SIX MINUTES BEFORE SUNSET
[A/N: Bill’s thoughts in the upcoming two chapters take place in about six minutes of “real time.” This might seem odd, given the length of the chapters, but I work with the assumption that vampires can move through their thoughts very rapidly. Please, keep this in mind as you read.]
Vampires did not awaken slowly as humans did. We did not doze. We had no need of snooze alarms or coffee.
Indeed, we were either absolutely awake or completely unaware—unless we were under silver or being kept awake due to the pain caused by fire or direct sunlight.
Then, we might experience a sensation akin to human “grogginess.”
Recently, I had found that out the hard way in Rhodes—when I’d woken up on fire. Thankfully, I was able to extinguish the flames, but the pain from my burns kept me from resuming my day sleep—kept me “groggy”—at least until after Sookie found me.
Of course, Northman had also been “woken” up on that horrible day in Rhodes. But, according to the rumor mill, he had not been awoken by licking flames or cascading sunrays; he had been shaken awake by Sookie—a phenomenon I had never heard of happening before.
The infliction of pain was the only thing that I knew of that could tear a vampire out of his day-death once he had entered it. Torturers loved the method! Hell—Lorena had arranged for Weres, including the Pelt woman, to use silver on my body occasionally each day that I was “with her” in Jackson—just to “make sure she had my complete attention.”
However, according to the rumors, in Rhodes, Eric had awakened without Sookie having to silver him, burn him, or otherwise hurt him, and then he’d made his escape with her and Pam.
Honestly, I did not believe the gossip that indicated that Eric had managed to half-fly and half-sled down the sloped walls of the Pyramid of Gizeh only moments before the hotel all but collapsed. Indeed, I figured that particular story had been propagated—propagandized—by the Viking himself!
But one thing was certain; Sookie had been involved in Eric’s rescue.
I sneered. Why Sookie had not come for me—or even Quinn!—before she went to Eric that day was beyond me. But—of course—she did later find me in the rubble. She ensured my safety, while many other vampires had burned to ash before nightfall.
Yes—Rhodes had taught me that it was possible for a vampire to feel something akin to grogginess as I had waited for Sookie to find me, confident that she would not rest until she did.
But that had been my first time feeling such a semi-conscious state since I had become a vampire—despite the fact that silver had been used on me many times—by my own maker and (much later) by the fairy, Neave.
As a matter of fact, the use of silver on me had always left me in a fully-conscious state—even during the daytime—contrary to what happened to others of my kind.
I had been aware of the abnormal effects of silver on my body for a very long time—ever since the first time that Lorena had punished me for trying to visit my human wife.
Lorena had used a shard of silver to flay the skin from my arms, instead of simply issuing a maker’s command to stop me from repeating my action.
My maker was a great believer in corporal punishment.
That particular punishment had occurred at night—and I had felt every minuscule effect of it. Shortly before dawn, Lorena had wrapped me in silver chains and put me into a wooden box. She had promised that the pain would not be so bad during the day. She told me that I would stay somewhat awake “so that my punishment could continue;” however, the sun’s pull would be enough to make me “groggy.” She promised me something like “down-time.” She also promised me that she would free me when she rose the next night if I promised to behave.
My mind had been so addled with pain by then that I had thanked my sadistic maker for her generosity.
However, despite Lorena’s promises, I had not experienced any kind of merciful bleariness during the day. I had languished in pain, continuing to feel the residual effects of Lorena’s torture and the searing of the silver chain as acutely as I had felt it the night before.
When Lorena had freed me the next night, she had truly thought that I had experienced the usual hazy “respite” that a vampire would experience when under silver during the daytime.
After all, she had been silvered before by both her maker and vampire authorities. But her description of silver’s daytime effects just did not sync with my own experience. However, I did not correct my maker, fearing that she would use the knowledge that I had been fully conscious all day to her advantage in future punishments.
Indeed, it was as if the silver forced my senses to stay activated during the day—almost as if it could override the effects of the sun’s pull itself!
During my travels, as I had collected information for the database which had made me a wealthy, important vampire in the Americas, I found out that my reaction to silver was unheard of—unless there were others, like me, who kept the “gift” a secret.
Oh—I was not immune to silver—not by a long shot! Indeed, perhaps my “gift” had come about because I was less immune to it. Regardless, silver on—or, as I had recently discovered (thanks to Neave’s bite), in—my body kept me not only awake, but also highly aware. Ironically, it was likely my odd reaction to silver that had kept me weakened for much longer than normal following the silver poisoning I received when I rescued my beloved Sookie from those horrid fairies.
I scoffed. I had heard the rumors questioning my vigor that had been proliferated by Eric and those in his soon-to-be obsolete retinue while I’d languished with silver poisoning.
Eric had so “generously” provided me with several donors a night in “payment” for saving the woman I loved.
As if I required restitution for doing that!
The amount of blood I took from the donors should have been enough to heal me of the silver poisoning—long before Judith was contacted by my beloved in order to cure me once and for all. I smiled to myself, confident that Sookie’s contact of Judith was yet another sign that she still loved me—that she would always care more for me than she would ever care about Eric.
I frowned as I thought about the Viking. Indeed, Northman had made no secret of ridiculing my inability to heal despite receiving so many blood donations. Of course, the pompous scallywag had no way of knowing that it was my unique reaction to silver that had caused the delay. Indeed, if I had been able to experience the “grogginess” that should have come during the days following my silver poisoning, I could have achieved something close to down-time, a near-resting state that would have allowed me to heal more quickly.
Simply put: blood and ample sleep—or at least rest—were both needed to revitalize vampires when they were injured. With Neave’s silver-laced poison ricocheting throughout my body, I could not rest. That was why Judith had been needed.
Though some might consider it masochistic, I had, throughout the years, experimented with my “uniqueness,” wondering if the ability silver afforded me—to stay fully aware during the day (even if I was in pain)—could benefit me.
Unfortunately, the things that I would have most liked to do during the day were forbidden to me by my maker or by my vampiric nature.
Early—very early—during my second existence, Lorena had commanded me to never kill her or do anything which might harm her or lead to her true death. Otherwise, she would not have outlived the day when I first discovered that I could palm a piece of silver and stay awake and fully alert as long as I grasped it.
And, of course, more recently, my reaction to silver had not allowed me to spend my days with Sookie, though I had considered telling her my secret so that our hours together might increase.
I would have gladly exchanged a little pain for the pleasure of her company during the daylight hours—even if we could have never enjoyed her precious sun together.
However, I knew that my beloved would not have allowed me to make such a sacrifice, for she would not have wanted me to harm myself. In fact, she had been horrified when I had described “the bleeds” to her—not that I was old enough to force myself to stay awake for long (not without silver aiding me, that is). And—as for older vampires—they carefully guarded how long they could force themselves to stay awake after the sun rose, though almost every vampire I knew had pushed himself to the point of getting the bleeds a time or two.
Just to see how long it would take to succumb.
But succumb we did.
All of us.
Once the bleeds began, even the most ancient among us could not keep themselves awake for long.
Of course, older vampires “evolved” over time to need less sleep and less blood overall, making “the bleeds” irrelevant for them at certain times of the early mornings and early evenings.
I wondered if I was a link in the evolution of vampires. Oh—I needed as much blood as any other vampire turned in the mid-nineteenth century. And I could not normally force myself to stay awake for more than ten minutes or so after dawn without getting “the bleeds,” a time-frame that seemed perfectly normal. I was also at the point that I woke up a little more than six minutes before sundown—again, perfectly normal.
Unless, that is, there was silver involved.
If there was, I could stay awake indefinitely, and—oddly enough—I would not get the bleeds.
Pain, of course, was the tradeoff, a tradeoff that was usually not worth it to me, though I had built up my tolerance to the pain of silver over time. Also, in my experimentation, I had realized that, although staying awake with the aid of silver might not dull my senses, it would eventually wear upon my energy. Like I said, vampires needed rest, and the silver did damage my body.
Still, I had always felt certain that my curious reaction to silver would aid me one day, which was why I had—for more than a year—made a habit of keeping a little velvet pouch on or near my body, a pouch containing my human father’s silver pocket-watch. Indeed, the only time in recent memory when I had not done this was when I had been “called” by Lorena—before the unfortunate events in Jackson occurred.
I’d not wanted Lorena to get hold of the heirloom I’d discovered upon my return to Bon Temps, and I’d also not wanted her to question why I would keep silver nearby when “normal” vampires avoided it like the plague.
I gazed to my left and grasped the silver watch—as if it were a “security blanket.”
Of course, that security blanket was currently wrapped in the safety of thick velvet. I’d not opened the pouch for a long time after Neave bit me with her poison-filled silver teeth, but I’d begun getting used to the feeling of touching the silver watch again—but just for a few moments at a time.
I cringed as I remembered Neave’s deadly teeth—and the teeth of her lover, Lochlan; those weapons had glittered brightly, even in the dank shack where they had tortured my beloved.
I shuddered at the memory of what I had seen in that shack.
Sookie: beaten, battered, bloody.
The bite marks.
The divots of missing flesh on her once-smooth skin.
Neave and Lochlan had focused their attentions on Sookie’s “soft parts,” taking hunks from the undersides of her arms, her breasts, her stomach, her ample thighs, her calves. The two fairies had been so maniacal—so fierce—that they might have bested Niall and me had they not been engaged in an incestuous act (virtually on top of Sookie’s agonized body) when we had burst into the cabin—like the conquering heroes we were!
Niall had engaged Lochlan, as I had faced Neave. Unfortunately, she managed her bite just as I executed a death-blow with my iron blade.
Sookie had been bleeding profusely, her sweet elixir calling to me.
But I had resisted taking her blood—despite being poisoned—even as Niall had beheaded Lochlan.
As I had staggered to a wall that would support my flagging weight, I had noticed that Sookie’s clothing had been all but ripped off, and—though she had not been raped (thank God)—I had no doubt that the sadistic twins would have eventually gotten around to that. They had been too busy penetrating Sookie’s body with their horrific teeth and fucking each other in her spent blood to turn their sexual appetites upon her. I took some comfort in that thought; at least Sookie had not had to deal with sexual assault—again.
A moment of guilt shook me.
But—even before that horrible night in Mississippi when I had penetrated my fangs and more into Sookie—I had never made love to her “honestly.” Indeed, many of our sexual encounters had come well before I loved her—when I was still prioritizing my assignment from Sophie-Anne over Sookie.
I sighed deeply, thinking back to the night I had taken the telepath’s virginity, for “the telepath” had still been the way I’d thought about Sookie at that time. She had been vulnerable—heartbroken by her grandmother’s murder and raw from the thoughts of the people of her hometown. Many of those thoughts had blamed her for Adele’s death.
Moreover, a serial killer had still been on the loose at the time, and Sookie had been afraid.
I had taken advantage of her sorrow and fear; I had wanted her vulnerability.
“I let it happen,” I said to myself, making a confession to my dark resting place that I would never be making to anyone else.
The “it” was Adele’s murder.
Of course, I’d heard Rene Lenier’s vehicle approaching the Stackhouse home on that ill-fated night after the Descendants of the Glorious Dead meeting. After making sure that Sookie was not in the home, I’d quickly weighed my options. 1. I could capture the killer, save Adele, and become a hero in Sookie’s eyes. 2. I could let Lenier do as he wished and then show up in the aftermath of the situation to offer support and comfort to an aggrieved Sookie. One bonus to this option was that Adele, a possible impediment that might influence Sookie to stay in Bon Temps, would be dealt with. Another bonus would be Sookie’s further susceptibility to my influence.
In the end, I’d chosen the second option, for I had much more experience with exploiting the vulnerabilities of others than playing the hero. Plus, a near-death experience for Adele might have caused Sookie to cling to her grandmother even more than before, something that was not expedient to my goals.
As much as I’d liked the elderly woman, the sacrifice of Adele Stackhouse was good for my cause. At the time, I’d alleviated my own slight guilt by acknowledging that Adele’s human life was already waning due to her age. Sagely, I’d not told my queen about my lack of action on the matriarch’s behalf since Adele was also Hadley’s grandmother.
“And, of course, Sookie must never know,” I said into the dark.
I closed my eyes and momentarily took the silver pocket watch out of the velvet pouch, letting it singe my skin—punishing myself.
If I could only do things over again . . . .
Putting the watch away and then closing the pouch tightly, I acknowledged that the situation had not been my fault. I’d been following the will of my vampire queen and my nature. I’d not been the one to kill Adele, nor had I glamoured Lenier to perform the act. And—even at the time as I’d watched the deranged serial killer slip into the house—I’d known that Lenier might spare Adele if the old woman did not see him; unfortunately, she did.
I nodded to myself. Yes—Adele’s murder was not my responsibility. And what vampire would blame me for taking advantage of the situation that followed? Sookie had been the one, after all, to seek me out with the intent of losing her virginity in order to escape her grief. She had needed comfort on a carnal level, and I had been a generous lover to her, making sure that she felt great pleasure before I allowed myself to bite into her supple flesh and taste her lust-filled blood.
Yes—against vampiric nature, I had endeavored to be gentle with Sookie—human with her—knowing that it was her first time.
Strangely, it was after the sex that I remembered most vividly—the intimacy of having a human hold onto me for the first time since I had been turned. Indeed, during the last few hours of that long night, Sookie had even trusted me with the secret pain caused by her uncle’s molestation of her!
Remembering how it had felt to kill Bartlett Hale, I smiled. Remembering how Sookie had disapproved of that act, however, I frowned.
There had been so many things that I did not understand about Sookie back then. But, once I realized I loved her, I endeavored to try to understand her. Now, I recognized that Sookie was so kind—so forgiving—that she did not wish anyone ill-will.
Not even her enemies.
The only being she had ever seemed disinclined to offer the benefit of the doubt to had—tellingly—been the Viking. Her skepticism of him had given me hope.
Indeed, Sookie’s kind nature and her wariness of Northman were why I knew she would take me back as her mate. She had already forgiven me for the situation with Queen Sophie-Anne, after all. And she had never actually blamed me for what happened in the trunk, though the incident had made her standoffish of me for a time. Indeed—despite her dalliance with the Tiger—I felt that Sookie and I had been well on our way back to being a couple before Northman forced me to tell her about the queen’s assignment.
“She should have never been told,” I whispered with a growl.
“Once Northman is out of the way, all will be as it should,” I continued.
Yes—with Eric gone—Sookie and I would have all the time in the world to renew our intimacy.
Both the emotional and the physical kind.
And, this time, I would not allow politics to come between us—even once we were in Felipe’s court. Sookie would know that I treasured her above all else, and I would endeavor to keep our personal relationship separate from our work. Moreover, I would do all that I could to make her feel as if she came first in my life, even if—by necessity—my king would actually hold that place.
“But Sookie need never know that either,” I whispered into the dark.
A/N: So-anyone else feel the need to take a shower? In this chapter, I wanted to show a little more of the depth of Bill’s delusions. Also, some of the information about Bill’s unique reaction to silver will become important a bit later. Hopefully, the description wasn’t that confusing. What’s key now is to understand that Bill’s something of a masochist; whether he was made that way by Lorena or naturally that way is up for debate. I tend to think a bit of both is likely true. Anyway, I hope you liked the chapter. Thanks to those of you still reading and especially to those that take the time to offer a comment. Even if I cannot respond to most of them because of work, health issues, etc., I cannot thank those of you who encourage me enough! Y’all help to keep me going!
As always, many thanks to Kleannhouse and Seph!!!