DR. LUDWIG POV
“Do you have it?” the Northman asked.
I rolled my eyes. “Yes. But it is going to cost you; indeed, I’m surprised your witches didn’t take care of this part of your cloak and dagger act,” I responded acerbically.
Despite my tone, however, the truth was that I had warmed to the cold creature in front of me over the years—mostly because Eric Northman was only cold in the literal sense. In the ways that mattered, the vampire was “warm,” and his sense of humor had almost been enough to make me laugh out loud a time or two. Generally speaking, only my own sense of humor could accomplish that feat.
“The witches used most of their supplies on the privacy and protection spells for Sookie’s farmhouse,” the tall vampire returned, looming over me.
I rolled my eyes again. It seemed like Eric enjoyed looming whenever he dealt with me so that I would have to look up—and then up again! If I didn’t know that he was amused by teasing me in such ways, I would have been more annoyed.
“Plus, my bonded’s witches are not sure that they could cover the bond-scent and the scent of my blood without covering Sookie’s own essence, and that would seem suspicious,” he continued.
I shrugged. “You are lucky I had the supplies needed, but—then again—I had a sudden boon on Dae blood this morning. Diantha was accommodating. You are lucky that she inherited the gift of covering up her Supernatural essence.” I sneered. “Honestly, I find that particular ability to be almost useless these days, but—with my skillful manipulations—the Dae blood will work to camouflage all that is Supernatural inside of Miss Stackhouse. Of course, that includes what is Fae about her—in addition to the bond and your blood.”
Eric frowned and nodded. “Understood. Unfortunately, a better solution did not present itself. We are counting on Compton’s ineptitude at recognizing the difference. And—as you know—Felipe has never smelled Sookie without our bond. He will likely believe that the mild Fae scent she carried was enhanced by my blood and disappeared when our bond supposedly did. Anyway,” he sighed uncharacteristically and dragged his fingers through his long, blond hair almost nervously, “the charade need not last for long. Once the players are all in place, then Sookie’s scent won’t matter.”
I shrugged again, feigning indifference. After all, I wasn’t about to let the Viking know that I favored his cause to the extent that I would have been willing to give him a discount for my services if he’d asked for one; luckily, the Viking never asked for such things.
It was in times like this—times when an inept, power-hungry asshole like de Castro hoarded power—that I was glad that the Hippocratic Oath was not something I had to worry about.
Because—sometimes—I did like to do harm.
I liked it very much!
That being said, there had been a time when I would have objected to doing harm to Felipe de Castro, but he’d devolved over the previous decade, and the trouble he would be making if he wasn’t stopped was significant. On the other hand, Eric Northman would be a good king.
And I wasn’t even speculating about that. I’d heard about each of the possible futures from the horse’s mouth! Or—at least—I thought that the Ancient Pythoness looked sort of like a horse. Indeed, I’d even told her that to her face when she’d called me a troll.
Notwithstanding, the old battle-axe was my friend—one of the few I tolerated.
“The concealment potion will last only until dawn,” I said, holding up two bottles for the Viking to see. I handed him one of the bottles.
“What’s this?” he asked, looking impossibly handsome as his eyebrow rose.
If I were only a little younger . . . .
“This potion will counteract the other if your bonded needs to smell like you—and/or herself—before dawn.”
The Viking smiled. “I did not ask for an antidote, but it will be good to get her scent back to normal as soon as possible.”
“In that case, I’ll expect double the price we spoke of,” I intoned. Thinking of giving a discount was one thing. Actually giving one was another.
“Always worth the price!” he smirked.
“So—when am I to earn my Oscar?” I asked.
His eyebrow rose even as my phone buzzed in my pocket.
“Timely,” I remarked before touching the button to answer the call.
“What!?” I greeted caustically, causing Eric to smirk.
I listened as Thalia tersely acted out her own lines. “Sookie Stackhouse is ill. We need you at her home immediately.”
I rolled my eyes. “What’s wrong with her this time?” I demanded.
“I believe,” Thalia paused, “that she broke her bond with Eric Northman. She is not mentally stable.”
“Well breaking a fucking bond will do that,” I muttered unpleasantly, knowing that any vampires within twenty feet of Thalia would pick up my words just fine. Speaking of my words, I noticed that Eric cringed at them. Clearly, even the thought of his bond with Sookie being broken jolted him to the core.
Hell! The very idea disgusted even me—though I was as likely to bond with a creature as I was to take up singing show tunes! Some things ought not to be done—whether with science or magic! I intended to have a long talk with Octavia Fant about her witches even contemplating a bond-breaking spell!
I looked again at Eric, who had regained his calm demeanor. Though I would never outwardly demonstrate enough compassion to admit it, I was glad that Sookie Stackhouse had not hurt the Viking with such an ill-advised deed.
“To break a bond is to break something within the very fabric of magic,” I said aloud—judging harshly anyone who would be so fucking foolish.
“Well—yes,” Thalia said, even as Eric shut his eyes tightly. “But what is done, is done. Will you help her?”
I let out an exaggerated sigh. “Will Northman even pay for her care anymore?” I groused. “I wouldn’t if I were him,” I added.
“If he does not, I will!” Compton yelled out.
Typically, the Confederate cock-stain was quite anxious to profess his “devotions” for Sookie Stackhouse. Of course, he’d rarely followed through—though his actions during the Fae conflict had been admirable.
Admirable—but likely motivated by his desire to worm his way back into Sookie’s heart.
It made me like the somewhat flighty telepath a bit more that she didn’t fall for Compton’s hero/victim persona, though I knew that she’d felt personally responsible for his silver poisoning.
“Thalia, you can tell Mr. Compton that I will take his money,” I said, winking at Eric. “I’ll be there when I get there,” I added before ending the call.
After I hung up, I regarded the Viking for a moment—even as he was looking right back at me. I tended to intimidate even the largest of men, but Eric Northman had never cowed to me. Nor did he expect me to be intimidated by him.
Yes—it was safe to say that I would be disappointed if he died.
“Good luck,” I said finally. “I hope you gut that motherfucker,” I added.
He smiled a little—a sincere smile, rather than his usual smirk. “Yes. That would be pleasant. But—if things do not go my way—I have taken pains to ensure you are not implicated.”
“I’m touched,” I returned sarcastically—not wanting the sincerity to get out of control! “But don’t fool yourself; Felipe de Asshole wouldn’t be able to touch me even if I held a fucking parade in your honor.”
Eric’s smile—thankfully—returned to a smirk. “Well then—let us part with my assurance that your payment for your services has already been transferred from an untraceable account to your Caymans account.”
“Already double?” I asked.
“More than double what we agreed. An actress ought to be paid her worth—yes?” the Viking commented.
I almost chuckled, but held onto my usual pissed off expression. “I intend to bleed Billy-boy for a little more payment.”
Eric did chuckle. “I wish that I could witness his asshole pucker when you name your price.”
I let out a half-chuckle, half-scoff, which was as far as I was willing to go to show my amusement.
Before I allowed myself to smile at the vampire, I teleported away.
I stood back and enjoyed the “show” going on before me. The trollish doctor had arrived a few minutes before and was grumbling unpleasantly.
Compton was pathetic.
He was wringing his hands and worrying over “Sookeh.”
Indeed, Compton made Bubba look like a Mensa member!
Sookie wasn’t that good of an actress, but she clearly had the male members of her audience convinced that she was practically unhinged.
Pacing through the yard, Bubba was worried and confused. Though I felt a little sorry for him, it was best that we’d left him in the dark for now.
I’d seen Bubba’s films. Even in his “right mind” as a human, he’d been a horrible actor!
And Ludwig was a bitch—whether she was acting or not!
But I really did like that bitch.
“Drink, human!” Ludwig ordered Sookie, who didn’t react to the doctor’s words.
“Help me!” the little doctor ordered me.
Playing my part, I held down Sookie as she was “force-fed” the “medicine” needed to calm her.
“What will it do to her?” Compton demanded.
Why—again—couldn’t I just stake him?
“Honestly?” Ludwig asked.
“No—lie to me,” Bill said sarcastically.
Ludwig grunted. “Pay first,” she challenged.
Bill frowned, even as the doctor dug her phone out of her pocket, pushed a few keys and tossed it to Bill, who still couldn’t step onto the porch. Funny—the doctor had had no trouble.
Bill looked at the screen.
“My Swiss bank account number,” Ludwig said. “Tonight’s visit is five thousand dollars. Chop, chop!”
I almost broke down and laughed at the expression on Bill’s face. Pam would have snapped a picture, despite the subterfuge.
Probably best that she wasn’t there.
I wondered for a moment if Bill was going to spend the tiny amount. As Northman’s second—for the moment, at least—I’d taken the liberty of looking through all of Area 5’s accounts. They were impeccably kept—just as I’d expected them to be with the Viking in charge. They indicated that Bill’s little database earned him more than twenty thousand dollars a month.
But—still—the asshole paused.
More like—puckered—given the constipated expression on his face.
“‘Chop, chop’ is a Cantonese phrase, but it’s common enough that even you should know it. But—just in case your vernacular is as outdated as your sideburns—it means to do something right away—as in immediately,” Ludwig groused, as if talking to a small child. “So. Do. It.”
Reluctantly, Bill used his own phone to make a transfer and then tossed the doctor’s phone back to her.
Seeing the confirmation of the deposit, Ludwig pocketed her phone and then looked at her “paying customer.”
“The potion I gave to Miss Stackhouse will calm her nerves. The breaking of the bond with Mr. Northman has affected both her body chemistry and her psyche. Bonds ought not to be broken.”
“Eric is not worthy of her,” Compton growled.
I rolled my eyes—discreetly.
“Worthiness is not always recognized by the blood of humans—unfortunately,” the doctor said cuttingly, though Compton did not pick up on the insult. “And—no matter the cause—a broken bond brings repercussions to all who suffer from one.”
“So Eric is suffering too,” Compton said with a satisfied smile on his lips.
The asshole clearly liked the idea of his sheriff in pain.
I barely prevented my fangs from running out! I took a moment to wonder what Eric Northman could have done to earn Compton’s derision. I came up with no answer. Eric ran one of the fairest territories I’d ever lived in. Shown the proper respect, he would help and protect any vampire who entered his retinue.
Clearly, Bill had never shown the proper respect to Eric. I did not know if that was because of misguided pride or cluelessness, but Compton’s lack of respect for his better irked me; it always had.
Hell! Though almost a millennium older than Compton, I respected Eric, and I recognized that he was my “better” in many ways. Of course, I respected him even more because he knew that I was his “better” in other ways.
Looking at Compton, I doubted he was better than anyone at anything.
“I’d be surprised if the Viking is able to get out of his coffin tonight,” the doctor murmured, though I was certain Bill heard her.
For her part, Sookie pretended to be coming somewhat “back to herself.” From my position within the barrier of the house’s protection and privacy spells, I was able to distinguish that her scent—which had reeked of the Viking—had transformed into something that was missing Eric.
Missing all things supernatural.
And that meant that the doctor’s potion had worked.
“Sookie—please let me help you,” I said, using the exact phrase that Sookie was expecting to confirm that her scent was covered.
Sookie looked at Bill and then rose with my help. “Bill? Bill?” she asked as she stumbled toward him.
“Darling,” Compton said.
Honestly, I did not know how Sookie prevented herself from vomiting as she stepped from the barrier of the witches’ spell and into the embrace of Bill Compton.
“Help me?” Sookie asked in a small voice.
Bill’s expression demonstrated that he thought he’d won something.
“Of course!” he said as he held her tightly.
“She’s going to need more than that dose,” Ludwig said, “and the potion’s not cheap!”
Bill growled. “King Felipe de Castro will be seeing to her care from now on!”
“Then I’ll see you in Vegas when her condition requires for you to call me again,” Ludwig said before teleporting away.
Bill looked at me as Sookie sobbed in his arms. “I am going to take her to the king.”
I pretended to consider something before I responded. “I was ordered to stay with her. I will come with you.”
Compton regarded me warily.
“My sheriff is my sheriff,” I said. “I must follow Northman’s orders. And,” I paused for effect and looked at the now placid Sookie, “I have some regard for this woman. She was reckless to break her bond, but she was trying to regain control of her life. I can empathize with that impulse,” I added truthfully.
Indeed, during my human days, those around me tried to control every element of my existence. And—when I’d had independent thoughts concerning my life—I had been raped by a gang of men and left for dead.
My maker had not given me a choice concerning my next existence, but—after my transformation into a vampire—I had been given more by him than I’d ever dreamed. On the night that I rose, my maker taught me to feed by allowing me to take the lives of the men who had harmed me. And—after he taught me many things that only increased my strength and power—he released me from his control.
“She has freed herself from Northman!” Compton spit out, breaking me from my thoughts of the past.
Had Sookie really broken her bond with the Norseman, I might have supported her choice—but only if Eric had been abusive to her. However, on the contrary, Eric had never treated Sookie badly, nor even like a pet. Indeed, with quite a risk to himself, he’d manufactured the situation so that she could keep her freedom—even if it had taken her a long time to recognize that.
As I looked at Bill, I could see that he truly believed that Eric was an evil presence in Sookie’s life. I could also tell that he would take everything from the telepath that Eric had wanted to give to her. Yes—Compton was the type who would trade Sookie’s freedom to gain favor with her captor, even as he tried to convince her that his actions were heroic.
He was also the type who would believe that he was—indeed—the hero of the story.
He was deluded, and he needed to be slain. I resolved in that moment that I would be killing him, despite Sookie’s wish that he stay alive. For her sake, I would make the death seem accidental, but it would be happening as soon as I could arrange things.
Otherwise, Compton would never stop in his obsessive attempts to possess and control Sookie Stackhouse.
“Miss Sookie and Mister Eric ain’t together no more?” Bubba asked, clearly upset and confused by the idea.
“That remains to be seen,” I said as I looked at Bill.
“You know that—without a bond—the king will claim Sookie,” Bill said at a volume that Sookie would not be able to hear. “You also know that, if Eric gets to her before she has the protection of the king, he may kill her—or, at the very least, punish her greatly—for severing the bond.”
I nodded. “Yes—you are likely correct.” I pretended to resolve a matter I’d been struggling over. “You say the king will be at Fangtasia. So will the sheriff. We will all go there.” I looked at Sookie pityingly. “She has set her fate into motion; I hope she is ready to face the consequences.”
“The only consequences will be positive for her. Felipe will treat her well,” Bill insisted, still speaking at a low volume.
“But she will have a new master—when she risked so much to free herself from the old one,” I commented, even as I disentangled a now-docile Sookie from Bill’s embrace and lifted her into my arms. I had to admit that she was good at pretending to be stoned.
Compton looked put out that I’d taken her from him, but he didn’t argue.
Instead, he inhaled deeply and then frowned.
“What is it?” I asked.
“She smells different now that she is free of the bond,” he said.
I held in a chuckle. “Of course she does!”
“No—I mean—before—when I first knew her—she had a sweetness to her scent from the Fae blood,” he commented.
“She’ll get back to her old self soon as she feels better,” Bubba commented. “She’s just poorly now,” he added.
Bill nodded, accepting Bubba’s diagnosis.
Apparently, the idiot was willing to be led by the simpleton.
Not that I was surprised. I also wasn’t surprised when Bill went to try to take Sookie from my arms.
“I won’t drop her,” I intoned.
“She would rest easier with me,” Bill said.
“She’s not feelin’ anything much now—from the looks of things,” Bubba commented.
“Sookie is my charge until my sheriff says otherwise,” I said tersely.
“She no longer belongs to Eric,” Bill commented.
“If my sheriff is ordered to relinquish her by the king, then she is not his. But, until that moment, I will do as I was ordered,” I returned.
Wisely, Bill didn’t get into a “turf war” with me—though it was clear that he wanted to be the one to hold Sookie.
“Then, I will drive,” Bill stated. “My vehicle would be the most comfortable for Sookie anyway,” he added with a tiny nod of deferment in my direction.
I nodded back to agree with his plan.
“Sookie need not be jostled. I will go get my vehicle and bring it here,” Bill stated before speeding away—if the rate at which he moved could be called “speeding.” For one his age, his speed should have been double what it was. Hell! Even Bubba was faster! And he was a fraction of Bill’s age.
I rolled my eyes as I heard Bill call Felipe de Cape. Obviously, the Civil War-era sycophant had used the opportunity of being out of my presence to offer the king a report.
As if I couldn’t hear every word he said!
Clearly, Compton had no idea how a vampire’s age affected the senses.
Bill told the king that he “had Sookie” and would be presenting her as requested. He “offered” the details that Sookie was ill and that the good doctor had reported that Northman would also be impaired—because of the breaking of the bond. What he did not say was that he had any suspicions about Sookie’s Supe-less scent.
I smiled to myself as Bubba fussed over Sookie. “Hold her for me?” I asked the crooner.
Bubba looked confused, but he still took Sookie.
Bill’s role in the production being finished, I sped away to capture the “Rebel refuse.”
A/N: Hi all! I hope you enjoyed this chapter. I love Dr. Ludwig and Thalia! I don’t have time for a long author’s note b/c I’m swamped with grading to do! I hope, however, that you will give me a comment if you have the time/inclination.
Many thanks, as always, to Seph and Kleannhouse!!!!! Love you ladies!