he didn't expect to live, but wanted her to get away so that she might. Once seeing that signal, she had been ordered not to ask questions. In fact, she had been commanded not to say anything. She was simply to flee.

The car she was traveling in now contained a load of cash as well as papers for a new identity. The escape plan that she was to follow to the letter had been put into place decades before, though she and Eric had gone over it just the month before—as was their yearly custom.

Each house that would act as a safe house for her trip northwest had been bought by a different glamoured human and was untraceable. At each, was another untraceable car, which was maintained yearly by that same glamoured human. At each were materials that she would use to change her appearance. And once in Wyoming, she would lay low for exactly one year. If she'd not heard from Eric in that time, she would assume her new identity, go to Asia, and begin a new life. She was not to inquire after Eric or to seek him out. And if, in that year, she felt her bond with Eric die or she felt him getting close to her without having called her to him first through their bond, she was to assume that he was dead or compromised and leave the country immediately.

Now, as she enacted the plan, Pam was more frightened than she'd ever been during her whole existence. But she had to obey her master. She had to leave him. Her maker's command gave her no other choice in the matter.

Pam sighed and bit one of her perfectly manicured nails before cursing herself.

She tried to calm herself. She knew that Eric always had his own escape route, but she'd never been privy to it. Both of them knew that she could withstand a lot of torture without breaking, but she was also quite young, and—according to her maker—everyone could be made to break. If she was found by whatever threat Eric now thought was after them, then she would be tortured until she was forced to tell where Eric was if she knew it. Luckily, her vampire gift was the ability to shut down her end of her bond with her maker. Thus, Eric could not be forced to lead anyone to her using their blood connection; however, he knew of her initial safe haven, so if she felt him nearing, she would need to run again and then shut down their connection.

Pam took a deep breath and accelerated just a bit, though she kept to within five miles per hour of the speed limit. It would not do for her to draw any attention to herself now. She needed to be invisible.

Four hours later, she reached Mena, Arkansas, a little town about midway between Texarkana and Fort Smith. She drove slowly into the neighborhood of the safe house, using all the lessons her master had taught her in order to make sure that the location hadn't been compromised. Satisfied, she pulled a garage door opener out of the glove compartment and opened the garage door. She parked next to the light blue sedan, which would take her on the next leg of her journey.

Without turning on any house lights, Pam collected her bag and went into the house. There was a small light-tight space under the floorboards in the pantry. Pam hurriedly crawled into the space. Knowing that she needed to conserve her scent-covering potion, she decided against taking a shower. She'd do it the next night. Once she was settled, Pam double-checked that she had the money and documents needed for her trip.

It was still a few minutes before the sun rose, but Pam sank back into the small pillow that served as her only comfort in the little crawl space. For the first time since she'd left Fangtasia, she let herself relax a little. The vampiress took a long, deep breath that she did not need and prayed to a God that she did not believe in. She didn't know why Eric had made her run, but whatever it was scared the proverbial shit out of her.

She closed her eyes and checked her bond with her maker. The good news was that Eric had not tried to close it down at any point during the night, which meant that he had not been tortured. He was also relatively calm—though his emotions had been a slingshot for much of the time since she'd left him.

She could only guess what had been happening to him.

Chapter Text

Chapter 04: Flight

Four hours and ten minutes earlier

Russell snapped his phone shut and sauntered back over to Eric, who was leaning casually against the bar and watching Yvetta eat out Sophie-Anne as if it were a stage show.

Nothing about Eric's demeanor betrayed his own apprehension, though inside, the Viking couldn't help but to be frightened. He figured that the chances were great that he was about to meet his true death. He hoped that he could at least offer his child the time she would need to flee. And he was comforted by the fact that he felt her moving farther and farther from him by the second.

Regardless, Eric's acting ability during the next few moments would determine whether he lived or died. He called upon a thousand years of control and tilted his head, seemingly to better take in the actions of Yvetta and Sophie-Anne.

"Her blood is exquisite, your majesty," Eric said, giving Russell a little bow. "I know you prefer men, but you might, perhaps, take a taste at some point." He motioned toward Yvetta. "She's also quite skilled in the art of giving oral pleasure, as you can hear from Sophie-Anne."

Russell glanced over at the writhing women with disgust. He turned back to Eric. "Lesbianism has never appealed to me, I'm afraid. However, I might take you up on your offer for her blood—after my lovely wife is done with her, that is."

Eric smirked and gave another little bow of the head. Inside, he was happy to note that Pam was now moving past the Shreveport city limits.

"Where did your progeny go, Northman?" Russell asked casually.

Eric answered just as nonchalantly. "I suspected that Yvetta might not be to your liking, so I sent Pam to hurry along a couple of donors you might like better." Internally, Eric celebrated as Domitri and Kenneth walked through the door from the back of the bar. Perhaps the donors would distract Russell.

The Viking nodded toward the newcomers. "The larger one is a bouncer here. His blood is delicious—a rare find. He's from Tasmania originally, so his blood tastes of few pollutants."

"Ah—fresh as mountain spring water," Russell said jokingly. "And the other? I like the looks of him."

"He is called Domitri. I'm afraid he's quite bland compared to the fare that was presented to us by Talbot, my liege. However, what he lacks in flavor, he more than makes up for in other ways," Eric leered suggestively. "He was a gymnast at one point—I believe."

"Mmmm," Russell said, licking his lips in the direction of the two male donors. "Your hospitality is appreciated, Northman. I would, however," he turned his head back in Eric's direction, "like to thank your progeny personally for arranging such a tribute."

Eric kept his expression indifferent, other than the tiny smirk he allowed to push up the corner of his mouth. "I imagine that she is feeding as well, my liege. I gave her leave to do so after she secured your meal. She drank from one of our barmaids earlier—in order to heal her worst wounds—but she found the taste unsatisfying. She had hoped to have sated herself with Yvetta, but as you can see," he said motioning toward the corner, "Yvetta had another offer."

Eric chuckled. "If I know Pam, she is probably in a similar position as Sophie-Anne―even now. After that, she is to make sure all traces of our 'guest' downstairs are removed." In actuality, Eric had texted Chow to come to the bar in two hour's time to perform the clean-up and to take the Magister's remains to a nearby alligator farm.

Russell looked into Eric's eyes searchingly, but then chuckled. For just a moment, Eric thought he saw recognition in Russell's eyes, but the Viking held his countenance.

Russell spoke casually, "Talbot says that you enjoyed my collection of artifacts."

"Quite," Eric answered without missing a beat, though he was careful not to sound overly enthusiastic. "You have many lovely pieces. The Japanese vampire erotica was especially," Eric leered at Russell, "instructive."

Russell smiled. "Talbot was surprised that you seemed to show the most interest in a little crown I'd picked up in Scandinavia."

"Ah—yes," Eric said unconcernedly, though with a little interest in his tone. "It is rare that I come across Viking artifacts that are so well-preserved. As you know, my original people were not ones for the preservation of relics." He chuckled. "We tended to burn our things with the dead."

"A terrible waste," Russell said with a smirk.

"Yes," Eric agreed, "though—even at the time, I don't believe I ever saw a crown as fine as the one you have. I grew up in a relatively poor village, and any metal we got our hands on was used to forge weapons." He paused. "So it was a treat to see your relic."

Russell nodded. "I took that crown from a minor ruler in what is now Sweden—from a town near the North Sea. That must have been," Russell paused and looked at Eric significantly, "a little more than a thousand years ago."

The Viking nodded. "Ah—that would account for the unusual shape of the crown. My own people were from what is now Norway. Still—the crown is lovely and reminded me of my human days for a few moments."

"Perhaps I should make a gift of it to you then?" Russell asked, his voice almost snakelike.

Eric bowed a bit. "It would be an honor, your majesty," he said evenly, "one that I would gladly accept. However, I would not wish to see your collection broken up."

Russell gestured in such a way as to indicate that the gift would be nothing even as he continued to study Eric's face. "Trust me, that particular piece is of little value to me; it never has been."

Using all of his strength and control, Eric nodded noncommittally. "Then, I would love to accept it—if you are certain."

Luckily, before Russell could further comment, Sophie-Anne let out a satisfied scream, indicating her orgasm.

Eric looked over toward the corner.

"Perhaps we should be on our way now that my queen has finished her meal," Russell said with a disgusted look on his face.

Eric smirked. "You may have the young men as 'take-out' if you wish, your majesty. I'm certain that they would make the trip to Mississippi pass more," he paused, "pleasurably. Will I have the pleasure of accompanying you as well?" he asked Russell with a hope-filled toned.

Russell smirked. "Sadly—no."

Eric forced disappointment to wash over his face for a moment.

"I have a quick errand to see to before I return to Mississippi. It seems that your Miss Stackhouse has escaped, along with her friend, Miss Thornton. Bill Compton is also missing. Would you have any ideas about Miss Stackhouse's location?"

Eric, still struggling to keep up his act and to maintain his casual stance, smirked. "Ah, the intrepid Miss Stackhouse strikes again. I did tell you that she was something," he paused, "unique."

"So true," Russell grinned.

"I would check her residence first if I were you," Eric said. "I will give you the address—if you do not already have it. It is actually across the cemetery from Compton's residence. She loves him to such a great distraction that she will likely be where he is."

"The file Mott collected also mentions a brother—a Jason Stackhouse."

Eric nodded as if digging for a file from his own memory. "Yes. Jason Stackhouse is a nice looking man, but his blood doesn't smell like his sister's—I'm afraid. They have been somewhat estranged, I think. For a while he was affiliated with the Fellowship of the Sun, but I believe that he is back in Bon Temps now." Eric knew that he was telling Russell things that Mott would have reported to him already, but there was also a part of him that intuited how distraught Sookie would be if her brother were harmed so he downplayed the closeness of their relationship.

"I would place surveillance on Jason Stackhouse if you don't find Sookie immediately," Eric said, speaking pragmatically. "She will eventually contact him—or he will lead you to her. He is not the brightest human. You may also wish to place surveillance on Sam Merlotte, a shifter in Bon Temps. He is Sookie's employer." Eric knew that that information, too, would be in Mott's file. And—of course—if the king chose to have the shifter and Sookie's brother followed, then they wouldn't be harmed.

Russell took in Eric's words and nodded, even as he continued to regard the Viking closely.

Eric thought about his options; unfortunately, at this moment, there was only one. He needed to keep his composure, or the already suspicious king would kill him without a second thought.

Had his responses to Russell's questions quelled the suspicions that Eric intuited had been rising in the king? Or had Russell searched through his long-ago memories and stumbled upon the young Viking, who had looked straight at him following the deaths of his family. Russell had taken a moment to warn him not to follow—not to be a hero. Russell had been cloaked, so Eric hadn't seen his face, but Eric had not been disguised in any way. He'd been a few years younger then—than at the time of his turning. And his hair had been longer. However, other than some dirt on his face, he'd looked virtually the same.

No—Eric thought, trying to comfort himself. If Russell had recognized him, he'd already be dead.

However, Eric was not naïve. And he certainly wasn't an optimist. Russell had all the dots he needed now, and it would only be a matter of time before he connected them. Nothing could prevent that now. His father's crown would lead the ancient vampire to his memory of taking it, and that would inevitably lead him to remember the young man who had wanted so desperately to avenge the deaths of his parents and sister, but who had been unable to act in that moment.

Eric own memories as a vampire were all vivid, like a storehouse of perfectly preserved files, just waiting to be accessed. Thus, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Russell now held the keys to linking him to that Viking teen from a thousand years before. The only question was when that would happen.

When it did, Eric would be dead—if he were still in the king's range.

Eric spoke, "I will take you to Sookie Stackhouse's home if you wish. I have been there once and still have an invitation—unless she has been clever enough to rescind it. However, she is likely too trusting to have done that."

"And why would she trust you enough to invite you into her home?"

"She invited me in so that I could kill a Werewolf that was planning to attack her. I'm afraid I didn't know he was one of yours. Apologies, your majesty."

Russell cackled a little and slapped Eric on the back in almost a brotherly way. "Well—no worries! Wolves are a dime a dozen these days," he winked.

"So—shall we go to the telepath's home?" Eric asked nonchalantly.

"No—I have another, more pressing task for you," Russell said with an almost patronizing air. "I trust that your child can take care of Area 5's business."

Eric nodded. "Yes, of course, your majesty. She is a good lieutenant."

"Good," Russell said. "Have her see to your duties. I want you to join Talbot. He is," Russell paused, "currently distraught and needs a good distraction." Russell leered at Eric.

The Viking bowed. "Of course."

"Good. You have the ability to fly—is that correct?" he asked.

Eric nodded. "Indeed."

"Excellent. Then I want you to go to Mississippi tonight and placate Talbot. I suppose you can be there before dawn?"

Eric nodded again. "Of course—probably about half an hour before if I leave now."

Russell nodded. "Good. I will stay in the area tonight." He paused. "Of course, I'll expect Talbot to be in good spirits when I return home with the Stackhouse girl and my new bride tomorrow night."

Eric smiled, "I will make sure of it, your majesty. And may I offer you my residence to stay in tomorrow during the day?"

Russell grinned, "That would be lovely. I had already planned on using it. I know the location from Franklin's work.

Eric smiled wider. "Mr. Mott is quite thorough, but which address did he supply you with?"

Russell smirked. "3471 Wister Road."

Eric nodded. "That is a comfortable residence, but not my most luxurious or secure, your majesty." Eric grabbed a pad and wrote down two other addresses. "Both of these are better suited for someone such as yourself."

Russell looked at Eric through narrowed eyes. Of course, Eric knew that Russell would probably already know of these homes as well, but even if he didn't, neither one was what Eric considered his essential residence. They were more secret than the property on Wister Road, so they might serve to deflate Russell's suspicions of him for a little while; however, Eric generally didn't die for the day at either of those residences, nor did he keep anything important there.

Eric bowed. "I will be on my way now, your majesty, unless you require anything else of me."

Russell shook his head. "After I take care of Miss Stackhouse, I will enjoy the donors you have procured, and if they are worthy, perhaps I will take them as a gift for my Talbot."

Eric nodded and bowed once more to his king—his enemy.

Russell looked Eric up and down. "You may go," he dismissed.

Eric walked quickly toward the back door of the club—but not too quickly. Once the door was opened, he smelled the night air and took off into it, flying on a path that would lead him to Mississippi and Russell's mansion.

He'd been flying only a few minutes when he picked up the scent of another vampire—a faster vampire. The scent was behind him, but he didn't deviate from his path. The Viking had been expecting this. Eric closed his eyes as he continued flying at a consistent rate. His superior sense of smell, one of his vampire gifts which he'd kept a closely guarded secret—to the point that only Godric had known of it—told him exactly who the other vampire was: Russell.

He knew that the elder vampire was checking up on him—that Russell had begun to suspect that things were not quite as they seemed with him.

Russell followed Eric for a while—though he stayed quite far behind him. Eric figured that he was at the edge of the king's range, so there would be no reason for the three-thousand-year-old vampire to suspect that Eric could smell him as well. In fact, Eric knew of none who had as acute of a sense of smell as himself, though Russell was the oldest vampire he'd ever met.

Eric knew that it was a time of reckoning. Once Russell connected Eric to the young Viking who had just lost his family, the king would not hesitate to kill him. However, even if Russell just suspected that Eric had been hiding something from him, his nights would be numbered. And there wasn't a damned thing the Viking could do about it, so he flew on, straight toward Mississippi and Talbot as if he were following Russell's orders like a good little lapdog.

The Viking had flown another twenty miles before Russell turned back. He flew another twenty before he stopped and backtracked—just to make sure that the king was not still on his trail.

Eric hovered for a moment, making even more certain that Russell was not still pursuing him. He sighed with relief. He was clear. All he needed to do was to fly away—to go to the first place on his escape route—where he would cover his scent and then disappear.

But he didn't.

Sookie was weaker than even before, and his blood inside of her was calling to him. It told him that Sookie would soon die. "Loving" its position inside of her—where it had tied itself to her own cells—his blood called for him to come and save her, to pour more of himself into her body in order to guarantee that her life went on. Eric shivered at the sensation of his own blood calling him from Sookie's body. He'd never—in all of his thousand years—felt anything similar. His flight toward Mississippi had put him closer to her location, and with every mile, her blood had pulled him more. Or was it his blood pulling him. He could no longer tell.

He closed his eyes. He had a choice to make. He could flee and ensure his own safety. Or he could go to Sookie Stackhouse. In the end, he gave it very little thought, his body automatically leading him in the direction it needed to go.

Chapter Text

Chapter 05: The Blood

Eric felt Sookie dying—slipping away. She felt—well—he didn't really know how to describe it. She felt far away—very far away—even though she was close.

He landed on the hospital roof and easily broke the lock to get inside. His blood in her and his nose led him straight to her.

When he entered the hospital room, he saw a sight that almost made his blood freeze in his veins. Sookie Stackhouse—whose warm, sun-kissed skin had always captivated him—looked paler than any vampire he'd ever seen. She was hooked up to monitors, and IV's were pumping saline and medicine into her body. There was a tube down her throat doing her breathing for her; Eric heard the false apparatus sending oxygen into her lungs at even intervals.

"Ah—fuck no!" came a voice from his side.

Eric turned to see Sookie's friend, Tara Thornton, shaking her head.

"You get the fuck away from her! All you vamps just stay the fuck away! You're fucking poison! Parasites! It's all y'alls fuckin' faults that she's like this!"

Eric ignored Tara and turned his attention to Alcide Herveaux and Lafayette Reynolds, who were sitting next to the window in the good-sized hospital room. At least they both seemed relatively calm—as opposed to Miss Thornton.

"What happened?" Eric asked, looking straight at Alcide. "You were supposed to look after her!"

The large Were cringed a bit in fear, but when he stood up, his posture conveyed the fact that he was ready to fight if needed.

"I helped Sookie and Tara escape from Edgington's estate this morning," he defended. "We got Compton out too. But he attacked Sookie, who was with him in the back of my truck. He practically drained her dry before we got to her." He motioned between himself and Tara.

"You let Sookie stay with an almost-drained vampire in the back of your truck—alone!" Eric seethed with barely controlled rage.

"It was daytime!" he defended. "And she insisted."

Eric scoffed and looked down at Sookie. Immediately, his expression softened a little. "Of course, she insisted." His fingers itched to reach out and smooth down her hair, but he refrained.

Lafayette spoke next. "Sook's gonna die 'cause she ain't got no blood type." His voice betrayed his shock. "She's lost too much blood, and we's losing her 'cause they ain't got no blood that her body'd take."

Eric nodded. "She is slipping away. I can feel it." He sighed and looked at Jason Stackhouse, who was sitting silently in the corner of the room. "You are her brother, Stackhouse," Eric said evenly. "I can give her my blood and save her, or she will die. But I will not give her my blood without permission." He sighed and looked back down at her. "Not again."

"Ah—hell no!" Tara said. "Blood suckers are the reason Sookie is here to start with!"

Eric nodded at the woman. "Yes. But I am currently the blood sucker who is willing to open up his own wrist and save her life. If you wish to wait, however, I expect Compton will soon arrive. Perhaps you would prefer that her attacker give Sookie his blood—that is, if she makes it that long."

Tara and Alcide stiffened noticeably.

"That mother fucker ain't gettin' anywhere near Sookie!" Tara yelled.

Eric smirked at her. She was fierce, and Eric found himself liking her to a certain extent. "Then—it is me or nothing." He looked at Jason. "Decide—for I will not force this. I already misled your sister into taking my blood once, and I have since," Eric paused and continued at a quieter volume, "wondered if I ought not to have done so."

"It'll tie her to him," Alcide informed, looking at Eric accusingly.

"Yes," Eric confirmed, "but I am already tied to her through my blood. That is why I am here. That is why Bill will come. I am surprised he has not already," Eric confessed, looking at each of the people gathered in the room by turns before settling his gaze back onto Sookie. Aside from the wires and tubes, she looked like Sleeping Beauty out of the fairy tale, but the Viking wouldn't fool himself into thinking that he was the prince in the story—even if he was there to save her life. He'd not wanted to be a prince—or a goddamned king—in his human days. And he'd certainly never qualified for that label as a vampire.

"We left Bill in the sun to burn!" Tara said.

Eric nodded, though he kept his gaze fixed on the woman who lay dying before them. "Then I hope he did burn—for Sookie's sake. Meanwhile, however," he said, looking back at Tara, "that does not help Sookie now."

Jason looked up at Eric. "Will she really die if you don't help her?"

Eric sighed and nodded. "I believe so. She is weakening more and more by the moment, and she feels very," he paused, "far away from here—from me."

"He could be lying!" Tara accused.

Eric nodded again. "Yes, I could be. But I am not. In fact, it is probably my blood in her that is holding her here even now. I feel that it is," Eric paused, "working very hard to keep her with us."

"Your blood couldn't do that," Alcide said.

Eric shrugged. "Who knows what all the blood can do? I am just telling you what I feel."

"Well—then why isn't your blood healing her?" Tara asked.

"She took only drops from me," Eric said. "And that was several weeks ago."

Jason stood up from his chair, seeming to have come to a decision. "Do it," he said quietly.

Eric nodded and reached for the tube feeding saline into Sookie's body. He yanked it out of the machine and quickly stuck it into his arm—even as Tara and Alcide protested. Lafayette held back his cousin, and Eric couldn't help but to wink at the man. Lafayette shivered a little and pulled himself and Tara back a few steps.

Eric's estimation of Jason Stackhouse went up exponentially when he told the Were and Tara to shut the fuck up when they continued to protest. Meanwhile, Eric turned his attention back to Sookie as his blood reached her veins. He felt every drop going into her body, each one rejoicing at being there.

For him, that was another new experience. And he couldn't help but to wonder what her blood would feel like in him.

He flexed his arm and sent more blood into her—one pint and then a second—even as the fingers of his opposite hand ghosted against hers. It was those fingers of hers that he felt moving first. In turn, their movement moved him to smile—the first sincere smile to pass his lips in a very long time.

Her eyes fluttered open.

His smile sneaked up even more as her brown eyes locked into his blues. For a moment, they took in only each other. Their eyes were soft, and her fingers took his hand.

He heard himself speaking even though he'd not intended to say a word yet. "I lied to you at Russell's mansion, Sookie Stackhouse."

Sookie blinked as if to acknowledge his words—and the apology behind them. They both knew the moment he was referring to—the moment when he'd claimed not to care for her.

He took the tube out of his arm and then hers before pricking his finger with his fang and rubbing a little blood onto the spot where the IV had been. She still had another one in her other arm, but since it was feeding her pain medicine, he left it in.

"I will remove this now," he said, gesturing toward the tube in her throat.

She nodded.

"You should—I believe—blow out as I pull. Agreed?" Eric asked, as the others in the room looked on in stunned silence at the gentle demeanor of the Viking vampire.

Sookie nodded again, this time nervously.

He moved one of his hands gently to her forehead even as the other gripped the breathing tube. "Ready?" he asked, as he stroked her hair.

She nodded a third time and then blew out as he removed the tube. As the tube was expelled, she sputtered and coughed. She choked out a little thanks and motioned towards the pitcher next to the hospital bed. Eric quickly picked it up, only to find it empty. He zipped into the bathroom to refill it.

When he returned, Sookie Stackhouse, who now held more of his blood than any other being ever had—with the exception of Godric when he'd drained Eric and Pam when Eric had made her—was now sitting propped up on a pile of pillows. She was surrounded by four bodies, three human and one Were.

In that moment, something made Eric feel like an intruder—an intruder in her blood, an intruder in her life, an intruder in a room full of people who were capable of showing Sookie that they cared for her.

Only Alcide noticed that he'd reentered the room, but the Were did nothing except take Sookie's hand and glare at him.

Eric set the pitcher down and quietly left the hospital room even as he used his blood in Sookie to monitor her progress. His blood was moving around her body, looking for what needed to be healed. There were bruises and torn skin on Sookie's wrist and neck where a vampire had bitten and torn into her flesh. But mainly there was the loss of her own blood, so his blood was "filling in the blanks" as Eric completed his assessment of her condition.

He sneered as he "saw" Bill's blood inside of Sookie. It seemed to be flowing through her as vampire blood normally flowed through a human—slowly, as if charting its target. His own blood had always been more active in Sookie than he'd imagined a vampire's blood could be, based on what his maker and others had told him.

But—when it came to Sookie—Eric had found that nothing ever seemed to work the way it usually would have.

In general, a vampire had the ability to maintain quite a bit of control over his or her blood in a human's body. That was how vampires who created ties could track humans. They simply "looked for" their own blood. That was also how vampires could influence humans' feelings. They used their blood to "nudge" hormones, endorphins, adrenaline, etc.

A vampire could also control the healing influence of his blood—at least to a certain extent. And, though Eric hadn't practiced the skill much—since he'd not often given humans his blood—he found that his blood instinctively knew what Sookie needed most.

After completing his assessment of the damage to her body, Eric "sent" his blood to her bone marrow and "told it" to produce more red blood cells to make Sookie stronger. He closed his eyes as he walked to the nurses' station. Noticing that Sookie's blood was still not flowing as fast as it should have been, he activated the magic in his blood to give it a boost.

Then he sent other drops of his blood to spur on white blood cells to quickly heal Sookie's wrist and neck bites. Of course, his blood would have done this anyway—automatically—but Eric found that he was able to quicken things.

Eric had been able to do something similar with Lafayette's infected gunshot wound; however, he found that he had much more control over Sookie's healing—just as he could control his blood when he needed to heal.

He listened in to Sookie's body again. Her heart rate was now stronger—a little below her normal level, but definitely not dangerously low as it had been. Her body temperature was also a little low, but that was fine—good news in fact. It meant that she had no infections. And her circulation was now better. Still—she could use more of his blood; she would heal on her own now, but it would take days for her to feel "normal," and she would be weak until then. He wondered if she would take more.

He wondered if he should even offer.

He had already saved her life, and he should have been making his exit. Every moment counted if he wanted to escape Russell Edgington, and the hours before dawn were becoming fewer and fewer. Eric knew that Russell would likely call Talbot exactly thirty minutes before dawn in order to see if Eric had made it to mansion. And when he didn't show up, Russell would still have plenty of time to set his dogs on Eric's trail.

The Viking sighed.

Yes. He should have been fleeing instead of checking on his blood inside of Sookie, yet he was not.

Eric got to the nurses' station and immediately caught the eye of a young brunette who was working on a chart. The glamoured nurse was extremely "helpful" in showing him Sookie's chart, which he took from her and quickly "adjusted." The nurse was also extremely helpful in showing him the computer record of Sookie's visit. Thanks to a constant willingness to adapt to technology, Eric didn't need much help from there. He couldn't erase the patient record fully because of a failsafe in the system, but he had no problem changing a few things. Soon—he had Sookie's name out of the system. To anyone asking, a Jane Lockart had come in that day. She'd been bitten by a dog. He accounted for the problem they had typing her blood by labeling it as a "lab error." However, Jane Lockart had quickly recovered, thanks to a donation of blood from her brother, and had been discharged as of twenty minutes before.

Eric finished scanning Sookie's chart and discovered that the brunette woman in front of him had been working a double shift. He then asked the glamoured nurse to page the doctor and the other nurse listed in Sookie's chart. After Eric had glamoured them, he zipped to the lab and glamoured the tech. He then took all samples of Sookie's blood and destroyed them, pissed off that the hospital staff had taken even a drop of her blood to study, given the fact that she'd almost died from blood loss!

He fucking hated hospitals! He always had.

Satisfied that all traces of Sookie were now gone, Eric went back up to her room.

She was still surrounded by her friends, and he still felt like an intruder there, but he also felt compelled to speak to her—to offer her more blood at the very least—and then he needed to get the hell out of there.

He spoke from the doorway. "Sookie, I need to talk with you privately for a few minutes." He stepped into the room as her eyes, which had been soft before, greeted him with the kind of suspicion that was her more usual look for him. For some reason, that expression hurt him more than it ever had before, and keeping his countenance steady with her was even more difficult than it had been with Russell.

"Hell no!" Tara said harshly. "There ain't no way in hell that we're gonna leave you alone with a fucking vamp!"

"That's right, Sook," Alcide said, still gripping her hand. Eric could tell that she was squeezing his hand back.

The vampire felt his controlled expression slipping again and had to harness his emotions even more tightly. Was Sookie frightened of him? Had she already moved on to another man—to Alcide? Would she never see that Eric wouldn't harm her—couldn't—no matter how much it might have been in his own best interests to do so?

The clear mistrust that was in Sookie's eyes caused Eric to step back as if he'd been pushed—or silvered.

He looked right into those accusing brown eyes and swallowed the pride he'd held onto so tightly for all of his life. He hated her in that moment, yet he still could not leave her. He steeled himself and spoke steadily—evenly. "I must leave soon, Sookie. I would like for you to have more of my blood before I go. Even if you will not hear what I wish to say to you, you should take the blood. You are still weak."

"I fucking told you so!" Tara yelled. "I told you that he'd try to get even more of his blood into you so that he could manipulate you!"

"The more blood he's got in you, the more control he'll have," Alcide seconded.

"Is that true, Eric?" Sookie's soft voice cracked a little more with each word of her short question to him.

"Son of a bitch," Eric muttered, looking at the pitcher still full of water on the table—right where he'd left it. "Can't you people see a fucking thing? Or do a fucking thing? I've been gone for ten fucking minutes!"

Quickly, Eric zipped to the table where he'd left the water. He ignored the shuffling and angry muttering of the others as he poured Sookie a cup and shoved Alcide and Tara out of his way. He held the straw to her lips.

Eric's actions had occurred so rapidly and Sookie was still so groggy that she registered him moving from the door to her side in only a moment.

The quickness of it all startled her, and she shrank back a bit. That's when she saw it—just a flicker in his eyes. She'd hurt him when she'd recoiled from him.

She'd not been expecting that—not from him.

"Sorry," she stammered in a throaty voice as she saw the water in his hand. "You just startled me. You moved quick. I'm sorry."

It didn't matter by then, however. Eric had already recovered, and his steely look was back. "You need water," he said evenly. "The tube will have made your throat raw, and I forgot to . . . ." His voice trailed off as he cursed himself for not tending to that wound with his blood sooner. In truth, Eric had been "looking" so hard for the problems that had brought her into the hospital, that he'd not thought about the problems that would have been caused by Sookie's treatment. Immediately, he ordered a bit of his blood to her throat to sooth it.

She drank obediently as the vampire held the straw to her mouth. Her fingers eventually came up to take the cup, and for a moment, their fingers touched. Eric had felt her touch before a few times, but never like this—never with his blood working so hard inside of her. For a split second, he closed his eyes to the sensation and then let go of the water cup and took a step back.

"Thanks," Sookie said when she was done with her drink. "What did you forget?" she asked, her voice already stronger.

"I forgot to tell your friends that I had brought the water," he lied.

Sookie's eyebrows furrowed as if she were trying to work out a mystery, and Eric couldn't help but to wonder if his blood in her was "denying" his words—"confessing" to her that he was lying. He'd never heard of that happening unless there was a bond, which required three exchanges, but—again—with Sookie, he wouldn't be surprised if yet another rule were broken.

To escape her appraising gaze, Eric quickly glanced around the room. Everyone there was watching him as if he were about to tear out Sookie's throat. He wondered if she thought the same, but he made himself look back at her anyway.

"I need to speak to you alone—just for a few minutes," he tried again.

"Okay," she said her eyes going back and forth between mistrust and thankfulness. In the end stubbornness won out. "Go ahead—but this is my family; what you say to me can be said to them."

Chapter Text

Chapter 06: A Revolutionary Act

"In a time of universal deceit—telling the truth is a revolutionary act."—George Orwell

Eric knew of Sookie's stubbornness well. He also knew that he could not say everything he wanted to say in front of the people in that room. In truth, he couldn't believe that he wanted to say his intended words to any being—living or undead.

No. His most "costly" words would be for Sookie Stackhouse, or they would be for no one.

But he could say some things in front of the others, and after that—well—he would either leave, or she would agree to speak to him in private for a moment. He took in the faces in the room again. Jason Stackhouse looked a bit frazzled, as if still in shock. Tara Thornton was looking at him with pure hatred in her eyes. Lafayette looked cautious and a little afraid of him. And Alcide Herveaux looked satisfied, probably because he'd just been lumped in with Sookie's family after only a short acquaintance with her.

"Very well," Eric began, "I will speak of some things in front of the audience you have set for me. Russell Edgington, the three-thousand-year-old vampire king of Mississippi and now Louisiana, is probably at your home in Bon Temps even as I speak. He intends to hunt you down, kidnap you, and use you. And—trust me—you would not escape again. He is not happy that Lorena is dead, nor is he happy that you freed Compton, for whom he is also searching."

Eric watched as concern for Bill flooded Sookie's eyes. But he kept his countenance steady. He had to. When he looked at the woman in the hospital bed before him, his body and mind ached for something he'd never found—something that every bit of his blood longed for.

Something he couldn't even name.

But seeing her worry for Bill told him that all of his secret hopes and fantasies were just bullshit illusions.

Sookie had not been waiting for him to come to her in Jackson. She had not opened the window of the room she'd been staying in at the Were's apartment. She had not invited him in and joked with him about his ability to fly or her inability to sing. She had not told him that he was the one that she really wanted. She had not looked at him as if she could see into his dead soul and yet still wanted him. She had not swept his jacket from his shoulders or kissed him with more passion than anyone ever had. She had not pushed him back onto her bed with the intention of fucking him—let alone making love to him.

All of those things had been mere tricks of his imagination—fictions that he would never be able to live out. He hated the part of himself that had concocted them to begin with. And he hated himself now—for wishing with all of his might that they were true.

Still, he went on, "You will not be able to hide with your brother, Lafayette, Sam, or Tara because Russell knows of all of them from the file Franklin Mott found in Bill Compton's home."

Eric saw Tara Thornton cringe at the mention of Mott's name. She was brave, but she'd likely been brutalized, given Mott's reputation. Eric sighed and spoke to Sookie's friend, "You did a good job injuring him, but you did not send him to his true death. And he is not one to be denied."

Tara shrank back into Lafayette's arms in fear.

Eric continued speaking to Tara. "Mott is not a very old vampire, however. It will take him at least a week to heal—if Talbot is to be believed about the extent of Mott's injuries." Eric paused for a moment. "Actually—to be safe—you should count on only four days until Mott comes for you. And Russell is already looking for you since you escaped with Sookie. I suggest wooden bullets for Mott; he has not yet reached an age when he can easily move out of their path. Alcide will know how to find a suitable weapon should you wish to try to stand your ground against him. Otherwise, you should run."

Without another word to a stunned Tara, Eric looked back at Sookie. His blood in her was longing for a connection, and he contemplated touching her fingers as he'd done earlier before she'd woken up or smoothing the hair away from her forehead. He longed for her soft eyes to look at him again—instead of her suspicious ones.

But that was not to be.

He shook himself from his fantasies again; he needed to focus for both of their sakes. "Sookie, you could try to hide with Herveaux, but a Were named Debbie Pelt, who according to Talbot's ramblings has a connection to him, is now hunting for you as well. She will likely go to Herveaux's usual places to seek you out. Or she will tell Russell of them."

Her eyes softening a little, Sookie looked quickly to Alcide. The Were nodded sheepishly.

"Yeah—that sounds like what she'd do alright," Alcide confirmed.

Eric tried to ignore the fact that Sookie's eyes once more hardened a little as they found his own again. Perhaps, he deserved her ire. After all, from her perspective, he'd tortured her friend, tricked her into taking his blood, and taken Russell's side against her and Bill. And that didn't even count the "crimes" that Bill would have reported against him.

"Russell will not give up," Eric said, trying to make Sookie understand. "He is now married to the queen of Louisiana, Sophie-Anne, and she wants you too. Before Bill came to Bon Temps, he worked in Sophie-Anne's court."

Sookie tilted her head in question.

Eric continued, "He was her procurer."

"Procurer?" Sookie asked as Alcide shifted uncomfortably, likely guessing what was coming.

"Yes," Eric responded, as gently as he was capable in front of the others. "Most wealthy vampires have one. Bill is well-known for his superior glamouring ability, as well as for his aptitude for finding delicacies. And those things make him very good at his job."

"Delicacies," Sookie murmured. "What was his job—specifically?"

"He found humans for the queen—those of noteworthy or exotic blood."

"That file on me?" Sookie asked in horror.

"That file was the work of a meticulous procurer who was very interested in why you have such wonderful blood, Sookie. And make no mistake—I have not tasted you, but from your scent, I know that your blood would be exquisite."

"Stay the fuck away from her, Northman!" Alcide growled.

Eric rolled his eyes. "I am the fuck away from her, Herveaux. I could have had Sookie's blood many times, but I do not take blood by force." He growled. "And don't forget who hired you to protect her! I know that I will not forget that I found her almost dead tonight!" Eric's glare at the Were caused Alcide to take a step back.

"Was Bill gonna offer me to the queen then?" Sookie asked in a shaky voice, even as tears trailed down her cheeks.

Eric kept himself from brushing those drops of salt water away by shoving his hands deep into his pockets. "I do not know everything," the vampire said quietly, "but I have found out some things and guessed some others. I know that your cousin Hadley is the queen's chief courtesan and favorite blood donor. I know that her blood tastes delicious and that she smells lovely, but her scent is nothing to yours. I know that several months ago Hadley boasted to the queen that she had a "special" cousin, a girl who seemed to be able to read people's thoughts right out of their heads. I know that Bill was still working for the queen at the time that Hadley let the story of her unique cousin slip. I know that you cannot be glamoured and that Bill's usual way of gaining control over new 'requisitions' is by glamouring them. I know that Bill originally procured Hadley. And I know that Bill has a lot of his blood in you even now. I know that my blood drew me here, and if Bill is still alive, he will likely come here too. Or he will go to his home, get himself captured by Russell, and save himself by using your blood connection to lead Russell straight to you."

Sookie looked genuinely afraid now—as well as pissed off, though Eric couldn't tell who the target of her anger was.

"How do you know all this? And how long have you known?"

"I learned of Hadley's connection to you yesterday—from Hadley herself," he answered smoothly. "I knew of Compton's former position in Sophie-Anne's court before; however, I did not know that Bill already knew of Hadley's telepathic cousin when he so conveniently found you. I learned of the file on you because of Franklin Mott's boasting—after you saw it."

"You think the queen sent Bill to procure me?" Sookie asked, the hurt clear in her voice.

"That is what Hadley told me."

"You think that since Bill couldn't glamour me, he decided that seduction would be the best way?"

"Yes," Eric answered softly. He did not like the brokenness in her voice or the slump of her shoulders, but he told her what he thought was the truth anyway. "And to help him with that, he would have wanted to get his blood into you as soon as possible."

"Like you did?"

"Yes," Eric responded honestly. "I have wanted you since the night I met you."

"See—they're all bastards!" Tara yelled out.

Sookie raised her hand to silence her friend. "You think Bill will just hand me over to Russell and Sophie-Anne when he finds me?"

Eric considered for a moment. "Yes and no. I think he truly believes that he loves you, so—at first—he will try to protect you from them. But he will fail. He is not experienced enough to shield you from a vampire like Russell, nor is he particularly strong." Eric couldn't prevent some of his derision for the younger vampire from creeping into his response. "Make no mistake: When Russell finds Compton, he will break—quickly—under torture. Then he will be forced to use your blood connection to lead Russell to you." Eric paused. "Bill will likely talk himself into believing that it would be the best thing for you—the only way he could ensure your life."

"Would it be?" Sookie asked, her brown eyes searching him—threatening to tear his control to shreds. "Would it be the best way?"

Eric couldn't help the sigh that escaped his lips. He shook his head. "No. Sophie-Anne would likely insist upon taking you for her lover, probably forcing you to service her alongside your cousin. She likes the taboo, and that thought would arouse her."

Sookie cringed, but Eric went on, "At least at first, Sophie-Anne would feed from you excessively if left to her own devices." He closed his eyes for a moment. "When I first saw Hadley, she was horribly anemic, yet Sophie-Anne still fed." He opened his eyes to see that Sookie's were full of tears. "Russell would likely force the queen to curb her appetites for your blood, but he is no better guardian. He is insane and powerful. He would use your telepathy all the time—until, I fear, you would be worn down. Talbot would be allowed to create dishes with your blood as if you were a fine wine. You might be able to share a room with Compton if you behaved. Bill would likely act as your keeper and give you more and more of his blood to keep you alive."

His voice softened a little. "It might not be all bad, however. Perhaps, you would be allowed to read some books during the day when you had the energy to do so—at least when you were not reading humans' minds. And—you might even be allowed whole days to yourself as you recovered from blood loss. However, your family and friends would likely be gone from your life."

Sookie let out a harsh sob. "You paint a bleak picture, Mr. Northman."

"I tried not to make it as bleak as it could be, Miss Stackhouse." He smiled at her a little as they both recognized the absurdity of their using each other's last names at this point.

And for a moment—just a moment—she smiled back.

"You think I would be killed by them," she stated after that moment ended.

"Yes," Eric confirmed, deadly serious again, "eventually. But you would wish for death long before it came to you."

"Would they turn me?" Sookie asked in a voice so quiet that Eric could barely hear her question.

He nodded. "It is likely."

Sookie took a deep, ragged breath. "What about you, Eric? Why are you here? What do you want from me?"

"My blood in you pulled me here." He answered her second question honestly and ignored the others. To be frank, he did not have answers for them.

"If Russell finds out you helped me—warned me—you will be in trouble, won't you?"

"That is the least of my worries, Sookie, and it should be the least of yours too," the vampire replied.

She took another shaky breath. "What should I be worried about?"

He looked around the room again and then back at her. "Sookie, you have a choice to make. I have warned you. I have told you of the threat and of what I learned of Bill."

"What choice?"

Eric sighed. He couldn't help himself as he looked into her still suspicious eyes. "I will leave now Sookie, or I will speak with you alone. There are some things that are as much about me and my safety as yours, and these are not things for the ears of your," he paused, "family. The words I wish to say to you now are not words that can be listened to by people who can be glamoured. They are not words to be listened to by people for whom I have no trust. They are words for you only—if you choose to hear them. If you do not, then I will say goodbye, Miss Stackhouse, for I will likely never see you again."

Sookie looked up at Eric in surprise.

Tara spoke up, "Fuck no! After all the shit you just said, how do we know that you ain't just here healin' Sookie for Russell? How do we know you won't just take Sookie to him if we leave her alone with you? You were pretty damned cozy with him when I was brought to his house of fuckin' horrors the other night!"

"You don't know," Eric said evenly. "It is up to Sookie to decide whether or not to trust me. If she chooses not to, then I will go now." He pulled his hands out of his pockets and picked up a pad and pen from the bedside table. He wrote down an address and a security code.

He looked at Sookie. "This is my safest residence in the Shreveport area. There is a hidden compartment under the cabinet next to the refrigerator. In it is a little more than thirty thousand dollars. Your family and friends will all be watched by Russell. If you do not wish to hear me out now, then I hope that you will trust me enough to go here tomorrow during the day, take the money, and run." Eric looked at Alcide and then back at Sookie. "You should take the Were or your shifter boss. They cannot protect you against a vampire—especially not one who is three thousand years old—but they could help to protect you during the day, and they both have connections that might help you. I have removed your name and all evidence of you from the records of this hospital. Just promise me one thing."

"What?" Sookie asked with a whimper.

"Don't go running to Compton. And don't go home."

"I don't know if I can promise you that I won't go home," she said quietly.

"Then they already have you," he said in a tortured tone.

Eric reached forward with his hand—the one that still held the piece of paper—but he stopped just short of touching her fingers. The air seemed to vibrate in the space between their flesh.

"Hate me if you must, Sookie. Distrust me if you must, but please—please—run. Run from Bill and from Russell and from Sophie-Anne. Hell—run from me if it makes you feel better. But go. Take more of my blood and get stronger so that you can leave this place now, or . . . ." His voice trailed off.

"Or?" she asked.

"Or talk to me alone for a few minutes, Sookie." Eric pulled back his hand before letting the slip of paper drop onto the hospital bed next to her hand. "Decide," he finished simply.

Sookie had studied people for a long time. Her telepathy had always allowed her the luxury of comparing people's thoughts to their facial expressions, and though she couldn't read Eric's thoughts, she'd been able to read his face a few times that night. Mostly, it had been stony, almost expressionless, but a few times, she'd seen more—things he'd clearly not wanted her to see. He'd been hurt when she shrank from him as he'd offered her the water. He'd been sorry when he told her about Bill's duplicity. And—most importantly—the eyes that she'd opened hers to that night had cared for her.

"Okay," she said, looking at the others in the room. "I wanna talk to Eric alone for a little while."

"Hell no!" Tara exclaimed. "Sookie! He's a fucking vampire!"

"And he saved my life, Tara. I owe him a few minutes," Sookie said with strength in her voice.

Alcide glared at Eric, "We'll wait right outside, cher."

Eric hated that fucking endearment. He hated even more that Sookie would be angry if he tried to use it, but she just nodded to Alcide.

Eric, however, shook his head. "No, Were, you will move out of range of hearing, or I will go now." He looked down at Sookie. "I won't have others hear what I say, whether they hear it through the door or in the room."

Sookie nodded again. "Okay. Alcide, why don't you go get some coffee or something?" She looked at her brother. "Take Jason with you—will you? He looks like he could use some. And I'm feeling up to a little myself."

Alcide reluctantly led Jason from the room, snarling at Eric as he left.

Lafayette spoke up, "Come on, hooker," he said to Tara.

She brushed off Lafayette's hand from her shoulder, and glared at Sookie. "If you voluntarily put yourself into a situation where you're alone with a vamp again, Sookie, I'm done! The last time I left you alone with one, he nearly drained you!" Tara had tears in her eyes. "I can't do this anymore, Sook. Please! The choice that you should be makin' is the one that'll keep you safe from them. Please!"

Sookie gave Tara a tender yet strong look. "Tara, I need to do this, okay? It'll be alright."

Tara shook her head angrily and stormed out of the room. "Fine! I'm done with this shit!"

Lafayette meekly followed after her.

Eric looked down at Sookie. Again, the desire to touch her was great, but again he kept himself from doing it. He waited until he was certain the Were could no longer hear them before he spoke. "Sookie," he began, "tonight, Russell Edgington began to suspect that I want him finally dead."

"But I thought that you were workin' for him now," Sookie said somewhat bitterly. "I thought he was your king."

Eric shook his head, "There are—as you should realize by now—often major differences between what appears to be so and what is so. Those tattooed Weres work for Russell; their ancestors also worked for him. And in Russell's home, I found my father's crown—my human father's crown."

"What are you sayin'?" Sookie asked, her eyebrows furrowing.

"I'm saying that Russell was there the night my human family was murdered—my father, my mother, and my sister—but I couldn't see him. He was wearing a cloak, and one of the members of his Were pack took him the crown."

Eric continued with foreboding in his tone. "The night he was responsible for killing my family, Russell did see me. He told me not to come after him. And—I did not. I admit to you, Sookie—just to you," he said with shining eyes, "that I was a coward that night." The Viking paused. "I did not follow him into the dark."

"Oh Eric," she said.

"Do not pity me!" he barked.

"Okay," she responded apologetically.

Quickly, he regained his calm and went on, "When Russell saw me, I was younger than I appear now, but it will not take him long to remember—especially now that Talbot has pointed out my interest in one of Russell's artifacts."

"Artifacts?" Sookie questioned quietly.

"The crown," Eric seethed. "It was," he paused, "on display in a glass case—as if it were only some kind of museum piece!"

Sookie inhaled deeply, but she didn't offer Eric any sympathy this time. Soon his expression became stoic again.

"Russell sees you in the same way he sees that crown," Eric said quietly. "And he will have no compunction about hurting whomever it takes to secure his newest museum piece."

They were quiet for a moment as Sookie absorbed what he was saying.

"He'll be hunting you too?" Sookie asked.

Eric nodded. "Yes, he will. Before—I might have been able to have gained his trust enough for him let his guard down. Then, I would have killed him, but now that he is suspicious of me, that will not happen. Clearly, something is nagging at him, and soon he will realize that it is the memory of a young Viking who was too afraid of him and his wolves to avenge his family members' deaths." He closed his eyes. "It will not take Russell long to connect the dots, Sookie. So I have sent Pam away. And I will go away, too. But . . . ." He stopped.

"But?"

"If I leave you here, Russell will find you. You might elude him for a while if you run with Herveaux or Merlotte, but Russell will not stop until he tracks you down. You are too great a prize for him to let go."

"What do I do then? If anyone helps me, I'm assuming they'll be in danger too."

"Yes—Russell will likely kill any that try to aid you. Bill's files and, therefore, Mott's information is somewhat outdated in that it still says that you are estranged from your brother, so Jason will likely stay safe unless you contact him. Your friends too. Russell will continue to watch everyone that you care about, but as long as he thinks they might be useful, they will stay safe—except for Tara, who will be in danger because of Mott. I am sorry, Sookie, but the home you love is lost to you—or, at least, it needs to be." He ran his hand through his hair, a nervous gesture he didn't often indulge in. "However—if you are caught—what I said about your family and friends being safe will be nullified. Once Russell has you, then their only function would be to help him control you. They will be in more danger if he has you than if he does not."

Sookie sighed deeply. She had heard what sounded like true regret in Eric's voice. She knew that he was losing his home as well. He was also losing Fangtasia, but—again—she intuited that he didn't want her pity.

"What do I do then?" she asked again.

Eric smirked at little. "You could choose to come with me, Sookie Stackhouse."

Chapter Text

Chapter 07: Choice #1

"In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility."—Eleanor Roosevelt

Sookie looked up at the vampire in surprise. "Go with you? Eric—I can't go with you!"

Eric lowered his eyes to the floor. This is what he'd expected her to say. He had never anticipated that Sookie would actually leave her friends and family. He had never expected her to give up her home. For the thousandth time, he wondered why he had even come. It would have been better for her if she had just slipped away to her death in her sleep.

He closed his eyes. She would be taken. She would be used. She would resist. She would eventually be killed—despite her usefulness. Or she would be broken—despite her spirit.

Or—worst of all—she would be turned and then broken by her maker's command.

The thought of those things made Eric want to take Sookie with him against her will, but her will was what he liked most about her, so he wouldn't. He took a step back and looked at her.

"Then run, Sookie. Promise me that you will run away. Run as far as you can and keep running." He didn't like the desperation that was in his voice, but his control had finally left him after the long night of worry. The balls that he'd so carefully kept in the air now seemed to be tumbling down all at once.

"Eric," Sookie said, her eyes finally softening, "why are you here? Why did you come?"

He took a step toward the hospital bed. However, before he could answer her question, his nose picked up a familiar scent, and he tensed.

"Bill is coming," he said simply.

Eric took up a defensive stance in front of Sookie as the Civil War veteran sped into the room.

"Sookie," Bill said, his Southern accent thick. He looked at Eric and demanded, "What the fuck are you doing here, Northman?"

Eric smirked, his earlier indecisiveness gone now that he had a foe to face. "You almost killed her, Bill. I healed her. Take a whiff," he mocked.

Bill inhaled sharply. "You let him give you his blood, darling?" he asked, jetting to the other side of Sookie's hospital bed.

Eric was poised, ready to fight Bill if necessary. The Viking knew that he could easily kill Compton before he could lay an unwanted finger onto Sookie, but he was waiting for a cue from her—waiting to know how to act.

If Sookie had shrunk back a bit from Eric's sudden movements before, she recoiled violently from Bill's. Eric growled protectively.

"Back off, Compton," the Viking said in a low, threatening voice. "Back off. Right. Fucking. Now."

Bill—to his credit—did take a step away. "Sookie," he said in an insistent, pleading tone, "I'm sorry about before. I was near-death. I couldn't control my feeding!"

Sookie's body shook as she shrank back farther into her hospital bed. Even her voice trembled as she spoke. "I don't blame you for that, Bill. I was dumb for tryin' to give you my blood," she paused, "when you were so sick."

"I knew you would forgive me, darling!" Bill said, taking a step forward again. At Sookie's words and quick forgiveness of Bill for almost draining her, Eric took a half step back from her. He thought for a moment about using his blood to try to influence her—to make her doubt Bill—but he didn't. He wouldn't. The room suddenly felt tiny to the large Viking.

"Bill," Sookie said in a pained voice, "we can't keep goin' on like this." She let out a little sob. "You hurt me, and I'm not just talkin' about in that van. I'm talkin' about when you slept with Lorena."

She looked over toward Eric as if searching for strength. The Viking noticed Sookie's fingers, stretching toward him. He recognized that the movement was unconscious on her part. He knew that she just wanted someone to support her—not him in particular.

Not him.

But he couldn't control himself.

He hated how he couldn't control himself!

He reached out and took her hand in his. She looked at him with surprise and then gratefulness before looking back at Bill.

Sookie took a deep breath and squeezed Eric's hand. He squeezed back.

"Bill, were you sent by the queen to find me—to procure me for her?" Sookie asked, looking at Bill with scrutiny.

"What has he told you?" Bill asked vindictively, even as he looked at Eric. "Darling, you know that Eric is a master manipulator. You cannot believe his lies!"

Again, Sookie squeezed Eric's hand. "I saw the file, Bill. Your file. Russell had it."

"What file?" Bill hedged.

"The one written about me," she said. "The one found in your house."

"If there was something there, then Eric planted it there!" Bill insisted accusingly.

"It was written in your handwriting, Bill," Sookie said quietly. "Don't lie to me."

Bill looked as if he were being tortured. "Darling, you must believe me," he begged. "There are things that I have been trying to protect you from,"

Eric felt Sookie's blood pulling on him, pulling so hard that it seemed to be taking some of his own strength from his body—even though that shouldn't have been possible given the fact that they'd never even had a single proper blood exchange. Only a bonded pair should have been able to do such things. Still, Eric allowed his strength to flow where it was being asked to go.

"Were you sent by the queen to procure me?" Sookie asked her question again, this time with no emotion in her voice.

"Sookie," Bill stammered. "Please. I love you."

"That's not an answer, Bill, and I need one," Sookie said. "Right. Now."

Again Bill tried to blame Eric. "He told you this, didn't he?" he asked as he glared at Eric.

"Yes," Sookie said. "Did Eric tell me a lie? Was he wrong about your plan to give me to the queen?"

Bill looked at her with a tormented expression. "No—but I wasn't going to do it! Not anymore. Not since I fell in love with you. I wanted to elope with you, to take you away from Louisiana until I could figure out how to keep Sophie-Anne from getting you."

Sookie looked at Bill and asked quietly. "When did you fall in love with me, Bill?"

"I don't know," the Civil War veteran answered as his eyes lowered toward the floor. "Sookie, I'm sorry," he said guiltily as he looked at her again. "But I know that I can make this all up to you if you let me. Russell will come after you, and you need for me to protect you. I would die for you, Sookie!"

Sookie shook her head slowly. "No, Bill." Tears dripped from her eyes. "I need you to go. Now."

Bill looked at Eric. "This is all your fault! If Sophie-Anne hadn't been so concerned that you would steal Sookie out from under her, then I would not have been sent."

Eric nodded. "You're right about one thing. I would have wanted her for myself," Eric said, even though he feared Sookie would pull her hand from his. She didn't. "Sookie was in my area," the Viking continued. "She should have been my asset. Sophie-Anne should have let me negotiate with Sookie. Sophie-Anne could have hired her through me for a fair price. There could have been a contract put in place that would have helped Sookie maintain a normal life! That's how it's supposed to work now, Bill."

Bill scoffed. "Sophie-Anne is your queen. Surely you understand the hierarchy. Plus—I know how you treat your 'assets,' Eric," he added accusingly.

Sookie looked up at Bill. "Wait—I am already Eric's asset." She bit her lip. "He's paid me for doing work for him. And he hasn't tried to take me away from my home. He hasn't tried to steal me from you—except for when he tricked me into drinkin' his blood in Dallas. But that wasn't really planned out. And he hasn't planned—not ever—to pass me along to his queen."

Bill gave Sookie a sorrowful look. "Please, you don't know what you're talking about, Sookie. Just come with me. I will finish healing you, and then we can sort this out. I'm sure that if I talk to Russell and explain things, he would be happy to offer you protection from the likes of Eric!" He sneered out Eric's name as if it were laced with poison.

As Bill reached out to grab her free hand, Sookie cringed again, and Eric growled—a low, feral growl from deep within his chest.

"Sookie is mine!" Bill yelled out.

Eric looked at Sookie, who was shaking her head in denial. "Just go, Bill—okay? We'll talk later; I'll be home tomorrow—alright?"

"But Russell may look for you at your house," Bill said.

Sookie nodded. "That's fine. You can come see me at first dark tomorrow night—okay? And then you can run interference for me with Russell—you know, explain things to him. I'm not gonna be discharged from here until tomorrow anyway, and I just need some time to think about things."

Eric hated the words that Sookie was speaking, but she squeezed his hand, almost as if in reassurance. If Eric's heart could have beaten, it would have thumped triumphantly as he realized that Sookie was lying to Bill.

Bill looked reluctant to go.

"Just keep safe, Bill," Sookie said, though Eric could feel a kind of "hitch" to the sentiment in Sookie's blood. He prayed that Bill couldn't feel it too. She went on. "Russell is looking for you too, and until he realizes that we had to kill Lorena in order to save ourselves, he's sure to be angry. Maybe you could call him for us—let him know that it was self-defense and that I'm willin' to talk to him."

Bill looked at her as if he wished to glamour her. At that moment, Eric felt Bill's blood inside of Sookie come more to life. It sought to rev up the hormones that controlled Sookie's fear and anxiety.

Despite his inclination to stop Bill's blood, Eric did not. Instead, he just held firmly onto Sookie's hand and used his own blood to "shine a light"—so to speak—on Bill's duplicity. He wondered if Sookie would be able to sense it.

"When I contact Russell, may I tell him that you will willingly work for him?" Bill asked. "It really is the best way," he added.

"Sure Bill," Sookie said in a resigned voice, even as she shook a bit with fear. She dropped Eric's hand and pulled her knees up before wrapping both of her arms around them as if to hug herself. "If it's what you think is best. I just need some time to myself before I can let go of everything that's happened since you proposed to me—so that I can," she paused, "move on from it."

Bill nodded and smiled at Sookie's response. He glared at Eric. "I don't want to leave you alone with Russell's new boy toy here."

Eric didn't react to that. He knew several things in that moment. The first was that Bill was a self-absorbed, self-serving ass, and whether he loved Sookie or not was immaterial. The second thing he knew is that Sookie was very clever.

She was telling Bill exactly what he needed to hear in order to get him to leave the hospital.

Bill looked to be doing just that before he suddenly turned around.

"No!" the younger vampire said as he looked right at Eric. "I know you don't want me here right now, darling, but I cannot leave you with the likes of Eric." Bill's fangs dropped down, and Eric answered by dropping his own fangs and moving directly into Bill's path to Sookie.

Sookie muttered some words almost to herself, but Eric was able to hear them crystal clear. "Gran always said that the devil you knew was a devil was not nearly as frightening as the one you didn't know was one."

Eric smirked, even as he kept his eyes on Bill, "I've always heard, 'Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.'"

Eric couldn't see it, but he heard the smile in Sookie's voice. "Gran changed the saying a bit. Her way made more sense to me because of my telepathy."

Bill looked a bit confused at their exchange, but for the first time, Eric felt hopeful that Sookie might leave the hospital with him.

Both vampires heard Sookie's grunt of pain as she pulled the second IV from her arm. And both vampires reacted to the smell of her blood. Only one sent his blood like a jetliner to heal the wound. The other moved to try to drink the precious liquid.

Bill rushed toward Sookie's body. "Let me heal you with my saliva, my love," he said with a twinge of desperation in his tone.

However, before he could get to Sookie, he met a Viking-sized wall, and that wall pushed him—hard—against another wall: the concrete hospital wall.

"Move again, Bill," Eric said threateningly. "Come for her blood again, and you will learn the difference between 150 years as vampire and one thousand."

"I accept your offer, Eric," came Sookie's voice from behind him.

Not letting his surprise show, Eric zipped to Sookie's side and picked her up, even as her arms went automatically around his neck. Bill came at them again, and, this time, his stomach was met by a large boot, which kicked him forcefully into the wall again. Bill was not so quick to get up after his second introduction to the cold surface.

As quick as a flash, Eric reached down and thrust the blanket from the bed into Sookie's arms, and before Bill could react again, he was out of the room with Sookie. He hurried to the roof.

"What are we doin' up here?" Sookie asked.

"I'm going to fly us away. It is the safest way, and I know Bill can't fly."

"Fly?" Sookie asked, her voice now quivering with anxiety.

"Yes," he confirmed. "Wrap yourself in the blanket."

"I'm scared of heights," Sookie mumbled, even as she obeyed.

Eric quickly moved them toward the far side of the roof. He could smell that Bill was pursuing them.

"I wish I could say goodbye to them, but it's probably safer that I don't," Sookie said as she gripped Eric's neck tighter.

"You're right about that, Sookie," Eric said softly—kindly.

Just then, Bill thrust the door to the roof open. "Sookie don't! I may have lied to you, but I'm not a monster like Eric is!" The Civil War veteran sped toward them, but stopped when he was about ten feet away. He raised his hands as if in peace. "Please, Sookie. I love you."

Sookie looked from Bill to Eric. Tears streamed down her face. "Can you go slowly? I really am scared of 'F-ing' heights."

Eric smirked briefly at her. "Then don't look down. Just look at me, Sookie." With no other words, he took off into the night sky.

Both of them heard Bill yelling from the rooftop.

Eric sighed as the petite human in his arms buried her face into his chest out of both fear and sadness.

Sookie Stackhouse was finally completely under his power, but all Eric could think about was how good it felt to hold her.

In that moment, a large part of him hated both himself and Sookie. He knew that his life would be easier if he dropped her to the ground. But he didn't. Instead, he gripped her tighter so that she wouldn't as frightened.

Eric knew that he would still have to deal with Sophie-Anne and Russell—his remaining two balls in the air. However, at least for the moment, Sookie Stackhouse was "caught" and quite secure in his arms. Still weakened from blood loss and from the confrontation with Bill, she kept her face pressed against his chest, inhaled deeply, and slept—even as he sped them through the air, high above the ground.

Chapter Text

Chapter 08: Choice #2

When Sookie woke up, she was in a bed. Her thin hospital gown was still her main garment, though the blanket from the hospital had been wrapped around her body as well.

"How long did I sleep?" she asked groggily.

"A little over an hour—the whole flight here and a little longer."

"Where are we?" she asked, still trying to get her bearings. "Is it safe?"

"We are in Vicksburg, Mississippi. It is safe—for now."

"Mississippi?" Sookie asked with surprise. "Why are we in Russell's state?"

"This is the first stop on my escape route," Eric said from across the room. "Trust me—I never expected to be running from the king of Mississippi when I came up with the route," he intoned. "But," he paused, "Russell won't suspect that I'd put myself this close to the lion's den. That would just be," Eric paused and continued a little playfully, "completely idiotic."

She turned her head toward Eric's voice, even as she tried to shake the cobwebs out of her head. "Escape route?"

"Yes," Eric said simply.

"Escape to where?" she asked, as she sat up a little. She immediately felt light-headed and lay back down.

"Do you really believe that I would tell you that, Sookie?"

She smiled. "No." She took a deep breath. "So? What now?"

"You have more choices to make, Miss Stackhouse," Eric said as he walked toward her. His expression was half-predatory and half-subdued. The paradox was disconcerting for Sookie—especially given her weakness.

"Choices?" she stammered a little. "I thought I already made my choice. I left the hospital with you, after all."

"Yes," Eric agreed. "But there are two more choices you need to make before morning, and what you choose will determine what we do from here."

"What do you mean?" Sookie asked.

"I'll tell you that part in a while, but first, you must make your second choice of the night," Eric explained.

"What about?"

"You must decide whether or not to take more of my blood."

She sighed. "Does everything come back to blood?"

"Yes," Eric answered quickly. "I am vampire. Everything comes back to blood for me."

Sookie swallowed hard. "What would it do to me? I mean—I know I might just be splitting hairs here since you already saved my life with your blood tonight, but . . . ." She stopped for a moment. "But I just need to know. I don't wanna become a vampire, Eric."

The Viking sighed. "That's too bad. It would be the best way to keep you safe. I thought about turning you as you slept. It would solve some problems—though it would create others."

She gasped at his honesty and then recoiled in fear.

He chuckled. "Do not fear me, Miss Stackhouse. I had the thought for only 2.3 seconds before I discarded it. It would not fit in with my plans."

"Your plans?" she stammered.

"Correct," Eric said. "Plus, I recognize that you do not wish to become vampire—at least not right now. And—though you might have been told otherwise—I am not a monster."

A hint of a smirk ghosted her lips as her eyebrow arched. "Really?"

He chuckled again, enjoying the slight challenge in her tone. "I am not that kind of monster," he corrected.

"So—the blood?" she pushed.

"It would—obviously—heal you. It would tie us together more strongly." He sighed. "With my blood in you, I already have the ability to control your emotions to a certain extent."

"How?" she asked.

"Tell me—have you dreamt of me?" he leered.

She bit her lip and nodded. "Yes."

"Your endorphins and hormones can be controlled by my blood, Sookie," he reported. "A vampire can send dreams or can attempt to control the chemistry of your body while you are awake; however, that would be more obvious to you. It is almost like a glamouring inside of the blood, and I believe you would be able to feel it—if you knew what to look for."

"Feel it?" she asked.

"Perhaps," he said. "I am not sure. I have not tried to control you, though I have sent you dreams—two of them."

"But why would you send me the dreams you sent me?" she asked without thinking.

Eric gave her a curious look, but then brushed off her question. "We do not have time for a discussion of your dreams right now. Suffice it to say that my blood is the catalyst for your having them, but I do not have the ability to control their content—though the impulse I have as I 'send' the dream will help to determine the dream's 'mood.'"

For a moment or two, Sookie thought back to the various dreams she'd had about Bill since taking his blood. Then she shivered a little as she thought about some of the times when she felt as if he were trying to influence her from the inside out. During those times, she'd not understood what he was trying to do. She'd thought that she'd been feeling love and concern for him.

"Bill," she said softly.

"What about Compton?" Eric said, his tone suddenly harsher.

"At the hospital earlier. When he was tryin' to get me to let him handle things. Did he?" Her voice caught.

"Did he use his blood to stimulate the hormones in your cerebral cortex to produce the rise in fear you felt? Yes. I felt his blood doing it. Did he do that with the aim of manipulating you? I believe so." He paused. "Has he done similar things to you since you first took his blood?" He kept answering his own questions. "He likely has." He sighed. "I could have blocked him from doing it tonight, but instead, I asked my own blood to piggy-back onto his—in order to make his actions more noticeable to you.

"Have you?" she asked defensively, her eyes angry and challenging. "Have you done similar things since I first took your blood?"

"Don't you remember? I am not a monster," Eric answered with a smirk.

"At least not that kind?" she asked with a half-smile.

"No. Not that kind," he responded. "Though—because of your frustratingly stubborn ways—the thought of controlling you is tempting." His smirk grew. "I could have kept you from trailing after Mr. Compton to Jackson, perhaps. I could have stimulated your fear. Then again, I am certain that you would have fought off my influence; you really are stubborn, little one."

"Russell would have found me anyway," she said resignedly.

"Yes. That he would have done."

"So—taking your blood again?"

Eric sighed. "Having more of my blood in you means that I will be able to feel you in a more pronounced way, but my main goal is to heal you. It is not the time for you to be weak, Sookie. I will not run with you if you are weak. And you cannot run on your own if you are weak."

"So not taking more of your blood would be impractical," she stated dryly.

"I think so. But then again, I am quite fond of my blood. You, on the other hand, do not seem to like it that much, so it will not surprise me if you refuse." His smirk was back.

She rolled her eyes and tried to sit up a little. She was troubled when even that simple action seemed to drain her energy.

"Okay," she said in a quiet, though sure voice.

"Okay," he said evenly, though his eyes glistened in anticipation.

"How do we do this?" she asked.

His answer was to quickly lift up her body more gently than she might have imagined he was capable of before settling in behind her.

"Oh!" she gasped at his sudden movements.

He inhaled deeply behind her.

"You don't need to breathe," she whispered. "Why are you breathing?"

"I'm not. I am inhaling your scent—but not because I need to," the vampire answered honestly.

"Then why?"

"Because I like doing it."

"Oh," she responded.

He exhaled, the cool air from his lungs causing goose bumps to flare up on the delicate skin at the nape of her neck.

"I will become aroused as I feed you, Sookie," Eric said, though his voice betrayed no passion. "However, I believe that the hospital blanket will prevent you from feeling my arousal."

"Then why tell me?" she asked with a gulp.

"I am a large man," Eric chuckled. "So the hospital blanket might not be enough."

"Oh," she gasped. "Well—um—thanks for the warning then."

"Don't mention it," he said just before his fangs clicked down.

Immediately, her fear skyrocketed.

"Why are you afraid?" he asked, even as he stroked her arms a little. He wasn't even aware he'd done it until she cringed at his touch. He immediately pulled his hands away.

"Sorry," she stammered. "It's just that the last time I was around a vampire with his fangs out, I almost died."

"I intend to bite only my own wrist, Sookie," he said softly.

She nodded and then heard the tell-tale sound of fangs biting into flesh. She shivered again and steeled herself as Eric's bloody wrist appeared before her.

"Drink," he said softly.

Hesitating only for a moment, she leaned forward and latched on, circling her hands around his wrist in order to hold the wound steady. She closed her eyes and began sucking.

She heard Eric moan behind her and hoped that she would not become privy to just how large of a man he was. With each pull, however, she became less and less worried about feeling something she shouldn't. In fact, she began to want to feel more of him. She leaned back against his chest as she continued to take his bloods in large draughts."

Just as she was becoming tempted to start moving her own body against his, Eric pulled his wrist from her grasp.

"Enough!" he said with a mixture of anger and passion in his voice. That tone was enough to cause goose bumps to break out on the rest of Sookie's flesh.

In the next moment, Eric was out of the bed and had his back turned to her. "You will be fully healed in less than an hour," he panted, as if he'd just run a marathon. "There is some clothing in the dresser, though it will not fit you well. However, it is all I have and will be better than the hospital garment until you can get some more. I will leave you for ten minutes to allow you time to dress and take care of your human needs." With that, Eric left the room without even a glance over his shoulder.

The telepath sat in a stunned silence for the first five minutes of her ten and then shook herself out of her mild stupor. Clearly, taking Eric's blood had aroused them both to a certain extent, but she didn't have time to think about that now. Finding her legs stable, she got out of the bed and unwrapped herself from the hospital blanket before moving toward the dresser.

Its offerings were sparse as Eric had said, and clearly the clothing that was available was meant for Eric. Sookie sighed and took out the smallest looking T-shirt, some socks, and some boxer shorts. She shrugged out of the hospital gown and then put the T-shirt on. Not surprisingly, it hung down halfway to her knees. She had slightly better luck with the boxers. Though Eric was very tall, his hips were slim, so that garment stayed on her pretty well as soon as she'd folded over the waistband a couple of times. Thankfully, it had a sewn up fly, which Sookie found a bit odd until she remembered that the boxers belonged to a vampire who had no need to go to the bathroom. Finally, she put on the socks and then glanced into the mirror. All in all, she looked like a small child playing dress-up in her father's closet, but Eric had been right; it was better than the hospital gown. She rushed into the bathroom and quickly splashed a little water onto her face and then went to the bathroom.

As she was coming out of the bathroom, there was a knock on the bedroom door, but Eric didn't wait for an answer before coming in. His eyes quickly took in her appearance, even as hers took in his. Thankfully, any evidence of his earlier arousal had either dissipated or had been taken care of. She blushed a little at that thought.

"What other choice do I have to make?" Sookie asked, needing to break the awkward silence that threatened to envelop Eric and herself as they gazed at each other.

He seemed to shake himself from some silent debate before answering. "You have shown yourself to have some self-preservation instincts, but how far would you really go, Sookie? What lengths would you go to in order to protect yourself?"

"What do you mean?" Sookie asked as she sat down onto the bed. The intense look in Eric's eyes made her feel heavier in that moment.

Eric pulled a chair next to the bed so that he could sit down facing her. He smirked. "How did I find you tonight, Sookie?"

She shrugged. "I don't know—your blood in me?"

He nodded. "Bingo, Blondie."

She rolled her eyes at his moniker for her and was about to remind him of the fact that he was blond too when he spoke again.

"And who else has his blood in you? Hmm?" The sarcasm was thick in Eric's voice.

"Bill," Sookie said quietly.

"Yes," Eric affirmed. "And before we left the hospital—via a daring escape from the rooftop, I might add—who was coming for you?"

"Bill," Sookie responded, again quietly.

"So true!" Eric said acerbically. "And guess whose blood within you is trying to pull toward its master?"

"Bill's." She sighed deeply. "So he's gonna just keep tracking me by using his blood in me?" Sookie asked apprehensively. "But surely he will respect my wishes enough to just leave me alone. I think I made it pretty clear to him that that's what I wanted when I left with you so that I wouldn't have to go with him."

Eric chuckled. "Oh, Sookie. You are beautiful. You are brave. You smell delicious. And I dare say that you are clever—sometimes. But you are also naïve. Vampires are the most possessive creatures in existence, and once we get a foothold into a human that we want, we don't easily give it up."

"Like you got a foothold into me? In Dallas?" she challenged.

"Exactly!" Eric returned unapologetically. "I have never hidden the fact that I wanted you, Sookie Stackhouse. From the moment I saw you in Fangtasia, so innocent and different from the fangbangers there—from any other creature that I have seen in a thousand years―I wanted you. From the moment you spoke to me—so full of defiance and fire—I wanted you. Your eyes held challenge in them, Sookie—challenge, not fear." Eric smiled and closed his eyes at the memory. "Yes—even at the very moment of our meeting—I wanted to take you away from Bill, fly you to my office, bend you over my desk, rip that pretty little dress off of you, fuck you hard, and then mark you as mine."

Eric opened his eyes, ignored Sookie's blush and horrified look, and continued. "From the moment I inhaled the scent of your virginal blood, I wanted you. But make no mistake—despite the fact that Bill took the gift of your virginity—you still smell just as sweet to me. Even now, I want to sink my fangs into your neck and drink you in."

"What's stopping you then?" Sookie asked, her voice a mixture of fear and boldness.

"I have no fucking clue," Eric said honestly as he ran his hand through his hair. "I want to taste you more than I have ever wanted to taste anyone else, and you could do nothing to stop me."

"Microwave fingers?" Sookie said with a nervous smile.

Eric's lips also rose in a half-smirk, half-smile. "Based on what I heard from Russell, you have only one good blast in you. And I think I'm faster than you anyway, Miss Stackhouse."

She smirked, "I could use my Southern charm to stop you?"

Eric grinned. "There's not enough charm in the world to make me resist your smell, Sookie. You smell like sunshine in a bottle," he said with a little rattle in his chest—almost a moan. His eyes became darker—passionate. "Like wheat right after it is harvested. Like a meadow teeming with linnaea borealis—what my people called the twinflower because of its double bloom. Like the sea when it is first hit by rain. Like all good things. That is what you smell like to me."

Sookie's smirk had long since faded. She didn't know whether to cry because of the poetry of his words or to run because of the inherent threat behind them.

"I—uh—smell that good?" she asked.

Eric nodded somewhat solemnly. "Too good. You smell too good."

"Then I'll just have to trust you not to hurt me or to take my blood without my permission, Eric."

He shook his head. "You shouldn't."

Her lips twitched upward, "You told me yourself that I should trust you."

"In the church," Eric responded, reminding them both of that day.

"Yes—right before you offered your life for mine."

"I offered for Godric," Eric said gruffly.

"You said it was for both Godric and me," Sookie returned with defiance in her voice.

"You should fear me, Sookie," Eric said, his tone now angry—defensive. "I could kill you in moments."

"You have saved my life one too many times for me to be afraid of you, Eric—whether I should be or not," she returned boldly.

Eric shook his head. "I have not saved your life, Sookie."

She scoffed. "What do you call tonight?"

"That was the protection of an asset," he said stiffly, as he stood up and moved across the room, his back turned to her.

"Am I still even your asset? Are you even Sheriff of Area 5 anymore?" she asked, her hands finding her hips—despite her seated position.

He turned to glare at her. "No. Russell informed me that I was to be Sheriff of Area 1, but now that I have fled, I have no position."

"So I am not your asset anymore," she said cheekily.

"You are! Until we separate, you are," he said coldly, though there was an emotion in his eyes that she couldn't interpret. "And you would be an asset to me, Miss Stackhouse. You would be able to help protect me during the day if you stayed with me."

She closed her eyes, taking in both the truth and the harshness embedded in his words. "So you saved me tonight in order to use me?"

"Yes," he said. "That is the reason."

Chapter Text

Chapter 09: Asset

"The only reason?" Sookie asked, looking at him skeptically.

"Yes," Eric responded unconvincingly.

Sookie felt something in that moment—almost like a tingling of her blood.

"I think you're lying."

"Think what you want."

"In addition to tonight, you also saved my life when Bill brought me to Fangtasia the night the Maenad attacked me?" Sookie reminded him.

"That was Ludwig's work."

"That was you arranging for Ludwig to help and paying for her to help," Sookie challenged.

"Again, I was protecting an asset," Eric said. "And I was making Bill indebted to me."

"Fine," Sookie said with exasperation. "What about in the church? Was that because I was an asset too?"

"As I said, I was willing to sacrifice myself for Godric."

"You said both of us."

"Yes!" he let out in frustration. "But I don't know why I said that!" He stuffed his hands into his pockets, even as a look of confusion swept over his handsome features. "Perhaps, I was trying to garner sympathy from Newlin by seeming to be sacrificing myself for a human life, instead of just a vampire one," he spit out bitterly.

"I don't believe that," Sookie said as she shook her head. "What about the bomb, Eric?"

"You mean the bomb that gave me the chance to get my blood into you, Sookie?" he said, his expression changing immediately to a smirk. "Yes, I will never forget how you sucked that silver from my body. Your lips were divine—rapturous, even." He licked his own lips at the memory.

She shook her head. "And I will never forget the gooey vampire remains of Stan just a few feet to our left, Eric! Or the cries of all the vampires around us who'd been hit with silver." She took a deep breath. "Iwill never forget the moment that the twenty human minds I felt in that room changed to seven in a split second. Or the severed human body parts I saw. Or the broken bodies of the people, who'd been thrown across the room because of the impact of the blast." She shook her head again as Eric's smirk faded. "I have had a lot of time to think about that night—a lot of time."

The vampire rose and turned his back to Sookie before walking over toward the window.

Sookie kept talking. "It must have been less than a second between the time Luke pushed that button and the blast occurred. And you had been behind me!" She emphasized, "I remember clearly that you had been behind me when I first saw Luke. But then . . . ." She paused as Eric began pacing by the window.

He gave her a warning look. "Don't think about it too much, Sookie."

She stood up. "How come? Because if I do, I will think about how you put your own body between that bomb and me? Because if I do, I will realize that you had to move closer to the bomb to save my life?"

"You are an asset, Sookie Stackhouse," he seethed, his fangs clicking down.

She ignored his words and his intimidating posture. "Because if I thought about it, I would realize that you were smart enough to know that you would likely be killed when you chose to protect me? After all, that bomb was laced with silver. And like I said, Stan, who was standing only a few feet closer to Luke than I was, died. Are you afraid that if I really thought about it, then I would realize that you absorbed that whole blast so that I wouldn't go flyin' across the room with the other humans? Eric, you may have been a manipulative bastard after you saved my life, but when that bomb was about to go off, tricking me was not what you were thinkin' about."

"I wasn't thinking," Eric said in a low growl, his hostility clear. "I never think when you are around." He bared his fangs and came toward her, stopping only inches from her body. He towered over her, but she raised her chin defiantly, refusing to cower.

"I should kill you, Sookie Stackhouse," he said, his voice colder and harder than steel. "I should kill you before Bill Compton finds you. I should kill you before he leads Russell Edgington right to you. I should kill you before I . . . ." He stopped.

"Before you what?" Sookie asked, trying to keep her fear from her voice. She didn't know if she was more afraid of his body looming over hers or his words in that moment.

Eric stared at her for a few moments, spending a good amount of that stare studying her trembling lips. He leaned in slightly, and Sookie's heart felt as if it would beat out of her chest. She wasn't sure if he was going to kiss her or bite her.

He didn't seem sure of what he wanted to do either. "Before I get killed because of you," he finally whispered.

Eric turned back around to face the window, and Sookie sat heavily onto the bed once more, as an uneasy silence fell over the room.

"What other choice do I have to make?" Sookie asked after a few minutes, changing the subject back to where it had begun.

Composed and with an impassive expression on his face once again, Eric turned and retook his seat. "Because his blood is inside of you," Eric started, "Bill will eventually be able to track you down. While we were flying here, I was somehow able to use my own blood to hinder his ability to track you, but his blood will eventually regain its footing, and he will come for you. Plus, Russell's Weres are already tracking Bill, though it may take them a day or so to find him—unless the fool returns home or goes to Russell voluntarily, which are both distinct possibilities, given Bill's past behavior." Eric's expression stayed the same, though his eyes seemed to be apologizing. "Sookie, with Bill's blood in you, I cannot run with you and expect to live, and—make no mistake— I do intend to live. And, with that in mind, I will run―and hide—until I can figure out a way to defeat Russell."

"Are you just gonna leave me here then?" Sookie asked, looking straight into his eyes.

"I don't know," Eric responded softly. "I don't want to. I want to use you, Sookie."

She scoffed at his words and looked downward.

He grabbed her chin in his hand and tilted her face so that her eyes met his again. He was careful not to hurt her with his grip, but he certainly got her attention with it.

"I understand that you do not like to hear that you are an asset, but you are. And that is not a bad thing, Sookie—at least not from a vampire's perspective. If you are an asset, then you live! Godric saw that I was a strong warrior, and he thought that I could be an asset to him; that is why he turned me. I felt the same about Pam before I turned her. I was chosen to be a sheriff because Sophie-Anne knew that I was a good asset. We are all used for our skills by others."

She shook her head out of his grip. "That might be the way things are to vampires, but not to humans!"

"If you think that, then you are more naïve than I thought, little one. Are you not an asset to the shifter?"

"Sam pays me a fair wage to do honest work."

"Just as I paid you for the work you did for me?"

Sookie shook her head stubbornly. "It's not the same."

"No," Eric said just at stubbornly. "I pay better!"

Sookie crossed her arms over her chest. "How do you want to use me now? Wait! I mean—what honest work do you want for me to do for you now?" she asked sarcastically.

He spoke through gritted teeth, "I want you to watch over me during the daytime—or to drive us to new locations while I'm sleeping. I want to use your telepathy to know when Russell's Weres are approaching. And I want to try to harness your light powers so that you can help me defeat Russell."

She shook her head. "So I'll be your employee? Your asset?"

"Yes," he answered quickly—almost angrily. "I will pay you for your time. And you could be my best asset in defeating Russell."

"But how?" she asked desperately. "I'm just a waitress. I know I have telepathy, and the little light thing in my hands is weird, but I can't do anything against a vampire as strong as Russell!"

"There's more to you than you know," Eric said quickly.

"What?" she asked.

Eric shook his head. "Not now, Sookie. That discussion would take us longer than we have left tonight. Plus, I need to speak with someone about what I have learned concerning you first. If you do, indeed, trust me as you said earlier, then I'm asking you to do that again—now. I will tell you what I have learned soon—once I know for sure. And if you do not come with me—well—it would be better if you did not know."

Sookie looked at Eric through narrowed eyes. "Fine!" She re-crossed her arms. "You still haven't told me the choice you say I need to make."

Eric sighed and sat back down. "As I said, if you run with me, Bill will be able to track you, and that will soon bring Russell and Sophie-Anne. I couldn't protect you from Russell any more than I could protect myself."

"So you have to leave me behind, or they'll find both of us?" Sookie whispered as realization hit her.

"Yes," Eric answered softly. "Or," he raised his blue eyes to her brown ones, "you could get rid of your blood tie with Bill."

Sookie tilted her head in question. "Huh?"

Eric smirked at her inelegant noise. "It is called a severing spell. A witch would perform a magical spell that would eliminate Bill's blood from your body."

"Witches?" Sookie asked. "Werewolves and vampires just couldn't be enough! Now there are fuckin' witches!" she added sarcastically.

Eric chuckled. "You don't know the half of it, little one. But, yes, there are witches."

She shook her head, trying to take in everything he was saying to her. "So—if I did this spell, Bill couldn't track me?"

"No," Eric confirmed.

"But Bill's had my blood. Wouldn't he be able to track me using that?"

"No," Eric repeated. "It is only when our blood is inside a human that a tie is formed. It is with that tie that we can track a human. Just taking a human's blood doesn't create a connection. Otherwise, vampires would be driven mad by the number of connections we had."

"Can you really feel my emotions—like Bill said he could when I had his blood?"

Eric nodded. "Yes. I can feel them. And—as I said before—I could influence them if I wished."

"Show me what that feels like?" she requested.

Immediately, Eric looked uncomfortable. "I do not wish to," he said.

She sighed. "Do it anyway. I need to know—before I decide what to do about Bill's blood in me."

Eric looked a bit pained, but nodded in agreement.

Moments later, Sookie felt herself breaking out in a cold sweat; she shivered a little and suddenly had the urge to run to the door. A few seconds after that, the feeling subsided.

"Was that you?" she asked.

He nodded. "I used my blood to stir the production of epinephrine, which controls your heart rate, among other things. I take it that you felt it."

She nodded in confirmation.

"Epinephrine is stimulated when you feel fear naturally; by stimulating it unnaturally, I am manipulating your body to feel the same effect."

"Do another one," she requested.

Moments later she felt as if she wanted to hit him.

"Anger?" she asked when the feeling subsided as quickly as it had come to her.

He nodded. "I used my blood to manipulate your levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline. This caused your heart rate and blood pressure to increase."

She shivered. "How can I know that everything I've been feelin'—for months—hasn't been a lie?"

Eric sighed. "I don't know, but I think that you could probably sense the presence of something foreign in you just now—correct?"

She nodded in affirmation.

"Then Bill's use of his blood would have had to have been subtle for you not to notice it, and I imagine that your own blood was resistant. But it's difficult to be sure. I can say that I felt your blood trying to resist the influence of mine just now. And I felt it doing the same with Bill's in the hospital."

She took a deep breath. "Does the blood really 'increase the libido?'" Sookie asked, using air quotes around the words Bill had used.

Eric quirked a brow. "Is that what Bill said?" He chuckled. "I suppose that's true in a way. However, it is not that general. The blood increases your attraction for only the particular vampire who fed you. Surely, you have felt more pulled toward me since you took those drops of me, Sookie." He smirked. "I sensed that you were attracted to me even before; however, after you had my blood, you've had a more difficult time denying that attraction—have you not?"

She glared at him and he chuckled.

"Though not right now," he grinned.

She shook her head. "Of course," she said ruefully, "how have I not thought of this before?" She smacked her head. "Stupid, Sookie—stupid!"

Eric looked at her in question.

"Bill said that his blood would increase my libido in a general way—at least, that was what he implied. But it was right after that . . . ." She stopped midsentence and closed her eyes as tears rose into them. "Is anything I feel for Bill real? Or has it all just been manufactured by his blood in me?"

She felt Eric's touch on her shoulder. The contact comforted her, and she felt herself leaning into it.

She laughed ruefully. "How can I even know if the comfort I'm feeling from this," she looked at his hand, "is real?" She raised her eyes to his. "What's real, Eric?"

Not liking her lost expression, the vampire shrugged, "As far as what is real regarding Bill Compton, I cannot even begin to guess—though he acts like a vampire who is obsessed with a human. In my thousand years, I have seen such things. He calls it love, but . . . ." Eric stopped.

"But?" Sookie asked.

Eric smiled, "Miss Stackhouse, on the topic of Bill Compton—especially concerning his affections for you—I am not to be trusted. I find that my bias against him is strong."

She laughed through her tears.

"If I break the tie with Bill—get his blood out of me—then I can go with you?"

Eric nodded. "That is what I want."

"Because you wanna use me?"

Eric nodded again. "Yes."

"Is there any part of you that also wants to protect me, Eric?"

Eric sighed and nodded for a third time. He didn't say anything, but his eyes spoke of his sincerity—or at least that's what Sookie's instincts were telling her she saw in his blue orbs.

"If I don't do it, Bill won't leave me alone—will he?" Sookie asked.

Eric shook his head. "I don't think so. He will come to you now out of the feeling that he needs to save you from me. He will continue coming because he feels that he loves you. He might even really have that affection for you, Sookie. But his inability to stay away will eventually be a problem for you."

"Because he'll lead Russell right to me."

"Yes."

"And Russell wants me."

"Yes. So does Sophie-Anne," Eric said. "And those two are together now—as I said before."

"So goin' home and just hopin' they don't come is a fairy tale."

Eric smiled, "Good choice of words, little one."

Sookie, of course, didn't catch Eric's double meaning.

She looked at the floor sadly. "Bill almost drained me in that van."

"He was following his instinct to live," Eric allowed.

"He could have raped me too—did you know that? I felt his legs parting my legs and his hand on my . . . ." She paused. "His hands on me before I passed out."

Eric had not known that, and he couldn't control his low growl.

"Were you," Eric paused, "sore?"

Sookie looked a little uncertain. "No. Not when I woke up."

"My blood might have," Eric hissed out, "covered things, and you had pain medication in your body too. It might have numbed you," he said angrily.

Sookie let out a shaky breath. "I don't think he did. While you were out of the room, I asked Tara and Alcide if it looked like he'd," she paused, "done that before they stopped him. And they said no. My clothes were still on. And so were his."

Eric's shoulders relaxed visibly. "Okay," he said.

"But he was moving to climb on top of me." Sookie said softly—bitterly. "Was that part of his instinct too?"

Eric shook his head. "That—Sookie—is matter of control. With bloodlust come other kinds of lust—most notably sexual—but those can be controlled."

"Even in a state like Bill was in?" Sookie asked. "He was very weak."

Eric scoffed, "He'd obviously grown strong enough with your blood to be able to force himself upon you. So he was strong enough to be able to listen to his mind instead of simply his carnal nature. Rape is a weak act performed by weak people, Sookie."

Sookie was surprised by the fervor behind his words.

Eric continued. "Vampires should be strong creatures. Yes. We can and do take what we want, but the moment we allow ourselves to take something like that—to rape—then we truly do become unthinking monsters."

Sookie shook her head. "I don't understand you, Eric Northman. One minute, you say things like that. And the next, you trick your blood into me or tell me you want to use me. You've made it clear that you want to take my blood too. And I know you want my body."

"But I've taken neither, Sookie. I want to, but I have not."

"So you are fighting your vampire instincts?"

Eric smiled. "Yes. Every single fucking minute I am with you."

"But you tricked me into taking your blood. And now you can feel me and apparently affect my emotions."

"True," Eric said. "But I do have a line, Sookie. I may not draw it where a human might, but I draw it very differently than many vampires would."

"Like Bill?" Sookie asked as she trembled a little.

"Yes. It is safe to say that Bill and I have very different lines," Eric said before standing up and returning to the window again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: Choice #3

There were several minutes of silence between Eric and Sookie as Eric pushed the mini blinds apart and gazed outside. Meanwhile, Sookie kept her eyes trained on his back. She had no idea why she was staring at him—had no idea what she wanted to find out by studying the set of his shoulders or the strength of his posture. She didn't need to look at him to know that he was a beautiful man or that she was attracted to him. She'd known those things from the first moment she'd seen him in Fangtasia, and she'd also had the opportunity get an even better look at him in the basement of his club.

Despite the memory of seeing him in all of his naked glory, Sookie wasn't looking at him with lust, nor did she feel fear or anger anymore. She found herself curious more than anything else. She found herself wondering about all of the worries that Eric clearly had resting on his broad shoulders. She found herself wanting to help him. She found herself wondering if she could.

"You are curious about something," Eric remarked as he let the mini blinds close and turned once more to face her.

"Yes."

"You wonder what the spell would entail?" he asked.

"Yes. But that's not what I was curious about. I was wondering about you."

Eric chuckled. "I am—as they say—an open book, Sookie Stackhouse."

She tilted her head a little. "That's a lie. Just then—you lied to me."

"It was more of a joke really," he remarked. "Tell me—what did it feel like?"

"A little twitch?" she said half-answered and half-asked.

"Interesting."

"How so?"

He smirked. "I'm not sure."

"You're not lying," she smirked back.

"You're right," he chuckled before becoming more serious—too serious for her all of a sudden. "I'm never quite sure when it comes to you." His blues eyes seemed to tread into her very soul.

She closed her eyes for a moment in order to regain her bearings. "What would doing the severing spell entail?" she asked when she opened them again.

"I will not lie, Sookie. It would be painful for you. Very painful."

She took a deep breath. "Figures," she said sarcastically.

"Your reaction is amusing, Miss Stackhouse."

"Glad to be of service, Mr. Northman," she said even more sarcastically. However, her tone changed to one of concern. "And Bill?"

Sookie's obvious care for Compton caused a deep sigh to emanate from Eric's chest. "The spell would be done during the daytime. Bill would go to his rest feeling you, and—if all went according to plan—he would rise not feeling you. He will think that you are dead, but he will feel no physical pain from the spell."

Sookie took in Eric's words with a gasp. "What if I don't break my tie with him?"

Eric paced for a moment before sitting down before her. "Okay, Sookie. Here is the score. I flew us to this location for three reasons. First, as I have pointed out, you are a homing beacon for Compton, and as far as I am concerned, he is my enemy and will inevitably be exploited by a much greater enemy—Russell. This residence is, thankfully, far enough away from the hospital to ensure that Bill cannot get to us before daybreak—that is, if he's been able to track you at all."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"As we journeyed here, I used my blood to try to block his—to keep it from being able to pull him to you. I am not sure if I was successful—at least, not at first. But—once I determined how to do it—I believe I was able to block him. However, my learning curve likely gave Bill some insight into the direction we took."

"What about now?" Sookie asked. "Are you still using your blood to—uh—block him?"

Eric shook his head. "No, but that brings me to my second reason for bringing you here. As I told you earlier, this home is the first stop on my escape route; thus, it boasts a little magic. When I walked in the door tonight, I activated that magic."

"What kind of magic?"

"It is a spell that conceals the presence of the beings in this place from any Supernaturals," Eric answered. "It even blocks blood connections—like my connection with Pam. I can sense her location, but she would not be able to sense mine. While you were sleeping, I went outside of the spell's perimeter and tested its efficacy. As soon as I passed the property line, I could neither sense you inside, nor could I connect with my blood in you. And—until I was back on the property—I couldn't smell you either. I could sense that you were living, but that is all. I had no sense of where you were."

"So Bill can't find me here?" Sookie asked.

"No. He cannot sense you as long as you are inside the borders of the spell."

"Would I be safe if I stayed here?" Sookie asked. "I mean—if I don't do the severing spell, would it be safe for me to just stay here?"

Eric shook his head a little sadly. "Now that it has been activated, the concealment spell will last for only forty-eight hours or so. The spell could be renewed, but—if I was unsuccessful in blocking his blood—Bill may have been able to sense your general vicinity before your trail was blocked by the spell. If he did, he will come to this area sooner rather than later, and the magic used to keep your presence in the house concealed couldn't be sustained indefinitely." He ran his hand through his hair. "That said, you could stay here if you wished, and I would even arrange for a witch to come and renew the spell for as long as possible. That might buy you a week—maybe even a month—depending on the amount of ingredients my witch associate has available, but her supplies are not infinite."

He paused. "This residence is officially owned by a human; thus, vampires must have permission to enter, but Weres could come in or vampires could burn you out.

"I see," Sookie said dejectedly. "What's the third reason you brought me here?" she asked after a moment.

He gestured toward the window. "The sun will be up in about forty minutes, and—as much as I would like to stay here for the day—that is no longer wise."

Sookie sighed. "Because Bill might have been able to track me."

"Yes. If he did, he couldn't make it here before daybreak, but he could call in reinforcements, and I would be vulnerable. We both would be."

Sookie closed her eyes. "So it's not safe here."

Eric shrugged. "Like I said, the spell does conceal our scents, so Weres couldn't sense us inside, but," he sighed, "they could establish a radius around the area which would essentially trap us inside the house. If that happened, flight would be our only escape option, and Russell is capable of flight too. And he is faster than I."

"And his Weres could move him into position before nightfall," Sookie said.

"Many things would have to happen in order for him to be here before dark tonight, but it is possible," Eric said. "I cannot take that chance."

"And we couldn't wait Russell out because eventually the concealing spell would run out."

Eric nodded. "Yes."

"So Bill's blood—is it—uh—doing anything in me right now?" she asked with trepidation.

Eric sighed. "Yes. Bill's blood is quite active—even now. It is trying to seek him, but I can tell that it has no current contact with its master."

"But the spell on the house didn't stop your blood from influencing me."

"That is because we are both inside the spell. As I said, it works only to cover us from those who are outside."

"How can you tell all this stuff about Bill's blood? Is that normal?" Sookie asked curiously.

"I have little experience with blood ties," Eric answered honestly. "All I can say is that I've been able to monitor the actions of Bill's blood in you—just as I can monitor my own blood. But I cannot control his blood." He paused. "I tried once we got here, but still it seeks its master." He paused again, this time for a little longer. "Bill's blood in you is resilient. And he did manage to find you at the hospital—despite the fact that you were very weak."

"You found me too," she reminded.

Eric grinned, enjoying the challenge that was in her eyes. "Yes—but I am older, and I am an extremely proficient tracker."

"And now that you healed me tonight? Now that I've had so much more of your blood?" Sookie asked.

"Bill may have a harder time tracking you down now, but, as I said, he will be able to do it eventually, after the spell around this house dissipates." He sighed. "It takes much concentration to block his blood from seeking him. Even if what I did worked, I cannot guarantee that I could keep it up."

"Okay," Sookie said with determination in her eyes. "So what do you want to do?"

He smiled. "Down to the chase—eh? Well, that suits me just fine. The third reason I chose this location is because I have a car nearby, one that I had specially made and one that cannot be traced to me. It has a compartment that is light tight. I suggest that I call my witch friend in New Orleans and ask her to get ready for a severing spell that will remove Bill's blood from your body. I propose that we go to my car and that once day begins, you drive us to Slidell, which is only thirty minutes or so from New Orleans. I have another safe house there."

"The second stop on your personal underground railroad?" she asked.

He chuckled. "Actually it's the first stop on an old route, but I've kept the residence in reserve for emergencies."

"Always prepared—eh?" she asked.

"It's the boy scout in me," he winked.

She rolled her eyes as he continued, "By the time I awaken tonight, we will be in Slidell, and—the morning after that—the severing spell can be done if that is what you choose."

"What about Bill? Wouldn't he be able to track me to Slidell once it's nighttime again?"

"No. I would ask the witch to place a concealment spell—similar to, though longer-lasting than, the one here—over the Slidell house. If you decided not to do the severing spell once we got there, that spell would buy you more time, and Octavia could renew it there as much as she were able, but—again—it could not be sustained indefinitely."

"And if I did do the severing spell?"

Eric moved to sit next to her on the bed. "After the spell, Sookie, you would likely be very ill and weak for several days, but we could stay in the Slidell house while you recovered. After that—well—by then, I hope to have some things figured out. Maybe Octavia could even help with Russell." Sookie noticed that he looked a little uncertain, and that expression worried her.

"Octavia is the witch's name?" she asked.

He nodded.

"Do you trust her?"

He shrugged. "I have saved her life, so she owes me. And I have known her for over four decades. She practices the old ways, so loyalty means something to her. Many witches work for the highest bidder, but Octavia is not one of them. I trust her as much as I am capable of trusting someone who does not share my blood, and no one, except for you, knows of my connection with her—not even Pam."

Sookie inhaled deeply. "What if I decide not to trust her? What if I decide not to go with you at all? What if I stay here?"

Seemingly emotionlessly, Eric pulled out his wallet and grabbed a wad of cash and a business card. "Then I suggest you run, Sookie. This card is for a man in Shreveport who can get you new driver's licenses and passports. This is important: you must say a code word—'meatloaf'—whenever you call him."

"Meatloaf?" she asked incredulously.

"Brady likes to think he's funny," Eric smirked. "I had to take flight to get us both out of a jam once, and he sings 'Bat out of Hell' to me whenever he truly wants to annoy me."

Sookie chuckled, but sobered immediately when Eric went on.

"Brady can also teach you how to conceal your additional identification papers so that they are not found as you travel." He handed her a disposable cell phone. "He's expecting your call and has already started to get documents together for you. All he needs is a picture. I will also instruct him to give you additional money."

Not giving Sookie a chance to protest about the money, Eric continued, "You should be able to arrange a pick-up of your documents day after tomorrow. As soon as you get them, go to the nearest airport and get on a plane. Pay cash for the ticket and make sure the flight takes off during the daytime—the earlier in the day, the better. I suggest you go to an island; Hawaii would be a good starting point.

"Then what?"

"Then you should move, and keep moving. Change the name that you use with every plane trip if possible. And rotate your identities. Asia is a good place to get lost in, and it is not very friendly to vampires, so you should make your way there as soon as possible, but don't stop moving once you get there. Remember that Bill will still be able to track you, though the farther away you are from him, the harder it will be for him to get a lock on you. At times, Brady may be able to help you find some relatively safe locations to stay the night, but you will have to find others on your own."

"But Bill—he'll still find me?" Sookie asked meekly. "He'll still get to me?"

Eric nodded. "Yes. If he pursues, he will catch up with you eventually. But—if you are very lucky—Russell will not have gotten to him, and you will both be across the world when Bill tracks you down. Then—perhaps—the 'love' that he bears for you will help him to forgive you for running from him in the first place." Eric lowered his voice. "However, he will no longer trust you, and—when he finds you—he will likely feed you even more of his blood to ensure your compliance. But—perhaps—you could resist him," he said, sounding almost as disheartened as she felt in that moment.

Sookie shivered. "What if I do the severing spell and then separate from you?"

Eric tensed up a bit. "I am a reasonable vampire, Sookie, but if you go through with the severing spell, then you throw your lot in with me. If I were kinder—perhaps—I would arrange for the severing spell with no strings attached, but," he sighed, "I truly believe that I will need you to help me defeat Russell, so the severing spell comes with a price."

Sookie went to speak, but Eric stopped her with a stern look.

"Before you protest about your inability to do anything of great importance to help me, think for a moment about the value of just having a telepathic human that I trust along with me. You could drive to new locations during the day. You could monitor for danger with your gift."

"How do you know I wouldn't just pick a day and leave you behind?" Sookie asked. "Even if I had your blood, I doubt if you'd deviate from your route to track me down," she added perceptively.

"You're right," Eric responded. But as I said, I trust you, especially when it relates to keeping your word. And if you decide to go with me, you would be—in effect—promising to help me until Russell is dead and we are both safe."

She sighed heavily. "So you would trust my word?"

"Yes. I believe that—once given—your word means a great deal to you."

"How long would I have to run from Bill if I didn't do the severing spell?"

Eric sighed. "When did Bill last give you blood?"

Sookie blushed. "Does it count when he healed his bite marks with his blood after—you know . . . ." Her voice trailed off.

Eric shook his head. "No—you have to drink directly from him for it to count."

Sookie thought for a moment. "The Maenad. No wait!" She turned redder. "Actually, two days before he went missing, we were . . . ."

"Having sex?" Eric supplied, a mixture of amusement about her modesty and something akin to jealousy in his eyes.

"Yes," Sookie confirmed. "We were doing that, and I tasted blood while we were kissing."

All of Eric's amusement was suddenly gone. "Bill pierced his tongue with his fang?"

Sookie nodded. "Yes."

"Think, Sookie," he ordered. "Had that ever happened before during your sexual encounters?"

She shook her head. "No—that was the only time I ever tasted his blood like that during—uh—sex. I figured it was an accident." She blushed. "But it kind of added to the overall effect, so I didn't. . . ." She paused and looked at the floor as her blush spread to her neck. "I didn't complain."

"It could have been an accident," Eric said almost to himself. Then he looked at Sookie seriously, "Tell me, Sookie. Did he bite you that night?"

She nodded. "Yes. He always bites—or—uh—bit—me during. . . ."

Eric tensed. "Always?"

Sookie nodded as Eric got up and paced a little, saying something in another language that sounded a lot like angry cursing.

When he spoke to her again, his tone was forceful. "Did he bite you before or after you tasted his blood in your kiss, Sookie?"

Sookie thought for a moment. "After. He likes to bite right when he is—um—you know," she paused, "finishing. But wait . . . ."

"Wait?" he asked.

"That's not right. That night, he bit me right after I tasted his blood. I figured that he was just—um—extra excited." By now, she was the color of a beet.

Eric cursed again.

"What?" she asked.

"Listen, Sookie," Eric said almost regretfully. "The severing spell might not even be an option for you. It seems that Bill was trying to bond with you."

"Bond?"

Eric nodded. "There is no time to tell you everything about bonds, but I will say that they are permanent and unbreakable."

"What?" she gasped.

"Sookie, I need you to answer my next questions quickly and accurately."

"Eric, you're scarin' me," she said, "even more than I was scared before!"

"Good!" he exclaimed. "You should be scared! Now answer! How many times have you and Bill had an exchange of blood?"

"An exchange?" she asked.

"Yes," Eric explained. "An exchange occurs when a human and a vampire drink each other's blood simultaneously or within moments of one another. Specifically, the taste of one another's blood must be in both of your mouths at the same time. A bond forms after three such exchanges. If you and Bill have a bond, then no spell will sever your connection."

Sookie tensed. "The first night Bill gave me his blood, I'd been attacked. He saved my life; when I woke up, I tasted his blood, and he was licking my wounds. Does that count?"

Eric closed his eyes and nodded. He lifted two fingers. "Yes. That is twice when the other night is counted."

Sookie shivered and thought back to every time she'd taken Bill's blood: after the Rattrays beat her, after the Maenad attacked her, and during sex two nights before he proposed to her. Could there have been other times that she didn't remember? Could there have been times when Bill made her drink his blood while she was sleeping?

As if he could sense her questions, Eric shook his head. "Sookie, you have to knowingly drink for the magic to work; that means you would have tasted his blood."

Sookie closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. "He drank from me a lot more than three times, and I drank from him three times exactly—if you factor in what I took after the Maenad attack—but he didn't take from me that night. So there were only two exchanges."

Eric also looked relieved. "Using my blood in you, I'm going to try to confirm that there's not a bond—okay?" he asked.

"How?"

"I'm going to isolate some of Bill's blood and try to surround it with mine. If it is fully bonded to yours, I don't think I will be able to do it."

"Okay."

"You might feel something when I do this."

"Okay," she repeated nervously.

He closed his eyes and activated his blood, once more telling it to look for Bill's blood inside of Sookie's body. As he looked, he picked up traces of blood that held Lorena's and Longshadow's essences, but he did not mention those lifeless and drifting cells to Sookie. Now that those vampires were dead, their blood would wear away. Meanwhile, that blood would remain harmless and dormant inside of her—unless, of course, she agreed to the severing spell. Then it would burn quickly away.

As Eric found some of Bill's blood, he used his own to study it—to analyze it as he'd not done before he'd found out that a bond could be a possibility.

The Viking thought of his maker as he surrounded Bill's blood cells with his own. Godric had been fascinated by science, and, over the centuries, had often glamoured scientists to study aspects of both human and vampire blood. In fact—before his radical character transformation—Godric had once bonded with a human, partly so that he could learn about the chemistry of such a connection.

Godric had told Eric that when vampire blood bonded to human blood, there was an extra linking that could be felt and "seen" in the blood. If bonded to a human's blood, the vampire's blood literally traveled as part of the human's blood through the bloodstream—instead of alongside and separate from that blood. Since vampire blood generally traveled slower than human blood, the vampire could sense a "quickening" of his or her blood in the human once a true bonding occurred.

Godric had said that his bond with a human had literally enlivened his own blood. But there had been a consequence. When Godric's bonded human had died of old age, Godric had immediately become depressed by the loss. Eric pinpointed that moment as the one that eventually led to his maker meeting the sun.

"Well?" Sookie asked impatiently. "I feel something like a tickle inside of me. What are you—uh—seein' in there?"

"Bill's blood does not seem to be bonded to yours," he said as he opened his eyes.

"That's good—right?"

Eric nodded. "Yes. But we'll get Octavia to confirm."

Sookie sighed with relief. "Okay. Well—at least you didn't see something obvious. That's something."

"Yes." Eric looked toward the window. "My car is five minutes away by flight, Sookie, and it is now only twenty minutes before dawn." He paused and looked back at her. "The last time you had Bill's blood was two days before he disappeared—correct?"

She nodded. "Yeah. Just over a week ago," she said with amazement as she thought about how much had changed in such a short amount of time.

"Then, you will need to keep running for 112 days if you don't undergo the severing spell with Bill. That is the longest his blood could stay alive in you without a new dosage. And you can begin a count of 120 days for mine as of today. Until that time is over, keep moving from place to place and stay to yourself. Change your appearance often. Do not make friends, and do not get a job. Claim that you are a tourist. Travel during the day and try to stay in private residences at night when you can. Things like bed and breakfast establishments or private boarding houses will be closed to vampires; however, vampires can freely enter into hotels, so try to avoid those if you can. Brady will, as I said, get you the money you require, and—hopefully—he can help you find some safe havens too."

"And after that?"

"Then, you can stop moving so much, but stay away from this area. Do not return home—or even to the United States. Follow the summer and the sun by going far north or far south with the changing seasons. Go where the night is short. And, every few months, check in with Brady at that number," Eric pointed to the card. "If I succeed in killing Russell and Sophie-Anne so that the threat against you is eliminated, I will get you word through him."

Sookie bit her lip. "Why are you willing to help me? I mean—whatever I choose to do, you are helping me."

"You are an asset," Eric said in a quiet, almost strained tone.

Sookie looked into Eric's eyes, knowing that she would have to trust him no matter what her decision was—and knowing that she did trust him.

"You have four minutes to make your decision, Sookie," Eric said softly before getting up to put the rest of the clothing in the dresser into a duffle bag that he pulled out of the closet.

She took a deep breath. "I don't need them," she said. "I'm choosing you—uh—to go with you, that is."

Eric turned around and gave her a little smile.

"You are?"

"Yes," she confirmed.

"Good. Take care of your human needs quickly while I prepare directions for you to follow to get to the Slidell house."

Sookie nodded and went to the bathroom. Then she grabbed the toothpaste and unopened toothbrush she saw on the counter.

As she exited the bathroom, she saw that Eric was pouring some liquid from a small bottle onto his fingers. He then rubbed the liquid onto his forehead.

"What's that?" she asked.

"This will conceal my scent once we leave this place." He gestured for her to come closer and then rubbed a few drops of the liquid onto her forehead as well.

His touch made Sookie shiver, as well as feel other things that she wished she didn't.

"Is that feeling because of your blood?" she asked as Eric put the stopper back onto the bottle and carefully put it into the duffel bag. He showed her some bottled water and granola bars, which he put into the bag as well. She didn't ask where they'd come from.

"Maybe," Eric smirked. "Or maybe you're just attracted to me on your own."

Sookie rolled her eyes.

"Ready?" he asked, even as he activated his blood to block Bill's once they were outside of the concealment spell.

"Yes."

He threw the duffle bag over his shoulder, quickly picked her up, zipped up to the roof, and took off into the graying sky. He would have just enough time to get himself into the light-tight compartment in the car and text Octavia before the sun rose.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: The King

Four hours and twenty minutes earlier

As soon as Russell hung up the phone with Talbot, the ancient king turned around and took in the form of the Viking. Eric's posture was relaxed as he watched Sophie-Anne and an adequate-smelling human fucking in the corner of the room.

Russell glanced at the pair and then scowled. He had never much understood lesbian sex, nor had he found it even remotely entertaining. As far as he was concerned, sex without at least two cocks present was a fucking waste of time and effort! However, Sophie-Anne seemed to be enjoying herself, and anything that kept her from annoying him was welcome—much welcome.

The king chuckled. Perhaps there was something good about lesbian sex, after all.

Russell turned his attention fully to Northman as he approached the bar. He noticed that the Viking's progeny, Pamela, was nowhere to be seen. The king licked his lips as he took in the beautiful vision before him.

Russell liked the tall blonde—even though his own tastes tended to skew toward olive skinned brunettes like his current paramour. But Northman was undeniably handsome, and his good looks weren't the only feature on his impressive resume. Northman was all man—obviously an alpha. And Russell loved to tame an alpha—to fight with him for control in bed before ultimately fucking him senseless. Occasionally, he'd even let an alpha fuck him, and—having felt Eric's impressive tool—Russell expected to fully enjoy all that Eric had to offer at least once before he established permanent dominance over the Viking.

However, something had been needling at Russell regarding Eric. But for the un-death of him, the ancient vampire couldn't quite put his finger on it. Northman seemed to be completely loyal. He seemed to be accommodating. He seemed to be a more-than-worthy candidate for a lover. In short, he seemed to be perfect.

But something just felt off to Russell, especially after his phone call with Talbot. His consort had told him about the tour he'd given Eric of the mansion, as well as about the Viking's interest in the sixteenth century Japanese erotica in the collection. Talbot was anxious to see if Eric would try some of the more adventurous three-vampire configurations depicted in one of the scrolls. However, that was not the part of the conversation that had troubled Russell. It had been a casual comment by Talbot—an aside about Eric's interest in the Viking crown that Russell had taken from a minor king more than a thousand years before.

Something about that had raised a flicker of misgiving in Russell, but—again—he couldn't quite figure out where his doubts regarding Northman were coming from. After all, why wouldn't Eric be interested in an artifact from his own culture? Well-preserved things, such as that crown, were few and far between.

To set his mind as ease, Russell decided to question Eric about the crown. He carefully studied the Norseman's expression as he mentioned the crown in casual conversation. He even offered to give the artifact to Eric at one point, but other than a flash of what seemed to be gratefulness on the Viking's face—which was followed up by his respectful refusal and then gracious acceptance of the gift—Eric's countenance remained steady. In fact, Eric's blue eyes contained no signs of duplicity whatsoever. On the contrary, they held the appropriate mixture of awe and adoration that Russell was used to getting from younger vampires.

However, there was something missing from those eyes too—something that Russell was also used to seeing from lesser vampires than himself: fear.

Even Talbot's eyes held a bit of fear when he was in Russell's presence! However, Northman didn't seem to be afraid of him—not even a little. And that was out of the ordinary. Perhaps it was the Viking's lack of fear that had been giving Russell pause.

Out of the corner of his eye, Russell continued to study Eric. Of course, the Viking was only a child compared to Russell. But he was quite old compared to most other vampires—especially in the New World. And he was well known for his prowess in battle—for his audaciousness and lack of fear. Perhaps it simply wasn't in the Viking's nature to show any fear—even if he felt it. Or perhaps his maker's influence accounted for the absence. By all accounts, Godric had been a competent maker—though his ending had been pathetic to say the least.

Indeed, perhaps Eric's lack of fear was a sign of his worthiness. Or—perhaps—the Viking was arrogant. Clearly, he was interested in being the king's lover. Eric had grown aroused by Russell's touch in the limousine. Perhaps, the Viking did not believe there was a reason to fear. Russell grinned. He would enjoy training Eric Northman to know better. Respect and adoration were just a step away from fear—after all—and the Viking already had those for him in spades.

However, Russell still felt something nagging at him regarding the Norseman, like a word on the tip of his tongue or a memory that he couldn't quite grab hold of.

Thus, the king followed Eric for a while once he sent him to Talbot. Three thousand years before, Russell had not risen with the ability to fly, but it was a skill that he had developed over time. And given his advanced age, Russell was much faster than the Viking. Plus, as a multi-thousand-year-old creature, his other senses were much more developed than Eric's as well. His sense of smell, for example, was unrivaled.

Staying at the edge of his own range so that the Viking would not know that he was following, Russell trailed Eric until he was certain that the younger vampire was following his orders to the letter. Only then did he turn back.

Russell was not one to ignore his instincts, however. If his gut was telling him that something was amiss concerning Eric Northman, then it was. Perhaps, it was simple—a little white lie. Perhaps Eric was still loyal to Sophie-Anne, despite his insistence to the contrary. That sort of thing, however, was easily remedied, for Russell knew that he was much more worthy of devotion than Sophie-Anne Leclerq.

Or—perhaps—Eric was not really a lover of men. Russell had had many a vampire over the years who had sought him out for advancement or advantage—rather than because of attraction. The ancient vampire, however, did not care if this was the case. A lover was a lover in his opinion, and a reluctant lover had often been a wonderful source of amusement for the king.

Russell closed his eyes and licked his lips as his fangs clicked down. Very likely the Viking had been a novice to the pleasures of male-on-male love before his turning, and that meant that he'd been a virgin to anal sex upon his first death. The Norseman had had a male maker, and Godric had been known to dally with both genders when it came to taking lovers; thus, Eric would be "broken in" mentally. However, physically, his anatomy would have healed after each encounter he had with a man. Consequently, he would still be as tight as an unseasoned virgin. Russell grinned. Yes—a little reluctance on the part of the Viking would be a welcome diversion for the king.

With that in mind, Russell decided to put his reservations about the Viking on the back-burner—at least for the moment. However, he was not going to ignore his misgivings either. He texted Talbot and told his consort to keep an eye on the Viking. He knew that Talbot wouldn't mind that task in the least, so the king gave his lover permission to "play" with Eric as much as he desired as long as trusted Weres or vampires were also present. Talbot loved exhibitionism, so having an audience would not be a problem for him. And—most importantly—Russell would know that his mate was safe.

That taken care of, Russell flew to Bon Temps and quickly found the telepath's home. Unfortunately, her scent was fading—likely several days old. Russell did, however, find a fresh scent that he recognized: Debbie Pelt.

Debbie had recently joined his Were pack and had been planning to marry and breed with his Alpha male, Cooter. After a quick round of questioning and a little glamour to calm down the distraught Were-bitch, Russell learned that Debbie intended to lie in wait so that she could take her revenge for her mate's death. She apparently blamed Miss Stackhouse for the murder; she also screeched out that Sookie was a "whore" and had stolen Alcide Herveaux's affections from her as well. The king recognized Herveaux's name and immediately dispatched some of his Weres to find Alcide's father, who could be used as a useful piece of leverage over his son. Jackson Herveaux was certain to be on one of the casino boats on the Mississippi River at this time of night. And—since Russell owned most of them—the elder Herveaux would be an easy find.

Russell debated for a moment about what to do with Debbie. Killing her might be for the best. She was clearly addicted to V to the point that it impaired and depleted her already iffy mental acuity. And a rabid dog was often more liability than benefit.

The king liked for his Weres to enjoy V, and he certainly used his blood to make sure they were controlled, but he didn't want them so dependent that their ability to function was impaired.

However, seeing the zeal in Debbie's eyes and knowing that she was also connected to Alcide Herveaux—whom Debbie confirmed was the Were who had helped Sookie to escape—Russell decided to use the Were-bitch. After all, Cooter had seen something worthy in her, so perhaps she would be more valuable than she looked. Like Debbie, the king was also pissed off about the loss of his Alpha Were. Cooter had not been the cleverest of the Alphas who had run his pack over the millennia—not by a long shot—and, frankly, the pack had been degrading. The fiascos with Compton had been proof of that. However, Cooter's ability to recruit new members had been surprisingly impressive.

Plus, Debbie could enter the telepath's home. Uninvited vampires could not. Therefore, her presence gave Russell more of an advantage. Confident that Sookie would not be returning to her home that night, Russell told Debbie to continue watching the house, but ordered her to capture the telepath instead of killing her. He offered Debbie a special reward―a vial of his own blood―if she brought him the telepath in one piece. The V-addicted Were, of course, leapt at the chance, but—just to be sure—Russell glamoured Debbie so that she wouldn't permanently damage Sookie Stackhouse. After all, a telepath was a much more valuable asset than a V-addled Were.

Leaving Sookie's home under Debbie's tolerably-able watch, the king returned to Fangtasia, where he'd already ordered twenty or so members of his pack to meet him. He was pleased to see that they had just arrived from Jackson and had already set up a perimeter around Fangtasia.

Unfortunately, he was also greeted by a very pissed off Sophie-Anne; in truth, Russell had almost forgotten about "his" queen and really didn't want to deal with her complaints anymore, so he quickly arranged for her to go to one of Northman's safe houses for the day. If Russell's suspicions about Eric had any merit, perhaps Sophie-Anne would be killed in some snare the Viking had left behind.

One could only hope.

With that in mind, Russell had ordered a couple of his younger, weaker Weres to "escort" the queen to Eric's most well-known address and then to Mississippi the next night. Russell smiled at the possibility of being rid of Sophie-Anne. He was still considering the pros and cons of keeping her around, but if she were assassinated by one of her own underlings, the king could play the grieving widower. In fact, he texted Talbot to tell him to begin preparations for a new "mourning" wardrobe for them both. Even if Russell ended up not killing Sophie-Anne, the new wardrobe would give his lover a welcome distraction for a while.

Once Sophie-Anne and her new "girl-toy" were out of the way, the king fed from one of the donors Eric had arranged, even as he fucked the other. It was a pleasing experience, so when he sent them away, he glamoured them to return the next night.

After feeding, Russell went back to work. He assigned some of his Weres to find and then watch Sookie's brother and friends. He ordered a few others to join Debbie at the telepath's home and to watch Compton's home as well. Two others were dispatched to Alcide Herveaux's Shreveport address, while another was sent to stake out his business.

By 4:00 a.m., all of the dispatched Weres had made contact with their subjects except for the ones who had been assigned to Tara Thornton and Alcide Herveaux. That was not surprising to the king. After all, they had been with Miss Stackhouse and Bill Compton during the escape. The ones that were sent to watch Jason Stackhouse and Lafayette Reynolds reported that the young men had just arrived at their respective homes; however, that didn't seem unusual for either man. According to Compton's file, Stackhouse was a "tomcat" and had likely been off fucking. And Reynolds was a known V-user; in fact, Compton had made note of many nights when the flamboyant human had not returned to his home until near dawn.

Russell's next order of business was to assign a few of the vampires in his retinue, along with his best Were trackers, to begin searching for Bill Compton. Finding him would likely mean finding the telepath and Miss Thornton as well. Sadly, Franklin Mott, Russell's best tracker, had not recuperated yet, but Russell didn't imagine that Bill Compton would be much of a challenge to track down.

The king opted to stay in the basement of Fangtasia for the day and was glad to find it spotless; apparently, Northman's child had completed her assigned task while he was gone. Russell made a mental note to compliment the vampiress on her efficiency. Perhaps, she might even be qualified to run Area 5—now that Eric was to be shifted to Area 1. However, Russell truly did have a hankering for a Fangtasia in his own area, and Northman's progeny would be the most qualified to see to that.

Russell gave his Were guards some instructions, but the king was not too worried about security. The basement of Fangtasia had been reinforced like a bunker, and the king had examined the space very carefully to ensure that it was safe.

Fifty minutes before sunrise, however, Russell got a big surprise—in the form of Bill Compton.

Russell had just been checking in with his trackers about Compton when the Civil War veteran barged into Fangtasia, demanding to see Eric. Of course, he'd not expected to find Russell there instead.

The first thing that Russell did was to secure the younger vampire with silver and gag him in order to shut up his wailing about Eric and what a bastard he was. Compton was also blathering on about his need to "rescue" Sookie, whom he had the annoying habit of calling Sookeh. Russell had lived in the South longer than Bill had been in existence, and he'd found no accent that justified that mispronunciation.

A quick call to Talbot confirmed that the Viking had not yet arrived at the mansion, but that was not surprising, given the rate at which Eric had been flying. By Russell's calculation, Eric would arrive no earlier than twenty eight minutes before sunrise, and it was still fifteen minutes until then. The king asked his consort to call him as soon as the Viking arrived.

Russell let Bill stew for a few more minutes before making him an offer. "I will take the gag out, Mr. Compton, but if you continue with your incoherent raving, then I will replace it with a silver one. And trust me. That will be much more unpleasant for you."

Bill cringed and stopped trying to pull against his silver chains.

"Now. Will you be a good little boy and answer my questions? Or should you stay in silver all day and then answer them for me at nightfall? Make your decision now, Bill, for the sunrise is coming in forty minutes."

The younger vampire looked toward the door of Fangtasia and then looked back at Russell with defeat in his eyes. He nodded in affirmation.

"Wonderful!" Russell exclaimed as he took the gag from Bill's mouth.

"King Edgington, please. You have to let me go before Eric harms her!" Bill cried.

Russell's fangs popped down a millisecond before he backhanded Bill. The chair securely holding the younger vampire flew across the room with Bill still attached to it.

At a leisurely pace, Russell walked over and bent down until his face was inches from Compton's. "I ask and you answer," the king seethed. "Other comments from you will not be tolerated! Understand?"

"Yes," Bill answered immediately. The wild look in his eyes—the look of desperation to find Sookie—had been replaced with terror as Russell's power literally radiated around him.

"Do not forget yourself again," Russell warned as he righted Bill's chair.

Not able to look into the almost-black orbs of the three-thousand-year-old vampire in front of him, Bill lowered his eyes and spoke in a stuttering voice. "I understand, your majesty."

Immediately, Russell reestablished his previous casual posture and his fangs were put away. "Wonderful!" he exclaimed as he brought a chair toward the one Bill was chained to and then turned it around so that he was sitting in it backwards. He rested his arms over its back and enjoyed the look of intense fear on Compton's face for a few moments. It didn't take him long to size up his "opponent" and find him lacking. However, the young vampire was not without promise; he just needed the proper training.

"You know, young William, I enjoyed our horseback ride together the other night very much—despite the fact that you smelled of the Weres you had killed. Tell me—did you enjoy killing them?"

"Your majesty?" Bill asked, obviously confused by the topic.

"I was impressed by your display of strength," Russell continued. "You had been pursued by my Weres for hours, yet you managed to kill several of them." He chuckled, "And you de-eared another. As I said, it was a notable battle on your part. I could see that—despite your young age—you were tenacious and highly-motivated."

"Thank you, your majesty," Bill said raising his eyes a little.

Russell smiled. Indeed, Bill had demonstrated what the king would call 'scrappiness.'

"As I said," Russell continued casually as if Bill were not chained in silver, "our ride was enjoyable to me. You had a good seat on the horse, and such ease and grace is difficult to find these days."

Bill's expression continued to show his confusion over the subject matter, but he was not foolish enough to question Russell again. Instead, he spoke on the topic that Russell had raised. "In my time, your majesty, a gentleman had to ride."

"Yes," Russell agreed, "however, not everyone rode well." Russell studied the younger vampire carefully for a few moments. "You think of the time of your humanity as 'your' time, young William? Don't you believe that a vampire is a being of all times?"

"I never wanted to be vampire, your majesty," Bill said quietly.

"Ah. Yes," Russell responded. "I might have guessed that about you, especially with Lorena as your maker."

Bill cringed a little, and his eyes took on sadness at his maker's loss. He had hated Lorena, yet he had loved his maker too.

Russell smiled paternalistically at the younger vampire's ambivalent reaction. "I both loved and hated my maker as well," he smiled, "that is, before I killed him."

Bill looked up at Russell with surprise. It was extremely uncommon for a vampire to have the strength or the capability to kill his or her own maker.

The king shrugged and continued with his previous track. "Don't get me wrong. I did enjoy Lorena's company—up to a certain degree. She made a good third at dinner! She and Talbot could talk about fashion and interior decorating and whatnot. It was a relief to have him entertained. Of course, I am a great believer that all this mainstreaming nonsense is only degrading our species, and it is always lovely to have like-minded individuals around me. Do you not agree?"

Bill looked up at Russell with a touch of defiance in his eyes. "I am not like-minded in that way, your majesty," he said stiffly, though respectfully.

"Yes," Russell smiled. "I believe that even I might be tempted to mainstream if I had a part-fairy as my primary food source."

"Fairy, your majesty?" Bill stammered, opting to try for ignorance.

Russell's eyes darkened and Bill shrank into his chair with fear. "Do not play dumb, William. I saw your file. It really was quite the interesting read; plus, my new wife confirmed everything to me—thanks to a little persuasion from your sheriff."

"I—I," Bill began.

"Never lie to me, William," Russell said coldly. "I simply cannot abide a liar. And at my age, I do not have to."

The threat in Russell's words and tone was unmistakable. Bill nodded and then spoke meekly. "About Sookie, your majesty."

"Ah yes. Let us talk about the lovely Miss Stackhouse," Russell agreed.

"Your majesty, Eric is going to . . . ," Bill started.

"Remember, I am the one asking questions, William," Russell said with the deadly edge back in his voice.

Bill cowered and nodded in affirmation.

"Good," Russell said. "Now—do you know where Sookie is right now?"

"No," Bill answered.

"But you have a blood tie with her?"

"Yes, but it is," he paused, "confused right now."

"I am surprised you are not with your Sookie even now. Didn't she perform a daring rescue of you just this very morning?" Russell asked somewhat playfully.

"Yes she did," Bill responded.

"And she was the one who killed Lorena?" Russell asked, clearly impressed with the feisty telepath.

"Yes," Bill answering, looking almost tortured. "I was holding Lorena down with silver, and my maker," he paused, "welcomed death when I rejected her. But it was Sookie who staked her."

Russell smiled. "A love triangle." He clapped his hands gleefully. "How wonderful! A good love triangle makes life feel so," he stopped for a moment, looking for the right word, "renewed!"

Bill shook his head sadly. "Lorena would have killed Sookie."

"So you chose your mostly-human beloved over your maker?"

"Yes," Bill answered, though his eyes conveyed his inner torment.

"And your Sookie risked her life to come for you and to save you?"

"Yes."

"What a lovely little fairy tale," Russell commented with a mixture of sarcasm and sincerity that would have been impossible for almost anyone else to achieve. "But how did our knight in shining armor get separated from his lovely fairy?" he asked.

Bill shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "I was weakened from my ordeal. Near death."

"Did your fairy and her confederates bury you in the ground and then leave you?" Russell asked with intrigue in his voice.

"No," Bill said, his face a picture of excruciating pain. "We made our escape in a truck or van of some kind. I think it belonged to a Were named Herveaux. Sookie and I were alone in the back, and I was gravely injured—dead for the day. But she tried to give me her blood, and I . . . ." He stopped as red tears began to streak down his face.

"You did what vampires do," Russell finished with a smirk on his face. "You survived."

Bill nodded his head sorrowfully. "I could have killed her—the woman I love. I could have killed her."

"But you didn't," Russell commented, grateful that the telepath was still among the living. "It must have taken remarkable control to stop yourself. You must really love her."

Bill cried out in despair. "I did not stop. I could not stop myself! Tara and the wolf opened the van door. I was," he wept, "not even aware of what I was doing until they interrupted. And I was about to," he paused, "take her—against her will."

Russell's lips turned up into a slight smile, though he kept his gleeful expression toned down and spoke to the young vampire compassionately. "Oh Bill. How horrible for you! What happened? Did you save your love? Did you give her your blood? Did you turn her?" he finished almost sinisterly.

Bill shook his head. "No," he said bitterly. "Tara would not let me see to Sookeh! Still weakened, I was kicked out of the van and then the wolf drove off without me."

"Why did you not just follow, Miss Stackhouse? I have a feeling that you took enough of her blood to be healed adequately," Russell said with glee in his eyes. In truth, the younger vampire's guilt was making the king's cock hard. In fact, if sunrise were not approaching, Russell might have attempted to seduce Bill before the day came.

"I could not," Bill said. "I began to burn not long after they threw me from the van. I had to dig a resting place for myself and wait for night."

"So this episode didn't happen at night?" Russell asked with a menacing smile.

"No—Sookie tried to heal me during the day, your majesty."

"So it is true?" Russell asked with wonder. "Fairy blood really allows a vampire safety in the sun for a time!"

Chapter Text

Chapter 12: The Minion

"Only for a short while," Bill admitted. "Even after all the blood that I had taken from her, I was afforded only five minutes or so."

"Five minutes in the sun," Russell said wistfully. "Remarkable!"

"Five minutes that could have killed Sookie," Bill returned sorrowfully.

"What about when you rose tonight?" Russell asked.

"By the time I had dug a resting place of suitable depth, the sun was already burning into me, so I did not rise right at nightfall. When I did awaken, it was already after 1:00 a.m., and I had to find food before I went to Sookie."

Russell's smirk was back because of the renewed guilt he felt from the vampire in front of him. "And did you find a suitable," he paused, "meal?"

Bill nodded. "Yes. I found a husband and wife camping a few miles from my resting place. I . . . ." He stopped as more tears fell from his eyes.

"You had to feed in order to replenish your strength and to heal," Russell said comfortingly. "Any vampire would have done the same. Tell me, Bill. Did you also partake of the flesh while you fed?" he asked sadistically.

Bill nodded. "I was so starved. I just—I could not help myself," he muttered contritely, as if he were confessing to a priest.

"Of course you couldn't. You had to see to your urges. It wouldn't have done anyone any good for you to find Miss Stackhouse while you were still starved and injured," Russell said reassuringly. "You may have hurt her again, and I know that would have killed you," he added, somehow managing to keep his sarcasm at bay.

Bill sniffled and looked up at Russell almost hopefully. "Yes—that's right. And I had to get to Sookie," he said desperately. "She was injured and needed me. I could feel that she was extremely weak through our blood tie."

"Did you take care of the corpses you left behind?" Russell asked in a soft, reassuring tone. "It wouldn't do to have them found."

Bill shook his head. "No," he whispered. "I could think only of getting to Sookie, and she was still quite far from me. I stole the couple's car and drove to her location. And then I drove it here."

"I see," Russell said. "Where did you leave the couple, William?"

"About five miles north of Monroe. Off of Highway 2," the young vampire said, sounding defeated.

Russell signaled for one of his Weres.

"Your majesty?" the Were asked respectfully.

"There has been a camping accident off of Highway 2, five miles north of Monroe." He looked at Bill. "Did you leave them at a campsite?"

The younger vampire shook his head. "No. Not at an official one. There's a road called Rock Cliff Road. It ends at a little stream. That is where they are."

"Take care of it," Russell ordered his Were. And see to the car Compton drove here."

The Were nodded and quickly went to fulfill his king's orders.

"What happened after you fed?" Russell picked up his questioning. "Did you find your fairy?"

Bill nodded. "Yes. In a hospital in Rustin. But Northman was already there," he said bitterly. "He took Sookie away; that's why I must find her."

Russell's first inclination after hearing Bill's words was to celebrate. Northman must have gained some kind of information about Miss Stackhouse's location even as he was flying to Mississippi! Thus, the fact that Talbot had not yet called him to let him know that Eric had arrived at the Jackson mansion was immediately explained.

"Eric forced Sookie to take his blood before I could get to her," Bill said bitterly as more tears fell from his eyes. "I tried to stop him—to fight him—but he had Sookie, and I feared that he would harm her. I would have killed him otherwise," Bill added coldly.

Russell held in his smile. There was no way that Bill would have stood a chance if the Viking had truly wanted his final death.

"So that is why your blood tie with Miss Stackhouse is now 'confused,'" Russell observed. "Indeed, if Miss Stackhouse were given a substantial amount of the Norseman's blood, that would affect your tie with her, especially if Eric actively compelled his blood to hinder yours."

"Is that possible?" Bill asked with surprise.

"Ah—young ones," Russell said, patronizingly. "You have no idea what the blood can accomplish." The king smiled almost kindly. "Do not fear, young William. I can teach you many things, and if you stay alive, you will become able to do them all—in time."

"So—uh—I cannot track Sookie because Eric's blood is blocking me from doing so?" Bill asked. "I thought for a while that they were headed east, but then they seemed to disappear, so I came here. I can still feel that she is alive, but I cannot tell where she is."

"Northman's blood would make tracking Miss Stackhouse difficult for you," Russell mused, "especially if he knew how to use it. However, do not fear, from what you have said, it is clear that Eric is on his way to Mississippi with your fairy. And he knows better than to let harm come to her. If you cooperate, I see no reason why you cannot have a joyful reunion with Miss Stackhouse now that Lorena is no more."

The king smiled to himself. Indeed, things were working out very well. Northman had secured the telepath, and because she'd taken his blood, the Viking could now track her, so if she escaped again, she would be much easier to secure, given Eric's age and strength. Of course, Russell had planned to force Sookie to take some of his own blood so that he could keep track her himself, but having Northman be able to trail the young telepath was an even more satisfactory arrangement.

This way, Russell could avoid all the nasty side effects of allowing a human to have his blood. Being forced to feel a human's ever-shifting emotions was a pain in the ass. Yes—the Viking and William, whom Russell intended to mold into a trusted minion, would be more than adequate trackers if the telepath escaped again. And if Bill tried to facilitate such an escape, then Russell would let the Viking kill him. After all, the animosity between the two of them was apparent.

No. Russell didn't mind not having to give Sookie Stackhouse his blood at all!

What Russell did mind was the fact that Eric had not contacted him to let him know that he had found Miss Stackhouse. However, within milliseconds, the king had run through several scenarios to explain that oversight. Perhaps, Eric was flying Miss Stackhouse to the Mississippi mansion or another safe location, and—because of the short time before dawn—had not had the time to call. Perhaps, Miss Stackhouse's condition had worsened, and Eric had needed to seek medical assistance or even turn the woman. Perhaps, the Viking's cell phone had been lost during his scuffle with Compton.

Even as Russell's supple mind ran through all of these plausible explanations, however, that nagging suspicion he had about Northman resurfaced. He replayed Northman's actions regarding the telepath in his head. There was Eric's protective posturing when Lorena threatened the girl. There was the forced smile on the Viking's lips when Russell expelled him from the room so that he could talk to Sookie about the file. But those things could be explained. Miss Stackhouse had been an asset to Northman and lived in Area 5, after all. So Eric wouldn't have wanted Lorena to harm her. Plus, Russell had interrupted a heated argument between the telepath and the Viking. Her eyes had been wet with tears that Eric must have caused.

Given those facts, Russell had not been suspicious of the interactions he'd witnessed between Eric and Sookie—but now, he wondered.

"So Eric took Sookie on your behalf?" Bill asked, interrupting Russell's thoughts.

Russell hesitated a moment but then nodded. "Yes."

"So he used his blood in Sookie to track her down at the hospital?" Bill asked. "I wouldn't have thought that he had enough blood in her to do that. I barely found her. But he is quite old," the Civil War veteran mused.

The elder vampire's blood grew even colder than usual. "What do you mean? Eric had blood inside of Miss Stackhouse before tonight?" Russell's anger bubbled to the surface.

Bill once more shrank back in fear. "Yes," he whispered.

"Explain!" Russell ordered. "Now!"

Afraid to be ripped limb from limb, Bill talked quickly. "It was when we were in Dallas several weeks ago. A bomb went off in Godric's home, and Eric tricked Sookie into sucking some silver from his body. By the time I was able to get to her, she had already swallowed a few drops of his blood."

Russell stood up abruptly and crushed the chair he had been sitting on with his bare hands as if he were crumpling a piece of paper.

When the king spoke again, his voice was disturbingly low in volume and tone. "So you are telling me that Northman has had his blood in Miss Stackhouse the whole time I have known him?"

Bill nodded.

Russell thought for a moment. It was possible that Eric wasn't sure he could track the fairy if she had so little of his blood. Perhaps, during his flight, the Viking's blood had "found" her because of proximity. After all, his path would have caused him to fly almost directly over Ruston. But why wouldn't Eric have told his king—a king to whom he outwardly showed so much loyalty—about the telepath having his blood.

Russell scanned all of his doubts and all of his thoughts related to Eric Northman, and then suddenly the spark of suspicion became a brightly burning fire. It was the fire of a hearth—a Viking hearth.

As if in a time machine, Russell closed his eyes and was transported into a long-ago memory. He'd seen the young Viking man, who was probably fewer than twenty winters old, cradling his dead mother. The young man was dirty from his fight and confused by the appearance of a naked man where there had once been a wolf. Russell could smell the young man's tears and his fear. Both scents were alluring.

Yet Russell enjoyed the thought of the young man's anguish much more than he relished the thought of killing him that night. It had always been Russell's practice to leave behind a single survivor in a family. He'd done it hundreds of times; he relished in the survivor's anguish and in the thought of his or her continued suffering at his hands. Sometimes he took the attractive survivors with him—to feed off of both their distress and their blood for days on end, but more often than not, he would leave them behind, especially when their blood was not particularly noteworthy.

Despite his fear, the young Viking's blood had smelled ordinary, so Russell had given him a warning that he should not follow. He figured that he'd test the young man's metal. If the Viking chased after Russell into the night, he would prove his foolishness, as well as demonstrate a thoughtless kind of bravery. If that had happened, Russell would have drained the young man and put him out of his misery—after fucking him senseless, of course. But the Viking did not follow. He proved his instinct for self-preservation, though Russell intuited that the young man would see his choice not to pursue his enemy as an act of cowardice. The vampire had relished in that idea; he had imagined the young Viking punishing himself for his inaction for much longer than Russell could have tortured him.

Russell walked away from Bill and over to Fangtasia's bar. He ran his fingers over the smooth surface and admired its quality.

"Cherry wood," he observed. "Beautiful."

In a movement that Bill barely perceived, the ancient vampire raised his fists and brought them down with force, easily breaking the solid wood bar in two.

"That felt good," Russell mused to himself before bringing his fists down again, once more chopping into the wood. He closed his eyes tightly and let the memory of the young Viking—barely a man—fill his mind fully. The light from the fire in the lodge had been dim, but Russell had seen the young man's eyes clearly. They had been a blue storm of mixed emotions, with the chief of them being fear—the only emotion that Russell had failed to see in the eyes of the sheriff of Area 5.

The king smiled. Clearly, Eric Northman had learned to master that which had stifled him before. But Russell planned to see that fear again―many, many times―before he allowed the Viking to meet his final death. By then there would be nothing left but the fear in those cerulean eyes.

Russell turned around slowly and saw that the young vampire before him already had a healthy dose of fear. It was as it should be. Russell smiled at the youngling.

"You hate Eric Northman?" Russell asked.

"Yes," Bill replied somewhat cautiously.

"And he stole away your fairy?"

"Yes," Bill repeated, but this time with spite in his tone.

"Do you believe that he will keep her?"

"He has a fascination with her," Bill responded stiffly. "He will try to manipulate her into staying with him. He will," Bill paused, "take advantage of her innocence."

Russell nodded. "Then—I will make a bargain with you, young William."

Bill looked at Russell with curiosity.

"I am always in need of able vampires, and you have caught my eye," the king said, as he sized up Bill once more. "If I promise to allow you and Miss Stackhouse to continue your association under my roof, will you help me to get her back by using your blood tie with her?"

"You won't harm her?" Bill asked hesitantly.

"She will be an asset to me—as will you."

"But her blood?" Bill asked.

"I will not deny that I intend to use Miss Stackhouse's blood to allow me to see the sunrise on occasion, but I would do her no real harm," Russell promised. "Other than that, her blood will be her own. And," he paused, "yours, of course."

"What about Sophie-Anne?" Bill asked.

"My wife will not be a problem," the king stated. "Louisiana is mine now."

"You and Sophie-Anne married?"

"Yes. The magister himself performed the ceremony. Your queen is merely a figurehead now. And—rest assured—I will not allow her to harm your fairy."

Bill replied slowly. "So Sookie and I can live in your mansion—as a couple?"

The king nodded. "Yes. And I will take you both to Vermont myself. You may marry and live in my mansion—under my protection, of course. In fact, I promise not even to take Miss Stackhouse's blood from her directly. I will have only a pint or so drawn from her each week; then I will store it until I wish to gorge in the light of the sun." He smiled. "So you see? No harm need come to your Sookie at all. And—all I ask for in return—is that she use her telepathy to aid me. And—even with that—I will offer her an impressive salary and a reasonable schedule."

Bill considered Russell's words for a few moments. In turn, the king studied the younger vampire carefully and celebrated internally the moment he saw Bill's eyes shift slightly. In that fraction of a second, the king knew that he had a new minion.

"If you allow Sookie the illusion of freedom," Bill began, "if you let her visit her friends and family in Bon Temps on occasion and let her receive visits from them, and if you give her a written contract of some kind, I believe that she would accept her station by your side without struggle, your majesty. Sophie-Anne was unwilling to do these things. She wanted to have Sookie for her blood slave, as well as for her telepathy."

Russell scoffed. "Sophie-Anne is an infant—a spoiled little brat without true vision. I am neither of these things. Your Sookie is a rare find—and should be treated as a treasured asset! And—you too—have great potential, William. You will find that I greatly reward those in my service, and that is exactly what I intend to do for you and your mate, William."

"My mate?" Bill asked longingly.

"Yes," the king responded, "for that is how I view Miss Stackhouse. She will be yours. She is yours. You will both work for me at my residence, and you will both be treated extremely well. And—to prove my goodwill—I will follow your invaluable advice. Your fairy—your wife—will have her illusion of freedom and independence. In fact, I shall even have a separate bungalow constructed for you and her on my property. She will be allowed guests, she will be free to visit her hometown for vacations, and you and she may both come and go from the property as you please when you are not working. Would that be acceptable?"

Bill bit his bottom lip, even as his eyes lit up at the prospect of being in service to a worthy monarch. "Yes," he said, looking at Russell with a mixture of admiration and determination. "I will do all that I can to find Sookie for you."

"For us, dear William," Russell smiled. "I hope that you will consider this an arrangement that will benefit you as well," the king added, seductively. "I have much that I could teach a vampire of your inherent quality."

Russell motioned for one of his Weres to remove the younger vampire's silver chains.

"You honor me with your words and confidence in me," Bill said with a little bow once the chains were off of him.

"One must leave a legacy, young William." Russell chuckled. "Of course, I intend to continue living in the midst of mine."

"Of course," Bill responded with a smile.

"Shall we?" Russell asked, gesturing toward the basement. The sun would rise in only a few minutes, and Russell could tell that Bill was starting to feel the pull, especially now that the pain of the silver was gone. "You should have a couple of TrueBloods before you rest, and Dane here will get you a donor for first thing tonight." Russell gave his new Were alpha a nod.

"Thank you, your majesty," Bill said deferentially as Russell went on the other side of the destroyed bar to get two TrueBloods.

"I'm afraid the microwave was ruined in my moment of rage," Russell said with a sheepish grin.

"That is fine," Bill said, as Russell handed him the first of the TrueBloods. Once in the basement, Russell led them to a door, behind which was a bedroom. A large bed with opulent black linens dominated the room. A gigantic shower with a glass door and many different nozzles was the only other item in the space.

"I'm afraid these are the only accommodations I can offer. You do not mind sharing a resting place with your king—do you, William?" Russell asked.

"Not at all, your majesty," Bill answered as he watched the elder vampire take off his jacket and his shoes and make himself comfortable on the side of the bed closest to the wall.

"Do latch the door—will you?" Russell asked a nervous-looking Bill.

The younger vampire quickly obeyed. "Your majesty?" Bill said after drinking down the rest of the first bottle of blood and beginning the second one.

"Yes?" Russell asked in a tone that was full of patience and ease.

"I know how to—uh—I know how to weave dreams," Bill stammered a little.

"But you are so young," Russell responded with surprise as he sat up straighter on the bed.

"That skill and my powerful glamouring ability are my vampire gifts," Bill responded, his tone conveying sadness.

"And you have developed your dream-weaving gift?" Russell asked with curiosity.

Bill nodded, even as shame oozed off of him in waves. "Lorena enjoyed commanding me to give humans my blood. Then she would force me to hone my skill." He paused and wiped away a fresh tear from the tracks of dried blood already on his face. "Many humans were driven to their deaths because of the things my maker made me do to them with woven dreams."

Russell hid his smile. Lorena always did relish her little games. The king had tinkered with dream-weaving around a thousand years before, but—after perfecting the skill—it became boring for him, just like most everything else did in a three-thousand-year life.

"Tell me, young William," Russell asked, "have you ever woven a dream for Miss Stackhouse?"

Bill nodded and looked down as another tear slipped from his eye. "Sookie's grandmother had been murdered, and she was in great pain. The day of Adele Stackhouse's funeral, I sent a dream." The younger vampire shook his head regretfully. "I did it on impulse," he added quickly. "I didn't even know if Sookie would sleep that day, but she must have."

"What did your dream compel her to do?" Russell asked, his tone almost snake-like.

He sighed. "I wanted to take her mind off of her grief, so I sent her lust and the desire to come to me after nightfall. When I awoke, I regretted sending the dream, but Sookie was already running to me by then. She had prepared herself for me," he added, closing his eyes and unconsciously licking his lips. "She was dressed in a white nightgown—like a bride. My bride. And she was a virgin then. I tried to resist the urge to take her, but I could not."

Russell once more held in his grin and affected a concerned expression. "Surely that was a gift to Miss Stackhouse. As you said, you were only trying to alleviate her grief."

"Yes. But she gave me her virginity that night," Bill said quietly.

Russell had to use Herculean effort to maintain a straight face. "A gift for a gift," he said comfortingly.

"You truly believe that?" Bill asked hopefully.

"Of course," Russell replied sincerely. "You were comforting her the best way you knew how."

"Yes," Bill said, his relief clear. "And I did not weave any other dreams for her. I sent her others in the usual ways, but that was the only time I used my dream-weaving, and it was for her."

"And for the best," Russell added. He was more than willing to make Bill feel better if it led to the conclusion for which he was now hoping. "You were just trying to protect your mate from pain—just as you are trying to protect her from Northman now."

"Yes," Bill said with desperation in his eyes. "I would do anything to get Sookie away from Eric and to bring her to safety."

"I know you would, William. So would I," Russell assured. "But dream-weaving can be a dangerous business," the king said hesitantly, baiting the hook for Bill to bite.

"I know," the younger vampire said, looking quite tortured.

"But," Russell paused dramatically, "the Norseman is even more dangerous to your mate." The king sighed and shook his head as if he were as conflicted as Bill.

"Sookie has to be gotten away from Eric. He is manipulating her," Bill replied with sudden fervor.

"You could help her," Russell observed in a rational tone. "You helped her before when you sent her a dream. And this time, she needs your help even more, for she is in grave danger."

Bill nodded.

"Fear would be the easiest way to draw her to you," Russell mused thoughtfully. "After all, she loves you. She is devoted to you. If she thought you were in mortal danger, she would come to you."

"Do you think so? What if Eric has already corrupted her feelings?"

Russell shook his head sadly. "He may have, but if she sleeps during the day, Northman will be powerless to stop her from escaping. Her dream will compel her to do what it best for her. And, after she is with us, we can show her Eric's duplicity, and she can once more take her rightful place by your side."

Bill nodded as resolution settled over his features. He quickly finished his blood, took off his shoes, and moved to the bed.

Russell spoke to Bill with concern in his tone. "You are still weak from the silver, young William. You should take a bit of my blood. It will help you to send a stronger dream."

"You would give me your blood?" Bill asked with awe in his voice.

"I care for you William. And, though it may not have looked like it, I care for your Miss Stackhouse too." He smiled. "Allow me to give you this gift to make up for the fact that I had to silver you earlier." Russell's voice grew more and more seductive as he continued, "Do it for Sookie—for your future wife."

Bill nodded. "I will. Thank you."

Russell smiled and brought his wrist to his mouth. He looked forward to having his blood inside of Bill. It would help him to keep tabs on his young pupil for a few days—though, unfortunately, even his ancient blood could not be used to control another vampire.

Luckily, Compton was relatively easy to manipulate even without blood. Russell had already found out that he could play on the younger vampire's feelings of guilt in order to get him to do almost anything. All Russell had to do was act as Bill's confessor and then offer the youngling absolution.

Energized and aroused by the strength of Russell's blood, Bill's eyes brightened. The king leaned down and placed a soft, chaste kiss onto Bill's lips.

"Send your dream, young William. And all will be well by tonight," Russell said reassuringly—coaxingly.

Immediately, Bill complied. He closed his eyes, and Russell could feel the magic emanating from the younger vampire's body. The king was impressed by the amount of effort and force Bill put into the dream, but—then again, Russell thought to himself—Compton had been trained by Lorena. Moreover, the younger vampire was obviously obsessed with the Stackhouse girl. Otherwise, why would he send someone he supposedly loved a woven dream? Such dreams were wrought with perils that the vampire could not foresee, and many a human had been driven insane or had died because of them.

The king grinned as Bill's eyes remained closed. If Sookie slept, the dream would take hold of her. Hyped up on fear that would only expand upon her waking, Sookie could literally kill herself trying to get to Bill. Indeed, dream-weaving was a risky business, but Russell was willing to risk the telepath's life so that Northman couldn't use her to his advantage.

The dream sent, an exhausted Bill immediately fell back onto the bed, dead for the day. Russell had to hand it to William Compton. He'd certainly held nothing back as he'd sent the dream.

Russell quickly called his Alpha Were, Dane, to let him know that the telepath might come searching for Compton. He also told Dane to inform the Weres watching Compton's home that the telepath might head there. In order to limit the potential that Sookie would hurt herself because of the dream, he gave instructions that his people should restrain and heavily tranquilize Sookie if she showed up. She would likely do anything to get to Bill if she was in the state of panic that Russell hoped the dream would instill inside of her. Hell, if she found out Bill's precise location, she would literally try to claw through the steel door behind which he and Bill were now housed—unless she were physically restrained from doing so.

The trap set, Russell studied William Compton. The young vampire had already proven useful—and he held hidden talents that would benefit the king. Indeed, he had not been lying when he said that he found the youngling promising. Missing Talbot, Russell curled young William into his body right before letting the sun pull him to death.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: Dreamer of the Day

"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible."—T. E. Lawrence

Sookie looked down at the directions Eric had given her one last time and made the final turn toward her destination. She said a little prayer of thanksgiving that she was so close.

It wasn't just that she was anxious about being out in the open either. No—her major concern at that moment was finding a bathroom. She looked down at the two empty bottles of water and cursed them both.

She'd decided to drive straight from Vicksburg to Slidell since the trip was only a little over three hours. And she'd certainly not needed to stop for gas. Who knew that a vamp-mobile would be a hybrid? Of course, Eric's was! He'd called it practical. She found herself smiling as she lay her hand on the passenger seat before giving it a pat.

"You're nothing if not practical, Mr. Northman," she said with a little chuckle.

From the outside, the car looked like a normal Toyota Prius. However, there was currently a 6'4" vampire stretched out and dead for the day. In fact, his face was probably right below her hand.

Sookie marveled at the ingenuity of Eric's car and the resting place within it. Unless someone looked very closely, Eric's enclosure wouldn't be noticed. The light-tight area began under the front seat on the passenger's side. That seat was actually hollowed out, but that wasn't really perceptible. Eric's space ran down the whole length of the car—under the back seat and then to the end of the hatchback. The car sat slightly higher than the norm, but that wasn't really obvious either. The only part that was tricky was the space between the front and back seats, which would usually have been open for foot room, but whoever had designed the space made it look like a box was on the floorboard on "Eric's side" of the car. And it looked as if there was luggage in the hatchback. All-in-all, it just seemed like a normal car.

Sookie sighed with relief as she found the address she was looking for and pushed the button of the garage door opener. Not used to parking in a garage, Sookie pulled in slowly, despite her anxious bladder. Her worst fear had been wrecking and finally killing the un-dead vampire next to her in the car, but Eric had assured her that even a launched missile would have a difficult time penetrating his enclosure. Still, she proceeded carefully. She'd tempted enough fate during the last several months, and she wasn't anxious to continue in that pattern.

As soon as Sookie parked, she pushed the garage door opener again and exited the car quickly. She danced from foot to foot as she waited for the garage door to completely close. Then she entered the code Eric had written down for her and dashed into the house. The garage door led to a kitchen, and—thankfully—there was a half-bath nearby.

Her human needs seen to, Sookie felt a hundred percent better. She walked back to the garage and stared at the car for a little while before going back inside the house. It wasn't as if Eric would miss her if she wasn't there.

Sookie sighed. Eric Northman was such an enigma to her. But, when it all came down to it, there was something about him that she trusted—despite the silver-sucking trick he pulled in Dallas. In fact, she trusted him a heck of a lot more than Bill at this point.

She couldn't help but to think that she'd made the best choice for herself—as well as for her family and friends. If Eric was afraid of Russell, then the people she cared about wouldn't stand a chance. It seemed clear that Russell would be watching everyone she cared about, but as long as she didn't contact them, the Mississippi and Louisiana king could watch all he wanted. Sookie sighed. That made her the biggest threat to her friends and family. Being with them would put them in more danger—just as she feared her presence would somehow endanger the vampire in the garage.

She sighed again. In truth, that had been one of the main reasons why she'd contemplated going off on her own. Yes—she was telepathic and might be able to know that danger was coming during the daytime. But what could she really do about any danger? She'd learned the hard way that the light in her hands sputtered out after a blast or two. She feared that Eric would count on her; she feared that she would let him down.

Sookie closed her eyes and leaned heavily against the kitchen counter. Intentional or not, she seemed to have let down just about everyone in her life. She just prayed that she'd not endangered those she cared about the most when she left them at the hospital. Even before she'd decided to go with Eric, she'd thought about the likelihood that Bill would find her brother, Lafayette, Tara, and Alcide. But she'd counted on three things as she'd made her decision to flee.

First, she'd counted on the fact that Bill truly was acting irrationally. The moment she'd removed the second IV and he'd smelled her blood, his eyes had become dilated, and they'd stayed that way. And he'd certainly been trying to manipulate her feelings. Hopefully, that desperate impulse to get her had continued after she and Eric flew away. If it had, then Bill would have immediately left the hospital to try to pursue them; he wouldn't have taken the time to stop and question her friends and her brother.

Second, she'd been counting on her loved ones' ignorance. Even if Bill had questioned them, they knew nothing that could endanger themselves or Eric. All they knew was that Eric had told her about Bill's duplicity and had asked to speak with her in private for a few minutes. She knew that at least Alcide and Tara would assume that Eric had taken her from the hospital against her will. Hell—they might even try to help Bill find her! But she didn't think Bill would hurt them. Manipulate? Hell yes. Glamour? Probably. Hurt? No. Sookie had come to realize during her drive that Bill truly believed that he was acting in her best interests, and harming her friends and brother would not fit into the "narrative" that he had created for himself—and for them as a "couple."

Third—frankly—she'd counted on her loved ones following their usual tendancies. If Sookie knew anything about Tara, she knew that following a blow-up such as the one she'd had before she stormed out of Sookie's room, her friend would not be sticking around the hospital. And Sookie also understood Tara's self-preservation instincts. Hearing that Franklin Mott was alive would have spurred Tara to get out of the area. She also knew that the compassionate nature of Lafayette would have likely compelled him to try to talk to Tara before she left the hospital. Sookie just hoped that he'd not come back to her room until Bill was long gone. Sookie was also counting on Alcide's nature. As a Were, Alcide would have been able to smell Bill, and since Jason had been with Alcide, they could have kept themselves out of the vampire's path.

Unless they'd purposely confronted him.

"Please, God," she begged as she squeezed her eyes shut even harder, "just let them all be okay. Please don't let me have hurt them again. I can accept them all hating me for leaving or blaming me for letting myself get taken by Eric. But, please, don't make them have to suffer because of me anymore." She felt a hot tear rolling down her cheek as she continued, "I'm sorry, Gran. I'm sorry that you got killed because I let myself fall in love with someone who was only manipulating me. I should have known that he couldn't truly love me. I'm sorry that Tara's in danger from Franklin Mott because he found her while he was looking for me. I'm sorry that Jason's gonna be followed because of me. They're all in danger because of me," she sobbed as more tears created watery trails down her cheeks.

Sookie shook her head and opened her eyes before roughly pushing her tears away. Honestly, she couldn't understand why Eric would want her with him at all.

"Mom, you were right," she said to the empty kitchen. "I am defective. And it would have been better if I'd never been born," she added, repeating the thoughts that she'd heard from her mother's head so many times when she'd been a child.

Sookie took a deep breath. She knew that self-pity would get her nowhere, and the ten minutes she'd gotten lost in it were already indulgent enough on her part. After all—as her mother always told her when the pain of hearing all the thoughts around her would make Sookie cry—"feeling sorry for oneself was just plain selfish." So Sookie forced her mind to move away from the mistakes that she'd made—the mistake that she was.

The ability to do just that had been how she'd survived with her telepathy without going as crazy as the people of Bon Temps already thought she was. Yes—instead of crying over spilt milk, she'd always tried to be useful. She'd striven to help Gran in every way possible after the matriarch had taken her and Jason in. She'd tried to be a good friend and a good waitress. She'd tried to be a good sister.

Now she hoped that she might be able to do something beneficial for Eric. After all, being an "asset" was better than being a "freak" or a "blood slave." She took another deep breath. No matter what had happened in the past, she was determined to help the vampire who was helping her get free of her blood tie with Bill. She was determined not to repeat past mistakes. And she was determined not to hurt anyone else she cared about—even if that meant never seeing them again.

Sookie realized that she could no longer afford to be naïve about the lengths to which a vampire would go in order to control her telepathy. Manipulation and seduction? Check. Coercion and imprisonment? Check. Kidnapping and torturing those she loved to make her comply. Check. Check.

After her discussion with Eric and what she felt Bill trying to do in her blood the night before, Sookie had a lot more questions, but very few illusions. She hoped that Eric would eventually tell her what it was that was so special about her blood and why sparks could fly from her hands, but she wasn't going to hold her breath. If their interactions had taught her anything, it was that Eric had his own timetable, and it was not necessarily the one she would have chosen.

Sookie sighed and looked around the kitchen of what would be her home until she healed from the severing spell. She shivered at the thought of that unknown spell—of being under the influence of a witch's spell at all—but she set those thoughts aside, knowing that the risks were worth it. She had to break the blood tie with Bill; it was her only chance to be free.

Eric had told her not to leave the house, but apparently he'd arranged for what she would need. She shook her head, once more confused by the vampire. What was he? Her friend? Her protector? Her partner in trying to survive? Or maybe he'd prove to be the biggest manipulator of them all—the best liar?

She couldn't be sure about anything at the moment. Her emotions were just too raw.

What she did know was that when Eric arranged for something, he went all out. The kitchen was fully stocked, and since she'd only had a granola bar that morning, she quickly grabbed what she needed to make herself an omelet. There were also potatoes, so she made some hash browns as well. She smiled a little; hash browns was a dish that Gran had always made for her when she was brooding about something. And, to Sookie, it seemed quite appropriate to indulge in comfort food at the moment.

The refrigerator also held several kinds of juices, and Sookie chose the cranberry. She thought briefly about making herself some coffee, but the vampire blood and her thoughts would likely make sleep hard enough to come by as it was, and one thing that Eric did tell her to do before he got into his hidey-hole in the car was to try to get some sleep. He said that it would be a long night and that she should store up as much strength as she could before the severing spell was carried out the next day.

He'd also told her that if she slept during the day, then her dreams of him would likely not be as intense as before, but Sookie wasn't so sure. She'd taken quite a bit of his blood, and even though it was day time, she was well aware of the feelings that dreams about Eric Northman were capable of eliciting in her. After all, she'd had both of her dreams about Eric when it had been daytime, and they'd both been extremely emotional for her. But he had promised not to purposely influence his blood to make her dream. Apparently, however, the blood could have a "mind of its own" sometimes—whatever that meant.

She scoffed out loud.

Of course, Eric could do nothing to stop Bill from trying to make her dream. But, according to Eric, Bill wouldn't be able to send a powerful dream since he would be sleeping. So, if anything, it would be an "echo" of what he'd sent before he went to sleep for the day. She just hoped that Eric's blood inside of her—operating with a "mind of its own"—could counteract Bill's.

Sookie sighed. She was tired of dreaming.

Because of her telepathy, she'd always had trouble sleeping, and she'd always had troubling dreams based on the thoughts of others. Her mother's bitterness, her father's weariness, her brother's resentment, her gran's worry. The matters preying on the minds of the people of Bon Temps. Her uncle's plans for her. Her fears of dying alone—of never finding love.

Yes—it was safe to say that she'd been "over" dreaming even before vampires entered her life and began to manipulate her dreams.

Sookie sighed for what seemed like the millionth time since she'd woken up in the hospital. She didn't really understand everything about the dreams vampires could send, and she hated to be uninformed, but for now, she would do what Eric advised and try to sleep. Or—at the very least—she would lie down and try to rest.

Once she'd washed her dirty dishes, Sookie made her way upstairs to what seemed to be the master bedroom. On the bed were several shopping bags that contained some women's clothing and a few hygiene products. The first bag contained jeans in several sizes, ranging from a 4 to an 8. Putting them up against her body, Sookie figured that the size 6 would fit best and that the 8, though a little roomy, would be good for when she had to spend a lot of hours driving. The 4, however, would likely not even fit over her thighs. She refolded those neatly and put them on the chair before looking in another bag. In it, she found some underwear—modest white bikini panties in a size medium and a couple of bras, also in a modest, though comfortable, style. She grabbed the bra that matched her chest size. There were also socks, T-shirts, and a gray hoodie, as well as sweatpants. She opted for comfort and took the sweatpants and a T-shirt, along with the hygiene products, into the en-suite bathroom.

Feeling a little tired because of her large breakfast/lunch, Sookie took a shower and washed her hair in record time. After brushing her teeth and hair, she made one last pit stop to take care of her human needs and then climbed into the bed, happy to find it soft and warm.

Despite her earlier fears of being kept awake by her swirling thoughts, sleep found her quickly.

Sookie shivered as she took in the façade of Fantasia. The bar looked deserted, though it was clearly night time. She was surprised when she saw no one at the door. Usually there was a long line of fangbangers waiting to get inside. And Pam was almost always to be found overseeing that line. Eric's progeny seemed to enjoy cataloging the fangbangers as if they were cattle and scaring them as if they were sheep.

Despite the fact that the hair was standing up on the back of her neck, Sookie walked through the red door of Fangtasia. For some reason, she didn't want to go in, but her legs weren't really following her mind's directions at the moment, so in she walked.

The interior of the club seemed just as deserted as the exterior as Sookie walked toward the throne as if she were being pulled to it. The eeriness of the scene made her suddenly wish that she was not alone—that the individual who usually sat on the throne would appear. Even though the Viking vampire frustrated and annoyed her much of the time, having him there would have made her feel better—maybe even safer.

"So—you believe that I can make you safer?" came a voice from behind her.

Sookie whirled around to see Eric there, sitting on a throne that was the mirror image of the one she'd just been looking at. He was dressed in the same clothing he'd been wearing the first night she'd seen him at Fangtasia. She looked down and saw that she was in the dress she'd been wearing that night too.

"Do you really think that you are safer with me?" Eric asked, his voice laced with disbelief.

"You said you would—keep me safe," Sookie answered almost breathlessly. His sudden presence had startled and comforted her at the same time, and she was having a hard time reconciling the two emotions.

"I do not remember promising such a thing," the Viking said contemplatively. "And—anyway—I don't make promises that are impossible to keep."

"Sookie," came another familiar voice from behind her. The sound of it made her stomach drop, even as her heart began to beat wildly.

"Come to me, Sookie," the voice whispered.

Afraid to turn around and face the owner of the voice, Sookie kept her eyes fixed on Eric; her own were pleading. "Help me," she gasped.

"You cannot trust Eric," the voice said. "Now—come to me!"

Unable to control the movements of her own body, Sookie felt compelled to turn around and face Bill. He was sitting on Eric's throne and dressed about as nonthreateningly as a kindergarten teacher. He wore khaki slacks and a light blue polo shirt.

"I love you, Sookie," Bill said with a smile on his lips. She couldn't tell if the expression was sincere or sinister. Somehow it seemed to be both at the same time.

"If you asked it of me, I would kill him," Eric said from behind her. "Other than that, I can be of no help to you, Miss Stackhouse."

"Did you hear him?" Bill said in a smooth, seductive tone. "He is threatening my life. And he will kill me if you don't stop him, darling."

From nowhere, Sookie felt a sudden jolt of fear—panic. And, even in the next second, she felt as if she were drowning in fear. She tried to calm herself with a deep breath, but she found that she could not catch one.

"Please save me, Sookie," Bill said with desperation in his eyes. "If you do not come to me, Russell will kill me!"

Suddenly, Bill's shirt disappeared and silver chains wrapped themselves around his arms and chest, securing him to the throne. His skin sizzled.

"Sookie," Bill pleaded, "if you don't come to me, Russell is going to torture me—even worse than Lorena did! Please—I love you. Come to me."

Sookie flashed to the memory of what Bill had looked like after Lorena had finished with him and tried to rush over to him. However, her feet would not move her.

"Bill!" Sookie cried out. "I can't get to you!"

"He is stopping you," Bill said, gesturing over her shoulder toward Eric.

"Yes I am," confirmed the Viking's voice from behind her.

"Eric, I have to get to Bill!" Sookie screamed. "I have to go to him or he'll die! I'll die!"

Sookie was shaking with her fear now. Her whole body was fighting against whatever power was holding her in place. She had to get to Bill! Everything in her told her she had to free him!

"You will not die, Sookie," Eric said from behind her. "Nor will he die. Think, little one. Think."

Sookie registered Eric's words, but shook her head. She had no idea what Eric could want her to think about! In fact, all she could think about in that moment was saving Bill. She loved him! She loved him so desperately that it physically hurt her. The pain that he was feeling from the silver physically hurt her.

"That's it, darling," Bill said. "Fight Eric's hold on you. He is manipulating you. He wants you for himself. Please come to me, Sookie. Save me and we can be happy together. Russell will free me once you have come, and he has promised to let us live together in freedom. We can get married, darling. We can go to Vermont tonight and do what we should have done weeks ago. We will be safe, Sookie. I promise."

"I do not make promises that are impossible to keep," Eric said from behind her, repeating the words he'd used earlier.

Sookie continued to struggle. "Let. Me. Go!" she yelled. "Eric, please, I have to get to Bill! I can save him!"

"I cannot hold you for much longer, Sookie," Eric said quietly from behind her. "As I promised, I did not send you a dream before I fell to my sleep."

"This isn't a dream!" Sookie yelled. "This is Bill's life!"

Eric sighed behind her. "It is a dream, little one."

"If you aren't trying to manipulate me, then why can't I get to Bill?" Sookie asked venomously as she looked at Eric over her shoulder.

"My blood is holding you," the Viking said.

"You lied to me then!" she yelled.

"No," he said calmly. "Think, Sookie. I told you that my blood could have a mind of its own. It is here to try to stop Bill's blood from influencing you, but it cannot hold you for long—not against the strength of what was sent by him."

"I don't believe you! Not about anything!" she bit out as she sank to her knees and turned back toward Bill.

"That's right, darling," Bill said. "Fight him! Show him that our love for each other is stronger than his attempts to manipulate you. Remember how he tricked you into taking his blood in Dallas. He did it again last night. I was coming to save you, Sookie. I love you!"

"Bill," she wheezed, trying to crawl to him now. Her fear seemed like a living being in her body.

"Fight him," Eric said from behind her.

"Yes, fight him," Bill responded. "Focus on our love and you will be free of him! Put aside all the lies that Eric has told you about me and come to me. If you don't, Russell will kill me! Sookie," he added in agony, "the silver burns so badly. Please help me."

"What about the file Russell had?" Sookie whispered, though questioning Bill seemed both to cause her physical pain and to ratchet up her fear.

"I did not collect the information in that file, Sookie. Eric was lying to you, trying to turn you against me," Bill insisted. "Sookie, it hurts!" he cried out as smoke rose from his body. "Your accusations hurt me!"

"The queen?" Sookie asked.

"I do not know what Eric has said to you, but he is a master of lies. He is trying to use his blood inside of you in order to keep you from me, Sookie. Only you can save me, but only if you fight his influence!"

Sookie turned toward Eric. "Bill's right! Why should I believe anything you've told me? Why did I listen to you? Bill loves me! Russell kidnapped him and then Lorena tortured him! And you probably gave Russell that file on me! You had Bill's handwriting copied! You made up that story about the queen! It was all you! I hate you!"

"Kill him, Sookie. Kill him, and save me," Bill said venomously.

Suddenly, Sookie felt something in her hand. She looked down and saw that it was a stake. The wood was rough against her palm.

"If you do this, he will have you, Sookie," Eric said evenly from behind her. "Think, Sookie. Think for yourself!"

"I am thinking for myself," Sookie yelled as she found that she was able to move as long as she was moving toward Eric.

"Don't, Sookie," Eric said.

"I have to!" Sookie yelled as she propelled herself toward Eric.

The stake poised a mere inch from his heart, he caught her hand. "Think, Sookie."

"I have to save Bill," she said. "And to do that, I have to kill you."

"What will become of you if you save him?" Eric asked.

"We'll be happy. We'll go back to how things were before."

"There are no paths for you that will lead to the beginning," Eric said enigmatically.

"Shut up!" she yelled. "Shut up and let me kill you!"

"Let you?" Eric asked, as a little smile ghosted to his lips. "I have already let you do too much to me, and yet you ask for more."

"Only one thing more," Sookie cried with murder in her eyes.

"My blood cannot deny you, Sookie Stackhouse." His smile stayed on his lips, but it left his eyes. "And as I have told you, it is all about the blood for a vampire."

With that, his hand released hers and she thrust the stake into his chest—into his heart—but instead of being covered with his gore, Sookie landed with a thud onto the throne. Eric was simply gone.

"Good girl," Sookie heard Bill say from behind her.

His voice shook her from the shock of killing Eric as well as the surprise of the Viking's disappearance.

"Bill!" Sookie yelled as she finally was able to run to her beloved's side. "I'm so sorry for doubting you!"

"It was not your fault, my love," Bill comforted.

Sookie yanked at Bill's chains, but she could not free him.

"Why can't I get these off of you?" she asked.

"You have to find me, Sookie. You must come to me. I can no longer feel you because of Eric's blood in you, but we can make things right. All you have to do is come to me, Sookie."

"I will," she promised, even as she began to weep. "But I'm so scared! What if I'm too late to save you?"

"Just hurry, and you won't be," Bill said in a smooth voice. "But first—let me feed from you, Sookie. Let me feed so that I am strong enough to survive until you come."

Immediately, Sookie climbed onto Bill's lap and tilted her head so that her neck was next to his face. His fangs clicked into place, and for a moment she was back in that van, feeling all the fear that she had felt then as he bit into her flesh.

Bill fed deeply, yet she didn't feel like she was being physically weakened. She just felt more and more afraid.

"Bill," Sookie whimpered. "Please. Stop."

Bill pulled back and licked his lips. "I am sorry, my love. I am just so frail because of the silver. Let me feed you now. Let me take away your fear," he said seductively.

Suddenly, his bloody wrist was before her, and Sookie drank. She no longer had the capability to ask how his hand got free so that he could give her blood. She didn't question anything in that moment. She just drank.

"Come to me, Sookie," Bill said as he pulled his wrist away. "Let nothing stop you."

Sookie jolted from her sleep with a mixture of fear and anger in her heart. Eric had tricked her again! And Bill was in grave danger—all because she had let Eric's blood manipulate her!

She scrambled to her feet and then ran downstairs, her feet clad only in socks. In her hurry, she skidded on the tile floor of the kitchen as she tried to stop and grab the keys from the counter. Her forehead hit the countertop as she fell down, and she skinned both her knees on the hard floor. But she didn't let those wounds stop her. Instead, she eyed the kitchen stool that had toppled over with her—the wooden kitchen stool. With a strength that she was sure came from Eric Northman's treacherous blood, she broke the stool and collected one of its wooden legs before grabbing the keys.

She then ran to the garage and to the car where Eric was sleeping. Immediately, she regretted not knowing how to open his hidey-hole, and her fingers gripped the makeshift stake tightly. She wished nothing more than to push it through Eric's dead heart in that moment. Promising herself that she would kill the Viking at sunset, she got into the car and started it, even as she impatiently punched the button of the garage door opener.

Her fear once more increased as she thought of Bill hurting under silver chains. As soon as the door was half opened, she put the car in reverse and quickly pulled out the garage. Then she found her way out of the neighborhood and finally to the highway that would take her to Bill.

"I'm coming, Bill. I'm coming, Bill. I'm coming, Bill. I'm coming, Bill," she chanted over and over and over to herself—as if in a trance —as she sped toward the man she loved.

She said it so many times that her voice became strained and squeaky. But she kept right on saying it nonetheless.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14: Blood Knight

"A true knight is fuller of bravery in the midst, than in the beginning of danger."—Sir Philip Sidney

Eric was an old vampire, and—as such—he had the ability to wake up before the sun set, especially if he sensed danger. But it wasn't danger that woke him—at least not in a traditional sense. It was the feeling that Sookie Stackhouse was once again near death!

Her suffering pulled him harshly from his rest. He quickly gauged that it was a little more than one hour before sundown, and Sookie's heart was beating erratically—so much so that he feared she was close to cardiac arrest.

Eric quickly did an assessment of his location. As expected, he was still in his resting place within his car; however, the car was moving. Sookie should have made it to Slidell only a few hours after sunrise. But the car was traveling north at a high rate of speed.

Something was very wrong.

The Viking turned his attention back to the woman driving the car. He closed his eyes and asked his blood to fully evaluate her condition. Sookie was petrified—literally shaking with fear—and her hormone levels were incredibly high. Her adrenaline was off the charts. Her heart rate was like that of someone who had just run a marathon. Her blood pressure was dangerously high. She was literally on the jagged edge of insanity.

And she smelled of blood—though not much. She'd been physically wounded.

If his blood had not been inside of her, Eric's first impulse would have been to suspect that Sookie had made the irrational decision to run back to Bill Compton. However, he did know better. The Sookie he was sensing was not really "Sookie" at all—not by a longshot! She was a ball of fear—the kind of terror that could paralyze even the bravest of men. But she had not been paralyzed by it. Instead, her fear was compelling her into action.

"Bill?" Eric muttered to himself, half in anger and half in question. Only one thing that Eric knew about could have caused Sookie's intense and life-threatening reaction: a woven dream. Eric shook his head in disbelief. He was a thousand years old, yet he was unable to weave dreams. In fact, he had never heard of a vampire younger than 1,300 or so developing the ability. Hell—he'd not even known that woven dreams existed until a few hundred years before!

But it was obvious to him that Sookie was ensnared in a woven dream—a dream which had started while she slept and now continuing as a kind of waking nightmare. She was powerless to fight against it. She was just as trapped in it as he was in his enclosure.

It was as if she were sleepwalking; her eyes were open and she seemed conscious, yet her unconscious mind was controlling her every movement. And Bill's blood was in control of that.

"Fuck!" he yelled as he pounded the top of his enclosure with his fist. "I was the one who told her to sleep!" he chastised himself.

Eric quickly put aside his shock and his anger. The fact was clear: Bill was capable of producing woven dreams. Either that, or an ancient vampire like Russell had somehow gotten blood into Sookie after dawn, but Eric could smell no evidence of that having occurred, nor could his blood sense the presence of any new blood inside of her.

What it could sense was Bill's blood, extremely active and currently surrounding the centers where fear was produced in Sookie's body.

The Viking didn't know a lot about dream-weaving; what he did know was from what Godric had told him once Eric reached what ancient vampires called the "age of knowledge," which occurred when a vampire turned 800 years un-dead. Generally speaking, the most well-guarded secrets about vampire-kind were kept from younglings, who might misuse the information or create messes by trying to develop abilities they couldn't yet control. The knowledge of woven dreams had been one of those secrets that Eric had learned about from Godric just a couple hundred years before.

Eric knew that only two things could "wake" up a human once a woven dream was controlling him or her.

The first was the vampire who had sent the dream. The vampire—upon his own waking—would immediately feel it if his human prey was caught in a woven dream. At that point, the vampire could either release the human or keep the human enthralled in his grasp.

Competing magic could also pull someone from a woven dream—though magic could not prevent such a dream. However, from what Eric knew―which was admittedly not everything—pulling a human from a woven dream was a very tricky operation. But it was all he could think of.

Quickly, the Viking pulled out his phone and dialed Octavia's number. He knew that Sookie's ears would not be able to pick up his conversation. In fact, he could have yelled at the top of his dead lungs, and she wouldn't have been able to hear him, but it wouldn't have mattered anyway. She was imprisoned in her dream and chanting a single phrase again and again. "I'm coming, Bill. I'm coming, Bill. I'm coming, Bill."

Eric was thankful when Octavia answered on the second ring.

"I am listening," she answered. Part Creole and part Jamaican, as well as part demon, Octavia had an accent all her own.

"It is Eric," he said.

"I know who dis is," she cackled.

"Is the line secure?" the vampire asked.

"As surely as the sun is still in dee sky, Viking. It tis early—even for you."

"I know," Eric said. "But the human I told you of—the one you are to do the severing spell on tomorrow morning—is currently in the midst of a woven dream and is driving me closer and closer by the second to the three-thousand-year-old vampire who wants to kill me!"

Octavia chuckled a little. "You are in a bit of a spot den, vampire. What did your maker once call you? A magnet for trouble?"

Eric ignored her remarks. "When the sun comes up, I intend to secure the human, turn us around, and bring her to you," he informed. "Can you stop the dream?"

"How far are you from New Orleans?" Octavia asked.

Eric closed his eyes. "When the sun sets, I will be approximately two hours and thirty minutes away by car and fifty minutes away by flight."

"Too long," Octavia said. "I could not stop dee dream before it killed her. If you prevent her from continuing in dee direction of her destination, den you will be signing her death warrant yourself, vampire. Dee distress of going against dee flow of dee dream would cause her heart to stop within ten minutes—and dat is if she is strong. Some are killed immediately when dey are stopped from answering the compulsion of such a dream."

"Fuck!" Eric shouted, his voice echoing in his chamber. In that moment, he felt his dead heart wrenching. He knew that at sundown, he'd still be plenty far away from Shreveport—and from Russell. He could simply pop open the hatchback and fly out, leaving Sookie to her fate. But the thought of that was unacceptable to him. There had to be another way!

"Unacceptable, witch! I need you to stop Sookie's dream!" he yelled.

"And will yelling at me help dee human?" Octavia asked facetiously. "No I tink not," she answered her own question.

She sighed and her tone became more compassionate. "You could take the chance that dee vampire sending dee dream would end it. If you altered her course away from her destination after sunset, dee vampire would feel her distress. He could stop dee dream before she was killed. The trauma to the human would be great, but I could mend her—perhaps—though her mind might never be dee same."

"And if the vampire didn't stop the dream?" Eric asked, his jaw so tight that he felt it might crack apart.

"As I said, she would die."

"What if you drove toward our position and we met you?" Eric asked hopefully.

"'Twould take me till sunset to gather my materials for the spell as it tis," Octavia said. "'Twould not be enough time, even then. I am sorry, vampire, but I cannot unweave dis dream for you."

Eric sighed and mused aloud. "I cannot trust Compton not to kill Sookie. I should have ended him last night!" he added angrily.

"Yes—one such as he who sent dis dream ought to be put down," Octavia agreed harshly.

"I will have to leave her," Eric said, almost choking out his words. "If I could be sure that Bill was alone, I would stay and kill him. But I cannot be sure. And, if Russell is with Bill, it will be worse for her if I stay."

"You could kill her," Octavia said, "and prevent your great enemy from having her."

"No," Eric said in barely a whisper. "That I could not do, nor can I be the cause of her death by preventing her from obeying the dream." He sighed heavily, the sound raspy to his ears. "At sunset, I will remove myself from my resting place and," he paused, "let her go."

"Dee thought of dat saddens you," Octavia observed.

"She is an asset," Eric responded, even as he flattened his palm against the top of his enclosure. He feared that his hand—now less than a foot from where she sat—was the closest he'd ever be to Sookie Stackhouse again.

"Of course—just an asset. 'Tis obvious." Octavia chuckled.

"Why do you laugh?" Eric asked bitterly.

She ignored his question and asked one of her own. "Your blood is in her—is it not?"

"Yes," Eric answered.

"A lot of your blood—correct?"

"Yes."

"An older vampire's blood has powerful magic," Octavia observed. "You may be able to use it to take the human out of her dream. 'Twould be dangerous, but it tis her only chance."

"I haven't given many humans my blood," Eric countered. "Thus, I have very little practice with manipulating my blood in a human," he added, even as his mind flashed to the previous night when he'd been able to move his blood to heal Sookie's most pressing injuries first.

"Tsk," Octavia sounded. "You are over a thousand years old, Viking. And Godric was your maker. And Klymene was his. Your blood is powerful enough. You need only make it act as you wish. The question is dis: Would your human feel that the risk was worth taking?"

"She is not mine," Eric said softly—almost with regret. "She belongs to no one," he added fervently.

There was a smile in Octavia's voice. "Is dat what you believe, vampire? Or is dat what dee girl believes?"

"Both," Eric answered immediately, surprising himself a bit with both his response and its fervor.

"Den she would tell you dat the risk was worth it. She would not want to go to dee one who had woven such a dream. Only a monster would do such a ting."

Eric nodded, even though he knew that Octavia couldn't see him. "How do I do it?"

"Carefully," Octavia chuckled, but then grew serious. "Use your blood to track down dee parts of her that his blood is controlling. What is dee emotion dat is ruling her?" she asked.

"Fear—no terror," Eric clarified.

"So dee dream weaver truly is a monster," Octavia said judgmentally.

"I had no idea he would go to these lengths," Eric said. He gasped.

"What tis it?" Octavia asked.

"Sookie's arrhythmias are worsening. I fear for her heart," he said—that fear clear in his tone.

"Den you must fight for dat heart."

"How?" Eric demanded desperately.

"How do you stop fear, Eric?" Octavia asked.

"You alleviate it—with reason and control," the vampire responded.

"And comfort," she added. "Comfort most of all."

"Yes," he agreed, "comfort."

"And you wish to comfort dis girl?" the witch asked. "You must wish it—wish it more dan anyt'ing—or dee magic in your blood will not work."

"I wish it," he said quietly.

"Den you may yet be able to help her, but her fear must be comforted away a little at a time. Do not try to go too fast, or dee human will go into shock. Use your blood as a slow salve to dee fire of her pain. Sneak up on dee other vampire's blood. Surround dee woven dream. But smother it slowly so dat it does not think to defend itself until it tis too late."

"How will I know if it is working," he asked.

"Her fear will dissipate slowly until dee dream is almost slain. In the end, dee remnants of dee dream will become aware of dee attack, and in its desperation, dee other vampire's blood will try to re-stoke dee fires of her fear. In dat moment, use everything dat is in you—all of dee care dat you have for dis girl—to douse dee flames."

"What if I do not succeed before the sun sets?" Eric asked nervously.

"Begin now. If you have not pulled her from dee dream by sunset, dee other vampire will be able to fight back. And—if you do not stop your actions den, dee girl will die. She will be torn apart." With those words, the line went dead.

Eric wasted no time; he immediately activated his blood in Sookie's body to seek out everything that Bill's dream was controlling. As Octavia advised, he kept his blood from engaging with Bill's at first. He simply surrounded the other vampire's blood as it worked to keep up its influence on Sookie's hormones and nerves.

Bill's blood was almost robotic in its movements, stimulating Sookie's fears over and over again without reprieve or pause—without mercy. Eric had never imagined a vampire's blood could be so single-minded about causing the kind of damage and pain that Bill's currently was.

Eric might have been impressed by the younger vampire's cruelty if Bill had been torturing his worst enemy. However, Bill supposedly loved Sookie, and the Viking couldn't fathom how a vampire—or any other type of being—could do such a thing to someone he or she cared for.

Once Eric had all of Bill's malevolent blood surrounded, he allowed a fraction of his own blood to slowly begin to calm Sookie's frayed nerves. To provoke fear in a human was relatively easy in a metabolic sense. However, alleviating fear was more difficult.

Eric listened carefully to Sookie's heart rate—which was still dangerously rapid and erratic. He prayed to Freya that it would calm—just a little—to show him that his efforts were working.

From what Eric could tell, Sookie was experiencing a repeating cycle of fear, as if she were a nightmare-riddled sleepwalker who could not be woken up. Thankfully, Sookie was young and strong, and her fairy DNA would help her body to survive—or, at least, he hoped that it would.

"Stay with me, Sookie," Eric pled. "Just a little longer. I'm coming. You are not alone in there."

The Viking shook his head angrily, wishing desperately that he had told Sookie to stay awake, lest Bill try to influence her with a dream. However, he'd never even fathomed the possibility that Bill could weave dreams. Any vampire with a tie could send a dream, but so few were dream-weavers. Eric had had no doubts at all that his own blood could cancel out any dreams that Bill did manage to send. The Viking shook his head again. Because of his shortsightedness and his arrogance, he had underestimated Bill Compton. And—worse—he had failed Sookie.

Eric imagined torturing Bill slowly as he gave a little more of his blood permission to soothe Sookie's frazzled emotions by asking her body to produce serotonin. The Viking was not yet sure if what he was doing was having any effect, but he was determined to keep going—and to be patient, as Octavia had cautioned.

"Comfort," he said aloud.

Even as Eric activated a bit more of his blood, he winced as he continued to feel the severity of Sookie's emotions. He heard her voice crack and then break as she continued her chanting above him.

Now that Eric was actively trying to counteract the dream, he sensed its effects—the fear, the terror—even more acutely than before. Just feeling it in Sookie was almost too much for him. He couldn't imagine what Sookie was experiencing. He steeled himself, knowing that he could not allow himself to succumb to his own fear, anger, or despair—not if he was to help Sookie.

He shook his head. He still couldn't believe that Compton was capable of doing what he'd done. Even if Bill had the ability to weave dreams, the Viking couldn't fathom why he'd actually done it—to Sookie!

"How could you?" Eric asked aloud, though the vampire he wanted to be asking was nowhere near him. "How could you do this to her?" he asked again, knowing that even if Bill was there, he could give no answer that would satisfy him.

Eric was heartened as he suddenly felt Sookie calming a little. He listened to her heart; it was still beating rapidly—too rapidly—but the beat was less erratic. He activated a little more of his blood.

"Not too fast," he reminded himself. The Viking closed his eyes. He felt his blood moving in to slowly soothe every single part of Sookie that Bill's dream had taken hold of. He did not, however, try to stifle Bill's blood. Instead he worked to quieten the chemical reactions of Sookie's body—to counteract Bill's magic rather than to destroy it.

Eric smiled a little. Many months before, he had deduced that Sookie was fond of hugs, for he had smelled the scents of many beings clinging to her during their various encounters. Hugging was not something vampires indulged in very often. To do it required an opening of oneself. But it was the act of comfort that Eric imagined as he lay less than a foot away from her. He was so close to her, but he could not hug her body to his. So, instead, he imagined his blood holding her in his stead.

Every piece of himself inside of Sookie found a traumatized piece of her. Trying to take away all of her suffering and pain, every drop of his blood held onto a cell of hers. There was so much fear in her that Eric shook because of it. But he let himself embrace the reaction her fear was causing in him. He let it move his body—move to him. However, instead of succumbing to the fear, he forced himself to face all of the things that had brought him the most terror throughout his thousand years.

The night monster and the wolf-men who had murdered his parents and his baby sister.

His maker meeting the sun.

The threat that he would lose Pam.

The thought of the woman driving him toward Shreveport being gone from his life.

Russell Edgington.

Powerlessness.

Being trapped in a box when he wanted to be holding Sookie Stackhouse.

Failing to protect her.

Not living up to his human father's expectations for him.

Disappointing Godric.

Being completely alone in the world.

Sookie crying.

Eric let his own fears grip his dead heart even as he smelled the tears streaming down Sookie's cheeks. He hated her tears, even as he hated his own fears. He imagined himself wiping away her tears and holding her close—rocking her against his body as his mother had rocked him when he was a young child awakened by nightmares.

Eric sighed. He had truly believed that his mother was magic—a handmaiden to the goddess Freya. In his mother's embrace and listening to her comforting voice singing to him, every single one of Eric's fears from his nightmares had been obliterated. The Viking imagined his blood singing to Sookie, robbing her nightmares of their power. And then he noticed that he really was singing—a long-forgotten lullaby.

He closed his eyes and could feel Bill's dream steadily losing its power as his own blood continued to offer Sookie comfort from her fear. Eric was poised, waiting for the moment Octavia had told him about—waiting to drown Sookie in his care for her. But so far, Bill's blood did not seem to notice his interference.

In that moment, Eric's ears picked up the unmistakable siren of a police cruiser, followed quickly by Sookie's desperate cursing before he felt the car slow down and then pull over to the side of the road. Eric sighed. He was happy that they'd stopped, but it was still ten minutes before sunset. And the policeman might make even more trouble for them by interfering with the process that was ongoing in Sookie's body.

Still, the vampire was buoyed. He knew that Sookie would have never pulled over during the height of her trance; in fact, her pulling over meant that she had regained some control.

Eric used his blood to stimulate a little more serotonin in her. Police officer or not, they could afford no delay in getting rid of the dream Bill had woven. The younger vampire would be awake in less than nine minutes.

Eric moved his blood to fully encase Sookie's adrenal glands. Then he moved other parts of himself to enclose Sookie's thyroid glands, which Bill had been affecting almost to the point of causing Sookie to hyperventilate only a half hour before. Eric prayed to Freya that his blood would communicate to Sookie that she was safe now—or, at least, as safe as he could make her on the open highway less than two hundred miles from Shreveport.

Eric heard Sookie gasp in pain. And then suddenly Bill's blood was fighting back. Eric's eyes were already tightly closed in concentration, but he felt his whole body contract and twist as he empowered his blood to wrap itself protectively around all of the parts of Sookie that Bill had attacked. And then—in a flash—Eric turned his blood around to attack Bill's. Like a tidal wave of water dashing over a flame, Eric's blood collided with Bill's. Having never experienced such a battle before, Eric tensed even more. A sword—he had used in war. His fangs—he had used. His bare hands—he had used. Now he had only his blood cells—and his will.

And then—almost as soon as it had started—the battle was won. Bill's influence was gone and the younger vampire's blood retreated powerlessly. The woven dream was no more.

Eric uncoiled his body slowly, even as he heard Sookie softly crying in the driver's seat. He could feel her confusion and her shame. He could feel her utter exhaustion, but at least her vital signs were returning to normal. He could feel her sorrow. He could even feel a little anger coming from her—and that feeling, he relished. But he did not feel her fear. He sighed with relief. Sookie had passed a test that no human should have had to pass.

And she was still whole.

He sent some of his blood to Sookie's now-scarred aorta. It had been literally pounded during her dream. Thankfully, his blood inside of her still had some ability to heal. He tasked it to smooth the walls of Sookie's aorta and then ordered it to track through her blood vessels, looking for other damage.

Eric's work was interrupted by the gruff voice of a highway patrolman. "License and registration, please."

"Um," Sookie stammered as she noisily opened the glove compartment. Eric knew that it was empty.

"License and registration, please!" the patrolman repeated, louder this time.

"Sorry," Sookie said. "It must be in my bag." Eric heard her unzip and then fumble around in the duffle bag on top of the passenger's seat.

"Where're you goin' so fast this evenin'?" the officer asked, his tone now suspicious.

"Uh―my boyfriend's sick," Sookie responded, even as her voice quivered from fatigue and nervousness. "This is his car actually, and I'm going to Shreveport to be with him." She paused. "I—uh—I was upset, and I must have forgotten my purse at home. I think my license is in there, and since this is my boyfriend's car, I'm not sure where the registration is."

"Step out of the car, Miss," the officer ordered sharply.

Sookie continued to rifle through the bag.

"I said," the man growled loudly, "step out of the car! And take your hands from your bag. Slowly. Right. Now!"

Eric heard the tell-tale sound of the policeman unsnapping his revolver from his holster and then cocking his gun. And then he heard Sookie's sharp intake of breath.

Sookie's fear was back. Thankfully—this time—it wasn't from Bill. And—even better—it was joined by determination and the feeling that Eric felt from Sookie whenever she was trying to come up with a plan.

"That's it, my little trouble magnet," Eric said with a smirk. "I will be with you soon." He chuckled. "Just don't get shot before then."

Chapter Text

Chapter 15: Beat Up

There were only three minutes until sunset, so Eric entered the code to unlock his enclosure. If need be, he could exit its confines up to a minute before sunset and still be functional. He awkwardly chugged down a bottle of TrueBlood which he'd put into his travel container in case of emergency.

Meanwhile, Sookie had gotten out of the car and was being patted down by the patrolman. The thought of another's hands on her body—especially given what she'd been through during the past two days—made Eric's blood boil. But he held his place.

It was just under two minutes to sunset.

"What's this?" the officer asked as his voice became more aggressive.

"A—uh—a stake," Sookie stammered.

"Why would a pretty little lady like you be carryin' a stake?" the officer asked. "And what happened to your head? Did that boyfriend you're so anxious to get to do this to you?"

Eric closed his eyes, knowing very well why Sookie had the stake. It had been meant for him. In her fear, she would have staked him—without a second thought—if she could have gotten to him. The Viking contemplated for a moment. He had freed Sookie from her dream. If he just let the officer do what he was headed toward doing, Sookie would likely be taken into custody for her suspicious behavior. He, however, could bide his time in his container and then slip away unseen before heading toward his alternative escape route.

He considered that possibility as Sookie stammered out a lame answer to the policeman. In fact, he considered the idea for a good 2.8 seconds before discarding it. In the hands of the human authorities, Sookie would be vulnerable. And it would not take Russell or Bill long to find her.

Stake or no stake, Eric wouldn't let that happen.

Plus, he couldn't really blame Sookie for planning to end him. Being on the receiving end of Bill's woven dream, she'd been stripped of her power—even over her own thoughts. As a vampire, he knew all about losing control of his body because of a maker's command. He also knew about taking control of human minds—through glamour. But there were "rules" that he followed—limits that he'd imposed upon himself. He'd never used glamour to take away a person's "selfhood." And he'd never had his own mind "stolen" from him. Eric had seen and experienced much violence during his thousand years—much blood and much pain—yet he couldn't imagine a worse fate than becoming the puppet of another.

Yes—that stake, along with the woven dream itself, would be added to the growing litany of items for which Eric planned to punish Bill Compton. He smiled at the thought of spending a lot of "quality time" with Bill. He couldn't imagine a kind of torture that would be comparable to the hell that Bill had just put Sookie through, but Eric planned to take years—if need be—to find one that was equivalent.

As soon as the sun was exactly sixty seconds from setting, Eric used his foot to activate the release lever for his enclosure. Immediately, the hatchback flew up and Eric used his gift of flight to propel himself from his box as if he'd been loaded on a spring. In the next moment, he had the patrolman by the scruff of his uniform behind a tree just off the side of the highway. Thankfully, the wooded area and the cloudy sky protected him from most of the effects of the waning sun.

Eric looked deeply into the officer's eyes and immediately had the man under his influence. "Does the camera on your dashboard just record or does it send live pictures somewhere?"

"It just records," the officer responded immediately. "The department can't afford the fancier kind."

"You pulled over the Prius but found nothing suspicious. You let the man who was driving the vehicle off with a warning for speeding when you found out that he was a surgeon and had been called in to perform an emergency surgery. You then felt the call of nature and came over to this tree to take a piss. While here, you smelled something dead, and like the good cop you are, you went to investigate it—didn't you?"

"Yes," the officer said, fully enraptured by the vampire's glamour.

"The odor was from a dead deer," Eric continued.

The highway patrolman nodded.

"In exactly six minutes, you will return to your car and go on with your day—won't you?"

"Yes," the officer answered distantly as Eric released him.

As the vampire left the wooded area, he felt very minor blistering on his skin, but he was already healing, even as his ultimate enemy finally slipped into the horizon. When he returned to the car, Sookie was still standing next to the passenger-side door, which was where the officer had taken her. She had picked up the stake that the patrolman had dropped when Eric had grabbed him. Her hands were shaking.

In fact, her whole body was shaking.

"You had a dream today," the Viking said evenly.

"Yes," Sookie whispered.

"Did you kill me in it?" he asked, a little smirk tugging at his lips.

"Yes," she said even more quietly.

He casually walked toward her and leaned against the car.

"The officer will be back in five minutes, Sookie," Eric said softly. "And you have four options."

"What are they?" she asked, her voice obviously taxed from her hours of continuous chanting.

"You can get into this car and continue heading where you were heading. To Bill—I presume?" he asked.

"Yes. Fangtasia," she said.

"Ah. My own club," Eric answered evenly. "At least Bill knows how to turn the knife when he thrusts it."

"Option two?" she rasped out.

"The same choice you made last night. Bill has used his blood to keep you in something akin to a waking nightmare, but I managed to stop it before sunset. He is awake now, but he can no longer use his blood in the same way since it is night. However, his blood has resumed searching for him—as it did last night—but I believe I am blocking it. Come dawn, you will undergo the severing spell—as planned. And that will prohibit things like," he paused, "today's episode for happening again."

"Option three?"

"You could still run on your own. I'd even let you take the car." Eric sighed. "But I believe that you now understand the influence Bill could have over you. I should have accounted for the possibility that Bill could send you the kind of 'day-dream' he sent. And for that, Sookie, I take responsibility. Apparently, Bill's aptitude for making humans bend to his will is quite strong, and includes not just potent glamouring skills but also dream-weaving." The vampire sighed again. "I was too passive in seeing to your wellbeing."

"And four?" she stammered timidly.

"You can try to kill me with that stake in your hands," Eric said, smirking again.

A tear fell from Sookie's eye as she dropped the stake.

"Eric," she whispered. "I already staked you in a dream today. I don't want to repeat it in reality."

He chuckled, shook his head, and picked up the stake. "I am highly stakeable, so I will not take it personally."

She looked up at him, her large brown eyes watering with tears. "I haven't changed my mind about wanting the severing spell."

"Good."

"Can we go?"

The Viking nodded and opened the car door. Before Sookie could move, he quickly picked her up into his arms and carefully placed her into the seat before buckling her in. He shut the hatch back and then zipped to the patrolman's car. He quickly located and removed the tape from the officer's dash-cam and took an unopened bottle of water that he found in the passenger seat of the patrol car. Then he zipped back to the Prius and got behind the wheel. After opening and then handing the water to Sookie, he turned on the engine, signaled, and pulled smoothly back onto the interstate. A sign indicated that the next exit was in six miles.

The pair in the car was silent as Sookie drank the water to alleviate her sore throat.

Eric took the exit and then turned around and got back on the highway toward Slidell. They were approximately halfway between Slidell and Shreveport, near a little town called Opelousas.

"Your head is bleeding," Eric said after they'd traveled about fifteen minutes.

As if awoken from a daze, Sookie lifted her hand up to her head and felt the wound on her forehead. "I tripped and hit the kitchen counter earlier," she said.

Eric sighed. "My blood is healing it, but head wounds take a bit of work and your adrenaline was too elevated to heal you earlier. Are you feeling dizzy?"

She let out a little sob. "I don't know."

"Do not cry, Sookie. There is no reason to cry now."

"No reason?" she asked as anger rose in her voice. "No reason!"

"No reason. Not now," Eric repeated.

She looked at him with her mouth agape. "How about the fact that the man I thought I loved sent me a dream that freaked me out so badly that I wanted to kill you? How about the fact that I felt compelled to drive at high speeds toward a fate of captivity and pain? Isn't that a reason to fucking cry? I was out of my fucking mind, Eric!"

The vampire didn't answer. Simply put, there wasn't a good answer for her.

"Or how about the fact that, for the last few hours, I haven't even been in control of my own actions?"

Again, the vampire said nothing.

"Or how about the fact that I would have killed the one person who's been trying to help me? The one person who's told me the truth? I would have killed you, Eric! I wanted to kill you!"

Again, there was silence.

"Or how about the fact that my head hurts like hell now that I'm back to myself?"

This time, Eric responded. "Do not worry about that. You probably suffered only a minor concussion. It shows your strength that you were able to navigate the car this far—without passing out."

She glared at him. "What about the fact that my knees are bloody and hurting?"

"Those wounds have already healed, Sookie," he said reasonably.

"And the fact that I cut my foot when I got out of the car a little while ago because I didn't even put on shoes before I left the Slidell house?"

"That cut is also currently healing."

She huffed. The tears were now streaming from her eyes. "What about the fact that I peed in my pants somewhere along the way?"

Eric shrugged. "I admit that you have smelled fresher, little one."

"Fresher?!"

"Indeed. But your reaction is understandable. Bill's influence stimulated your fear, and that often leads to humans not having control over their bodily functions. Plus, Bills' control would not have allowed you to stop until you were almost out of gasoline—or unless stopping would have enabled you to find him more rapidly. So—your incontinence could be construed as my fault."

"What?" Sookie asked confusedly, even as she turned beet red because of the topic of her bladder control—or lack thereof.

"I have a very fuel efficient vehicle, Sookie," he smirked. "But thankfully the seats are leather, and they've also been treated with Scotchguard. So—no permanent damage done."

After a few moments of shock, Sookie started laughing almost uncontrollably.

The vampire joined her.

At the first exit after they turned east onto Interstate 10 from Interstate 49, Eric pulled off the highway and then drove past two well-lit convenient stores before stopping at a small, rundown gas station. He turned so that he was looking Sookie in the eye. "I need you to go in and pay for the gasoline. Can you do that?"

She nodded.

"Good," Eric said. "After you pay, go to the restroom at the side of the building." He gestured toward where he was talking about. "After five minutes, I will knock three times in quick succession."

She nodded again and then took the forty dollars he handed to her.

"Also buy yourself some more water or whatever drink you prefer. And a snack. We will not be back in Slidell for another two hours."

She nodded for a third time.

"Sookie?" he asked.

"Yeah?" she mumbled.

"Just checking," he smirked.

"Checking?" she asked.

"Yes," he grinned. "I wanted to make sure you still had the ability to speak.

She rolled her eyes, and he grinned even wider.

"Sookie?"

She rolled her eyes again. "What?" she demanded.

Appreciating the light that was reappearing in her eyes, he chuckled at her fiery response. "Did you call anyone after you woke up today? While you were trapped under Bill's influence? Did you tell anyone about the safe house or about your plan to do the severing spell?" he asked, his voice even.

"No," she said, shaking her head. "I would have called my brother or Sam or Tara or Lafayette or even Bill's voicemail, but I didn't have a phone," she confessed.

"Okay," he responded. "And you didn't pull over to use a pay phone?"

"No," she answered. "Wait. I would remember if I did—right?"

"Yes," Eric nodded.

"Then—no. Once I was in the car, I didn't make any stops."

"Good," Eric said with something akin to pride in his voice.

"Good?" she asked.

"Good," he affirmed. "I will see you soon, little one," he said softly.

Sookie got out of the car and went into the small convenient store. Thinking of the scene in Harry Potter when Professor Lupin gave Harry chocolate so that he could recover from his encounter with the dementors, she grabbed a package of Ding Dongs. Then she picked up a premade ham and cheese sandwich that looked awful, but would fill her up. Finally, she grabbed a bottle of Gatorade before making her way to the front of the store. She considered getting Eric a TrueBlood, but then thought better of it.

"Will this be all?" the acne-faced teen at the counter asked; he barely looked up from his phone as he operated the cash register.

"And the gas," Sookie responded.

"Pump number?" he asked.

"Uh—whatever one the car out there's at," she answered.

He sighed in frustration and peeled his face from his phone once again so that he could glance outside.

"That's pump three," he said testily, as if reprimanding her.

"Pump three it is then. Thank you," Sookie responded, seeing no reason to forget her own manners simply because the teenager in front of her had obviously been born in a barn. "Do I need a key to get into the bathroom outside?"

The teen sighed and then—as if it were the most cumbersome chore in the world—handed her a small key with a large brick as a key chain.

"Bring it back when you're done and don't try to steal it," he said as she handed him the money to pay for her transaction. The distracted teen shortchanged her by sixteen cents, but she said nothing, instead opting to shake her head and wonder when she had become so freakin' old.

Key/brick in hand, Sookie took her small bag of food and went to the bathroom. Not knowing what else to do, she relieved herself and tried to clean herself up a little. Peeing in her pants had been embarrassing enough, but having Eric know about it was downright humiliating. Just as she was flushing the toilet, she heard three knocks.

She sighed and then opened the door.

Eric quickly entered with his duffel bag in his hands. Without a word, he pulled out another pair of his boxer shorts.

After handing them to her, he turned around and waited as she discarded her own soiled sweatpants and panties for his too-large clothing.

"Okay," she said when she was done.

"Throw them away," Eric said of the garments she'd taken off. He gestured toward the small wastebasket. He then looked at her cautiously before picking her up and placing her onto the small counter. He examined her head wound and then moistened a towel before cleaning it. His expression was an odd mixture of concern and forced detachment.

"Is it okay?" she asked in a whisper.

"Almost healed; the wound is already closed, though there's still a little pinkness," he answered before throwing away the used towel. He repeated his actions with her once-skinned knees before taking off her blood-stained sock and looking at the cut on her foot.

"It was a pretty deep cut," he said. "My saliva would finish healing it."

"Okay," Sookie said, though her voice sounded a bit shaky. Eric bent down and quickly washed her foot with a wetted towel before licking it a few times.

She giggled at the feeling of his tongue on her skin.

"Tickles," she said as he looked up at her in question. Her cheeks were flushed.

"I'll have to remember that," he said with a little smile.

The look of longing in his eyes made her wonder just what he was going to remember.

"What do I taste like?" she asked when she realized that this was the first time Eric had tasted her blood. His face was controlled, but his eyes were burning a bright blue.

"Like every wish I've ever had," he answered enigmatically. His voice was as controlled as his expression, except for a moment—when it caught on the word, "wish." Eric pulled a fresh pair of socks out of the duffel bag and put them onto Sookie's feet.

Finally, he took out the little bottle, which contained the potion that would cover her scent. Again, he rubbed a few drops of it onto her forehead.

That finished, he grabbed her bag of food and put it into the duffel bag before collecting the garbage bag from the wastebasket and tying it.

"Ready?" he asked.

She nodded and went to stand up, but he stopped her. "I will carry you since I have no appropriate footwear."

She would have protested, but she found that she didn't have the energy, so she just nodded again as he picked her up and zipped her back to the car.

"I'm tired," she said wearily when they'd been back on the road for about thirty minutes. She'd already eaten her Ding Dong and had picked at her sandwich as much as she was able.

"Then sleep," he said.

"I'm afraid. What if I dream?" she asked.

"I will stop him, Sookie. Or I will wake you. He cannot send the same kind of dream during the night that you experienced today."

Sookie sighed and then nodded. Before too many more minutes, she was asleep, her head resting against the passenger's side window.

As Eric continued to block Bill's blood, he looked over at the sleeping woman next to him. Her skin was pale and his blood inside of her told him that she was worn-out from the woven dream.

Whether Sookie knew it or not, she had fought against Bill's influence over her. She had fought right alongside of his own blood. Yet he'd felt only shame and sadness from her earlier as he'd seen to her minor wounds. She should have been celebrating the fact that she had resisted contacting her friends and family. She should have been proud that she hadn't called Bill's cell phone and told him where she was in addition to all of their plans. Instead, she was beating herself up for her shortcomings.

She reminded Eric of someone—someone he saw in the mirror every day.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16: Little One

When Sookie woke up, she was in the comfortable bed in Slidell again. It took her a moment to register that she was in the same bed that she'd been in earlier that day. And just like the night before, Eric was across the room as if waiting for her to rise.

"Did you find the clothing satisfactory?" he asked. "I was not sure what sizes I should ask for, so I told Octavia to get a range. I would have requested the sundresses that you seem to love so much, but you will need things that do not stand out—at least for the most part."

Sookie sat up in the bed a little. She noticed that she'd been tucked into the covers. "The clothes were fine," she said a little groggily.

"You did not care for these?" he asked, holding up the size 4 jeans she'd put onto the dresser earlier.

She smiled a little. "Those are a bit too small."

He nodded in understanding. "I'll have you make a list of things you would like, as well as your correct sizes. Octavia has a young understudy who will likely be able to select things more to your style, though you must keep to a conservative wardrobe for now."

"Okay," Sookie agreed.

"I brought you some food," he said, gesturing toward the bedside table.

There was a tray with sliced cheese and bread as well as fruit.

"I cannot cook," he said in order to explain his selections. "When I was a human, foodstuffs were prepared very differently."

"It's okay," she assured, picking up the tray. "This is fine."

She took a small bite of the bread and cheese when he looked at her expectantly.

"Bread did not smell much different when I was a human," he observed. "And we had something similar to those," he added, pointing to the blackberries on the plate."

"That's real interesting, Eric, but don't we need to talk about what happened earlier? The dream?" she asked.

"Only if you still feel like staking me after your blood connection to Bill is severed," he smirked.

She sighed. "Don't be a jackass, Mr. Northman."

"Don't be stubborn, Miss Stackhouse," he returned, his smirk even more prominent.

She rolled her eyes. "Do you want to hear about my dream?"

"The one where you staked me?" he asked, his eyebrow arched. "Absolutely! I always love to hear about how people dream of my demise."

She sighed. "Can you be serious?"

"I am capable," he said—his playful tone finally eliciting a smile from her lips.

"Good," she laughed a little. "So do it! I need you serious for a minute."

"One minute," he agreed with a sparkle in his eyes.

She took a deep breath. "Bill seemed real in my dream, Eric. The things he said, the things he knew, the things he did—it was like he knew what had been going on with this." She gestured between herself and Eric. "With our—uh—partnership. Could he know? Could his blood be telling him? I mean—that's not possible, is it?"

"It is not," Eric answered after he'd taken a moment to consider.

"Then how could he have known all those things in my dream?" she asked. "He knew that you'd told me about the queen sending him. And he seemed to have a prepared explanation about that—as well as for the file Russell showed me."

Eric's expression hardened. "If you want me to respond to the question, 'how,' then you must be ready for the answer."

She shivered a little at his words. "I'm ready."

Eric looked at her through wary eyes. "Fine. But you should shower and eat first," he said, gesturing toward the food. "You can prepare yourself something else if you wish. I will not take offense. Octavia has instructed that you should eat as much as possible before the spell is conducted. I'm sure that you will also want to shower. And now that you are awake, I also have a few things to do; after that, we will speak again."

Sookie sighed. "Why does everything always have to be done according to your timetable?" she asked with frustration.

"Because, Sookie Stackhouse, my goal is to get at least two more meals down you before Octavia comes at five this morning to prepare for the spell, and it is already past one o'clock. Plus," he smirked, "I am particularly fond of my timetable."

Again she couldn't help her smile. She really did want another shower. Wetting oneself was not a pleasant experience—not mentally and not physically—and though she'd cleaned herself in the public restroom at the gas station as best as she could, it wasn't the same as a real shower.

"Fine," she relented.

"I shall meet with you in the living room in 90 minutes," he said as if making a business appointment.

"Fine," she said again.

As soon as Eric heard the shower turn on in Sookie's bathroom, he stripped her bed of its sheets and exchanged them for the extra set he'd found. Though the used sheets were not soiled by the scent of Sookie's urine from earlier, the vampire guessed that she would welcome the fresh sheets nonetheless.

After Eric had thrown the sheets into the washing machine, he texted Octavia with a disposable phone. He'd dropped his personal cell phone into a lake not far from where Russell had halted his pursuit the previous night.

The witch immediately texted back that all would be ready by morning and that her apprentice, Amelia, had agreed to be glamoured so that she could not speak of the severing spell, of Eric, or of Sookie. Amelia had also agreed to stay with Sookie during the days in order to prepare her meals and to take care of her until Sookie adequately recovered from the effects of the spell.

Eric's phone beeped again, and he was pleased to see that he had a text from Brady Jones, the man whom he had contacted to get Sookie's new identity papers in order. Brady was requesting a few pictures of Sookie for her new licenses and passports. Eric texted back, promising the new photos by the next morning.

Next, the vampire sped to the car and grabbed his duffel bag and the trash he'd taken from the gas station. He placed the small trash bag into the garbage container in the utility room, knowing that Octavia would be taking care of all the refuse coming from the home in order to ensure that no traces of himself or Sookie were found.

Starting a fire was next on Eric's agenda, and he took his time with it. The act of preparing the foundation for a hardy, lasting fire also served to center and to calm the Viking. He'd taken a great chance in bringing Sookie with him. Had she not agreed to throw her lot in with his, he would have already been out of the country by now. He sighed as he struck the wooden match and lit the kindling. Indeed, having Sookie along was a calculated risk.

Eric sighed. If he had not succeeded in blocking Bill's blood from tracking Sookie during their almost three-hour drive earlier that night, Bill would now know that she was near New Orleans. And the Viking had no doubt that Russell would either use Bill or follow him.

Eric was counting on the fact that the concealment spell around the house would prevent Bill from continuing his tracking. Octavia had assured him that the stronger camouflaging spell that she had erected around the property would make it impossible for any vampire—no matter how strong—to track Sookie through any blood connection. However, discovering just how potent Bill's ability to influence Sookie's dreams was, Eric would not be underestimating the Civil War veteran again. Thus, the Viking wouldn't rest easy until the severing spell was completed.

Yes. Eric needed to be sure that Bill couldn't track them. But there was more to it than that, and the "more" disconcerted the Viking. Every part of him was literally aching for Bill's blood to be eradicated from Sookie. Every molecule of his own blood in her despised the insidious pieces that Bill had left behind.

After the fire was going strong, Eric left the house and stealthily flew toward a commercial complex. Finding a drug store, he landed in a dark corner of the parking lot and assessed the store's security features. There were two cameras outside the main entrance, and there would likely be many more cameras inside. The last thing that Eric needed was for the store's video system to capture his presence in Slidell. If he were leaving the next night, it would be one thing; however, he would be staying in the town for at least a week—if Octavia was right about the effects the severing spell would have on Sookie's health. Luckily, the parking lot surveillance system had many blind spots; thus, Eric was easily able to glamour an arriving customer, who got him the items he needed.

His task completed, Eric flew back to the house.

Lingering right outside of his property's borders, the vampire was satisfied. During his outing, he'd been trying to track Sookie's blood with his own. He'd used all of the strength that came with his thousand years of life. He'd used every trick of the blood that his maker had taught him.

And, when his blood tie to Sookie had failed to help him find her, he'd tried his nose, but there was nothing—no trace of her—until he stepped back onto the property. The potion Octavia had given him to conceal scent obviously worked well, and the camouflaging spell around the property seemed to work even better, for it covered both scent and blood ties. It was a shame that such spells were difficult to produce and sustain.

According to Octavia, the scent concealment potion had a range of about ten to twenty feet, so a supernatural being would have to be right on someone using the potion in order to smell him or her. And—even better—the potion worked to conceal not only a person but also the personal belongings he or she had nearby at the time the potion was applied. Thus, scents transferred to clothing and other personal items were also covered, and no scents would be left behind either. The only drawback to the potion was its lack of longevity. It could last no longer than two nights, and it was eliminated by water. Also, the ingredients needed for the potion were rare and the process for making it was time-consuming. Luckily, Eric had a standing order for the potion with Octavia, and she would have another batch ready for him before he and Sookie left the area.

Now more confident that neither he nor Sookie could be tracked by scent or blood, Eric zipped into the house. As soon as he did, he smelled Sookie, and he had to work very hard not to let his fangs pop into place. Not smelling her at all one moment and then having her scent seem to wrap around him in the next was an almost overwhelming contrast. He shook himself out of his "Sookie stupor," however, and quickly went downstairs to the small basement. He'd been lucky to find a home with a basement in the area since the elevation of the city was generally lower than sea-level; however, the part of Slidell where he'd bought his property was on the northern outskirts of the city and was at a slightly higher elevation.

Eric quickly assessed the area that would be his home for the next week or so. It was plain, but adequate—a lot like the space where he normally slept. The upstairs bedroom Sookie had chosen was light-tight, but since she had already settled there, Eric had decided to stay in the basement. It was more secure anyway, for its one entry point had locking mechanisms which would make it difficult to enter—especially for a human. The witch who would be taking care of Sookie was unknown to the Viking, and even though he trusted Octavia and planned to heavily glamour her protégé, it was better to be safe than sorry. He set his duffel bag onto the small bed, grabbed some clean clothing, and decided to take a quick shower. His appointment with Sookie was in less than fifteen minutes, and he didn't want to incur her wrath by being late.

He smiled to himself. Or maybe he would be just a little late. He did so enjoy seeing her fire.

Sookie looked impatiently at the clock on the mantel and then even more impatiently at Eric as he sauntered into the room as if he wasn't fifteen minutes late for their meeting.

"You'd think that vampires could tell time." She glared at him.

"Oh we can," he answered with his signature smirk, "right down to the millisecond."

"Then why are you late?" she seethed.

"I enjoy riling you, Miss Stackhouse," he responded with an unapologetic shrug of his shoulders.

She huffed. "Well I'm tired of being riled!"

He leered at her. "Maybe you've just never been," he paused and looked her up and down, "riled correctly, Sookie. But feel free to take out any frustrations that you feel on my body."

The suggestiveness of the vampire's words and in his tone made Sookie blush. "Eric," she stammered, "we need to get one thing straight right now."

"And that is?"

"I won't be havin' sex with you during our little partnership—got it?"

"Oh—you might change your mind, little one. I have been told that I am irresistible." His eyebrow arched as if to prove just how irresistible he was.

Her breath hitched.

"You are attracted to me," he said as he took a step toward her. "I can feel it."

"I never said that you weren't handsome," she retorted, her anger with him at odds with the lust he'd begun provoking by his mere presence. Something about his wet, unstyled hair was just downright irresistible, but she was determined to resist him nonetheless. She went on, "But I'm not gonna fall over and spread my legs for you just because of that."

His lips turned up into an amused grin. "You would not have to fall, nor would you have to spread your legs—at least not too wide. In fact, there are some positions where you wouldn't have to spread them at all."

She exhaled loudly and blushed a deeper red. "Please, Eric. I need you to promise me that you won't use your blood or your other charms to try to seduce me." She sighed and in that moment, she felt defeated. "I've been seduced too much lately."

"Yes," he said, his leer disappearing and his eyes sparkling with sincerity. "But there would be many differences in the way I would seduce you."

"What?" she asked, definitely feeling more riled than before—for a variety of reasons. "Sookie, I have had a thousand years to perfect my seduction techniques," she said sarcastically, doing her best impression of him.

He laughed out loud. "You are quite entertaining, Miss Stackhouse! I knew there was a reason I wanted you along."

She chuckled a little and shook her head.

"As a matter of fact," Eric said without the least bit of boastfulness in his tone, "I have had a thousand years to learn how to properly pleasure a woman, but those are not the differences I was talking about."

"So," she asked, suddenly curious, "what are they?"

"I want to have sex with you, Sookie—very much—but not because of some secret plot to get you to fall in love with me or so that I can control you. I want to fuck you because you are a beautiful woman and your blood calls to me. I would give you enormous pleasure. But—make no mistake—I would also take my own pleasure and your blood. There is nothing romantic or idealistic about what I want from you. However, there is nothing hidden in my agenda either. I would happily accept the short-term role as your," he paused as if searching his memory for a word, "rebound man. Or—perhaps you could look at it as revenge sex."

By the time Eric was done speaking, Sookie was an even deeper red. "You don't pull any punches, do you?" she asked.

"I'm too goddamned old to pull punches," Eric smirked. "Plus, I have no reason to lie to you about my motives regarding you."

She took a deep breath to steady herself. "Regardless, I'm not the kind of girl who could just sleep around, Eric."

"I realize that," he responded.

"Right. Well—because of that—I need you to promise me that you see this—what we're doin' together—as business."

"The business of survival has always been my primary goal," Eric mused. "And I am not one to force a woman. I cannot promise that I will stop hoping to get you in a bed or against a wall or on a . . . ."

"Eric!" she yelled, placing her hands half over her hot cheeks and half over her ears.

He chuckled. "However—I will patiently wait for you to change your mind." He smirked. "And you will change your mind."

"Not likely," she said under her breath.

He chuckled again, added another piece of wood to the fire, and then settled down onto the couch with her. They shared a companionable silence for a minute or two as they both looked into the fire.

"It's a little warm for a fire, isn't it?" Sookie asked after a while.

"Octavia requires one, as well as its ashes," he responded simply.

"Oh," she said softly. "Well—it's nice. I always liked fires growing up. My grandpa used to make them a lot before he died, and Gran would make a few a year, especially around Christmas time or when the propane tank was getting low."

Eric spoke in a low voice. "Without fire, my people would have been lost to the cold of our winters. That far north, the nights were also very long in the winter, so fire was the only light we had much of the time."

Sookie took a deep breath. "Will you tell me how the dreams work, Eric?"

"Yes," he said emotionlessly before turning to look at her. His eyes did not match his tone. "Have you eaten your fill for now?"

She nodded in affirmation.

"Good," he said, looking into the fire again. "The dreams vampires can send differ based on whether the vampire is awake or asleep. First, I will tell you about the dreams all vampires can send when we are awake—because I want you to be assured that you will be safe for the rest of the night, should you have time to sleep again." He paused. "There is some diversity in the strength of the dreams related to a vampire's age and practice with the skill, but the basic principle is the same for all vampires."

Sookie nodded, signaling that he should continue.

"After a human takes a vampire's blood, a blood tie forms—as I told you last night. This allows the vampire to know if the human is awake or asleep. Once a human is asleep, a vampire can instruct his or her blood to stimulate the limbic system and the amygdala."

"Huh?" Sookie asked.

"Those are the parts of the nervous system related to emotional responses, behavior, and memory. They are highly active when humans are dreaming, and a vampire will use them—as well as a human's hormones—to create the effect he or she wants."

"How?"

"It is relatively easy. Once our blood is in the dream center of a human, it guarantees that the human will dream of us. If we want a human to fear us, we stimulate one hormone. If we want the human to lust for us, we stimulate another. If we want the human to feel safe with us, yet another is stimulated—and so on. It is very scientific—actually—but most vampires learn by instinct or trial and error as we monitor humans with our blood during their sleep. Dreams will naturally stir memories within a human, most likely the ones at the forefront of a human's waking thoughts. Basically, the human provides the content, the vampire shows up as a guest star, and then the vampire controls the mood, changing it or prolonging the dream as he or she sees fit."

Sookie closed her eyes and lowered her head as she remembered the various dreams she'd had at night which had featured Bill as a 'guest star.' "So every time Bill was in one of my nighttime dreams, he put himself there?"

"Likely," Eric responded without looking away from the fire, "though you could have inserted him into your dreams yourself. Normal dreams are, after all, products of your unconscious mind. But any dream originating from you would have been less vivid, and the emotions of it would have quickly dissipated."

She nodded in understanding. "What about the dreams that I've had during the day." Her voice became meek. "The one I had today?"

Eric looked back at her. "Are you sure you want to know, Sookie? Once you know, everything that you feel for Compton will be shifted. Soon, you will not have to suffer dreams from him at all. It might be best not to hurt yourself with knowledge."

"I went through hell today, Eric. And I know that Bill did that to me. And it wasn't because he was starved or near death. It was because he is obsessed to get ahold of me." She shook her head. "My feelings for him have already shifted. So—please—tell me. I have a right to know," she implored.

He nodded. "As I indicated yesterday, when a vampire is sleeping, the dreams are generally not as potent—unless the vampire is what we call a dream-weaver."

"Huh?" Sookie asked. "Like that song that was in Wayne's World?"

Eric chuckled a little. "I'm afraid not, little one."

"Why do you call me that?" Sookie asked.

"What?"

"Little one."

Eric thought for a moment. "I was not aware I was calling you that. I do not do it consciously, so I'm not sure. Perhaps it is because you are small compared to me. Or young." He shrugged. "I can try to stop myself from saying it—if that is your wish."

Sookie shook her head. "No. It's okay. So," she took a deep breath, "what is a dream weaver?"

Chapter Text

Chapter 17: Just As Real

"Who's to say that dreams and nightmares aren't as real as the here and now?"―John Lennon

Eric looked at Sookie through narrowed eyes, as if double checking that she was—indeed—ready to hear what he had to say. After what seemed like minutes of silence, he finally answered her question. "A dream weaver is a vampire who is very skilled at sending a human not only an emotion but also an intention in a dream. If the human sleeps during the day, the dream will literally take him or her over."

"Like what happened to me today?"

"Yes," Eric confirmed softly. "But—as I said—you are safe from woven dreams as long as Bill is awake."

"Why can't they be sent at night?" Sookie asked.

Eric considered for a moment. "No definitive answer to that question has ever been discovered. Some vampires believe that the process of dying for the day—and the magic enacted to preserve the vampire through that death—is somehow connected to a woven dream. Others feel that even vampires lack the stomach and fortitude to endure woven dreams along with their human targets—their victims. By all accounts, the humans at the receiving end of such dreams are in true misery."

Sookie looked down. "I know."

"Yes," Eric said. "You do." He ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "It is too bad that Compton will never have to endure it." His voice softened. "Godric believed in the second theory. He found the practice of dream weaving to be barbaric—a coward's way to bring pain to a human."

"Because the human would feel all the pain, and the vampire would endure none of it," Sookie commented, turning her focus back to the fire.

"Yes."

"And Bill's one of these dream weavers," she said matter-of-factly. "And that's a vampire gift or something?"

Eric considered for a moment. "It must be—in Bill's case. But I had never known of it being a gift." His brows scrunched together. "There are some abilities that vampires are 'born' with—so to speak. These—we call gifts. Other skills are learned over time. For instance, I had the gift of flight, but very old vampires can develop this ability through practice. However, even then, they will lack the maneuverability a natural flier has, for their flight is actually a kind of hovering, amplified by practice and the strength that comes with age."

"So dream weaving isn't a usual gift?"

"No. To become a successful dream weaver takes much aptitude and magic; thus, only very old vampires are capable of it—or, at least, that is what I thought until today." He paused. "And—even among the old—weaving dreams successfully takes much practice."

"Have you ever done it?"

He shook his head. "No. I have not given humans my blood often, and—even if I had—Godric's influence would have kept me from attempting to create such dreams. Also, my age is not generally thought of as sufficient for producing woven dreams. However, it seems that Bill's skill has developed quite early, probably through both natural aptitude and practice."

Sookie brushed away a tear.

"Should I stop?" Eric asked.

"No," she responded. "I need to know everything."

He nodded, but changed the topic slightly so that it would be less personal for her. "Dreams that come during the day can be of two varieties: one more passive on the vampire's part and one more active. It is the active type that only dream-weavers can craft."

Sookie arched an eyebrow in question. "Passive?"

"Yes. The passive type is quite easy for vampires to send," Eric explained. "Simply put, before we die for the day, we 'tell' our blood inside of a human to become active if the human sleeps before we wake. Our blood is then imprinted with our emotion in that moment. For instance, if I wanted to make you have a lustful dream of me," his eyebrows waggled, "I would imprint my blood in you with my arousal. If I wanted you to have a frightening dream of me," he let his fangs drop dramatically, "I would instill my blood with fear."

She chuckled a little.

Glad to see her smile, he went on, "However, day-sent dreams, such as those I have just described, are generally considered 'weak.' The human maintains most of the control because the vampire is asleep when the dream happens; thus, he or she cannot monitor or manipulate the human's emotions during the dream. Follow me so far?" Eric asked.

Sookie nodded, though she looked a little confused.

He chuckled. "Think of it this way. In the passive kind of dream, it is as if the vampire spurs an emotion and gives the human a piece of chalk, with which he or she can draw anything. Or the human could erase the picture altogether. The vampire nudges, but the human controls. Clearer?" he asked.

She nodded. "Yes. Much."

He chuckled again. "So in passive dreams, the content—except for the vampire's presence—is fully from the human's own subconscious. In other words, if I sent you such a dream, it would be based on your memories and impressions of me—equally as much as on the emotion I'd sent. For instance, if I sent you a dream in which I wanted you to fear me, but you had no fear of me generally, the dream would basically fizzle out—or seem like one of those scary movie parodies. Likewise, if I sent a dream with lust, but you held no attraction for me, the dream would likely seem like an awkward encounter at a porm."

"A porn?" Sookie asked, a sudden blush firing her face.

Eric chuckled. "No—a porm. With an 'M'."

"Huh?"

"The dance for adolescents," Eric explained.

"Prom," Sookie corrected.

"Ah," Eric sounded. "Yes. Prom. But I would be up for enacting a porn-type dream with you," he leered, as his fangs emerged once more.

She rolled her eyes and looked at Eric pointedly until he put his fangs away.

"You are no fun, Sookie," he complained with a smirk.

She chuckled and shook her head before turning back to the fire. "Did you ask your blood to do something in my dream today? Did you give it an emotion?"

"I must have," he said evenly.

"But you said you wouldn't send me a dream," she reminded.

"I said that I wouldn't ask my blood to make you dream."

"And there's a difference?" Sookie challenged.

"I think so." He smirked. "Though—perhaps—barely. The passive kind of dream can also occur even if the vampire does not consciously send it. In this case, the vampire unintentionally imprints his or her blood, which will then find its way to the human's dreams on its own. You see—a vampire's blood inside of a human is an active, living thing," he added. "It likes to be where the action is, so to speak. But in these unintentional dreams, the vampire will usually not appear. The blood just rides the human's emotions like a wave—or so I am told."

"That makes sense," Sookie mused quietly. "Today—you weren't in my dream at first. In fact, you didn't show up until after I was already getting scared." Her brows scrunched together in question. "So—uh—what did you ask your blood to do? What were you feeling before you went to sleep?"

"You tell me," Eric said pointedly, even as he leaned forward a little. She could feel his eyes boring into her, but she kept her own head turned toward the fire.

"The dream 'you' tried to keep Bill from influencing me. You tried to get me to think about what I was doing. So that means that you activated your blood to protect me from him—didn't you?"

"You would know better than I," Eric said thoughtfully. "If protectiveness was indeed the imprint I inadvertently sent—it is a feeling to which I am not accustomed. Plus, as I said before, my presence would have been controlled by your own subconscious, which is why you were able to expel me, but not Bill."

"And I staked you," Sookie sighed, looking back at Eric.

"You could have just asked me to go," he chuckled.

"I didn't think of it at the time," she smiled.

"Next time then," he remarked with a twinkle in his eye.

She nodded and gestured for him to continue.

"As you now know, some vampires can also produce a more 'active' kind of presence within a dream. They literally 'weave' a pattern into the dream—like," he paused, "a woman knitting a design into a blanket." He closed his eyes. "The one on your couch—did you weave that?"

"What?" Sookie asked, trying to stay up with his train of thought. "Oh—the afghan," she said with realization. "No. My gran made that."

Eric nodded. "It was skillfully crafted," he observed. "Such things last a long time."

Sookie nodded as her eyes filled with tears. "Yes. Gran tried to teach me to knit, but I was never very good at it."

Eric's voice softened when he saw her watery eyes. "But you understand the technique? The method she used?"

Sookie nodded. "Yes."

"Then—perhaps—you will practice the skill and become better at it with time."

She smiled a little. "Yeah. Perhaps."

He looked back at the fire. "It is a good analogy to use. An expert dream weaver is like an expert knitter. Even if a single strand were loosened and pulled, the overall structure of the creation would remain intact. But a novice dream weaver would not be so lucky, for—if a single strand were pulled on his or her work—the whole thing would unravel."

Sookie nodded. "You're tryin' to tell me that Bill is no novice."

Eric sighed. "As I said before, the skill to create woven dreams generally develops with age and a lot of experimentation." He looked at her pointedly. "Are you sure you want me to go on?"

She nodded.

Eric sighed and tried to sound detached, as if he were a teacher explaining a lesson. "The human has no power to prevent a woven dream or to escape it. It is, therefore, the most dangerous kind of dream-making—as you have learned firsthand. Since the vampire—being dead for the day—doesn't have the ability to monitor the human, there is no way to temper the human's emotional response or to end the dream if the human is in great distress. Moreover, the impulse of the dream will not end with the human's waking—as you also experienced. In fact, the human awakens to a worse nightmare—a living one—where he or she is both conscious and unconscious at the same time."

"Aware of being completely out of control. Aware that you're being abused," Sookie said knowingly.

"Yes. And the effects of the dream remain in place until the vampire awakens and stops them or," Eric paused, "until the human dies or commits suicide."

"So Bill stopped things?" Sookie asked shakily. "When he woke up?"

"No," Eric corrected. "I found out today—from Octavia—that a woven dream can also be stopped by another vampire's blood. I woke up about an hour before sunset, and I was able to slowly reduce the effects that Bill's blood was producing in you. And—eventually—the dream lost its hold."

Sookie reached out for Eric's hand and was almost surprised to find it was seemingly waiting for hers.

"Thank you," she said quietly.

"You're welcome," he responded.

"I felt so," she paused, "weak. Powerless"

"You were not weak," he insisted. "But—yes—Bill did take away your control. But the fact that he did that shows his weakness—not yours," he added passionately.

She smiled a little. "Thank you—again."

"You're welcome—again."

He waited for a few moments before slipping his hand from hers and adding another log to the fire. When he returned to the couch, he continued. "Most younger vampires know nothing of dream weaving, and—among older vampires—there are two very divergent opinions regarding the practice. Some vampires look down upon it—seeing it as no better than what the ancient Romans did to their gladiators. Others believe it is perfectly acceptable, and use it as a way to torture humans. Some vampires even practice it as," he paused, "sport." He sighed. "Godric told me once that there are some groups of vampires—ancient sects in Europe and South America—that place bets on dream weavers—to see how long it takes for their human victims to kill themselves or die."

Sookie let out a sob.

"But that was—I'm sure—not Bill's intention," Eric clarified. "I imagine that he is simply desperate to have you back."

They both looked into the fire until Sookie's sobs had subsided.

"As I said," the Viking picked up, "it is not a common practice among vampires because most never reach an age to make it possible." He sighed loudly. "Bill is known for his ability to glamour. And dream weaving could be seen as a complement to that gift. I should have foreseen that he could do it. I should have," Eric paused, "accounted for the possibility that he might try." He straightened his posture a little. "And—given the fact that I failed you in this—I wish to amend our arrangement."

"What do you mean?" Sookie asked, her eyes suddenly frightened. "Are you sayin' that you don't want me to come with you anymore? Are you sayin' that the deal between us is off? That I won't be able to get the severing spell done?"

"No," Eric answered quickly. "I am saying none of those things! What I am saying is that after the severing spell, you can choose, Sookie. I'm saying that you don't have to come with me. You can heal and then do as you wish." He sat forward, taking her hand again. "What I am saying is that the spell no longer comes with strings attached. What I'm saying is that I will not be like Bill. I will not take your choice or your control away from you. I will not force you to face Russell with me as a condition of helping you to free yourself from Bill."

Sookie gripped his hand in stunned silence, her mouth slightly agape. After a few moments, she brushed away a tear and spoke softly. "When I was trapped in that dream, I felt so out of control. I would have done anything to get to Bill. I would have killed you—without a second thought—because I thought you were trying to keep me from him."

She paused and wiped away another tear, but her voice was stronger as she went on. "And you were, Eric! You were trying to keep me from him!" She shook her head and squeezed his hand harder. "You helped me escape from the dream. You didn't have to. You are helping me break the blood tie with him. And you don't have to do that either. Thank you. Thank you so much for letting me choose whether to help you with Russell."

She sat up a little straighter as resolve entered her eyes. "I want to help you, Eric. I want to help you in order to pay you back for saving me from the monster who sent me that dream—the monster whom I thought that I loved. I want to help you because you've been honest with me—from the start—even when the truth was ugly. I want to help you because I trust you. And—honestly—I want to help you because I think I have a better chance of surviving all this if I'm with you. And—finally—I want to be there when Russell and Bill get their comeuppance for all the evil that they've done. I know that probably makes me a bad Christian. But I can't help it. They both deserve it! So—I guess what I'm sayin' is that we're in this together—until the end."

Eric's fangs popped down, and the intensity in his eyes danced brighter than the flame in the fireplace. "I would very much like to rip your clothes off and fuck you right now, Sookie Stackhouse. Will you let me?"

"Eric," she whispered, her own eyes glazing over with intensity as she squeezed his hand impossibly tighter in order to steady herself. "I can't."

He closed his eyes and seemed to be panting for a moment. When he reopened his orbs, the storm in them was all but gone and his fangs had retracted. "Pity," he said.

"I thought we agreed that you weren't gonna try to seduce me," she said as she finally withdrew her hand from his.

He smirked. "Well—I figured that since our deal was being restructured, I might try to renegotiate that part too."

She smiled. "You're incorrigible."

"Perhaps. But when you speak of seeing our enemies perish, you are," he paused, "almost too tempting to resist."

She took a deep breath. "So," she said, obviously changing the subject to a 'safer' topic, "have you told me everything?" she asked. "Everything about the dreams?"

"Yes," he responded. "More than you should know. More than even most vampires know."

"Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me."

"And thank you for trusting me enough to throw your lot in with mine—voluntarily," he returned sincerely. "I will try not to fail you again."

"You didn't fail me, Eric. You saved me—and not just my life."

He got up and tended to the fire once more, returning to the couch with a bottle of water. "You should drink this and eat more soon."

"Soon," she agreed, "but first—there's something else I need to ask you."

"Ask," he said.

"Last night, you told me that you'd sent me two dreams. They were the passive kind—right?"

Eric nodded. "Yes. I sent them the first two days after you had my blood."

"And your goal? You didn't tell me last night."

"To increase your attraction for me," he stated unapologetically. "You will have to tell me what came of those dreams."

She sighed. "What if I'd rather not?"

"Then I will assume that we had rounds and rounds of mind-blowing sex in them," he said as his familiar leer returned to his face.

"We didn't," she said simply.

"Then I am curious to hear of them. Perhaps you will decide to tell me at some point. As I said, I have not given many humans my blood, and I am interested in the process—at least to a certain extent. I sent a couple of dreams to Lafayette too—to try to increase his fear of me."

"Lafayette has had your blood?" Sookie asked, the surprise clear in her tone.

Eric nodded. "Yes. From the gunshot wound he received at Fangtasia, he had an infection that may have killed him. Plus," he paused, "I needed to make sure I could control him. He was selling V for me."

Sookie's eyes grew wide and accusatory. "What the fuck, Eric!" she reproached. "You tortured him for selling V, and then you had him do it for you?"

"Yes. I'm afraid that it came down to a question of death or dishonor for me," Eric responded. "My queen ordered me to sell vampire blood so that she could fill her coffers. If I had refused, she could have killed me for treason. I am a survivor," he continued unapologetically. "So, instead of dying, I chose to make myself a hypocrite. I forced your friend, Lafayette, to sell V for me only days after I almost killed him for doing the same. I have gone against all that Godric ever taught me about the sacredness of the blood. But I am alive."

Sookie shook her head. "Wasn't there someone above the queen you could have told? I mean—why not tell the AVL and Nan Flanagan?"

Eric scoffed. "The AVL is the public face of the vampire Authority in this country. I could have gone to them, but if I had, things would have likely been even worse for me."

"What do you mean?" Sookie asked.

"Sophie-Anne would have denied my accusations. Most likely, the Authority would have tortured me and killed me for treason. And trust me when I say that their methods of torture would have been far worse than anything Sophie-Anne could have come up with."

"What if you had given them proof that it was Sophie-Anne?"

"Then she would have been tortured and killed for selling the blood." He laughed ruefully. "I would have gotten off easy, probably only having to spend a decade or so in a silver-lined coffin as my punishment for betraying my monarch."

"They would have punished you anyway?" she asked incredulously.

Eric nodded. "Oh, yes!"

"Geez!"

The Viking chuckled. "Geez—indeed. When Sophie-Anne ordered me to sell the V, I really considered only three options: killing her so that I could take the monarchy by force, abdicating my position as sheriff and leaving the state, or selling the V. You know what I chose."

"Wait—if you'd killed Sophie-Anne, you would have become king? Wouldn't have the Authority just killed you then? That's like the ultimate betrayal!"

"Nope," Eric chuckled. "Killing a monarch and taking his or her throne by force is perfectly fine according to the Authority—as long as the vampire committing the regicide is deemed 'worthy' by them."

"How do you know you would have been seen as worthy?" Sookie asked.

"Simple," Eric answered with another chuckle. "I have the money required to buy the label."

Sookie was silent for a moment. "Vampire politics are so messed up," she finally said.

He smirked. "You don't even know the half of it. Russell might be stark-raving mad, but he's right about the corruption within the Authority. Of course, having him in charge would be even worse—unless you like insanity better than inanity."

They were silent for a few minutes as Sookie contemplated Eric's words and the fire. "You said that you sent Lafayette a dream to make him more afraid of you. Why?"

Eric sighed. "Lafayette was willing to sell the V for me, but I needed it moved faster. I knew that his fear of me would," he paused, "motivate him." The vampire ran his hand through his hair. "I sensed that Sophie-Anne was up to something when she suddenly doubled the amount of V she wanted me to sell. Meanwhile, the Magister showed up at Fangtasia because the Authority had become suspicious about the increase of V sales in the area. And guess who made sure he had an anonymous tip pointing right to me?"

"Sophie-Anne?" Sookie stated as much as asked.

"Bingo! The Magister found a stash of V—which conveniently showed up at Fangtasia after a visit from the queen. He took Pam into custody and began to torture her. She told him that Bill was the one who was responsible for the V sales. If she had told him it was the queen, he might have believed her, but he would have also immediately killed her. I went along with Pam's story to buy us some time, but the Magister ordered me to bring him Bill within three days' time—or else he would kill Pam."

"That's why you were in Mississippi!"

Eric nodded in confirmation. "Meanwhile, Russell had been told about the queen's V-selling enterprise by Bill. And Russell decided to use that information to blackmail Sophie-Anne into marrying him."

"Wait," Sookie interrupted. "Isn't Russell gay?"

Eric chuckled. "Vampire kings and queens rarely marry for anything other than political gain. Russell is delusional and ambitious, and having Louisiana increases his territory and his income. He eventually wants to take over the whole fucking country and replace the Authority."

"Wouldn't they stop him?"

Eric shrugged. "Russell is three thousand years old. And his work is behind the scenes. Think about it; I have lived only one state away from him for decades, yet the first time I met him—and certainly the first time I ever learned anything about his Weres or his plans—was only days ago. Given Russell's policy of isolationism, the Authority likely knows nothing of his schemes. And, given his age, they'd probably prefer that it stayed that way!"

"Which means he can do whatever he wants," Sookie observed.

"Yes—and that includes quietly recruiting others."

"So that's what you were doin'—pretending to be recruited?"

"Partially. Initially, I swore my fealty to Russell because I figured he was a better short-term option for me than Sophie-Anne. He also promised to help me save Pam—though he refused to hand over Bill to me. It was not long after that that I realized that Russell was the creature who had been responsible for my human family's deaths. In fact, I found out that information exactly seven minutes and twelve seconds before you were brought into Russell's mansion."

Sookie sighed deeply. "No wonder you were such an asshole to me."

Eric couldn't help but to smile. "We are both lucky that I had enough control not to try to attack Russell that night. I wanted to fight him more than I have ever wanted anything—except maybe one thing." Eric looked at Sookie significantly.

"You can't want to have sex with me that much," she said sarcastically.

Eric shook his head and grinned almost boyishly. "You are right. I want to kill Russell more than I want to have sex with you, but," he paused dramatically, "having sex with you is a close second."

Sookie rolled her eyes and then took a deep breath to refocus herself. She wanted, no needed, to ask him something more about the dream Bill had sent her—something that she'd been afraid to ask before.

"Would have Bill known that the dream he weaved would affect me that much?" she asked.

Eric sighed and looked back at the fire as a somber mood once more filled the room. "All that I can say is that a vampire does not weave a dream by accident. It is a developed skill and requires a concerted effort on the part of the weaver. And it was extremely difficult for me to free you from the state you were in."

"So you're saying that Bill knew exactly what he was doing when he sent that dream. You're saying that the strength of the dream proves that this is something he's done before."

"I cannot say either of those things with one hundred percent certainty," Eric said cautiously. "But I believe them to be true nonetheless."

Sookie sighed. "Bill sent terror to drive my dream today," she said quietly as she stared back into the fire. "I'd never felt so afraid—not even when Rene was trying to kill me, not even when I found Gran dead in the kitchen."

Unconsciously, she reached for Eric's hand again, and without thought, he covered hers with his own.

"I was afraid of you too," she continued. "I was afraid of Russell. I was afraid of Bill dying. I couldn't do anything else but to drive to where I thought he was. And in my dream, he said he was at Fangtasia. Do you think he was really there?"

Eric shrugged. "It is possible. If my blood succeeded in blocking his, Bill would have needed to regroup after the hospital, and going to Fangtasia to look for me would have seemed logical to him."

"What about after you stopped the dream? Do you think he was able to track us? Before we got back here to the house?"

"His blood did try to reach for him," Eric replied honestly. "Whether it succeeded or not, I know not."

"But you tried to block him again?"

"Yes. But, as I said earlier, I haven't had much practice controlling my blood in a human." He closed his eyes. "However, I can sense every single drop of my blood inside of you—even now. When you were in the hospital, I could sense how close you were to death, and my blood within you called to me. And after I gave you more, I could feel all of those drops inside of you as well. I could even control where my blood went and where it healed you first."

Sookie squeezed his hand as he reopened his eyes.

"Wow—that's amazing!" She smiled a little. "Thanks again—for the healing."

Eric nodded and smirked. "You're welcome—again."

"So—I have another question."

"Another?" he said sarcastically.

She rolled her eyes. "It's important."

"Proceed," he said jokingly.

She shook her head. "So—if your blood can block his and if this house can block him from being able to find me, then how was Bill able to influence my dreams at all?"

"Dreams are unique, Sookie. They are not affected by distance like the other elements of a blood tie are, nor can they be stopped by any known witch's spell. And Bill's vampire gifts seem to be tied up in his ability to influence humans. He is—as I said before—well known for his skill in glamouring." He shook his head a little. "After I started thinking about it more, I realized that dream-weaving is akin to glamouring. Thus, I really should have anticipated that he may have had that skill. I," he paused, "regret leaving you vulnerable."

"Was that an apology?" she asked, the surprise clear in her tone.

"A regret and an apology are two different things," he replied stiffly.

"Clearly," she intoned.

Eric looked back at the fire. "As I was saying, Bill likely regrouped. If he couldn't pinpoint your location with the blood tie, which would have been impossible once we were inside the spell of the Vicksburg house, then he might have returned to his home or to your home. If so, Russell likely captured him. Or—more likely—Bill went straight to Fangtasia to demand that I 'release you.'" He lifted his free hand to do an air quote, the sight of which almost made Sookie laugh out loud despite the seriousness of the topic. However, she sobered quickly at his next words.

"Maybe," Eric posited, "Russell tortured him and forced him to weave a dream."

"How would Russell have known that Bill had that ability?" Sookie asked. "Lorena," she said quickly, answering her own question.

Eric nodded. "Yes."

"But you said that dream weaving takes great effort. Could Bill have even done it if he were being tortured?"

Eric closed his eyes. "I don't know. I don't think so. But . . . ." He stopped midsentence.

"But?"

"But I know you still have love for Bill; I can feel that. So I want you to know that there is a possibility that he didn't intend for you to go through what you went through today. However unlikely, it is possible, little one."

Sookie sighed. "I'd never been in love with a man before Bill. This morning—when I was driving here from Vicksburg, before I had that dream—I thought about my relationship with him. Every start and every stop. Every fight. Every time he hurt me or lied to me or scared me—even beyond what he did for the queen or what he did in Alcide's truck." She shook her head. "Did you know that I met Malcolm and his nest-mates at Bill's house one night?"

"No," Eric said stiffly, his jaw clenched. "I did not know that."

"I went over to Bill's because I'd contacted an electrician for him that day—someone who'd done some work for Gran before. I'd vouched for Bill so that the electrician would be willin' to work for a vampire. I'd been excited to tell him the news."

"But you encountered Malcolm, Liam, and Diane."

Sookie nodded. "Yes. They were," she paused, "disgusting—and frightening. They started," she paused again and closed her eyes, "touching me—pawing me—and threatening to bite me. And Bill just sat there most of the time—like some sinister overseer—in the corner of the room."

"Did he not stop them?" Eric asked with barely controlled rage, though his grip on her hand remained gentle.

"Eventually," Sookie whispered. "But not before Liam pulled me against him; he rubbed his—uh . . . ." Sookie glanced nervously down toward Eric's lap. "He rubbed his thing against me," she said with a cringe.

Eric growled a little.

Sookie took a deep breath. "But Bill didn't stop him—didn't stop them—until Diane was about to bite me; that's when Bill said that I was his."

"Which is why you agreed to those words at Fangtasia? You thought that if you didn't, you'd be manhandled by thuggish vampires," Eric seethed.

Sookie nodded in confirmation. "By the time I'd left Bill's house after he'd let Diane and Liam," she paused, "touch me like that, I had already decided that I couldn't be with him. I'd wanted the kind Southern gentleman who'd charmed my gran and who'd helped me with my mental shields—the one who'd saved my life and taken a walk with me. The vampire I met that night was not the same." She shook her head. "But by the next night, I'd forgiven him. It was as if all the fear and anger I'd felt the night before had vanished." She closed her eyes. "Now I know that it was Bill's blood, taking those feelings—my feelings—away." She opened her eyes and looked into Eric's. "And there were so many other moments that made me question Bill. But—every time—I stopped questioning after only a little while."

"His blood," Eric said.

Sookie shrugged. "That's part of it. But it was also me. I wanted love so badly that I tricked myself into feeling it, just as much as Bill tricked me. And—if I still feel love for him at all—it's only because it's hard to let go of the," she paused, "hope it gave me."

"I have never found love that brought hope with it," Eric observed quietly.

Sookie sighed. "As it turns out, I haven't either."

Chapter Text

Chapter 18: Did You Resist

"I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain, torture it endures and knows how to turn to its advantage."—Friedrich Nietzsche

Sookie and Eric were silent for a few moments. They looked at the fire, and both became aware that their hands were still firmly together—their fingers interlaced, the pressure comfortable and comforting. Neither of them pulled away.

"Could I have resisted it? The dream?" Sookie finally asked, her voice barely audible. "Could I have prevented it?"

"There was no preventing it, but I believe that you did resist it," Eric said confidently—almost proudly.

"What makes you say that?" she asked.

"Did you kill me as soon as you saw me in your dream?" he asked with a waggle of his eyebrows.

Sookie shook her head. "No. As I already told you, the dream was set at Fangtasia, but—at first—no one was there but me. I actually kind of—um—wished that you were there with me since the empty club was so creepy."

"That is quite the admission coming from your lips," Eric smirked. "Will you tell me what else happened?"

Sookie shivered a little, but then nodded in agreement. "Well. Like I said, the club was deserted and eerie. I walked toward your throne, but you weren't there. Then you spoke from behind me. I turned around, and you were sitting on a second throne, a mirror image of the first. And then—when I turned back around—Bill was sitting on your throne. At that point, I was about halfway between y'all."

"Bill sat in my throne?" Eric asked with mock indignation.

"Ha. Ha," Sookie responded, smiling a little and thankful that Eric had lightened the mood. She squeezed his hand.

"What then?" Eric asked as he caressed the valley between Sookie's thumb and forefinger with his own thumb. The motion comforted her.

"I started to feel more afraid, and then silver chains appeared around Bill." She trembled. "Bill begged me to come for him and said Russell would kill him otherwise. He blamed you for everything and told me that you lied about the file and the queen sending him."

"And you believed him?"

"I was just so scared that Bill was gonna die, and in the dream, I felt like my heart would be ripped in two if he did die. So—yes—I believed him. Or, at least, I came to believe him as the dream went on."

"But you questioned him—at first?" Eric pushed.

Sookie nodded. "Yeah. I asked about the file and the queen when he said I couldn't trust you."

"So," the Viking said almost triumphantly, "you did resist."

"Maybe," she relented. "I felt like I couldn't move or get to Bill, and he told me that you were holding me back—keeping me from moving."

Eric contemplated. "That must have been my blood trying to hinder the dream."

"It was trying to protect me, Eric. You must have sent it to protect me."

"Perhaps," Eric said, looking suddenly a little uncomfortable. "Since you were driving from Vicksburg to here, I would have been concerned for both of our safeties when I fell into my day-sleep yesterday morning, which is why I unintentionally imprinted the dream." He paused for a moment. "What happened when you realized you couldn't move toward Bill."

Sookie scrunched her eyebrows together as she recalled the details of the dream. "I kept asking you to let me lose, but you wouldn't. But then I finally figured out that I could move toward you."

"Ah—so you discovered that I'd left you a piece of chalk and you used it to draw a stake with my name on it," Eric said with amusement.

"I can't believe you think that's funny," Sookie scoffed. "But—yeah—that's pretty much what happened. In the dream, Bill convinced me that I had to kill you in order to get to him. And then suddenly there was a stake. So I went over to you, and I tried to kill you."

"Tried?" Eric asked, his curiosity rising.

"Yeah. At first I couldn't do it. You caught my wrist and stopped me."

"Interesting," Eric commented. "And unexpected. My blood must have worked better than I thought." He looked prideful.

"What?" he asked when he caught her rolling her eyes. "I am glad that my blood was tenacious. And you should be too," he pouted a little. "It was trying to protect you, after all."

She smiled a little and spoke sincerely, squeezing his hand once more. "I am thankful, Eric. Really, I am."

"How did you finally kill me?" he asked, squeezing back a little, but obviously being careful not to apply too much pressure.

"I asked you to let me kill you," she said, blushing a little.

He laughed heartily. "You asked me?"

"Yeah. And you said that your blood could not deny me. And then suddenly I was able to stake you; after that, you disappeared."

"Erased," he said with a raised eyebrow and a smirk.

She nodded. "The weird thing is that you had been denying me things up to that point. I kept on asking you to let me go so that I could get to Bill, but you didn't let me."

Eric's grin could have rivaled the Cheshire Cat's.

"What?" she asked.

"You must have been resisting him yourself then; otherwise, had you truly desired it, I would have disappeared when you first asked. Obviously, you were helping my blood."

She looked skeptical. "Maybe."

"There is no maybe about it," the Viking said confidently. "The length of your resistance to him in the dream tells me that you fought him harder than most people could have. The fact that I didn't just disappear or immediately obey you in the dream tells me the same thing. Moreover, you did nothing to contact Bill or someone else to help you get to him, as your fear should have driven you to do."

"No. I just got into the car—with you in it—and sped toward Fangtasia with a head wound, skinned knees, soiled pants, and a stake ready to kill you when you woke up," she said sarcastically.

"Indeed," Eric returned nonchalantly, though his eyes sparkled playfully. "You are right. It could have been much worse."

She shook her head and chuckled at him. "You're an ass—you know that?"

"Actually, I am the King Ass, according to Pam."

Sookie giggled.

"Truly," Eric said sincerely, as his eyes continued to dance. "Pam even believes that I inspired the role of Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Sookie snorted a little as she continued to laugh.

"Actually, that's not a bad bray," Eric intoned, his expression still seemingly serious. "With more practice, you might well make a fine ass too."

Sookie laughed for a few moments more before her expression became serious again. "So—we are sure that Bill couldn't have found out where we are from my dream?"

"We are sure," Eric said confidently. "Remember—to send a woven dream, a vampire must be about to die for the day. Plus, even the greatest weavers in vampire history have not experienced the dreams with their victims. Bill may be good at glamour and a powerful dream weaver—well beyond what his age would suggest—but he will not be able to find us through that dream."

"Okay," Sookie said, obviously reassured.

Eric squeezed her hand a little.

"Is Bill better at glamouring than you?" she asked with a slightly mischievous glint in her eye.

"Hmm. I do not think he could be," Eric commented. "He is certainly better than I was at his age, but my skill has increased over time. That skill—I have practiced a lot."

Sookie giggled a little.

But," Eric shrugged, "he could be." He looked at Sookie with scrutiny as his eyebrow arched playfully. "You tell me."

"How would I know?" she asked.

"You are, I believe, the only human to ever resist my glamour. I assume you resisted his as well?"

She nodded.

"Then you are in a unique situation, little one. You can say which of our glamouring was more difficult to resist."

"Did you give it your best shot?" she asked sassily.

He smirked. "I did."

"Does distance matter? Bill was nearer when he tried to do it."

"No," Eric responded. "I had established eye contact with you, so distance shouldn't have mattered."

"What was your glamour tryin' to get me to do?"

"Leave Bill and come with me to my office so that I could fuck you," he answered immodestly.

Her skin flushed red, and she jerked her hand away from his, though she immediately missed the comfort his touch had been giving her.

"You are a—uh—cad!" she yelled.

He grinned. "I have not heard myself called that name in a while."

"Well—you are!"

"So?"

"So what?"

"Whose glamour was stronger?" Eric asked puckishly.

"You don't need your ego stoked."

"Ah—so it was mine," Eric grinned. "That is good to know. Speaking of stoking," he said suggestively as he leaned in toward her. Right as she put up her hands to keep him at bay, he got up, chuckling as he did. He moved to stoke the fire as he gave her a playful look over his shoulder.

Sookie rolled her eyes once more, even as she tried to control the rise in her libido that his closeness had triggered. Bill had definitely been right about that being a side-effect of a tie.

The two were quiet for a few minutes after Eric rejoined her on the couch.

"Eric?"

"Yes?"

"Did Bill try to influence my dreams again when I was sleeping on the way here earlier tonight? He would have been awake by then. And even if he couldn't track me because you'd blocked him, he could have felt that I was sleeping—right?"

The Viking sighed. "Yes. While we were in the car, his blood inside of you did try to compel you to dream. And he was trying to track you too."

"But you stopped him?"

"I was able to stop him from invading your dreams—yes. But his blood continued to attempt to connect to him until we were inside the property line here. Then that stopped."

"But he kept tryin' to get into my dreams?"

Eric nodded and looked back toward the fire. "Yes. In fact, after we got here, his blood tried even harder to infiltrate your dreams," he said quietly.

"So you worked even harder to stop him?" Sookie asked.

"You needed a restful sleep," Eric responded, once more looking a little uncomfortable. "I am not sure whether I was able to prevent him from being in your dreams again, but at least I knew that my efforts would prevent your dreams from becoming too disturbing. Plus, your heart rate never rose above a normal rate, so I figured I was keeping him out; otherwise, I would have awoken you—as I promised."

"Thank you. He wasn't there," Sookie offered. "He wasn't in my dream."

"Good," Eric said.

"You were there, Eric," she said quietly.

"What was I doing?" he asked with curiosity.

"You were watching over me—just watching over me as I slept."

Sookie and Eric had been quiet for a while. Octavia would be arriving in about two hours, and the two had been content to watch the fire in silence until Sookie got up to fix herself a small meal. Eric had looked pleased when she returned with it.

"Do you mind?" she asked, lifting up her plate a little.

"Mind what?"

"My eating in front of you. It always bothered Bill."

"It does not bother me," Eric assured.

"I don't think he liked the smell," she said a little nervously.

"Or he was envious," Eric posited. "Many young vampires miss eating human food."

"Not you?"

"Smell and taste are closely related," Eric mused. "I enjoy smelling many foods, though some things I could live without—such as the sandwich you had in the car."

"Sorry."

He shrugged. "It is of little concern—though I did throw it from the window after you fell asleep."

She giggled and dug in to her meal.

After Sookie finished eating, Eric rose to go get the bag of things he'd gotten from the drug store.

"What's this?" she asked, as he handed her the bag.

"Another choice," he chuckled.

From the bag she pulled out a few paperbacks and two boxes of hair dye. She looked at Eric in question.

"I saw a mystery novel on your coffee table the night I killed the Were in your home, and there are no books in the house. Octavia's apprentice will be caring for you when you are ill and can pick up others for you; however, these will get you started—if you feel up to reading, that is."

She nodded. "And these?"

"Your choice," he said with a grin. "Red or brown. I need to take a few pictures of you for your new identification pictures before Octavia begins the spell, and your blond hair is easily recognizable." He paused and spoke in a lower tone. "It is like spun gold."

Her eyebrows scrunched together a little at his compliment, but she didn't comment on it. With a resigned sigh, she picked up one of the boxes and read the directions. She stood up. "I'll see you in about forty minutes—it seems."

He nodded and trailed her with his eyes as she left the room.

Eric didn't much care for the idea of her hair color not being natural; however, it was safer to change it. After they left Slidell, she would have to be visible during the day at times. And her blond locks were too distinctive—too noticeable.

He reached onto the coffee table and picked up one of the books without looking at the title. His vampire speed made him a very fast reader, but he paced himself, hoping to occupy his time for the forty minutes Sookie would be gone. He had the book finished within ten minutes of her return and hoped that the formulaic plot was more satisfying to her. He wondered if Sookie would enjoy some of the books he had been most drawn to over the years and composed a short list for Octavia to bring to them. Even if Sookie didn't care to read them, they would give him something to do when he was trying to relax his mind.

In truth, Eric's mind had not relaxed much during the last several days—weeks even. Finally, however, things had slowed down enough for the Viking to assess his situation and begin the foundations of a plan that would lead to the defeat of his three-thousand-year-old enemy.

Eric thought about the pieces he had moving onto the chess board already.

Even at that very moment, Pam was getting further and further away, which meant that she had been successful in her escape. He figured that she was near St. Joseph, Missouri, which was the second stop along her route to Wyoming. He had no doubt that his child would find sanctuary with Thalia and Bubba. He'd send a quick text to the vampire queen of Wyoming—requesting her aid—as Sookie had eaten. Thalia was antisocial, and Eric had no doubt that his progeny would be miserable in Wyoming—with no one around to enjoy her snarkiness—but he also knew that she would be safe there, for no one knew of his connection to Thalia.

Eric figured that Russell—by now—would have connected the dots he needed to realize that the young Viking boy he'd once left alive had become his new enemy. And—even if the ancient monarch had not yet made the necessary connections—Eric's not showing up in Jackson would have signaled one of two things: that Eric either ran or was killed. Russell would—no doubt—be trying to locate Pam by now, and her absence would point to the fact that it had been the former.

All the vampires of Area 5 would be questioned about Eric's and Pam's whereabouts, but none would be able to give any relevant information except for Chow, who knew of one of Eric's "safer" safe houses in the Shreveport area. There, Russell would find deeds to some of Eric's least favorite properties and businesses, all of which had been purchased by glamoured humans and none of which Eric really cared about.

Unfortunately, Chow also knew the combination to Fangtasia's safe; thus, Russell would soon become aware of Eric's fascination with the woman currently shutting off the faucet in the bathroom upstairs.

Eric sighed, hoping that the king would conclude that he was obsessed with Sookie Stackhouse in the same way that Bill Compton was.

The information about the safe house and the safe, however, would likely save Chow's life and give Russell some things to investigate for a while. By far, Franklin Mott was Russell's best asset for finding out information. In all honesty, Eric hoped that the crazed vampire would be so busy pursuing Tara Thornton that he didn't have time to try to follow Eric's tracks. Ideally, Tara would kill Mott and eliminate that threat altogether.

Eric still had no clear idea of how to take down Russell, but now he had some time. And—if there was one thing that Godric had finally instilled within him—it was patience. Unlike before—when he and Godric had been posing as SS officers—Eric would not act rashly. He would carefully line up as many pieces as possible before acting decisively.

Something within him—call it instinct or a gut feeling—told him that Sookie would be one of the key pieces once the time for his revenge came. However, he wouldn't know more about her capabilities until Brigant contacted him, and that might take a while, given the disparities between time in the Fae realm versus time in the human realm. He once again contemplated whether or not to tell Sookie that she was part fairy, but once more he decided that it would be best to wait—at least until she'd recovered from the severing spell.

And—while she recovered—he would begin planning in earnest.

Yes—he'd ceded his area out of necessity and he'd sent his child away from him, but those things had left him with fewer immediate worries. And now he had to worry about only himself and Sookie, and he was confident that Sookie would prove to be an excellent partner once she shed her self-doubts. He hoped that the severing spell would help her take a step in that direction.

Regardless, her presence gave him a bonus that he'd not expected: a sense of connectedness. Pam presence, too, always gave him a similar feeling to this, but having Sookie with him was preferable in many ways. She could operate during the day. She had her gift of telepathy to help protect them. And she would one day—Eric hoped—learn how to better use her other Fae gift or gifts.

Indeed, even though a three-thousand-year-old vampire was likely hunting him even them—and bent on his torture and ultimate destruction—Eric found that he felt better than he had at the beginning of the previous night. At least his progeny was not being tortured. At least he no longer had to act like a good little lapdog to Russell. At least he no longer had to listen to the incessant prattling of Sophie-Anne. At least Sookie was not at death's door.

All in all, it had been a successful thirty hours—despite the horror of Sookie's dream. However, even that had offered a silver lining, for it had shown Sookie the truth about Bill Compton in a way that no words could ever reveal.

Sookie cleared her throat in the entryway to the living room. Eric turned toward her and saw that she had an uncertain look on her face; she was also shifting on her feet a little.

"Well?" she asked.

Eric had already risen by the time she'd spoken; he walked slowly toward the living room's entrance until he was directly in front of her. Her hair was now chocolate brown, even darker than her eyes. And she was lovely.

Different—but lovely.

"You look less innocent," he observed.

She rolled her eyes. "Is that supposed to be a compliment?"

He nodded. "Yes."

"Then you need to work on your compliments," she deadpanned.

"You look just as beautiful as you always have."

Her breath caught and she blushed. "That works."

He looked at her questioningly before running his fingers through her hair. It was still slightly damp, though she'd obviously blow dried it a little. Despite the dying agents, it was softer than he'd dared to imagine, and it still smelled slightly of the sun that she loved.

His eyes did not leave hers, despite the fact that she licked her lips.

"You are the most beautiful woman I've ever seen," he said, hardly recognizing his own voice.

She leaned up a little, her own eyes moving to his lips. "I want to kiss you, Eric."

"I feel that very clearly, Sookie," the vampire said, his voice laced with his own desire to do the same.

"Why do I want to kiss you?" she asked in almost a whimper.

"My blood in you has linked to some of your blood."

"Did you make that happen? Are you messin' with my hormones and stuff?" she asked, though her tone held no accusation. Her eyes were still on his mouth.

His lips quirked into a small, though sincere, smile. "No and no. The blood sometimes has a mind of its own, and it is reacting to my own attraction for you. I would apologize if I were sorry. But I am not."

"I have a feeling that you never apologize to anyone," she said, inching closer to him.

"Sookie," he asked gruffly, "why do you want to kiss me?"

"I'm not sure," she said, leaning toward him even more.

With that, Eric zipped across the room, causing her newly brown hair to blow in his wake. She was momentarily stunned and speechless.

"Thanks," she finally said as her face reddened even more.

"Do not mention it," he said, though his eyes were still glowing with passion.

"I really wish I could be sure that what I want right now is really what I want," she said.

"As do I," he panted, feeling his own blood boil even more because of the signs of her arousal: her uneven breaths, her amped up scent, her pebbling nipples. It was all he could do to stay still.

Her breath hitched as the sexual tension between them grew—his blood feeding her hormones and her own desires exciting his blood even more.

It took a knock at the door to break the spell.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19: A Clean Slate

Magic seemed to travel in the door with Octavia Fant as she entered the house. Her jet black hair fell to her shoulders and complemented her chestnut skin. She was the kind of woman whose age was difficult to pin down—the kind with a timeless beauty and an eternal sparkle in her eyes. Only the wrinkles on her neck gave away the fact that she was likely closer to seventy than forty.

Octavia's eyes, which were almost as dark as her hair, immediately fell onto Sookie—studying her. Almost dissecting her.

Unconsciously, Sookie moved a step closer to Eric.

"I will not hurt you, child," Octavia said in an accent that seemed half-Cajun and half Jamaican. "Well," she corrected, "I suppose I will be hurtin' you, but I don't want to—dat I promise."

Sookie nodded, but still took another step toward Eric before taking his hand. The vampire made no show of her action being unexpected as he twined his fingers with hers.

Octavia had been trailed in by a petite brunette who was carrying several large bags and who seemed to be bursting at the seams with energy and excitement.

"Hi," the young woman said in a bubbly voice as she shifted her bags to one hand and held out her other toward Sookie.

Sookie took it somewhat tentatively. "Hi, she returned.

"I'm Amelia," the young witch said brightly. "I don't think I'm supposed to tell you my last name, and I'm not supposed to know your name at all." She shrugged. "But I gotta call you somethin' since I'll be stayin' with you during the days till you recover. So what'll it be?"

Sookie looked up at Eric in order to find out what name she should use. But before she could ask, she saw that he had already caught Amelia's eye. Faster than Sookie could have imagined was possible, she felt the young witch's mind stop its very loud broadcasting as she fell under the influence of Eric's glamour.

"You may call her Sookie while you are in this house," Eric said in the alluring tone that vampires used when they were glamouring someone. "But out of this house, you will think of her as," he paused.

"Her friend Maggie," Sookie interrupted with a whisper, though she knew that Eric could easily hear her.

"Your friend Maggie," Eric said as he looked back at Amelia. "Your friend has been ill and you are caring for her. However, there is no need to mention even that to anyone—is there?"

"No," Amelia said, her voice trancelike.

"When you leave this home, you will not remember that there is a vampire here, Amelia, nor will you be able to tell people the address. You will not even remember that you performed magic here; however, when you are here, you will remember me and Sookie and your purpose here. You may address me as Eric."

The young witch nodded as Eric released her from his glamour.

"Nice to meet you, Eric and Sookie," Amelia smiled as if nothing had happened.

Octavia gave Eric a little nod and then went into the living room with Amelia in tow.

"Why Maggie?" Eric asked Sookie once the witches had left the home's small foyer.

"Amelia's first thought when she walked in the door was that I looked a little like her friend Maggie from high school."

Eric looked down at Sookie and smiled. "You think with strategy, little one. It is always good to build glamour around a kernel of reality."

Sookie smiled at the unexpected compliment and gestured toward the door of the living room. "She's the loudest thinker I've ever heard," she whispered to Eric.

"Octavia?" the vampire asked.

Sookie shook her head. "No—I can pick up only a weird buzz from her. Amelia's the loud one." Her face suddenly reddened.

"What?" Eric asked curiously.

Sookie shook her head. "Amelia's tryin' to figure out which one of us she'd rather sleep with."

Eric's booming laughter suddenly filled the space. "Well?" he asked. "Who is in the lead in the witch's thoughts?"

Sookie shook her head. "You're gettin' your ass kicked, vampire," she said jokingly.

Before Eric could respond, the topic of their conversation poked her head back into the foyer.

"Octavia needs y'all for a minute," Amelia said with a smile.

Eric winked at Sookie before leading her into the living room.

"I'll need all of dis furniture moved out of dee room," Octavia instructed Eric. "And dis too," she added, pointing down at the large area rug which covered much of the wooden floor.

Eric looked down at Sookie and squeezed her hand, causing her to realize that it was still linked with his. She blushed and pulled it away when she saw that Octavia was looking at their joined hands too.

"Drink dis, child," Octavia instructed as she handed Sookie a large thermos.

"What is it?" Sookie asked.

"'Tis a lot of tings," the witch said enigmatically. "And 'tis needed, so drink."

Sookie looked up at Eric, who nodded.

"Do I have to drink it all at once?" Sookie asked, somewhat daunted by the size of the container.

"Not all in one gulp," Octavia chuckled, "but drink quickly."

Sookie nodded, took a deep breath, and opened the cap.

Eric had removed all of the living room furniture—including the couch, two end tables, a coffee table, two floor lamps, the area rug, and an entertainment center and television—before Sookie swallowed the last drop of the bitter mixture.

Sookie handed the empty thermos to Octavia, who gave her a pointed stare. "Has dee vampire told you of dee pain that you will face dis day? You will suffer much and be sick for many days to come. Are you prepared for dis?"

Sookie gulped, but nodded.

"You must be sure of dee risk. 'Tis no easy ting to remove dee ties of two vampires from a human, child," Octavia cautioned.

"Two?" Sookie asked. "But—uh—we're only gettin' rid of Bill—right?" Apprehensively, she looked over to where Eric stood.

"Ah," Octavia chuckled. "I see dee Viking is as he has always been. He is very careful with dee truths dat he tells." She gave Eric a pointed look. "And dee half-truths." She waved her hand. "I have work to do to prepare dis room. Take yourselves out of my way till dee sun is on dee horizon, and tell dis girl dee tings she needs to know—all dee tings! After dat, I will conduct dee spell. Not before."

Eric nodded and moved to leave the living room.

"Vampire?" Octavia said.

Eric turned around to face her. "I will need your presence as much as hers if she is to survive dis day."

Eric nodded.

"Eric?" Sookie asked, looking up at him.

"Come," Eric said quietly, reaching out his hand for hers.

Without thought, she took it and followed him from the room.

Sookie did not speak to Eric until they were in her bedroom and the door was closed. Once there, she dropped his hand.

"Why didn't you tell me that the severing spell was gonna eliminate the ties with both you and Bill?" she asked somewhat agitatedly.

"You didn't ask. But does it not stand to reason?" he responded. "A severing spell is indiscriminate, Sookie. It will burn all the vampire blood from your body."

"So we won't have a tie anymore either," she said as she sat heavily onto the bed.

"No."

For the briefest of moments, Sookie thought she saw disappointment flicker into Eric's eyes, but—if so—it was gone almost as soon as it appeared.

"I'll have a clean slate," she mused quietly. There was hope in her brown eyes.

"As far as vampire blood in your body goes? Yes," Eric answered evenly.

"So I won't have to worry about whether I really feel what I feel or if it's from the blood," she added with a little smile.

"Your feelings will be your own," Eric stated. "Yet it would be better if you took my blood once the effects of the severing spell wear off. But this time," he paused, "it will be your decision."

A wider smile broke out onto Sookie's face as she more fully absorbed the fact that she'd soon be able to be sure of her own feelings again.

"I can see what your choice will be," Eric said, his expression conveying both disappointment and amusement.

"I'm sorry," Sookie said quickly, though she was still smiling a little. "It's not you, and I will think about taking your blood again, but it'll be nice for it to just be 'me' for a while."

He shook his head. "You apologize for things that you shouldn't."

"And you never apologize, so we even out."

"True," he smirked.

"Eric," she asked with concern rising in her voice, "will it hurt more since two vampire ties are—uh—getting severed?"

He took a long, unnecessary breath. "Yes and no."

She arched her eyebrow in question.

"Yes―in that the process will take longer to complete because there are two ties and a lot of vampire blood to eliminate from your body. No—in that you will not feel the pain from the severing of your tie with me."

"Explain," Sookie said with her arms now crossed.

"I will be taking on that discomfort," Eric said simply. "I cannot take on the pain from the severing of your tie with Bill, but I will be able to take on the sting of my own blood being eradicated from your body."

Sookie stood quickly onto her feet. "But you said the vampire wouldn't feel pain!" she insisted, trying to remember his exact words from the night before.

"I said that since the severing spell was occurring during the day, Bill would not know of it. I also said that the spell was painful for the human, rather than the vampire. However, that is because the vampire always initiates such a severing. Why would the vampire wish to feel pain when severing himself or herself from a human who is no longer wanted?"

"But you can choose to take on the pain?" Sookie half-asked and half-accused.

"Yes. It is, after all, my blood," Eric said simply.

"But I'm havin' the spell done during the day," she reasoned. "You can't help but to be asleep."

"In a light-tight space, I will be perfectly capable of staying awake. I will develop what is called the 'bleeds' because I will be forcing myself to fight the sun, but that will be of little consequence to a vampire my age."

"No!" she yelled. "I can't let you do that! You shouldn't have to feel the pain of the tie breakin', not after your blood's saved my life—more than once!"

"Ah, Sookie, always the martyr," Eric intoned with a mixture of wonder and sarcasm. "You would sacrifice yourself to save even me from pain?"

"Yes!" she said without hesitation.

"Are you sure that is not just my blood talking?" he smirked.

"Don't be a jackass, Eric."

His face grew serious. "I must take on the pain, Sookie."

"No!" she said, standing up a little straighter. "I'll do it."

He shook his head. "I believe—and, more importantly, Octavia believes—that your body can handle a single severing, but a double severing is a different matter. And you have had a lot of vampire blood, Sookie. Just last night, I gave you more than two and a half pints. And Bill has given you quite a bit too. Consider your last 120 days, Sookie. How much vampire blood is in your body?"

"But I almost bled to death," Sookie challenged. "Surely that got rid of some of it."

Eric shook his head again. "I can tell you one thing for certain, little one. When Bill almost drained you, none of my blood that was in your body left it. Do you want to know why?"

Sookie shivered, but nodded.

"A vampire's blood will do all that it can to avoid an open would," he said. "Whether it is there to heal or to monitor or to just," he paused, "hang out, a vampire's blood is not keen to leave its host."

"But—if it won't go toward wounds—then how does it heal humans?"

"The magic within vampire blood activates the healing systems of a human's body. And—as I said—an older vampire has some control over what is healed first. But the vampire blood will do all it can to keep itself nice and cozy—as far away from an open wound as possible."

A little defeated, Sookie sank back onto the bed. "So—uh—I still have all that blood Bill gave me?"

Eric nodded and sat beside her, though about a foot away. "Yes. Because you have known Bill for fewer than four months—which is the approximate time a vampire's blood is alive inside of a human—we must assume that none of his blood has left you."

She shivered again. "I've had a lot of it."

"I know," Eric sighed. He grabbed the quilt off of the foot of the bed so that he could wrap her up in it.

"I'm not cold," she said quietly.

"Regardless, the blanket will help," he responded as he guided the cover around her.

"So," she said after a minute of quiet, "I'll die if you don't take on the pain of our blood tie severing?"

The Viking shrugged. "It is hard to know for sure. But, based on what I've told Octavia about the amount of blood you've had, she believes your chance of survival is less than ten percent if I don't help you. But—since I am going to help—she is almost certain that you will pull through, and I will be awake and ready to heal you if something does go wrong as Bill's blood is removed."

"You're really willin' to take on all that pain for me," she said in disbelief. "Why?"

"You know why already."

"I'm an asset," she said somewhat ruefully.

"Yes," he answered simply.

"And you want my blood and want to—uh—have sex with me."

"Yes and yes," he smirked.

"You can," she said suddenly.

"Huh?" he asked inelegantly. "You want to have sex with me? Now?" he continued hopefully.

"Ugh," she sounded as she slapped his arm. "No! But I assume that my blood wouldn't leave you during the spell the same way yours will leave me—right?"

"You are correct," he answered. "A tie affects only vampire blood in the human. That is why a tie can be broken, while a bond cannot be. A bond is like a tie going two ways, and—once in place—the magic cannot be removed from the vampire. The bond magic entwines with the life force of the vampire, and can only be broken by the vampire's death. Of course, a bond breaking would kill the human too."

"So," Sookie said, "it stands to reason that if I gave you some of my blood now, it would help you to be stronger—so that you wouldn't feel so much pain during the severing."

Eric had stood up and was across the room before she could finish her sentence. He was panting a little.

"You are offering me your blood?" Eric asked.

"Why not?" she responded. "You want it—right? And, after all, you're offering to do a lot more for me."

"I can't," Eric said, his voice clearly agitated.

Sookie's voice now held frustration. "Why the hell not? I thought you said that everything was about the blood."

"It is," he said simply. "I want to drink from you. In fact, I want to drink from you very much, but I cannot. You are not willing!"

"But it was my idea!" she insisted. "How is that not willing?"

"You offer out of obligation," he said simply.

"Yeah. So what?" she asked.

"So," he said, his voice evening out again, "thank you, but I will decline."

"I don't like owing you, Eric," she confessed. "If you took my blood, I would feel like I owed you less."

He sighed. "You need your blood; plus, you will soon be protecting me every day."

She nodded, acknowledging his point. "But I don't like the idea of you having to stay awake all day. You'll get the bleeds, and then you'll be taking on my pain to boot!"

"Even if I was not taking on the pain of our severing, I would have to stay awake and stay with you," Eric informed.

"Why?" she asked.

"The spell requires that you have someone you trust by your side, a helper of sorts."

"Do I trust you?" she asked.

"Yes," he answered simply, though there was a twinkle in his eye. "Inexplicably, but yes."

At Eric's insistence, Sookie had lain down to rest after their talk, though she was not able to sleep. About twenty minutes before dawn, he roused her and waited as she brushed her teeth and hair and took care of her human needs. After that, he had her stand next to the white wall of the room and snapped a few pictures of her with the camera on his phone before sending them off to Brady.

"I'm scared," Sookie said in a meek voice as they made their way down the stairs.

"I will be with you throughout the severing," he promised.

She stopped and looked up at him. "You confuse the hell out of me, Mr. Northman."

"Ah," he smirked, "it's all part of my evil plan, Miss Stackhouse." He winked and pretended to twirl the ends of a mustache. Then he extended his arm as if he were about to escort her to a fancy party.

She laughed a little and took it.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20: The Emperor's Soldiers

[This scene begins one hour before sunset—the evening before the previous scene (approximately the same time that Eric woke up in the car with Sookie under the influence of the Bill's woven dream)]

Because of his age, Russell woke up about an hour before sundown; however—disappointingly—none of his Weres had seen any sign of Miss Stackhouse. Perhaps, Eric had traveled a long distance away from Shreveport, and Sookie was trying to make her way there even then. The king smiled.

That would be ideal.

However, it was also possible that Sookie had not slept that day, but—given the fact that Bill had almost drained her dry the day before—the king found it unlikely that she wouldn't need some rest, even if she had received a lot of Eric's blood. Perhaps the Viking had killed her—cut his losses. He sighed. He'd just have to wait until Bill woke up to tell him the state of Sookie Stackhouse.

Russell reconciled himself to the notion that the telepath would soon be out of Northman's hands—one way or another. The king was fully prepared to manipulate Bill into weaving dreams every morning—until the telepath came to them or died trying. Meanwhile, he would test Bill's tracking skills. Even if Eric had the ability to block the blood of the younger vampire, Bill would eventually be able to track Sookie—especially if Russell continued to feed him a "booster" of his own ancient blood each night.

Russell closed his eyes and gauged the time; it was still 50 minutes until sundown. The ancient vampire sighed. The problem with age was that no one seemed to be able to get up when he did!

Only after about 500 years of life were most vampires able to awaken before sunset. Hell—Talbot was over 700 years old, and he woke up only about ten or fifteen minutes before sunset, depending on whether the day had been cloudy. He sighed again, this time even louder. At around a thousand, Northman might awaken twenty or thirty minutes before sunset. However, young William would likely awaken only after the sun had drooped into the horizon—especially since he'd taxed himself so much by sending the woven dream.

Tired of brooding, Russell decided to spend his time productively by checking on some of his "soldiers" and taking steps to ensure that his beloved Talbot was more secure. After all, it was still possible that Northman might show up at the mansion, hoping to continue his ruse.

First, he contacted his new Alpha, Dane Mitchell, and ordered the tripling of Talbot's guards. He also learned that Dane had creatively taken care of the "mess" that Bill had made with the campers he'd raped and drained. Dane had personally made sure that nothing would tie the site of the crime to Compton. Then the car that Bill had stolen had been wiped clean of physical evidence and left at Northman's "public" residence—the one he paid taxes on. Finally, Dane had anonymously contacted the human authorities, explaining that he'd seen the vampire who owned Fangtasia covered in blood and acting strangely in the area where the couple would surely be found. Dane had tasked some of his Weres to monitor the human police communications and was ready to pounce if the human authorities happened upon Northman.

Russell smiled. Dane was a little young to be the Alpha; however, he had demonstrated great aptitude. So far, he'd been well-pleased by the Were's performance.

After finishing his call with his Alpha, the king texted several of his best Were trackers. He ordered them to begin a thorough search of all of Northman's known residences, as well as the known residences of the Viking's progeny.

Next he called Bartlett Crowe, the king of Indiana, who was one of his closest allies and most loyal soldiers. Bartlett had been installed as king almost 80 years before—after a successful coup d'état against the former monarch, a coup that Russell had helped to orchestrate and execute.

"Bart," Russell said as the Indiana king answered.

"My Lord," Bartlett responded respectfully. "Sundown is still ten minutes away here," he commented, "has something happened?"

"Nothing to interfere with our ultimate plans, but there is a nuisance on the loose."

"How can I be of service?"

Russell grinned. The thing he liked most about Bart was his dependability. Despite being around 700 years old and powerful in his own right, Bart was the prototypical "yes man."

"It's Eric Northman. He might become a problem to me—to us. Either way, I want him dead—after I toy with him for a century or two, that is."

"I know of him; he is called the Viking by some," Bartlett mused. "I met him at the last summit. He was trailing that spoiled little twat, Sophie-Anne Leclerq."

Russell chuckled. One of the best things about Bart was that he was willing to attend all of the interminable vampire summits for which Russell had never had the time or the patience.

"Of course," Bartlett added, "had he not been there, any number of vampires might have tried to take the bitch out."

Russell laughed heartily. "Now—you mustn't call my lovely wife names."

"So you actually pledged to her," Bartlett said with a smile in his voice. "I suppose that means that we no longer need to go through with a wedding at Rhodes."

"No. I saw an opportunity to blackmail Sophie-Anne into marriage," Russell informed, "so I took it. It was much less messy than the bloody coup we'd been planning."

"So—is that what's riled the Viking? Is he upset for his queen's sake, or did he have designs on the monarchy himself?" Bartlett asked sarcastically.

"No," Russell responded, his tone now clipped. "The Viking has a personal vendetta against me, and he's dared to betray me."

"I'm sure that will be his last error, My Lord," Bart said, his tone becoming more formal again in order to match Russell's obvious change of mood. "Do you need me to help you track the Viking? I can call my child, Jade Flower. As you know, she is an accomplished tracker."

Russell sighed. "No. Let us leave her be in Arkansas. When we make our move, I want her in position to kill Threadgill, and I don't want her affiliation with us to be known."

"As you wish, Master."

"You should, however, ask your child to keep her eyes open. Northman or his progeny may try to travel through her state."

"I will call her as soon as we hang up, and I shall have my people keep their eyes open as well."

"Good. Are all your plans in motion?"

"Yes, My Lord. Our numbers of both Weres and like-minded vampires grow each day. If it is your will, the upcoming summit at Rhodes will still be the perfect opportunity for us to take out the monarchs of Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee. All of our assets are in place; thus, the Authority will never know that you are the mastermind of three coups."

Russell sneered. "I look forward to the day when the Authority is no more."

"And when you are emperor of the Americas," Bartlett said reverently.

The ancient vampire smiled. "Yes. That will be a good day. Perhaps I shall still go to Rhodes—to publically faun over my new bride and to enjoy all the fireworks. Regicide can be such compelling drama."

Bartlett chuckled. "I would enjoy seeing you there, My Lord."

"Until then, my friend," Russell said.

After hanging up with Bartlett, Russell called Felipe de Castro, who—despite the time difference—was likely awake already. The ability to be up for longer hours was Felipe's vampire gift. Russell did not envy that particular gift, though he knew that Felipe was quite fond of it.

The Nevada king answered Russell's call with a purr.

"It is lovely to hear from you, Russell. I hope you are calling to tell me that you and Talbot are coming out for another holiday," de Castro said in his thick Spanish accent.

"I'm afraid that a visit will have to wait, Felipe," Russell replied regretfully. "I wish it were pleasure that I was calling about, but I'm afraid it is business."

"Pity," Felipe responded.

"Yes," Russell echoed, even as he thought about his and Talbot's past liaisons with the Spaniard. His cock twitched, and he unfastened his pants before slowly stroking himself.

The three vampires had originally become lovers while they were still in Europe over six centuries before. Over the years, they had continued making annual or semi-annual visits to each other when they could. Russell enjoyed his and Talbot's casual dalliances with the Nevada king, and Felipe had proven to be a useful ally—more independently-minded than Bartlett, but still quite loyal, at least for the time being.

As with Bartlett, Russell had helped Felipe become a king, and Russell knew that the 800-year-old looked at him as a mentor of sorts. Felipe had demonstrated the willingness to be loyal to very few vampires over the years; in fact, it was clear that the Spaniard was truly loyal only to those whom he truly feared. Luckily, Felipe's eyes still conveyed his fear and awe of Russell. Indeed, Russell had already decided to make Felipe his second-in-command when he became emperor. All the same, however, Russell planned to keep a weather eye on his protégé; the ancient vampire figured that it would be at least a thousand years or so before Felipe got it into his head that he could eliminate Russell from the equation, but he also knew that that day would come.

Russell continued the slow up-and-down movements of his hand. He'd known Felipe's kind before; they were both creative and devoted, the perfect minions—at least until the day when they weren't. Yes—eventually the ambition of vampires like Felipe would overrule their reason, and, on that day, their loyalty would turn on a dime. Luckily, Russell knew the signs to watch for in order to tell him when that day was at hand. And—until then—Felipe was just the kind of vampire Russell needed to help him establish and consolidate his power over the western hemisphere. Russell sighed. The day he had to kill the "becaped" king would be a melancholy one for him; however, he reconciled himself to the fact that it would likely be centuries away, and he brought himself back into the moment, even as he stilled the action of his hand on his cock. He would satisfy his lust later.

"I have made Sophie-Anne my bride," Russell informed.

"I see you are implementing your plan for growth," Felipe said with a chuckle. "Nevada will be with you when you are ready for your next step."

"Many thanks," Russell said. "Meanwhile, I'm afraid I have a rogue vampire on my hands. Eric Northman didn't take too well to my becoming king."

"I would have thought the Norseman would be more reasonable. By all accounts, he is quick to ally himself with vampires of strength, and you are certainly more worthy than Sophie-Anne."

"True," Russell said with false regret, "but Northman was recently caught selling V by the Magister. I fear that the unfortunate business with Godric drove the Viking mad."

"Unfortunate," Felipe agreed.

"Indeed. Northman killed the Magister and then fled," Russell lied.

Felipe chuckled heartily. "Oh—that is convenient."

"It was conveniently done after the Magister performed my wedding ceremony."

Felipe continued laughing. "You always were lucky, dear Russell."

"Not always," Russell pouted. "Sadly, my best tracker is out of commission."

"Mott?" Felipe asked.

"Yes. A human woman he wanted to turn almost killed him."

Felipe laughed again. "I really must come and visit you. Such excitement!"

"You are welcome any time, old friend."

"Sadly, I do not think I can break away right now. My child requires a bit of help with the transitioning of his Were population in Arizona. Plus, if you have made your first move, I must make mine."

"Excellent," Russell commented.

"I will send you Victor, however," Felipe said. "You know that his tracking skills rival even Mott's, and he does not have the propensity for collecting human women along the way either. Seriously, Russell, I know that Mott is useful, but how do you put up with him?"

"He kept his last woman for a whole decade before he staked her," Russell defended. "Plus, his lack of any scruples is quite useful at times. And his tracking ability truly is second to none. I would appreciate the usage of Victor for a while, however. I know that Talbot would enjoy his company as well."

"Then Victor shall be on my private jet winging his way to you within an hour of sunset here."

"Wonderful. Send him to Northman's little bar in Shreveport."

"Of course, and give Talbot my love," Felipe said before hanging up.

Russell smiled. Felipe would soon begin implementing his own machinations to acquire more territory, beginning with Colorado and Idaho. And—when the time was right—Russell planned to let it be known that he was actually the one who had ultimate control over so many monarchies. However, that control was only a bonus for Russell. The real plan was to gain the attention of the Authority and begin to draw out the members. Up to this point, the Authority members had managed to retain their anonymity. Otherwise, Russell would have dealt with them already. The ancient vampire had resented the meddling Authority before the Great Revelation, but now their concern for "human/vampire relations" made Russell sick to his fucking stomach!

For that reason, Russell had sent in his only remaining child—other than Talbot, of course—to infiltrate the AVL. On the surface, Nan Flanagan was the face of mainstreaming, but Russell knew better. Nan was ruthless and bloodthirsty. She was also a wonderful source of information. However, not even she was privy to the identities of the Authority members.

Thinking of his child, Russell dialed his phone.

"Flanagan," came her sharp voice on the other end.

Russell immediately hung up, knowing that Nan would have recognized the number and spoken to him like that only if she were not alone.

Within minutes, she called back.

"Master," she said with deference. "I am sorry that I could not call you immediately."

"Dearest," Russell said with true affection in his tone. No one—not even Talbot—knew that Nan was his eldest child. He'd turned her almost 950 years before while he was in Siberia.

Near the beginning of his second millennium, Russell had gone through a phase where he'd enjoyed colder weather and isolation; thus, he'd spent a few centuries touring the northernmost populations of the world. After his time in the Scandinavian countries, he'd moved east—through the territory of the Eastern Slavs—what was now Russia. He'd eventually ended up in Siberia. It was there that he found his Надежда, who later chose the name Nan. He'd found his child seducing a chieftain in the area in which he was staying. Russell, too, had had designs upon that particular man. The elder vampire had been fascinated by the tough-as-nails peasant woman, and though he had made only male children before, he decided that a new experience was in order. He watched as Nan heartlessly killed the chieftain and stole the riches off of his corpse. And then he turned her and made her even more magnificent!

His most trusted child was the only one whom he'd informed of his plans to force the Magister to perform his wedding ceremony to Sophie-Anne.

"Your marriage to Sophie-Anne has been officially recognized by the Authority," Nan said. "They were displeased that you didn't petition for official permission, but they can do nothing now that it is done. How did you end up making the Magister conduct the ceremony?"

Russell chuckled. "Let's just say I threatened to take his head if he did not."

The other end of the line was silent for a moment. "You know I do not mean to question you, Master, but what if the Magister tells the Authority you forced him? They are already looking for him to chastise him for performing the ceremony."

"He will not be a problem. I killed him."

Again there was silence.

"The Magister was a fucking idiot, but I did not think you were ready to alienate the Authority yet," Nan said cautiously.

"That is why I have a beautiful scapegoat," Russell informed. For the next ten minutes, Russell told Nan all about Eric Northman's identity as the young Viking man with the grudge. Nan promised to discreetly use the Authority's resources to try to track down Northman. The Authority had access to many government agencies, and given the advances in satellite technology, finding someone as distinct-looking as Eric would likely be easy. Nan also assured that she could make the Authority believe that Northman was responsible for the Magister's death, thereby keeping Russell out of their crosshairs.

When Russell hung up with his child, he was well-pleased. She had also been able to email him a list of all the names and contact information for the vampires of Area 5. Russell forwarded that list on to his day-woman, Jennifer Rigans, and ordered her to contact all the vampires on the list and make sure they were at Fantasia at 2:00 a.m. for a "meeting." Any that didn't show up would be assumed confederates of Northman, would be tortured, and would be put to their final deaths. Of course, Russell still planned to torture all of Area 5's vampires—at least a little—but only until he could establish where their true loyalties lay.

Just as Russell had completed his instructions to Jennifer, Bill jet up into a sitting position. "Sookie," he gasped.

Russell's attention was immediately on the younger vampire.

"Is she here?" Bill asked desperately.

Russell shook his head. "No. But I was hoping that you could find her for us tonight. Is she caught in the dream you sent?"

Bill sighed. "No—she must not have slept today."

"That is disappointing," Russell commented, keeping his voice even. "However, we can try again in the morning. Tell me—can you feel her at all?"

Bill closed his eyes. "I can feel her a little, but I am not sure how to find her." His voice took on bitterness. "Northman is still obscuring her from me!"

Bill opened his eyes to the sound of Russell's fangs piercing flesh. Russell's bloody wrist was soon in front of him.

"Take more, my child," Russell cooed. "Your senses will be sharper with my blood."

Immediately, Bill complied. Russell enjoyed the sounds coming from the younger vampire's mouth; however, he refrained from acting upon the lust he saw within Bill's eyes, even though his own loins were stirred as well.

Bill pulled away as Russell's wound healed. "I can feel her to the south," he said with triumph in his eyes. "I cannot tell how far, but I know the direction."

"Good boy," Russell said, quickly fastening his pants and putting his shoes on. Even as Bill was straightening his own clothing, Russell was contacting Dane.

"Be ready to travel in five minutes," Russell said into his phone before hanging up. A minute later, Bill and he were both feeding on the donor that had been brought in for Bill. And four minutes after that, they were in an SUV heading south. Dane was driving, and another SUV full of Were guards was following closely behind.

"Can you tap into Sookie's emotions?" Russell asked Bill.

"She is nervous," Bill said somewhat uncertainly. The younger vampire was clearly nervous as well. "She feels almost," Bill paused, "numb. It is difficult for me to get a good read on her, however."

Russell considered that information for a moment. "Is she closer or farther away from us than she was before?"

Bill closed his eyes. "I still sense her to the south, but I cannot tell if she is in the next town or in New Orleans—or even further from me," he said with frustration straining his voice.

Russell nodded. "That is fine, William. We are heading in the right direction, and we will get to her." The king smiled reassuringly.

Bill nodded and continued to try to concentrate on his tie to Sookie. There were forty minutes of silence as the car spend south, heading toward New Orleans.

Suddenly Bill's eyes popped open. "She is sleeping now."

Russell smiled. "Excellent. Infiltrate her dreams, Bill. Show her how much you love her."

Bill nodded and closed his eyes again. After a few minutes, he opened them.

"I cannot get into Sookie's dreams!" the younger vampire yelled. "I cannot link well enough to her blood or her emotions!"

"It must be Northman's interference," Russell posited even as he patted Bill's hand to comfort him. "Keep trying, and do not despair. I am sure we will find your love soon."

Bill nodded and closed his eyes again.

Meanwhile, the king was happy to go into downtime and fantasize about what he could do with a telepath and what he would do with Northman.

Exactly eighty minutes later, Bill opened his eyes; they were panic-stricken. "I cannot sense her position at all anymore!" he cried desperately.

The king looked closely at Compton. "Is she alive?"

Bill nodded. "Yes. I can still feel her dreaming, and I am still trying to control my blood to infiltrate those dreams; however, it is as if I am being blocked at every turn. But, as I said, I can no longer sense her direction from us!"

Russell sighed heavily. "The Viking must have more resources than I thought." Within moments, Russell had his phone out. He dialed a number he'd hoped not to have to dial again. After all, witches were such unseemly creatures.

Four rings later, a harsh female voice answered the phone.

"King Russell," the voice said. "To what do I owe the honor?"

Russell's expression became a snarl because of the sarcasm in the female's voice. He had wanted to crush her many times before, but her value had stilled his hand. And—worst of all—she knew it!

"Hallow, I require your services—immediately," Russell said without preamble.

"I am currently employed with the vampire king of India," the witch replied.

Russell growled. "You are a resident of Mississippi, and you are my asset, witch!"

"And you are the one who lent me halfway around the world," Hallow snarled back. "I will be finished here within a week to ten days. Then I will come. Not before."

Russell sneered. "Fine! Meanwhile, you will answer a few questions for me," he demanded.

Hallow laughed. "Of course, my king."

Russell held in his anger and proceeded. "One of my vampires has a tie with a human. An older vampire also has a tie with her and has been interfering with my vampire's ability to track her."

"That is common enough," Hallow said. "I can do nothing to help your vampire. As you know, older vampire blood takes precedence over younger in such matters. I suggest you give the young one some of your own blood to boost his ability."

"Do you not think that I have already done that?" Russell asked through clenched teeth.

"And?" Hallow asked. "Did it not help?"

"For a while it seemed to be working as my vampire got a bearing on the human's direction—though not her distance from us. But, all of a sudden, there was nothing."

"Then the human is likely dead," the witch commented.

"No," Russell said even as Bill shook his head fervently. "My vampire is certain that she is alive. In fact, she is asleep; my vampire is, even now, trying to affect her dreams. However, he has lost the ability to sense her location at all."

The other end of the line was quiet for a moment. "And you suspect witchcraft?" Hallow asked.

"Yes!" Russell said with frustration. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have called you!"

Hallow chuckled. "You are correct to believe that a witch must be involved. As you know, there is no known spell to interfere with dream-sending; however, there are some that can block the blood in other ways." Her voice was full of amusement as she went on, "I would imagine it is a powerful witch, indeed, if he or she has created a concealment spell that is inhibiting a vampire's tracking abilities to the extent that even the strength of your blood is not helping."

"Can you stop the spell?" Russell demanded.

"Not from India," Hallow howled. "And not from anywhere else either, but I could trace it if I knew the witch who cast it."

"If I knew the witch's identity, I would not need you!" Russell stormed, his impatience with the witch now frightening Bill.

Hallow was clearly still amused. "If your foe is using a witch for something like a concealment spell, then there are likely traces of his or her magic elsewhere. Find them, and I will see you in seven to ten days."

With that, the witch disconnected the call, and Russell promised himself that he would one day kill Hallow Stonebrook. He'd just have to wait until after he had used her as much as possible.

Russell took a few minutes to calm down.

"Do you have any feeling whatsoever about Miss Stackhouse's direction?" he finally asked Bill.

The younger vampire looked tired, helpless, and very nervous. He shook his head. "No. I am sorry I failed you, your majesty."

Russell sighed and then ordered Dane to turn the SUV around.

"We will find her eventually, young William," Russell said, his voice calm once more. He texted a few of his Weres in the New Orleans area to begin a search there, but since Bill had known only direction and not distance, Eric could have taken Sookie anywhere in the southern hemisphere for all Russell knew.

"I am sorry," Bill repeated, obviously crestfallen.

Russell sighed and patted the younger vampire's hand. "As you heard, it is likely that Northman has a powerful witch working with him. And, if that is the case, then even I couldn't have found her with a blood tie. You did all you could, William," he comforted, "for now."

"I hate to think of my Sookie in Eric's hands," the younger vampire lamented.

Russell smiled at the youngling. Bill's zeal for Sookie amused him to no end. But the girl had shown similar devotion to the vampire as well. She had risked her life by going to Jackson, and—even after Russell had shown her the file full of information Bill had collected—Sookie had still put her life on the line by rescuing him the next day.

Russell was pleased by this. Apparently Miss Stackhouse could not be glamoured, but she felt herself "in love" with Compton—in love to the point that she would do anything to get to him. She'd even apparently tried to feed him when he was near death; of course, she'd almost died for her trouble, but that was beside the point.

"She will not be in the Norseman's hands for long," Russell assured Bill. "I have seen wonderful love and devotion from your Sookie, and that love is not for Eric."

"I love her as well. I would do anything for her," the younger vampire averred.

"I know you would, William," Russell said smoothly. "And—soon—you will help her to transition into her new life. Eventually, the Viking's blood influence in her will be gone. Only your blood will remain." Russell chose not to tell Bill that he planned to get Sookie to take the blood of one other vampire in his retinue. Russell had decided to save that tidbit of information for later and to present it as a security measure for both Sookie and Bill. He'd even let them "decide" upon the vampire. Likely they would choose Talbot. He had the ability to charm almost anyone out of his or her blood. Thus, Russell didn't see any reason why Talbot wouldn't be able to charm someone into taking some of his.

The best part would be that both Sookie and Bill would still feel as if they were "free." And—as long as they behaved—Russell was more than willing to maintain that illusion for them. Hell—he might even let them return to Bon Temps for a while—if the girl remained stubbornly insistent about the idea. After that, it would be easy to get some of Bartlett's or Felipe's vampires to come in and "pose a threat" to Sookie's safety. Russell could imagine the whole amusing scenario! He'd "encourage" Bill and Sookie to go back to their "normal" lives for a while, but then danger would come, and they would come to their "king" for protection. Russell smiled to himself. It would be an amusing game, and it would make the couple even more beholden to him.

"I am afraid that she will reject me," Bill cried gloomily, interrupting Russell's musing. "After all, I hurt her intentionally by telling her that I was with Lorena again, but I was only trying to protect her!"

The younger vampire—it seemed—had a propensity for tears, so Russell handed him a handkerchief. "Of course you were!" he responded with understanding. "She will understand that you were only trying to keep her safe. You did not understand then that I meant your Sookie no harm. In fact, I want to treat her—and you—with the respect that valued assets deserve. Sophie-Anne would have used the girl horribly, but things will be different with me."

"Thank you, your majesty," Bill said. "Your kindness has been," he paused, "unexpected."

"I have found that most good things in this life are, William," Russell said knowingly.

"I'm just afraid that Sookie will find things out—that Sophie-Anne or others will tell her things—that would only harm her," Bill said.

Russell couldn't help the little smirk that formed on his lips, though he hid it from Bill. It seemed that the younger vampire had even more secrets he wanted to hide from Sookie. From the file, Russell could guess some of them. He could also tell that Bill was fishing for more assurances that he could keep his telepath in the dark.

"Secrets have a way of coming to light," Russell responded sagely. "I have lived long enough to know that very few secrets can be maintained for long. Why don't you tell me what you fear young Miss Stackhouse will learn so that I can better offer my advice on the matter?"

Bill seemed to consider Russell's words for a moment and then nodded. "I have done things that I'm not proud of," the younger vampire admitted.

Russell held in his glee. With Compton, everything always came back to guilt. "So have we all," the king lied; in truth, he had forsworn regret long ago. "Yet, where there is love, there is also forgiveness," he added soothingly.

"The queen sent me to Bon Temps to secure Sookie for her," Bill confessed.

Russell had guessed that much already. "But you never took Miss Stackhouse to the queen. That will count for a lot with the girl."

Bill contemplated for a moment. "Maybe. But it was just a series of chance events that made my procurement of Sookie take longer than expected."

"Do tell," Russell said, leaning forward a little. He so loved a good story, and it would take them a while to get back to Fangtasia.

"I—uh," Bill paused. "I'll start at the beginning—if that is okay, your majesty."

Russell nodded permissively. "That's always a good place to start a story."

Bill seemed to be taking a deep breath into his lungs. Of course, all vampires could "breathe" when they wanted. Air was still brought into their bodies as needed. After all, if it were not, then speech would not be possible. However, few drew air in fully. Russell had learned quickly that doing so was one of Bill's "tells." It meant that the youngling was getting ready to tell Russell a very sordid tale indeed! The king was looking forward to it.

"It begins with the queen's pet—Hadley."

"Ah—the blond one of which she is so fond. I believe that Hadley will be residing with us in Mississippi for the time being."

"That complicates things," Bill said quietly. "Hadley is Sookie's cousin."

With difficulty, Russell held in his grin. "Then Sookie will definitely wish to interact with her. But what can Hadley possibly tell your fairy that will do her harm?" Russell asked innocently.

"As you know," Bill began. "I was—I am—Sophie-Anne's procurer. The queen is fond of rarities, and over my decade in her service, I have found many humans with unusual blood."

"Yes," Russell said. "Talbot would like for us to take advantage of your skills in this area."

Bill immediately looked full of shame at the idea.

"Remember, young William," Russell mollified gently, "Talbot treats our unique donors like precious commodities. They live in luxury and are quite happy with their lives—just as Hadley seems to be."

Bill nodded, the guilt on his face immediately abating. He took another breath. "I found Hadley living in squalor—in a house where methamphetamines were being produced. She was an addict and was selling the meth for the home owner in order to get her own daily fix; however—despite these things—her blood was the best I'd smelled in years. I made her a project of sorts."

"A fixer-upper," Russell mused.

Bill nodded. "I knew that the queen would not want to feed from anyone in Hadley's condition, so I took the girl to an apartment I kept for," he paused, "promising candidates. It was there that I would personally prepare new donors for the queen."

"Ah," Russell smiled, "a trick of the procurement trade, I would imagine."

"Exactly," Bill responded. "I glamoured Hadley into no longer wishing to take illicit drugs, and within a week, the physical withdraw symptoms of her drug use were no more. I made sure that she was well-fed, for she was virtually skeletal at first. And I also bought her some nice clothing. Within a few weeks, she was ready to be," he paused, "tried."

"And you tried her?" Russell asked with a twinkle in his eyes.

"I always 'tried' those whom I had to collect out of gutter," Bill answered stiffly. "It was my duty. I could not have them being a disappointment to the queen."

"Of course not," Russell said evenly. "I would expect nothing less from an expert procurer—such as yourself."

Bill looked relieved at Russell's words. Both vampires in the vehicle knew that "trying"—in this case—involved both feeding and fucking, and Russell's expression showed Bill that he need not feel guilty for these actions.

"So Hadley was deemed," Russell paused, "acceptable to take to the queen."

Bill nodded. "She had grown to trust me—since I had taken care of her. Of course, after my time with her, I glamoured her to enjoy the kinds of attentions that the queen would give her sexually. She had preferred men, though she'd done much in her pursuit of drugs."

"So her preference was changed—so that she would enjoy females more?"

Bill nodded in confirmation. "And my work was a success. The queen immediately favored Hadley. Her blood was wonderful—with a spice I had never tasted before!" The younger vampire licked his lips at the memory. "And the girl was especially uninhibited—and unafraid—when it came to intimate encounters."

The king smiled at the look on Bill's face. He figured that Compton would be blushing if it were possible for a vampire to do so. "And—of course—your glamour helped her along in that area."

Bill nodded again. "Yes—but Hadley also had an inclination for it. Her background was quite," he paused, "sordid."

"Sordid?" Russell asked.

"Yes. She'd been a stripper and an occasional prostitute. Of course, these things made her even more uninhibited, which was excellent! You know how the queen is both a voyeur and an exhibitionist."

Showing his distaste, Russell sneered. "Yes."

Bill took another deep breath. "But there was more to Hadley. She also had a very self-destructive streak. She'd run away from home and had begun taking drugs as a teen."

"Do you know why?" Russell asked with interest.

Bill nodded. "Yes. Hadley rebelled against her single mother, which is not unusual. However, she'd also been sexually abused as a child—by an uncle. That was at the root of her problematic behavior."

"How sad," Russell responded.

"Yes," Bill agreed. "I learned of her abuse a few days before I took her to Sophie-Anne, and—so that she might make the queen a better pet—I glamoured her to forget her uncle's misdeeds. After that, she was immediately happier. And she accepted her new role in the queen's entourage with glee!" he reported.

"So—you learned of your Sookie from her cousin as well?" Russell probed when Bill was silent for a few moments.

"Yes. The queen enjoyed Hadley so much that it wasn't long before she and I began questioning Hadley about her remaining family members."

"A reasonable step," Russell observed. "After all, blood is inherited."

Bill nodded. "Yes. Unfortunately, Hadley shared that there were only three members of her family's bloodline remaining: a grandmother and two cousins—Adele, Jason, and Sookie Stackhouse. Hadley told us that she thought Sookie was," he paused, "odd."

"Odd?"

"Yes. Hadley explained that Sookie always seemed to know what others were thinking, and when the queen showed interest, Hadley was happy to tell more."

"Ah—to please her queen," Russell observed.

"Yes. We soon suspected that Sookie was a telepath and, given the fact that Hadley's blood was so rich, the queen posited that we had found a group of Fae hybrids."

"A wonderful find!" Russell exclaimed, acknowledging Bill's good work.

Bill shook his head sadly. "Of course, Sophie-Anne was greedy, especially because of the old myth that indicated that fairy blood could help a vampire to walk in the sun. The queen tried with Hadley. Uh—not on herself, of course." He paused. "To preserve secrecy, she asked me to try with Hadley's blood, but the sun immediately scorched my flesh."

"How disappointing for the queen," Russell deadpanned.

"Indeed," Bill returned. "After that, Sophie-Anne decided to send me to Bon Temps. My mission had several goals. First, I was to establish contact with the whole Stackhouse family and see if their blood was as flavorful as Hadley's. I was also to confirm that Sookie was a telepath, and—if so—I was to secure her into our service by any means necessary, though the queen wanted the girl to come more-less willingly."

"Of course," Russell observed.

Bill continued. "My main mission, however, was to trace the Stackhouse family line back to its fairy source and keep watch to see if I might find other Fae."

"Ah, so the queen was greedy," Russell mused. In truth, the king couldn't blame her. He was old enough to remember when fairies were more commonly found in the human realm. He had even tasted a half-blood before. It was delicious—intoxicating.

He couldn't wait to have more!

Chapter Text

Chapter 21: A Fairy Tale

Bill took in a deep breath and looked at Russell with unease.

The king smiled benevolently. "You may tell me anything, young William. You will face no judgment here—just acceptance," he added seductively.

His eyes hopeful, Bill nodded. "Okay." He took another breath. "I tracked the Stackhouses for several days before I made contact with any of them."

"And whom did you approach first?" Russell asked.

Bill's voice took on a more formal, almost "professional" tone. Russell knew that he was now talking to Bill in "procurer mode."

"Sookie's brother was the easiest because he lives alone," Bill informed.

"And is he like his sister?"

"No," Bill responded. "Jason smells somewhat better than an average human. But, unlike Sookie, I could easily glamour him."

"And did you taste him?"

Bill nodded. "Yes. But I found it was only slightly more interesting than regular human blood—not even as good as Hadley's." He contemplated for a moment. "There is a twinge of something 'other' in it, but the boy's regular type is O-positive, and the normal qualities of his blood counterbalance the spice. Jason is also quite 'simple' in some ways—easily manipulated. He told me that his sister was special in some way, but he couldn't really say what that was. It was as if he didn't want to acknowledge it himself." Bill shook his head a little. "Jason did indicate that Sookie sometimes knew of things that she shouldn't, but that was the best I could get out of him. I glamoured him to forget our encounter and then left him alone."

Russell sighed. "What a pity that he didn't at least taste as good as Hadley."

Bill nodded in agreement and then continued. "The next night, I watched Adele's house—where Sookie also lived—until Sookie went to work. I then paid Adele a visit. She too was easy to glamour, and I quickly gained an invitation into the house. Adele's blood was completely human. I concluded, therefore, that Adele's husband's side of the family was the likely source of the fairy blood. I questioned Adele and found out that her husband, Earl, disappeared without a trace nearly twenty years ago. I also learned that Jason and Sookie's parents had both been killed in a car accident, which was caused by an anomalous flash flood. Hadley's mother had died of cancer. Adele knew of no other relatives—not even distant cousins."

"Was she able to confirm her granddaughter's telepathy for you?" Russell asked.

"Yes. She told me that her granddaughter could hear others' thoughts and had learned to build what Adele called 'shields' so that she could avoid doing so. I was able to discern that the family tried to pretend that Sookie did not have such a gift. And it seemed that the girl did whatever she could to keep from outwardly showing the signs of her ability. However, the townspeople had still intuited that there was a difference with Sookie; they even called her 'crazy Sookie' as a nickname. Especially as a child, Sookie had been ostracized by most people because she'd not yet gotten control of her gift. I also learned that Sookie had never been in a relationship with a man because touch amplified the effects of her telepathy." Bill took another deep breath. "I also questioned Adele to find out if Sookie had a history of abuse similar to her cousin's."

"Did she?" Russell asked with interest.

"Yes. It was Adele's brother who molested the two girls. After I had begun things with Sookie, she also confided in me and told me about her abuse."

Russell nodded in acknowledgment. "I see how all of this information would have been quite useful in your pursuit of Miss Stackhouse. Tell me—did the grandmother have any additional information?"

Bill shook his head. "Not really anything pertinent to the potential fairy line. I had Adele show me family photos and whatnot, and I 'borrowed' and then copied anything that seemed potentially useful in order to add it to my files. I returned Adele's original items the next night so that they wouldn't be missed. I also asked Adele to tell me more about Sookie—her likes and dislikes. From that visit, I decided upon the best way to get into the girl's good graces."

"And what did you decide?"

"Well—I had two plans, and the one I ultimately chose was contingent upon whether or not Sookie could hear my thoughts. Thankfully, her telepathy does not work on vampires, so I set in motion my preferred plan."

"Which was?"

"Well—it was clear that Sookie had always tried to hide her ability and that she'd gone to great pains to develop her 'shields.' I figured that—if she couldn't hear my thoughts—I would be immediately interesting to her. I also posited that my presence would be soothing to her. I hoped to force encounters that would compel her to tell me of her gift, and—after she had—I planned to show acceptance of it and offer aid with her shields."

"I see. You wanted to give her the things she most craved—acceptance and aid in pretending to be 'normal.' Very generous—and clever," Russell complimented.

"Thank you, your majesty," Bill said with a little smile. "I knew that I could offer myself as a suitor if Sookie couldn't hear my thoughts."

"The only viable suitor," Russell smiled.

Bill nodded. "Yes. That was my thinking. I decided that it would be best to observe Sookie around others before approaching her. And I needed to know if she could hear me or not, so I went to her place of employment."

"She worked at the shifter's bar?" Russell asked with clear disdain in his tone.

Bill nodded. "Yes. Sookie is quite loyal to Sam Merlotte and her few other friends. She did not know at the time that Merlotte was a shifter. Through observing from outside the bar, I was able to find out that "crazy Sookie" was a common topic of gossip among the townspeople. I studied Sookie's face, and it became clear almost immediately that the thoughts of others hurt her a great deal. I could see her concentrating very hard to keep those thoughts out of her mind."

"How did you come to be certain that she couldn't hear you?" Russell queried.

"After I studied the way she reacted to the thoughts of others, I tried thinking a few things right at her. First, I did it from outside the bar—before she ever saw me. Then I entered the bar." Bill looked a little uncomfortable. "She uses what she calls her 'crazy Sookie smile' to cover up her reactions; however, her face remained placid around me as I thought about . . . ." Bill stopped and looked away, as if ashamed.

"What did you think about?" Russell asked.

"Fucking her in the very booth I was in. Draining her and everyone else in the room," the younger vampire responded quietly.

"Horrors that one of Sookie's ilk wouldn't have been able to ignore," Russell commented.

Bill nodded. "After only a few moments, I became confident that Sookie was, indeed, ignorant of my thoughts. Because she didn't know what the shifter was, I also hypothesized that his thoughts were not clear to her. That theory was something that she later confirmed."

"So werewolf thoughts would likely be obscured from her as well," Russell observed.

"That would be my guess, but I am not sure," Bill responded. He took another deep breath. "I also tried to glamour her that first night. But even with my higher than normal level of skill, she resisted. It even seemed as if she could tell that I was trying to enter her mind, so I immediately backed off. Despite that, however, it was clear that she was intrigued by me. It was also obvious that I was the first vampire she'd ever met. And I quickly realized that I could use my status as 'other' to my benefit."

"Ah," Russell nodded. "She would see you as a kindred spirit because you were both different from the others in the town."

"Exactly," Bill said. "It was painfully obvious that she had little acceptance from others. Adele had been correct; she tried to both hide and stifle her gift rather than using it. And even when she decided to try to use her telepathy to help clear her brother of some murders he was suspected of committing, she did so with great hesitation—almost apology."

Russell nodded. "I read about the human serial killer, Rene Lenier, in your file. He killed Adele Stackhouse—correct?"

Bill nodded.

Russell smiled at his young protégé after Bill had been silent for a few moments. "So far, William, I don't see anything untoward about your actions, and things could be easily explained to Sookie. You were sent to do a job by your queen. Sookie need never know that you made contact with her family members before you met her. I admit that Hadley's presence will complicate things, but I will make sure that you have had ample time alone with Sookie in order to explain how the queen first learned of her telepathy. You can emphasize that Hadley is the reason for the queen's interest and that you were just following orders. Clearly, you fell in love with Sookie once you began interacting with her. Just tell her that you were trying to keep her from the queen through a variety of delays."

Bill nodded. "I can see that working with what Hadley might tell Sookie, but the queen knows everything that I did in those first days with Sookie, and I don't know how Sookie could forgive me for many of my actions."

"Tell me what the queen knows," Russell cajoled.

Bill sighed. "When I realized that my glamour didn't work, I decided that seduction was the route I would have to take with Sookie—since Sophie-Anne didn't want me to kidnap her outright," Bill said as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Thus, I glamoured two humans into helping my plan along a bit. They happened into the bar the night that I met Sookie, and given their behavior and interest in me, I immediately guessed that they were users of V. I sat with them, and while Sookie was in the back of the bar, I glamoured them. They were actually planning on draining me and had some silver in their vehicle from draining a vampire in Monroe the week before. Quickly, I glamoured them so that they would 'think' about their plans in great detail."

"Ah—so that Miss Stackhouse would hear them."

"Yes," Bill confessed. "She seemed to dislike them anyway, and when she brought refills to our table, she clearly heard something that troubled her. Immediately after she went to the back again, I left with the Rattrays." Bill sighed deeply. "I glamoured them to use their silver to hold me down; however, I made sure that I could escape it if necessary. Then they were to take a couple vials of my blood. They had some blood left from the last vampire they drained, so the scene was set up to look as if they had taken a lot more blood from me than they actually did."

Russell nodded and motioned for the younger vampire to continue.

"Not long after that, Sookie came outside looking for me. Just as I'd hoped she would, she came alone."

"You were counting on the fact that she didn't want to admit to the others how she knew you were in trouble," Russell observed.

"Yes," Bill said. "All of her closest friends and her brother were at Merlotte's, and I took the opportunity to see if she would tell them what she'd heard with her telepathy and ask them for help. When she did not, that told me a lot about Sookie. She was clearly independent—to a fault. And she was also clearly reticent about using her gift and asking for help. Thus, even with those closest to her, she was withdrawn. I knew that I could use all of those things to my benefit. My plan, if Sookie came alone, was to let the Rattrays capture her and beat her up to the point that she would need my blood."

"And you would break through your silver, save her life, and become her trusted hero in one fell swoop," Russell observed.

Bill nodded, the shame clear in his eyes. "Yes. But things did not work that way with Sookie. She took a chain from her brother's truck and used it as a weapon against the Rattrays. Somehow, she managed to get them to leave the scene, and she 'rescued' me."

Russell laughed a little. "No wonder you found her worthy."

"Yes," Bill said somewhat cautiously. "I was very intrigued by her. However, she was a little wary of me at first, and she kept hold of some of the silver after she'd freed me. It was then that I realized that charming her would be more difficult than I had first thought, especially since I'd been unable to get my blood into her." Bill sighed. "I offered her the vials of my blood that the Rattrays had taken, but she declined. She didn't seem to know much about V, and she wasn't interested in trying it or selling it—despite the money she could get for it. She left soon after, telling me that she had to return to work before she was missed."

"Interesting," Russell said. "She obviously had no intention of telling her friends of her heroic deed either."

Bill shook his head. "No. Realizing that I needed a better-developed plan, I decided to go home and regroup that night. I took the blood and called the queen to report what had happened. She agreed with me that seduction was the best method of proceeding. When I told her of my plan to get my blood into Sookie, she gave me her approval. She also asked me to sell the V, rather than to destroy it." Bill looked down ashamedly. "I am sorry to admit that I did just that. The queen needed the money for the state."

"You were just obeying your monarch," Russell soothed.

Bill looked up at Russell with gratefulness in his eyes. "I hated obeying some of her directives," Bill admitted.

"Rest assured that the blood is fully sacred to me," Russell assured.

Bill nodded and smiled a little before his face fell once more. "I tracked the Rattrays to their home and glamoured them into telling me who they planned to sell the V to. I then used them to arrange the transaction. While I was with them, I developed a second plan to get my blood into Sookie."

Russell motioned for Bill to continue, anxious to hear about Act II of his little "love story" with the fairy.

Bill did not disappoint. "I returned to Merlotte's the next night. Once more, I saw that Sookie was interested in me, and I determined that it was because she couldn't hear my mind. She seemed excited by that notion—and soothed, just as I'd hoped she'd be. So I got her to sit down with me, and I took her hands. My thought was that if she concentrated on only my mind, she would no longer hear the thoughts of the others around her as fully. I assumed that this would help her to relax her gift in my presence, which would—in turn—cause her to relax around me in general. I knew that she would be more likely to trust me if I demonstrated that I could help her in this way."

"And did it work?" Russell asked.

Bill nodded. "Even better than I'd hoped, and I could see her softening toward me. With little difficulty, I got her to agree to meet me alone outside of Merlotte's after her shift ended." Bill took a deep breath. "I glamoured the Rattrays so that they would be lying in wait for her. I also glamoured them to the point that they were not thinking about why they were there—or about much of anything else for that matter."

"Clever," Russell said. "You helped the telepath to shore up her shields with your presence. And then you made sure she would not hear strong thoughts coming from her attackers."

"Yes," Bill mumbled. He looked at Russell with a tortured expression. "Had I known Sookie better then—had I loved her then—I would have never allowed them to beat her as I did."

"Of course not," Russell said comfortingly, even as his hid his smile.

Bill went on, as if driven to finish his confession. "The Rattrays snuck up on her and began to beat her. I watched it happen, but waited. The shifter showed up, and the human male was about to shoot him, but Sookie reached up to stop him. When she did that, I heard a snap. I knew then that Sookie would be paralyzed if I did nothing, so I quickly killed the Rattrays and took Sookie deeper into the woods so that the Shifter could not interfere. At first she resisted, but I eventually got her to drink my blood." He looked down guiltily. "I had not intended to take her blood too. The queen had been very clear that she didn't want me to bond with Sookie. However, Sookie had an open wound on her head."

Russell smiled. "You were just healing her," he comforted. "Tell me—how did she taste?"

"Like ambrosia," Bill croaked out. "It was then that I knew that someone such as Sophie-Anne would harm Sookie irreparably. And I became torn. However, I did not yet recognize that I loved Sookie, so when I got home, I again gave Sophie-Anne a full report."

Russell patted the young vampire on the back in a comforting gesture. "I can see why you are worried now. If Sophie-Anne tells Sookie that you intended to have her beaten so that you could play the hero and get your blood into her from the day of your very first meeting—that you actually planned two such attacks—then your fairy would begin to doubt your love for her. And she might realize that her own love for you was helped along by your blood in her and the bond you started that night."

"I did not tell her about the beginning of the bond—or even about all the effects of a tie," Bill confessed.

"As well you should not have," Russell reassured. "Humans—even ones who are part Fae—do not need to know all that we can do with the blood. What did you tell her?"

"I told her that I would be able to sense it if she were in danger and then track her. I also told her that having vampire blood would increase her libido for a time."

"Clever," Russell said. "She would have thought that her attraction to you was a product of her own increased desire. And she would have been comforted that you could play her hero again since you had done it so well with her attackers."

"Yes," Bill said quietly before telling the king all about the rest of his early relationship with Sookie.

As Russell listened, he appreciated Bill's particular brand of self-delusion all the more. Indeed, Russell did think that Bill's plan had been clever. Between their first blood exchange and the fact that Bill had cast himself into the role of the knight in shining armor, Sookie was caught in his trap and quickly fell in love. Of course, Bill used his blood and a few well-timed dreams to get her right where he wanted her. And soon—according to the Southern gent—he too was "in love."

"Do not fear," Russell said soothingly when Bill was finally done with his little fairy tale. The king rubbed comforting circles into Bill's back. "Sophie-Anne will say nothing of this to Miss Stackhouse or to anyone else."

"How can you be so sure?" Bill asked. "She would enjoy causing the destruction of Sookie and my relationship, especially since I had been delaying our return to New Orleans for weeks and weeks. After those first few reports, I also stopped letting the queen know about my progress with Sookie. I had even planned to take Sookie to Vermont—to marry her. I had hoped it would keep Sophie-Anne away from Sookie. And—if not—I figured that I could get her to leave the state with me if we were husband and wife."

"Then congratulations truly are in order," Russell said as he increased the pressure of his caresses. He enjoyed the scent of Bill's arousal at his touch, as well as the guilt that came along with it.

"Congratulations?" Bill asked.

"Yes. As I said before, I do not see any reason why you and your Sookie cannot marry as you had intended. In fact, I would be honored to be in attendance. And—if you chose to complete a bond with her—I would also endorse that."

"I have exchanged twice with her," Bill admitted. "However, I wanted to tell her something of the bond before the third exchange."

"Of course," Russell said. "And—as I said—do not worry about Sophie-Anne. I will make it clear to her that you and Sookie are more valuable to me than she is. I will let her keep her miserable life and be the figurehead queen of Louisiana only as long as she does not annoy me too much. And if she tells Sookie of your indiscretion, then I will have her head. So," Russell reiterated, "do not trouble yourself. Nothing that you have done need affect your plans with Miss Stackhouse. She will be told about Hadley being the one to speak about her gift. She will be told that the queen sent you to procure her, but she will also hear that you refused to hand her over to the queen because of your growing love for her. You will tell her that—by joining my service—you have found a way to protect her from Sophie-Anne forever. Perhaps, you two can even return to her beloved home in Bon Temps. I believe that I could do with having Sookie work for me only one or two weeks out of every eight, and I would provide her with a contract that would pay very well for her services and guarantee her protection. And she could travel to a clinic near her home once a week to have a pint of her blood drawn to stockpile for me. In fact, as long as others did not learn of her ability and come for her," Russell added, even as he hid his sly smirk, "you two could stay almost fulltime in your hometown. After all, you could employ your procurement skills anywhere!"

"Really?" Bill asked, obviously enamored by the picture that Russell was painting of his and Sookie's life together.

"Of course." Russell winked. "After your wedding, Sookie will want to make you a wonderful home, and I am sure that I can find employment for you in Area 5; perhaps, in addition to procuring the occasional new donor for me, you would be interested in the investigator position. Or—if you think having more freedom with your schedule is better for your relationship with the future Mrs. Compton, I have a database project that you might work on."

Bill bowed his head. "Your majesty, I am honored that you would think of me for such duties."

Russell continued to caress Bill's shoulder lightly, allowing the younger vampire's reactions to dictate his own. It was not long before Bill's arousal led Russell to move in to kiss the youngling.

"Your majesty!" Bill gasped after having allowed the elder vampire to kiss him for several seconds. "I wish to stay faithful to Sookie."

Russell pulled back a little. "If you decide to do that, I will fully support your decision," the king said with affection in his voice. "But consider—Miss Stackhouse is mostly human. And it would be best—for the both of you—if you had a safe outlet. A secret outlet." The king smiled comfortingly. "You could have such an outlet in Talbot and myself. Female donors could even be added to the mix if you preferred. Your relationship with Sookie would not be compromised. In fact, you could take out your more aggressive tendencies on others—thus leaving only your tender side for your wife. Surely—in your human time—men did such things."

Bill nodded. "Yes. My father kept several mistresses over the years."

Russell nodded. "And you?"

"War can be lonely," Bill said with shame in his eyes. "However, I never bedded another woman—other than my dearest Caroline—until Lorena, but. . . ." His voice trailed off.

"War can be lonely, William," Russell said in a soothing tone. "And some men seek out the fraternity of other men."

"I always enjoyed women," Bill said, somewhat defensively.

"I know. I'm sure you prefer them. Am I correct?" Russell asked.

Bill nodded, though there was some uncertainty in his eyes. Russell didn't bother to point that out.

"But if you enjoy men too—on occasion—there is nothing wrong with that either. Especially for a vampire, it is necessary to experiment."

"Sookie will be enough for me," Bill insisted.

"I am certain that she will be, and she is part Fae, so she will be stronger than a normal human. Still," Russell said almost paternally, "I care for you both and would not want you to unintentionally harm her. It is something that you must consider, young William. With a human, one must," Russell paused, "hold back."

"Yes," Bill conceded after a few moments.

Russell moved away from Bill a little more. "As I said, consider your options carefully. Talbot and I would love your company, William. But if you would prefer to be with only Sookie, that is fine as well. Just know that my consort and I are discreet and would never expect to overshadow or replace the affection you hold for your true love."

Bill looked at Russell almost shyly. "Thank you, your majesty. You have given me much to consider."

"I will give you just one more thing to think about then—if I may," Russell said.

Bill nodded his consent.

"Analyze the encounters you've already had with you fiancé. And be honest with yourself. If any of those experiences got a little rougher than you'd intended, then it would be safer for both you and your bride if you had an outlet of some kind—even if you chose something other than Talbot and myself for that outlet."

Bill's face immediately took on signs of guilt.

Russell concealed his smile. He would bet his un-dead life that Bill had, indeed, gotten too rough with Sookie on occasion—even before the incident of almost draining and raping her in the van.

The king allowed for silence to fall between Bill and himself as Dane sped them toward Fangtasia. Russell could tell that Bill's thoughts were awhirl. Still, the ancient vampire reckoned that Bill would be in his bed before night's end, but he wanted to allow the youngling the choice—or at least the illusion of choice.

Meanwhile, he would give his young charge some time to contemplate his choices as well as to concentrate upon his task of infiltrating Sookie's night dreams and composing woven dreams for the days. As for himself, Russell spent the rest of the ride planning out how he would deal with the vampires of Area 5. It was just past 2:00 a.m., the time he'd told the vampires in Northman's old area to be at Fangtasia.

But he was the goddamned king!

So they could wait to be tortured!

Chapter Text

Chapter 22: To Covet

cov·et \ˈkə-vət\

verb

to want (something that you do not have) very much

to wish for earnestly covet an award

to desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably

All told, Area 5 had thirty-one permanent vampire residents and twelve who were living there on a temporary or trial basis. The number was rather large, given the size of the area and the lack of a major city to draw in tourists. However, Russell soon determined that Eric Northman had been quite a draw in and of himself.

As sheriff, Eric had been fair and disciplined. He'd aided many of the vampires of Area 5 in their business ventures and in settling into the post-Great Revelation world. In return, he asked his people but two things: to "show" themselves at Fangtasia at least twice per month and to pay their tithes accurately and on time. Most of the vampires had no compunction about doing these tasks. And Northman seemed to offer a fair alternative if vampires did not want to fulfill his first requirement. For instance, a few of the vampires who had maintained the secrecy of their vampirism had gotten out of the Fangtasia requirement by doubling their tithes or performing other services. Most of the vampires, however, enjoyed the "buffet" of humans that Fangtasia offered to them, so they frequented the vampire bar more than twice per month, which Eric encouraged with other kinds of incentives.

However—no matter how much the vampires of Area 5 might have respected Northman—and even been loyal to him—vampires were pragmatic creatures when it came down to brass tacks. They had to be. Thus, none of them questioned the three-thousand-year old who told them that the winds of change had come.

Still, despite their cooperation, each of the Area 5 vampires received a bit of torture—just a touch in most cases, to ensure that they had nothing to hide. Many years before, Russell had discovered that just a little silvering was enough to loosen most lips, and it was actually quite easy to tell the vampires who knew more than they initially told.

The king had called in quite a few of his own people; however, when Victor Madden arrived, the torturing/questioning really picked up. Russell spared only two of Area 5's vampires from a taste of the affliction: Bill and his progeny, Jessica, who was mainstreaming with a human man. Russell thought that was a waste, but allowed the lovely redhead to return to her human unharmed—a fact that was much appreciated by Bill. However, Russell also gave Jessica a standing invitation to come to his Mississippi mansion. Bill had appreciated that gesture as well.

Though he was an isolationist at heart, the king was kept abreast of all the interesting gossip by Talbot, who had heard from Lorena that Bill had been forced by the Magister to turn a young human. The turning had been Bill's punishment for killing a vampire in order to save his pet. Russell now realized that the "pet" in the story was Sookie.

Thinking about this, Russell was even happier that he'd killed the Magister. The thought of a random human getting turned to punish a vampire infuriated him. It wasn't that he had any objection to turning humans against their will. Hell—he'd never given any of his own children a choice! What he did object to was the fact that the human's worthiness had not been established beforehand. In Russell's opinion, only the most exceptional humans ought to be gifted with vampirism. Russell had been disgusted by the new crop of vampires that had sprung up after the Great Revelation—so much so that he'd been responsible for killing quite a few unworthy ones himself. Luckily, he sensed some promise in young Jessica, and—though there did not seem to be great affection between her and her maker—they seemed cordial enough.

No. As boring as it had been, the torture of the vampires of Area 5 had been routine, and Russell had not made them suffer long. After all, the king did not want to alienate them! He wanted only to get all the information he could about Eric and his progeny, who was also nowhere to be found. Because of Victor's efficiency, most of the area's vampires were let go after only ten minutes of "vigorous questioning."

To ensure that their allegiance would begin shifting, Russell had even made sure that each vampire had a nice donor to help with his or her healing, which was easy given the fact that many fangbangers had shown up to Fangtasia that night since the club had been scheduled to be open. Russell simply had the humans glamoured to sit quietly in a section of the club where they waited for the vampires to come to feed. He even found a young blonde that he set aside for himself—along with Kenneth and Domitri, both of whom had been glamoured to return to the club that night.

The only "problems" came when a couple of staunch mainstreamers refused Russell's offerings. Now—the king was all for the "appearance" of mainstreaming at times; it was practical, after all. But he couldn't abide "true" mainstreamers. He didn't trust them, for in his opinion they weren't "real" vampires! However, those two "radicals" were easily convinced to partake when Russell threatened their un-dead lives. As further punishment, he ordered them to attend supervised feedings in Jackson every week for the next year.

He'd drum the silly notion of pure mainstreaming out of their heads, or he'd put the pathetic creatures out of their miseries.

Russell smiled and took a moment to study the various elements around the club. It really was a good bar, and he did plan to franchise it—after he destroyed the original, that is. As he waited for Victor to finish up, he sent some photos of the club and emailed a few other ideas to his day-woman, Jennifer.

Of all the vampires of Area 5, it turned out that only Chow knew anything of use, which was to be expected given the fact that the Asian vampire was a partner in Fangtasia with Eric and Pam. Russell knew that Victor would leave Chow under silver a little longer than the others, but it probably wasn't really necessary. After only one swipe with Victor's silver paring knife, the Asian vampire had been very forthcoming with what he knew.

After he'd finished questioning Chow, Victor led Russell to the bar's safe, which was in Northman's office.

"What is the combination?" Russell asked. "Can significance be found in the numbers?"

Victor chuckled. "Well—there is certainly a message in the combination," he said as he entered the code. "It's an alpha-numeric keypad, and the combination is F-U-C-K-Y-O-U."

Russell laughed as well. "The Viking does have a bit of style. I have to grant him that."

Victor nodded in agreement as he began to look at the items in the safe.

"What is in there?" Russell asked with curiosity.

"Some deeds—including the one to this business and a few homes that we already knew about," Victor said as he thumbed through the documents he'd found. He placed them on the desk for Russell to peruse. "And I'd guess about fifty thousand dollars," he added as he stacked five bundles of bills next to the documents. "And this," he said as he held up a small data storage device.

The king motioned for Victor to use Northman's computer to check the contents of the device.

After a few minutes of browsing, Victor spoke, "For the most part, it seems to be accounting records for Fangtasia."

"Email those to my day-woman," Russell directed, "and make sure you tell her to check them carefully for spyware."

Victor nodded and did as Russell had bid.

"Is there anything else?" the king asked.

"Yes. There seem to be some recorded video feeds."

"Let me see," Russell responded as he motioned for Victor to get up.

Victor rose, and Russell took his place in Northman's chair. The king opened the first and then the second and then the third video file. His grin widened a little with each one he opened. They all showed video surveillance which included Sookie Stackhouse.

Russell chuckled with glee.

"Who is that?" Victor asked from over his shoulder.

"A telepath."

"A rare commodity. Is she yours?"

"Why? Are you hoping to take her for yourself?" Russell asked, looking back at Felipe's second in command. Victor was cut from the same cloth as his king—determined and clever, but slightly more reckless. If Russell had to guess, he'd venture that Felipe would have to kill Victor for treason in a century or so—unless the ambitious vampire were given a nice distraction, such as his own state or two to rule.

"She is lovely," Victor observed, leaning forward. "Is that Compton feeding her his blood?"

"Yes," Russell responded. "Young William has started a bond with the telepath."

"Ah—so she has already been claimed," Victor said with regret. "Do you intend to take her from him?"

"No," Russell answered, shaking his head. "If she is Compton's, then she is mine already. Right now, my focus is on recovering her. It is very likely that she is with your objective—Northman."

"Interesting," Victor mused. "Does he wish to claim the telepath?"

Russell paused the footage. "I am uncertain of the Viking's ultimate designs for the woman," the king mused. "But I intend to find them out."

Victor nodded. "If he took her, he has a reason. Perhaps he has a vendetta against Compton?"

"I know that there is no love lost between them," Russell mused. "And if the Viking can control Miss Stackhouse's telepathy, she could be a great asset to him." The king kept to himself the fact that Sookie's Fae blood likely made her taste divine, which would be good enough reason in and of itself to keep her around. But neither Victor nor Felipe needed to know everything. Too many knew that Sookie was Fae as it was.

"I want you to go to this address," Russell ordered as he pointed to one of the deeds. "It is the only one I did not know about before tonight."

Victor scanned the piece of paper and nodded in affirmation.

"I do not think the Viking would have left behind an obvious trail, but there may be something useful there," Russell observed. "And be cautious. Northman could have left behind booby traps."

Victor smiled. "I will enjoy playing this game with the Viking—I think."

"Just see that we are the ultimate winners," Russell responded, his eyebrow raised.

"A quarry has never evaded me for long," Victor said matter-of-factly. Russell knew that the younger vampire was not boasting. He was simply reporting fact.

"Oh," Russell said, as Victor moved to leave, "tell William to join me here. I'd like to view these videos with him."

Victor chuckled and winked at Russell before leaving the room.

Russell noticed that Bill was practically steaming with rage as they watched the first clip.

"That was the first time I brought her to Fangtasia," Bill said through clenched teeth.

"Northman seemed intrigued by her," Russell observed.

"Yes—he was," came Bill's clipped response.

"Well—she is lovely. Tell me—did you claim her that night?"

Bill nodded. "I told Eric that she was mine!"

"What is going on here?" the king asked as he looked back at the video.

"Sookie heard an undercover policeman thinking about a raid. She informed us that a vampire was feeding illegally on the premises, so we left the club."

"So that is how Northman learned of your Sookie's gift?" Russell asked.

Bill nodded. "Unfortunately. I should have emphasized that she should conceal her telepathy," he said with regret.

"Water under the bridge, young William," Russell comforted as he started the second video. "And what goes on here?" the king asked.

"Eric demanded that I bring Sookie to Fangtasia in order to help him find a thief."

"And here?" Russell asked as he watched an exchange between Eric and Sookie, which ended with Eric smirking and nodding as if in agreement.

Bill contemplated for a moment. "That must have been when Sookie agreed to work for Eric in the future, but only if he promised to turn over any human perpetrators to human authorities."

"And he assented to that arrangement?" Russell asked with interest.

"Yes," Bill responded, shifting from one foot to the other.

"Curious," the king remarked. "Oh—and this is where you protected Sookie from the thief," Russell observed as Bill staked Longshadow with a wooden beer tap.

"Yes. Sookie's safety should have been better accounted for," Bill sulked.

Russell paused the video. "Yes," he agreed, even though his eyes weren't focused on Bill or Sookie. His eyes were trained on Eric, whose posture seemed to convey nonchalance and boredom at the situation. However, the king's eyes missed nothing. While Northman's hands were in his pockets, it was clear to Russell that the Viking was grasping something in his left pocket. The king kept his eyes fixed on that pocket. The object looked to be about three inches long, so it most definitely couldn't have been his own cock that Eric had been holding! Russell smirked to himself. No—the Viking had been gripping something else. Could it have been a small stake? If Bill hadn't acted, would have Eric killed Longshadow? Certainly, the situation seemed dire with the raging vampire looming over Miss Stackhouse; however, Russell knew that someone of Eric's age could have stopped Longshadow ten or twelve times before he actually made contact with Sookie's flesh. Hell! Eric wouldn't have even needed a stake; he could have easily ripped Longshadow's head off!

No. It was likely that Eric knew—or at least suspected—that Longshadow was behind the theft before he had Sookie question his employees. The lack of surprise on the Viking's face was indication of that. Indeed, Eric had probably set up the entire meeting in order to find out Bill's level of devotion for Sookie. Or, perhaps, the Viking had hoped that Bill would take care of the Longhadow issue so that he wouldn't have to get his hands dirty. Killing another vampire was always a messy affair, especially if that vampire's maker was still living. Or, the Viking might even have anticipated that Bill's punishment would have been harsher—either the true death or several years imprisonment. Either scenario would have given the Viking free access to his very own telepath.

Russell went to the next clip. "Ah," he said, "are these wounds from the maenad attack you wrote about in your file?"

"Yes," Bill said as he watched Sookie being tended to by Dr. Ludwig.

"And Northman called Ludwig?" Russell asked.

"Yes."

"I hear her going rate is quite hefty," the king observed.

"Eric owed her, and my blood wasn't working," Bill said sulkily.

"Yes—that was in the report too," Russell responded evenly.

The king noticed that William adjusted his crotch when he watched himself feeding Sookie. However, the younger vampire was soon growling. According to the video's timestamp, ten minutes after all the vampires had left Sookie alone with a human woman to watch over her, Eric returned to the room with a basin of water and several towels. Soon after, the human woman left the room.

"The Norseman cares for your woman," Russell observed as they watched Eric carefully cleaning the dried blood from Sookie's face and back.

"He is taking advantage of her unconscious state to touch what is mine!" Bill growled through clenched teeth.

"Indeed," Russell returned as he took note of Eric's tender and respectful touch. "Has Eric had Sookie's blood?" he asked.

Bill stiffened. "No. At least he hadn't up until last night. Now—I do not know." He shook his head angrily. "But Eric is a monster, so he likely has!"

Russell nodded. He wondered if Bill was right. The Viking could have tasted the dried blood instead of cleaning it with a rag. Hell—while she was unconscious, he could have done a lot worse to Sookie Stackhouse.

The next clip was quite short. It showed a woman in a lavender dress walking through the bar. Her face became clear in the next spliced piece as it showed her walking out four minutes later, according to the time stamp on the video.

"That was the night I was abducted," Bill reported. "I bought Sookie that dress," he added wistfully. "I had asked her to marry me that night."

"How did Miss Stackhouse respond?" Russell asked with curiosity.

"She was overwhelmed and took a few moments alone to consider her reply," Bill said a little dejectedly. "I was taken while she was gone."

"Ah," Russell noted, "a woman often needs a moment at such a time." He paused the video and pointed to Sookie's left hand, upon which was a flash of light.

Bill immediately beamed at the sight.

"I believe that is your answer, William," Russell said, looking over at the youngling. "She is wearing the ring you gave her—correct?"

"Yes!" Bill triumphed, his smile widening. "She must have suspected Eric of taking me. She looks angry."

"Yes, your southern belle obviously came here on the night you disappeared with the purpose of confronting Eric. She showed much bravery in her search for you." Silently, Russell was also noting the fact that the little telepath seemed to have no fear of Eric.

The final clip was time-stamped the very next night. In it, Sookie had come in with Jessica, who left the room with Pam a few minutes later. Eric and Sookie spoke for a while, and the king wished more than anything that there was audio for this part. Bill tensed next to him. The conversation between Eric and Sookie seemed emotional—heartfelt.

Eventually the two of them sat down and spoke together for a few more minutes, during which time Sookie seemed to be pleading with the Viking. Eric's countenance became troubled as he watched her. If Russell had to guess based upon Eric's body language, he would say that the Viking was bothered by Sookie's crying. After the telepath left with Jessica, Eric seemed lost in his thoughts for several minutes. His eyes were unblinking as he continued to sit at the table where Sookie and he had been. Finally, he rose and brought both fists down onto the table, breaking it into two clean pieces with his blow. It was there that the video ended.

"Quite an interesting story," Russell mused. "It seems that your Sookie sought out Eric's help in her search for you."

"Perhaps," Bill responded stiffly.

"I believe these videos demonstrate that the Norseman wants what is yours very badly," the king mused.

"I agree," Bill gritted out.

"That is good for us," Russell remarked, his three-thousand-year-old mind speeding through several scenarios. "Eric will likely want to keep your Sookie with him, but I have confidence that you will eventually be able to track her. Or—if the Viking continues to elude us—we will have the aid of my witch once she arrives. She will eliminate whoever is helping Eric with magic, and then you will be able to track her for sure! And, when you find her, we will have them both."

"What of the dream-weaving?" Bill asked. "I do not want Sookie to be with Eric a moment longer than is necessary!" he yelled, his body shaking.

Russell celebrated the fact that Bill would now believe that it was his idea to continue weaving dreams. "You may keep sending the woven dreams, young William," he assured. "I too want Miss Stackhouse away from the Northman. As long as he has her, he can use her telepathy to evade us. I am just noting another strategy—my witch's arrival in a week or so—if we cannot draw her from Eric's side before then. Meanwhile, you must keep yourself calm," he said somewhat sternly.

"I will, your majesty. I," Bill paused, "apologize for my passion."

"It is quite understandable," Russell responded, his tone now soothing.

"It's just that these videos prove Eric's obsession with Sookie! It proves that he is a danger to her!"

Russell nodded as if he concurred with the younger vampire. In truth, the king thought that the only obsession regarding Sookie Stackhouse was Bill's.

On the other hand, there was something about the interactions between the telepath and the Viking that suggested something other than obsession. As a stronger vampire—especially as Bill's sheriff—Eric could have bypassed Bill's claim and easily taken Sookie as his own. Russell hypothesized that if Eric's interest was obsessive, he would have done just that.

No—there was much more than obsession in Eric's actions.

In all of his own interactions with Eric, Russell had never noticed the kinds of reactions that the telepath triggered from him in the videos. Especially in the clips showing them alone, he saw that the Viking seemed to be letting his guard down. In them, the Norseman's emotions could be seen—at least to a certain extent—even in the somewhat grainy video footage.

Russell understood Eric a little more now. A vampire—at least the kind that lived a long life—was, by necessity, cautious regarding his or her emotions. Indeed, there were very few beings that Russell had shared his true emotions with during his long life. Talbot and Nan were the only ones now living who had seen the "real" Russell. And, to the king, the ability to let down his guard was a gift beyond money or power—because it was rarer than both.

It was truly beyond measure.

However, even with Talbot and Nan, Russell held things back out of necessity. A power structure had to be maintained between sire and progeny, and vampire nature had to be taken into account.

With humans, holding back was not necessary. And—through time—Russell had glamoured quite a few humans to be his confidants. Of course, he had always killed them once his craving for closeness had been slaked. After all, he was practical above all else.

Russell knew the signs. With Sookie Stackhouse, Eric seemed to be on the verge of opening himself—of trusting her. Russell wondered what the implications of that would be for the vampire in question—and for the telepath. After all, Sookie could not be glamoured into silence regarding any confidences Eric told to her.

Russell marveled over the possibility of being able share oneself with someone like Sookie Stackhouse—someone who could not be glamoured, someone who held no fear of him. The king couldn't help but to be envious of the Norseman.

To trust completely.

To give oneself fully.

To receive acceptance.

Understanding.

Empathy.

True companionship.

Such things would offer grace. Such things would be a luxury Russell had not enjoyed in three millennia.

What a coveted gift!

"William, why don't you go and check on Chow—to make sure he's restored after his session with Victor? I would also like for you to propose the idea of his running a copy of Fangtasia for me in Jackson." Russell looked up at Bill. "I trust that you can make Chow see that it is in his best interests to work with me."

"Yes, your majesty," Bill said with a bow before leaving the office.

As soon as the youngling was gone, Russell rewound the footage to once again study the video of Eric washing Sookie's healed wounds. The Viking's expression was—for lack of a better word—peaceful, as if no other moment in time had ever brought him as much contentment as the one that he was in. There was nothing predatory about his movements—nothing possessive. Though she was unconscious throughout Northman's care of her, Russell noted that at one point Sookie seemed to lean into the Viking's touch. He paused the video and looked at Eric's face in that moment. There was surprise there and something else: joy.

The ancient vampire skipped the next clip and re-watched Sookie and Eric's interaction as the vampire leaned against a table and earnestly said something to the telepath. Russell could not see the Viking's eyes because of the angle of the video, but he could see the telepath's reaction: surprise. No—it was wonder.

Finally, he re-watched the part of the video where Eric was contemplating something after the fairy left Fangtasia—the last video on the data device. Eric seemed to be angry, and Russell wondered if it was because of the emotions Sookie was able to stir in him—to draw from him.

"Yes," the king said with a wicked smile. "She makes him feel. He cares for her. And he hates himself for it!" He chuckled malevolently. "And he will soon hate her for it too!"

Russell watched the Viking bash the table in two and wondered how long Eric would allow the telepath to live if he ever did fully confide in her—if he ever did let her "see" him.

Russell did not think it would be long.

How could Eric possibly let Sookie live if she learned of the deepest parts of him?

However—by the same twisted irony—how long could Eric hold back from taking advantage of the most precious gift that a vampire could receive: someone both cared for and worthy of trust?

Russell could only begin to understand the paradox of Eric's situation.

Eric would confide in her. He would become vulnerable. And, then, he would have to kill what had made him vulnerable in order to survive.

The ancient vampire sighed. He hoped that Bill's dream-weaving would work sooner rather than later. If not, the telepath would be lost to the Viking's self-preservation impulse. Yes—it was only a matter of time before Eric's practicality trumped his longing for connection.

Sookie's value as a telepath aside, a vampire could not allow a person to live if he or she had been witness to the vampire's weaknesses. And if Russell's instincts were right, Sookie had been or soon would be a witness to Eric Northman's. And Russell had seen that the Viking was too wise and crafty to let that stand.

Russell pocketed the data drive and grabbed the cash. He tossed the money to Dane as he left Northman's office and instructed his new Alpha to add it to the coffers of the pack. Russell had found over the years that it was good for morale to allow the Weres to share in the spoils of a fight. And they had lost many important members of their rank in recent days.

In fact, with that in mind, Russell rethought his earlier actions regarding the stalwart mainstreamers.

"Dane," the monarch said, getting the attention of his alpha again.

"Your majesty," the Were responded deferentially.

"Those two vampires who initially refused to feed from the humans earlier—do you remember them?"

"Yes," Dane responded.

Russell nodded. "Good. Have four of your strongest go get them tomorrow night. Have them told that I wish to see them, and when the vampires let their guards down, have your men bind them in silver. And then share their blood with your pack. I'll let you decide how to allot the blood and whether or not to keep the vampires alive," he added.

Dane bowed and looked at his ruler with gratitude. "Thank you, your majesty."

Russell smiled and patted the young Were on the back. Indeed, it might have been a blessing in disguise for Cooter to be killed. Dane seemed to understand his place much better—and he was a lot less volatile.

The king left the Alpha to make arrangements and went back into the bar.

"So," Russell said to Chow, who was sitting in a booth with Bill, "are you willing to participate in my business venture?"

"Yes, your majesty," Chow said immediately. "I accept your kind offer."

"And will I have your loyalty as Northman did?" Russell asked, looking at the Asian vampire through narrowed eyes.

"No," Chow responded, his own eyes laced with fear and awe—just what Russell loved to see. "You will have more of my allegiance than the Norseman."

Russell smiled and nodded at the vampire. "You are around 200 years old—correct?" he asked.

"Yes," Chow responded. "Two hundred and four."

"It is good to see that you have learned to be practical during your centuries," Russell smirked.

"I have learned math, your majesty," Chow responded. "You are three times Eric's age. And I intend to live many more centuries."

Russell chuckled. "I like you, Chow. You will report to my day-woman, Jennifer Rigans in Jackson tomorrow before dawn to begin planning my Fangtasia."

Chow bowed. "Of course, your majesty."

Russell's phone rang just as the Asian vampire left the bar.

"Victor," Russell answered, recognizing the number.

"I have good news," Victor said.

"What have you found?" the king asked.

"One of your vampires called me right after I left there. He'd discovered the trail of Northman's progeny, but was having trouble following, so I joined him."

"What did you find?" Russell asked with anticipation.

"Her trail led to another home in the same neighborhood as her primary residence. That home was seemingly uninhabited."

"Was she there?"

"No—her trail disappeared completely," Victor reported. "However, I found something outside the home."

"What?" Russell asked.

"Right where her trail came to an abrupt end, I found a pouch that contained a small trace of magic."

"Make sure the magic is preserved," Russell ordered.

"It has already been done," Victor assured.

"Good. If you are done there, proceed to Northman's residence."

"I'm already on my way," Victor said before hanging up.

With only a couple of hours left before sunrise, Russell wanted Victor to continue trying to gets clues regarding Eric's location or destination. The king would have liked to have spent the rest of the night enjoying Victor's kinkier side, but it was best to keep his borrowed bloodhound on task.

Russell smiled.

"Good news?" Bill asked from the booth where he still sat.

"Yes—despite the fact that Northman's progeny's trail cannot be followed any further, a small trace of magic was found at her residence; it will likely be enough for Hallow to use to discover the witch aiding the Norseman."

Bill smiled. "That is good news indeed."

"Any progress with your tie with Sookie?" Russell asked.

The younger vampire's features deflated. "No. I know that she is alive, and I know that she is still sleeping, but I remain unable to infiltrate her dreams."

"We will find her," Russell assured. "It is only a matter of time."

With Fangtasia cleared out except for his own people, the king decided to spend the rest of the night at the club since it would be one of Sookie's likelier destinations if Bill's dream-weaving worked the next day. He briefly considered going to Bill's home—in case Sookie went there—but it was decrepit and shabby, and he certainly wasn't prepared to sleep in the dirt. Hell no! Now that his business for the evening had been completed, Russell intended to take his time enjoying the only three donors left at Fangtasia: Kenneth, Domitri, and the sweet-faced blond man who had caught his eye earlier.

The king looked at Kenneth and licked his lips. The man's blood was quite tasty, and though he was not to Russell's taste otherwise, his body was well-formed. Russell had already decided that he would take Kenneth with him to Jackson—as a gift for Talbot, who was always looking for a culinary find.

Remembering his mate, Russell quickly called Talbot, who complained for several minutes that Sophie-Anne had arrived at the mansion earlier that night in a foul temper.

That was no surprise!

The king was just glad that he'd not had to deal with her. Apparently, however, Sophie-Anne had calmed down when she saw the luxury of the wing Russell had decided would be for her private use so that she would not be in his hair all the time. Her wing had its own entrance and staff. Being reunited with Hadley had also seemed to help lift the queen's mood. Moreover, Talbot had sent Sophie-Anne a bowl of the blood sorbet he'd been perfecting. After that, her complaints had stopped. Russell smiled and praised the inventiveness of his beloved consort in taking care of his annoying new "wife."

As he spoke on the phone, Russell kept an eye on Bill, who was sipping on a TrueBlood and staring at Kenneth with desire in his eyes.

"Does he interest you?" Russell asked Bill, after his call with Talbot ended.

Bill looked slightly embarrassed. "His scent is excellent, your majesty. Is he part demon?"

Russell nodded. "Yes—just the right amount to add a nice bouquet to his blood—don't you think? But the flavor is not overpowering. I enjoyed him last night." Russell looked closely at the younger vampire. "I would like for you to enjoy him with me tonight."

Bill looked down at the bottle in his hands. "TrueBlood is fine, your majesty. As I said before, I do not wish to be unfaithful to Sookie. And she would see it as cheating if I fed from another."

"But you fed from me," Russell reminded seductively.

Bill shivered. "Yes, and your blood is amazing, your majesty. But that was only to help us find Sookie."

"Please," the king responded in a gentle tone, "you must call me Russell—unless we are in a formal situation."

Bill's face brightened. "You honor me," he paused, "Russell."

The elder vampire smiled. "Consider something for a moment, William. If you subsist only on TrueBlood, how will you have the strength to weave dreams for your Sookie? It is," he paused, "just a thought, but you might consider partaking of human blood, in addition to mine—but only until your beloved returns to you. After all, we will all need to be at our best to get her back from Northman as soon as possible."

Bill looked at his bottle a bit doubtfully. "You make a compelling point, your majesty," he said softly.

"And," Russell continued, "I hate to bring this up, but I feel that I must so that you are prepared for all possibilities." The king took on a paternal air. "You know of Northman's reputation—his ability to seduce," Russell added as if the words pained him.

"Yes," Bill returned, his hands shaking a bit.

"And one could not blame your Sookie if she succumbed—if she was succumbing even now," Russell continued. "After all, he has forced his blood into her. And he could be using that blood right as we speak—manipulating her into," he paused, "accepting his advances. There is no way to know for sure."

Russell held in his smile as the bottle of TrueBlood shattered under the pressure of Bill's grip. "I will feed," Bill said, cold anger clear in his tone.

"You are making the right decision," Russell encouraged as he motioned for the three donors to follow him. He led them and his new protégé to the basement.

Chapter Text

Chapter 23: Torn Down

"Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things."—Winston Churchill

[When we last left Sookie & Eric in Chapter 19]

At Eric's insistence, Sookie had lain down to rest after their talk, though she was not able to sleep. About twenty minutes before dawn, he roused her and waited as she brushed her teeth and hair and took care of her human needs. After that, he had her stand next to the white wall of the room and snapped a few pictures of her with the camera on his phone before sending them off to Brady.

"I'm scared," Sookie said in a meek voice as they made their way down the stairs.

"I will be with you throughout the severing," he promised.

She stopped and looked up at him. "You confuse the hell out of me, Mr. Northman."

"Ah," he smirked, "it's all part of my evil plan, Miss Stackhouse." He winked and pretended to twirl the ends of a mustache. Then he extended his arm as if he were about to escort her to a fancy party.

She laughed a little and took it.

Given the closeness of sunrise, Eric evaluated the living room for safety as soon as he walked into it. There were two large windows in the space; however, both had been skillfully covered with black-out blankets as had many of the other windows downstairs.

"Better safe than sorry!" Amelia said cheerfully, as she finished putting up a second layer of blankets over the main windows in the room.

Eric nodded. "You have my thanks, young witch."

Amelia beamed. "Don't mention it."

After looking to his own safety, Eric took in the rest of the room. A blanket had been put on the floor near the fireplace. It was surrounded by a circle that looked to be made of salt, though Eric smelled other elements in the mixture as well. The fire was burning brightly and more wood had been brought in and stacked near the fireplace. A dozen bottles of water were laid out on one side of the pallet and six opened TrueBloods were laid out on the other.

Octavia gestured toward two folded garments in the middle of the blanket. "You two will need to change into dose after you are in dee circle. All other clothing must be removed."

Eric nodded and led a pensive Sookie into the circle. Once inside, he immediately began disrobing.

"You are modest, child?" Octavia teased, as Sookie blushed a deep red upon seeing Eric's bare chest.

"Yes," Sookie said quickly as she turned around. "Eric?" she asked with uncertainty in her voice.

"Do not worry. I will turn my back to your beauty, Sookie," Eric chuckled softly.

Octavia cackled. "If I didn't know you better, Viking, I would say dat you were in love with dis child."

Both vampire and telepath tensed up at those words.

"But you do know me better, witch," Eric said firmly.

"Ah—dat I do," the elder witch said. "I remember knowing you quite well 'bout forty years ago."

"We did have some good times—you and I," the vampire said, his voice thick with a lusty memory.

Sookie reddened even more as she slinked out of her T-shirt and quickly removed her bra before picking up and putting on one of the gray cloaks Octavia had left for them. Only then did she remove the jeans and the panties she'd put on after her shower.

"I can take your clothes," Amelia said cheerily when Sookie was done undressing.

"Don't step out of dee circle now," Octavia warned as Sookie handed Amelia her discarded clothing.

"Okay," Sookie said somewhat timidly.

"You still look just as mouthwatering as dee last time I saw you like dis," Octavia said, obviously talking to Eric again.

"I am vampire," he said simply. "This body will be the same until I meet my true death."

"I have never found your equal," Octavia remarked with a little rattle in her voice. "Tis a shame dis body of mine had to age."

"I enjoy lovers of all ages, Octavia dear, and from where I'm standing, you've held up very well indeed," Eric purred from behind Sookie.

Sookie heard something that sounded like clothing being thrown. She shut her eyes and tied the ribbon at the neck of her cloak as tightly as she could without choking herself. The garment had no other ties or buttons or zippers. Sookie knew that for sure because she'd spent at least thirty seconds looking for some.

"Always dee charmer den?" Octavia giggled, still talking to Eric.

"Always the girl I met in that dark alley in New Orleans," Eric retorted. "As I recall, you looked me right in the eye and asked for my blood."

"Ah," Octavia said with another even more girlish giggle. "You charmed me outta my clothes dat night—before I charmed you outta your blood."

"I do not recall you ever getting my blood, Octavia," Eric chuckled.

"True," the elder witch relented. "But you were always good 'bout gettin' me vampire blood for my spells none-dee-less."

"Octavia was quite the entrepreneur," Eric said over his shoulder toward where Sookie stood. "And she didn't let anything get in her way when it came to finding what she needed for her potions and spells."

"Oh," Sookie said, not really knowing what else to say. "Are you decent?" she asked as she closed her eyes and turned slightly toward Eric, even as she pulled the sides of the cloak firmly around her in order to make sure it covered her body fully. She wished that it had more closures than the neck tie, but, thankfully, there was more than enough fabric to maintain her modesty.

"Are you insane, child?" Octavia cackled gleefully. "Ain't not'in' decent 'bout dis one!"

Eric was laughing with the witch now. "Ain't not'in' decent 'bout you neither," he said in a spot on imitation of her accent. "And—if I recall—you were quite willing to seduce just about anyone in the Supernatural community to get the ingredients you needed," Eric remarked. "I was not your only victim, Ms. Fant." Sookie could easily imagine the smirk on his face.

"Ah," Octavia responded, "I always did enjoy good variety in my lovers. It is—as dey say—dee spice of life."

"Does Mr. Fant know?" came Amelia's surprised voice, now from across the room from where Sookie stood with her back still turned to Eric.

"Of course he does, child!" Octavia laughed. "My mate was the biggest rascal of dem all—before we managed to tame each other." She sighed contentedly, a sound so joyful that it made Sookie open her eyes. She was met by Octavia looking right at her searchingly—no piercingly.

Immediately, Sookie gasped and felt a hot tear rolling down her cheek. She reached up to push it to the side.

"What 'tis it? Did you tink dat you had found a mate of your own, child?" the elder witch asked Sookie pointedly. Sookie felt as if she were somehow trapped in Octavia's gaze, and, no matter how much she wanted to—or how apprehensive she suddenly felt—she couldn't look away from the witch. She also felt compelled to answer Octavia's question: to give her the whole ugly truth.

"I did. But the love was all a lie," Sookie responded as another tear slipped down her cheek. She shivered; Octavia seemed to be looking into her very soul and seeing every hurt that had ever been there. No—Octavia wasn't just seeing all the hurt; she seemed to be prodding it.

"Perhaps love was never meant to find you, child. Not all deserve it," Octavia observed, somewhat callously. "You are a strange one," she added, narrowing her eyes. "Eric wouldn't tell me why you were special enough to spend dis effort on. Why don't you tell me, child?"

"I'm a telepath," Sookie responded, feeling an almost uncontrollable need to let slip all of her deepest secrets as she looked at the witch.

"I see," Octavia returned smoothly. "Dat explains his interest in you den. Your gift is stronger when you touch someone—I'd imagine."

Sookie nodded as another huge tear fell from her eye. She wasn't sure why, but her emotions seemed almost uncontainable as she looked at the witch.

"I can't imagine dee toughts of people are very nice, child—especially not toward one such as yourself."

"They're not," Sookie whispered.

"I suppose many of dose toughts have hurt you."

"Yes."

"Your mother?" Octavia asked as if she were the mind reader. "You know, a mother is supposed to offer an individual dee most unconditional love he or she will ever find. Tell me—did your mother offer you dis?"

"She hated me after a while," Sookie confessed quietly. "She started drinking more, and she blamed me for it. She loved Jason and wished that she and Daddy had never had me."

"Jason is your brother?"

"Yes."

"And what does he tink about you, child?"

"He wishes he could've had a normal sister. He thinks Gran's death was my fault," she cried.

Sookie felt Eric's hand take hers, though, unlike earlier, she found no comfort from his touch. She wanted to look up into his blue eyes, but she was afraid she'd see pity there. Or—worse—indifference. It didn't matter anyway; she couldn't take her eyes from Octavia's, which now seemed to be glowing almost black.

"Was Gran's death your fault, child?" Octavia asked.

"Rene killed her because I was dating a vampire. He came to kill me, but found her at home instead," Sookie answered. "I should have stopped—should have been unselfish and stopped seein' Bill after Tina was killed?"

"Who is Tina?"

"She was my cat," Sookie responded.

Octavia cackled loudly, sounding very much like the witch she was in that moment. "Ah—so your choices have affected creatures of a variety of kinds, I see. And—you are ultimately to blame for dee deaths of your grandmother and your cat? Because of your selfish desire to find love?"

Sookie could only nod.

"What did your gran tink of you, child?"

"She took me and Jason in when our parents died. She took care of us. She was kind to me. She didn't treat me any different because of my disability. She," Sookie stammered a little, "loved me."

"I did not ask what she did or felt, child. I asked what she tought of you!"

Sookie couldn't stop herself from answering rapidly through fresh tears. "She wished that I could have been normal. She thought she was too old to take on someone who was so peculiar. She worried about what would happen to me after she passed away. She blamed herself for the way I was for some reason. A few times she wished that she didn't have to see me every day so that she wouldn't have to feel guilt about me."

Octavia pushed. "So you felt her guilt as much as her love?"

"Gran loved me," Sookie insisted. "When I got my shields, she didn't worry so much."

"Because you could pretend to be more normal den?" Octavia said derisively.

"Yes." Sookie nodded. "Gran didn't like to think about my handicap."

"So you didn't speak of it."

"No," Sookie sobbed. "Hardy ever. Gran didn't have to blame herself if I acted normal. And it was easier for her to . . . ." Sookie stopped midsentence. She felt Eric squeezing her hand, but again it offered her no comfort.

"Easier for her to love you," Octavia finished her sentence for her.

Sookie nodded.

"Does anyone else love you?" the witch asked.

"Jason?" Sookie responded, though it sounded more like a question.

"It you have to ask, den he does not love you by choice. Perhaps he feels only obligated to love you," Octavia said harshly.

"He's my brother," Sookie whimpered.

"Yes. The love of obligation," Octavia concluded.

"Lafayette, Tara, Sam, Arlene," Sookie said almost desperately. "They're my friends."

"Tell me what dey tink of you, child," Octavia ordered, her eyes almost hypnotic in their power.

"Lafayette thinks I'm gonna get killed by vampires soon, and he's afraid to be around me much anymore. Sometimes he thinks about leavin' Bon Temps, and if he does, he'll never look back. He plans to keep in touch only with Tara, but not with me. But he'll ask her about me."

"You are obviously very important to him den," Octavia said sarcastically. "What about dis Tara?"

"She thinks I'm selfish. She doesn't understand why I had to ruin the way things were by getting involved with vampires. She blames me for Gran's death too, but she wishes Jason hadn't hit me after it."

Sookie felt Eric's hand tighten again. It didn't hurt, but it didn't help either.

"What else does she blame you for?" Octavia asked perceptively.

"Eggs's death."

"And who was dat?"

"She loved him," Sookie answered.

"Did you kill him?"

"No. I helped him remember what he did when the Maenad had control over him, and then he went crazy. Jason shot Eggs when he thought he was threatening Andy."

"So your disability was responsible for Egg's death too!" Octavia attacked.

"Yes," Sookie said as more tears fell. "But I was tryin' to help him!"

"What did Tara think about your help?" the witch asked relentlessly.

"Part of her hates me," Sookie whispered. "Part of her hopes that Eric will just finish me off so that vampires will leave Bon Temps alone. It's my fault that Franklin Mott came, and he hurt her—raped her."

"But you said she loved you," Octavia mocked.

"She—uh—she . . . ." Sookie stopped, defeated. "She used to. Her mom wasn't a good person. She used to hit Tara, so Gran let her stay with us."

"And she loved your gran?" Octavia asked.

"Yes. That's why she was so mad at me when she was murdered. But Tara was my best friend; she'd stick up for me when we were kids. I'm the one to blame for her hurt," Sookie said sadly. "If she hates me now, it's my own fault."

"And Sam—what does he tink of you, child?"

"He's a shifter; he's hard to read."

"Dat was not an answer!" Octavia said scoldingly.

"He wanted me once," Sookie admitted. "He thought that since I was different, I wouldn't mind that he was different. He thought he loved me."

"And now?" the witch asked.

"Now he's glad nothing ever happened between us. He hates vampires."

"So he feels dat you tainted yourself by being with one?"

"Yes—a little. He's ashamed of thinking that way, but he does. He worries about me. He's a good man. He's my boss and he . . . ." She stopped.

"He what?" Octavia pushed.

Sookie's shoulders slumped, but her eyes stayed on Octavia's. "When I asked for some time off, he was thinkin' that he would have to replace me soon—since I was likely gonna get myself killed. He was sad about that."

"Why was the shifter sad?" Octavia asked.

"Because he's my friend," Sookie cried.

"Why else?" the witch asked cruelly.

"Because I'm a good waitress," Sookie said as if the words had been beaten from her.

"And dis Arlene? What does she tink of you?"

"She—uh." Sookie shook her head and tried to blink herself out of the witch's hold. "You're right," she said dejectedly. "She used to be my friend, but now she blames me for Rene's death."

"Dee same Rene dat killed your innocent grandmot'er and your cat?" Octavia laughed cruelly.

"Yeah—he killed others too and tried to kill me as well, but I killed him in self-defense."

"Ah—so Arlene's loyalty is to a serial killer and not to a so-called friend."

"Stop!" Eric said loudly from next to Sookie. He'd been forewarned by Octavia about some of what to expect—some of what the witch would be doing. He'd also been told not to tell Sookie about it or to try to stop Octavia, but he'd felt his rage building with every word the witch had spoken, for every single word had hurt Sookie worse and worse. He'd tried to use his blood to comfort Sookie—tried to stimulate endorphins to help her feel better—but his blood had seemed powerless to help her.

Octavia continued to glare at Sookie but spoke to Eric. "Dis child is responsible for dee deaths or dee suffering of so many. Yet she dared to look at me with longing in her eyes when Ispoke of my mate. How could she hope to find love after dee misery her handicap has caused everyone around her?"

"Octavia!" Eric bit out warningly.

The witch's voice bit right back. "Silence, vampire! Dis child needs to hear dee truth." For a moment, Octavia turned her eyes to Eric. Immediately, the vampire sank to his knees next to Sookie, his hold on her hand dropping as well. "Why would you defend her? Try to help her?" the witch asked Eric harshly.

"She is an asset," the vampire responded through clenched teeth.

Octavia laughed callously and turned back to Sookie. "Do you know why Eric is participating in today's spell?"

"To take away some of the pain—when our tie is severed," Sookie wheezed out.

"Yes," Octavia confirmed. "But the spell also requires that you have someone with you that cares for you. Otherwise, you will be lost in the spell. How does it make you feel to know dat the only one who would stand with you during dis spell cares for you only as an asset?"

"Eric," Sookie said shakily, as if begging.

"Do not speak!" Octavia warned, looking at the vampire meaningfully.

Eric felt his anger rising to a boiling point, but he also realized that whatever Octavia was doing was somehow necessary. He gave her a curt nod—despite the fact that his eyes were staring daggers at her.

Sookie's eyes fell right back into Octavia's hypnotic gaze as soon as the witch looked at her again.

"How does it feel—to know dat you are not loved or wanted?" the witch asked angrily.

"It hurts," Sookie whimpered.

"But you deserve to feel pain—don't you?"

"Yes."

"'Tis not a surprise that your friends and family—except for dee ones who are already dead 'cause of you—have all deserted you. You did not deserve dem."

"I know," Sookie sobbed.

"And yet you hoped for love—for a soul mate," Octavia said sarcastically. "How could love for one such as yourself be anything other dan a lie?"

"It couldn't," Sookie whimpered.

"You do not warrant love," the witch spit out. "Why would you tink dat anyone could love you?"

"I hoped," Sookie squeaked out. "Finally, I wasn't able to hear someone's thoughts, so I hoped that he loved me. He seemed to."

"Ah—dee girl with dee telepathy finally finds hope for love," the witch said acerbically. "It must have seemed like dee stuff of fairy tales."

"It did," Sookie admitted gloomily.

"Tell me, child," Octavia said with a malicious grin. "Did you ever go out on a date?"

"Bill took me on one. He asked me to marry him."

"Bill is dee name of dee vampire you loved?"

Sookie nodded.

"What about humans? Did you ever have dates with any of dem?"

Sookie nodded again, even as she shivered.

"What did dey tink of you?"

"They thought about having sex with me. They thought they were doing me a favor by taking out 'crazy Sookie.' They hoped that whatever 'disease' I had wouldn't rub off on them."

Octavia laughed as if she were hearing a funny story. "I imagine you heard dee toughts of dose boys very well if dey tried to hold your hand or kiss you."

"Yes," Sookie admitted.

"And what did dey tink den?"

"They thought about what they wished was different about me. Or they wondered whether I'd be willing to give them a blow job or a hand job, even if I didn't put out. Or they thought about girls they'd rather be with."

"How many dates did you have with humans, Sookie?"

"Three," she answered. "Then Sam took me out once—the night Gran died."

"So you were off having fun even as your gran was being murdered?" Octavia shook her head disapprovingly.

"Yes."

"Yet you thought dis Bill could love you?"

"Yes. But he seduced me so that he could take me to the queen," Sookie said sadly.

Octavia laughed. "He took your virginity?"

Sookie nodded. "Yes."

"And your blood?"

"Yes."

"He used you and lied to you."

"Yes."

"Was it a happy relationship?" the witch asked with a mixture of curiosity and sarcasm in her voice.

"We fought a lot," Sookie answered. "But I thought so—maybe because of his blood."

"And you fell in love with him quickly?"

"Yes."

"After you'd had his blood?"

"Yes."

"Why did he give you—an unwort'y one—his blood, child? Dee blood is a gift."

"The Rattrays beat me almost to death. Bill saved me."

"Why did dese 'Rat' people beat you?"

"They'd been trying to drain Bill the night before they hurt me, and I stopped them."

Sookie saw Eric stiffen out of the corner of her eye, but she couldn't look at him.

"How many of dese Rats were there?" Octavia asked with amusement in her voice.

"Two."

"And how did dey manage to subdue a vampire?"

"Silver chains."

The witch laughed. "And you saved him?"

"Yes."

"Did Bill offer you his blood dat night, Sookie? Dee first night?" Octavia asked knowingly.

"Yes," Sookie responded with confusion in her voice. "Bill offered to give me what the Rattrays had taken."

"Did you take it?"

"No."

"And dee next night—when dey attacked you? Tell me 'bout dat night."

"I was meeting Bill outside of Merlotte's after work, but he was late, so the Rattrays got me."

"Was Bill prone to being late?" Octavia asked with a smirk.

"No."

"Did he kill dee Rattrays easily?"

"Yes."

"Did he wait to save your life till you had to take his blood or die?"

"What?" Sookie asked with horror in her voice as realization hit her like a ton of bricks.

"Tink, child. Your true love set you up to be beaten and almost killed so dat you would have to take his blood," Octavia laughed gleefully as if she'd just been told a wonderful joke. Again, Sookie saw Eric stiffen out of the corner of her eye.

"And you never questioned him 'bout anyt'ing dat happened, did you, child?"

"No."

"He gave you his blood other times?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"The Maenad attacked me and almost killed me; I had his blood that night too."

"How did dee Maenad get to you?"

"Bill and I had had a fight, and I asked him to let me out of the car. I was walking alone in the woods when the Maenad found me."

Octavia chuckled. "Yet—I bet dat you took his blood gladly and soon forgot all about your little lover's spat."

Shame-faced, Sookie nodded.

"Did you have any more of his blood?"

"Yes. One other time."

"Tell me!" Octavia ordered.

Sookie felt she had to obey. "It was during sex. He was trying to form a bond with me, but I didn't know that."

The witch laughed again, even as Sookie fell to her knees from the stress of Octavia's relentless questioning. Her eyes stayed locked on Octavia's, however. No matter how much she wanted to look away, she couldn't.

"I bet dee vampire took a lot of your blood, Sookie. Tell me—did you have sex with Bill often?"

"Yes. While we were together, we had sex almost every night," Sookie said weakly, unable to hold back the information even though it embarrassed her to speak openly about it.

"And I bet he took your blood every time he had sex with you—didn't he?" she demanded.

"Yes."

Octavia sneered. "Did you know dat vampires do not generally have relationships with humans, child?"

"I guessed that," Sookie said.

"On dee rare occasion dat dey do have such relationships, dey afford dee humans a certain amount of respect by not feeding from dem during every sexual encounter. Do you know why?"

"No," Sookie whimpered, her whole body now shaking.

"'Tis because dee vampire wants to let dee human know dat he or she cares for dee human beyond just feeding. 'Tis a sign of affection—or, if not'ing else—at least gratitude and a cursory attention to dee human's health."

Sookie couldn't say anything in that moment. All she could do was look at the person who was tormenting her and feel the truth—and the weight—of her words.

"You still love dis Bill—don't you? After all dat you have learned?"

"I don't want to," Sookie rasped out.

"But you do?"

"I don't know," Sookie admitted. "I think so."

"Is dat because Bill's so-called love is dee best you could ever expect, child? You must know dat to be true!"

"Yes," Sookie said, her voice barely audible now. Her tears had stopped falling. Thus, there were no more left to warm her cheeks in the midst of the cold reality Octavia had set before her.

"What about Eric? Why do you have his blood inside of you?"

"The first time—he tricked me into sucking silver out of his chest."

Octavia laughed heartily. "He too manipulated you to take his blood."

"Yes," Sookie whispered.

"Why did he want his blood in you, child?"

"I'm not completely sure. To try to control my telepathy? And because he wanted to drink my blood and to have sex with me."

"And dee second time?"

"It was last night. He came to the hospital. I was about to die, but he saved me. And then he gave me more blood after that so that I would be well enough to drive us here."

"Why did you almost die, child?"

"Bill—he almost drained me."

Octavia cackled. "And how did dat come about?"

"He was being tortured by his maker. I killed her and got him out of there. But he was so weak and sick. I tried to feed him, but then he . . . ." Her voice faltered.

"He almost drained you. And before dat, he let others beat you to within an inch of your life. He allowed you to go alone into dee woods. He never showed respect for you during your intimate times with him. He planned to give you over to Queen Sophie-Anne, who would have surely abused you. I can tell you dat for certain! And yet you still love him?"

"He's what I deserve," Sookie said brokenly.

"And you say dat Eric saved your life with his blood."

"I'm an asset to him," Sookie said quietly.

"Ah yes. Your handicap is finally useful to someone. Hmmm," she contemplated. "You would fetch a great price among vampire royalty. Perhaps, Sophie-Anne would have sold you to dee highest bidder. Perhaps dat is Eric's plan when you outlive your usefulness to him."

Sookie cringed with fear but tried to deny Octavia's words nonetheless. "No. He wouldn't do that," she insisted.

"Because you are an asset?" the witch smiled unkindly.

"Yes," Sookie said, even as her body continued to tremble.

"You trust him?"

"Yes."

"You are a fool, child!"

"Maybe," Sookie gasped.

"Why do you trust him?"

"He saved my life."

"Bill saved your life too."

"It's not the same."

"Why not?"

"I don't know."

"Tell me—why do you trust Eric?" Octavia's voice penetrated to Sookie's very core.

"He was different with Godric. I could tell that he loved him."

"So you saw dat Eric is capable of love. And dat is why you trust him?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

"Do you think he could love you?"

Once more Sookie saw Eric stiffen out of the corner of her eye. "No," she answered.

"Then why would his feelings for his maker matter?"

"I don't know," Sookie stammered. "Eric was kind to me in my dreams," she whispered.

"In your dreams!" Octavia chortled. "You do not even deserve kindness in dem, child!"

Sookie tried to look at Octavia defiantly. "Eric didn't have to save my life from the bomb or in the hospital or when I was trapped in the dream Bill sent. He risked himself!"

"Calculated risks to save an asset," Octavia sneered.

"Yes," Sookie relented despondently, the little fire she had left seeming to fade away.

"Do you know why I have a mate, child? Do you know why you never will?"

Octavia didn't give Sookie the opportunity to answer; instead she responded to her own question. "I have a mate because I was found worthy of love."

"I'm not," Sookie stated, sinking even lower onto her knees.

"No. You are not worthy," Octavia confirmed cruelly. "You are free to go if you wish, vampire," Octavia said harshly, as she looked in Eric's direction. "You should flee from dis child before 'tis too late for you. Dis one will get you killed! And she is not worth it!"

Chapter Text

Chapter 24: Hold On

"No," Eric said quietly. "I will not go."

"Dis child before you deserves neither your affection nor your care, vampire! And—to help her—you must surely have both! If you do not, den leave dee circle and let her slip into dee death she deserves! Once she is gone, her ability to cause others pain will go away with her. Her brother will live his life happily, knowing dat dee person responsible for his grandmother's death and his mother's alcoholism is no more. Lafayette will not get killed by being near her. Tara will not be troubled by other vampires, who only wish to harm her. Sam will no longer be encumbered by a woman who rejected him in order to take up with vampires. Arlene will find comfort dat the person who killed her beloved and exposed his sins to dee world has finally been punished. Bill will no longer have to act as if she is tolerable. Her grandmother's and her mother's souls will be able to rest in peace. All would be better off without her!"

By this time, Sookie's body was wracked with sobs as if each of Octavia's words had cut her.

"But know dis, vampire," Octavia continued more loudly. "If you care for dis woman only as an asset—if you feel no true affection for her―den she is already dead. And so too shall you be—if you stay in dee circle."

At those words, Sookie finally pulled her eyes from Octavia and looked at Eric. He was not looking back at her. His eyes were locked with the witch's, as if he, too, had become trapped by her black orbs.

"You should go, Eric," Sookie said tiredly—dejectedly. "You should go before you die because of me. You don't care about me—not really. Go before you're hurt—like everyone else. Just go."

"I'm staying," Eric mumbled stubbornly even though he didn't move his eyes to Sookie's.

"You'll die if you stay," Sookie said desperately as she placed her hand lightly onto his. "I'm sorry I failed you. I just can't be," she paused as a sob broke through, "worthy of your care—or anyone's."

"Stop!" Eric yelled, finally yanking his eyes from Octavia's stare and looking at her. His fierce blue eyes held neither pity nor fear. "I am in no danger of dying here, Sookie."

"But she said . . . ."

Eric interrupted Sookie as he raised his hand to her cheek and thumbed away her tears. "What did I say to you at the hospital—when you woke up after taking my blood?"

"You told me you were sorry," she responded.

"I thought I didn't apologize," he smirked a little.

"But you did—to me."

"What did I have to be sorry for, Sookie?"

"For what you said at Russell's."

"What words did I say that could have spurred me to make the first apology I have given to anyone in more than a thousand years, little one?"

"You said you didn't care about me," she whispered. "That I meant nothing to you."

"Do you know why I was sorry about saying those things?"

"No.

"Because they were lies," he said as he gently cupped her face with his large hands.

"You," she hiccupped, "actually care about what happens to me?"

"I do."

"Because I'm your asset?"

"Yes—but there's more."

"Because you wanna have sex with me and drink my blood."

He chuckled and tucked some of her newly brown hair behind her ears. "Yes—definitely—but there's more."

"What else could there be, Eric?" Sookie asked almost desperately—as if his next words to her would surely determine her fate.

"You intrigue me. You stood up to me and showed no fear as you negotiated for Lafayette's release." He smiled. "You even slapped me."

She let out a half-sob, half-chuckle. "You deserved it. You were being a . . . ."

He interrupted her. "I was being a jackass?"

"Yeah."

"You stayed with Godric when I could not, Sookie Stackhouse," Eric said, his voice more sincere than she had ever heard it before. "In the church, you chose to trust me when I hadn't yet earned it. And—you were right about what you said the night before last: I did put myself between you and that bomb, even though I knew it could mean my end. I just could not let it mean your end."

"Eric," she gasped as he thumbed away a new tear trailing down her cheek.

"I have cared for few people during my un-dead life," the Viking stated matter-of-factly.

"But you care for me?" Sookie asked with hope in her voice.

"Yes. I would grieve your death."

"Dat is good enough," Octavia said from outside the circle. Her voice was now kind, but Sookie did not want to look at her again, so she kept her eyes fixed on Eric's.

"Amelia, bring me dee ash," Octavia ordered her apprentice.

Sookie heard footsteps.

"Child, I need you to look at me now," Octavia said gently.

Sookie shook her head in fear. "No," she whimpered. "I can't."

"It is okay," Eric said, taking her hand firmly in his. "I have you now. I won't let go this time."

Sookie looked at their linked hands and then turned her eyes slowly toward Octavia.

"I had to find dee vampire blood within you and understand dee reasons why it was there in order to take it from you, child," the witch said. "Dee other vampire used his dream to control your fear. I had to find dat fear within you—to know where his blood would try to hide from me."

"Hide?" Sookie asked, her voice shaky.

"Yes," Octavia responded. "'Tis believed among witches dat a vampire must willingly let go of his or her blood in a human in order for a severing to work."

"But Bill wouldn't do that," Sookie said with trepidation.

"No," Octavia said kindly. "He would not. But I have recently learned another way—a way dat does not require the vampire's permission. However, 'tis harder."

"Harder?" Sookie squeaked out.

"Yes. If not ordered to give up, dee vampire blood will fight. It will hide within dee darkest places of dee human host. I am sorry, child, but I had to learn dose places—map dem—so dat I can track dee vampire blood dat tries to flee my magic."

"So—uh—we can do the spell now?" Sookie asked timidly.

"The spell began almost an hour ago," Octavia responded, gesturing toward Amelia.

Sookie glanced at the younger witch and saw that her mouth was moving. Amelia gave Sookie a wave but continued her silent chanting.

"One must be torn down before one can be freed," Octavia said sagely.

"But why did you have to," Sookie paused, "do it that way? I would have told you what you needed to know."

"I still would not have known where to look," Octavia said. "If it refuses to leave you freely, dee vampire blood will act like a virus in you, child. During the spell, it will seek to burrow into your emotions—to hurt you as much as it can. From what Eric has communicated to me about Bill Compton, I believe dat his blood will seek to hide where you are most vulnerable. It will try to use your greatest fears and self-doubts against you."

"And Eric's blood?"

Octavia shrugged. "Dee Viking has a great deal of blood in your body, but he has agreed to allow it to burn away without a fight. And now dat I know where to seek Compton's blood, I will be able to weed him out," she said kindly.

"So you've done this before?" Sookie asked.

Octavia shook her head. "No. But I witnessed my own mentor conducting a similar spell many years ago."

"Similar?"

"Yes. There wasn't as much blood to deal with, and there were not two vampires involved, but dee vampire in dat case was not in agreement with dee severing." Octavia paused. "So 'twas similar."

Sookie took a shaky breath.

"You can still stop dee spell, child," Octavia said. "I will not be offended if you do. But once I begin dee next part, 'twill be too late to stop it."

Sookie felt Eric squeeze her hand in support. This time, she squeezed back. "I don't want to stop," she said, trying to sound braver than she felt.

The witch smiled. "You are much greater dan your fears, child—so much greater and stronger dan you probably know."

Sookie felt Eric squeezing her hand again. And, again, she squeezed back.

"You have friends here," Octavia assured, looking toward Eric meaningfully. "And I will use all of my power and skill to aid you."

"Thank you," Sookie said.

"Come closer to me, child, but do not step from dee circle," the elder witch instructed.

Sookie nodded again and moved to the edge of the circle; Eric moved along with her. Octavia rubbed some of the ash onto Sookie's forehead and cheeks before doing the same to Eric.

"You should lie down," Octavia said. "The next part will begin the physical pain."

When Sookie turned back to face Eric, she gasped. "You're bleeding!" she exclaimed as she saw a narrow trail of blood coming from his ear.

"I know," Eric said casually. "It is only the bleeds." He looked at Sookie. "Blood will eventually fall from my nose too—maybe even my eyes—but you must not worry. It is merely an effect of the daytime on me."

"Does it hurt?"

"No," he responded. "Just a little uncomfortable."

Sookie bit her lower lip but nodded before using her free hand to secure the fabric of her cloak in order to keep the garment from opening. Carefully, she lay down onto her side, grateful that Eric lay down facing her so that she would not have to drop his hand.

As soon as they had lain down, Octavia began chanting out loud, and Amelia's silent chanting became audible as well. It seemed as if they were speaking in Latin.

"Do you really believe the things that Octavia was saying about you before, Sookie?" Eric asked quietly as they looked into each other's eyes and waited for whatever pain was about to come to them.

"When she was talking—yes," Sookie confessed. She sighed. "I guess a part of me does believe those things. I know you think of my telepathy as an asset, Eric, but it's done little but hurt me during my life, and because of it—because of me—a lot of other people have been hurt too. I may not have meant for that to happen, but it has."

The vampire nodded and appeared to be about to say something else, but then pain contorted his face. At the same moment, Sookie felt a strong pressure in her stomach, though it wasn't exactly pain. Involuntarily, she reached out with her free hand and placed her palm over Eric's unmoving heart.

"What's happening to him?" Sookie yelled toward Octavia. The witch did not answer, however. She simply gave Sookie a knowing look and continued her chanting.

"Eric," Sookie said, trying to ignore the pressure in her own body and to keep her focus on him.

"It is fine," Eric grimaced. "The spell is seeking out vampire blood, and mine is the easiest to find, so it is being burned away first."

Sookie squeezed his hand. "What can I do?"

"Blood," Eric said.

Immediately Sookie raised her wrist to his mouth.

He chuckled, though the sound rattled with his pain. "The TrueBlood, Sookie."

"Oh," she said, shaking her head. She looked next to the blanket they were lying on and grabbed the nearest bottle of TrueBlood.

"I'll need you to hold it," Eric requested. "I would likely crush the bottle if it were in my hand."

"But you're holding my hand," Sookie said with a little fear in her voice.

"Yes, and not squeezing it is difficult enough," he said.

Immediately, Sookie tried to take her hand away. "I'm sorry. I didn't know!"

He kept hold of it. "No!" he said almost desperately. "Your touch is," he paused, "comforting."

"Okay," Sookie said, holding the already-opened bottle to his mouth. He drank a little before shaking his head so that she would take it away.

"That's enough for now," he panted as another strained looked came upon his face.

Sookie had felt helpless as the mighty Viking had experienced one wave after another of discomfort. After what must have been a couple of hours, Eric had consumed all of the TrueBlood, but his pain showed no signs of abating. Sookie was still experiencing pressure in her body—more like cramping than pain—but all of her concern was with Eric as he continued to suffer.

"You must let go of my hand now," Eric said in a strained voice. "I am sorry, but I fear that I will not be able to stop myself from crushing it soon."

Sookie nodded and removed her hand from Eric's. Immediately, the vampire seemed to be in sheer agony, and his body began to convulse.

"Eric!" Sookie yelled as tears welled up into her eyes.

"Do you care for dee vampire as he cares for you?" Octavia's voice asked her.

Sookie looked over her shoulder and saw that both witches were still chanting.

"You are not used to people tinking tings at you," Octavia remarked inside of Sookie's head. "How odd dat dey do not."

Sookie looked at Octavia with uncertainty in her eyes.

"Do you care for Eric?" the witch asked again, still thinking her words at the telepath.

Sookie nodded.

"He has trusted you just as much as you have trusted him today, child."

"What can I do?" Sookie asked pleadingly.

"Touch," Octavia said. "It is dee touch of a trusted one dat allows the human going through dee pain of a severing to keep hold of his or her sanity. Eric is stronger dan a mere human, and more dan two thirds of his blood is already gone from your body. He will survive dee pain, but you could sooth him with your touch. Dee choice is yours, child."

Sookie immediately brought her hand to Eric's cheek, and his body stilled a little. "Like this?" she asked over her shoulder.

"That will help, but the more of your flesh is on his flesh, the faster dee blood will burn and dee less pain he will have to experience. Dat is why you have dee cloak," Octavia answered with a twinkle in her eye. "You may touch as much or as little of him as you like."

"Shit," Sookie muttered under her breath as she immediately began moving closer to Eric, trying to figure out how to touch as much of him as possible—while still keeping a shred of her modesty intact.

"Do not worry about dee vampire's modesty," Octavia's voice told her. There was sarcasm in her tone even as she spoke into Sookie's mind. "He has none."

Ignoring Octavia's teasing, Sookie took a deep breath and untied Eric's cloak. The vampire's eyes stayed closed, and he continued to be lost in his pain as she rearranged his cloak so that it covered only from his waist to his thighs. Making sure his eyes were still closed, she untied her own cloak and pulled it over the two of them as if it were a blanket. She pulled herself toward him so that her lady bits were on the other side of his bunched up cloak and then burrowed the rest of her bare body into his: her legs against his legs, her chest against his ribs, her cheek over his heart. She pulled one of his arms so that it rested around her waist and then placed both of her own arms around him, hugging him as tightly as possible.

Eric's pain seemed to ease immediately, though it did not go away completely.

After a few moments of recovery from the worst of his agony, Eric spoke in a strained voice. "Are those your breasts against me, or am I dreaming?"

Sookie sighed, a little in relief and a little in exasperation. "Don't push your luck, Northman," she teased. "Octavia said that the more we were touchin', the less pain you'd feel."

Eric let out a pained chuckle. "Yet there is a cloak still between us. We could be closer, Sookie," he whispered half-suggestively and half-tenderly.

"Shush," she chastised. "You're ruining this for me."

"Ruining what?" he asked, his voice still strained.

"For once, I'm the stronger one—the one in control," she laughed a little.

"Can I at least see what I am feeling?" he asked, his head tilting down a bit. Her own upturned head blocked his view.

"Not unless you wanna go back to the two of us not touchin'," she warned.

"You're no fun, Sookie," Eric complained even as he nuzzled his face into her hair.

"Eric?" she said after a while. "Thanks."

"For what?" he groaned a little. Sookie couldn't tell if it was from arousal or pain. It sounded like both.

"For staying with me. For taking away the pain of your blood leaving mine."

Sookie felt something press against her head, as if Eric had kissed her hair, though she couldn't be sure. "When the pain comes at you, little one," he said, his voice muffled, "it will come hard and fast. You may hold to me as tightly as you need," he said ominously. "I will not break."

"Will it start soon?" she asked.

"My blood in you is waning," Eric responded, "but I intend to leave some of it in place so that I can use it to monitor Bill's. As soon as I conceal my blood from the spell, it will go for Bill's, which has hidden itself. It is then that Octavia's spell will begin to find it. And it is then that the pain will come to you."

"I'm scared, Eric."

"It is not wrong to be scared, little one. The pain is great."

"Thanks," she said a little sarcastically.

"You are strong enough," he said sincerely.

"I'm glad you think so," Sookie whispered, even as the pressure within her began to burn a little. "Eric?" she said uncertainly.

"I won't let you go, Sookie," he said, his lips suddenly next to her ear.

"Oh God!" Sookie exclaimed as the first real pain hit her. Her fingernails ripped into Eric's flesh.

"I always knew you were blood-thirsty, Sookie," Eric said, his own voice having returned to almost normal.

"Sorry," she said.

"It's okay," he assured. "Tear into me all you want. This is your opportunity to get back at me for all the dastardly deeds I've ever done to you."

She looked up at him, her eyes seeking his. "I'm sorry I ever believed you were dastardly," she said sincerely. "You're not."

"Not today," he responded, his voice thick with an emotion that neither one of them could have named.

"Eric, I hurt!" Sookie said in a distressed tone as another wave of pain hit her.

"I know. Just hold on, Sookie," he said. "Hold on to me."

Chapter Text

Chapter 25: Cut Wide Open

"The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open."—Chuck Palahniuk

Eric Northman was angry—really fucking angry.

When he'd first formulated the plan for Sookie to undergo a severing spell, it had seemed like the perfect solution. Bill's blood was like a virus inside of Sookie—one that needed to be inoculated as soon as possible.

Of course, Eric knew that a severing spell would also eliminate his own blood from Sookie. However, he'd been more than willing to take on the pain of his blood leaving her body. He was a vampire, after all. He would suffer no permanent damage from the spell—even if his blood burning out of Sookie did hurt like a mother fucker as it was happening. Hell! He'd even been willing to give Sookie more blood after he found her in the hospital—as much as needed to strengthen her own systems—because he'd not been shy about taking on "extra" pain. Again—it wasn't as if that pain would last past the day.

Before the spell, his concern for Sookie's well-being had been only moderate. Octavia had made clear that the severing spell would be very painful for Sookie, but she'd also been confident that Sookie would survive the spell. In the end, Eric had left the choice up to Sookie. Now he was beginning to regret raising the idea to start with, for Bill's blood was proving to be much more doggedly tenacious than any of them could have anticipated.

The woman in his arms groaned against him, and Eric tried to pull her closer.

Sookie was in agony—agony that Eric could barely monitor anymore. As Octavia had instructed him to do before the spell began, he'd already allowed most of his own blood to burn away. Only a few pieces of him held strong inside of Sookie. He'd been moving them around Sookie's body, monitoring her heart and her lungs before sending them back to find and bully Bill's blood left inside of her—all the while evading Octavia's magic, which was now trying to avoid his blood as well. There was no way in hell that he was going to let his remaining blood be "caught" by the witch's spell—not until he was certain that every goddamned cell of Bill Compton was out of Sookie!

Eric growled as he tried to pull Sookie even closer. She'd long since forgotten about her modesty and they were now fully bare against each other, though Eric had been careful to keep them covered with her cloak, despite her feverishness. Sookie seemed to be literally burrowing into his flesh, seeking every inch of him for comfort. However, he'd held back a particular nine and three quarters inches of himself from her, knowing that when she came back to herself, she'd thank him for that. As she had wiggled against him in ways that he would have delighted in on any other day, she'd managed to feel about every other inch of him with every inch of herself.

However, nothing sexual had happened between them in the many hours that she'd been riddled with pain. Eric had surprised himself by not taking advantage of the situation. Not taking advantage had been—to say the least—hard. Very hard.

Nine and three quarters inches hard.

Even now as she pulled him so that he was practically on top of her—which had been her preferred position for the last hour—her nipples were taut against his torso, and her face was rubbing against his neck as if she were a vampire marking her mate. Her sex, though not wet, was hot, and it was pushed firmly against his thigh, even as he pointed Eric Junior in the opposite direction. Her legs were ever-moving snakes, winding around his legs and waist before rewinding again and again. There was an almost foot difference between their heights, but their bodies—even in the midst of the spell and the pain involved with it—were in perfect concert with one another. Her body fit over his, under his, and next to his as if it had been built to be coupled with his.

Yes—on any other fucking day, he would have buried himself to the hilt in her, making their physical connection even more complete.

Even more intense.

But today, he'd already experienced the kind of pain that she was now feeling. It had felt like silver burning him from the inside out, and when he'd let go of her hand, it had felt like the sun. But then she'd held him. He shook his head, trying not to dwell on the salve that her touch had provided for him. That touch had felt more right than anyone with as many sins as he was guilty of deserved.

He groaned out loud as she grinded against his thigh. However, instead of letting himself feel the pleasure of Sookie's fingernails once more digging into his shoulder blades like a lover, he concentrated on listening to the sound of her haggard breaths. Instead of marveling in the smoothness of her breasts against his ribs, he thought about the uneven beating of her heart. Instead of enjoying the softness of her sex, which was now so close to his own that the heat from her core seemed to be teasing his cock, he focused on his blood still left inside of her body.

It was only an hour before sunset now, and Bill's blood had yet to completely leave the building—so to speak. When Eric had last glanced away from Sookie as he'd grabbed the final bottle of water so that he could make her drink to replenish the fluids that she was sweating out at an alarming rate, he had noticed concerned looks on both Octavia's and Amelia's faces.

Eric understood well the necessity of being done with the spell before sunset. When Bill woke up, he might have the ability to activate his blood to fight against the severing—despite the spell around the house. And that would prolong Sookie's agony. More importantly, however, Bill might figure out that Sookie was alive and that magic was being used to remove his blood from her.

However, if the spell could be completed before sunset, then Bill would simply awaken with Sookie gone from him. And that would be best for all involved!

For one thing, it would help to protect Octavia. There were only a few witches in the Western Hemisphere who were powerful enough to attempt a severing spell—and there were even fewer with the audacity to try one without the "permission" of the vampire involved in the tie. Eric knew that Octavia was very good at self-preservation and that her half-demon husband was even better at it, but the vampire didn't want any trouble to visit the witch.

Even more, however, Eric knew that Bill would assume the worst when he woke up to find the blood tie gone. Eric recognized that Bill already despised him, though he didn't have a complete understanding of the source of that hatred. However, if the blood tie were suddenly missing, Bill would assume that Eric had killed Sookie. That would finally give the Civil War veteran a "real" reason to hate him.

Eric had seen Bill at court quite a few times since the younger vampire had been brought in to be Sophie-Anne's procurer. Perhaps Bill was still pissed off by the run in they'd had in San Francisco more than a century before. Eric had caught Lorena and Bill draining prostitutes in a very overt way. At the time, Eric had been working as an investigator for the King of California. Bill had squared off against Eric then—seemingly untaught about the need to respect one's elders. However, Eric had been mostly amused by the younger vampire. The king had ordered that he do nothing other than give the duo a warning and a slap on the wrist, so that's what he'd done.

Eric shook his head. Lorena had been a sorry excuse for a maker. And Bill—in his opinion—should never have been made a vampire to begin with. He was too "sensitive"— sentimental in a destructive way. Emotions could have their place, but Bill was overly-emotional and didn't seem able to control his actions where those emotions were concerned. That inability was crystal clear when it came to Sookie. Eric had no doubt that Bill had ultimately become obsessed with her, something the younger vampire had labeled as "love."

Given what Bill had been doing to Sookie—and what he'd wanted to do to her by making a bond without giving her a choice—the Viking knew that Bill didn't actually love Sookie, the woman next to him. No—Bill loved a false idealization of her. She was Southern and had been raised with manners that made Bill feel nostalgic for the human life he still felt robbed of. She could offer him "humanity." And it didn't hurt that Sookie had been naïve and untouched—the embodiment of Bill's fantasy to recreate his "first" life.

The fiery side of Sookie—the part that had attracted Eric the most—was clearly not on Bill's list of favorite things about her. In fact, Eric had seen Bill actively trying to stifle Sookie's stubborn and fierce side more than once, beginning on the first night he'd met Sookie at Fangtasia. Before she had said ten words to Eric, she'd "sassed him." Eric smiled; he'd deserved it, and he'd respected her immediately for her unwillingness to take shit from him—her decision not to be afraid of him. However, Bill had tried to stifle her.

Moreover, Eric had noticed other moments when Bill seemed to be hindering Sookie from being herself. Perhaps, Bill had been trying to mold her behavior so that she would become a more pliant and "pleasing" version of herself; in that way, she would have been more likely to survive in Sophie-Anne's court. But, just as likely, Bill had been using all of the weapons he had in his arsenal—including his blood inside of Sookie—to try to turn her into his own version of a Stepford wife. Knowing Sookie, she had opened herself up to him, trusted him completely. Eric had no doubt that Bill had used all that to his benefit too. And—given the psychological torment that Eric had witnessed from Sookie when Octavia was interrogating her—Compton had taken advantage of and then added exponentially to the emotional damage he'd first perceived in Sookie.

Eric closed his eyes and held Sookie as close as he could, squeezing her as hard as he dared to ease her pain. Even now Compton was hurting Sookie. His remaining blood was weaseling around Sookie's body, looking for places where it could hide, searching out those parts of Sookie that she had always kept hidden—even from herself. Bill's blood was insidious, but the Viking couldn't help but to admire the younger vampire's craft in operating that blood.

Eric knew that he had achieved an age when he could compel his blood to do similar things in a human's body. But Eric had never wanted a Renfield. And Godric had taught him that there were better ways to get what was needed from humans—without compromising one's own blood in the process. To give blood was—Godric always said—to give power. Thus, Eric had, until recently, used glamour to influence people or to hide what he was. In Eric's thinking, using a human's own blood chemistry to try to fundamentally change him or her lacked honor. What he'd done to Lafayette and Sookie—by sending dreams designed to ratchet up their fear and attraction respectively—was bad enough. And he'd felt "lesser" for doing it, which was why he'd stopped—why he'd even given Lafeyette his car! However, his attempts to temporarily influence through his blood didn't even compare to the abhorrent things that Bill had been trying to do to Sookie.

As Eric continued to allow Sookie to use his body however she needed, he thought about the times he'd voluntarily given his blood to others. During his long life, that had occurred with six beings. The first had been Godric, who drank his blood out of passion whenever Eric had gone to his maker for carnal pleasure. The second had been Pam, whom he had fed blood in order to make her vampire. The third time had been during the humans' Second World War—when he'd been hoping to get information from the Were-bitch.

The last three times had been recent. He'd given Lafayette his blood partly for Sookie and partly for himself. He'd wanted to heal Sookie's friend, but he'd also needed for Lafayette to heel.

He'd given his blood to Hadley for similar reasons. She was Sookie's cousin, and—even though Hadley was the reason why the queen found out about Sookie to begin with—Eric knew that the woman clinging to him wouldn't want any of her kin to die. However, Eric had also had a second motive for giving Hadley his blood. Where the queen was, her favorite donor would likely be as well; thus, Eric could use his blood tie with Hadley to keep a figurative eye on Sophie-Anne.

As for the blood he'd given to Sookie? The Viking had surprised himself when he'd tricked her into taking his blood after the bomb blast. Oh—he wasn't surprised that he could be manipulative. What had surprised him was that he had wanted for her to have his blood so much to begin with!

"The blood is sacred," Godric had told him so many times. To Eric, the word "sacred"—what he'd called "heilagr" in his human days—held many meanings. There was the religious connotation; sacred meant "consecrated" and "divine." Sacred things were to be venerated and respected above all else; they were to be revered without question, for their worth was indisputable—absolute. They demanded and deserved devotion. And they were also inviolable—incorruptible, unable to be destroyed.

When Eric had offered his maker blood during their sexual encounters, he had wanted to show Godric reverence. When he'd fed his blood to Pam, it had been with the thought of creating devotion between them. When he'd given his blood to the Were-bitch, to Lafayette, and to Hadley, he'd had no thoughts of the "sacred"—just of the practical, which was why those occasions would have all met with his maker's disapproval.

However, as he'd felt Sookie's mouth pulling at his blood, Eric had thought of all of the meanings of the word "sacred."

Heilagr.

The feeling of his blood moving into her had been Valhalla. It had felt to him—as his blood had touched hers—as if she'd been the one in control, as if she'd consecrated his blood as it had made contact with hers, as if she'd made his essence into something as "special" as she was. His reaction to those feelings had been to smile—both in triumph and in celebration.

Heilagr.

Of course, Eric was still a bit confused about what he'd truly wanted to accomplish by getting his blood into Sookie. In the heat of the moment, he'd operated on instinct as much as anything else. The opportunity had presented itself, and he'd felt the need to connect himself to her. So he had.

Perhaps it was a move of desperation on his part. He knew that—with his blood inside of her—Sookie would have to face the burgeoning attraction she already felt for him. Perhaps, he had hoped to influence her dreams so that she would eventually feel compelled to come to him, but—if that were true—why had he stopped sending her dreams? Why had he sent her dreams only during the day when he knew that she would be in ultimate control over what happened in them? Why had he never sent her a dream at night when he could monitor and rule her emotional response? The night he'd killed the Were at her house, he'd changed his clothing and returned to watch over her as she'd slept. That would have been the perfect time to use his ancient blood to soften her feelings toward him, but he'd refrained. However, he still couldn't quite put into words why he'd refrained.

Eric had not been exaggerating when he'd told Sookie that everything vampires did always led back to the blood. So the fact that he'd not used his blood inside of her to his best advantage was the biggest mystery of all—at least as far as Eric was concerned.

The only thing he could say with certainty was that he hadn't wanted to do anything that would alter Sookie fundamentally. To him, her blood had been "sacred" as he'd found it. And why try to change that which his every instinct had told him to revere—to protect? Perhaps, after a thousand years of hearing Godric's teaching that the blood was "sacred," he'd finally come to understand the lesson, even as his blood had flowed alongside of Sookie's.

"I need your help, Viking," came Octavia's voice, though Amelia kept up her chanting. "I can feel dee rat still inside of her, but he's gone into a darker corner dan I can see," the witch continued.

"What can I do?" Eric asked.

"If you can chase him down with dat bit o' blood you saved in her, den use it to show me. If you cannot, den you must get her to show you dee darkness he is hiding in. I'd thought dat I had found it all, but there is more darkness in dis child," Octavia said ominously. "I will find it—eventually. Of dat I am sure. But if you want dis to be done before dee sun disappears into dee west, den you must help me now. I will do all I can to prevent my magic from destroying your remaining blood—for dee time being."

Eric nodded and then quickly moved his blood toward Octavia's magic. He closed his eyes and concentrated on leading the magic toward the particles of Bill's blood that he could still ferret out. At first, his labors paid off, and Eric could feel Octavia's magic surfing on the wave of his blood. However, even though his blood was remaining intact, Eric began to feel more physical pain again, and he knew that Octavia's magic would eventually erode through his blood.

He just hoped that the cells could stay intact long enough to do the job that needed to be done.

Unfortunately, feeling even more threatened, Bill's blood retreated, and right before the last few particles were gone, it disappeared into depths inside of Sookie where Eric's blood could not follow.

"Her shields," Eric said as he identified what he had come up against.

"Shields?" Octavia asked.

"What she uses to block others' thoughts."

Octavia sighed. "Den I'm afraid dat my magic cannot pass—unless she lets it."

"She's afraid," Eric said, using his blood inside of Sookie to gauge her emotions.

"Of course she is," Octavia responded as Amelia chanted even more loudly as if compensating for the fact that her mentor had stopped in order to speak with Eric. The younger witch's voice was cracking, but—then again—she had been chanting all day.

"She's been hurt by someone I did not speak to her about," the elder witch continued. "And—if I'm right—dat hurt is tied to her gift. Dat's why her shields are hidin' it from us. But Bill found it. And now you must too."

Eric looked at Octavia with concern. It was now only 20 minutes until sunset.

The witch gave the vampire a little nod and then went back to her chanting.

Eric looked down at Sookie, trying to see her face. So lost to her pain that she had not even registered that Octavia and Eric had been speaking, she seemed to be attempting to cocoon herself into his body.

"Sookie," Eric said softly, even as he brought his hand to her chin and raised her face so that she was looking at him. Her eyes were wet with tears that seemed unending. "Sookie!" he said a little more forcefully.

"Am I dying?" she asked raggedly.

"No," Eric growled. "Do not say that, Sookie Stackhouse!" he ordered. "Do not even think that!"

"Eric," Sookie said desperately, "I can't keep doing this. Tell them to stop. Please."

"If they stop, then all of this would have been for nothing," Eric said, even as he tried to smooth down her hair. "But if you want that, I will tell them to stop."

"No. I don't want that. I want him gone!" she yelled out, before sobbing against him—broken and battered by the spell that had been rattling inside of her body for most of the daylight hours.

"Sookie," Eric said, his voice a mixture of begging and demanding. "I need you to tell me where Bill's blood is hiding inside of you. It is in a dark place, little one, and I cannot light the way for Octavia—no matter how hard I try. It is behind your shields."

Sookie shivered, despite the feverishness of her skin. Her anxiety immediately rose.

"I can't," she grimaced.

"You must," Eric answered simply.

Sookie was shaking in her pain, her body hardly answering any command she gave it. She knew that—without Eric holding her—she would have been lost by now. She focused on his blue eyes—bluer than any sea or any sky. Something in them had always drawn her in—even before she'd drunk his blood.

She thought of the first time she'd seen them. They'd sparkled at her from across Fangtasia—a sapphire oasis amidst the black thoughts of most of the patrons. She'd wondered if his thoughts were as dark as his customers'; however, even before she'd talked to him, she'd already somehow determined that—while some of his memories and impulses might be dark—there was a lightness in him too.

Why had she warned him about the raid on his club? What would it have mattered to her—or even Bill, really—if Eric had been caught up in that raid? Why had she made demands upon Eric before she agreed to read minds to find the thief at Fangtasia? Why had she been so relieved when she found herself in his presence after the Maenad attack? What had made her find the courage to negotiate for Lafayette's release? What had made her volunteer to go into that church to try to find Godric? Why had she trusted Eric in that church—even after she'd almost been raped by Gabe? Why had she gone to Fangtasia right after Bill disappeared? Or again the next night when she and Jessica had found the tattoo on the Were? Why had she been so happy to see Eric on her front porch the night after the Were had come for her? What had made her trust him enough to go to Jackson with Alcide when all she knew about the Were was that Eric had sent him? Why had she wanted to keep trusting in Eric despite his harsh words at Russell's mansion? And why had she been so happy to see him looking at her when she'd woken up in that hospital bed in Rustin?

The answer was the same to all of those questions. It was his eyes.

Eric knew well how to hide his feelings, but there had always been something in that blue sea that gave him away—though Sookie had somehow intuited that very few could truly read his eyes as she could. The telepath was not naïve enough to think that the Viking had any romantic notions about her—beyond getting into her pants. However, his eyes told her that Eric Northman was not as cold—or as detached—as he wanted others to believe.

And—now—even as her body wanted to give up and her mind wanted to give in, his eyes held her. More than ever—she trusted them.

"Your telepathy has made you hear many unspeakable things—hasn't it?" he asked.

She nodded. "Yes."

"And that is why you felt the need to develop your shields?"

She nodded again.

"I need to know the worst thing, Sookie. That is where Bill's blood is hiding. If you tell me the worst of it, then you can be free of him."

"I told Bill," she stammered, even as she tried both to pull away from and to burrow farther into Eric.

"Tell me," he cajoled.

"I can't. Not again," she said. "Last time . . . ." She sobbed, her body now tortured by both physical and mental anguish.

"Last time?" Eric pushed.

"Last time, Bill killed him, and now I have seven," she whimpered.

"Seven?" he asked. He could sense that a part of her wanted to run away from him; however, he couldn't let her go—not now.

Maybe not ever.

He carefully tightened his hold on her so that she would be comforted—and not panic—in his arms.

"Seven people I've killed," she said in a voice that was almost otherworldly.

"Sookie?" the Viking asked.

"Mama and Daddy died because their car was swept from a low-water bridge," she half-cried and half-laughed. Eric intuited that her misery and self-blame were the causes of her seemingly contradictory actions and reactions.

Eric waited until Sookie continued, even as she rasped her air. "Mama hated me so much that she needed time away from me, and even Daddy thought it would be good to have a break." She cried out. "They were goin' to a nice dinner in Monroe the night they died. Mama was gonna bring up sending me to an institution again, but Daddy already knew that." Her voice grew quieter. "He was gonna agree that time. They were only on that bridge 'cause they wanted to get away from me so much. They'd be alive if it wasn't for me."

The Viking tried to comfort Sookie even as she tried to pull away again. "Gran was next." Sookie shook her head and her whole body shook. "And Rene too!" she wept. "He was the first that I killed with my own hands!" She was laughing hysterically as she pulled her hands away to show them to Eric. "And Eggs; he's my fault too. And then—just what? Day before yesterday? I killed Lorena too!"

Obviously not in full control of her movements, she wrapped her arms around Eric again and once more dug her nails into his back.

Sookie kept laughing, but then stopped making any noise for several minutes.

Eric was acutely aware of all of those ticking minutes. He gave her until there were only ten left until the sun went down before he had force the issue.

"That was only six," he said gently.

His voice obviously startled her a little and she clung to him harder.

"Tell me about number seven."

She shook her head.

"Tell me!" he yelled. "Now!"

His apparently anger stirred her fear and more tears.

"Uncle Bartlett," Sookie whimpered. She then laughed erratically. "He was my funny uncle."

Eric took a moment to process what Sookie was saying. Her demeanor told him with certainty that "funny" did not relate to a sense of humor in this case. And—suddenly—like a bolt of lightning, Eric knew what she'd been hiding—knew where Bill's blood was hiding.

Sookie Stackhouse had been a virgin when she'd walked into Fangtasia for the first time with Bill. Eric had been able to smell the sweet blood waiting with her maidenhead. But that did not mean that she'd been untouched. And that did not mean that she'd not had to endure the thoughts of an uncle who had wanted to steal every drop of her innocence. Such men had existed in his time as well, but if they were found out, the sharp side of an elder's sword took care of the problem.

Sookie began to speak again, but Eric stopped her by gently caressing her hair. She didn't need to say the words. He would speak them for her, and in speaking them, he hoped to indicate to Octavia where to seek Bill's hiding blood. Eric would have sneered about Compton's cowardice even when it came to the blood, but he was more worried about Sookie in that moment.

And the ticking clock.

"This uncle of yours," Eric began, "he would touch you in a way that a child should not be touched?"

Sookie whimpered and nodded, once more burying her face into Eric's cool chest, even as she looked to escape both her pain and her memories.

"I know that he did not steal your virginity," Eric said softly. "But he was doing other things that were leading up to that. Am I right?"

She nodded again and whispered out, "Gran stopped him when I finally told her."

The vampire continued to tenderly stroke Sookie's hair. "But you did not tell at first."

"He—he said Gran would send me away if I did," she stammered, though her words were barely audible against the vampire's chest.

"And you believed that your grandmother would send you away—just as your mother wanted to send you away," Eric stated in a soft tone, though he made sure that Octavia heard him.

The vampire inhaled deeply and breathed in the telepath; she always smelled of the sun, and she reminded him of the long summer days when he was a child—days when the sun would set for only a few hours before it rose once more. Her scent also reminded him of a meadow where he had enjoyed running as a child, a meadow full of chicory and wild orchids. But now—because of her tears—it also reminded him of the sea, the sea where he'd spent many a bitter night huddled with his men and trying to survive. Despite that, he'd loved the sea, but he didn't love her tears.

Sookie hadn't responded to Eric's words, nor had she needed to. "You had to endure hearing his thoughts as he touched you inappropriately. You had to hear all his plans. You learned to build your first shields because of that," Eric said with a sigh as he looked over at Octavia. The witch had a tear in her eye, and Amelia had streams of tears running down both of her cheeks, though both witches continued their chanting. Octavia gave Eric a little nod and then closed her eyes as if harnessing more magic.

"I told Bill, and he killed Uncle Bartlett," Sookie said as if defeated. "I'd spent my life tryin' to move on from what he'd done to me—what he'd thought about doin'."

"And you told someone—someone whom you trusted," Eric supplied.

"Yes," she whimpered.

"And he killed the monster, only to leave all the blood on your hands," Eric said bitterly.

Sookie nodded.

"One day, Sookie Stackhouse," Eric said fervently, "one day you will come to see that—though your life has been stained with blood—you are not to blame for it."

She sobbed against his chest.

"But not today," he soothed. "Today—all you need to do is to hold to me. Can you do that, little one?"

Though she couldn't speak through her sobs, she nodded her acceptance.

Eric closed his eyes. He slowly rocked Sookie's body in so smooth of a motion that only a vampire could have achieved it. His blood was now through the shield that Sookie had erected to protect herself from the worst thoughts of humankind, and, there, he found a storehouse of her hurt and her pain, caused by the things that had gotten through. They were exactly the kinds of things that one such as Bill would exploit. As expected, Eric found the remnants of Bill's blood hiding in that damaged part of Sookie's psyche. And predictably, in order to survive, those remaining pieces of Bill were working to ratchet up Sookie's fear and shame. Eric used his own blood to show Octavia the way to Bill. And then he used it to soothe Sookie's frazzled emotions as best he could.

As he hummed the ancient tune of his mother for the second time in less than twenty four hours, Eric made a promise to himself. He would see Bill Compton dead. And he would make sure he died painfully.

Russell would remain—out of necessity and his own desire for vengeance—Eric's primary target, but the Viking prayed to Odin that Compton's blood would one day stain his sword. Looking down at the brown head now settled into his chest more restfully, Eric wondered if Sookie would enjoy taking the kill when it came to Compton. He got a flash of her severing Compton's head as if she were Freyja herself.

But then he stopped that thought. Seven. Sookie already felt as if the blood of seven beings was on her hands. Eric didn't believe that Sookie was responsible for the deaths of her family members, but his belief would not ease her pain. Eric didn't believe that she'd done anything to blame with this Eggs character either. But, again, what he thought was not what mattered. Eric felt that Sookie should celebrate the deaths of Rene, the serial killer who had murdered her grandmother; Bartlett, the monster who had molested a child; and Lorena, the sociopath who would have killed her without thought. However, Sookie was of a different ilk than Eric. He had grown up in a culture where killing was a part of life—a part of survival. When enemies invaded his village, it was kill or be killed. It was kill or watch one's female family members be raped and kidnapped.

When Eric was a human, it seemed as if there was always a war to fight. Counting up all the deaths on his head, Eric knew that he'd slain more humans as a human than as a vampire. He'd accidentally killed a few humans in the first barely controlled days of his bloodlust, but once he had begun taking in the lessons of his maker, he had gained governorship over his urges. Of course, he'd had to kill other humans over the years—humans like the ones who burned the vampires in his Area. He'd also had to kill many other vampires. Uprisings and fights for dominance were part and parcel of being a vampire, and Eric was very good at self-preservation.

The woman in his arms, however, was not a killer. Even in self-defense, taking another's life stirred her guilt. The uncle's death, too, weighed on her—despite his abuse of her and despite the fact that she'd not been the one to kill him. She still felt responsible.

She'd been "taught" by others' thoughts—even from those of people she loved and who loved her—that her telepathy was a "disability," a handicap that she should hide. Eric could only assume that she'd never really developed her telepathic talent. No. She had spent most of her effort covering it up and shielding herself from others—first physically and then mentally—in order to survive.

But she was a survivor. Her living through the day taught Eric that.

And he wanted her more than anything he'd ever wanted. He just couldn't explain what he wanted from her. What he did know, however, was that now that he could feel that the last bit of Bill's blood had been obliterated from her body—only a minute before the sun melted into the horizon—he wanted nothing more than to keep his own remaining few drops of blood inside of her.

Octavia gave him a look, and in that look was a question. She was giving Eric a choice. Bill's blood was gone. What remained of Eric's blood could stay, and Sookie would be none the wiser. The woman in his arms had collapsed into unconsciousness as the last bit of Bill's blood had left her.

"I can stop dis now," Octavia said even as Amelia looked at her mentor with uncertainty.

Eric shook his head, "No."

He closed his eyes and moved all of his remaining blood inside of Sookie directly into Octavia's magic.

And then he let go of his blood, even as he held Sookie tighter to his chest.

Eric felt pain once more as the last pieces of himself inside of Sookie Stackhouse were burned away. But that did not hurt him as much as the ache inside of his chest when he was finally gone from her.

The pain—he had expected. The hollow throb of her loss—he had not.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26: Shell-Shocked

"You seem a bit shell-shocked, vampire," Octavia said knowingly as she nodded toward Amelia to indicate that the young witch could stop chanting.

"Wow!" Amelia exclaimed amazedly, though her voice was obviously stretched to its limits. "I can't believe that took so long!"

"Dee child had a lot of vampire blood inside of her, and to kill dee rat's blood—but to leave enough of her own blood behind—was difficult."

"But she'll be alright?" Eric asked.

Octavia nodded, her eyes holding both wisdom and intrigue. "She will sleep now, probably through dee night and well into dee morrow. Longer if she is lucky. Her body is very weak, both from her previous loss of blood and dee spell. After she awakens, she will display severe flu-like symptoms. Amelia will know what needs to be done and will give you a progress report each night before she leaves."

Eric nodded. Careful to keep Sookie covered, the vampire gently disentangled himself from her and wrapped her into her cloak.

"Dat must be left behind and den burned, vampire," Octavia said pointing at the cloak. "And yours too, along with dee blanket you were lying on."

Eric sighed and nodded and acceptance.

Octavia looked over at Amelia. "Amelia can help you bathe dee child and put her into her bed, but den she must go rest if she is to return when dee sun rises."

Eric nodded again.

"Your Sookie will rest longer—and better—if you are next to her, Eric," Octavia said with a glint in her eyes.

Eric glared at the witch. "She is not mine."

"You still pretend dat you do not love dis woman?" Octavia chuckled, though her voice, too, had obviously been taxed because of her all-day chanting.

Eric's eyes widened. "I do not love her," he said sharply. "I am incapable of such an emotion."

Octavia smirked. "When I first met you, I would have said dee same. But tings change."

Eric growled a little. "That has not!"

"Deny it all you want, vampire. But make sure dat you do not let yourself—or dee girl—get killed because of your denials."

"What do you mean?" Eric asked angrily.

"Ah," Octavia said, looking him directly in the eyes. "Once you know dat it is love you are fighting for, you will be stronger dan you have ever been as you protect it. But if you deny your love, den you may try to talk yourself out of protecting it—until it is too late for you both."

Eric growled at her again. "I care for this woman because she is my asset and because I want to taste her blood and her body. There is nothing else!" he seethed.

"Now who's dee liar?" Octavia asked with a wicked smile. "You told her dat there was more to it earlier."

"You did," Amelia squeaked out.

"And we witnessed you with her today. Yours were the actions of a man in love," Octavia continued.

Eric glared at them both. "I," he paused, "like her. She amuses me."

"Den denial it 'tis," Octavia said with a cackle. "Lie next to her if you can—at least—call upon dat practicality you are known for. She'll heal either way—just not as fast or as comfortably. And," she continued to chortle, "lie to yourself all you want. You'll eventually understand—just not as fast. Or as comfortably."

With that the elder witch motioned toward Amelia, who stepped forward a little. The younger woman still looked quite chipper and not tired at all, despite the long day of non-stop chanting.

"If you'll carry her up, then I'll help you get her clean and into some jammies," Amelia said brightly. "Octavia will burn the cloaks and blankets while we're doin' that."

Eric glanced over at the fireplace and noticed that the blaze was steady but not roaring. Clearly, the witches had kept it up during the day. Octavia put on the last two pieces of wood that were left in the house.

Despite knowing that Sookie was unaware at the moment, Eric eased her out of her cloak carefully. He recognized that she would be embarrassed that he'd seen her naked, but there was little he could do about it—except to force himself to avert his eyes from her most intimate parts. Plus, she'd already be mortified when she recalled that he'd had ample opportunity to memorize at least the feeling of every inch of her body since they'd been naked and touching almost all day long. But the petite witch in front of him obviously couldn't carry Sookie. And she seemed unable or unwilling to walk into the circle.

It certainly wasn't that Eric didn't want to see Sookie naked. If touching her for the last hours was any indication, her body was beautiful. Yes. He wanted to study and to play with every inch of her until she was writhing against him in ecstasy—not agony. But seeing her like she was, so weakened and vulnerable, made the Viking feel protective in a way he'd never felt before—except, perhaps, with Pam when she'd been a "newborn" vampire.

Eric gently scooped Sookie into his arms and held her close. He made sure to keep his eyes away from the part of her that smelled most delectable to him, but some things he could not help but to see. Her breasts, which had been pressed against his body for most of the day, were milky white, and Eric could see the faint color contrast between them and the flesh around them. He figured that was because of the sun. He knew that—given Sookie's modesty—she would not sunbathe nude.

As he walked her up the stairs—actually hovering a bit so that she would not be jostled—he had to force himself to pull his eyes from her tempting nipples. They were two dusty roses, begging to be tasted, but the vampire refrained.

He sighed and pulled her closer—not that it helped to alleviate his temptation. Once again, he felt the softness of her breasts against his hard chest and reveled in that feeling. They were the perfect mixture of firmness and suppleness as she moved slightly against him. Yes. Without a doubt, they were the most beautiful pair of breasts he had ever seen, and he'd seen a lot of pairs during his thousand years. He wanted to cup them and test them in his hands. He knew that they would fit perfectly in his palms, but—again—he refrained.

The Viking's thoughts were momentarily drawn from Sookie's beautiful body when the young witch started filling the tub with water. The bathtub was Jacuzzi style, so it took a while to fill, but its size allowed for Eric to climb in with Sookie so that he could keep her body cradled into his.

As expected, the vampire was completely unconcerned about his own nudity, though several gasps from the witch told him that she liked what she was seeing. Eric didn't pay her much mind as he let the warm water relax him. He hoped that it was soothing Sookie's tired and sore body as well—even if she weren't awake to enjoy it.

Gently, he lowered the back of Sookie's head into the water and then rested her against his raised knees as he washed and conditioned her once golden hair. Now it was like the richest of chocolates—dark brown and luxuriant. He'd not lied when he said that she was just as beautiful with either hair color, but he still missed her natural locks. They were more "her."

Her hair clean, he motioned toward the witch. As Sookie rested against him, her back against his chest, he let the witch clean the front part of Sookie's body and her legs. Eric watched the witch carefully, making sure that the young woman was respectful to Sookie's body as she worked. From Amelia's earlier looks at Sookie, Eric was quite certain that Amelia appreciated Sookie's body as much as she appreciated his; however, she washed Sookie as a nurse would wash a patient, which pleased Eric. Amelia would be needed to help care for Sookie until she was stronger, and he did not want for Sookie to feel uncomfortable—especially not when it came to intimacy.

Especially not after she'd been forced to remember what her uncle had done to her.

After Amelia was done, Eric waved her away and asked her to go get Sookie some appropriate clothing. As she did that, Eric leaned Sookie forward a little and gently washed her back. By the time he'd rinsed her, the witch was back and had taken out several towels.

Eric's inclination was to stay in the bath water with the woman he'd held so tightly for most of the day. He, too, was exhausted: from the pain of the spell, from the concern he'd been feeling for Sookie all day, from the effort it had taken him to chase down Bill's blood in her body with his own, and from the fact that he'd forced himself to stay awake all day. It had not escaped his notice that the bath water had a pinkish tint from the blood that he'd lost because of the bleeds. He could feel that there was still dried blood on his face and neck, but he hadn't wanted to completely ruin Sookie's bath water by washing it off.

He sighed as he brought them out of the tub. Amelia helped him wrap Sookie into a large towel and then went about wrapping her hair in another one. Once Sookie was adequately dry, Eric carried her into the bedroom. He was still dripping. "Put another towel onto the foot of the bed," he directed Amelia's.

Quickly the witch did as he asked.

"I will shower," he said in a low tone. "While I am gone, finish drying her, and—if you are able to do it without disturbing her—dress her."

Amelia nodded as Eric placed Sookie down gently onto the towel before using his vampire speed to zip down to the small basement. Wanting to be close to Sookie in case she needed him, he quickly grabbed his duffle bag and zipped back upstairs so that he could take a shower in Sookie's bathroom. He glanced in the direction of Sookie and Amelia when he reentered the bedroom and noticed that the witch had already restored Sookie's modesty by getting her into a long nightgown. That fact comforted him in a way that was uncomfortable for him to acknowledge. But he was also disappointed that her flesh was once more hidden from him.

His hands and his body already missed her soft warmth.

Eric quickly took a shower and put on a pair of track pants, along with a T-shirt. When he came back into the bedroom, Amelia was patting down Sookie's wet mane with another dry towel. Eric whipped back into the bathroom to grab the brush that he'd seen on the counter.

Amelia looked at Eric with some confusion as the vampire picked up Sookie. He motioned for the witch to remove the used towels and to turn down the bed before he got into it with Sookie. Then, he positioned her so that she was once more leaning against his chest.

"Is there more TrueBlood in the house?" he asked the witch even as he began to gently brush Sookie's hair.

"Sure," Amelia said, a wistful smile on her lips as she watched the gentle actions of the lethal being in front of her. "What kind of blood do you like?"

"They all taste deplorable," Eric responded with a smirk. "Surprise me," he said, glancing up at the young witch. "I shall need three. Perhaps a mix of flavors would make them seem less bland."

The witch giggled a little and left the room as Eric continued to gently cajole the tangles from Sookie's hair.

He smiled at the new color. Yes—he was getting used to it. But he still missed the blonde.

A vampire's hair was one of the few things that could change on his or her body. Fingernails and hair grew slowly, but they did grow, and hair could hold dye. Eric's hair had been long during his human life, and he had let it grow quite a bit longer before he cut it for the first time in the late 1400s. Thus, he'd had to deal with many a tangle during his long life.

Once Sookie's hair was smooth silk in his hands, he quickly styled a braid which would fall over her shoulder. A thought struck him that he'd never brushed another being's hair, let alone braid it. He liked the feelings it created within him; in fact, he liked them so much that he felt the need to push them away.

Octavia's words had cut into him like a sharp dagger, which she had then twisted inside of him in order to create a larger wound. She had accused him of loving Sookie Stackhouse, but that was impossible. After all, part of him continued to hate her for the effect she had on him—the trouble she always seemed to attract.

No. Eric Northman did not do love. Not anymore. Never again.

Sookie had been right when she'd called him out for having a lot of love for Godric. After all, a vampire was supposed to revere his or her maker. That was part of what the blood bond between them fostered. And Godric had been a particularly good maker and had even shown Eric true affection—at least until the last few decades of his life when he had cut off almost all communication with Eric, including shutting down their bond.

Godric had simply called Eric about twenty years before and told him not to be concerned when he could no longer feel his life through their bond. Eric had been concerned, of course, and had asked Godric why he felt the need to shut him out. He'd asked Godric to tell him what he'd done wrong, but Godric never did. He simply informed Eric that the disconnection was needed and requested that Eric not initiate contact with him by other means either. Godric had never officially freed Eric, and that request had felt like an order, so Eric had not tried to see or to speak with his maker after that—despite the fact that they'd been geographically close. He'd hoped that Godric might eventually request his presence or reconnect with him through their bond, but, even in the end, that did not happen—unless one counted the moment in the Fellowship church when Godric called him to come to the basement, only to send him away again within a minute.

But Godric had saved Sookie from her attacker, and for that, Eric was grateful. It had not escaped Eric's notice that Godric had called him only to place Sookie in his care. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why he felt the need to protect her even now. Sookie had been the reason why he'd felt his maker once more—if only for a fleeting moment.

The only other feeling he got from Godric was on that fucking rooftop in Dallas when Godric had ordered him away.

One last maker's command.

Yet Sookie had stayed on the roof so that Godric would not die alone. Eric had heard her say words of comfort to his maker—words which had comforted him as well.

"Gratitude. You feel obligation," Eric said to himself as he looked at the woman in his arms. He owed Sookie a debt of gratitude for staying with Godric. Yes. That was what he felt—not love. Love was an emotion that would lead a thousand-year-old vampire to sink to his knees and offer himself to the sun just so his maker would not have to die alone. And he would never let himself be in another such position—and definitely not for a human/fairy who would die her natural death as he had to live on.

Eric nodded to himself. Yes. He could care for her—already cared for her. After all, he owed her. Plus, she was a strong ally and had the potential to become even stronger. But love her? No. That—he would not allow, even if he were capable of it.

He would not be left behind again!

The young witch came and went quietly, and Eric downed two of his TrueBloods while they were still warm. He repositioned Sookie so that she was lying on her side, and then he spooned his long body behind her. Octavia had told him that Sookie would rest better with him near, and the sooner she was well, the better it would be for them both. He felt relatively secure in the Slidell home, but he was anxious to get out of Russell and Sophie-Anne's kingdom.

Yes. He would stay with Sookie as she rested because it was practical and because he owed her.

He did not let himself entertain any other reason for being close to her as he slipped into downtime and rested from the long day's exertions.

Chapter Text

Chapter 27: All Play and No Work

"It is not enough to conquer; one must learn to seduce."—Voltaire

[An hour before sundown, earlier that evening]

Russell Edgington enjoyed the sight before him very much. He had to hand it to the Viking: he did have a lovely little "playroom" in the basement of Fangtasia. And it was made even nicer by the lovely new "decorations" which had been added in the form of the three humans, two of which the Norseman had "gifted" him.

A catatonic human in a corner.

A couple of corpses at the foot of the bed.

The humans were the same as throw pillows to the king. Just décor.

The two donors that Eric had introduced him to had been quite delicious in their own ways. The large one—Kenneth—was simply delectable. Thus, he sat mostly safe and sound—except for his unresponsive state and a few minor wounds—in the corner of the room.

Domitri had proven quite the limber lover, and the blond fangbanger that Russell had chosen had also been perfectly adequate.

Yes. Russell had enjoyed them immensely. Of course, he'd had to make sure both of them were dead before he fell into his day-rest. After all, he couldn't very well afford to have them around when he was dead for the day. He could have glamoured them or sent them away—he supposed—but that would not have been nearly as fun.

Plus, since the Viking wasn't within Russell's reach and because he'd had a hankering to kill, the two humans had served as convenient substitutes for his rage.

Russell looked over at his undead bedfellow—William Compton. The younger vampire was—it seemed—a chip off the old block when properly motivated. Lorena's zest for blood and sex had clearly been passed on to her progeny. It had taken young William a little while to get tuned up, but after a bit of blood and a little "love," his genteel act had been all but forgotten. Indeed, he'd been a willing participant in the bloodlust and the slaughter that had taken place in the hours before sunrise.

Young William had surprised Russell a bit by his eagerness to become the elder vampire's lover. Russell had thought that it would take a few more nights of coxing. However, Compton had been quite zealous—once adequately stimulated.

Sadly—young William did not have the god-like physique of the Viking, whom Russell would have preferred to take into his bed. The Civil War veteran, however, made up for that with his general enthusiasm and his obvious reverence for his elder. Bill had obviously not been a virgin to men at his turning, though he was still tight. The younger vampire—it seemed—also enjoyed a bit of pain. And he truly liked to be dominated. Talbot, though he was ideal in most ways, did not.

Oh—Talbot satisfied Russell immensely, but his consort was not a true submissive. Young William certainly had the potential to be that—with the right motivation, of course.

Russell grinned almost sadistically. The younger vampire next to him had been immediately remorseful after their pleasure had begun, especially during the last half an hour before day-fall—when he had truly taken in the room around them.

Up until then, they had both enjoyed feeding from and fucking all three of the donors. And Bill had even glamoured Domitri to continue allowing them to fuck him after the blond fangbanger had been drained and was lying dead on the bed. Once Domitri had also been drained and blood had stained the bed sheets as well as the walls, Bill had been lost in his bloodlust and had tried to kill Kenneth. Russell had needed to stop Bill with force, a move that had driven the youngling to offer himself to his elder.

How could a king refuse such a gift from such a servant?

After he was sated both with blood and with sex, however, Bill had wept at his actions. Russell smiled. The younger vampire's guilt had been a lovely "nightcap." Amused to no end, the king had held the youngling and comforted him until it was time for Bill to weave another dream for his dearest Sookie. Russell had offered the young one more of his blood and then had held him some more as dawn took Bill to his death. It had been one of the more satisfying nights Russell had spent in a while. It was difficult to find ample opportunity to indulge these days, for the Authority had placed so many inane—and unnatural—rules upon them all.

No feeding in public.

No draining humans.

No blood orgies.

No fucking fun!

Russell was tired of the rules. Vampire were vampires—for fuck's sake! Fuck—they were gods! The humans were there for their pleasure, and the only function they were worthy of serving was to feed their fucking betters! It had been the Authority's apologetic behavior which had brainwashed vampires like Compton, but Russell intended to take the Southern gent further under his wing and make him glorify in being a vampire.

Russell thought about the previous two nights, cataloguing everything that had occurred into the files of his ancient mind as he patiently waited for his new lover to awaken so that his plans for the evening could get underway.

With amusement, he recalled the sordid little "fairy tale" of Bill and Sookie's "love story." Russell chuckled, as he thought about the delusions within the mind of the so-called "genteel" vampire beside him. A "Southern gentleman" Bill Compton was not! Russell had seen many master manipulators among his kind; however, Bill seemed best at manipulating himself with his own fantasies and lies.

Russell was pleased by his acquisition of Compton. He was pleased by the presence of Victor to aid him. But he was most pleased that he would soon be home with his beloved Talbot.

Russell sighed. Though he was loath to admit it, he was nervous regarding his consort's safety and knew that he would not be entirely comfortable until Talbot was in his arms. The king had not made many mistakes during his extensive life—at least not many that he was willing to own to—but one of them had been allowing Eric Northman to escape his grip. After three thousand years, it took a lot to out-maneuver Russell Edgington, but the Viking had done just that! The king's anger flared. Northman—along with his progeny and the telepath—had seemingly disappeared off of the face of the fucking planet! And his worst fear was that they might somehow get to his beloved Talbot.

The ancient vampire closed his eyes and calmed himself, consoling himself with the fact that he'd tripled Talbot's guards. Thus, if Northman tried to get to Talbot, it would be the last mistake he ever made!

Yes—it was only a matter of time before Northman was in his clutches. However, the king couldn't help but to be a bit disappointed by the way things were turning out. On the surface, the Viking had seemed as if he would make the perfect addition to Russell's retinue. He was a thousand years old—nothing to Russell's strength, but definitely formidable. He was also excellent at running his area and at turning a profit—not that Queen Sophie-Anne had ever really appreciated that. Moreover, Russell had thought that Eric was attracted to him, and the king had been looking forward to fucking the Viking. Talbot and he often shared humans, but they'd not shared a vampire in many years. Now young William would have to suffice.

Russell pouted a little since there was no one in the room who could see him. Indeed, he was quite disappointed that Eric was no longer on the table as a willing paramour; however, he did plan to take Eric as an unwilling lover when he found him. Russell smiled at the thought of keeping the "mighty" Viking as his prisoner for years and years to come. He would torment him mercilessly with the fact that he'd killed his whole family, even as he took his body. Northman would be powerless to do anything—except suffer, of course.

Russell thought back to the young Viking, whom he now knew was Northman. The king was disappointed in himself that he had not recognized Eric right away, but Russell and his Weres had ransacked so many villages over the years that it was difficult to keep them all straight. If Northman had been alone in being spared, Russell would have remembered. However, because of the ancient vampire's propensity for leaving one person alive in the midst of the havoc his Weres had wrecked, Eric had looked like all the others—his expression of shock and suffering nothing out of the ordinary.

Russell sighed nostalgically. He missed the days when such destruction could be wrought without consequence. But he comforted himself with the notion that he and his allies would—one way or another—bring the world back to those times. Humans had gotten too comfortable—with their suburbs and technology-filled lives. Yes. Russell had a new world order to look forward to; it would take a while, but one thing that he had a lot of was time.

Meanwhile, he would have the telepath and the Viking to "play" with—once they were found, that is. However, the king anticipated that it wouldn't take very long to find them at all. In fact, Russell already had most of the pieces in place that he would need to find the missing pair. Yes—he would bet a good deal of his fortune that he'd have Northman and the telepath in his clutches within a fortnight.

Hallow was a pain in the ass, but her magical strength was almost without parallel given her dual nature as Were and a witch. And—because a remnant of the magic used by Northman's child had been found—Hallow would almost certainly be able to find the witch who had helped Northman soon after she returned from India.

Russell's phone beeped, and he saw that Talbot had texted him. The sun had already set in Jackson, and his consort had good news. Franklin Mott had fully recovered, and he was anxious to find "his" human, Tara Thornton. Russell decided to allow the search. Even if Miss Thornton was not with Sookie and Eric, she might have some information that could aid them.

Yes. Having Victor's help allowed Russell the luxury of letting Mott do as he wished. Mott was a loose-cannon in many ways, but he was vicious and obsessive in his quests. Indeed—if Tara's trail crossed with Sookie's at any point in the future—Mott would likely be there.

While he had his phone out, Russell read Victor's preliminary report of his findings at Eric's residence, which had been sent just before dawn the night before. Victor hadn't found much, but in the safe, there'd been a record of several properties owned by the Norseman. Russell would arrange for those residences and businesses to be watched. However, the best piece of information was that the name of the law firm Northman used—Cataliades & Co.—was on the paperwork.

Desmond Cataliades was the founder of that firm, and the demon had been Russell's own attorney since before either one of them had come to the New World. In fact, Desmond had made his own move to America partly at Russell's request!

"Perfect!" the king said aloud.

Dealing with demons could be a messy affair because they used their own type of magic to keep their work secret. That was why they made such excellent attorneys, after all! However, Russell was confident that he could spin the story he told Desmond so that his old acquaintance would give him any pertinent information on the Viking.

The king could feel himself tightening the noose around the Norseman's neck more and more with every passing minute. He would take away all sanctuaries from the Viking. He would eliminate all resources. And—in doing so—he would drive Eric to once more experience the fear he'd displayed as a young Viking.

Russell relished that thought as he looked again at the vampire next to him. Despite his obvious shortcomings, young William was another asset in his quest to capture the Viking. As soon as Hallow eliminated the witch who had supplied Northman's magic, all of that witch's spells would die with him or her. Then, Bill would be able to track the telepath with the tie.

Meanwhile, young William could continue to try to entrap Sookie into woven dreams. Bill could also sense her life force, though he could not get a clear picture of her emotions. But being able to sense her was enough—for now.

On the other hand, Russell posited that there was some need for hurry if they were to secure Miss Stackhouse. If his hypothesis was correct, the telepath would likely not stay alive long if she stayed with the Viking. Russell truly did expect that Eric would kill Sookie rather than risk being made vulnerable by her.

The other possibility for the Viking would be to turn her so that he could—as her maker—order her silence about his secrets. But Russell didn't think that the Viking would do that. Secrets were power, and there were ways around a maker's command. Plus, a newborn vampire was a liability.

In truth, if Sookie were turned, she would likely lose her telepathic ability as well as her amusing sparkly fingers, and that truly would be a shame. The magic that operated within a vampire ran counter to the magic within the Fae, and Russell had encountered enough precedent to be confident that Sookie Stackhouse would lose her uniqueness if turned.

During the first thousand years or so of his long life, Russell had heard of experiments by elders who had tried to turn fairies in order to push along the evolution of vampires. However, no full-blooded fairies or even half fairies survived the turning process. A few quarter fairies were successfully turned, but their blood lost its luscious qualities, and—by all accounts—their Fae gifts left them as well. The king also knew of a few telepaths who had been made into vampires. The late Stan Davis of Texas had been made a vampire because of his telepathy, for example. However, his gift had declined in strength after his human death.

Russell sighed. It would be a shame to lose such a nice asset as Sookie Stackhouse—human-fairy hybrid telepath. But if she were killed or made vampire, she would no longer be a wild card in the game. She would become a non-threat—a non-issue.

And that outcome worked for Russell too.

But—whatever the case—Miss Stackhouse would eventually be found; whether she was found dead, un-dead, or alive, Russell would adapt his plans. And Eric would eventually be captured. Meanwhile, Russell resolved to enjoy the chase. He had already decided to add a year onto Eric's torture for every day the Viking evaded him.

As he made his plans for the evening, the elder vampire smiled and absentmindedly ran his fingers down young William's bare and bloody back. First, he was going to fuck Compton in the midst of the carnage in the room. Then they would take a few sips from Kenneth, whose glazed-over stare was still on the wall where it had been when Russell rose for the day. Then they would all utilize Northman's luxurious shower together.

After that, the king was going to take a match to Fangtasia and burn down Northman's pride and joy.

Then, he would return to Mississippi—to his Talbot.

As soon as Bill woke up, he knew that something was horribly wrong. He sat up in the bed quickly, and—though he no longer needed to breathe—he felt as if someone had knocked the breath out of him.

"Sookeh!" he cried out, his accent more exaggerated than usual.

"Is she near?" Russell asked. "Is she trapped in the dream you sent?"

Bill shook his head, even as he registered the fact that his whole body was shaking. "No." His skin grew even paler than usual. "She is gone."

"Gone?" Russell asked. "Explain! Now!" he demanded as he roughly grabbed Bill's shoulder.

"The tie I had with her—the bond I had begun to form with her . . . ." Bill stopped speaking as bloody tears began to flow from his eyes.

"They are no more?" Russell asked, softening his touch and bringing the younger vampire into his embrace.

"No more," Bill confirmed. "She is gone. Dead."

Russell held William through his sobs as the youngling was overwhelmed with grief. Meanwhile, the king was disappointed. Sookie would have been a wonderful asset, but it seemed that his theory about Eric killing the girl had proven true. It had just come about sooner than Russell had predicted.

Indeed, it was a pity.

However, there was consolation that Eric would no longer have the asset either. Russell smiled even as he rocked his companion. Perhaps, the telepath's being out of the game was the best thing after all.

He smiled wider. The Viking's actions were proving to be a bit erratic. Why save the telepath just to kill her a couple of days later? Unless Russell's theory was right—unless Eric had killed the telepath because he had "cared" for her. If that were the case, then the Viking would likely be shell-shocked for a while—vulnerable and less capable of strategizing than usual.

On the other hand, it was also possible that Bill's dream-weaving had led to the telepath's death. However, Russell intended to keep that theory to himself—just in case he needed it to manipulate or hurt the younger vampire in the future.

Alternatively, Northman might have become aware of Bill's skill to weave dreams; Lorena wasn't exactly known for her discretion, after all. If the Viking had known about Bill's ability, he would have had four options. First, he could have forced Sookie to stay awake during the daylight hours, but how could he have monitored that if he was asleep himself? Second, he could have killed her so that she would no longer be a liability. Third, he might have tied her down so that she couldn't answer the call of a woven dreams; of course, that in and of itself might have killed her. Or fourth, the Viking could have let her go. Russell would have chosen the first or third option, but perhaps the Viking was more cautious and had chosen the second.

There was no way in hell that Eric would allow Sookie to leave—only to make her way back to Bill.

And it made sense for Eric to wait until the day time to kill the girl. That way Bill would have no idea when the death occurred. Or perhaps the Viking was in a different time zone by now, and he'd waited until night to kill her—to test to see if another woven dream had been sent. Russell's fangs almost popped down at the thought of Sookie tied up in a room and ordered not to sleep by the Viking. Of course, the exhausted telepath would have eventually nodded off, and the Viking would have found her in the midst of a woven dream. Or perhaps she would have been dead from heart failure already since she wouldn't have been able to act on the "orders" of the dream. Or maybe the Norseman had killed her off himself once he'd found her trapped in a dream. The possibilities were tantalizing, and Russell got hard as he thought about Eric draining the telepath dry.

However, it was a moot point. Sookie was no longer a game piece; thus, Russell would spare her no additional thought—unless . . . .

Russell quickly dialed his phone, even as he continued to hold Bill with one arm.

"What?" came Hallow's sharp, cold voice. "I thought I told you I'd come to you when my job here was done."

"Show proper respect, witch!" Russell seethed, immediately annoyed with the woman.

"Fine. What can I do for you, your majesty?" Hallow asked sarcastically.

Russell restrained himself from lashing out at her disrespectful tone. "I have a question for you," he said instead.

"Then ask it," the witch returned.

"Can a severing spell be used to destroy a blood tie—without the vampire who formed the tie permitting the act?"

"No," Hallow answered. "There is no such spell. For a severing to work, the vampire who made the tie must let go of his or her blood."

"You are sure there is no possibility of a severing being done without the vampire being aware of it?"

"No possibility," Hallow said with certainty, "unless the witch wants to kill the human."

Russell hung up the phone and looked down at Bill, who was looking up at him with crushed hope in his eyes.

"I had to check," Russell said with false contrition. "I am sorry if I stirred your hopes, but—given the fact that Eric has a witch in his employ—I had to consider all possibilities."

Bill nodded sadly. "I know. And thank you."

For a moment, Russell considered killing the youngling in his embrace. After all, Bill's value had just decreased exponentially. A simple snap of the neck, and William Compton would be no more. However, the elder vampire could still think of several uses for the young one, and without the baggage of Miss Stackhouse to hold him back, Bill might prove to be an even better vampire. Perhaps, Sookie's death would teach him once and for all that humanity's most treasured emotions were dangerous for vampires to delve into. Notions of "undying" love and fidelity and empathy were new to human evolution as well, and Russell didn't think they would last long. The king hoped that the vampire in his arms could outgrow them.

And he intended to foster that growth—at least for as long as Compton had value.

"We will take out our revenge on the Viking together, young William," Russell said soothingly. "You will be by my side as we torture Eric for decades—perhaps even centuries."

"Yes!" Bill said, looking up at Russell with almost-wild eyes. "I will make him pay for what he has done to Sookie."

"Yes," Russell agreed. "Once we find Northman, you and I will cause him suffering the likes of which has never been heard of before. I'm sure that Lorena taught you many things about torture, and I will teach you more than you can imagine."

A flicker of regret passed into Bill's eyes, but the bloodlust he felt overwhelmed it. "We will make Eric pay dearly for killing Sookie."

Russell raised one of his hands to gently stroke Bill's cheek. His tone was loving, though his words spoke of dark intentions. "We will spill Eric's blood for years to come in your dear Sookie's name."

"Yes," Bill said as he leaned into Russell's touch.

"We will abuse and use his body to quench our desires," Russell said seductively, even as he noticed that Bill's erection was rising as he thought about what they could do to Eric.

"Yes," Bill repeated as his hand found Russell's erection and he tentatively began to stroke his king.

The younger vampire welcomed the feelings of revenge and lust that were swirling inside of him, for they were covering his intense grief.

Russell gently pushed Bill onto his back and then placed kisses along his body—from his mouth to his chest to his stomach. When Russell got to Bill's throbbing cock, he took it into his mouth and enjoyed the younger vampire's moans as he began to stimulate his rear entrance with his fingers. After taking a moment to prepare his new lover, Russell kissed his way back up Bill's body before thrusting into him.

Bill moaned in ecstasy and wrapped his legs around Russell's thighs. He clung to his elder as Russell pounded into his body as only a vampire could.

Bill relished the feeling of being taken. As much as he hated to admit it, this feeling was the one his body craved the most. And since he could no longer feel his blood inside of Sookie, she would no longer be able to feed his heart.

So all he had left was his body.

The younger vampire thought back to the first time a man had taken him like this. He had felt ashamed afterwards, but being with a man had been a craving that he could not stop from overtaking him many more times as he suffered through the perdition of the Civil War. Shiloh, Chattanooga, Hatchie's Bridge, Hartsville, Stones River, Thompson's Station, Franklin, Vicksburg, again at Chattanooga, Mossy Creek, Brice's Crossroads, Tupelo, Memphis, Franklin, Petersburg, and so many unnamed skirmishes in between—all of the battles, both victories and defeats, had been hell. Smallpox, scarlet fever, measles, influenza, erysipelas, frost bite, trench foot, and so many other afflictions that tore through the ranks—all were things to put fear into a man's heart.

A man's body taking away his pain was the only comfort to be found in the trenches that he had to dig to save himself from the cold, the rot, and the fighting. Bill had come to believe that he was not really breaking his wedding vows to Caroline when he sought companionship and solace with a fellow soldier. What he was doing was surviving so that he could return home to her.

Later—after Lorena had turned him—Bill had been forced to experiment more with sex. Soon, Bill had recognized that he enjoyed fucking a woman much more than fucking a man. But being fucked by a man was an equal pleasure to taking a woman. Jealous of that fact, Lorena would use "toys" to try to take him as a man would, but it was never the same.

Now as the three-thousand-year-old monarch worked his body in ways that Bill had never before enjoyed, he wondered if he would ever truly desire another lover. The pleasure that Russell was able to stir inside of him was almost too much to bear, and Bill felt his orgasm approaching quickly even though neither he nor Russell was stroking his cock.

Russell slowed down his pace slightly but made his thrusts deeper and more intense. His eyes were hypnotic as he looked into Bill's darkened orbs. "I promise that we will make the Viking pay until we have both gotten our fill."

Bill became impossibly harder at Russell's words. "Yes!" the younger vampire yelled as his orgasm burst from his still-untouched cock.

Russell bared his fangs and brought them down into the youngling's neck with a viciousness that spurred an eruption from his own cock. He lapped up the taste of his vampire lover's thick blood as their orgasms subsided.

His passion spent for the moment, the king looked again at his lover. As expected, there was a small flash of guilt competing with bliss in the youngling's eyes. Russell gently pulled out of Bill and pulled him to lie on his chest. He petted Bill's face soothingly.

"You should not feel badly about doing what is required to alleviate your grief, young William. The Viking has stolen so much from us all—but especially from you."

"I could not remain faithful to her," Bill wept, as fresh red tears slipped from his eyes.

"You need not take another woman again," Russell soothed. "That is a kind of faithfulness. And your Sookie would want for you to be happy—to move on with your life. Would she not?"

"Yes," Bill said quietly.

"And she would want justice to be brought to her murderer," Russell added. "She would want you to honor her and your love by making sure that Eric Northman paid for the happiness that he stole from you both."

"Yes," Bill said more forcefully.

"Come," Russell said as he gently raised his body, pulling Bill up with him. "We will feed a bit from Kenneth, and then we will take a shower to refresh ourselves."

Bill looked around the blood-filled room as if seeing it for the first time. His eyes went to the two corpses which were currently at the foot of the large bed. "We killed them," he said guiltily.

"We fed from two that were willing to feed us," Russell responded dispassionately.

"I do not like killing humans," Bill said with almost a pout.

"Then you need not kill them," Russell comforted. "You will never be forced to do anything you do not wish to do in my service."

"Really?" Bill asked.

"Really," Russell said, holding in his smirk, even as he held the young vampire's hand.

Chapter Text

Chapter 28: Waking Up

"Hope is the dream of a waking man."—Aristotle

As Sookie tried to open her eyes, she wondered how such a simple action could be causing her so much pain. She soon realized that every single inch of her body was aching. She tried to bring her hand up to her throbbing head, but had to stop halfway and then let gravity take her hand back to the bed.

She let out a whimper as she finally got her eyes to open and tried to take in her surroundings. She was in her bedroom in the Slidell house. A hint of warm light, probably from the lamp on the other side of the room, was the only illumination. Sookie, however, didn't dare to turn her head to confirm this theory.

"You're awake!" said a way too cheerful voice.

Sookie managed to move her head enough to see that Amelia was sitting in the same chair that Eric had been watching her from before.

"Excellent!" Amelia said, standing up and coming over to Sookie.

The telepath cringed at the loud sounds of the witch's voice and mind, but was happy that Amelia's thoughts exactly matched her words. At least, she didn't have to deal with two different voices in that moment. Sookie wasn't sure she could have handled that!

"Octavia told me to make sure that you drink lots of water," Amelia said. "And she made you a special tea too."

"Not so loud," Sookie managed to squeak out.

"Oh!" Amelia said even louder, causing a jackhammer to begin pounding in Sookie's brain. The witch seemed to realize her mistake then and spoke in a whisper, "Sorry."

It was a shame that her thoughts didn't transition to a lower volume too.

Making up for the noise, Amelia gently propped Sookie up a little bit and held out a cup of water for her to drink from. Thankfully, it had a straw.

After swallowing a sip of the soothing liquid, Sookie noticed for the first time that there was an IV in her left arm.

"What time is it?" Sookie asked after she'd had a few more sips. The water felt glorious as it lubricated her dry throat.

"Noon or so," Amelia said. "But you slept through all of yesterday and last night—and the night before last. I was starting to worry. So was he," she gestured in the direction of the other side of the bed.

"He?" Sookie asked, not quite able to turn her head to look where Amelia was pointing. "Eric?"

"Yep," Amelia whispered. "He must have called Octavia five times last night. But she said it was good that you were still sleeping." She grinned. "She also told him to chill out and to stay put."

"Stay put?" Sookie asked.

"Yep," the witch answered again. "He was your helper during the spell, so having him close is helping you to heal a little faster."

Sookie's face immediately turned red as she recalled certain parts of that spell—like the part where she was rubbing her naked body all over Eric's naked body.

Amelia giggled as she gestured for Sookie to drink again. The noise made Sookie close her eyes in pain, but she forced herself to drink.

"I wouldn't worry about what I think you're worrying about," Amelia said in a low tone. "Octavia said it was normal for you to seek out comfort from your helper. Plus, it would have been almost impossible for you to resist him specifically."

"Him specifically?" Sookie squeaked as her blush grew.

"Yeah," Amelia whispered, though her tone was that of an old gossip. "Octavia's done three severing spells now and she's heard of and witnessed others, but none have been with a vampire as the human's helper. The person getting the spell done will always crave the comfort of his or her helper's touch, but the fever the spell brings on would have made a vampire feel even better than a human, especially since it took so much longer than usual for all the vamp blood to leave your system."

"Eric did feel—uh—cool," Sookie admitted as her blush lessened.

"And he's hot too," the witch said with a wink. "But not in temperature," she added with another giggle. "I would rub up against him any time—if I thought he'd let me."

Sookie's blush was immediately back in full force.

Amelia shook her head a little as she gave Sookie another drink. "I thought that other vamp's blood was never gonna leave you!" she exclaimed, though thankfully still in a relatively quiet tone. "Octavia thinks it was because he wove another dream, so his blood was looking to make mischief anyway. Plus, there was a lot in you. Even Eric's blood took a long time to burn away," Amelia shared, "and he wasn't fighting the spell off—not for the most part, at least."

"For the most part?" Sookie asked, feeling a little confused.

"Yeah," Amelia confirmed as she prompted Sookie to drink more. "And what he did was so amazing! And he is so handsome!" she said with wistfulness in her voice. "You are one lucky girl," she continued, "though he was also scary when he was mad last night. I mean really, really scary! I'm just glad that it was Octavia he was mad at and that I wasn't here when he was calling her. But I could hear everything he said—I mean yelled—'cause she had the speaker phone on." Amelia shivered a little. "But don't worry. We were totally alone in her shop, and that place is warded like crazy, so no one would've heard him talkin' or anything."

Sookie latched onto one of the first things Amelia had said in her somewhat rambling speech. "What did you mean when you said that what Eric did was amazing?" she croaked out.

"Oh—that's right. You wouldn't have been able to tell what he was doing!" Amelia exclaimed a little louder before quieting down again when Sookie cringed. "He left some of his blood in your body."

"What?" Sookie exclaimed, almost choking on her drink. She groaned at the pain of her own outburst.

"Oh, don't worry. His blood's gone now," Amelia assured when she realized what Sookie was upset about. "But Octavia did give him the option of keeping some in you." The witch shrugged. "It probably would have been smarter if he had."

"But he didn't?" Sookie asked quietly.

"Nope. But he did keep some of his blood in you long enough to help us." Amelia smiled over at the other side of the bed where Sookie assumed Eric was dead for the day.

"What do you mean?" Sookie questioned.

"The other vampire's blood—Bill's blood—was really crafty in hiding from Octavia's spell. From the way he wove your dream the other day, she figured that he'd hide inside of your fears."

"Yeah," Sookie said. "That's why she had to say all of those things when the spell was starting."

"Yep," Amelia answered somewhat contritely before once again placing the straw at Sookie's lips. "But she missed something."

"Uncle Bartlett," Sookie remembered. She began to shake a little.

"Yeah," Amelia said quietly as she set down the almost empty glass.

The witch took and held Sookie's hand lightly. The telepath was grateful for the comfort, even though Amelia's touch hurt a bit.

Amelia went on excitedly. "Eric helped us to find that memory inside of you; in fact, his blood pretty much led us to the other vampire's blood. It was incredible!" Amelia's smiled warmly. "Not even Octavia knew that vampire blood could do that! Of course, severing spells are rare as it is! And Octavia and I couldn't find a record of one being done where there were two vampires being severed from the human—let alone where one of those vampires did not give approval for the severing. Let alone where the other vampire was acting as the human's helper—during the day no less!" She chuckled. "Nope, I think it's safe to say that a spell like that one's never happened before!"

Sookie shook her head a little as Amelia picked back up the water.

Amelia rambled on happily, though—thankfully—she continued in a quieter tone. "I mean—imagine! A severing spell that takes from dawn to almost sundown! Then, add onto that the fact that one of the vampires is a dream-weaver! And the other vampire takes on some of the pain! I mean—wow!" She prompted Sookie to take another sip.

"And then, it got really nerve-wracking! Octavia and I started to worry that we wouldn't get done before sunset because Bill started using your own shields from your telepathy to hide behind! But then Eric's blood started showing us the way to Bill's blood! It was like Eric was using those glow wand thingies that airport people use to guide airplanes into gates. It was the coolest thing, Sookie!"

The witch looked down at the telepath and was immediately apologetic when she saw the pain in Sookie's eyes. "I'm sorry," Amelia said contritely. "I'm just goin' on and on—aren't I? It was just something I'm never gonna see again—probably."

"It's okay," Sookie said before finishing off the water. Her conversation with Amelia had exhausted her.

"Uh," Amelia said a bit awkwardly, "do you want me to take out your catheter now? Or do you wanna wait till tomorrow when you are stronger?"

"Catheter?" Sookie cringed. She reddened at the idea of Eric being in the same bed with her when she had one of those in.

"Yeah. I had to put it in yesterday since you hadn't woken up. But don't worry. I worked as a nurse for five years—before I took up the older medicinal arts fulltime."

Sookie quickly weighed the pros and cons of keeping in the catheter. On the one hand, she couldn't imagine being strong enough to go to the bathroom without help for a while. On the other hand, she didn't want to keep in a catheter, especially since Eric would be around. In the end, it was her vanity that made her decision for her.

"Can you take it out?" she asked in a whisper.

"Sure thing," Amelia said as she put on a pair of gloves. Sookie looked away as Amelia did her work. "You wanna try to go to the bathroom now?" the witch asked after she'd cleaned Sookie up and disposed of the device. "We could put you in a warm bath for a bit too. It'd do good to burn off some of your fever."

"I have a fever?" Sookie asked.

"Oh yeah," Amelia chuckled. "Still about a hundred and two, I'm guessing. I gave you some fluids through your IV yesterday, but your temperature's been staying pretty high."

"Do I have to keep this in too?" Sookie asked as she raised her arm a bit.

Amelia looked at the IV. "No—as long as you are awake enough to drink water and eat a little, it will be fine to take it out."

Sookie nodded and then looked away again as the witch took out the IV.

Getting Sookie up and into the bathroom was an adventure in pain for the telepath, but Amelia was stronger than she looked, so she was able to support much of Sookie's weight. Amelia helped Sookie sit down on the toilet and then lean slightly against the wall before she turned on the water for the tub. Then—thankfully—she left the room so that Sookie could use the bathroom in private. Sookie was thankful to find that she wasn't that sore from the catheter.

Once Sookie was done on the toilet and the warm bath had been drawn, the witch helped Sookie remove her nightgown and then get settled into the tub.

"You really are pretty," Amelia sighed, not hiding her appreciation of the telepath's body.

"Oh—uh—thanks," Sookie said awkwardly.

"Don't worry," Amelia chuckled. "I get that you aren't into girls—not that I blame you with Eric around." She sighed wistfully.

"You—uh—like him too?" Sookie stated as much as asked. She'd already heard enough of Amelia's thoughts to know that the witch was appreciative of Eric.

Amelia grinned. "I don't discriminate when it comes to picking lovers," she said proudly. "I just go with what feels good at the moment."

Sookie blushed a little, her somewhat conservative upbringing rearing its head. However, the telepath had also been taught by Gran not to judge others based on their race, religion, or sexual orientation, and she wasn't about to start with the woman who was helping to nurse her back to health. "Well," Sookie said, even as she enjoyed the feeling of the warm water against her sore muscles, "I'm sure that helps you to have more options."

"Exactly!" Amelia giggled, forgetting her inside voice for a moment. Sookie cringed a little. "Sorry," the witch said contritely.

With the help of Amelia, who kept a supporting hand on Sookie's arm, the telepath was able to soak in the tub for almost ten minutes before exhaustion set in.

"You should do this again once Eric is up," Amelia commented as she lifted the drain of the tub. The witch had decided that it would be easier to begin drying Sookie while she was still sitting in the empty bathtub.

Sookie immediately blushed. "Uh—I don't think so."

"But you took a bath with him the other night—after the spell. He got into the tub with you, and he was able to support you. I'm sure he would be willing to do that again."

By the end of Amelia's comment, Sookie was flaming red.

Amelia looked at Sookie with confusion and then realization. "Oh! I had assumed that you two were together—a couple."

Sookie shook her head. "No," she whispered.

"Really? You're not?" Amelia asked with disbelief.

"Really," Sookie said. "We're not."

"That's weird then," Amelia commented, almost as an aside.

"Weird?"

"Yeah—weird that he's been so worried about you and all. I figured that y'all were a couple from the way he was acting."

"We're friends—I think," Sookie said as Amelia helped her out of the tub.

The witch just shrugged. "Okay then." Amelia quickly finished drying Sookie off before helping her into a fresh nightgown.

The two didn't say anything else for a while as Sookie leaned into Amelia's side, and they slowly made their way back to the bed. Amelia was still contemplating the unlikelihood of a vampire behaving like Eric had been, especially given the fact that he was not Sookie's lover. Meanwhile, Sookie was looking at the lump on the other side of the bed. All that she could see of the Viking was a bit of blond hair above the blanket. She still couldn't fathom why he'd agreed to stay with her during the day, especially since there was someone else there. Of course, she knew that Amelia had likely been glamoured to within an inch of her life not to harm him. And Eric obviously trusted Octavia. But—still—Sookie had never seen him so vulnerable.

As soon as Amelia had gotten her settled back into bed, Sookie stretched out her telepathy as far as she could—even though it hurt like hell to do so. She breathed a sigh of relief when she was certain that no threatening minds were close to them.

"You should drink a little more water before you go back to sleep, and then when you wake up again, you can try some broth and Octavia's tea," Amelia said as she filled the glass from a pitcher beside the bed.

Sookie nodded and accepted the water gratefully. The trip from the bathroom, as well as the stretching out of her telepathy, had been very tiring. However, after about half the glass was gone, Sookie indicated that she'd had enough.

Amelia tucked the blankets around Sookie, who suddenly felt very hot even though she was shaking a bit.

"Too hot," the telepath whimpered, as she tried to un-tuck herself.

"Uh—you should stay under the covers; it'll help your fever break. Why don't you snuggle up next to the built-in air conditioner in your bed?"

Sookie moved her head slightly and looked at where Eric was resting. She still couldn't see most of him.

Amelia continued, "I—uh—know you said that you're not together, but Octavia said that the closer you are to him, the better. I—uh—think he's been holding you pretty much all night long. But he knew I was planning to feed you through the IV again and to give you a sponge bath if you didn't wake up today. I think that's why he put himself a little further away from you before he—uh—died for the day." She bit her lip nervously. "Yesterday, he was holding you while he was sleeping. But—again—Octavia said that was for the best."

Sookie sighed. "But what if he's—uh—naked?"

Amelia grinned and winked. "I could look for you, but from what I could tell, he was wearing boxer-briefs when he settled into bed."

Sookie sighed even louder and then groaned. Even making noise hurt as her fever suddenly made her want to sleep in a bathtub full of ice.

"Fine," she relented, "but I need help moving over to him."

Without a word—but with some pretty loud thoughts related to how she would like to be the one cozying up to Eric—Amelia helped Sookie move over in the large bed.

The telepath breathed a sigh of relief as her warm body touched the cool back of the vampire. Slowly, she worked to burrow herself against Eric's body as much as she could and was glad when she felt a waistband. However, when her legs moved against his, she was extremely happy to find them bare. She turned her cheek so that it was flush with Eric's smooth cool back.

She sighed at the soothing sensation.

Finally, she felt like the fever inside of her had subsided a little.

And she slept.

Chapter Text

Chapter 29: Warring Instincts

"Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey 'people.' People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war... Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of the rest."—C. S. Lewis

Eric POV

When a vampire woke up, there was no grogginess—no moment when sleep was being shaken off. A vampire went from death to life in an instant.

By the time a vampire was a year old, he or she had either absorbed certain survival tactics or had almost certainly met his or her true death. The first thing learned was to secure oneself from the sun, which was the vampire's greatest enemy. The second thing learned was to secure oneself as soon as the sun was gone—to use one's superior senses to immediately gauge one's situation upon waking.

A vampire was literally at the mercy of the day—and anyone who could walk around during it. In fact, many vampires of the old world still refused to travel by plane because they hated the feeling of dying in one place and then waking up in another. That sensation had never bothered Eric—probably because he'd gotten used to it during his human days.

At that time, night—not day—was the frightening part of Eric's journeys. The stars could be used to navigate—that is, unless the clouds covered them like a blanket, as they so often did in the far North. Many a ship of his people had been broken apart by rocks that had been unseen in the dark. Often, while sailing, Eric had fallen into a restless sleep when it was not his turn to navigate or to watch for the "monsters" of the night. He would wake up to the smoky fog of the pre-dawn—many times not knowing where he was in relationship to his home.

But he always made it back there—until a true "monster" of the night found him and claimed him. Of course, Eric had chosen to be claimed—chosen to follow the night. Perhaps that was why he was not afraid to travel during the day—as long as he took precautions.

Still, automatically and immediately upon waking, he always assessed his surroundings.

The witch, Amelia Broadway, was sitting in the chair across the room—twelve feet from his current position. Before he had gone to his day-sleep, Eric had, of course, glamoured the witch—quite extensively. She was not to leave the house or to open its door for anyone. She could attend to her own human needs, but she was glamoured to do so at the fastest rate possible. But mostly, she was to watch over and care for Sookie.

Eric heard the witch's calm, even breathing. Her heart rate was also steady. The tiny scratches he heard and the ink he smelled told the vampire that Amelia was writing something, but the sporadic pattern of the sounds made him think that she was not writing sentences. Likely, she was working on a crossword puzzle from the book he had seen when he searched through her bag after she arrived near dawn that day.

He immediately determined that she was not a threat.

He could also immediately tell that no one else—other than Amelia, Sookie, and himself—had been in the house that day. Eric's range of scent was quite extensive; thus, he determined that no one had crossed onto the property at all, except for a couple of humans who had likely passed along the sidewalk at the front of the house with their canines. None of those scents were of concern, however. He could account for all of them as humans who lived in the neighborhood.

Knowing he was safe, Eric allowed himself to revel in the feeling that had dominated him upon his awakening—warmth.

Comforting. Pure. Transcending. All-encompassing.

Warmth.

Sookie.

Her body was hotter than usual against his skin, so Eric knew that her fever had not left her. However, her temperature was not as high as it had been the previous night. Her breathing was somewhat labored, but not as raspy or as wheezy as it had been before. Her heart rate was a bit slow, but it was mostly steady—no longer sluggish or overtly labored. All of these were good signs, though he knew he wouldn't relax completely until her vital signs were back to normal.

One of her arms was slung over his waist, and he moved his hand so that it was perched right next to hers. He wanted to take her hand into his—to intertwine his fingers with hers. But he didn't. Instead, he simply brushed her pinkie finger with his thumb—with the lightest of strokes he was capable of.

He closed his eyes. Slowly, he was growing accustomed to not feeling any of his blood inside of Sookie, but, still, he recognized his disappointment—disappointment to which he was also growing accustomed. Eric had never experienced such a feeling before the severing spell.

Simply put, his blood "missed" her. It missed the comfort of being inside of her—of having her blood engaging with it, even cradling it in a way.

Eric had asked Octavia if this was always the case for a vampire when a severing spell was used. The witch, who had already pissed him off with her enigmatic replies about Sookie's recovery time, had merely laughed at him and hung up the phone.

The Viking had been tempted to track down Octavia and torture the information from her, but—truth be told—he genuinely liked the witch, at least most of the time. Plus, he was not anxious to have the demon world added to his list of enemies. Not only had Octavia married a half-demon, but she was also the granddaughter of one, which made her a quarter Dae herself. Moreover, her godfather was one of the most powerful demons in the Western Hemisphere—and Eric's lawyer! No—the vampire was not keen to piss off Desmond Cataliades!

So Eric had stewed, even as Octavia's cackling had echoed in his mind. However, her laughter had told him all he needed to know. A vampire's blood "missing" a human after a tie was broken was apparently not the norm. But—then again—nothing with Sookie was ever "normal." Part of him wondered if his blood "missed" hers so much because she was part Fae. Perhaps being inside of her that way had been like existing safely in the sun.

Perhaps that was why he'd feared the feeling as much as he'd enjoyed it. But—gods—did he miss it!

Even as Eric registered that feeling of "missing" something, he felt Sookie's warm hand move a little on his waist, as one of her fingers scratched the area right over his belly button a little. As a child, Eric had been ticklish around that spot, that mark which would forever identify him as coming from the body of a human—as being nourished by his mother in her womb. Now, it felt as if Sookie's mere touch could nourish him, and he marveled at that feeling.

He wondered if Sookie could understand the complexity of his impulses toward her. He wondered if she knew that his instincts warred within him. Feeling her like this—and letting himself acknowledge the heady weight of that feeling—made him want to both kill her and to protect her with his own life.

The contradictory feeling was almost too much for him to withstand. But he couldn't help but to want more of it.

Fucking paradoxes!

Shielding oneself from the sun was the first—and the most important—lesson that a vampire learned. But Sookie was a personification of that sun—an orb which Eric had thought he'd banished from his dark existence long ago. Yet here she was, her warm cheek pressed against his back as if she were trying to absorb the cool of his skin. And all he wished to do was to turn around, enfold her in his arms, and safeguard her light with every part of himself.

But would doing so burn him?

He stifled a sigh. His nose had already picked up the fact that the catheter device that Amelia had needed to put into Sookie's body was gone as was the IV that had been feeding Sookie fluids. Both had been cumbersome; in fact, they had been what had prevented him from holding her to him during his day-sleep. Amelia had needed the freedom to maintain those devices.

Eric had missed Sookie resting against him as he'd gone to his day-sleep. However, her current position meant that she'd chosen to move herself so that she was next to him—to seek out his body for comfort. That thought buoyed him, for it meant that he wasn't alone in wanting her near.

He closed his eyes. Yes—he was beyond denying that Sookie's presence was welcome to him. Nights of worrying as he waited for any sign that she was improving had been enough to convince him to accept certain facts: he did care for her; he did want her around; he would yearn for her if she was gone. He just needed to take steps to make sure her presence wouldn't become a liability to him.

Careful not to disturb the sleeping woman against him too much, Eric shifted his body in a single, fluid motion so that he was leaning against the headboard of the bed. He resettled Sookie gently so that her warm cheek could still be flush with his skin. She whimpered slightly at the movement, but didn't awaken, as she settled her head against his upper abdominals and her hand over his quadriceps.

Amelia was roused from her crossword puzzle by the vampire's sudden movement.

"Report," Eric said in a whisper.

"Oh!" the witch said, a bit startled to see that Eric was awake about half an hour before the sun went down. His body—due to its need to recover from the severing spell—had not awoken until after nightfall the day before.

"Quietly," the vampire ordered, hoping that the easily excitable witch would not disturb the woman lying against him. Unconsciously, he began to stroke Sookie's hair to keep her soothed.

"Uh—she woke up around noon today," Amelia whispered.

Eric nodded. It was 6:56 p.m.

"Sookie was able to drink some water," the witch continued. "About twelve ounces. And she wanted the catheter out, so we did that too. She's weak and in a lot of pain, but we were able to get her into the bathroom, and she even took a short, warm bath, which was good for the fever."

Eric looked at the witch with curiosity. "Wouldn't cool water have been better?"

Amelia smiled. "Witches are great believers in natural remedies. Causing Sookie to sweat in the bath caused her body temperature to rise a bit."

"Isn't that at cross-purposes to controlling a fever?" Eric asked.

The witch shrugged. "Perhaps, but a warm bath can also force the fever to go through a cycle of elimination—sweating. This can cause a fever to break or lessen. Once we got Sookie into bed, she was still sweating and wanted out from under the covers, but I had her rest against you instead. And her fever soon lowered, though it hasn't broken yet."

"Yes. Her temperature is lower than before," Eric agreed.

"If she lets you, try to get her to take another bath later. It might bring her fever down even more. And it would certainly help with her sore muscles. As I said, she's in a lot of pain. I'll leave some pain medicine behind, but she needs food in her stomach before she can take it. There's some broth on the stove. I made it several hours ago, but it can be rewarmed as needed."

"How much should she eat?" Eric asked as the witch began to gather up her things.

"Try for at least a bowl tonight, but she doesn't have to eat it all at once. And there's a healing tea in the thermos on the kitchen counter; Octavia made it. Warm about four ounces of that, and try to get her to drink all of it before she sleeps again. I refilled the water pitcher. Have her drink as much water as she can. I'll prepare a bit more substantial food for her tomorrow."

As Amelia stood up to go, Eric caught her eye and quickly had her enthralled with his glamour. "Remember—you will not speak about where you have been today. You will not be able to speak of Sookie or of me until you walk into this house again. If you are asked where you have been during the day, you are to say that you were caring for your sick relative."

In a bit of a trance, Amelia nodded and then left the room.

Eric was glad to hear the front door shut behind the witch. Amelia was useful and necessary for Sookie during the day, but Eric preferred being alone. Actually, that was not accurate. He preferred being alone with Sookie. Her presence allowed him an "equal" kind of connection with another—a connection that he'd not known he'd desired until he'd experienced it. But at the same time, it fostered the solitude that he needed. And—inexplicably—those two feelings did not seem to be contradictory.

When the vampire became aware that he was still softly stroking Sookie's hair, he did not stop the action. He found it strangely soothing, and he relaxed more fully than he had in a long while.

He let his mind wander.

The last few months had been trying ones. The unrest in his life had begun with his accountant telling him that there was a thief at Fangtasia. Eric had used the opportunity to test Sookie's skills when he'd been unable to glamour the information he wanted from his staff. That had made him suspect a vampire, specifically Longshadow. Though he'd not needed to use it, Eric had had a small, sharp stake with Longshadow's name on it stowed in his pants pocket the night Sookie had questioned his staff.

But even as Eric had prepared to act to protect Sookie, he'd seen Bill rushing to her aid. The Viking had allowed the younger vampire to make the kill. And that had turned out for the best, for Bill had been the one who'd had to face the punishment for Longshadow's death.

The Magister's punishments had never been predictable; their severity had depended upon his mood—much more than precedent or the mandates of the Authority. Since Longshadow had been stealing from Eric, the Viking would have most likely gotten off with only a hefty fine; however, he might have been required to "make" Jessica, and the thought of being forced to be a maker sickened the Viking. Godric had always taught him that a vampire would be pulled to a human when he or she was ready to become a maker. Eric had felt such a pull with Pam; thus, there was true and abiding affection between them. He wondered if he would feel anything akin to that if he'd been forced to make Jessica. He somehow doubted it.

Unfortunately, after Longshadow's death, things did not settle down for Eric. Between babysitting Jessica as a favor to Bill, capturing the humans responsible for burning Malcolm's nest, and dealing with the disappearance of a vampire in his area—an event which led him straight to Lafayette—Eric had been extremely busy. But none of those things had prepared him for the confluence of events that happened next.

It had been a Monday night, and Fangtasia had been closed. Eric had awoken to a message that the queen was coming to see him, and by 2:00 that morning, he was in the V-sales business because of her orders. Fifteen minutes after Sophie-Anne had left, he'd received a phone call from Isabel, telling him that Godric was missing. Fifteen minutes after that, Bill Compton had rushed into Fangtasia with a dying Sookie in his arms.

Inexplicably, Eric had finished off that stress-filled night by fighting the day so that he could spend some time alone with Sookie—whom he'd barely known at the time. She'd been asleep then too. He'd not had a taste of her blood, and she'd not had his, yet her presence had still eased him, and he'd indulged in that easement in order to calm his worry about Godric and the queen. Plus, he'd been able to assure himself of Sookie's own safety as he'd cared for her.

Eric had washed off the evidence of the Maenad's attack, but Sookie had been the one who had provided him with the service that morning.

In her presence, he'd felt bolstered—better able to face the trials that were looming. As he'd cleaned Sookie—as he'd smoothed her hair just as he was doing now—he'd plotted out his stratagem. When he awoke at sundown, he'd planned to heal Lafayette and to put him in charge of selling the queen's V. The Viking had been acutely aware that this act would make him a hypocrite, but—at the time—it had been his best course of action. He'd also resolved to ask Sookie to help him find Godric. Finally, he'd texted Mr. Cataliades and had asked him to draft a contract to keep Sookie on retainer.

Of course, that night hadn't gone the way he'd planned, but with Sookie involved, he should have anticipated that he'd need to think on his feet. However, the ultimate resolution had been similar to what he'd intended. Lafayette did become his V dealer, and Sookie did go to Dallas to help in the search for Godric. Eric had told Cataliades to put Sookie's contract on hold and had planned to approach her about it after their trip. He'd simply not had occasion to do that before more shit hit the proverbial fan.

Dallas had led to more and more taxing times for Eric. His maker—as it turned out—had voluntarily offered himself up to the Fellowship of the Sun and had planned to let Newlin sacrifice him to his warped version of god. Sookie had almost been raped. A bomb had almost killed them all. And the whole Lorena idea had turned into a fucking fiasco.

But the worst moment had come when Eric was forced to leave his maker on a rooftop only minutes before sunrise.

The Viking had smelled Sookie's tears when she'd gone into the room she was sharing with Compton. But Eric had already known that Godric was dead even before he'd heard her quiet sobs. Godric had not allowed Eric to feel him through their bond for a long time, but upon his death, his maker couldn't prevent his progeny from feeling the bond dying within his own body. That pain had brought Eric to his knees, but he had forced himself to stay awake until the agony had fully subsided. He'd known that it was the last time he would ever feel anything of his bond with his maker; thus, he'd savored the pain even as he'd wept bloody tears.

Knowing that his vampire brother, Duncan, had been in New York—and, therefore, dead for the day when Godric met the sun—Eric had sent him a text explaining the situation before he'd allowed death to take him for the rest of the day.

After that horrible experience on the roof, several crises had quickly followed: the Maenad situation, the increased desperation of the queen, and the Magister's presence. And—in the midst of that—Sookie had brought him the picture of the Were with the tattoo that had haunted him for a millennium. And then there had been Russell.

Yes. Eric had good reason to feel battle-weary after the last several months. The only light in that time had been Sookie. She had been in the center of all his trials, but—ironically—she had also somehow shielded him from them. Perhaps that was why he could never bring himself to kill her—even though he knew it would have been the "smart and vampiric" thing to do. Perhaps that was why he had gone to the hospital to see if she would come with him. Perhaps that was why he missed having his blood inside of her.

All he knew for sure was that every time she was near, he found it easier to stay calm and focused, despite the turbulence that seemed to follow her. Paradoxically, having her near gave him something he desperately needed—the ability to be patient and to strategize.

He loathed to think about what would have happened—what he would have done—if Sookie hadn't been captured and brought into Russell's mansion. Having just discovered that Russell was the one behind his parents' death, Eric had wanted blood—immediately. His hands had itched to kill Talbot, the most important individual in Russell's life. And then—when he'd seen Russell—his fangs had ached to descend. His limbs had twitched to attach.

And his brain had been turned off! Totally the fuck off!

But then Sookie had arrived—clad in that beautiful dress with the flowers on it. She'd been struggling to get away from Russell. And, suddenly, Eric's mind had clicked back on—at least enough to see a color other than blood red. Attacking Russell right then would have led to a blood bath—his own. And killing Talbot would have turned Russell into an even more maniacal lunatic than he already was.

Yes—Sookie's presence had saved his life that night.

Eric inhaled deeply of Sookie's scent and relaxed further against the headboard.

He closed his eyes and ran through the assets he already had in place—as well as the ones he would need to secure. Thankfully, because Pam and Sookie were both safe, he could be patient and wait for the "right" time to strike. He would need to be more cunning than he'd ever been before in order to formulate a plan that would lead to a three thousand-year-old vampire's death.

Through Cataliades, Eric had sent a second message to Niall the previous night. Speaking with the fairy whom Godric had called a "friend" would go a long way toward helping Eric know what to do next. Niall had owed Godric his life, and Eric hoped that would translate into the fairy helping Sookie to understand her powers. The Viking also hoped that Niall would show himself sooner rather than later so that Sookie could begin working to hone her Fae skills.

Eric sighed, knowing that he needed to tell Sookie about her Fae heritage. As he continued to caress her chocolate-colored hair, he decided to wait until she was a little stronger to do that. She already had too much to deal with, and it wouldn't hurt to wait a couple of days before adding to her worries.

He opened his eyes and recalled his conversation with Brady the night before. Brady would have Sookie's new identification documents completed by the next night and was sending them—along with several other items that Eric had requested he work on—to a P.O. Box in New Orleans. Amelia would be retrieving them from the P.O. Box. The young witch had already brought more clothing and supplies for Sookie. And Octavia was working to have more concealment potion made up before he and Sookie left Slidell.

The Viking went through the list of people whom he knew would—and could—help him if need be. Many of those individuals, including Octavia and Brady, were already coming to his aid. But when it came to defeating Russell, Eric knew that he would need the help of everyone he could get—including other older vampires. He knew that he could count on Thalia. Duncan, Godric's other child and Eric's younger 'brother,' would also help if needed—though Eric intended to do all he could not to "out" his brother, who was a chancellor of the Authority.

The crafty and ambitious Duncan had successfully hidden his connections with both Godric and Eric, which was what had enabled him to become a chancellor. It wasn't that Duncan had been ashamed of their maker; quite the opposite was true. However, the Authority wouldn't allow a vampire to be a chancellor if his or her maker was still undead and could "command" him or her.

When the Authority was rising from the ashes of its previous and extremely corrupt incarnation—which had been called the Lamia Concilium, or Vampire Council—Duncan had been at the center of the power change. Along with Roman Zimojic, Duncan had helped to restore some sanity to vampire politics. And—though the secretive Authority was imperfect—at least it was better than the free-for-all that had preceded it. And, of course, it didn't hurt that the main "enforcer" within the Authority was Eric's own brother—though he'd never exposed Duncan by using that connection.

He'd been saving it for a rainy day. And it was now pouring like a mother fucker!

However, there was still a problem. Together, Eric, Duncan, and Thalia had about 2,900 years of life, but—even if they managed to isolate Russell—they would still be no match for him.

Eric carefully retrieved his cell phone from the nightstand and texted Cataliades. There were only two vampires he knew of who came close to Russell's age; one was Godric's maker. However, now that Godric was gone, he didn't know if he could find her—let alone count on her aid if he did.

Eric hit the send button.

It was worth a try to ask for her help—if she could be tracked down.

Eric inhaled deeply and, once again, took in Sookie's unique scent. He let himself relax into the feeling of her body resting against his, even as his mind kept whirring through various scenarios.

An hour later, he had planned a route for Sookie and him to travel. After that, he let his mind relax as well. The only thing that prevented him from going into downtime was his continued stroking of Sookie's hair.

Chapter Text

Chapter 30: Budding

"Truth is a great flirt."—Franz Liszt

The sun had been down for almost ninety minutes by the time Sookie stirred in Eric's arms. He immediately stopped his continued caresses of her hair and moved his hands so that he was not touching her. Eric intuited that Sookie would not be as comfortable with their close proximity as he was, and he intended to let her establish the physical boundaries between them. She had been clear about not wanting a sexual relationship with him—at least for the time being. That was a condition of her coming with him.

He knew that he wouldn't be able to stop himself from wanting her or even from conveying that want to her at times, nor would he resist any advances that she made toward him—now that they no longer shared a blood tie. However, he would respect her wishes by not actively attempting to seduce her.

"Eric," she whispered into his bare torso.

He looked down and saw her eyes flutter open and then close a few times before they stayed open. Immediately, she withdrew her hand from his quadriceps and then groaned at the pain her sudden action had caused her.

"Easy," Eric said softly. "I know that you are in pain. You need not be reticent about touching me if it helps you. Octavia said that it was good for me to be near you while you are recovering. And if the temperature of my body soothes your fever, that is good too. I promise not to get the wrong idea, even if you move your hand. Just. A. Little. Bit. Higher," he teased lightly.

She slapped his leg playfully, but weakly, and then went back to resting her hand on it. "I bet you're enjoying yourself—aren't you," she commented with a hint of a blush on her cheeks.

Eric was happy to hear her teasing him back; it meant that the spell hadn't broken her spirit.

"Would it help if I pretended not to enjoy your touch?" the vampire asked with a smirk.

"I don't want to pretend," she said with sudden seriousness in her voice.

Eric understood all of the connotations of her statement. He sighed and leaned forward to kiss her lightly on the forehead. "Then we will have no pretense—you and I," he said sincerely.

"Does that mean you'll start tellin' me everything?"

"Of course not!" the vampire chuckled. "But I promise that the words I do speak to you will be true."

She sighed, warming his body with her breath. "I guess that's better than nothing."

"It is difficult for me," Eric paused, "to trust anyone with everything, little one."

"Me too," Sookie admitted. "Especially after Bill."

"I would say that we could learn together," Eric responded somewhat playfully, "but we might both be too stubborn to change our ways."

She chuckled, but then immediately coughed.

The vampire brought his hand up to smooth her hair behind her ear. "I will get up now so that I can get you some water. Is that acceptable?"

She nodded slightly into his chest. Very carefully, he moved Sookie until she was lying on her back and propped up against several comfortable pillows.

"Okay?" he asked.

She nodded again, even as she sighed with relief. "You do that much better than Amelia." She smiled slightly. "And much quieter too."

Eric chuckled softly. "I suspect I am. She is loud when speaking—even when she tries not to be. Are her thoughts the same?"

"Louder," Sookie cringed as Eric brought the straw to her mouth. She took a few sips and savored the cool water. "But I like her," she added. "Her thoughts match what is coming from her mouth."

"I imagine that is uncommon," Eric mused.

"Very," Sookie confirmed before taking another drink.

The two were silent as Sookie drank about half of the glass.

"Um, Eric?" she said uncertainly as she bit her lip; her face grew a little pink.

"Human needs?" the vampire asked.

She nodded in confirmation.

"Perhaps trying to walk again can be saved until tomorrow?" the vampire half-asked and half-stated.

"Yes," Sookie said, feeling relieved that he was offering to carry her. She wasn't sure she'd be able to make it on her own.

Eric gently drew down the blankets and carefully picked Sookie up so that her head was against his chest. Her nightgown came down almost to her knees, but Eric set her down on the toilet so that she could easily maneuver it up as needed.

"Do you need help with your undergarments?" Eric asked.

Sookie's cheeks became redder. "Uh—Amelia and I figured it would be easier if I went without."

A smirk slowly spread across the Viking's handsome face.

"It's killing you not to make a comment about my lack of underwear, isn't it?" Sookie asked as Eric helped her lean against the wall. For the second time that day, Sookie was thankful that the toilet had been installed so close to the wall.

"Like a stake to the heart, little one," Eric answering, now grinning like a schoolboy. "I will leave you for a few minutes if you are secure here."

Sookie nodded. "Yeah. Tack."

Eric smiled in surprise. "You just said 'thank you' in Swedish."

Sookie nodded again. "You spoke Swedish to Pam once in front of me. It sounded pretty. So I learned a little."

Eric chuckled. "Du förvånar mig, lilla vän." ["You surprise me, little one."]

"I'm afraid you've already lost me," Sookie chuckled.

"Then I'll teach you more when you are stronger."

"I'll hold you to that."

The vampire nodded and then left the room.

Sookie did her "business" as quickly as she was able. After she flushed the toilet, Eric waited another few seconds before knocking.

"Come in," Sookie said softly. She knew that Eric would hear.

Eric found Sookie as he'd left her, though her nightgown was slightly more twisted than before.

"Can you help me stay on my feet as I wash my hands and face?" Sookie asked. "I want to brush my teeth too."

"Of course," the vampire said as he carefully stood Sookie onto her feet in front of the sink. He made sure he was supporting most of her weight as she washed her hands and then started to brush her teeth.

Sookie sighed as she glanced at the mirror. Her hair, which she'd not been up for washing earlier, was looking worse for wear and hung lifelessly around her shoulders.

Eric followed her eyes. "After you eat a little, Amelia has given me leave to give you something for the pain you are feeling. After that, we could bathe if you wish. Or I could simply wash your hair."

Sookie's skin flushed red again as she spit out some toothpaste and rinsed her mouth before warming up the water to wash her face.

Only after she was tucked back into bed a few minutes later did she speak. "Amelia said that you bathed with me after the severing spell was over."

"I did," Eric spoke honestly.

Sookie's cheeks still felt warm, both from her exertion and from the thought of Eric seeing her naked.

Eric put the straw next to her lips in order to entice her to take more water.

Sookie swallowed the water—as well as a little of her pride. "I should apologize for the way I was—uh—for what I—uh—for how I acted during the spell."

"You did as you needed. We both did," he said quietly.

"Amelia told me that you could have left a little of your blood in me," Sookie said quietly.

"I almost did," Eric admitted. "I would like to be able to track you if we are separated. It would be practical."

"But you didn't leave it in me," Sookie stated.

"No," Eric responded as Sookie took another drink.

Her eyes asked him why.

"It would have defeated one of the primary reasons why you wanted to go through the spell if I would have left some of my blood inside of you, Sookie. It was," he paused, "difficult for me to let you go—and even more difficult for me not to heal you last night. But those difficulties were," he paused again, "necessary—for you."

She nodded. "I think you're a better man—uh vampire—than you want people to know, Eric Northman," she said with increasing strength in her voice.

"Perhaps I am more selfish than you think," he said as he gave her another sip. His eyes were suddenly darker—stormy even. "Perhaps I want you to come to me one day and ask to take my blood."

She swallowed loudly as his intense blue orbs seemed to penetrate into her very soul.

"Is this how you glamour someone?" she asked.

He smiled and the tension in the air dissipated. "No."

She returned his smile. "Thanks for giving me back my ability to know that my feelings are my own, Eric," she said gratefully.

"It was a good tradeoff," he returned with a twinkle in his eyes. "I got to see your breasts."

Thankfully he had waited until after she had swallowed her latest drink of water to tell her that. Her cheeks immediately went back to crimson. And she closed her eyes tight.

"Did you see anything else? I know you must have," she gulped, "felt everything during the spell."

"Sookie," Eric said seriously. "Look at me."

She pried her eyes open and bit her lip nervously. For a moment her physical weakness was secondary to her embarrassment.

"We will be spending a lot of time together, and I will hold to my promise not to try to seduce you—though I would welcome your advances should you change your mind," he smiled caddishly.

She gulped again at his words.

"And since we will be together, we should get everything out onto the table so that there is no reason for you to be embarrassed—okay?"

"Okay," she squeaked.

"And now you know that I will speak the truth," he smirked.

She nodded in affirmation.

"Well—here's the truth. I want you very much. But you know that already. I want your body and your blood. But there's more to my desire than those two things." His eyes seemed to turn almost indigo as he continued, "I think that you are beautiful—inside and out. I enjoy being with you because you are clever and brave. And you have the ability to make me laugh. I admire few humans, but you are one of them. And—for some reason that I cannot fathom—I trust you more than any other being right now." He paused, "And there is one thing more, Sookie Stackhouse; I would have wanted you—just as much, if not more—when I was a human too."

"Wow!" she gasped.

"Wow indeed," he observed as if he, too, was surprised by his words. "I cannot tell you the pleasure I feel in being able to trust a being who owes me neither fealty nor allegiance through a blood bond. Godric taught me never to trust someone who wasn't my maker or my child, but . . . ." He stopped for a moment.

"But?" she pushed.

"But he trusted you in the end, so I think he must have changed his mind," Eric said seriously. "And—truth be told—I trusted you even before that; I trusted you to help me find Godric, and that was no small thing for me," he finished quietly.

"Thank you," she said after they'd been silent for a moment.

"So," Eric said, his voice becoming lighter again, "it is because of the admiration and trust I hold for you that I will not fuck things up by doing something untoward."

"Okay," she said, smiling a little.

"Now—for the sake of full disclosure—you should know that I did feel every part of you during that spell, and it was all lovely to feel."

"Eric!" she interrupted, turning impossibly redder.

"Let me finish. Please," he added.

She nodded.

"I felt all of your body, but I also felt your pain. I was glad to be with you through that spell, Sookie. I was glad to take some of your pain and comfort you through the rest. Without you being there the morning Godric killed himself, I," he paused, "would have been lost."

"But I was with him only for a few minutes," Sookie said.

"Yes—but what came before those few minutes was a thousand years of affection between a child and his maker, Sookie," Eric said quietly. "You will never know what the slight touch of your hand did to bolster me that morning. You will never know the comfort that I felt because Godric didn't face his final death alone. You will never know how grateful I am that tears beyond my own were spilled for my maker when he met the sun."

"I know now," Sookie said as a tear slipped from her eye.

"Then you must know that what I did for you during the spell is nothing compared to what you did for me."

Eric put down the water and stood up, walking away from the bed a little. He continued speaking even though his back was turned to her. "I will not lie and say that your body didn't feel right against mine. I think you felt that too."

"I did," she heard herself admitting.

She saw his head nod and heard him sigh as he turned back around. "Perhaps when you've had some time, you will want more from me than you do now."

"Perhaps, by then, you will be able to give more than you could now," she said just as sincerely.

He smiled. "Miracles happen."

She smiled back. "Every day."

"Meanwhile," he responded, back to his rakish expression and tone, "I did feel you naked, and then I saw you naked because Octavia would not let me take the cloaks or the blanket out of the circle. She had to burn them. So I brought you up here in your birthday suit."

"It sounds weird when you use expressions like that," Sookie said, even as she went back to her blushing.

"Stop interrupting," he asserted playfully.

She nodded for him to continue.

"So we did bathe together, but I kept your back to me at all times. I could not, however, prevent myself from seeing your beautiful, bountiful, and glorious breasts." He smirked. "In truth, I didn't try to avoid seeing them. But I didn't touch. And that is saying a lot considering the fact that the witch left us alone a couple of times."

"Did you see the rest?" she asked hesitantly.

"I averted my eyes," he paused, "with difficulty."

"Then, I appreciate your difficulty," she said with a little smirk of her own.

"So?" he queried.

"So what?" she asked with confusion as he returned to the bedside and picked up the water glass.

"Broth and then a bath?" he asked.

She nodded. "Fine. But I'm gonna wear a bra and panties, and you're gonna wear what you have on."

"Fine," he said with a devilish grin.

"What?" she asked.

"You might need help getting into and out of your makeshift bikini, little one."

"I think I can manage that much," she said, not being able to prevent her own grin from forming.

"What a pity—for me," he returned.

After a moment, they both chuckled as they remembered him saying just those words to her the night of their first meeting.

Chapter Text

Chapter 31: Awakening

"It's exhilarating to be alive in a time of awakening consciousness; it can also be confusing, disorienting, and painful."—Adrienne Rich

[Four days—and nights—later]

Sookie's new routine had become familiar to her during the previous four days and nights. The only difference was that she felt a little better after each night—and day—that she spent with Eric.

The lone setback she'd experienced had come when she'd told Eric that he could go to his day-sleep away from her—in the safe room he had in the small basement of the house. She'd made that particular mistake two days before. Eric had seemed rather reluctant to separate, given the fact that she still had a fever, but she'd insisted.

Yep—she could admit that she was a stubborn fool at times.

However, she'd been starting to feel a little too "dependent" upon him—maybe even too comfortable with him. And one thing that she didn't want to do was to lose herself in another person again—even one she knew was honorable. And she did know that now. Eric could be rakish and violent, but there was an undeniable honor about him. And she was done trying—and failing—to deny that he was a good man, even if he tried to deny it.

However, she'd still mulishly tried to deny her own need for him.

Her little "experiment" had been a disaster. Midday, her fever had spiked again. Amelia had been so concerned that she'd called Octavia, who'd come to the house seemingly just to lecture Sookie and to instruct her to move as close as possible to the locked door behind which Eric was "dead" for the day. Octavia had seemed unwilling or unable to offer any other help, so Sookie had wrapped up in the quilt from her and Eric's bed and had let Amelia and Octavia basically carry her to the small basement. She'd passed out next to the door to Eric's secure bedroom.

Thankfully, he'd not been upset because of the setback. Of course, that hadn't stopped her from being upset with herself; however, she'd learned her lesson.

Having Eric close? Good.

Being stubbornly independent? Not so good.

Neither Eric nor she had brought up the prospect of sleeping separately again, and Sookie knew that neither of them would—at least not until Octavia gave her a clean bill of health.

Of course, she and Eric didn't stay joined at the hip during all of their waking hours, but they did stay close. Eric had brought a small desk into the bedroom so that he could work on various things related to the locations where they would be staying once they left Slidell. They had discussed the possibility of just staying in the Slidell house, but Octavia had thrown a wrench into that idea by telling them that concealment spells could not be maintained in one location indefinitely. According to the elder witch, the house would "become immune" to the spell after a while—whatever the heck that meant.

In the end, she and Eric had both accepted the fact that they would have to leave their little haven—though Eric wanted to wait until the day before the concealment spell was due to wear off, even if Sookie had adequately recovered before then.

As Eric had worked on their escape route and on lining up more assets to help them deal with Russell, Sookie had been coming to terms with the things that had been governing her decisions and the direction of her life for so long. And that had started with her facing the fact that most—if not all—of her feelings for Bill had been "manufactured" by his blood inside of her. However, despite that realization, Sookie also had to acknowledge that Bill would always remain her first love, so she'd let herself grieve the loss of that relationship. She'd come to liken it to the first "loves" of many of the people with whom she'd come into contact.

Her telepathy had given Sookie insight into the bittersweet feelings so frequently left behind by first loves. There was often regret involved with a first love. Women—and men too—would sometimes wonder what "might have been." Others would ask a very different question when thinking about their first "loves": "What was I thinking?"

Sookie had realized that she, too, had mixed feelings about Bill, and the word, "bittersweet," definitely worked to describe those feelings—though she'd found that the "bitter" definitely outweighed the "sweet" in her particular case.

She'd also come to see that it wasn't wrong for her to look back on the feelings she'd once had for Bill with a sense of nostalgia. Moreover, most people had had a relationship where the person they'd thought they were falling in love with didn't turn out to be "as advertised." Her situation with Bill was no different in some ways. She'd become quickly infatuated with the man Bill had presented to her—the alluring Southern gentleman who could charm her grandmother and give her a "rest" from reading people's thoughts. Yes—Sookie could "regret" losing that man without wanting the "real" Bill back. In fact, she'd come to hate the "real" Bill—as much as she was capable of hating anyone.

In fact, in her mind, the "real" Bill now sat right next to her uncle.

Bill had tricked her, lied to her, and manipulated her—showing her a false persona that was utterly different from his real nature. Again, this was not so different from what other people experienced with their first loves.

Additionally, however, Bill had scared her countless times, let Malcolm and his nest-mates paw her, nearly drained her, used his blood to influence her to give her virginity to him, cheated on her with Lorena, etc. And Sookie was no longer wearing blinders or rose-colored glasses! She could now clearly see Bill for what he was. He hadn't raped her in Alcide's truck, but he had raped her. His blood was akin to a date-rape drug in her mind. And he'd done a lot more too; he'd sent her woven dreams that had taken her will away from her. And if that wasn't a kind of rape, she didn't know what was!

Yes—she now saw Bill for the monster he was; oh—she didn't doubt that he hated himself for being that monster, but any self-loathing Bill had didn't change the facts.

Strangely, Sookie's realization about Bill wasn't the best outcome of his blood being out of her. The best outcome was that Bill's blood could no longer keep her from "acting" on the truth and from getting the fuck over him! She smiled a little as she realized that she was over him. She could look back and think of "her Bill" with the proper perspective and without sorrow.

Here were the truths about her "relationship" with Bill. First, it had been quite short-lived. Second, despite the way she'd tried to idealize it at the time, not even a day of it had been friction-free! She and Bill had argued a lot, and she'd cried more during their time together than she ever had before. Third, Bill had presented a false persona that she'd become infatuated with "too" quickly due to her inexperience and—frankly—her desperation to be loved. Fourth, Bill had turned out to be abusive—just like Arlene's first love, Carl Billings.

Sookie had "heard" about Carl more than once—from Arlene's head. Carl had hit her for the first time about a month after they'd gotten together. Sookie had been proud of her friend, for Arlene had kicked Carl to the curb after his first violent act. Arlene had not allowed herself to be taken in by his pleas or his empty promises—even though breaking things off with him had also broken her heart.

Sookie liked to think that she, too, would have kicked her abusive boyfriend—in this case, Bill—to the curb if she'd been able to. Thanks to something Eric had told her, she knew that she couldn't blame herself for all of her actions when she'd been "high" on Bill's blood—but she didn't want to forget them either. She'd keep them as a cautionary tale.

Sookie sighed. Her greatest quandary now was figuring out what to do about Eric. Part of her wanted to give into her growing attraction for him, but she knew that getting involved with anyone—especially someone who seemed reticent to admit that he even had the capability to love beyond his maker and child—wouldn't be a good idea.

And—selfishly—she didn't want to screw up what was quickly becoming the most important friendship of her life.

Plus, she wasn't entirely sure that she was ready for a new romantic relationship. If her experience with Octavia before the severing spell had taught her anything, it was that she had a lot of unresolved pain and fear to work through. The odd thing—the best thing—was that Eric seemed to want her to do just that.

And he was helping her to do it too!

When she'd needed to talk through one of her fears, she had found him to be a willing listener. More often, however, she'd wanted to remain quiet and to contemplate why and how she'd ended up where she had. There were a lot of reasons—a lot of little moments she could look back to.

"What's your first memory?" she asked, looking up from the mystery novel she'd hardly read a page from all night. She was still resting in bed for the most part, but she was able to walk into the bathroom on her own now.

Eric turned to face her from his position at the desk.

"As a vampire or a human?" he asked.

"Human," she said after thinking for a moment, "for now."

"I have two," he informed, turning his chair completely around so that he could face her. He was used to her questions by now, and, surprisingly, he found that he enjoyed responding to them.

"I'm not sure which came first," he clarified.

"Then tell me both?" she requested.

He nodded. "I have one where I am running through a field of wildflowers with other boys. We are all trying to be the first to a lookout point in order to see the ships returning. I wanted to see if my father's flag was flying on his ship. If it was, I knew that I could run home and tell my mother that he was alive and had come home."

"And you saw it—his flag?" Sookie asked.

"Yes."

"Were you the fastest? Did you win the race to the lookout point?"

Eric shook his head. "No. I was beaten by an older child named Randulfr. I remember making a promise to myself that I would beat him the next time."

"And did you?" she asked with a smile.

"No," he chuckled. "He was ten or so, while I less than half that age." He got a twinkle in his eyes. "It was two more years before I outran him."

"Did he stay your rival?"

Eric nodded. "Yes. In sport and with women—he would try to outdo me."

"And did he?"

"Not after I finally outran him," he smirked. "He sometimes came close to beating me. However, neither he nor anyone else could best me after I'd had my first taste of victory."

Sookie chuckled. "Well—in the ego department, I'm sure you've never had much competition."

He winked. "None at all."

"And Randulfr? What happened to him?"

Eric sighed, which was a sound that Sookie had begun to hear more and more from him during their time together. "He was my friend—what you would term a best friend. By lucky chance, he and some others were on a hunt when Russell and his wolves attacked. When I became ruler, I made Randulfr my lieutenant, my right hand."

"That sounds like you," she smiled.

"What do you mean?"

"Picking someone who pushed you—who competed with you—to be your right hand."

Eric got a faraway look on his face. "Randulfr is in my last memory from my human life too. When I was mortally wounded in battle, he and another of my men, Vermundr, helped me from the battle field. I was dying, yet they refused to leave me." His expression fell. "They paid for that choice with their lives."

"How?" she asked quietly.

"Godric killed them both before he gave me the choice of joining them or joining him."

"Oh," she said, the sadness clear in her eyes.

"They were both good men—brave fighters. I like to think that they are in Valhalla, still awaiting my arrival."

"I hope so," she said sincerely. After a moment, she asked, "Were you ever mad at Godric?"

"For killing Randulfr and Vermundr?"

She nodded. "Yes—that. And for turning you."

"I never regretted my decision to become a vampire," Eric replied honestly. "But I did regret Randulfr and Vermundr meeting their ends—though I didn't blame Godric for it." He sighed. "I know that sounds paradoxical, but it was difficult for me—especially at first—to question anything Godric did. But—when I think about the night when I was turned now—I do hate the fact that he killed my friends. They had opted to stay with me until the Valkyries came to take me—instead of fleeing and ensuring their own safety."

"They were loyal to you," Sookie observed.

"Yes. To a fault," he returned. "Randulfr had two children and a wife whom he truly loved. And Vermundr was due to become a father for the first time in the spring. I know that I am not to blame for their deaths, but . . . ." His voice trailed off.

"You still feel guilt for them anyway?" she asked.

"To a certain extent. Yes," he responded.

They were silent for a moment.

"What's your other early memory?" she asked, returning them to their initial topic.

Eric smiled a little. "It's not really a single memory. My mother would always have me crush herbs and flowers that she would use for medicines or to flavor food. I remember her singing as she watched over my work to make sure that I didn't slip away to play with the other children."

"You sing sometimes," Sookie said with a small smile of her own.

"So I've been told. Much of the time, it's unconscious. Pam used to tease me mercilessly when I did it around her—until I commanded that she drop it," he winked.

"Why would she tease you?" Sookie asked. "I like it when you sing. You have a nice voice."

"Pam is—well . . . ." Eric shrugged.

"She's Pam," Sookie finished.

"Yep," Eric grinned. "She doesn't like to recall her humanity; in fact, she is confused that I have held onto my first language and other traditions from my human people. I have nothing tangible from my time as a human. My father's sword was left behind after Godric turned me, and—of course—my clothing from that time was ruined with blood. I had only my father's lessons and my mother's stories and songs, so I kept those things."

"That's nice," Sookie said sincerely.

"So—what is your first memory?" Eric asked as he got up and brought Sookie a glass of water. She accepted it gratefully and patted the bed next to her.

"It's not a good one—not like yours. I like your stories though. They tell me that you were always—well—you!" She smiled. "I can see you as a boy—running around and trying to dodge your chores."

"So—will you dodge my question if I ask it again, or will you tell me?" he asked, a mixture of curiosity and concern in his eyes.

"I'll tell you," she said somewhat hesitantly as she bit her lip. She took a long drink of water.

"Only if you wish to," he responded.

She handed him the water to return to the nightstand.

"I want to tell you, but can I have that first?" she asked, pointing to his hand.

He smiled a little and took her hand into his. "Better?"

She nodded and took a deep breath. "I think that the memory occurred when I was about three, but it's hard to know for sure. It's not even my memory really. It's a memory of someone else's memory."

Eric's eyebrow arched in curiosity. "Whose?"

"My mother's," Sookie said with a little shrug, though her expression was anything but light-hearted. "I had done something wrong. I can't remember what exactly, but I think that I had said one of her thoughts out loud in front of Daddy. It made them fight, and Daddy left the house for a while. I remember that I picked up my doll and took it to the corner of the living room so that I didn't have to see Mommy looking so sad because of me. I hid behind this old recliner that nobody ever sat in. And that's when I saw the memory in her head."

A tear fell from her eye without either of them acknowledging it.

"What did she remember?" Eric asked softly, squeezing her now-shaking hand.

Sookie closed her eyes. "Mom was remembering taking care of Jason when he was a little baby. She was remembering how happy she and Daddy had been after he was born. In the memory, Daddy and she were talking about having another child. Daddy wasn't so sure about doing it, but she was trying to talk him into it. There was so much love in her for Jason that it came seeping through her memory so strong!" Sookie stopped for a moment as Eric moved one of his large thumbs to brush away another tear before it streamed down Sookie's face.

"Mom was thinking about how she regretted the choice she'd made in that memory. She was thinking about how she regretted having me. Things had been so perfect for her and Daddy with just Jason, and she blamed herself for pushing Daddy into having another kid, especially since I came out so," she paused, "wrong."

"She was the wrong one, Sookie," Eric said, squeezing her hand again.

"Maybe not?" Sookie half-stated and half-asked. "I mean—I know she was wrong in a lot of ways. But I could also hear from her thoughts that she felt guilty for the things she was thinking. She hated herself for having those thoughts; maybe that was part of the problem. She also tried really hard to love me. She tried every day. Maybe she was wrong for not tellin' Daddy how miserable she was—how guilty she felt. Eventually, she started to drink a whole lot, and things in their marriage got even worse."

She squeezed his hand as he thumbed another tear from her cheek.

"I know that I'm not to blame for their marriage trouble or their deaths, but . . . ." Her voice trailed off.

"You still feel guilt for them anyway?" he asked, echoing her words from earlier.

"Yes—to a certain extent," she responded, echoing his words too.

He nodded in acknowledgment. "I wish your first memory was a good one," he said quietly.

"Me too," Sookie said honestly. "I wish I could remember more good ones altogether. Today, while you were asleep, I was trying to remember ten—just ten—truly good memories, but it was difficult."

"Why?" he asked.

"Because even when the things happening were good—like a birthday party or my graduation—I still had to remember the thoughts that came along with them."

"But you did remember ten—ten good memories?" he asked.

"Almost. I got to seven."

He sighed.

"It's okay," she assured. "I like the seven I came up with. Most were of simple things—things that others wouldn't think of as significant."

"Tell me one?" he requested.

She smiled. "Ironically, it is a memory of something that would kill you."

"What's that?"

"Sunbathing," she responded.

He chuckled. "Yep—that would not be a good memory in my book. But—still—I'd like to hear about it—especially if it involves you in a bikini, preferably a skimpy one," he said caddishly.

She rolled her eyes.

"Or perhaps—if I'm truly lucky—you sunbathed nude?" he queried, his eyebrows waggling.

She shook her head. "Sorry—you're not that lucky."

"Pity."

"For you," she finished.

They both laughed for a moment.

"So?" he asked. "Tell me."

"Fine, but no more comments from the peanut gallery."

He lifted his hand—the one still holding hers—and made a crossing motion over his heart. "I promise to be good. Cross my heart and hope to continue to be dead."

She rolled her eyes again, but began her story nonetheless. "It's my memory of the first time that I really went all out with my sunbathing. I think I was around thirteen—maybe fourteen." She chuckled. "I made a whole production of it. I saved a good book just for the occasion. I loaded my favorite CD into the little player Gran had gotten for me the Christmas before." She giggled. "I used some money I'd earned from a bake sale to get a swimsuit that was on sale at Walmart! I'll never forget it! It was mostly white, but there were little green butterflies all over it."

Eric smiled sincerely. "You always did strike me as a child of the sun."

"Yep," she continued happily. "Eventually, I even bought myself a special lounge chair for my sunbathing." She laughed a little. "And I'd lie out for hours. Gran never minded, though I preferred waitin' till she was off running errands or meeting with friends. That way, I could just be all alone with the sun."

Eric nodded, but inside he felt a sadness that was difficult for him to deal with. He'd experienced pressure from his father to become king, but he'd always felt love from him too. He couldn't imagine what it would have been like to hear others' thoughts about him.

"I like now too," Sookie said, pulling Eric from his musing.

"Now?"

"Yeah. It's weird, but talking to you about things has become one of my favorite memories—even though I still feel sick."

He smirked. "I have been told that I'm an excellent conversationalist—though Pam has often suggested that I am adept at making her nauseated with my words as well."

Sookie giggled. "Well there's that. But—seriously—I get to guess what you're thinking, which is fun for a change. Plus, there's the fact that I know for sure that there are some things that you are not thinking about."

"And what are the things I'm not thinking?" he asked with curiosity in his tone.

"Well—you're not tryin' to keep your thoughts from me. You aren't worryin' about me finding out about things I shouldn't know about. You're not wondering how you ended up with such an abnormal sister—or friend." Sookie shook her head a little. She shrugged. "In fact, I don't think you're thinking about my telepathy at all when we talk to each other." She sounded almost awestruck. "I mean—I know it's a big part of the reason why you wanted me with you, but when we talk—when we talk as friends—I really believe that it's just Eric and Sookie talking. It's not the vampire and the telepath. It's just us; it's nice. Sort of like a vacation."

Eric studied Sookie closely for a moment. With just a few words, she'd managed to explain why he was so drawn to her. She offered him something he'd had no idea he even needed: a vacation from the performance he had to give every day in order to maintain his position—and hold onto his life.

"Just Eric and Sookie," he agreed with a squeeze of her hand. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead gently before pulling away. She allowed such things with no complaint, but the Viking was always careful not to push their physical contact too far.

"I like this vacation too," he confessed.

She looked skeptical. "What? Taking care of a sick human when all you wanna be doin' in getting' the heck away from the ancient vampire that killed your family and wants your head on a platter?"

Eric shrugged. "Much better than my last vacation," he returned with a smirk.

"Where'd you go—purgatory?"

"No," he answered with a wink. "A vampire summit in Tulsa."

She snorted out a laugh. "What was wrong with Tulsa?"

"Nothing," he responded. "It's just that the queen of Oklahoma wants my bod."

She snorted even louder. "What?"

"That is the correct human expression—no?" he asked.

She laughed. "Maybe in the 80s."

He chuckled. "I am a man of many times," he said with fake gravitas.

She rolled her eyes. "So what's wrong with the queen of Oklahoma?"

Eric shrugged. "She's beautiful and ruthless."

"Sounds like your kind of lady."

He chuckled. "She's also got a sense of entitlement even bigger than my ego."

"That's hard to imagine."

It was his turn to roll his eyes. He went on. "She's also snooty. Plus, she has a voice that makes me want to go on a killing spree. I swear—if I had to hear her in the throes of passion, I might just stake myself."

Sookie giggled.

"Most importantly," Eric said seriously, "it's difficult to let one's guard down at something like a summit. Everyone has his or her own agenda."

"But you let your guard down with me?"

"More than I should—especially since I intend to let you live," Eric confessed.

Concern flashed into Sookie's eyes, but Eric quickly dismissed it with a light kiss to her hand.

"You are unique, Sookie Stackhouse. You cannot be glamoured, so I trust you to keep my secrets and my weaknesses to yourself. Of course, you could be tortured for information about me; however, I have learned something about you that makes me unconcerned about you spilling my secrets—even if you were tortured."

"What's that?"

"When it comes to those you care about, you are too stubborn to break." He shook his head a little. "I once thought that everyone could be broken, but now I know that you could not be."

"What if I did break under torture?" she asked worriedly. "I wouldn't want you to be hurt because of me."

Eric sighed. "And I would want you to break to preserve yourself, but I know that you would not. And even if you did, this is worth it," he said motioning back and forth between them. "I hate the way you cause me to have feelings. I hate the way that I care about you more than myself at times. You will probably be the death of me, but you are worth it, little one," he added as he pushed a few errant strands of her brown hair behind her ear.

Sookie's eyes let loose two thick tears. "I think that speech of yours is going right to the top of my memories list. It's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."

"You are worth so much more than you think, Sookie Stackhouse. I hope that you live long enough to know that for yourself. And I hope I live long enough to see it."

"Me too," she said quietly.

"Which part are you agreeing with? Me living long enough—or you?" he asked with sudden mischief in his tone.

She chuckled. She loved how he could draw a laugh out of her at the oddest of times.

"Jackass," she mumbled even as he flashed her a grin.

Chapter Text

Chapter 32: Immersion

"There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them."—Sylvia Plath

[Three nights later]

It had quickly become Eric's favorite time of night.

"Bath time," he said, trying to keep his countenance and his tone neutral.

Of course, he knew that Sookie could recognize his glee. In addition to her being a telepath, Eric was finding that Sookie was a great student of body language and expressions—especially his, it seemed. And—for, perhaps, the first time in a thousand years—Eric was letting someone study him. In their little haven in Slidell—away from everyone else—they were studying each other. And it was nice.

"Perhaps I should go it alone tonight," Sookie teased, just as she'd done every night for the last five. Of course, she was now well enough to bathe herself, but they both knew that she was not going to follow through with her threat. Plus, she still had a fever—albeit a slight one—and neither one of them wanted another of Octavia's lectures.

Eric was beginning to think that the witch thought of herself as a kind of matchmaker, but he was enjoying his time with Sookie too much to make waves—except in the tub, of course. Sookie's "wear-your-undergarments-in-the-tub" rule was still in effect, but since she took a shower during the day now, and Eric always took a quick one at night, cleaning themselves wasn't really the goal of the bath.

Officially, they still bathed together because Octavia had initially advised that they do so. Unofficially, they did it in order to enjoy the closeness and the relaxation that the baths offered them both. Given the fact that they would have to leave Slidell in three days—whether Sookie was fully recovered or not—they were both keen to enjoy their little bubble for as long as possible.

Having ignored Sookie's empty threat, Eric was already in the bathroom running the water.

"Lavender or Sandalwood?" he yelled from the bathroom as he looked at the choices of bath oils.

"You pick this time," she returned at a normal volume. She knew he would hear her.

As always, he was already stripped down to his boxer-briefs before he came back to collect her. And—as always—she actively ignored the bulge in them. She still wasn't certain if the sizeable indentation she saw was him hard or soft. He was quite "discreet" when it came to that, a fact that she was both thankful for and decidedly not thankful for. Regardless, however, Eric had nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, Sookie was almost afraid to imagine the size of Eric's manhood if what she'd seen represented him in a "relaxed" state.

She raised her arms and entwined them around his neck. She was now perfectly capable of walking—at least for short distances—but he always carried her to the bathroom for bath time nonetheless.

"Human needs?" he asked as they crossed into the steamy room.

"I'm good," she said. He sat her onto the edge of the tub and motioned for her to lift her arms. Of course, she knew the drill by now and was already raising her arms so that he could remove her nightgown. She had begun putting on a modest bra and panties set under her nightgown after her shower in the late afternoon, and she wore it through their bath time. After that, she just put on a fresh nightgown and panties since most of her sleeping was now from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. or so.

"Mmmm, lavender," she said.

"I knew that's what you really wanted," he chuckled as he lifted her into the tub and settled in behind her. They both sighed at the sensation of the hot water. He always made it slightly uncomfortable at first, but that meant that they'd be able to stay in the tub for over an hour before it got too cold for Sookie.

"Yes and you like the sandalwood best," she observed.

"Then why do you always pick the sandalwood?" he asked.

"The same reason you pick the lavender," she returned.

Neither of them said anything for a few minutes as they settled into each other. During their first baths together, he had needed to hold her in order to keep her steady, but now he just did it because they both felt better when he did.

"You were going to tell me what Godric was like when you were first made—remember?" Sookie requested, not feeling shy about her question at all, given the level of comfort that had grown between them. Plus it was "bath-time," and there was an unspoken rule between them that any subject could be broached during that time.

"Are you sure you wish to hear of him from that time?" Eric asked. "In many ways, he was not as you knew him."

She sighed, sank into Eric's chest, and turned a little to her side so that she could be more comfortable. "I'm sure."

Eric raised one of his large hands and began to caress her hair—as he did every time they were like this. Sookie had long ago written it off as a subconscious action on his part.

"Godric was honorable, even then," Eric began, "but he was brutal too. He did not consider human life to be valuable—not as he did in the end."

"Yet you held on to part of your humanity," Sookie observed. She'd come to learn that Eric had held onto many "human" things. His belief in his gods and his adherence to many of his father's lessons about life were just two of them.

"Yes—but Godric didn't care for the human part of my personality much—not back then, at least. He did everything he could to stifle it."

"Like what?"

Eric chuckled. "Well—he got tired of me talking about my children and my parents and the battles I'd fought in. So, when I was about a week old, he commanded me not to speak of my human life for two hundred years. He said that if it was still important to me then, I could talk of it all that I wished."

"So—of course—you stubbornly waited," Sookie laughed.

"You know me well, little one," Eric grinned. "When I was able, I spoke of my parents and our traditions. I spoke of the Weres that had killed my family. Not long after that, Godric began to aid me in my quest for revenge."

"You changed him," Sookie mused.

"I don't know," Eric said truthfully. "In truth, I was like any new vampire at first. I can remember feeling incredible bloodlust, and—as I've told you—I killed some humans before I learned to control myself."

"And after you learned?" Sookie asked.

"I have killed fewer and fewer over the years," Eric said with a sigh. "Outside of battle or my duties as sheriff, I saw little reason to kill, and, ironically, a vampire's need for blood lessens over time—at least as far as nourishment goes," he finished ominously.

Sookie sighed and shivered a little, though she didn't pull away from him. She knew that Eric was referring to his need for vengeance—his need to spill Russell's blood. For a thousand years, he had wanted the blood of the being who had killed his family. She couldn't help but to wonder if he'd be satisfied once he took it—if he managed to survive his confrontation with Russell. She shivered again.

"Are you cold?" he asked.

"No," she responded. "I just . . . ." She stopped midsentence. "I was just thinking about the fact that you're eventually going to fight Russell, and that thought scares me."

"You should not be scared. I will not allow the battle to come close to you," he said forcefully.

"I'm not scared for me, Eric. I don't want to lose you," she responded in barely a whisper.

She felt the pressure of him kissing her head. "Then I will have to live through my encounter with Russell, little one."

"You'd better," she said.

"Do not worry. I'm crafty."

She chuckled a little and took his hand that was wrapped around her waist into one of hers. She threaded her fingers with his.

"And wily," he added.

She giggled, but then became suddenly serious—and angry. "Wait—what did you say about me not being nearby when you fought Russell?" she asked, as she turned around in the tub to face Eric. "I'm not gonna stay in some safe house while you fight him!"

"Sookie," Eric began, obviously trying to placate her, "according to my spies, Russell and Bill think you are dead. As long as they think that, you won't be in danger."

"So what? You're still in danger!" she returned forcefully.

"Yes, but you don't have to be. I'm of half a mind to find somewhere that I know you'll be safe and leave you there!" he said, raising his voice a little.

"Oh no, you won't, Eric Northman! I said that I would help you through all this, and I intend to! What the hell are you even talking about? I know you've been factoring my telepathy into your plans!"

"Well—maybe I should un-factor it and change my plans," Eric said, his chin jutting out a little. "I don't want you to be needlessly in danger."

"Needlessly!" she yelled, scooting her body away from his as much as the tub allowed. "Needlessly!" she repeated as she closed her eyes for a moment. "I swear to God—if I didn't know it would hurt me more than you, I'd smack you in the face right now!"

"Why? I'm just trying to keep you safe."

"And I wanna help you stay safe, you idiot!"

"Idiot?" he stormed.

"Yeah! Don't you dare turn back into your highhanded ass-aholic self and start making decisions for me! We have already settled this!"

"And don't you dare let your stubbornness get in the way of good sense!" he returned.

By now, they were both looking at each other with fire in their eyes. Stormy blues met burning browns as they tried to stare each other down.

His fangs clicked down. "You have no fucking idea how much I want to kiss you right now!" he said loudly.

"Well—why don't you?" she said back, her voice challenging him and her body arching slightly toward his of its own accord.

"I have no fucking clue!" he admitted with an exasperated chuckle, effectively taking the tension out of the conversation with his laugh.

She shook her head a little and then smiled back at him. "I know why."

"Care to clue me in?" he asked with sincere curiosity.

"It's for the same reason you don't want me anywhere near Russell," she responded with a sigh. "You're trying to protect me."

Realization framed Eric's features as he retracted his fangs. "Yes. You are still not fully recovered. Plus, you are not yet ready for a sexual relationship."

Her eyebrow arched. "How do you know that?"

"Our argument has caused your heartbeat to rise more than it should have. And your breathing is still a little labored," he said with concern.

"No. I mean—how do you know I'm not ready for a physical relationship yet?"

"Because you haven't told me you are," he returned.

She smiled a little and nodded. "You're right. I would have told you."

They were quiet for a few moments. Their eyes were still locked, but they were no longer battling.

"We should not fight, little one," Eric said softly. "I do not like it."

She smirked. "Well, we wouldn't be fighting if you weren't tryin' to make decisions for me."

"What if those decisions are to keep you alive?" he questioned.

"Are you willing to hide away with me—permanently? Are you willing to give up your plans to take down Russell?"

"No!" he growled.

"Not even if you knew for sure that Russell was gonna kill you?" she asked shakily.

"No!"

"And what if I made arrangements to have you put into a silver cage in order to make sure you couldn't fight him—to make sure that you stayed safe."

"I would hate you for it," he snarled.

"Then—please—never put me into a position of hating you, Eric. I don't want to. You mean too much to me. This," she said as she motioned between them, "means too much to me."

Realization flooded his features again, and he closed his eyes tightly. With them still shut, he reached a hand out to her and she took it. Gently, he pulled her back against his body until they were in their earlier position. One of his hands went to caress her hair and the other wrapped around her waist.

"I could not bear for you to hate me, Sookie Stackhouse," he said as their fingers thread together again.

"Then don't push me away. Let me help—at least until my help is no longer needed."

She felt him nod behind her and, once again, she felt the pressure of his kiss on the top of her head.

They were quiet for a few minutes, both of them using their current closeness to help them move beyond their earlier argument.

"You called me an ass-aholic," Eric chuckled. "I can't say I've ever been called that before."

Sookie giggled. "You know—if there were a twelve-step program for behaving like an ass . . . ," she began jokingly.

He tickled her side a little. "I wouldn't complete that sentence if I were you," he said with playful warning in his tone.

She squirmed, but then settled back against him.

"So," she said, after they'd been silent for a few more minutes, "you were telling me about Godric."

"Yes," he responded. "What do you want to know?"

"You said he used to be brutal?"

"Yes," Eric answered. "Not all the time, but he could be. No vampire I knew of wanted to make an enemy of him."

"And what about humans?" she asked. "Did he kill a lot of them?"

"He did not kill excessively, but he didn't avoid it either—not if the blood was good," Eric answered truthfully. "Godric made a point of teaching me how to control my own bloodlust—even when I was very young—but that was for practical reasons more than moral ones. In fact, up until about two hundred years ago, he hardly ever saw a reason to stop himself from draining a human that he particularly enjoyed the taste of."

Sookie sighed. "I know that he felt a lot of guilt before he died."

"He said that our very existence was insanity—that we didn't belong here," Eric said, his voice becoming almost other-worldly as the horrible memory of that early morning on the rooftop filled him.

Sookie stroked his palm with her thumb and turned her head slightly to kiss his shoulder. "He was wrong, Eric. You do belong here—just as much as humans or Weres or anything else."

"He said that vampires weren't right—that we weren't right," Eric said, still as if in a memory-laced trance.

"And you reminded him of the lesson he taught you," she said gently.

"That there is no right and wrong—only survival or death," he whispered.

"Yes—and he said that that lesson had been a lie," Sookie reminded. "But you already knew that—didn't you? You already knew that it was a lie?"

She felt him nodding.

"Yes," he sighed out, barely audibly.

"You've always behaved and lived according to what you thought was right and wrong," she said.

"How do you know that?" he asked.

"Because I know you."

"I've done horrible things," he said gruffly.

"Yes. But not when you were in control of yourself and not when another way was the right way." She took a deep breath and took a chance that a theory she'd been contemplating was correct. "Did you know that Lafayette was my friend when you first captured him?"

"No," he answered. "I knew only that he had been selling Eddie's blood and that Eddie was missing."

"What would've most sheriffs done in that situation?" she asked.

"Kill Lafayette immediately and call the case closed," Eric responded critically.

"Were you plannin' to kill Lafayette for selling V?"

"No. I'd learned that Eddie was just as complicit in the situation as Lafayette was. But I would have killed Lafayette—even having found out that he was your friend—if I'd learned that he'd killed Eddie."

"I know," she said. "But you took the time to figure out that he hadn't killed Eddie."

"Yes," he affirmed.

"What would you have done with Lafayette if I hadn't found him?"

"Before the queen compelled me to sell her V, I'd planned to keep Lafayette for another week and then to glamour him to never sell V again."

"Why a week?" she asked.

"That would have satisfied anyone from the Authority or the Queenship who 'audited' my report about the matter. But—make no mistake, Sookie—I wouldn't have let Lafayette live because I cared anything about his life," he added. "It wouldn't have been practical to kill him. Too many knew of the fact that he sold V, and vampires might have been suspected if he'd disappeared for good."

"Maybe your reasons were practical," she responded thoughtfully. "But the fact is that you would have shown him mercy—because there was no need to kill him. You knew the 'right' and the 'wrong' of the situation; you knew that what he'd done didn't automatically demand his death, so you weren't going to give it to him. I'm sorry I didn't recognize that at the time. I'm sorry that I didn't see how you always tried to do what you thought was right for your people." She kissed his shoulder again. "I'm sorry that I didn't see that you'd begun to think of me as one of those people by that time."

They were quiet for a moment.

"I fear that Godric hated me in the end," Eric confessed softly.

"He loved you," Sookie averred.

"I don't know. I think he hated that I finally became the vampire he'd always wanted me to be."

"Did you?" Sookie asked.

"I tried," Eric whispered.

"But you have held onto your humanity too—in a lot of ways. I know you try to hide it, but the evidence is there. For example, you still remember your family and you still want to avenge their deaths."

"Only a vampire could hold onto a grudge for a thousand years," he stated flatly.

She chuckled lightly. "True—but as a Viking, you would have held onto it until you died. Right?"

"Yes."

"And after you died?" she asked. "Would've you hunted for your family's murderers even in Valhalla?"

"No," he responded. "My enemies would not have been there. After greeting my father and the other fallen warriors, I planned to journey from Valhalla to seek the murderers in Helheim."

"Helheim?"

"Helheim is similar to your conception of hell. It is the lowest level of Niflheim, the mist world. I planned to wait there for my enemies. I did not expect to be able to leave there once I'd exacted my revenge."

"So you would have held to the vow you made to your father—no matter what?"

She felt him nod.

"You and I will never have the same ideas about killing or revenge or punishment—or lots of things," Sookie said with a sigh. "But I think that's as much to do with your being a Viking—a human of that time—as it does with your being a vampire."

"Then how do you explain Pam being even more apt to punish and to afflict suffering than I am?" he asked with a little smirk in his tone.

"It's Pam," Sookie intoned. "I bet she would've wanted to torture someone for scuffing her shoes even when she was a human."

They both chuckled at that comment.

"Does Pam kill indiscriminately?" Sookie asked after a minute. Her tone had lost its humor.

"No—but she loves to torment a wrong-doer. I take pleasure in doing so too," he said.

"And that's one of the ways we'll always be different," Sookie returned with a sigh. "But when it comes down to what's 'right' versus what's 'wrong,' I think we'd agree more often than not."

"So the way we act from there is the difference?" he asked.

She nodded against his chest.

They were silent for a few moments.

"I think Godric felt guilty because he thought he'd finally succeeded in driving out all of your humanity," she said with a mixture of hesitancy and certainty. "And—if I know you—you were so anxious to please him that you tried to hide the fact that you continued to 'live' your 'human' version of right and wrong, even as you applied it to your existence as a vampire." She sighed. "And that's the difference between you and Godric. You adapted, Eric. He couldn't. That's why he thought vampires were 'wrong' in the end. And—that is probably why he closed off your bond," she added in a whisper.

During their bath two nights before, Eric had told her all about how Godric had shut down their bond during the last years of his life. Sookie knew how much that act had hurt Eric, so she sank back into his body even more in order to offer him the comforting contact of her own.

"Godric wouldn't let me feel him, just as your mother couldn't help but to let you hear her thoughts," he commented after a moment.

"But the effect was the same for the both of us," she added. "Their actions hurt us."

"Yes," Eric said simply. He had long since come to understand that Sookie and he shared many things in common as far as their pain was concerned.

"But Godric seemed like a great maker in a lot of ways."

"In most ways," Eric clarified.

"I know he loved you, Eric," Sookie reiterated vehemently. "He even told me to take care of you."

Eric chuckled. "I know. I heard."

She giggled, "Of course, I made him no promises at the time."

"I heard that too," he joked as he tickled her side again.

She squirmed in his arms and swatted his hand away before taking it back into hers.

"Yet you've fulfilled his request anyway," he said, his tone turning more serious again.

She nestled against his chest. "I—take care of you?" she asked uncertainly.

"I think so," he said contemplatively. "Yes. I am sure."

They were silent for a few minutes as the scent of the lavender lulled them.

"What is your first memory as a vampire?" she asked.

"Hunger," Eric answered quickly. "Unbelievable hunger. But Godric had brought me two men who were mortally wounded in a battle."

Sookie gulped. Despite her acceptance of him, it was still sometimes difficult for her to reconcile the two Erics she had come to know. Both were fierce and clever, but the one who held her was also extremely gentle and caring. On the other hand, she knew that he could be ruthless. Lafayette had told her what Eric did to the man who had set Malcolm's nest aflame.

"You finished them off? Killed them?" she asked.

"I drained them both within minutes," he said unapologetically. "However, I will forever be grateful that Godric taught me to feed with control in the midst of the battles occurring at that time—instead of in a village full of innocents."

"Me too," Sookie whispered.

"Never mistake me as a good man or vampire," Eric said in a soft voice, his gentle tone contradicting his words. "However, on battlefields, I did try to find those who would have died whether or not I drained them."

"Because of what happened to Randulfr and Vermundr?"

"Yes," he said with a sigh. "But—at times—the blood was too tempting, so I did sometimes kill those who could have lived beyond their injuries. And," he paused, "I have killed innocents before. My existence has not always been comfortable. There have been times when Godric and I were forced to go nights and nights without food, especially as we travelled. If we came across people living in seclusion during those times, we were forced to take our fill in order to survive."

"Have you ever killed a child?" she asked.

"Yes. As a human—during battle. What you would consider children often fought alongside men."

"Did you fight when you were a child?"

"Yes—though, of course, I fashioned myself as a man," he said with a little smirk.

"How old were you?"

"I was eleven winters old when an enemy clan attacked us to take our harvest. They did not succeed. I killed four men that day—more than anyone else in our village. My father was proud of me—and my mother made me a new tunic to commemorate the day."

Finding that she, too, was proud of him, Sookie squeezed his hand.

"Did you ever kill a child as a vampire?" she asked after a silent minute.

"No—though I once inadvertently did something that led to a child's death."

"What?" she asked quietly.

"It happened because I could not control my feeding. Godric and I were moving across the North Sea by ship. It was only a two day journey, but we had been travelling for a while before that. We had stowed ourselves in the cargo hold, and one of the boys on the ship stumbled upon us during the night. I had never eaten from a child, and I took too much. Godric finished him when I could not."

The two were quiet for a while.

"I am the monster Bill told you I was," Eric finally said. "But you are also right about me. I have tried to maintain some honor—some adherence to what is 'right' and what is 'wrong'—during my existence as a vampire. I fear that it will not be enough to merit my entrance into Valhalla when I am finally struck down." He paused. "But I have tried to remember my human parents' teachings—as well as my maker's." He paused again—this time for a little longer. "If I let myself feel the weight of all the bad deeds I have done . . . ." he stopped midsentence—his unconscious caresses of her hair stopping as well.

"You'll end up like Godric," she finished for him.

"Probably. It is not unheard of for my kind to choose to meet the sun if their guilt overtakes them or if they become bored with the endlessness of their nights."

"Do you get bored?"

"Yes. Sometimes. But when I do, I try something new—a new business, a new place to live, a new lifestyle. And you are new. This is new. Talking like this."

"What about when you get bored with me?" she asked nervously. If she ever did entangle herself romantically with the vampire holding her, she needed to know the answer to that question in order to protect herself.

Eric, too, understood the underlying subtext of her question. He answered thoughtfully, "I wish I could say that I would never tire of you, Sookie. I wish I could fulfill the romantic notions that you have been taught to crave by human society and the media. But I will not make promises that I cannot keep—especially not to you. What I can say is that I do not foresee a time when I become bored with the thing that is between us now."

"Friendship," Sookie said quietly.

"I think that is what it is," Eric contemplated. "I have never really had a human friend. Associates—yes. People that I trust or enjoy being around more than others—yes. But you are—more."

"And if we were ever to pursue something romantic?" she asked apprehensively.

"You are asking if I would tire of you?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered. "I would get old eventually."

Eric sighed, even as his reflexive caresses to her hair resumed. "I honestly cannot say what might happen in the future. I have never tried fidelity—neither as a vampire nor as a human. I cannot imagine a time when I would not want you, and right now, you are the only partner I wish to pursue for blood or for sex. But that could just be because of our situation—though I had begun to think of you in this fashion even before you traveled to Jackson." He paused for a moment. "But—as I said—I have never tried monogamy. Thus, I cannot guarantee I would not eventually seek out another. But this kind of thing happens with humans too—does it not? And you could just as easily become bored with me after a time."

She chuckled. "Not likely."

"Hmmm?" he questioned.

He could feel her skin temperature rising and knew she was blushing. "I'm a telepath, Eric," she said. "I have heard lots of women thinking about being with you—remembering things about you."

"Oh?" he asked with a mixture of curiosity and caddishness.

"Yeah, and bored was not a thought that any of them had."

He chuckled. "So I got stellar reviews?"

She smacked his chest lightly. "I think you already know that."

"Perhaps I glamour them into thinking that I am a god when it comes to sex."

Sookie shook her head. "Nope. Glamour feels different." She grinned. "Geez—I can't believe I'm tellin' you this stuff. Your ego is already too big!"

He chuckled even louder and pulled her into him a bit more. Strangely—especially considering their current topic—neither one of them interpreted his act as the prelude to anything sexual.

"Do the women think about the size of anything other than my ego?" he asked with mischief in his voice.

She smacked him again, but giggled against his chest. "All the time, actually. But," she paused, "take it from a telepath, sometimes things get exaggerated in people's heads. And," she giggled a little louder, "another thing I've learned is that size doesn't matter."

"You wound me," he said with mock hurt in his voice.

She patted his arm. "Don't worry, big guy. It seems you have put your thousand years to good use. I've never heard a complaint from anyone's thoughts about your size or your—uh—technique."

"That's good to know," he chuckled.

"But seriously," she said twisting around a little more in order to look up at him. "What the heck were you doin' to that Yvetta woman in your dungeon?"

"What?" he asked innocently. "She was enjoying herself, and so was I. And I can fuck at maximum speeds when I have someone tied up like that."

Sookie put a hands over her ears. "Stop!" she ordered. "TMI!"

Eric winked at her. "You were the one who asked. Anyway—did her thoughts tell you that she was not enjoying herself?"

"No," Sookie relented. "She was really—uh—happy with your work."

He chuckled.

"Was she your girlfriend?" Sookie asked. "She thought of herself as that."

Eric sighed. "No. I had fucked her a few times though. However, I didn't particularly enjoy her company—outside of sex, that is. And she was becoming—how do humans put it? Oh yes—clingy. It was nearing the point when I was going to have to glamour her to go away, but she had tasty blood, and as you saw, she was adventurous."

"Do you always do it like that? Have sex like that?" Sookie asked, her face now a deep shade of crimson. "'Cause you're cute and all, but when I am ready to start something with someone new—if it's with you—I am so not into that kind of thing. Just FYI."

Eric laughed heartily. "Preference noted." He kissed her forehead affectionately. "Do not worry. I enjoy sex in a variety of ways—not all of which require chains."

"Good," Sookie said with a little laugh, "'cause I'm not really into the idea of getting tied up."

"Would you like to tie me up?" Eric asked flirtingly.

She giggled. "Hmmm. I don't know. You're too good with your hands."

She leaned forward, and he knew that was his cue to begin her massage.

"You are getting spoiled," he grumbled good-naturedly.

"They do make me feel better though," she said as she looked over her shoulder at him with a beseeching look.

Eric had given Sookie a back massage during each of their baths together. Afterwards, he would wash her hair and massage her scalp before they ended their bath. Then he would rub her legs and feet once she was resettled into bed. His attentions were like an elixir to her still-sore muscles.

In truth, the massages were something of an elixir to him as well—though he wasn't sure why that was.

"And you are Swedish—well, at least, sort of," she added.

Eric just chuckled and started to rub.

Chapter Text

Chapter 33: Hide and Seek

"Love is a better teacher than duty."—Albert Einstein

Eric watched Sookie sleeping. Amelia would soon be arriving, but she no longer stayed in the bedroom watching over Sookie. In fact, once Sookie rose for the day, she would make her way downstairs and hang out with the witch for a while. Eric knew that they always had a meal together and had come to enjoy each other's company.

Sookie was still slightly ill, but she said she felt mostly "normal"—just a little achy as if she were getting over a bad case of the flu. She had a low-grade fever at times, but Octavia had said that it was no longer crucial that he and Sookie stay near each other at all times anymore. Still, the witch said it would be best if they continued to rest together, so they did.

The Viking brushed a brown strand away from Sookie's face and marveled at the way the woman in front of him continued to affect him; in fact, more and more each night, she was affecting him. It was September 18, almost nine days since the severing spell had been performed, and he knew that he and Sookie would have to be leaving the Slidell house soon.

But a part of him wanted to stay right where he was—indefinitely.

Octavia had told him that the concealment spell around the home would hold for four more nights, and Eric planned to leave with one of those nights to spare. The safest thing would be for Sookie to drive them out of Louisiana during the day time—if she were well enough. Eric planned for them to spend their first official night "on the lam" outside of Houston, which would be a drive of just under six hours. Beaumont, Texas was another option; though not as good, it was just over four hours from their current location. Eric wanted to stay in only the places he'd bought for the express purpose of serving as stops along his "escape route." He knew that all of them had light-tight spaces. However, in Beaumont, Sookie would have to secure them a motel room, and motels often had surveillance systems. Even if she paid with cash, she might be captured by a camera's image. And he had not yet trained her on how to avoid being seen by the technology of the time. He planned to begin that training soon, however.

He sighed. A six-hour trip would mean at least one stop for Sookie so that she could see to her human needs. The car would have enough gasoline to make the trip. He knew that he'd have to give Sookie a crash course in camera avoidance. And he'd begin training her more carefully once they were in Texas.

He brushed another chocolate-colored strand of hair away from her face.

For at least the thousandth time, Eric shook his head at his own actions. He'd never shared his resting place with a human. But not only had he done that with Sookie, but he'd also allowed Amelia into the room—albeit she was glamoured heavily and was ready with a spell if anyone threatened Sookie or him during the day.

Still, it was very unlike him to die for the day in a place where others could have contact with his body.

Then there was the fact that he was doing all this without having fucked Sookie! Hell—they'd not even shared a proper kiss! And the only blood he'd had from her was what he'd cleaned from the wound she'd gotten on her foot the day the Bill had sent the woven dream—when the highway patrolman had made her exit the car without shoes on.

And Eric wanted to fuck the woman sleeping so peacefully next to him! He wanted to fuck her from the moment he awoke at night to the moment he fell dead for the day. He wanted to give her one orgasm after the next and cause her to scream his name until she no longer had voice. He wanted to taste her cum and her blood. He could imagine no better meal, and he wanted to savor it again and again and again.

He had fantasized about countless scenarios during the past nine nights. Every flat or curved surface in the house had entered into his imagination. And he had a vivid fucking imagination. And he could fly.

On the other hand, even while he was semi-hard at all times, he was enjoying what Sookie and he were doing: just being together. He wondered if the experience was what humans might call "becoming enamored with another." Eric wasn't sure. He had chosen his human wife, Aude, because she was the person his father had favored before his death. There had been no love between Eric and Aude, though she was a likeable enough woman. She had born him three healthy children, two boys and a girl. And she had been with child when he'd left her the last time before he was mortally wounded and then turned by Godric.

Yes—he had been pleased by Aude, but he'd not loved her. Then again, things were very different during his human time. Romanticized ideals of love had not been born yet, and marriages were arranged among his people. He had not been expected by Aude—or anyone else—to be a faithful husband, and he knew of only a few couples among his people who would fit into today's standard of a love match. He had envied those people to a certain extent, but had not been tempted to become one of them. Aude had been sedate to his touches—dutiful, but a bit cold. So he had fucked any of the thralls who interested him. He'd even had a child with one of them, but that was not an unusual happenstance either. His own father had given him a half-sister and a half-brother by two different women, but the children had both died during their childhoods. Eric's mother had mourned them both.

Once Eric was a vampire, Godric had taught him that any affection for a human was a dangerous thing that had to be mastered immediately. Therefore, when Eric had felt a stirring for Pam, he'd turned her—thus setting up a hierarchy between them. He'd quickly lost interest in having a sexual relationship with her—just as she'd lost interest in him. The same had eventually happened between Godric and himself.

Of course, there had remained a kind of love between them—at least on his part—but it had been familial devotion above anything else. A child always had devotion for his or her maker—no matter the quality of that maker. Eric was certain that Bill had shed tears for Lorena, though she was unimaginably horrid. Their bond would have allowed for nothing less. But Godric had been a much more demonstrative maker than the norm—at least until the last years of his life. And Eric also held more than common affection for his own child.

But what he felt for Sookie was different—not beyond what he felt for his maker or his child. Just different.

It was difficult to give words to the compellation he felt when he thought of Sookie.

His affection for her came from a different place—a place he'd not known existed. Was it a new place—one that she'd crafted inside of him? Or was it a place that had been waiting inside of him for a thousand years—waiting just for her? Was it his soul? His heart? His gut? He couldn't tell.

It seemed to be coming from everywhere.

The bigger question was this: why was he allowing it?

He had no answers. All that he knew was that the stress and desperation he'd felt before he'd simply let himself "feel" was now gone. He was calm and could sense himself feeding off of Sookie's steady confidence in him. And he could sense her feeding off of his belief in her as well. She had been battered from the severing spell—more mentally than physically.

It was odd, but he found their ability to "feed" each other through friendship to be more nourishing than any blood he had ever drunk. And blood was everything to a vampire.

Or, at least, that was what he had thought before.

Sookie had changed that in him.

He pondered the word "asset"—for she was certainly that to him. The word had come to English from Old French. It entered the English language when the Normans invaded the tenacious people of the island to their west. Vikings, too, had invaded Britain, though Eric had not set foot on its shores as a human. Many thought that America was the first nation of so-called "mutts," but Eric knew better. The Brits had seemingly taken a piece from all of the countries that had tried to invade and conquer them. The English language proved that. And the colonists who came to the Americas had joined with those of other nations to become even bigger "mutts," especially in places like Louisiana. Perhaps that mixture of bloodlines—which seemed to spark such a doggedness of will—was what Eric enjoyed in both Pam and Sookie.

Sookie's supernatural qualities and blood made her even more "mixed"—and even more intriguing to the Viking. Eric closed his eyes and inhaled her scent deeply.

He had begun to tell her what he knew of her fairy lineage over and over during the previous week. He should have told her. And now it had come to the point that he knew she would be hurt because he'd kept it from her. At first, she'd been too weak from the severing spell. Then, he'd wanted to wait to see if Niall Brigant would get back to him. Then, his own selfishness had kicked in; he'd wanted to continue enjoying his 'vacation' without introducing any kind of strife. Or, perhaps, he'd kept silent so that he wouldn't disturb her content.

He did not know. All he knew was that as soon as Sookie was told that she was part Fae, she would know that her blood was even more alluring than she'd thought. And then the progress she'd been making to understand and squelch her self-doubt would be in jeopardy. She would believe that onlyher blood—and the appeal of it—had drawn others to her. She would believe that only her blood had drawn him.

He had told her that blood was everything many times before—but now he was afraid that she would believe it.

So he'd kept the knowledge of her fairy blood from her. And—in so doing—he'd lied by omission. And he didn't have any idea what to do about that.

He brushed another errant brown curl from her forehead.

"Eric," she said groggily.

"Yes, little one?" he asked.

"Tell me something about your life? Something I don't already know?" she asked, her eyes opening slightly.

He lay down in bed next to her, facing her as she lay on her side. It was odd, but in less than two weeks, they had developed so many habits together. Her waking before he went to his sleep—as if she wanted to send him off to it—was just one of them.

"You asked earlier about my first memory as a vampire," he reminded.

"Hunger," she said. "You told me about it."

"Would you like to hear about the first lesson Godric ever taught me? It is actually my first memory as a vampire that was not dictated by my need for blood."

She woke up a bit more. "Yes. Tell me."

In her sleepy state, she reached out to take his hand; as he always did, he moved so that they were lying even closer. They both enjoyed the connection.

"The first lesson Godric taught me was about the sun," Eric said.

Sookie smiled as she nuzzled into his chest. "That doesn't surprise me. If you're out during the day, it'll kill you. Or—uh—kill you again."

"It is not the day that can kill me, little one; it is the sun you love so much. A vampire can fight the day, and with age, that ability grows."

"Like you fought it for me the other day?" Sookie asked, waking up a bit more.

"Yes," the Viking answered as he stroked her hair. "But—even for you—I could not fight the sun for long. Its light burns even the oldest of vampires."

Sookie nodded. She had seen the evidence of that—with both Bill, who had come out into the daylight when she was trying to escape from Rene, and Godric. She'd always wondered why they had burned so differently.

"Eric?" she began.

"Sookie?" he responded cheekily. That was his standard response when she asked only his name as a question. She smiled at the fact that she knew this exchange so well.

"Did you know that Bill ran out into the sun when Rene Lenier tried to kill me? He almost burned up in the sun that day." She shook her head. "Every bit of his exposed skin was burned and blackened."

Eric sighed. "No—I did not know that. But it sounds like the kind of idiotic thing he would do."

"What do you mean?" she asked, slightly affronted.

"I do not object to him trying to save you from danger, Sookie, but I do object to how he tried."

"Why?"

"Did he—at least—call the police before he came outside?" Eric asked a little testily.

"No," Sookie answered.

Eric shook his head. "Then his actions were even more foolhardy."

"Why do you think he did it? Why did he risk himself to come to me?" she asked.

"I do not pretend to be an expert on Bill Compton."

"Do you think he loves me?" Sookie asked. She'd asked him that question before, and the answer was always the same.

"I think that he believes he loves you, but his actions do not speak of love."

"What do they speak of?" she asked. She'd never been able to ask that of him before.

Eric seemed to reply almost reluctantly. "Many things. They speak of obsession. They speak of blood addiction. They speak of Compton's desire to keep you protected as an asset of the queen. But mostly, I believe that they reflect his desire to want to love—to want to be like a human again. Bill has never been able to fully accept that he is vampire."

"Lorena didn't give him a choice like Godric gave you," she stated, though her tone made it obvious that she was not defending Bill. "From what he told me—which wasn't much—Lorena forced him to do some awful things."

"Yes," Eric nodded. "Lorena and Bill were well known for the bloodbaths that they left in their wake before the Authority punished them." He scoffed. "They didn't even try to cover their tracks, and their actions threatened us all. When they finally went too far and the Authority decided to intervene, Bill was placed under silver for a time; I am not sure how long. But he was let off easy because he'd been following the lead of his maker. Lorena was forced to give up the thing that was most important to her."

"Bill?" Sookie asked perceptively.

"Yes," Eric responded. "She was required to release him so that he no longer had to follow her commands."

"So—when he started having sex with her again?" she asked.

"He made the choice," Eric responded.

Sookie nodded and sighed. "Did Godric ever release you?"

"No," Eric responded. "Several hundred years ago, he gave me the choice of whether I wanted it, but there was no need. When he ordered me from the rooftop in Dallas, I rethought that decision."

She tightened her hold on him. "He died in only seconds in a flash of blue fire. Why was that so different from what happened with Bill?" she asked quietly.

"A vampire has the ability to heal himself—as you know. When in the sun, a vampire has a choice: to fight against the sun or to give into it. Bill was telling the magic in his body to heal him, so it would have taken him longer to burn in the sun. On the other hand, Godric prevented his magic from protecting him, so he," his voiced lowered a little, "would have died quickly."

The two were quiet for several minutes.

Finally Eric broke the silence with a sigh. "I cannot judge Bill too harshly for coming to you when the sun was still out. Barely a week ago, I left my coffin a minute before the sun was officially down so that I could handle the highway patrolman, but I knew I would be able to heal quickly to override any damage the waning sunlight did to me. Bill's act tells me that he does try to love you—but it is a selfish love. I cannot think of anything he could have done to help you that day. Given his relatively young age, he was likely incapacitated before he even got to you."

"Yes," Sookie admitted. "But what do you mean by selfishly?"

"Bill's actions could very well have put you into even more danger and had little to no upside. At the time—if you had seen him—you would have made yourself more vulnerable in order to protect him. It is your way."

She sighed. "You're right."

"There were only two possibilities when he went into the sun that day. He would make himself a martyr or prove himself a hero in your eyes." Eric shook his head disapprovingly. "I have come to believe that Bill wouldn't mind either of those fates. Had he died, he would have earned your undying devotion because he'd sacrificed himself for you. From his perspective, that sacrifice would have redeemed him from all the wrong he'd done. However, since he lived, he earned your unrelenting gratitude, even though he did nothing except expose himself foolishly to the sun. And he—of course—cast himself as the savior again, even though you saved yourself."

"What would you have done—if you had been at Bill's house? If I'd had your blood then?" Sookie asked, feeling her body tense up a bit as she did.

"I could only speculate," he answered enigmatically.

"Then speculate," she half-requested and half-ordered.

Eric sighed. "Upon being forced from sleep, I would have called the human police in your town. I would have also called the shifter and a Were—a lone wolf—who lives near Bon Temps. All could have come to your aid."

"Sam was already there," Sookie reported.

"Good," Eric returned. "After that, I would have looked for a very thick covering, and if I had found something that could temporarily protect my body from the sun, I would have come to you."

She gasped in surprise. "How is that foolish for Bill, but not for you?"

He shrugged. "It would have been foolish. But I would not have come without thought. Rene attacked you in the graveyard—right?" he asked.

"Yeah."

"I am old and powerful, and, in flight, I have great speed. I would have been somewhat sluggish because of the day—so not as fast or as strong as usual. Still, I would have launched into the mother fucker who was attaching you like a missile—without preamble or my usual propensity for 'playing' with my food." He chuckled at his own play on words.

"Jackass," she muttered fondly, as she flicked his chest with her forefinger.

"I am talking about coming to your rescue during the daytime, and you abuse me," he said with mock hurt.

He could almost hear her eyes rolling. "Eric, I know that you are old and strong and all, but how do you know you wouldn't have just ended up burning like Bill did? Sam and I had to bury him because he was too weak to help himself."

He sighed. "In truth, I would have risked it only if I was certain of my survival. And I would not have left my resting place if I could not cover myself adequately. Without protection from the sun, I would have been as useless as Bill—and a liability to you within a minute. And I estimate that it would have taken 1.4 to 2.1 minutes to subdue your attacker and then get myself to safety."

"How can you know that timeframe?" Sookie asked.

"Distance from Bill's home to the furthest reaches of the cemetery, plus distance to the several safe places I could have gone to escape the sun," he answered simply.

She looked up at him in question. "Safe places?"

"Yes," he said. "I have been to Bill's home and to yours. I have also been to the cemetery in between them. And I would have never rested in the area without having several options. I make a point of determining several places within range of my original resting place where I could quickly hide from the sun if necessary. Remember Godric's first lesson to me?"

Sookie nodded. "But where is there to hide out there?"

"There are two stone crypts in that graveyard that are sufficiently light-tight; I have already shored up with mud the cracks that would have let light through. Though simple, it is actually a quite effective technique. My human people did something similar. The sun bakes the mud, and the cracks are no more the next night."

"When did you do that?"

Eric sighed. "You likely don't want to know."

"I think I do." She tilted her head up to look him in the eyes.

"I have spent the day near your home on three different occasions―beginning the day Bill was taken. I scoped out the area and prepared several resting places a few nights before that."

"Why?" Sookie asked, even though she intuited that she wouldn't like Eric's answer.

He responded somewhat hesitantly. "In truth, you were very right to come to me with accusations about Bill's disappearance. I was planning to take him, and I didn't intend to leave you unprotected at night."

Sookie pushed away from the Viking and sat up a little. "What the fuck, Eric?"

He sat up as well. "I would not have done it while you were with Bill, but I had sent someone to abduct him and bring him to me the same night he actually disappeared. Bill had learned that I was selling the V for the queen, and I intended to hold him under silver until we had sold the last of it."

Sookie gasped and moved away from him a little more.

"I will not apologize for this," Eric said forcefully.

There had been similar moments of discord between the two of them during the last days, especially as Sookie had gotten stronger and Eric had begun telling her more of the vampire world—and his place in it. She'd been especially pissed off when she learned that Eric had suspected Longshadow before she came to Fangtasia to interview his staff. And she'd been enraged that he had "paused" in killing his thieving business partner so that Bill would have to take the fall for Longshadow's death.

She was shaking her head. "Of course you won't apologize! But how could you? You had to have realized how upset I would have been. I mean—you saw how upset I was!"

"I did," Eric said. "But I was not planning to keep Bill for long, and I would have arranged for him to write you a letter, giving you a plausible excuse for his absence and advising you to let me watch over you."

"You would have manipulated me—again!" she said, the hurt clear in her voice.

"Yes," he admitted. "It is true that I would have used the opportunity to try to turn your affections from Bill to me, but I would not have used your blood to do it!" He was angry at the very thought of that.

"And I'm supposed to just trust your word on that?" she asked.

"You are!" he responded loudly, looking at her intensely. "And you do!"

She shook her head, but her eyes relented. Sookie knew that Eric was an opportunist, but she had also recognized the fact that he'd not used his blood against her as Bill had. Eric had more than proven himself in that regard.

"You're right," she said quietly. "But it still would have been underhanded of you."

He ran his hand through his hair. "Yes—though I prefer the term 'opportunistic.' And, in my defense, there were other—more pressing—reasons why I wanted to hold him than my continued quest to seduce you."

She couldn't help but to chuckle a little. "So—tell me?"

"Bill was acting like a loose-cannon at that time. Left and right, he had challenged my authority."

"How?"

"Many things—suspicious things."

"Like?" she asked.

He sighed. "Bill should have checked in with me the first night he was in Area 5, for one thing. Yet he waited until he escorted you to Fangtasia. Then there were the Rattrays."

Sookie cringed at the mention of them. Now that the evidence pointed clearly to the notion that Bill had used them to hurt her, their names brought up even more negative feelings in her than before. "What about them?"

"I had heard rumors of drainers in the area. Chow was my investigator at the time, and he was following several leads. He discovered that a large transaction of V had been conducted, and he traced it from the buyers to the Rattrays. Imagine his surprise when he discovered that they had been killed by a freak tornado on a cloudless night. And imagine my surprise when I went to the site and discovered Bill's scent there. Bill should have informed me if he'd found and eliminated drainers. But obviously, he was covering up his interactions with them—and you."

Sookie could only nod.

"Then there were the murders in Bon Temps. Bill should have been the one to inform me about them—long before you came to Fangtasia for the first time. He should have checked in with me and then called me well before you became targeted, especially since a vampire was suspected by the police and the victims had been involved with vampires. Moreover, since you were his human, he could have requested that I assign guards for you―before you became Rene's main target—but he did not. Then there was the Maenad situation, which Bill never gave me a report on. I had already begun to suspect that his presence in Area 5 was not for the reasons he had professed, and I became even more suspicious of him when I saw him at the queen's estate. In truth, I suspected him of spying on me for Sophie-Anne; he wouldn't have been the first spy that she'd tried to put into my area. However, it turned out that he was in Bon Temps for you."

"Wait. Back up," Sookie gasped. "What do you mean he could have had me protected? Do you mean like—before Gran was murdered?"

Eric nodded. "He was already calling you his, so yes." He sighed. "It is clear that he wanted to keep you off my radar as much as possible. Otherwise, he would have contacted me. As sheriff, it was one of my duties to protect assets, as well as the humans belonging to the vampires in my area. If Bill had suspected you of being in real danger from the serial killer, he should have requested my aid, and I would have been duty-bound to give it."

"He asked Sam to help watch over me," Sookie said. "But that was after Gran had died—when Bill had to go to the tribunal."

Eric sighed again. It seemed as if he'd been doing that a lot during their minefield-laden conversation. "I did not know then about your grandmother's death, nor had it been publicized that it was connected to the other girls' murders. Bill should have informed me about that too."

Sookie let Eric's words sink in.

"Did you have people watching over me—after I came to Fangtasia to tell you that Bill was missing?"

Eric nodded. "Yes. I already had them arranged since I'd been planning to temporarily imprison Bill myself."

Sookie gave him a little glare, but he carried on. "A Were named Tray Dawson was watching over you during the daytime. He told me how bravely you chased away the Jackson Were that came for you, but he was nearby and would have taken a shot at the Were if need be. At night, I ordered a vampire named Indira to watch over you when I wasn't there. But I came as soon as I could each night and then stayed the day in the crypts."

Sookie shook her head. "I should be mad at you for bein' high-handed like that."

Eric shrugged. "You have been angry at me for less—and for more," he smirked.

She lay back down, feeling a little drained from their heated discussion. He joined her and was glad when she moved so that she was resting her head against his chest again.

"I still can't believe you would have risked coming out in the sun to save me."

Eric chuckled. "Godric would not have been pleased to know of it. After all—as I said earlier—the necessity of staying out of the sun was his first lesson to me."

"Thanks," she said.

"Don't paint me too much the hero, little one. As I said, I would not have come if I truly thought I would die. I would have made a calculated risk—with the math working in my favor. Oh—it would have been traumatic, and I would have been out of commission for a day or so—healing—but I would have done it."

"You would have risked your life because you cared for me," Sookie said, still obviously a little dumbfounded.

"No," he corrected her dispassionately, even as he recommenced stroking her hair. "I would have come to your aid with a clear and quick agenda in mind. I would have let no emotional response get in my way."

"Like Bill did?" she asked.

The vampire could tell that her tone registered hurt. "It is not that I would not feel an emotional response for you—especially now," he said honestly. "It is just that I wouldn't let myself feel it until later—not until all was done," he said. "In a fight, emotions only get in the way of survival."

She nodded into his chest and let out a big yawn.

"We should sleep, little one."

She nodded again and exhaled deeply as if relaxing every inch of her body against his. It was not long before Eric heard her even, steady breathing. Amelia had come in sometime during their discussion, but she had stayed downstairs. Eric kissed Sookie on the forehead tenderly and then fell into his own day-rest.

Chapter Text

Chapter 34: The Sun Versus the Sludge

"What's your worst memory as a vampire?" Sookie asked as she ate her midnight meal of a chicken Caesar salad, which Amelia had left in the refrigerator for her. Octavia was due the next afternoon, and—with any luck—she would pronounce Sookie recovered enough from the effects of the severing spell to travel. She and Eric were planning to leave the morning after that.

Sookie sighed. That would mean only two more nights for them in their little safe haven. She couldn't help but to wish that it could be more and wondered if she and Eric would continue to be as free with each other as they had become.

She hoped so.

Eric looked up from his book. "I have two."

"What's the first?"

"Godric's death," he answered.

Sookie nodded. She should have guessed. "And the second?" she asked at a quieter volume.

"It would be unpleasant for you to hear, little one."

"Oh," she said quickly. "You don't have to tell me."

He smiled a little and pulled the chair he was sitting in toward the bed so that he could prop up his feet on the bed. "I would tell you; however, it's just not really a conversation for dinner."

She put her empty salad bowl on her nightstand. "Well—I'm done now."

On autopilot, she placed one of her hands onto his bare foot that was closest to her. It was one of the new habits that had grown between them when his hand was not "in range" of hers. She would sometimes lightly stroke his foot with her nails, which he loved; however, when they were talking seriously, she would simply rest her hand on his foot—a sign of support and unity.

Eric shook his head a little. "You asked for it. Do you remember when I told you about Godric's first lesson to me?"

Sookie nodded. "Yeah—the danger of the sun."

He nodded. "And you asked me about why Godric and Bill burned so differently?"

She nodded again. "Yeah—you said that vampires could choose to activate their magic to attempt to slow down the effects of the sun on their bodies. Or they could choose," she paused, "to do nothing."

"Yes. Up until about 1500 years ago, there was a common test given to vampires by their makers. This test was used to weed out those who were not worthy and was given to most new vampires—somewhere between their tenth and two hundredth year as a vampire. Give or take," he added with a little smile.

"Why such a huge difference in time?"

"A vampire had to be deemed ready for the test before he or she was subjected to it," he answered. "Even though the test was no longer common by the time I was made, Godric decided to give it to me."

"How old were you when you had it?"

"Twenty-two in vampire years."

"And what made you ready for it?"

Eric sighed. "I had witnessed both ways a vampire could die, so Godric decided I was ready."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

He gave her a smile, but his melancholy was evident. "You have seen both already. However, Godric and I traveled apart from other vampires during my early days, so it took me a while."

She looked at him with curiosity, still not quite understanding what he was talking about.

He sighed. "Older vampires—such as myself—have seen the remains of their kind many, many times. If staked or beheaded or overwhelmed with silver poisoning, vampires turn to sludge."

"Longshadow. Lorena," Sookie said distastefully.

"Yes. I am sorry I didn't see Lorena die at your hands," he added, smirking a little.

"It was disgusting," Sookie said with a frown.

He chuckled. "Then I am really sorry I didn't see it."

She popped his arm even as she, too, chuckled a little.

After a few moments, he continued, "The magic that holds vampires together is centered in our un-beating hearts. But that magic is a testament to the fact that there is still 'life' in the heart. It has just transformed—into what we call 'un-death.' That is why a stake to the heart will kill us faster than anything else."

Sookie motioned for him to continue.

"Well," he said, "as you can imagine, seeing the sludge of a dead vampire's remains is a rude awakening for a young vampire—almost like a rite of passage. The first time a youngling sees the muck, he or she quickly begins to guard his or her life even more carefully. I know I did! The human body remains relatively intact after death—unless the human has been the victim of a catastrophic trauma. But the vampire body does not. All trace of the person—of the individual—is eliminated in an instant. Except for the scent. But even that is tempered with a putrid odor. It is humbling to be aware of what our bodies become. And—though we will not admit it—it is also frightening."

"I can only imagine."

Eric nodded in agreement. "But the other way a vampire can die is even worse to most of us."

"The sun," Sookie said as she began to grasp where Eric was going with the conversation.

"Yes. The sun will burn a vampire until there is virtually nothing left. Nothing but fine grains of dust that will be picked up and taken away by even the slightest of breezes. It does not matter how old we are or how strong—when the sun kills, it leaves behind no trace, except—perhaps—a black spot on the ground."

Sookie squeezed Eric's foot a little—just as she might squeeze his hand in comfort. "I'm sorry."

He intuited that she was sorry for something specific. "What for?"

"Godric," she said quietly. "I had always thought that the quickness of his death would comfort you. I always thought that the fact that he didn't suffer would be better."

Eric turned away from her for a moment. When he turned back, his eyes were rimmed in red.

"It is not a comfort to know that Godric did not fight. It is not a comfort to know that two thousand years was ended with nothing left behind." Eric closed his eyes tightly. "I went to the roof the night after he died. I looked for any trace of him, but I could not even find a small black spot to mourn over. I did not know where he'd been—where he'd stood—where he'd looked upon the sun—where he'd burned."

Sookie sighed deeply. "We could go back there sometime," she said. "I could show you where he was."

"I would like that," he said softly. "I got the shirt. Thank you for that," he added. "It helped."

She smiled a little. "I hated leaving it at the front desk of the hotel like that, but we left while it was still day."

"Your note was welcome and certainly more than I expected then."

"It wasn't much."

"You told me that you were sorry. You said that he didn't suffer long."

"But now I know that him fightin' would have been better."

"For me—yes. For him—no," Eric said softly. "In your note, you also said that you had recently lost your grandmother and that you would be willing to talk with me. I thought your gesture to be," he paused, "kind. However, I could not talk about my grief—not then."

She smiled a little. "Me neither. Not really. I didn't know Gran for a thousand years, but she was more important to me than any other person has ever been."

"Then we do understand each other," Eric said thoughtfully.

"I think he took off his shirt so that he would leave something behind," Sookie offered, even as she gently squeezed his foot again.

He sighed. "Yes." He closed his eyes. "And, perhaps he didn't want to leave anything else behind. Seeing the site where one has been burned in the sun is even more startling for a vampire than seeing the sludgy remains of one who had been killed in another way. As I said, there is little left—often nothing but a black spot on the ground. Or perhaps there is a bit of ash trapped inside clothing if it dropped from a vampire's body before the burning was complete. The sun leaves behind nothing else, not even the scent of the vampire. Such a long life and then nothing," he said, his voice trailing off.

She squeezed his foot again, wishing that he was closer. He was silent for a while, and she began to stroke his skin softly, soothingly.

"I was going to tell you about the test," Eric said, seeming to shake himself out of a daze a few minutes later.

She nodded. "Only if you want to."

He gave her a little smile. "It was an odd test."

"How so?"

"Godric knew that my chances of passing it—of surviving it—were only one in three."

"What?" Sookie cried.

Eric shrugged. "As I said, it was used to root out the unworthy. And only about a third of the vampires who underwent it survived."

"Tell me about it?" Sookie requested, her frown etched deeply into her face.

"Well," Eric responded in a somewhat detached voice, "as I've told you many times—the first lesson learned by a vampire is that his or her greatest enemy is the sun, and it greedily wants to take a vampire's body and leave only its black calling card behind. Throughout the many years of vampire history, various practices have been picked up, such as the test I had to endure. Godric's own maker, Κλυμένη, or Klymene as she was known to me, used this test on each of the three children that she made. Godric was the first and only one who passed it. Her other children perished during the test."

"Klymene?"

"Yes," Eric said. "She was an ancient Greek, probably six hundred years older than Godric. I met her only once."

"She's still alive?" Sookie asked.

"I am unsure," Eric responded. "Though I could feel his affection for her, Godric did not speak of her much. I met her when I was about 100 years old."

"After the test," Sookie commented.

Eric nodded. "The test was simple, but—as I said—it required that the vampire had seen the two possible outcomes of his body should he die: the sludge or the nothingness."

"What was the test?" Sookie asked, her fingers now gripped firmly around his ankle as if to hold him to her.

"It was painful," Eric said, "and terrifying. I woke up blind-folded and bound in silver one night. I could smell that Godric was nearby, but he would not speak to me. All night, I asked for him to explain, but he said nothing. Finally, when it was only an hour before dawn, I was moved into a box. My instincts told me the box would not protect me, but even as I yelled for Godric, he left me alone."

"Oh my God," Sookie exclaimed. "That's horrible! What happened?"

"My instincts were right," Eric said sourly. "As dawn came, I realized that I had been left so that one of my hands was exposed to the sun, and it began to burn."

"What did you do?" Sookie asked, pulling his leg a little. After a moment, he moved to sit next to her on the bed. Immediately after he had, they leaned against each other.

"Why does this help me so much?" he asked as he wrapped his long arms around her and she sank into him.

She shook her head. "I don't know. It's weird."

"Weird indeed," he sighed.

"What did you do?" she asked again.

"I figured out the test," he intoned.

"What was it?" she asked.

"To live and turn to dust. Or to die and turn to sludge."

"I don't understand," she said.

"When the sun first began to burn through my hand, what do you think I did?"

"Fought," she said. "You would have fought."

He smiled and kissed her forehead. "Yes. But I soon realized that I could not fight the sun—not for long."

"You would have spent up all your magic?" she asked perceptively.

"Yes," Eric said. "And Godric would have found the sludge when he awoke that night."

"So you had to give up your hand?" Sookie asked in horror.

"Yes," Eric answered. "Literally. And it hurt like a motherfucker to grow back."

"Why did Godric do that to you?" she asked.

"He cared for me," Eric said simply. "He wanted to teach me."

"What did you learn from Godric's test?" she asked, burrowing into him even more.

"That survival is sometimes pain," he responded thoughtfully. "That sometimes giving up something that can be grown back in time is better than fighting for the sludge."

"You could have died," she remarked. "If Godric were still here, I would smack him!"

Eric chuckled. "I would have bought a front row seat to witness that."

"No wonder that test was one of your worst memories."

"Yes. But later—much later, mind you—I felt proud too. I had survived. But to be tested like that by my maker was to," he paused, "lose something."

"Trust?" she asked.

"A type of it. Blind trust." He sighed. "Perhaps that was the true purpose of test."

They were silent for a while.

"What is your worst memory, Sookie?" Eric asked.

"Gran," she whispered. "Cleaning up her blood."

Eric pulled her closer, almost to the point that she was sitting on his lap. "You spoke of that in my presence once—in your delirium after the Maenad scratched you. I wanted to put Bill under silver for not taking care of that."

"I told him and Sam to leave me alone," Sookie said. "I felt that I should do it alone."

Eric sighed. "There are some things, Sookie Stackhouse, that I would not listen to you about—no matter how stubborn you can be. That would have been one of them."

"Was that your worst human memory too?" she asked perceptively.

"Cleaning up my family's blood? Performing funeral rites for them?"

"Yes," she clarified.

"Yes," he confirmed.

"You did it alone too?" she asked.

"I cleaned up their blood alone. Others—who had hidden from Russell's Weres or who were away from the village that night—were with me as I sent my family to our gods."

They were silent for a few moments.

"Bath time?" she suggested.

"Yes," he agreed and got up to begin drawing the water.

Chapter Text

Chapter 35: Friendship Caught on Fire

"Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable."—Bruce Lee

Sookie was tired. Eric knew that he was pushing her a little, but he needed to make sure that she would be able to handle what would be expected. Octavia would be coming the next afternoon—obviously, after he was in his day-death. The witch would be examining Sookie—to make sure she'd recovered amply from the severing spell.

Eric was almost certain that Octavia would clear Sookie to leave Slidell. Her vital signs were all normal, and, except for some lingering fatigue, she seemed to be just as physically strong as she'd been before the severing spell. In fact, he'd seen her look more tired after a shift of her work for Merlotte.

Still, she was getting a little mentally fatigued from all he was trying to teach her. However, he wanted to test her. He needed to know that she would stay safe. If not, he would have to revise the plan.

"Where will the cameras be?" he questioned her as they looked at the floor-plans of several convenience stores and motels. Two of the convenience stores were actually on their route, and one of the motels was the place in Beaumont where they would have to stay if Sookie was too tired to make it to Houston. He had drawn the others to be representative of the standard layouts of such places.

Sookie took a deep breath and looked down at the specific floor-plan he was indicating. He had been drilling her like this for an hour. She pointed. "There," she said, knowing there would be a camera pointing right at the checkout stand.

"Where else?"

She pointed to a couple more places.

"Good. And the wild cards?"

"Behind any mirror," she answered. She'd learned from Eric that a mirror in a store often served two purposes: to give a cashier a way to watch the aisles and to conceal a camera.

"Where else?"

"Wherever the liquor is," she answered.

He nodded. For several hours during the last two nights, Eric had given Sookie a crash course in camera detection. He'd taught her how to use sunglasses and a hat to conceal her appearance without being obvious about it. He'd given her hints about how to angle her face to avoid facial recognition technology. He'd taught her how to determine whether a gas station was more likely to have a close-circuit system or a surveillance system that could be accessed via the Internet. She'd learned that certain store chains were "safer" to enter when she needed supplies or had to use the restroom. Other chains were to be avoided like the plague because of their state-of-the-art, Internet-based surveillance systems.

Satisfied with her responses, Eric brought out one of the packages that Brady had sent to them several days before.

"What's that?" Sookie asked.

He gestured for her to open it.

She gasped as she saw several drivers' licenses and passports from both Canada and the United States. Knowing she had to pretend to be someone else was one thing; seeing her new identity papers was another.

She looked at the first license. "Donna Clark," she said quietly as she looked at the brunette in the picture. She was still getting used to her new appearance.

All of the ten licenses in the bundle had the names of different women, all from different states or Canadian provinces. The passports corresponded to the licenses.

"Will I need all these?"

"Perhaps," he said. "It depends."

"On?"

"On how long it takes me to find a way to kill Russell. You may need more before it is done."

She took a deep, somewhat shaky breath, but then nodded.

"The idea is to use an ID as little as possible," Eric instructed. "Once it is used, it could also be used to trail you, so if you do have to show one of these to someone, it would be best if you didn't use it again for a while—or ever. If we leave the country and you need a passport, that identity shouldn't be used again at all."

"Okay," Sookie said. "I mean—I hardly ever have to show my license as it is."

Eric opened a second box that had been sent by Brady.

Sookie picked up one of the credit cards that was inside. "Am I rich?" she chuckled.

He winked. "Don't go overboard. You know to use cash first, but some places are more suspicious if you do, so anything that costs over a hundred dollars should be bought with a card. These are prepaid credit cards, so they are difficult to trace. Each should be used only once and has a limit of a thousand dollars."

"Okay," she nodded even as she exhaled loudly and resisted the urge to whistle. There were at least twenty cards in the box, and Eric had also showed her their store of money in his duffle bag. Moreover, each house along their route would have even more money! She'd never imagined having access to so much money—not when her checking account had held $40.42 the last time she'd checked.

He opened a third box. Inside were two Bluetooth devices and two phones—one blue and one red.

"What are those for?" Sookie asked.

Eric motioned toward the Bluetooths. "These will allow us to speak with one another when I am in my enclosure within the car."

"Will we need them?" she asked. "I mean—you'll be asleep in there, right?"

"Most of the time," Eric said, but I will get into the car coffin before dawn on the days we travel, and you know that I wake before sunset. I also don't have to sleep right at sunrise."

She nodded as he handed her the blue cell phone. She smiled as she noticed that he'd kept the red one for himself.

"The phones control the Bluetooth devices," he explained, "and they also work like regular phones, so feel free to contact me that way too—if you don't have your Bluetooth."

Eric moved closer to her on the couch to show her the elements on the phone. "However, these phones have been specially designed to work only with each other. Their signals are also scrambled and untraceable, and they will block monitoring devices."

"That sounds high-tech."

Eric nodded. "Brady used to work at the Pentagon."

"How did you meet him?"

"His grandfather was my day-person for almost fifty years."

"Day-person?"

"Yes. Many vampires hire people who can perform any necessary errands during the day. Before Internet shopping and the Great Revelation, it was difficult to procure some things at night."

"Oh. That makes sense. Do you have one now—a day-person?"

"I do—or at least I did," Eric said. "His name is Bobby Burnham, but I'm sure that Russell has or will find him."

"Will Russell kill him?" Sookie asked in a concerned tone.

"I doubt it. He'll likely question him and then glamour him in case I try to contact him."

Sookie sighed. "Oh. Okay. So Brady's grandfather worked for you then?"

Eric smiled. "Yes. Up to about thirty years ago. But there are no records that would connect me to Brady. Plus," his smirked, "let's just say that Jones is not Brady's real last name."

"Why doesn't he work for the Pentagon anymore?"

"About seven years ago, Brady discovered that there was a department in the government privy to the existence of Weres. They had captured some Werewolves and had kept them imprisoned for years—experimenting upon them."

"That's horrible!" Sookie exclaimed.

"Yes. It was," Eric commented stiffly. "Brady is a Were, so you can imagine how he reacted."

"What did he do?"

"He pretended everything was normal for a while—until he found out where the Weres were being held. As you've probably picked up on, he's kind of a computer genius and was able to wipe out most of the data that had been collected on the Weres. When he was ready, he blocked the surveillance equipment at the site of their imprisonment. He asked me to help him get them out. After that, he was compromised, so he could not return to his work. But before he disappeared, he erased most of the records about himself as well. Now, he's more of an independent contractor; most of his work is for Weres—making sure that they stay unknown to humans. But he also does some work for me."

"And he owes you one," Sookie added.

"We owe each other—many times over," Eric said. "That is best for trust, but not even he knows all the details of our escape route."

"A little trust here and there?" Sookie asked.

"Precisely," Eric said with a chuckle. He turned his attention back to the phones. "As I said, these will not call other phones, but they can do a couple of other things." He pulled another item from the box.

"What's that?" she asked as Eric slipped a thick bracelet unto his wrist.

"This," he said, showing her the underside of the piece, is a panic button of sorts."

She looked at it with curiosity. "Panic button?"

He nodded and took her phone from her. He turned it on and showed her the home page, where there were only four icons. "You push this one," he said pointing to the picture that looked like the Bluetooth, "to call me using the earpiece. This one," he pointed to the icon that looked like a phone, "is—of course—for using the phone in the regular way. The third button controls this wrist device."

"What do you mean—controls?"

"Should you need me during the day when I am asleep, you may use this button to wake me up."

"How will it do that?"

Eric sighed. "Encased in this band is silver nitrate. A bit will shoot into my wrist if you push that button and enter a code. It should be enough to shock me from my sleep."

Sookie looked horrorstricken. "I'm not gonna shoot you with silver, Eric!"

"For our safety's sake, I hope you will if there is ever a need," he said firmly. "I assure you that the dosage I would receive would not do me significant damage. I would heal quickly."

She shook her head and looked at the device warily. "But it would hurt you?"

Eric nodded. "Yes."

She sighed. "Then I hope I won't have to use this."

"Let us just hope that there is never an emergency that merits it," he said.

She nodded in agreement. "What's the fourth button for?" she asked as she looked at the last icon on the phone.

He pulled out a smaller box. "Tracking," he said. The little box contained a normal-looking ponytail holder and small pin shaped like Thor's hammer. "Yours is in a less obvious object," he smiled as he handed her the hair accessory. "There are tiny microchips in these items that will allow us to track one another. The fourth button activates the chip—see?" he asked, as he pushed the button on her phone and activated a code. A little red dot popped up with a map, showing their exact location.

"So you can find me without blood," Sookie mused.

"Frankly, blood would be better, but as long as we have these things on, we can track each other," Eric said. "The code must be entered each time this feature is used, however."

"What's the code?"

He grinned. "Something I knew you would remember—something related to how I was able to track you before."

She looked at him with curiosity.

"The code is 'ss.'"

"For Sookie Stackhouse?"

"No," he smirked, "for silver sucker.'"

She glared at him and hit his arm playfully.

"Good. You are angry with me," he grinned.

"Why is that good?"

He motioned to the wristband. "We will need to test this once I am asleep."

"Eric. I . . . ." She paused and sighed loudly. "I don't want to."

"I know," he responded gently as he took her hand. "But—before we leave this place—we need to test the band to make sure the dosage is correct. If the dosage is too little, the pain would not awaken me. If it's too much, it would leave me too incapacitated to be of any use to you."

Seeing her discomfort, he went on, "You may wait until Octavia is here if you wish."

"Can she give you a cure—for the silver?" Sookie asked.

Eric shook his head. "Not quite a cure, but there are ways she could mitigate the silver's effects." He quickly took his disposable cell phone out of his pocket and texted Octavia to make sure she would have the supplies she would need if the silver had a greater effect on him than he anticipated it would.

Sookie shook her head. "I still don't like the idea of zapping you with that thing."

"But you'll do it anyway," he said, "because it is necessary."

She nodded resignedly. "Yeah."

"Did you memorize the route to both the motel in Beaumont and the house in Houston?" he asked, changing the subject.

Sookie nodded in affirmation.

"And the witch did not see the route?" Eric asked.

"No," Sookie assured.

"And you have memorized the addresses of the places at which you may stop for your human needs along the way? And the address of the motel in case you cannot reach Houston?"

"Yes," she said.

What Sookie did not know was that Brady had chosen each of those places carefully. He had already set things up so that those places would be without their surveillance capabilities on the day when Sookie and Eric left Slidell. Brady was going to steal the feeds from the stores and the hotel during that day. And Eric would use the video to determine whether Sookie had absorbed the lessons he'd taught her. It was a test of sorts—before they were truly out on their own.

The only concern Eric had was that Brady would need to upload the videos of Sookie to the Internet for Eric to be able to access them, but Brady had assured Eric that his encryption codes would not be broken.

"When is Octavia coming?" Sookie asked.

"Not until 4:00 p.m., so you should sleep, little one. After all, you have to begin altering your sleep cycle anyway."

She nodded and bit her bottom lip.

"What is it?" he asked perceptively. He'd come to recognize when she had something she wanted to say to him—but was reluctant to say it.

"Eric, I was thinking today. What's going to happen with my house? I had bills, and my property taxes are due soon."

"You are working for me now," Eric answered.

"I think we are surviving together more than working, and I'm not exactly getting a normal paycheck."

"Regardless," Eric smiled. "Listen—your credit is about to take a big hit, but I have my lawyer watching over your property. If we are gone for a long time, your house will go into foreclosure. But he will arrange for someone—who cannot be connected to either him or me—to buy the property. And, after everything is over, we will sort it out. But I promise—you will not lose your home, Sookie."

"How will I ever pay you back," she sighed. "I doubt if Sam will even hire me back after all this."

Eric chuckled. "The shifter would certainly rehire you. And I'm sure that you will save my life many times, so I will owe you." He winked.

"What about you?" she asked suddenly. "I mean—will you get to be sheriff again—after all this is over?"

Eric shook his head. "No. By now, all of my known properties—including Fangtasia—have likely been burned to the ground. And if I kill Russell and Sophie-Anne, Louisiana will be up for grabs." He sighed. "When this is all over—if I am still alive—I will either have to become king or I will have to leave Louisiana."

"Oh," she said, her expression clouding with sadness.

He kissed her forehead. "Do not worry. I will take care of any vampires who know of you and want you for their own, Sookie. I will not leave you unguarded. You need never worry," he said. "I swear it."

She nodded. He'd assumed that her sadness had come from her worry over her own safety. But that had not been the case. After their time together, she knew that she would miss him terribly if he left, but she intuited that he wouldn't want to be the king. Then again, there were no guarantees—no assurances that they would ever be able to stop running or that they would even survive.

So—for now—she didn't let herself think about the fact that her close relationship with Eric likely had an expiration date.

"You are fine, child," Octavia pronounced less than five minutes after she'd arrived. Sookie had just brought her an iced tea.

"Uh—so we can leave tomorrow morning?" Sookie asked.

"Yes," the elder witch said with a quick nod of her head.

"Oh—okay," Sookie said with uncertainty. "I figured there would be some kind of exam or something."

Octavia took a long drink of her tea. Amelia had left to pick up some last-minute items for Sookie.

An uncomfortable silence filled the living room, and Sookie fidgeted in her seat.

"He has helped you?" the witch half-asked and half-stated.

"Huh?" Sookie asked inelegantly.

"Eric—with dee pain you have in you," Octavia clarified. "Dee aura around you is different—not so sad. Not so heavy."

"Uh—yes. We've talked a lot. And he has helped me deal with some things. He's my friend."

Octavia nodded. There was a knowing look in her eyes. "He likely wants everyt'ing and not'ing from you, child. But I suspect you want dee same from him—yes?"

Sookie wondered if her expression showed the confusion she felt. "Uh—I don't know what you mean?"

Octavia smiled kindly. "You will know when you know."

Sookie shook her head, still not quite understanding Octavia.

"You love him. And dee vampire loves you as well. He is a good man, child, but he will not be quick to admit his love."

Immediately, Sookie was uncomfortable. "Uh—love?"

"There are many kinds of love, child."

"Yes," Sookie said quickly. "And I do love Eric in a way. Like I said, he's become my friend—maybe the closest I've ever had."

Again, Octavia gave Sookie a knowing look. "He is a true friend to you, child. Do not forget dat, especially when you leave dis place. There are tings dat may happen, child—tings dat neither you nor he can control. Having a true friend is new to you both. Remember dat."

Sookie nodded a little as Octavia began rifling through her bag.

"I was told by Eric dat you were going to try to wake him today."

Sookie nodded. "Yes. With silver."

"T'would be best if we did dee test while Amelia was still gone. There are some tings she does not need to know of you and dee vampire."

Sookie nodded. "Okay."

Nervously, she led Octavia to the bedroom where Eric was dead for the day. He wore his wrist-band, which was ready to shoot a small amount of silver nitrate into his body. The telepath shivered as she pulled out her new phone. She hit the third button and a call for her password came up. She smiled slightly to herself as she typed in "ss." After she'd done so, there was a screen prompting her to confirm that she wanted to inject Eric with silver.

She didn't. Her finger paused above the button.

"'Twill be okay, child," Octavia said gently. "Even if everyting in dat bracelet were sent into him, 'twould not kill him."

Sookie nodded and pushed the button. In a flash, Eric was sitting up, and his face was a picture of agony.

"Shit!" Sookie yelled.

She forgot about Octavia in the room. She forgot about her own hesitations and insecurities. She forgot about Russell and Bill. She even forgot to breathe. But she knew that she would never forget the pain in Eric's eyes.

"Eric!" she yelled as she launched herself onto the bed and wrapped her arms around him.

"Sookie," he said, the discomfort clear in his voice.

Before Octavia could move to help Eric with the pain—before Eric could even ask for help—there was a light shining from Sookie's hands and transferring straight into Eric's body.

Sookie was frightened as she saw the light flowing from her hands. She'd seen it before—when she was fighting MaryAnn and when she was trying to fend off Russell's Weres. She'd used it to attack.

But Eric was not her enemy!

And she had just shot him with more power than she'd ever unleashed before!

Chapter Text

Chapter 36: And All Was Said

"How did it happen that their lips came together? How does it happen that birds sing, that snow melts, that the rose unfolds, that the dawn whitens behind the stark shapes of trees on the quivering summit of the hill? A kiss, and all was said."—Victor Hugo

The air in the room was electrified as Sookie shook and wept. She'd not even noticed that she was now in Eric's arms—rather than Eric being in her arms.

"Little one," the vampire soothed.

"Oh—God I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

"What did you do wrong?"

"Hurt you," she whimpered.

"No," he assured. "No you didn't."

She was still quivering and her eyes were shut tight, so he cupped her chin gently and raised it. After a few moments, she looked at him with tears in her eyes.

"You're alright?" she asked with a mixture of relief and disbelief.

"Yes. The pain from the silver was there, but then it was gone." He smiled. "The sun versus the sludge," he continued with wonder in his tone. "But this time, the sun didn't burn."

Their eyes were locked, and—in that moment—there was nothing or no one but them. And suddenly—without either one of them registering that they had moved—their lips were pressed together.

Their kiss moved from light and searching to hard and urgent in seamless stages. But while their lips and then tongues pressed together in harmony, their hands were at opposite tasks. His stayed in one place—a stabilizing force on her shoulders, keeping her just where she was—while hers tested his control by touching everywhere they could reach before settling onto his chest.

Sookie had kissed four men—just four—including the one that she was kissing right then. JB de Rone had been the first. His thoughts were much less objectionable than those of other boys she'd been around. Still—she'd not really relaxed enough to enjoy the kiss, and soon enough JB had begun comparing her—unfavorably—to other girls he'd kissed. He'd not really wanted to kiss her again and had quickly moved on to date someone else.

Bill had been her second. His mind had been silent, and that had helped her to relax. Kissing him had seemed perfect. There was passion and exploration—and so much novelty for her. Sam and she had shared a kiss after that. His mind had been red and hot and somewhat frightening. Since then, she'd had many other kisses with Bill and had grown more confident in her own kissing ability.

But what was happening to her now was not something that she could imagine a kiss could be. She'd seen movies where a woman's foot would pop up when she was receiving a good kiss. She'd seen others where the woman seemed to go weak at the knees during a kiss. She'd read phrases in romance novels to describe kisses: "toe-curling," "panty-melting," "breath-stealing." However, she'd never really believed any of those phrases. After all, how could a kiss melt panties?

For herself—at least when it came to things like kisses—Sookie had been trained to expect something less than a romance novel or a movie promised. She'd heard disappointments from hundreds of women's heads when it came to kisses. And how could "crazy Sookie" expect something that a "normal" girl didn't get? How could any telepath expect the stuff of fiction when she'd been inundated with nonfiction and disappointments from the thoughts of every woman she'd ever known?

Gran had liked to quote one of her favorite actresses, Mae West, who said that a man's kiss was his signature. Sookie hadn't had many signers onto her lips, but she'd found that most kisses she'd received—even Bill's after the first few—were like the careless signatures that people scrawled onto checks. They got the job done.

But the way that Eric was kissing her now was every romantic fantasy she'd ever had kissing into her pillow as a teenager wrapped up into one. Soft and hard. Giving and taking. Relaxed and insistent. Revelatory and natural. Searching and finding.

Yielding and unrelenting.

And—in that moment—Sookie knew that she would never be the same. She would never want to kiss another set of lips than the set she was kissing. And it wasn't because she was kissing some kind of "super-kisser" either—though Eric had had a thousand years to work on the physical craft. No. It was because she was kissing him—the man who had come to mean so much to her. For so many nights, his lips had been sharing his burdens and commenting on the burdens that she would share. His lips had—with sighs and smiles and smirks and frowns and winces—been communicating with her own. His lips had been placing tender kisses against her hair, onto her forehead, and upon her cheeks in order to comfort and uplift her.

His lips—his beautiful, perfect lips—had been speaking and curving and kissing her whole ever since she'd known him.

And now—as they finally moved with hers—it seemed as if they were whole together.

Neither Eric nor Sookie was ready to end the kiss when it ended, but a noise from across the room—the clearing of a throat and a little chuckle—interrupted them.

Octavia.

Eric and Sookie looked at each other wordlessly for a moment before turning to the witch.

"Dat light of yours should be nurtured, child," she said with a soft smile. "Dee magic in you is ancient and pure, and I suspect it will surprise dee guest you two have coming soon."

"Guest?" Eric asked, finding his voice before Sookie could.

"My godfather has informed me dat the prince will be here to see you after nightfall, and he is anxious to meet with his great-granddaughter."

With those words, Octavia turned and walked out of the room, leaving both Eric and Sookie gape-mouthed.

"Eric?" Sookie asked, looking at him with still swollen lips. "Who's the prince? And what did she mean by 'great-grandfather?"

Eric looked a little shell-shocked. "The prince is Niall Brigant, prince of the Fae."

"Fae?" she asked, her eyes wide and her hands still pressed against his bare chest.

"Fairies," he said, his eyes suddenly looking guilty.

"Eric?" she asked again.

He sighed deeply. "I contacted Niall because he owed Godric a favor from long ago. Queen Sophie-Anne—using your cousin Hadley—learned that you are part Fae. That accounts for your telepathy and your light."

Sookie felt like the bottom had dropped out of her world. "A fairy? Like Tinker Bell?"

"No," Eric said. "By all accounts, fairies are deadly. And they have no wings. They are a natural enemy of the vampire."

"Why?" Sookie asked, her lower lip now trembling.

"Their blood is intoxicating to us," he said quietly.

In that moment, many thoughts came to Sookie like a light bulb over her head. She pushed herself back from Eric's body and stood up before taking a few steps back from the bed.

"Why didn't you tell me about all of this before? About what I am?"

He sighed. "I wanted to try to find Niall first so that he could explain things to you better."

She shook her head. "After everything that has happened between us—all of our talks—that's not a good enough answer, Eric."

"I know," he admitted, wanting to reach out to her to close the distance she had now put between them. He wanted to go back to her lips—to return to the feeling that kissing her had given him.

"You said fairy blood intoxicates vampires?"

He nodded.

"Is it my blood then? My blood that made you and Bill want to be with me? Is it just that?"

"Both Bill and I made clear to you that your blood was unique, Sookie," Eric said—almost defensively. "And—yes—I admit that the first thing I noticed about you was the scent of your blood."

She closed her eyes tightly. "You once told me that blood is everything to a vampire, Eric."

"I know," he said in a stilted voice.

When her eyes opened, he saw the hurt in them. "This Niall—is he really related to me?"

"I don't know," Eric responded, once again forcing himself not to reach out for her.

"You don't know, or you won't tell me?" she asked angrily.

"I don't know," he repeated.

"A fucking fairy?" she said burying her face into her hands.

He couldn't stop himself from reaching out to her this time. He rose from the bed and took a step toward her. However, she didn't accept his comfort; instead, she moved to sit on the chair.

She looked up at him when he took another step toward her. "This was what you were talking about the night you got me from the hospital. You told me that you'd learned something about me―that there was 'more' to me—but that you didn't have time to tell me then. You said you wanted to talk to someone about it all first—to make sure of things. Is Niall who you meant?"

"Yes," Eric confirmed with a sigh. "The night before I came for you in the hospital, I questioned the queen about why she'd sent Bill to procure you. At first, she insisted that it was just your telepathy, but given what Russell had told me about the light he saw shooting from your hands, I knew there had to be more. Sophie-Anne told me nothing, despite the fact that I threatened to drain Hadley. I did almost drain her," Eric admitted. "Yet Sophie-Anne still didn't tell me anything beyond what I already knew. Hadley eventually did."

"So you almost killed her? You didn't—did you?" she asked with fear in her tone.

"No," he said. "I gave her my blood so that she would heal."

"Doesn't that count as one of those exchanges then?" Sookie asked, trying to ignore the jealousy that was rising in her.

"Yes," Eric said, "but if I don't exchange with her again, it will work just as a tie does, and I wanted to be able to track her. She will likely be with the queen most of the time. Or I could use her blood."

"You could manipulate her with your blood inside of her?"

"Yes."

"Would you?"

"Yes," Eric said unapologetically. "In a heartbeat—if it helped us."

"You don't have a heartbeat, Eric."

He chuckled a little. "One of hers then."

Sookie sighed heavily. "So Hadley said that I was a fairy?"

Eric nodded. "At least that is what Sophie-Anne thought. It was clear from your telepathy that there was something supernatural in your DNA—though such a gift has been known to lie dormant for many, many generations. Telepathy, however, is not strictly a Fae trait. But the sweetness of Hadley's blood—combined with the knowledge of her telepathic cousin—compelled Sophie-Anne to believe that you and your cousin were part Fae. Bill was studying your family tree."

"Why didn't you tell me once we were here, Eric?" Sookie asked, the hurt clear in her tone. "You knew how much I was trying to come to terms with things in my past—with who I am. Knowing why I was different would have helped me."

Eric closed his eyes. "At first, you were too sick. And then I wanted to wait for Niall to contact me—so that I could make sure you were Fae. It is not uncommon for years to go by between contacting the Fae world and getting an answer. Time works differently there. Sometimes minutes there seem like a year here. Other times, a year here can be a hundred there. Time within the Fae world is not constant. It shifts as fairies enter and exit other realms." He sighed heavily. "And then—after a while—it seemed too late to tell you. I knew that you would be upset that I had been keeping it from you."

"That doesn't make any sense, Eric."

"Very few of my actions and feelings regarding you make any sense to me," he admitted, looking at her with an intensity that went straight to her heart.

"Your not telling me—that hurts me," she said softly. "I thought we were past the point where you would keep things from me—especially things about my own life."

"It was not my intention to hurt you, but I knew I would. And I did not want to. That's why I didn't say anything."
His eyes looked almost tortured, racked by a kind of confusion that Sookie had never seen in them before. She felt that same kind of confusion—twisting into her—even as she still felt the tingling of her lips because of the kiss they had shared. It all seemed like too much in that moment—too much to process, too many questions to answer.

So she changed the subject.

"Did I hurt you—with my light?" she asked, looking at his chest.

"No. I don't know how you did it, but it seemed as if all the silver was suddenly burned out of me—but it didn't hurt. It felt," he paused, "like nothing I have ever experienced before."

She looked at him with curiosity in her eyes. "What do you mean?"

"I don't know if I can describe it. I have been a vampire too long to understand or to explain sunlight that doesn't hurt me. But that is what your light seemed to me."

"Why didn't my light hurt you? It's always hurt people before."

"I cannot say," Eric responded. "I could only guess that you intended it to do something else."

"I didn't intend for it to come at all," Sookie said with frustration.

"Sookie?" came Amelia's tentative voice from the top of the stairs.

"It is almost nightfall," Eric said. "The witches will be going soon."

Sookie nodded and stood up. "Will you sleep again? Sleep until night?"

"I do not feel called to rest," he said. "I'll take my shower and join you downstairs after the witches leave—once the sun goes down."

Sookie sighed. "I don't know what to think about everything, Eric."

"Nor do I," he said quietly.

"I don't like that you hid something like this from me."

"Nor do I," he repeated, looking down.

"And I don't like thinking that it's just my blood that made you want me."

"You know it's not," he insisted.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," he responded unequivocally. "Sookie, I was wrong not to tell you that you are Fae. And I was wrong about blood too; it's not everything."

They each moved a step, him to go into the bathroom and her to leave the bedroom. But those steps put them in front of each other. They hesitated. Their eyes exchanged unspoken words—words that neither one of them could have found to speak anyway.

And then, in the next moment, they were kissing once more. This kiss, however, was not a long one. It was over in a second—maybe even less. It was soft. It was him asking for her forgiveness. It was her promising to forgive—to keep trusting in him.

It was a kiss that neither one of them fully understood—but one that they both needed.

Sookie sat on the couch, looking toward the fireplace. Amelia had brought in more wood, and Sookie wanted for Eric to build a fire, despite the fact that it was warm outside.

She had wanted many things for their last night in the house, but it was difficult to imagine them all happening now.

Eric would be subsisting on mostly TrueBlood in the coming days, so Sookie had made sure that there would be A-positive bagged blood in the house. That, she'd come to find out, was Eric's favorite type. She'd also had Amelia pick up the ingredients for her own favorite meal, Gran's fried chicken.

It was to be their last night in the Slidell house—their last night before they left the protective enclave of Octavia's spell. It was to be the night that she told him that some things between them should stay as they had been—the closeness they had established being one of them. She didn't want to imagine sleeping a night away from his cool body now. She didn't want to imagine a time when they didn't sink into each other in a tub of warm water and talk about anything—everything.

But—now—she wasn't sure of things. Could she really trust him if he wasn't even willing to tell her what she was. She wanted to. She shook her head in confusion.

A fairy?

She couldn't imagine where that blood had come from—couldn't imagine what being a fairy really entailed. All that she knew was that it was an explanation for why she was the way she was.

And that—in and of itself—was comforting.

"You said goodbye to the witches?" Eric asked softly as he entered the room.

Sookie nodded.

"There is wood left for a fire," Eric commented, going over to the hearth. "It is warm outside, but perhaps a fire would be . . . ." His voice trailed off.

"It'd be nice," Sookie said, giving him a kind of permission. In their short time thrown together, she had learned that Eric loved fires. They reminded him of his human home. But she'd also learned that Eric would do nothing that "comforted" himself—at least not so long as something was bothering him.

He turned and gave her a hesitant half-smile and then went about building the fire.

"You had a good last visit with your friend?" he asked, not turning back toward her.

"Yes," Sookie said, content to speak of things other than the topics they needed to speak of. "Of course, Amelia won't be able to initiate contact with me, but when I'm able to go back to Bon Temps, she has promised to visit."

Eric nodded, knowing that Sookie and Amelia had become fast friends.

"And her lover? Bob?" he asked.

"Still a cat," Sookie smiled. "But Octavia is looking into how to transform him back."

"I think that their relationship will be over once he is back to his human form," Eric said thoughtfully.

"So do I," Sookie responded with a chuckle.

"Octavia pronounced you well enough to travel—I assume?" Eric asked.

"Yes," she answered.

"So this will be our last night here," he pronounced as he looked into the fire.

Before she could answer, there was a popping noise. In a flash, Eric was between Sookie and the noise, though she was able to peek around his large body and see a man standing before them. His hair was silver gray—like a beam of moonlight. His eyes were sharp and seemed to hold blue, brown, and green—all at the same time. He was dressed in a silvery gray suit, impeccably fitted and with long tails. He carried a cane that looked like it seconded as a weapon—an extremely lethal weapon.

"My dealings with your maker will protect you for this visit, Viking," the man said by way of greeting. His complex eyes spoke of nothing but derision for the vampire in front of him. "And my great-granddaughter has nothing to fear from me, of course."

Sookie's hand went to Eric's arm, and that more than anything else caused the vampire to relax his stance a little.

"I will speak with my great-granddaughter alone," Niall said.

"No!" Sookie immediately said. "No," she repeated even more firmly.

Niall glared at the vampire but then nodded to his kin. "Fine." The elder fairy sat in the stiffest-looking chair in the room even as Eric sat down next to Sookie."

"You are Sookie's great-grandfather?" Eric asked.

"Yes," the fairy spoke. "My son Fintan formed an attachment with Adele Hale. They married—a fact which caused my son to renounce the throne of the Fae and move to this realm for a time. Because of Ms. Hale, the Fae kingdom is now in disrepair," Niall said harshly.

"My grandpa was named Earl, not Fintan, Mr.—uh—Brigant is it? And pardon me, but Gran taught me better manners than to pop into someone else's house, make threats and demands, and then make not-so-subtle insults of someone's grandmother," Sookie said as she reached next to her and found Eric's hand already waiting for hers. He squeezed her hand lightly, a sign of support she needed dearly in that moment.

Niall seemed to be looking straight into Sookie. "You inherited Fintan's spark. And—you may call me Niall."

Sookie shook her head in confusion. "I'm sorry, but I still don't know what you are talking about. Gran was married to Earl Stackhouse, not someone named Fintan."

"After my son became attached to Adele Hale, he took the name, Earl Stackhouse, in order to better fit into this realm. The real Earl Stackhouse—who was the last of his own line—was killed in an accident the week before Fintan met Miss Hale. My son used Fae magic to alter the memories of the townspeople to forget all about that accident and to accept him as being Earl Stackhouse. Miss Hale was the only one who knew the truth of things, though she, too, underwent a memory spell after my son was kidnapped and brought to Faerie by my enemy. I saw to the spell myself."

Sookie felt her world sputtering as Niall continued in an indifferent tone, "I am certain that it is not pleasant to learn that the things you thought were true are not. However, your true family name is not Stackhouse; it is Brigant."

Chapter Text

Chapter 37: In Battalions

"When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions."—William Shakespeare

"What of your son? What of Fintan?" Eric inquired, sensing that Sookie would want to know, but was currently too stunned to ask for herself.

"That is none of your concern," Niall said coldly. "You will not be privy to private matters of the Fae. I answered your call only out of obligation to your maker, and after this day, I will hold that debt paid."

"Godric saved your life," Eric growled.

"He! Not you!" Niall said derisively. "And now—because of your kind—my great-granddaughter is in peril."

"I wanna know what happened to my grandfather," Sookie said quietly.

"The same thing that happened to your parents—though your father did not carry a Fae spark as you do," Niall answered, his tone stony. "They were killed at the orders of my enemy, Breandan, who is the leader of the Water Fae and the son of my own brother."

"My parents were killed in a flash flood," Sookie whispered, even as she began to shake. Eric moved closer to her, and she leaned into him.

Niall took in their closeness with clear disapproval. "Breandan believes that the infertility problems in Faerie are related to our race mixing with humans. In the past, his aim was to kill all those of mixed blood who carried the Fae spark. He believes that anyone who carries the spark in this realm depletes the magic of the Fae. His theory is believed by the Water Fae. Recently, however, his policies against hybrids have changed. He and his mother, Mab, have been collecting those of mixed blood who carry the spark. Instead of being killed, they are being taken to Faerie so that they can help to repopulate the race of the Water Fae."

"They are being used in a breeding program?" Eric asked.

Niall looked down his nose at the vampire, but answered his question this time. "Yes. Breandan's notions are ridiculous and illogical. The Fae have always had trouble with infertility. However, his new policies have gained some popularity, even among the Earth Fae and the Fire Fae—especially now that he's begun placing the hybrids on the frontlines during battle.

"But you said that my dad didn't have the spark thingy. Why would Breandan kill him?"

"Corbett was not the target of Breandan's people the day your parents were killed."

Sookie gasped. "I was?"

Niall nodded. "Yes. Breandan tracked down Fintan and kidnapped him. He then evaluated my son's bloodline in this realm. When it was found that you had the spark, Breandan sent his assassins, Neave and Lochlan, to cause the accident that took your parents' lives. It was thought that you and your brother drowned along with your parents, and your death was celebrated among the Water Fae. After that, Neave and Lochlan were allowed to torture Fintan. Around that time, I captured Mab and exchanged her for my son. But he was too far gone by then. He died not long after he came to me. His dying request was that I watch over his bloodline and protect anyone born with a spark. He also asked that I take Adele a letter."

"He died?" Sookie asked with a whimper.

"Yes. But—to my surprise—I discovered that you had not."

"Jason and I weren't in the car. Mom and Daddy had just dropped us off at Gran's."

Niall nodded. "I contemplated taking you to Faerie with me then; however, since you were already thought dead, I decided that the best course of action would be to leave you in this realm. I wiped the memory of the fairy Fintan from your grandmother's mind and left her with only the recollection of the human, Earl Stackhouse."

"Why?" Sookie asked.

"So that you could never read the truth from her mind. It was clear to me you were a powerful telepath—even then."

Sookie broke down in sobs as she thought about her grandmother losing many of her memories about her beloved. She turned into Eric's arms.

"You seek comfort from an odd source, Great-granddaughter," Niall said with a judgmental sneer.

Sookie let out a harsh laugh and stared at the man who was finally claiming her. "How dare you say that kind of thing to me! If you are my family, you could have offered me comfort when I was growing up feeling all alone and like a freak. You even made it so that Gran couldn't tell me why I was different."

"Make no mistake—I am your family. And this one," he gestured toward Eric, "is your enemy."

"He's not," Sookie whispered.

Niall shook his head. "I did what my son asked me to do in the best way I could," the fairy said sternly. "It was best that not even you knew you were Fae. Therefore, I used magic to hinder your spark, and I left one of my most trusted people to watch over you. However, she has not been able to be near you as of late because of your association with them." He motioned toward Eric. "Vampires," Niall added, spitting out the word.

"It didn't work," Sookie said. "Whatever you did didn't work. My telepathy never went away."

Niall shrugged. "That is because your telepathy is a gift—a Fae ability. It is different from a spark. Telepathy is often found in those with a spark, but not always. You have a nephew—a child of Hadley. He was born a telepath, but carries no spark."

"Hadley had a baby?" Sookie asked.

"Yes," Niall said, somewhat impatiently. "As I vowed to my son, I have continued to monitor those of his line. But Hadley's child is not in danger from the Fae."

Sudden, thick tears streamed down Sookie's cheeks. "But he's a telepath—like me?"

Niall nodded. "Yes," he said emotionlessly.

"And you just left him all alone?"

"He is not alone," Niall said evenly. "The child, Hunter, has a father caring for him. And the vampires do not know of his existence. I have ensured that they will not learn of him from Hadley either. Perhaps your vampire will take him now—now that you've insisted he hear our conversation," he added facetiously.

"How?" Sookie asked.

"He will just take him," Niall scowled. "It is what vampires do."

"No!" Sookie said, clearly frustrated. "How do you know that Hadley won't tell others about Hunter?"

"Oh—a memory charm. Hadley's association with the vampires was a danger to Hunter, so I simply erased him from her mind. She had already abandoned him to her drug use and then her vampires. It is lucky that I was able to find her outside of the queen's estate during the daytime so that I could take her memory of the child away before the queen was alerted to his existence. I learned that day that she had already been the source of them learning about you. But—by then—it was too late to disentangle you from them since you had taken their blood. Now, however, blood is not a factor."

"You made it so Hadley can't even remember her own child?" Sookie asked in disbelief. "How could you do that?"

"It was an easy process," Niall said indifferently.

"No—I mean—how could you be so cruel?"

"It is not cruelty to protect one's kin from monsters of his kind," Niall said, motioning toward Eric again.

The vampire had heard enough. "My kind saved your life, fairy. But now I wish Godric had not!"

"We had a common enemy—your maker and I," Niall said stiffly. "And our truce was to kill that monster. But I did not become friends with the lesser evil—the monster—I worked with." He looked at Sookie. "Make no mistake, my kin, all vampires are monsters."

Suddenly, Eric's whole body stiffened, and he inhaled deeply. His fangs clicked down and his body began to shake.

"Eric?" Sookie asked with concern in her voice. "What's wrong? What's happening?"

"I am no longer masking my scent," Niall said, his voice full of harsh sarcasm. "And you see what he has become. He wants to attack me now—to kill me in front of your eyes. Does he not seem a monster to you now?"

"Eric!" Sookie cried out desperately as she took hold of both of his hands in hers and captured his eyes with hers. "Stop it!" she said toward Niall. "Can't you see that you're causing him pain?"

"Only because he is fighting his nature," Niall said flippantly.

"Stop now or get the hell out of here!" Sookie yelled, even as she held onto Eric's hands tighter. His eyes dilated, his pupils darkening into pools of increasing size. His nostrils flared.

"Sookie," he said almost desperately. "Let. Me. Go."

"You could easily escape from her grip, vampire," Niall said sardonically. "Why don't you show her what you truly are?"

"I know what he is!" Sookie said, raising her wrist toward Eric's elongated fangs. "And if you don't stop what you're doin' right now, Gramps, I'm gonna let him feed on me—even drain me!"

Eric's eyes immediately trained onto Sookie's proffered wrist.

"No!" Niall stormed.

Immediately, Eric's face and posture relaxed as Niall re-masked his scent.

"There is no need for this unpleasantness," the elder fairy said.

"Then why did you do that?" Sookie asked, keeping her eyes on Eric as he tried to compose himself. After a moment, his fangs snapped back into place, and he gave Sookie a little nod.

"You needed to understand what they are like with our kind," Niall said. "Our blood is like a drug to them. They will always want you for your blood. Even though my blood makes up only one-eighth of yours, child, it is still the only reason they want you."

Sookie tried to ignore Niall's words. "Are you okay?" she asked Eric as she softly put her hand onto his arm.

"I am fine," the vampire said before turning to glare at Niall.

Niall sighed heavily. "There is no need for this conversation to continue. Now that you are rid of the monsters' blood, Sookie, you will come with me to Faerie where I can keep you safe."

"Fat chance!" she exclaimed. "I'm not goin' anywhere with you!"

Niall shook his head and glared at Sookie. "You inherited Fintan's defiance too."

"I did not contact you to take her!" Eric seethed. "I didn't even know that she was your kin."

"Why did you contact me then?" Niall asked—truly curious.

"To confirm that she was Fae," Eric said. "And to arrange for her to have help in developing her powers."

"So that you could use her and those powers—I suppose?" Niall sneered at the vampire.

"Yes," Eric said unapologetically. "In exchange for my arranging for the severing spell, Sookie has agreed to help me defeat my enemy."

"That will no longer be happening," the fairy said summarily. "My great-granddaughter will not be staying in this realm and will certainly not be helping the likes of you. I will compensate you for the broken agreement. You need only name your price."

"What the fuck?" Sookie explained. "Listen, I'm not for sale. And there's no way I'm goin' anywhere with you!"

Niall did not acknowledge Sookie's words. Instead he continued looking at the vampire. "Your price?"

"I have no need of material wealth," Eric said. "So if you do not intend to help by providing Sookie with the knowledge of increasing her skills, then you should go. If Sookie chooses, I will have Mr. Cataliades contact you again when her service to me is completed."

Niall smiled. In that moment, he reminded Sookie of a shark. "I do not need your permission to take my kin from this place. You know as well as I do that I could have taken her at any time. Your only choice, vampire, is whether to profit from this situation. Your actions have freed her from vampire blood, and that will enable me to take her to Faerie. And—for that alone—have I sat through this interminable conversation. But—make no mistake—the girl is leaving with me tonight."

"You would not allow her to choose?" Eric demanded, angrily.

"There is no choice to make," the fairy said.

"Wait a minute!" Sookie said insistently. "I'm sitting right here! And you can't make me go anywhere I don't want to go!"

"He can, little one," Eric said grimly, looking at her again. "He can."

Sookie looked into Eric's eyes and saw the truth in them. "Then give me your blood again."

Niall growled. "Should he try to do that, I will blast him to hell where he belongs."

"No!" Sookie yelled. "No," she said much more quietly as she looked back at Eric. "This can't be happening."

"I'm sorry," Eric said. "Had I known this might be the outcome, I would not have made contact with him. I swear it."

"I don't want to go," Sookie said, gripping Eric's hands tighter.

"Enough," Niall said. "You have no choice, Sookie. Right now, I am the only Fae that knows about you, but that will soon change. Your spark has bloomed—despite my efforts to stifle it." He scoffed. "And it is this vampire's fault!"

"How?" Eric demanded.

"Your blood. Your blood being in her caused her spark to mature. It would not have done so otherwise. It would have stayed dormant."

"She had another vampire's blood as well," Eric informed.

"It was your blood, Viking," Niall snarled. "The other's blood was not strong enough or old enough to activate her spark, but a few drops of yours did."

Sookie gasped as she saw the truth in Niall's words. "I think he's right, Eric," she said quietly. "My light thing never happened until after Dallas."

"So you see? The only way to protect her from Breandan and Mab is for me to take her."

"Wait," Sookie said insistently, "I don't have Eric's blood in me anymore. So maybe my spark thing won't work anymore either."

Niall shook his head impatiently. "No. I can feel it even now."

"Then cover it up again!" she requested desperately.

"Even my magic cannot conceal a mature spark," the fairy said almost sadly. "Believe me when I say that I would prefer not to have to deal with your presence in Faerie."

"Then just leave me alone. I'll take my chances with this—Breandan," Sookie said.

"I cannot do that. You have left me without choice either." Niall sighed. "And—perhaps—with time, you and I can become close. You might even find contentment in the Faerie world. You are only one-eighth Fae, but your spark is strong, so you will likely find a mate quickly."

"You would have her breed children for your faction! How is that any different from what Mab and Breandan are doing?" Eric demanded.

"Do not presume to understand my motives or my people," Niall seethed. "She will be able to choose what she wishes to do once we are in Faerie."

"You just won't let me choose whether or not to go?" Sookie asked.

"No," Niall responded instantly. "I cannot have Breandan using you against me."

"Then—uh—I just won't use my spark thing," Sookie tried.

"You won't be able to help yourself, and you will be noticed by others now. The spell around this house is all that has kept them from noticing since the severing spell was completed."

Sookie squeezed Eric's hands and leaned into his embrace, actions which Niall again took in with great displeasure.

The elder fairy sighed loudly. "I will leave this room for five minutes," he said. "When I come back, I will ask you once more for your price, vampire. If you have no answer, then you will receive nothing for her." He looked at Sookie pointedly. "You may take this time to gather anything that you want to take from this place and to say goodbye to the vampire, for this will be the last time you see him."

"No," Sookie said meekly.

"If you try to take her from here or to give her your blood, I will kill you—and her too," Niall said coldly, addressing his words to Eric.

With that, he popped away.

Eric held Sookie to his chest tightly. They were silent for a moment.

"I could try to fight him when he returns—if that is what you want me to do."

"Could you win?" she asked, shaking in his embrace.

"No," he said. "I do not have the appropriate weapons in this place. Plus, he is very strong."

"Maybe I could use my light against him. Maybe if we worked together," she suggested desperately.

"Your light would likely not faze him much," Eric said resignedly. "And he would un-mask his scent again—or perhaps even amplify it—in order to drive me insane with want. He would use that to defeat me. Or," he paused, "I might hurt you." He held her tighter.

Sookie pulled back a little to look at Eric. "He's gonna take me then—isn't he?"

Eric nodded sadly. "I am sorry, Sookie. It is my greed that has led to this. Niall is right. I wanted you to learn how to harness your light because I wanted it to aid me in defeating Russell."

She sniffled and tried to hold back her tears, but they fell anyway. "I'll be mad at you for that later," she said trying to laugh.

"No more angry than I will be at myself, little one," he said, his forehead coming to rest onto hers.

"Eric?" she said.

"Sookie?" he returned, trying to put some levity into their last minutes together by responding to her question in their customary way.

"I want you to know something. I need you to know something."

"What is it?"

"I'm falling in love with you," she whispered, her words surprising them both a little.

"Sookie," he said, his eyes clouding with pain. "If I could love, it would be you."

She nodded as fresh tears fell from her eyes. "Kiss me goodbye?" she asked.

His lips met hers in a crashing, searing kiss, their tongues immediately tasting one another. Eric was tempted to drop his fangs and cut himself with them so that she would be forced to take his blood, but he knew that Niall would follow through with his threat. And—even if he didn't—where would that leave Sookie? Niall wouldn't be able to take Sookie to Faerie then. Niall would have to wait for the blood to leave her body naturally, for a severing spell couldn't be done if the vampire were dead. That would leave the woman in his arms vulnerable to both Russell and the Fae.

Eric called upon the power of his thousand-year-old mind to memorize everything about Sookie—everything about the way her lips felt moving in such harmony against his. He memorized her scent and her taste. He memorized the way her hands were fisting into his hair. He memorized the way her body felt against his. He was not sure what it felt like to love on a romantic level, but he knew that his feelings for her were the closest he would ever get. Yes. If it wasn't love, it was damned close. And he knew that a part of him wouldn't want to continue on once she was gone from his side.

But, he also knew that her going with the fairy was likely the best thing for her. His chances of defeating Russell had never been great. And—since it appeared that he'd inadvertently activated Sookie's latent spark, she would now be in grave danger of being detected by Niall's Fae enemies as well.

But holding her as he was, he couldn't bring himself to regret her taking his blood in Dallas. Despite everything that had happened, it had led them to this moment—a perfect moment, save for one thing: the fact that it would be ending soon.

It was the popping sound in the room that forced their kiss to end. It was followed almost immediately by Niall's disapproving voice. "Come, Great-granddaughter. I have lingered in this realm for long enough."

Sookie looked into Eric's eyes. There was so much that they could have said to each other, but there were no words that seemed appropriate for the moment.

"Now!" Niall shouted, breaking the spell between them.

A sob escaped from Sookie's lips as she was startled by Niall's loudness.

"Have you a price for me, vampire?" Niall asked harshly.

"There is no price," Eric answered, though he didn't look away from Sookie.

"Come, Great-granddaughter," Niall said, a bit more gently than before.

Tears continued to stream from Sookie's eyes as she rose from the couch. Their hands still linked, Eric rose with her.

"Hunter," Sookie said quietly. "If you get out of the Russell thing alive, will you find him? Will you help him?"

Eric nodded, understanding in an instant what Sookie was asking of him. It wasn't protection from other vampires that she was hoping for him to provide. It was protection from his own "gift" of telepathy. She didn't want him to go through the kinds of things that she had to as a child.

"Whether I live or die, I will see to it," the vampire vowed.

Sookie nodded, and then—with another sob—she let go of his hands.

The End of UNINVITED.

Please join me for Part II of the UN-iverse Series, called UNCHARTED.