[Virgil to Dante]: This mountain’s of such sort
that climbing it is hardest at the start;
but as we rise, the slope grows less unkind.
Therefore, when this slope seems to you so gentle
that climbing farther up will be as restful
as traveling downstream by boat, you will
be where this pathway ends, and there you can
expect to put your weariness to rest.―Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio (IV, 88-95)
“Stop that,” Alcide ordered from the crate he was sitting on.
“Stop what?” I asked, unaware that I’d been doing anything that I needed to stop.
“You’re on your way to wearing a hole into the floor, and since this warehouse has seen better days, it’s not a good idea to take chances,” he grinned.
I chuckled as I looked down. Sure enough, a well-established line of my shoeprints leading in both directions had displaced the dust on the floor. We’d arrived at the warehouse half an hour before—following the completion of the first part of our “assignment,” and from the looks of things, I’d probably been pacing ever since.
At least my fingernails were still intact.
“It’s hard not to worry,” I said.
“You really love him,” Alcide commented with understanding. “The worry comes from that.”
I smiled at him. “Yeah.”
“Look,” Alcide started, “I know I don’t really have room to talk when it comes to picking mates. Hell—I was stuck on Debbie longer than any sane person should’ve been. And then after that—well—let’s just say that I didn’t show much more judgment when I picked women after I became pack-master.”
I felt my brow rising in question.
He rolled his eyes. “My point is that I knew—knew it in here,” he said pointing to his head, “that I was making a mistake—with Debbie and the others. I just didn’t stop myself.”
“Are you asking me if I’m certain about Eric in my head?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he responded, running a hand through his thick mane. “Following your heart is all well and good on paper, but in my experience, it gets you into a shit-load of trouble more often than not.”
“What if I told you that my head, my heart, and my gut are all in agreement when it comes to Eric?” I asked.
“Then I’d say that I’m glad I helped you—despite the fact that Northman is an insufferable ass.” He paused. “He’s also a very lucky man—you know.”
“I’m the lucky one,” I returned quietly.
“I agree with the wolf,” Eric said from behind me.
Before I could even turn around to greet him, he pinched my ass.
Luckily, he didn’t pinch hard.
Ready to engage my bonded in verbal sparring, I turned around to face him, my hands automatically flying to my hips.
He looked at me with a grin that could only be labeled as “dopey.” My heart melted a little bit.
“Sorry,” he said with a smirk that clearly indicated he wasn’t sorry. “It seemed like tradition.”
“You’re drunk,” I said with fake sternness. In truth, I wasn’t surprised. His drinking from Warlow was part of the plan, after all.
“Yep—a little,” he confirmed pulling me into his arms and kissing me for all he was worth.
It was clear that he didn’t care at all that we had an audience less than ten feet away from us. After a second or two, I have to confess that I didn’t care either—not even when Alcide growled with impatience. Nope—no cares given here.
“Mmmm,” Eric sounded against my lips, creating one of the most delicious vibrations I’d ever felt. That sound somehow managed to reverberate in my lady parts—several times.
“I missed you,” he murmured.
“Missed you too,” I mumbled back before he stole any other words I might have said with another kiss.
Alcide cleared his throat. Again—neither Eric nor I seemed that interested in stopping. But then my Gran’s voice in my head told me that I was being rude, so I broke the kiss. Eric looked momentarily disappointed, but then winked at me.
“So,” I asked somewhat playfully, “just how drunk are you?”
He shrugged. “Just north of tipsy and south of shit-faced—at least after the flight. Before that, I was worse.”
“You okay?” I asked. “In control?”
He nodded and I saw confidence in his eyes. “Okay enough.”
I sighed with relief, knowing that Eric had been a little worried that taking Fae blood would make it impossible for him to effectively complete the plan.
It had been a risk he’d taken for me.
“And Warlow’s blood? What did you find out when you took it?” I asked nervously.
“The vampire part of his blood is not that special,” he responded. “It’s disintegrating in me even as we speak.”
That was another relief; it meant that Warlow didn’t have any “super-vamp” traits that would act as what Eric called “variables” for our plan.
“And the fairy part?” I asked.
“Its effects are exactly like Claudine’s blood,” he responded.
I looked at him with confusion. “But you’re not as drunk as you were then. I figured that was because Warlow’s blood is a mix of Fae and vampire.”
“Actually, it’s not really a mix at all,” Eric informed.
Before my confusion could grow, he explained, “Somehow, Warlow’s vampire and fairy blood didn’t merge when he was turned by Lilith. It seems that fairies cannot normally be turned into vampires. Warlow is an exception—likely because of Lilith’s nature. From what I was able to infer, Warlow has tried and failed to turn full-blooded fairies before—probably quite a few.”
I shuddered, thinking of those Warlow drained at the fairy club. “That’s why he wants me so bad.”
“Yeah—your blood is a true DNA melding of fairy and human, which is why you don’t have a standard blood type. And—yes—Warlow thinks that you can be turned,” Eric said with concern in his eyes. “In fact, he seems obsessed with the notion.”
I shivered again. “So—is the thing we talked about before helping you to keep your focus?” I asked cryptically. I knew that Eric would apprehend that I was referring to our bond, which I wasn’t about to mention directly, even if Alcide was trustworthy. The fewer people who knew about the bond, the safer Eric and I would be.
“Yes,” Eric confirmed. “And the scientist Bill is using also helped me—by unknowingly giving me a strategy with which to combat the effects of the Fae blood.”
“Fairy blood is like a vampire booby trap,” he smirked as he raked his fingertips along the sides of the two ‘boobies’ on my chest.
I quickly smacked his hands away and reminded him with my eyes that we weren’t in the room alone.
“Too bad,” he said aloud.
“How is it a trap?” I asked, ignoring his comment and his wandering hands.
“Well—fairy blood is delicious—maddeningly so—but it’s not nourishing,” he responded. “If anything, drinking it made me thirstier, which is probably why vampires have a hard time stopping when they drink from a fairy.”
“That makes sense,” I said. That also explained a little about vampires’ reactions to my blood.
“Once Warlow’s Fae blood was inside of me, it began to move through my body rapidly and haphazardly, as if in a frenzy. And my blood instinctively wanted to pursue it.”
“Let me guess. It’s impossible for you to catch it,” I speculated.
“Bingo,” he smiled at me with pride in his eyes. “You know, you really are a clever woman.”
I blushed. “Not all the time.”
“Do not sell yourself short. Even when you try just a little,” he whispered, moving close enough so that our foreheads touched, “you astound me with your loyalty, your beauty, your courage, and your intelligence.”
I’m sure I was blushing even more now. “I’m just trying to keep up with you,” I whispered back.
“You do,” he said sincerely, placing a kiss on my forehead before backing away enough to capture my eyes with his. The raw affection there made my breath hitch.
I was still astounding that someone like Eric wanted me—especially since I had so little experience and I’d made so many mistakes. But that didn’t stop me from being grateful for him.
I smiled up at him.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by his words. After all, he’d already proven them with his actions time and time again.
Eric had had confidence that I would be able to find out the identify of the thief at Fangtasia.
He’d had confidence that I could help him find the being that had been the most important in his life—his maker.
He’d had confidence that I could find Bill in Jackson and had even given me help to do it.
He’d had confidence that I had come to Fangtasia—not to kiss him—but to question the effects of Bill’s blood in me.
He’d had confidence—though all others had given up hope—that I wasn’t dead when I was in the fairy realm.
He’d had confidence that I was more—that I could find a balance between fairy Sookie and human Sookie.
He’d had confidence in me even when he didn’t remember anything about himself—not even his name.
He’d had confidence in me to help him defeat a witch.
He’d had confidence in me to save him from that same witch—twice.
He’d had confidence in me to help him rescue Bill from the Authority and from Lilith.
He’d had confidence in me to trust my choices, even when they weren’t what he wanted—even when they turned out wrong. Even when they caused him pain.
And—most of all—he had enough confidence in me to bond with me, to share his life with me. To make me his mate and partner.
Of course, it had taken my finding a little self-confidence before I could see that every moment Eric had trusted me was really an offering of love.
“You okay?” he asked as a tear slipped from my eye.
I nodded as he kissed my forehead again.
“So,” I commented after a moment of pulling myself together, “it’s your blood chasing after the fairy blood in you that makes you feel—um—drunk. And, if you lost control, that would make you an easy target if there were other fairies around. That’s why Fae blood is a vampire booby trap.”
“Precisely!” Eric said with a look in his eyes that continued to convey his pride in me. I have to say that after being subjected to Bill’s patronizing gazes in the past, Eric’s expression made me feel really good about myself.
“Dr. Takahashi was able to isolate the behavior of Warlow’s Fae blood as it responded to his vampire blood. The vampire and fairy blood actually moved to opposite sides of the slide.”
“So—over the years—Warlow must have taught his vampire blood not to chase his Fae blood,” I guessed. “That’s how he’s not—um—drunk on himself all the time.”
Eric chuckled. “Something like that.”
“So you’ve told your blood not to chase the—um—Fae blood?”
Eric nodded. “Exactly! At least that’s what I commanded of most of my blood. However, I had to let myself get a little drunk.”
“So that Bill and Warlow wouldn’t know what a badass you are?” I asked a little flirtatiously.
“Oh—they know that already,” he winked.
I rolled my eyes. “So—why aren’t you sober now?”
He sighed, “Since I left Bill’s, I’ve been trying to convince my blood—one cell at a time—not to chase the Fae blood. Some of my cells, however, just won’t cooperate.”
“Which is why you’re still a little drunk,” I observed.
“At least the hiccupping has stopped.”
I chuckled as I tried to picture Eric hiccupping.
“It wasn’t funny,” he pouted.
“Your pouting isn’t funny either,” I deadpanned.
He glared as me a little but then winked.
“So—um—the Fae blood. Do you think Warlow can use it to track me—us—now?” I asked with concern. I’d avoided asking that question so far. After all, Eric’s answer to it would determine whether we’d be able to go through with the final part of our plan that morning.
“No,” he answered with certainty. “From what I can tell from my own experience and from what Dr. Takahashi said, it seems like the fairy blood acts on pure instinct before it burns itself out. It has acted in me just as I thought it would.”
“So that means Warlow isn’t controlling the Fae blood in any way?” I asked, needing to be sure.
“None that I can discern,” Eric confirmed.
The next thing I knew, my right hand was against his heart and a little ball of light had moved from my palm and into his chest. I gasped in surprise, looking from my hand to Eric’s eyes.
“What the fuck?” I heard from Alcide, though I didn’t acknowledge him.
“Eric?” I asked tentatively. His eyes looked like a sea of emotion, just as they had when I’d shot him with my light at the ill-fated Festival of Tolerance.
“Shit!” I said when he didn’t answer. “I’m sorry! I don’t know what happened. Please! Are you okay?” I asked as I raised a shaky hand to his cheek.
“I’m fine,” he said after a few more seconds.
“Did I hurt you? Please—tell me I didn’t hurt you!” I begged.
“You did not,” he said, his expression awestruck. “Sookie, how did you know that your light would help me recover my control—my sobriety?”
“Um—it did?” I asked.
“Yes,” he responded.
“Um—I didn’t know,” I confessed. “I wasn’t even aware that I was shooting you with my light until it was too late to stop it,” I said worriedly. “Are you sure I didn’t hurt you?”
He shook his head. “No—you didn’t hurt me. Physically, it felt the same as when you shot me with your light before. No pain—just a kind of healing.”
“Healing?” I asked.
“Before—at the Festival of Tolerance—your light cured me of the witch’s curse and returned my memories to me. This time, your light traveled straight to our bond and then reverberated through my body, strengthening all of my blood.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah—really,” he smiled. “As soon as the bond sparked, I felt able to control the ‘rogue’ blood cells in me which were still pursuing the Fae blood. And when my blood cells stopped chasing the Fae cells, they stopped running. In fact, your light may have subdued them. They are intact—so I’m sure that they will protect me from the sun—but they are no longer moving.”
“So—they’re just—um—chillin’ out inside of you?” I asked. “Wow!”
“Wow indeed,” he said with a chuckle and an all-too-brief kiss on my lips. “So,” he said softly, taking my chin in his hand. I leaned into his touch.
“So?” I asked.
“You didn’t know that would sober me up?”
“No,” I whispered.
“What were you thinking right before you touched me?” he asked with intrigue in his beautiful blue eyes.
“I was just—uh—thinking that I wished I could do something to give you full control over the Fae blood in you. I didn’t like the thought of you bein’ even a little vulnerable.”
“And that’s exactly what you did,” he said with awe in his voice.
“Damn,” I heard Alcide say from across the room.
“Damn indeed,” Eric said with a smile, though he kept his eyes locked into mine.
I could feel my lips turning up into a smile. “You’re the only one, you know.”
“The only one?” he asked.
“The only one that I’ve ever hit with my light and not hurt. Why do you think that is?” I asked.
I didn’t expect him to answer out loud—at least not in front of Alcide, but I could think of several reasons. Because I didn’t intend for my light to hurt him. Because he’d literally seen my light—from the very start—when even I couldn’t. Because my light had chosen him—even before I had. Because we were bonded. Because I loved him.
“Because I love you,” he said out loud.
I smiled. “And because I love you.”
“And because you’d hate to damage my body when you so clearly have other purposes in mind for it,” he winked.
I popped his arm playfully as Alcide grumbled loudly and walked further away from us.
Everything go okay on your end?” I asked.
He nodded. “Better than expected.”
“So you can really feel Warlow’s blood inside of you?”
“Yeah,” he confirmed.
“You’re—uh—tied to him?”
“It’s a weak tie—just a normal vampire tie.”
I nodded. He’d told me about ties between vampires when I’d shown concern over him exchanging blood with Warlow. “But he can’t feel your emotions—right?”
Eric shook his head. “After I was about a mile from Bill’s house, I lost the ability to feel Warlow’s emotions, but I did feel it when he became convinced that you and I haven’t bonded and that I’m not really a threat for your affections.”
“You’re not?” I asked playfully.
“Not at all,” he grinned. “I’m afraid I showed more interest in screwing Warlow than you.”
“That’s just gross,” I said smacking his arm.
He winked. “Sorry—it seems that I’m a scallywag.”
I chuckled. “Well—that’s probably true.”
“Probably?” he asked, feigning hurt.
“Definitely,” I said, smacking his arm again.
“Such physical violence,” he teased, rubbing his arm as if I could ever hurt him.
“So you convinced them that you don’t care about me?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” he confirmed a little arrogantly. “Though it was difficult to stay in character,” he added sincerely.
“But it was necessary,” I said.
“Because later on when I disappear from their radars,” I started.
“They’ll think you’re dead,” he finished my thought. “And they won’t suspect you’re ‘gone’ because of a bond.”
“You’re sure Warlow can’t—uh—feel your emotions, right? He’s so old, after all.”
“Not from this distance,” Eric said. “But to be safe, I’m still keeping most of my feelings concentrated in our bond.”
“What can you feel from him?” I asked.
“Just that he still exists,” Eric said.
“And that’s normal for a vampire-vampire tie?”
“From this distance—absolutely,” he confirmed.
I sighed, feeling relief wash over me again. “Good,” I smiled.
“What about you? Did all go as planned?” he asked.
“Yep—the jamming stuff you had definitely screwed up their cameras long enough for Alcide to create a real technical error. It took them two hours to fix it all.”
“And the rest?” he followed up.
“Once the cameras were down, we had no problems getting the explosives set,” I reported evenly. I wasn’t about to apologize for helping Alcide more than had been planned when a change of plans had been justified.
“We?” Eric asked, though he didn’t look surprised. “Alcide was supposed to set the charges himself, leaving you in safety after you determined where the humans in the building were stationed.”
“We,” I answered confidently. “Because of what Billith did to the governor, the guard patrols have doubled, and they were moving around a lot, so Alcide needed this,” I pointed to my head, “to make sure he could avoid them and still get the charges set where we needed them based on the blueprints you drew for us. And,” I paused.
“And?” he asked.
“And don’t tell me that you didn’t know I’d be going in there,” I challenged him.
He sighed, but then kissed me. “Of course I knew.” He paused. “It is just taking me a while to balance my need for a true partner with my desire to keep you chained up so that you will remain safe.” He paused. “But I’m working on it.”
I grinned, but my smile faded quickly.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Jason is definitely in there,” I reported.
“I got a scent on him in one of the main vampire holding areas; it’s where the Level One women are being kept,” Alcide said.
Eric looked at Alcide and nodded in appreciation for the knowledge shared.
“Jason was asleep for a lot of the time while we were in there, but when he woke up, he was nervous and scared,” I explained. “According to his thoughts, he’d had a female vampire taking care of him—someone named Violet—but she, Tara, Jessica, Pam, and Willa got taken away when they refused to drink the new TruBlood. Some of the other stronger vampires in the room seem to have staked a claim on him now and have been feeding on him. He’s scared that he’s gonna be drained before Violet gets back.”
“Can you hear him now?” Eric asked.
I shook my head. “No. I’m too far away.”
“Sookie, you have to promise me that you’ll stay away tonight,” Eric said, his eyes piercing into me. “You’ve done your part beautifully, and you helped me come up with a plan that is going to work. However, once I start letting the vampires loose, they are going to attack anything they can. If they haven’t drunk the TruBlood, then they will be starving.”
“I know,” I said quietly. “I wish I could help in there, but I know I’d just be a liability to you.”
He smiled. “Who is this wise woman in front of me?”
“Sookie Stackhouse,” I smiled back.
“Yes,” he said, bending down to kiss me again.
“I will go to where Jason is being kept first,” he promised with a whisper against my lips.
“Thanks,” I said quietly.
Eric turned to look at Alcide. “The explosives?”
He walked to us and handed Eric a cell phone.
“Just turn it on and dial ‘M’ and then the number key,” Alcide said.
Eric chuckled. “‘M’ for murder.”
“And mayhem,” I said evenly. “I picked the code.”
Eric looked back at me. “Are you okay? You know what I’m going to be doing in there.”
I straightened my shoulders, steeling myself. “Every single human in that building—except Jason—hates vampires and wants to torture and kill them.” I shook my head as I recalled the sick and twisted thoughts from the people at both the Vamp Camp and the TruBlood factory. No one—not even the guards or the secretaries or the accountants or the computer people—was there just to get a paycheck. Everyone in that building was on board with the evil agenda of the late Governor Burrell and Sarah Newlin. And all had participated in what they thought of as “their God-given duty to eradicate vampires from the face of the earth.” I knew that even Gran would agree that that kind of fanaticism and hate needed to go—for the better of all vampirekind and humankind.
I sighed. “The things that they are doing—their experiments—are horrible! So,” I paused, “the way I see it, you are a soldier, going in there to fight your enemy and to save your people.”
Eric kissed me hard, obviously grateful for my understanding. I knew that I’d just sanctioned a lot of violence on his part. But I couldn’t find it in me to feel bad about it. Eric was at war. Hell—all vampires were at war. And—in war—people died. My bonded was a warrior at heart, a warrior who had a score to settle. I was proud of him.
I loved him.
Moreover, I was on his side, willing to fight and die right next to him in that war.
“Thank you,” he whispered as he broke our kiss.
“Just be careful,” I said, not bothering to hide the tear slipping from my eye.
“Before I go, tell me your Plan B,” he insisted.
“I won’t need it,” I insisted back, just as I had the night before when he’d demanded that we come up with it.
High-handed vampire. Beautiful vampire.
“Tell me anyway. I need to hear you say it,” he said with beseechingly. “I have to know that you’re going to be safe.”
I sighed. “If you die in there, I go home and wait.”
“For Warlow to come.”
“And he will come. He’ll eventually get away from Bill,” Eric said warningly.
I nodded. I’d gotten only a taste of Warlow’s obsession with me. I knew that he wouldn’t just give up.
“It depends,” I said, my lips quivering.
“On whether he killed Bill to get away.”
“If he did find a way to kill Bill?” Eric asked.
“Then I pretend to be happy to see him, lull him into a false sense of security, and find the opportune time to use my one big blast of light to kill him. And then I live a ‘normal’ life,” I said as another tear fell.
“And if Bill’s not dead yet?”
“I act scared of Bill and insist that Warlow and I escape to the fairy world ‘waiting room’ so that Bill can’t call him again.”
“I leave his ass there to starve,” I said coldly.
“Good. What next?”
“I go to Bill and shoot him with my one big blast of light, and then I live a ‘normal’ life.”
“And you try to be happy,” Eric ordered.
“I won’t be,” I said as more tears fell from my eyes and I reached up to touch his cheek. “You are my ‘normal,’ Eric. I was just too dumb to see that before.”
“Sookie,” he said quietly as he kissed the tears away. “How many times do I have to tell you that you’re not dumb?”
“One more,” I whimpered, “when you get back.”
We were quiet for a moment.
“What do you do if Pam tries to make trouble for you?” he picked up.
He was as relentless as I was stubborn.
“I give her your amulet,” I said as I sniffled.
“You remember how to find it?” he asked.
“Yes. And I remember about the money you made me promise to take.”
“Good,” he said. “Tell me the combination of the safe in the safe house.”
The home was one that even Pam didn’t know about; Eric had put it in my name.
“It’s the date,” I said in barely a whisper.
“Of?” he asked.
“The day I walked into Fangtasia for the first time.”
“Yes,” he said. “One of the best days of my existence.”
“Mine too,” I agreed with a little smile.
“And if Plan B isn’t feasible, go to Bill. I believe him to be the lesser of two evils right now or . . . ,” Eric paused. “Or form a bond with someone else. Pam or Tara. The vampire who is set to glamour your friends is also an option and would do it for you.”
“You asked him?” I questioned.
“Yes,” he responded—in case Pam and Tara don’t get out of the Vamp Camp alive. But Pam would be best.”
“Pam wouldn’t do it,” I said.
“She would. Just give her the amulet and tell her that I told you to say the word, ‘snälla.'”
“What does it mean?”
“It means ‘please,'” he said. “There is a joke between Pam and me that I will say that word only if I’m dying.”
Another tear fell. “Okay,” I nodded. “Please be safe. I like Plan A best.”
“I’ll try,” he promised as he secured the phone Alcide had handed him in his pocket; he would use it before dawn only in case of emergency. He looked at Alcide. “Keep her safe.”
“As safe as I can make her,” Alcide swore.
Eric nodded and reached out his hand to shake Alcide’s.
Both Alcide and I were surprised. In truth, Eric looked a little surprised too.
Reluctantly, Alcide reached out and took Eric’s proffered hand.
“I still think you’re an arrogant bastard,” Alcide said.
Eric laughed. “And I still think you’re a flea-bitten mongrel.”
“Don’t disappoint her by getting yourself killed,” Alcide ordered.
Eric nodded and looked back at me. He lowered his forehead to mine as Alcide stepped away to give us some privacy. “Dawn will come before you know it,” he said.
“They say it’s always darkest right before that,” I whimpered.
“If I’m not back by sunrise,” he started.
“We’ll blow it up,” I promised.
“I love you, Sookie Stackhouse,” he told me.
“I love you, Eric Northman,” I echoed.
He gave me a gentle kiss before turning to go.
“Plan A better work, or I’m gonna kick your ass—even if I need a stepstool to do it,” I said under my breath.
He chuckled as he zipped out of the room.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter. It’s been one of the most emotional for me to write thus far (except for the grave scene). Our Viking is a warrior, and this is the calm before the storm.
Thanks—as always—for the wonderful comments about the story. I love all your kind words!
On another note, I wanted to give a special shout-out to makesmyheadspin and Scribeninja (the Brainmates). I’ve been enjoying their story Just a Little Heat and found out that MMHS has been following Funeral too. I had a lovely squeal. Check out Just a Little Heat if you haven’t already. ¡Me gusta mucho!
Again, thanks for reading and all your comments are appreciated!