I quickly secured Mr. Gus’s arms and legs into the cuffs at the four corners of my custom-made torture table and gave the lever at the side a turn, stretching out the man. This particular feature of the table wouldn’t work with vampires or Weres since our strength would have broken the device. So I was pleased to be able to try out the mechanism on Mr. Gus.
“Fuck, Northman!” he yelled in his Southern drawl.
I almost laughed. But, instead, I cranked the table until I heard one of Mr. Gus’s tendons snap.
He cried out.
“Painful—I’d imagine,” I observed. “Now—tell me—who all knows of Pam and my involvement in your corporation?”
“Go to hell,” he seethed.
I gave the table another crank, and there was another tear.
“Who?!” I demanded. “Tell me! Who knows about Pam and me? Who knows the cure is from Sarah Newlin? Who knows of your plans for NewBlood?”
“Fuck you!” Mr. Gus spat.
I cranked again.
“Geez,” Sookie commented after a moment. “He even thinks in a Texas accent.”
“And what does he think?” I chuckled.
“Well. He hopes you don’t find out that only his people that were in this room and the parking lot knew you and Pam were involved. He gave his chief scientist a sample of Sarah’s blood, but he didn’t say where it had come from. And he didn’t tell him about NewBlood either. He just instructed him to analyze the blood and paid him to keep his findings to himself. Oh—and no one has any idea Mr. Gus is here, in Shreveport. And, actually, his name isn’t Mr. Gus. It’s Tako, which he hates—by the way.”
She paused and then chuckled.
“I think I would like to try this taco food product,” Niall commented.
I looked at the fairies with confusion. Niall was obviously listening into Mr. Gus’s thoughts too, but I’d obviously missed something.
Sookie giggled and then explained. “It seems that Tako’s daddy loved tacos—the Mexican food—so much that he named his son after them.”
She looked at the man spread out on the table. “Where’d you come up with Mr. Gus?”
“Go. To. Hell!” the man seethed, before I cranked again.
Within seconds, both Sookie and Niall were laughing heartily.
“What?” Pam asked.
“He named himself after food too,” Sookie explained. He ate a steak made from Angus beef when he was fourteen, and when he moved to Texas, he picked ‘Gus’ ’cause Texans like their beef.”
I chuckled, even as Sookie tilted her head to the side.
“Why didn’t you tell more people?” she asked.
“What the fuck are you? A witch?” Mr. Gus asked her as she touched his hand, probably to get better reception of his thoughts.
“I’m between jobs right now,” Sookie intoned. “If you disappear, is there anything left behind to tell other people about what you’ve been doing?”
Sookie waited a moment and then nodded while Mr. Gus looked at her with a combination of awe and pain.
“Good,” she pronounced. “I’d hate for your death to come back and bite us in the butt.”
“You can read my thoughts—can’t you?” Mr. Gus asked, dollar signs glistening behind his eyes. “Listen—make the vampire stop and we can make some kind of arrangement. I can pay you more than you’ve even hoped to have.”
Sookie nudged me aside and gave the table a little crank of her own. “You don’t have any idea what I’ve hoped to have,” she breathed. “And you’d best stop thinkin’ what you’re thinkin’, or I’m gonna give this lever a few more turns.”
“What is he thinking?” I asked with a growl.
“He wants to turn my great-granddaughter into a high-classed hooker who steals thoughts from her clients’ heads so that Tako here can blackmail them,” Niall informed.
It was me nudging Sookie to the side this time so that I could give the table another crank. I was partly placated by the sound of a bone snapping; I was better satisfied by Mr. Gus’s scream.
I looked at Sookie. “What else did you learn?” I asked.
“That you’re one lucky vampire,” she smirked up at me. “Mr. Gus, here, has been competing with his older brother. Both want to take over their father’s company when he retires, and their father has basically set up a competition between them. Whoever best proves himself by next year wins. Mr. Gus has been losing since the Hep-V was snuck into the TrueBlood shipments on his watch. Mr. Gus was sure that NewBlood would assure his victory over his brother. The people with him were Yakuza soldiers, but they were completely loyal to Mr. Gus, so they wouldn’t have told anyone about Pam, you, or Sarah either.”
I smiled at my bonded. She’d asked the questions I would have asked. And she’d gotten all the answers I needed for my peace of mind. “You are right, Sookie. I am lucky,” I said. And I wasn’t just talking about with the Yakuza either. “Thank you, min kära.”
“You’re welcome,” she smiled back. She glanced nervously at Mr. Gus. “I think I’m gonna head upstairs and get a drink while y’all finish up here.”
I nodded, even as I used my senses to ensure that there was no one in the bar above us. “Okay. I’ll be with you soon,” I said, acknowledging that Sookie didn’t want or need to see Mr. Gus’s end.
“You’re with her now?” Pam asked me as soon as the basement door had closed behind Sookie.
I nodded. “Yes. We are together.”
Bill grunted from the corner. I sauntered over to him.
“Oh—sorry—I forgot you were here,” I said as I removed the ball gag from his mouth.
“I asked you to speak to her for me,” Bill bit out with bitterness. “I didn’t expect you to swoop in on her when she was at her most vulnerable.”
Pam’s fangs snapped down, but mine stayed where they were.
A burst of light traveled from Niall’s hands to Bill’s chest, clearly stunning the Civil War vet.
Pity the blast didn’t kill him.
Niall popped over to us so that he was right in front of Bill, glaring down at him.
“You dare accuse another of preying upon my great-granddaughter?” he gritted out threateningly. “I’d kill you for that statement—if I weren’t hopeful for your more painful demise.”
“Oh—I like him,” Pam intoned. “Where’d you pick him up?”
“Niall, meet Pamela, my progeny. Pamela, this is Sookie’s great-grandfather, Niall Brigant.”
“Enchanté,” Niall said, turning to Pamela with a charming smile wide enough to show that his back teeth were as sharp as razors.
Pam actually gave him a little curtsey. “Right back at you.”
I chuckled and moved over to where Sarah was tied up. Immediately, I caught her in my glamour. “You won’t remember anything that’s happened in this basement—will you?”
She shook her head and mumbled a hazy, “No,” through her gag.
That done, I looked at Pam. “Would you like to do the honors?” I asked, glancing down at Mr. Gus.
“Fucking A,” Pam said, before she went to the table and started cranking. Immediately, Mr. Gus’s screams filled the room. The sound was nice—until it was replaced by a more annoying one.
“What about me?” Bill asked. He was still chained to the chair.
“Can’t you just die?” I asked before putting on leather gloves and freeing him.
He stood up sluggishly. “Not as long as Sookie’s at risk.”
I shook my head. “Sookie will never be at risk from me.”
I looked at Pam. “Make sure the tunnel is secure, and keep an eye on her,” I said, motioning toward Sarah. “We might not need her anymore, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Once we know for sure, we’ll send her to her maker.”
“After we play with her a while?” Pam asked hopefully.
“Of course,” I grinned. “I was inspired by some of the experiments I saw in the vampire concentration camp she helped to dream up. I’m sure we can design variants—especially for Ms. Newlin.”
Pam’s fangs popped down, and she leered at Sarah. “We’re gonna have so much fun! I spent most of my time at your little hell-hole talkin’ to a shrink. And I can’t wait to try out some of his mind tricks on you.”
Sarah cowered as much as she could, given her tied-up position.
I looked at Bill. “Last chance to take a sip?”
He lifted his chin stubbornly.
“Your loss,” I said as I left the basement, followed by Niall.
Bill came up after us, progressing slowly due to having been silvered and to his advanced illness—and probably his unconscious desire to garner sympathy, as well. He’d have to look elsewhere for that—like in hell.
“Oh—libations!” Niall exclaimed, going up to the bar where Sookie had poured herself a gin and tonic.
Sookie chuckled at him. “What would you like?”
“Can you make me something with an umbrella?” he asked.
“Uh—no,” she said. “We don’t have anything like that at Merlotte’s.”
I zipped over to the bar. “I have this,” I offered, grinning at Sookie. Before long, I was shaking a cocktail. There was no fresh fruit in the bar, but there were some jarred cherries, which I added liberally to the drink. And, of course, I added an umbrella.
Niall’s eyes lit up as he sidled up to the bar and then took a drink. “Delicious! I knew I liked you.”
I chuckled and looked at Sookie, who was looking at Bill.
“Sookeh,” Bill greeted, “you shouldn’t have placed yourself in harm’s way.”
She sighed and shook her head. “Bill—first of all, I wasn’t really in harm’s way. And, second, I wasn’t about to let the Yakuza hurt someone I loved.”
“Sookeh, you shouldn’t have risked yourself for me,” Bill admonished.
“I didn’t,” Sookie said evenly, looking up at me. “I did it for Eric and for—believe it or not—Pam.” She turned back to Bill. “Your rescue was not a factor in my coming here,” she said with some regret.
Meanwhile, Bill was looking at her with utter shock.
Sookie let out another long sigh. “You have made it abundantly clear that you’re okay with dyin’, Bill,” she reminded.
“Yes!” Bill said with as much vehemence as he could muster. “But I’m sacrificing myself for you—so that you can escape the damage that vampires will cause you. Please tell me that you’re not going to start seeing Eric after I’m gone,” he pled.
“I’m not gonna start seeing Eric after you’re gone,” she parroted.
“Thank God,” Bill said with relief.
“I’m seeing him already,” Sookie announced, sending Bill into a tailspin.
“But, Sookeh! Our darkness—it will extinguish your light! You need to be free from vampires.”
“Where does he come up with this nonsense?” Niall muttered, even as I started making him another drink.
I shrugged as I shook his cocktail.
“More of the red fruits, please,” he requested.
I chuckled and nodded before Niall and I both looked back at Sookie, who was taking deep breaths as she tried to calm the anger I felt inside of her—and the sorrow.
In that moment, I hated Bill Compton. Even if I believed he was doing right—which I didn’t—his ignorance of Sookie made me want to de-fang him, de-ball him, and de-life him.
But—if I was going to be with Sookie—then I was damned sure going to start by trusting her to handle the likes of Compton, especially now that her eyes were opened to him. And—if she were taken in by him yet again—then that would be the final straw for us.
But I now had confidence that straw wouldn’t be coming into the picture.
Finally having her emotions in check, Sookie spoke. “I know that you truly believe what you’re saying,” she said wearily. “I know you want to protect me and to set me free. I know that you love me.”
“I do love you,” Bill insisted.
She nodded. “A part of me will always love you too, Bill. But I think it’s time for both of us to move on now.” She took a deep breath. “So—if you’re plannin’ to die just for me, then don’t.” She reached out and took my hand as soon as I’d passed a new drink to Niall. “No matter what, Bill, I’m not gonna be coming back to you. I don’t regret being with you again. Maybe it was what we both needed to get closure.”
“Closure,” Bill whispered sadly.
“Guilt, desperation, sorrow,” Sookie listed, shaking her head. “I was feelin’ those in equal parts the other night when I ran to you and we had sex.”
I felt myself tensing next to her, but I held my resolve. Three nights before, I’d fucked and drunk from a “donor” as I’d celebrated my Hep-V-free status. And I was man enough to understand that what came before would only taint my relationship with Sookie if one of us let it. And Bill Compton wasn’t going to have a place in what Sookie and I shared—not if I could help it.
Sookie straightened her back. “It was similar to how I felt after Gran died. I blamed myself for her dyin’ too.” She took a deep breath. “It took me a while, but I’ve finally realized that sex isn’t really effective in covering those things. And I’ve also realized that I was using you to do just that. Or maybe I was just hoping that I could rewind the clock and get us back to how we were before so much happened to tear us apart.”
“Sookeh . . . ,” Bill started.
“No—please—hear me out. If you ever really loved me, then you’ll listen to me.”
Bill nodded his agreement.
“It wasn’t fair of me to use you like that the other night. And it also wasn’t fair to myself. I was hoping to take away a little of my own guilt and sorrow by making sure that you had what you wanted during your last days on this earth.” She scoffed at herself. “A last meal provided to a dying man by his own executioner.”
“Sookeh, I want to die,” Bill said. “It’s the only way for you to move on.”
She shook her head. “You say that, Bill, but it was Eric who understood that as long as I believed that I was responsible for your disease and death, I would never be able to move on. But Eric is right,” she said, leaning into me—taking strength from me.
“He pointed out something so obvious, but I couldn’t see it because I was so lost in my guilt. He helped me to see that you are now responsible for your own dying. But, instead of just walking out into the sun and ending things yourself, you’re lingering—like a bad actor on a stage.” When she paused to wipe her eyes with a bar napkin, Bill went to speak, but a growl from me shut him up.
Sookie shook her head in sorrow. “The truth is—both times I initiated our physical relationship, you would have been able to feel my emotions. You would have known why I was looking to escape them.” She sighed. “I failed that test, Bill. But so did you. You could have cared enough about me—and shown that you knew me well enough—to tell me, “No.” You could have told me what you were feeling from me and been ‘human’ enough to make sure that we waited until I wasn’t looking to cover up my suffering with sex. You could have held me off—and just held me.”
Bill went to speak again, and this time Niall was the one to growl him to silence. I kept one hand in Sookie’s even as I started mixing him another drink. I planned to double the cherries in it.
Sookie looked up at me and gave me a little smile before turning back to Bill. “Earlier—when I agreed to be Eric’s, he knew—without me needing to ask—that I should take some time to grieve you and Alcide before we—uh—restarted our physical relationship. And—even when we exchanged blood—because I begged him to bite me—he kept his hands to himself. And then he just held me because he knew that’s what I would need.”
“Sookeh, I’m the one who knows you,” Bill insisted. “I know that you’ll be better off without vampires.”
“Without one,” Sookie said with a mixture of sorrow and steel in her tone. “You’re right about the fact that there’s something in you that takes away something in me. I didn’t see that before. I didn’t want to see that.” She took another deep breath. “I want to remember you as the first man who loved me. I want to remember all the good memories, but—now—as I try to think back, I’m struggling to remember anything that’s both good and true.”
“Sookeh . . . ,” Bill started again.
She closed her eyes and interrupted him. “Remember the walk we took—early on in whatever it was that we had? I know you didn’t love me then. I know I was still a job to you, yet that’s the night I fell in love with you.” She shook her head, but her eyes stayed closed. “I think the time we spent together during the past few days is the only really honest time we’ve ever spent with each other. And I spent it feeling like I had to make something up to you. I spent it feeling like I needed to love you ‘better’ so that I could keep you alive. I spent if feeling like a failure—and a murderer.” Her eyes opened. “But it’s not my job to keep you alive, Bill. The cure is available; it’s here, and it’s your responsibility now—not mine.” She glanced at the clock on the wall.
It was only fifteen minutes before sunrise.
“Take the cure, Bill,” Sookie said forcefully. “Or walk out into the sun when it rises. Don’t waste away and linger anymore. Stop trying to make me understand what’s in your heart. I know now that I never have understood that—nor could I ever.” She let out a sob, and I squeezed her hand in comfort. “I’ll never understand you because your heart was never really mine.” She took another long breath. “I’m tired of our story, Bill. I’m tired of being hurt by a person who claims to love me. And I’m tired of feeling so unlike myself when I’m with you.”
“Sookeh,” Bill sighed.
“You’re best at lying to yourself, Bill. So, if it makes you feel better to think that I’m gonna stay away from vampires once you’re gone, then feel free to think that,” Sookie said, though there wasn’t bitterness or cruelty in her tone—or the bond. She went on, “If it makes you feel better to think that I’m gonna marry a human and have a mess of miraculously non-telepathic kids, then do that. Or, if it makes you feel better to think that I’m gonna travel to another dimension and live with other fairies, then go for it.”
“I’ll pretend like I’m going to kidnap her if it helps,” Niall said, downing his drink as I handed him another.
I wondered if he would pop to the wrong place if he got drunk enough.
Sookie turned to give Niall a fake glare and then winked at both him and me as I started yet another cocktail.
“I just want you to be safe and happy,” Bill said, his voice more sincere than I’d ever heard it before.
“I believe you,” Sookie said. “And I thank you. But I know now that I won’t be needin’ you to make either of those things happen,” she finished softly.
The sound of me shaking the cocktail was the only noise in the room for a moment after that.
“Will you come outside with me?” Bill asked meekly. “I don’t want to die alone.”
Sookie let out a sob. “Yeah. Of course I will.” She turned to look up at me, probably looking for my disapproval. But I didn’t disapprove of anything she’d said or done during her confrontation with Bill. I didn’t disapprove of her compassion or her love, which—once given—endured.
I was counting on that fact for myself, after all. And I was damned sure going to offer her a different kind of love than Bill Compton.
“I’ll be here,” I said, bending down to kiss my bonded’s forehead.