“Hold that thought, Lover,” I said with a quick peck to her lips as I answered the call.
“Vampire!” came the gruff voice on the other end of the phone.
“Troll,” I drawled in return.
Ludwig scoffed. I knew she was no more troll than I, but I still enjoyed her reaction when I called her that. I’d learned that it was the simple things that gave me the most pleasure.
“The samples you sent made my job easy, Northman,” she said curtly. “The cure is just a form of the virus itself—one that does away with its brother, so to speak. It was easy to replicate. And your blood has given me a sample of the antibodies which will prevent its taking hold in you again. I’ve already been able to produce enough anti-virus for ten or so vampires. How do you want to proceed?”
I smiled. “Immediately, but carefully. I’ll arrange for infected stage one and stage two vampires to come to your clinic—a few at a time. They will be sworn to secrecy about the cure and where it’s from.”
“That’s all well and good, but I don’t want to be overrun by infected vampires here—and I definitely don’t need the Yakuza to come sniffing around. Even if you ask the ones I treat for secrecy, you’re an idiot if you don’t think word will spread. Others will see that vampires who once had Hep-V have been cured.”
I thought for a moment. “There’s an abandoned warehouse near Minden that you can operate out of so that your clinic isn’t compromised. And you can train a glamoured human to administer the cure so that your involvement remains unknown. I’ll get some Weres to guard the warehouse, but we’ll still switch locations regularly. And part of the price for treatment will be that the vampires move away from the kingdom they currently reside in. Any found not complying will be dealt with—harshly. In addition, I have a few trustworthy allies in other places that could also arrange for the cure to be administered—covertly, of course.”
“I have some colleagues we could involve as well,” Ludwig said, agreeing to my plan. “What of the Stage 3’s?”
I thought for a moment. “Most of them are too volatile and rabid to treat like the others, but they tend to cluster together in groups. Once enough of the cure is available, you can train Thalia on how to administer it. She can track down the hordes one at a time and offer the cure to any who are still reasonable enough to take it.”
“Many will be lost in the meantime,” the doctor pointed out.
“Yes—but that cannot be helped,” I said. “Meanwhile, I need you to work on creating a paper trail that explains the origin of the cure as coming from something other than Sarah Newlin or myself. The Yakuza will, inevitably, figure out that their plans to corner the market in this matter have been subverted. And it would be best to have a scapegoat.”
Ludwig chuckled. “A mysterious doctor in Bulgaria came up with the cure after accidentally stumbling upon a vampire who was immune. Blame him. Yada, yada, yada.”
“Perfect,” I said. “As long as the Yakuza don’t know the origin of the alternative cure, they will be chasing their tails trying to figure things out. But—by then—it will be too late.”
“Alright—so now the big question: profit or nonprofit?” the doctor asked. “Mind you—either way, you’re paying for all my materials and the usual fee for my time.”
“Profit, of course,” I smirked at Sookie. “How much money and time does it take to produce a dosage?” I asked.
“About seventeen dollars and ninety or so minutes to produce the batch I did earlier,” Ludwig informed. “Next time, I’ll be able to do it faster.”
“How about five thousand for each dose of the cure, shared fifty-fifty?” I suggested. “We can sell the dosages for the same price to our allies, and they can charge whatever they want from there.”
“Agreed. What about the vampires who can’t afford to pay?” she asked.
“Unless they are newly turned, most will not blink at five thousand. However, I will make sure all have the payment before they come to you. However, for any in this area who cannot pay, I will do so for them—if they agree to pay off the debt with service to me. Regardless—all whom I send to you will have the fee.”
Having gotten the gist of the call, Sookie asked, “What about the infected humans?”
“I see Miss Stackhouse has changed horses,” the doctor said crassly, having overheard Sookie’s question. “I can’t say I blame her, though you ought to show great care, Northman. She is related to a very powerful fairy, whom you’d better not piss off.”
“I have no intention of pissing off any of the fairies I might encounter—at least not too much,” I said with a wink at Sookie. “But as to Sookie’s question—can the serum cure infected humans?”
“No—but after I give infected vamps the cure, I will work on cooking up an inoculation so that other vampires cannot become infected. It’ll work like a vaccine. The best news is that the Hep-V virus has been engineered not to mutate, which is—quite frankly—the most interesting thing about it as far as I’m concerned. The humans that devised it didn’t want to risk other humans being harmed by it, nor did they want the virus to evolve into something that would be harmless to vampires. Truly ingenious. I plan to use it as a prototype for other things.”
“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to share the profits on those inventions—would you?” I asked, already knowing her answer.
“Not even in your most feverish dreams, vampire,” Ludwig intoned before hanging up.
“So—what about them?” Sookie asked as she pointed to the screen, where Pam could be seen rinsing Sarah’s hair. I knew that Sookie was asking about the Yakuza, three of whom were currently watching my progeny like a hawk.
“They have outlived their usefulness to me, but it’s best not to show them our hand. I have a feeling that Mr. Gus has been keeping the origins of the cure and his own plans for NewBlood close to the vest—even from the others in his organization. Regardless, as soon as I find out who all knows about my and Pam’s involvement, Mr. Gus and his minions will be meeting their maker—and I don’t mean that I intend to turn them.”
Sookie inhaled quickly, most likely startled by my murderous tone.
“The Yakuza are my enemy. They have been for decades.” I paused. “I have never and will never hide my nature from you, Sookie. I have always slain my enemies as soon as the opportunity presented itself—with one exception.”
“Russell,” she whispered.
“Yes—but I learned my lesson in that case. I will not let live people who will eventually try to kill me—once they are done using me. And I won’t apologize for keeping me and mine safe, especially since that ‘mine’ now includes you.” I let that information sink in for a moment before I added, “If you cannot handle all that I am, you will need to rethink your choice of me.”
Sookie took a deep breath. “I know who you are, Eric,” she whispered. “And I don’t need to rethink anything.”
With those words, I pulled her back into my arms, attacking her with a kiss that conveyed all of my passion with her. Sadly, my phone rang—interrupting us.
“What?” I answered with frustration.
“Eric,” Bill said, “have you spoken with Sookeh?” I cringed at his mispronouncing of Sookie’s name. “I have been calling her home for hours,” he added.
I sighed loudly. “Can you not feel that she isn’t at home?” I asked.
Bill let out a rattling sigh of his own. “My illness is now affecting my senses—and my ability to feel those who are tied to me by blood,” he added with a slightly haughty twinge to his tone. I knew his aim was to rattle me by reminding me that Sookie and he had exchanged blood recently. However, he’d never formed a bond with her—no matter how many exchanges they’d made. That privilege was mine alone, though I wasn’t the kind who needed to use that fact to “one-up” a rival.
“Is that Bill?” Sookie asked aloud. Both she and I knew that Bill would hear her if it was.
“Yes,” I responded.
“Can I talk to him?” she asked.
I nodded and handed over the phone. Truth be told, I had nothing left to say to my once and future former king.
“Bill,” Sookie greeted, “how are you feeling?”
“Sookeh?” Bill asked, clearly surprised to hear her voice. Maybe his senses had gone to shit.
“Yes—it’s me. Eric and I were just having a little talk.”
“That’s good,” Bill said, sounding relieved. “Has he conveyed how much I wish to call upon you—to explain my course of action to you?”
“Yes—he has,” Sookie responded. “He told me that you are determined to die in order to save me from your darkness,” she stated flatly.
“Yes,” Bill said. “That’s right—though I had hoped to explain things myself,” he said with a hint of frustration, “so that you could better understand.”
“Oh—I think I’m understanding just fine,” she commented. “So your motivation to die is for me?” she asked incredulously.
“I really think it would be best if we discussed this in person, Sookeh,” he said, again saying her name in a way that made me want to rip his infected balls off. How he could get ‘Sookeh’ out of ‘Sookie’ was beyond me.
“I don’t agree,” Sookie said, sitting down onto the couch heavily. “Why don’t you say anything you need to say to me right now?”
“I need you to realize that I am trying to protect you, darling.”
There was a pause, and Bill went on only after he realized Sookie wasn’t going to comment.
“I had a fever dream,” he explained, “and—after that—I knew my dying would be best for you.”
“What dream?” she asked.
I turned my back to give her the illusion of privacy, but she snapped her fingers to get my attention and then motioned for me to sit next to her.
I smirked at being ‘called like a dog,’ but I went to her and sat down anyway. Immediately, she leaned against me and closed her eyes, expelling a sigh as she did.
“I really think this would be best done in person,” Bill tried again.
“It’ll be done now—this way—or not at all,” she said firmly. “Now—what was the dream?”
Bill sighed. “You were rocking a child—our child. I felt a rush of pride, but then I looked over your shoulder and saw that you were cradling not a child, but death itself.”
“Are you intending to make me feel like shit, Bill?” she asked, obviously pissed off. Her hand took mine possessively and squeezed. “Because calling me the mother of death isn’t helpful to me, nor is it helping me to understand why you insist upon dyin’.”
“I—I am the one who brought death to you,” Bill stammered.
“Well—that’s true,” she muttered.
Sookie took a deep breath, one so deep that she almost looked to be in pain as she drew it in.
“Bill—what have your other fever-dreams been about?” she asked.
“Why does that matter?” he returned.
“It matters to me,” she said. “I want to know if you’ll tell me the truth.”
“Sookeh, I . . . ,” Bill began but then stopped.
“You what?” she asked.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” he responded.
She sighed, and I felt her sink deeper into my side, seeking comfort from me. “You already have. Now—will you tell me?”
“I’ve been dreaming of my wife—of Caroline,” Bill said. “In my dreams, I’ve relived our life together.”
Sookie took another deep breath. “I asked Niall to come,” Sookie said, her eyes still closed. “I begged him to cure you. But he said he couldn’t. And he showed me what you were dreaming. I saw the dream where you remembered your first child being born. I felt your love for your family.”
“Yes—I loved them,” Bill said at such a low volume that I could hardly hear him.
“I was mad at Niall for showing me that. I was jealous,” Sookie admitted. “I was jealous that you’d already gotten to live the life I’d always dreamed about—marriage, children, and a home full of people who loved you.” She sighed. “I was wrong to think you wanted those things with me—that I could actually have those things with you,” she said. “I was wrong about you.”
“Sookeh, I did want those things with you. I love you,” Bill said in an agonized tone.
“Part of me will always remember you with fondness, Bill,” Sookie said, opening her eyes and sitting up straight, but keeping ahold of my hand. “But you are toxic to me. And I’m not the woman you really love. That’s Caroline, and I can’t be her—even if that’s what your blood wants from me.”
“Sookeh . . . ,” Bill started.
“Goodbye, Bill,” she interrupted, before handing the phone back to me.
“Bill,” I said into the receiver.
“You have finally turned her against me,” Bill accused.
“You’ll get over it,” I said. “And the sooner you die, the sooner that will happen,” I added before hanging up.
Not two seconds later, I heard a pop in the room. Great—there went the fucking neighborhood.