[A/N: Anything in bold is a direct quote from All Together Dead.]
“A cute little baby bomb,” I muttered, almost madly, as I wondered if the help the King of Kentucky offered would arrive in time.
I looked down at the can. I knew enough about bombs from watching movies to know that they shouldn’t be moved much.
So I ordered the same hand that had picked up the object to hold it steady, and then I brought up my other hand to help it out when the first one started to shake.
“No shaking now. Not yet,” I ordered myself. “Later—I’ll let you shake about everything. Later.”
My hands stilled to stone.
Well—at least—it was now clear to me that I did, indeed, have some self-preservation instincts no matter what anyone else might have said.
Just not enough of them to have never picked the can up in the first place.
“Fucking overkill with the bombs,” I silently admonished any Fellowship member involved in the fucked up situation that I was smack dab in the middle of.
Or maybe the Fellowship hadn’t planted the bomb in my hands. With my luck, a rogue health freak had planted it as an ironic protest.
They—whoever “they” were—did say that soda was bad for one’s health.
“I’ll never have a Dr. Pepper again if you just get me out of this one, God,” I begged and vowed in a whisper.
Just then the elevator door opened and Quinn stepped out. His face was a picture of tension and concern. From his mind, I heard that he’d been near Clovache when Batanya had contacted her. So he knew about the bomb.
Just like I knew about all the bombshells in his thoughts.
“Just put it down, babe,” he coaxed gently, though his mind was screaming the words.
“I’d love to,” I responded truthfully. “I’d also love to climb into a time machine and never pick it up in the first place,” I muttered. “Never get involved with you in the first place,” I added in my head.
“Put it down,” Quinn repeated—ordered.
I shook my head, not having the energy to tell him about the various movies I’d seen that contradicted his request.
“Okay—then hand it to me,” the Weretiger cajoled.
I looked into Quinn’s violet eyes, knowing that I’d never be able watch another Elizabeth Taylor movie again. I wanted to slap him. When I was a child, National Velvet had been one of my favorites.
Indeed, part of me—a bitter and vindictive part—wanted very badly to hand him the bomb and then tell him to shake it up.
After I’d left, that is.
But I wasn’t that bad of a Christian. Not yet. And Quinn had been forced into his betrayal of me as much as Bill had once been. I’d been a “job”—pure and simple. That didn’t mean I could forget the betrayal, however—or even really forgive it. But I could understand priorities.
Quinn’s priorities included his mother and sister—and his desire to be free of vampire politics. Understandable.
Given those truths, it was downright gallant that he’d even come up to join me in my peril. I looked into his thoughts. Yes—he cared about me, even more than he’d thought he had five minutes before. But I knew that the emotion of the moment was messing with the priorities he so clung to.
And I also knew that—despite the dreadful moment we were going through—there was nothing in his mind compelling him to tell me about his secret motivations. There was nothing telling him to purge his soul and to come clean—not that I wanted to be his confessor.
But I did want a man who would tell me the truth—especially when faced with the possibility of death.
But I had no such luck with Quinn. It’s not like we would ever be a “we” again—not after his mind had unwittingly spilled his secrets. But it would have been nice to not hate him.
“Give it to me!” he ordered again.
“No,” I responded evenly. “The King of Kentucky promised to send help, and I bet they’re sending a guy—or gal—in one of those special bomb suits up here right now. Until then, I’m not moving, and neither is this can,” I added firmly.
From the looks of things, Quinn was quite perturbed by my defiance. But I no longer gave a fuck about what he thought of me.
I wasn’t “his.” And he certainly wasn’t “mine.”
“You are willing to martyr yourself—aren’t you? For those fucking vamps!” Quinn said bitterly, his anger stirring and his thoughts darkening. “I don’t see any of them here ready to help you out! So just give me the fucking bomb!” he added, raising his voice.
“One is here,” Eric said softly, stepping out of the stairwell.
In truth—somehow—I’d felt Eric before I saw him; I just hadn’t known what I was feeling. But now that he was there, I realized that I’d somehow been tracking him as he’d flown up the stairs like a bullet—a bullet with golden hair and a god-like physique. And—somehow—I’d felt better, more sure of myself and of my survival, with each foot he’d traveled.
“We’re bound a bit too tightly to suit me, Sookie. I’m here to die right along with you, it seems,” he said, taking away a bit of my new-found optimism.
“Get the fuck away from her!” Quinn yelled.
“I’ve heard of bomb-sniffing dogs, but not bomb-sniffing tigers,” Eric smirked.
Quinn snarled and Eric growled back.
“Not helping,” I whispered as their noises seemed to stir up the air in the room—air I wanted to be perfectly still.
Quinn kept making threatening noises, but Eric stopped, though his expression was still almost feral. In that moment, I was struck by how dangerous Eric Northman really was, especially to me.
Though not physically.
Something else struck me too; Eric held my heart in his hands, just as I held the bomb in mine. And with one little squeeze of it—from him—I knew my heart would break into a million pieces.
Once upon a time, I’d given my heart to Bill. It had taken his indifference, followed by his unfaithfulness, followed by his raping me, followed by his betraying me—but I had finally managed to take my heart back from him.
And I’d patched it up with figurative duct tape and superglue—only to find that I’d already given it away again.
This time to a one thousand-year-old Viking who didn’t even remember he had it.
Yes—Eric had possessed my heart since he’d stayed with me, but I’d convinced myself that another Eric was in possession of it. I’d convinced myself that this other Eric had taken it to whatever make-believe world he’d gone back to—a world full of fairytales with princes and princesses who got to live happily ever after surviving only one big battle, rather than having to face nothing but battles forever.
Yes—that was where I’d convinced myself that my heart had gone. And the beating muscle in my chest? Well—it was simply a pump for vampire sustenance, but hollow of real feelings.
I almost laughed. Because of Hallow, I was hollow.
She’d managed to curse me too.
Despite my made-up fairytale world where I had pretended my heart was protected, I had felt heartache whenever I saw a flicker of Sheriff Eric’s eyes turn into my Eric’s eyes.
“Never the two shall meet,” I whispered, eliciting a funny look from the vampire before he went back to glaring at Quinn.
I looked at the bomb in my hands. Maybe I was meant to be a Tinman. Maybe if Eric crushed my heart, he’d be doing me a kindness. Not having a heart, after all, would mean that I wouldn’t be capable of feeling heartache—or loss.
I didn’t know why I needed to replace the tense silence in the room with words, but I did. “This is all so awkward,” I stated the painfully obvious, with a nervous—almost hysterical—laugh.
Vampire and tiger both looked at me like I was crazy as I laughed even harder, though my hands stayed perfectly still.
A feet of physics—let me tell you.
“Give it to me,” Eric coaxed as he looked at that soda can; his tone was like the serpent in Eden. He was trying to convince, cajole, charm.
In the South, it was called sweet-talkin.’ And Eric did it much better than Quinn.
However, I wasn’t particularly fond of sweets—except for a certain pecan pie, which was last made by a person who was just as dead as I was probably about to be.
I continued to snigger as I shook my head in denial in the direction of the vampire.
“I am stronger than you,” he reasoned. “I could survive a blast.”
“Fuck him, babe!” Quinn yelled. “Send him away! Give me the bomb!”
I laughed bitterly. “Maybe I should give it to you, babe,” I said, saying his pet name for me sarcastically. I’d never liked it. “And then Eric and I could blow this Popsicle joint.”
“Excellent idea, lover,” Eric said roguishly.
It was clear that the vampire liked either my words or my shitty pun. Or maybe he could just tell from my emotions that I was no longer fond of Quinn.
I ignored the Viking for a moment and kept looking at the Weretiger. Clearly, Quinn had been hurt by my words. I steeled myself, knowing he’d be hurt by my next ones even more.
I took a moment to regret what might have been with Quinn. Granted, I hadn’t really had a heart to give him, but I had given him my affection. He’d been the only warm-blooded creature I’d ever “been” with, and I’d been ready to make an effort to share my life with him. But now all that was done.
It seemed that the truth was always quite damaging to my relationship chances. Maybe that’s why I’d been so reticent about telling Eric about our time together. After all, the fairytale version of him would have never crushed my heart. Sheriff Eric—like Quinn and Bill—had other priorities. And I just didn’t know where I ranked among them.
But I figured that I was lower than most vampires and higher than most other humans.
I shook my head, expelling thoughts of Eric for the moment. There were bombs to be dealt with—the least of which was the one I was holding!
And there was the bombshell to drop.
I looked at Quinn through narrowed eyes, and I spoke his thoughts aloud into the corridor.
“You hate Eric because he’s a vampire and because you perceive him to have more freedom than you will ever have. You do want me to give you this bomb, but mostly so that you can be the hero. Oh—and so that you can lord our relationship over Eric. Like you’ve been trying to do every time you could for months. You like doing that, and you are glad that I’ve been too clueless to pick up on it. You also like me, and you even enjoyed fucking me—though I’m tainted goods to you. But—I know that the main reason you enjoyed the sex was because you liked the idea of taking the ‘property’ of a vampire, and you knew that Eric and I had shared blood. You liked the idea of beating him.”
“Sookie?” Quinn asked, for the first time hesitating in the way he spoke to me. Immediately, he tried to cover up his thoughts, too.
Too late. Way too late.
I sighed and shook my head. “‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ isn’t gonna help you, John.” Let’s see how he liked being called something he didn’t prefer.
His expression became horrorstruck as it was confirmed that I was, indeed, inside of his head.
“You and I just never really connected—did we?” I commented. “You wanted to like me, but I was a job to you. And I really wanted to like you, too, but—to be honest—drumming up those feelings was more work than it should have been.” I paused. “For not being truthful about that, I am sorry.” I sighed long and hard—feeling very tired all of a sudden—and scared. “I’ve been a job to at least one other person,” I added, my voice shaking, though my hands were not.
Feeling that my very soul was in the balance—along with my life—I looked from Quinn to Eric.
“Am I a job to you?” I asked the vampire.
“No,” he responded quickly. “And—even though I hate having feelings—it has never been ‘work’ for me to find them, where you are concerned.”
It was as if I could actually feel the truth in his words, and I let out a little sob. I kept speaking directly to Eric as I spilled Quinn’s secrets. “John works for the King of Nevada, Felipe de Castro. He was instructed to seduce me—and eventually even marry me if that’s what it took to get me to Nevada. Felipe—who wears a cape, by the way—wants me for his own.” I tilted my head a little, ignoring the growl from the tiger in the hall. Thankfully, the bomb in my hands kept him from pouncing on me—and, thereby, shutting me up.
“Eric, Bill had hurt me so much,” I said, changing the subject, “and that was even before I knew Sophie-Anne had sent him to procure me. And then I wanted to trust that Quinn could be trusted.” I shook my head. “I’ve been so wrong about everybody—everything.” I felt like my eyes were begging the vampire to understand.
“I could,” I stammered, “I could—could—give myself to him—to the other you—when you weren’t you. I could trust you then—trust that you wouldn’t have any reason to hurt me.” I shook my head. “I was stupid—stupid to think that anyone with any brain could want me.”
The vampire growled as he realized that I had been talking about him in his amnesiac state—a state he still didn’t remember.
“I don’t mean that you didn’t have a brain when you were him,” I corrected quickly, wishing that I could stop rambling. “All I meant was that there was a clean slate,” I prattled on. “Of course, after it was over, I worried that I was the one—the one who had manipulated you. I figured that if I told you how I’d not stopped it when he . . . .” I paused and felt a warm tear on my cheek. “He wanted me, and I knew he wouldn’t hurt me, so I let it happened—us happen. I let myself like the fact that he liked me—or maybe even loved me. I knew it was real—if only for a little while. It’s fucked up! I know! Because it wasn’t really you.” I was sobbing at this point, though my hands were barely shaking. “And then, when you forgot, I started to wonder if I’d imagined it all—like a love-starved crazy person! And then I worried that I’d taken advantage of him—of you. And Bill had just . . . ,” I paused, letting out a sob, “done what he did in the trunk.”
“Sookie,” Eric said softly. And, again, I felt little tendrils of calm trying to fill me. I knew they were from him this time.
“Let me finish,” I begged.
“No queen or king sent me to seduce you, Eric. But I really, really wanted you to be mine. I needed something to be mine—something safe,” I added more forcefully. “Even if it was all a lie—even if he was never real to begin with.”
“You don’t trust me,” Eric asserted.
“I trust you too much,” I responded.
Eric sighed and nodded. “Give me the can, Sookie. Please.”
I shook my head. “I can’t.”
“Sookie?” Quinn asked, rejoining the conversation. In that moment, he couldn’t have been less welcome. “Don’t tell de Castro that you know about any of this. Please. He’ll kill me and my family if you do. You don’t want their deaths on your hands. I know you don’t,” he added playing upon my guilt.
I looked at him and took a deep breath. “You and I are done, John. Done!” I repeated firmly.
“Sookie, I didn’t want to. . . ,” he started to defend.
“But you did,” I sighed and then looked back at Eric. “Felipe de Castro is looking to align with Sophie-Anne. And if he cannot do that aboveboard, he intends to discover her vulnerabilities. Quinn was the first infiltrator. He has told de Castro all he knows about me, about Sophie-Anne, about the power structure in Louisiana, about my telepathy, and about you,” I said sorrowfully, feeling responsible for all of the information Quinn had gotten ahold of.
“Sookie! Be quiet!” Quinn yelled, taking a step toward me.
“One more move, kitty,” Eric growled, “and I will neuter you for what you have done to my bonded.”
I looked at Eric. The vampire’s face was a confused mess of rage and concern.
“Give me the bomb, lover,” he said to me again.
I shook my head, still trying to keep my hands perfectly stationary, despite the fact that I felt like I’d been run over by a truck. “I’m so sorry that I didn’t know all this before,” I said to the blue eyes that had haunted my dreams for months. “You have to believe that I would have told you. I was trying not to listen to Quinn’s thoughts—trying to reach out and grab a little ‘normal.'” I laughed ruefully. “I should have realized that normal for me would be someone seducing me for his boss. After all, how could anyone possibly just want me?” I finished.
Yes—I was the queen of self-pity in that moment. Only—my scepter was a soda can bomb.
“Someone could want you very easily,” Eric corrected me quietly, as if trying to keep Quinn from hearing his words. He took another step toward me.
And that was when I heard the sound of Quinn shifting, and I saw orange and black fur flying through the air. I think Eric was flying, too.
I couldn’t be sure because I had closed my eyes as soon as I knew that Quinn had shifted. It wasn’t even that I was afraid of the gore; I simply knew that if I watched the scene unfold, I would move or drop the bomb—perhaps killing us all.
I won’t lie. Eric’s words had heartened me. And, standing in the corridor with a bomb in my hands, I could feel the Viking’s strength as if it were my own.
He was very strong.
I knew—somehow—that I could feel him because of the blood we’d shared.
And—at least for the moment—I didn’t question it. Or hate it.
I simply prayed.
Not for my life. Not for Quinn’s. Not for all the beings in that hotel—unknowingly sitting on top of ticking time bombs.
Not the man I’d fallen in love with months before—the one that looked like Eric.
No. My prayers belonged to the Sheriff of Area 5.