Eric knew just one thing for certain as he took off flying into the night sky, and that was that he wanted―no needed―to see Sookie before he greeted his fate later that night. Even though he felt confident in the outcome, there was a possibility that he would not survive the night or that Bill would reject his plan and he would have to flee. And he wasn’t about to leave Sookie to the wolves (pun intended).
Eric knew that the Ancient Pythoness probably already had enough influence in the Authority to ensure his survival, but he also knew that she wouldn’t want to use her leverage in this case. Instead, she was probably waiting to see what steps he would take to handle the threat now that she’d arranged for him to know of it.
Once again, Eric chuckled. The A.P. loved to see how he’d react in situations like this. In the past, she’d told him that he’d given her hours of amusement as she watched him getting out of one conflict or another. She’d nicknamed him her “little cat” about 500 years before when he’d managed to both out-maneuver the vampire King of Russia and ingratiate himself to the ruler at the same time. “You always manage to land on your feet, my little cat,” she had told him with a twinkle in her eye as he recounted the tale to her, despite the fact that she’d most likely known what was going to happen before he had even done it.
The A.P. had successfully hidden her relationship with Godric and, therefore, Eric as well; only Isabel and Pam knew the A.P. had been Godric’s maker. Most vampires thought she’d made no children, a fact that only added to her mystique. Until his recent encounter with her, he’d not seen her in person for about 200 years; she preferred covert contact and enjoyed her little intrigues, which now apparently included seeing if Eric could survive the threats of Nan, the Authority, the AVL, and Felipe de Castro.
Eric flew to Lafayette’s home, touching down silently thirty feet from the porch. It was a little past 7:00. One quick inhalation told him that Pam and Bubba had not arrived yet and that Bill had not been there that evening.
Eric walked toward the porch, being sure to make a lot of noise so that he would not startle the group. When he was about twenty feet away, he was greeted by the expectant stares of four humans (or mostly humans), waiting eagerly on the porch, as well as by the low growls of Alcide, which he chose to ignore. He chuckled at the look on Lafayette’s face, which went from excitement to disappointment in a split second once he registered that it was Eric. “I guess Elvis hasn’t lost his appeal to the masses,” Eric thought to himself.
“What’s you doin’ here?” Lafayette asked loudly since Eric had stopped his progress toward the group. “El―, I mean Bubba is still comin’, right?”
Eric laughed, “Do not worry, Mr. Reynolds,” Eric said with a slight bow, “he should be arriving soon with Pam. I’m so sorry to disappoint, but I need a quick word with Sookie in private, if she will allow it.”
Eric took in Sookie’s appearance behind the two witches, her brother and the Were. She was dressed in jeans, and she wore the sweatshirt she’d had on the evening before for warmth. He smelled that her hair had been newly washed, and it was waving in natural curls down her back. She wasn’t wearing a stitch of make-up, except what looked like lip gloss. She was the most beautiful sight in the world to Eric.
Eric’s thoughts were interrupted by Alcide, who―much to Eric’s annoyance―continued growling and had stood up. He boomed, “I don’t think that Sookie wants to speak to you, Northman. She’s made it abundantly clear that she wants nothing to do with you. Can’t you take a fucking hint?”
“What hint is that?” Eric said, stepping forward just a bit, his seemingly calm demeanor more frightening than any overt threat he could make.
“She severed your tie to get away from you and that other fanger!” Alcide growled louder.
“Oh, is that how you see things?” Eric said casually. “I thought you would know Sookie better than that by now.”
Alcide launched off the porch toward Eric, wisely stopping about five feet away from him, “What do you know about her―except that you want to use her for your own purposes and take her blood! And then what? You’re going to either kill her or get her killed!”
“Alcide! Eric! Stop!” Sookie yelled as she ran toward them from the porch. The fact that Eric’s fangs had come down and that his body had tensed did not escape her notice.
As soon as she had reached Alcide, she laid a hand gently on his shoulder, noticing that his body had begun to shake as if he were going to shift. “It’s fine, Alcide. Don’t do anything dumb, okay?”
“You don’t have to see him anymore,” Alcide said, never taking his eyes off Eric and not relaxing his pose.
“I know, Alcide,” Sookie said soothingly, “but I want to talk to Eric for just a couple of minutes.”
Eric retracted his fangs and spoke up, his voice much more conciliatory than she would have expected, given Alcide’s demeanor. “Herveaux, hurting you this evening is not something that I have time for―especially since I need you to continue with the job I have hired you for.”
By this time, the other men had reached Sookie and Alcide. Jesus spoke up, trying to keep the peace. “Maybe since Eric’s here you can take off now Alcide. If I understand right, you will have to be back tomorrow at dawn, so you need some rest, right? Anyway, if Eric hired you to protect, Sook, he’s obviously not out to hurt her.”
Alcide looked at Sookie with an almost pained expression, “Is that what you want, cher?”
“It’d probably be best. Anyway, Pam will be here soon with Bubba, and Jesus, Lafayette, and Jason are here. I really wanna talk to Eric though.”
Eric smirked at the hurt look on Alcide’s face before receiving a warning look from Sookie. “Fucking Were,” he thought. If Sookie wasn’t Alcide’s friend and if he didn’t have his uses for him, Eric would have been tempted to kill him for his disrespect. It certainly wasn’t Eric’s fault that Alcide’s father had a gambling addiction and had gotten into debt with some ruthless vampires.
But truth be told, Eric had been on his way to respecting the Were, despite his obvious contempt for vampires, until he’d become so belligerent. But at least Eric could justify that behavior somewhat, given the Were’s own attraction for Sookie. Regardless of his personal feelings, Eric knew that Alcide would do everything possible to keep Sookie safe, and that was what mattered most to him.
Alcide scoffed. “Fine. I’ll see you in the morning, Sookie.” He made a show of bending down to kiss Sookie’s cheek, looking Eric in the eye during the entire action.
Eric smirked at Alcide’s obvious attempt to show some kind of possession over Sookie. He knew that such an action would not sit well with the spitfire in front of him.
Sookie shifted uncomfortably, hating that she was being used by Alcide to try to bait Eric.
“Remember what I said today and my offer, cher,” Alcide said as he went to his truck, which he’d moved into the driveway earlier.
Sookie breathed a sigh of relief once he was gone. Her relief seemed matched by that of Jason and the boys, who returned to the porch and once again took up their beers and looked anxiously toward the road in anticipation of Bubba’s arrival.
Sookie couldn’t help but chuckle at the looks on their faces as they returned to their vigil. She turned toward Eric, who was looking at her with intensity and maybe even a hint of nervousness.
“I am sorry to disturb your evening, Sookie, especially after I promised to stay away. But I needed to speak to you; it won’t take long.”
“It’s fine, Eric. Do you want to walk a bit?” she asked, knowing that Lafayette would prefer that no one be in his clean house. “There’s a creek about half a mile that way,” Sookie gestured. “And it’s a nice night.”
“That sounds lovely, Sookie,” Eric said, motioning toward the sound of the creek and the little pathway he assumed led to it.
Sookie and Eric began to walk slowly down the path. They walked next to each other, their hands swinging within inches, but never touching. Simply enjoying each other’s presence, neither spoke until they had stopped and were looking at the water.
“Why did you need to talk to me?” Sookie finally asked.
“Would you believe for moral support?” Eric responded, a smile playing on his lips.
“Yep,” Eric answered. “I learned right after I rose for the night that Nan Flanagan is planning to kill Bill and myself this evening. She made an appointment with Bill for midnight, so that is to be the time, I suppose.”
Eric’s casual tone infuriated Sookie, even as his words frightened and shocked her. “What the fuck, Eric? What are you going to do? Does Bill know?”
“Do not worry,” Eric said as he reached out and touched Sookie’s cheek in a comforting gesture. “I have already made plans to ensure Bill’s survival and my own. We should be able to eliminate the threat Nan poses to you too.”
“I don’t like people being killed because of me!” Sookie said forcefully, her frustration apparent.
Eric chuckled, “Well, if it makes you feel better, she will be coming to kill Bill and myself, so you can think of it as self-defense if you wish.”
“But why? How do you know what she’s planning?”
“I have my sources. I’ll tell you of them sometime,” he said enigmatically. “But for now, I can tell you that the vampire Authority wants to replace the entire regime of Louisiana in the wake of the necromancer.”
“But y’all killed her.”
“Yes, but there are powerful vampires who would like to get their hands on Louisiana since it has the potential to be a very rich state due to tourism and legal gambling in the Gulf and along the Mississippi.”
“What are you going to do to stop them?”
“The ones who want the state? Nothing―at present.”
“Their voices are only being listened to because the state is currently perceived to be weak under Bill’s regime. The reaction of the Authority is actually quite normal, especially given that Nan is no longer in favor and cannot act to protect Bill’s interests.
“She was protecting him? But he seemed to hate her.”
“You’ve met Nan. We all hate her,” Eric deadpanned. “And yes, she has been protecting Bill and even arranged to help him kill Sophie Ann so that he could take over the state. He’s been basically acting as her go-to man in matters of P.R. He’s a great poster boy for the AVL and the mainstreaming movement, after all. In exchange, she’s given him access to the guards he’s using and has kept away threats that might have occurred given the fact that he’s so young. I found out this evening that she recruited him in the 1980s and that he’d been her spy in Sophie Ann’s court as well.”
Sookie was silent for a minute, taking in Eric’s words. “So Bill’s been a kind of figurehead king?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes, but this is the same with many vampire kings and queens. It is the sheriffs that must do most of the real work.” He winked at her. “And now that four out of five of Louisiana’s sheriffs are dead and Bill has no way to consolidate his power on his own, he is a vulnerable target.”
“And you?” Sookie’s voice cracked a bit
“Well I’d be the last member left of a fallen regime. I would be―for lack of a better term―a lose end. I’m sure the fact that I was recently possessed is a convenient excuse, however.”
“So Nan’s coming to kill you at midnight,” Sookie said matter-of-factly.
“Something like that,” Eric smiled down at her and then looked at the creek. He couldn’t help but recall how they’d made love for the first time on a night similar to this one, near a similar body of water.
“But you’re not going to let her kill you,” Sookie said with resolve.
“Something like that,” Eric smiled again.
“So, what’s your plan? I know you have one.”
“Indeed. I have arranged for three powerful vampires―one older than even me and the other two very well-regarded―to take over as sheriffs tonight. That is, if Bill agrees, of course. He will contact the authority shortly after 11:00 p.m. with myself and two of the others at his side. It will look like he has reestablished the power structure of the kingdom and as if his command is not in question here.”
“So the ‘official’ reason for removing Bill will be removed,” Sookie observed.
“And you and Bill will be safe.”
“I always will account for my own safety as well as yours,” Eric winked. “But, yes, if Bill agrees to this plan, he will be safe as well.”
“When Bill speaks with the Authority, they will most likely order him to kill Nan; she has become something of a thorn in their sides, and they will be thirsting for someone’s death this evening. They will see it as a win-win situation. If Bill is able and willing to dispose of Nan, who is herself a very powerful vampire, then he will be perceived as strong enough to stay king and will be looked at as independent from Nan for the first time. If she somehow succeeds in killing him, as well as myself and the other sheriffs, then their original plan will have worked out.”
“Oh,” Sookie said, looking concerned. “You say that she is powerful. Could she win tonight?”
Eric looked contemplative, “Possible, but not likely. She will not expect Thalia and Isabel to be there. Plus, she will not be aware that we know of her plan to eliminate us. However, she will most likely have guards with her even more highly trained than Bill’s, and since Bill’s own guards were originally arranged by Nan, they will not be trustworthy. But―no― I don’t think she will succeed in her plans. She has always been over-confident, and tonight it will be her undoing. I’m sure that she intends to kill me first as I am her only perceived threat, but I have some tricks up my sleeve and under my shirt,” he said with a twinkle in his eye as he pulled up his T-shirt to reveal a very thin garment that resembled a bullet-proof vest. “This will repel any wooden bullets that her guards―or Bill’s―wish to send my way.”
Sookie reached out and touched the vest lightly, “Silver bullets too?”
“Yes,” Eric said quietly, watching Sookie closely as she touched him through the vest. “It should repel those as well.”
Sookie raised her eyes to Eric. “You’re going to be the one to kill her, aren’t you?” Sookie asked softly.
“It will most likely have to be me,” Eric returned, looking Sookie straight in the eye so that he could gauge her reaction. “She is over 800 years old and Bill would be no match for her, and I plan for Isabel and Thalia to be out of sight when we confront Nan.”
“But why? Why not have them there to make sure you survive.”
Eric looked back toward the water, “I wish to try to get Nan to disclose whether she has told anyone about your abilities, and if she sees the others, she will know that she has fallen into a trap. If, however, she thinks she is about to defeat us, she may well be boastful.”
“Oh,” Sookie took in a deep breath. “Do you think she’s told anyone about me?”
“I am almost certain she has not.”
“How can you know?”
“There have been no vampires around your residence as of yet. If the Authority knew, it would have attempted to take you by now.”
“Oh.” Sookie didn’t know whether to be comforted or terrified by Eric’s words.
He continued, “Also, I have been told that she has requested an audience with the Authority for several hours after she is meeting with Bill and me. She must know that her own position is tenuous. She has also hinted that she will be in the position to demonstrate her continued essentiality to the Authority.”
“You think that’s about me, don’t you?”
“I don’t want you to endanger yourself just to get information from her.” Sookie continued passionately, “Promise me that you won’t do that.”
Eric shook his head, “I promise that I will be alive at the end of this night. I promise that Nan will be no more. But I can never promise not to do everything possible to ensure your safety.” His eyes shone with sincerity and fervor.
The two were silent for a moment as they stood there looking at each other.
“I appreciate your telling me what’s going on, Eric,” Sookie finally spoke.
“I probably shouldn’t, but I . . .”
Sookie interrupted, “needed moral support?”
“Yes,” Eric laughed.
“What did Bill say about all of this?”
“To be honest, I have yet to tell him.”
“You came to see me first? To tell me before him?”
They stood silent for another moment, both turning their eyes to the dark water. Finally, Eric spoke, “We should probably get back. Pam has been here for a few minutes now, and I have one more errand before I go to Bill’s.”
“Pam’s here?” Sookie asked excitedly. “Is Bubba with her?”
“Yes. Your friend Lafayette has already shown him the house and is fawning all over him even as we speak.”
“How do you know all that?”
Eric pointed to his ears.
“Ah, so you have super hearing?” Sookie asked. “I had no idea vampires could hear from this far away.”
“Well, we are not actually that far away as the crow flies, and . . .”
Sookie interrupted with a wry smile, “or as you fly.”
“Right,” Eric smiled back, “and I also have really, really good hearing, much better than other vampires. It’s one of my special gifts.”
“Special gifts?” Sookie asked.
Eric reached out to take her hand as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do. Hands entwined, they began walking back to the house at a leisurely pace.
Sookie looked at their joined hands, so comfortably locked together. She prayed that he and Bill would be okay.
Eric followed her gaze. His eyebrows waggled. “We fit together well, don’t you think? And in many ways too,” he said suggestively.
Sookie’s blush was obvious even in the dark. “Don’t get fresh, mister,” Sookie responded, enjoying that Eric was flirting with her, in spite of herself.
He laughed before answering her previous question. “Most vampires have one or more ‘extra’ strengths; we call them gifts.”
“Oh?” Sookie asked.
“We sometimes get gifts from our makers, passed along traits through the blood. Godric too could fly, for example. I am lucky; I have two gifts other than flight, though I am not certain where they come from―if I had to guess, however, I would say they are from Godric’s maker. A vampire’s gifts also get stronger and stronger as he or she ages.”
“What are your other gifts?” Sookie asked curiously, stopping their progress toward the house.
“I have very good hearing, as I said. And I have an excellent nose.”
“I wouldn’t call it excellent,” Sookie said reaching her unoccupied hand up to tap him lightly on the nose, “but it’s adequate.”
Eric smiled broadly as he realized that Sookie was flirting back with him. He had to reach far back in his memories, but he knew that he was feeling like he did when a kitchen maid first flirted with him when he was around twelve or thirteen years old. If Eric didn’t know better, he’d think he had what humans called ‘butterflies’ in his stomach.
“It’s a useful nose, at least,” he said grinning. “I can track much more easily than anyone else of my kind that I have ever met, and my range is much farther. I can also pick up many scents that even the oldest of Weres will miss.”
“I can see where that might be handy.” Sookie paused and then bit her lip as she thought about some of the other ways Eric was gifted―his gracious plenty being one of them. She couldn’t help the blush rising to her cheeks again.
Eric was able to surmise what Sookie was most likely thinking about from the flush on her cheeks and the increase of her heart rate as well as the scent of her arousal. He chuckled and thought about remaining silent so as not to embarrass Sookie, but he couldn’t help himself. He spoke seductively, “My, my, Miss Stackhouse. Let me assure you that whatever you are thinking about right now is not another vampire ‘gift’; it is a natural ability, one which I have endeavored to perfect over the years.”
Sookie blushed even more, and then they both laughed.
Hands still firmly together, the two resumed their walk toward Lafayette’s house.
“Does Bill have a gift?” Sookie asked suddenly.
“I don’t know. You will have to ask him,” Eric said. “We tend to guard our gifts carefully. They can give us an advantage if our enemies do not know of them. Many vampires know that I can fly because they have seen it, but only Pam, Godric, and Godric’s maker ever knew of my other gifts. And now―you know, of course.”
“Well, I’m honored, Mr. Northman. And I’ll keep your gifts to myself,” Sookie assured, smiling up at him. “Can Pam fly?”
Eric chuckled, “She cannot. And she never lets me forget it either. According to Pam, it is all my fault too; she thinks I must not have been trying hard enough when I turned her. She often reads me Dear Abby columns to confirm her supposition.
Sookie laughed, “That sounds like her!”
A few moments later, Eric stopped walking and turned to Sookie, his eyes taking on a very serious look. “I want you to promise me something.”
“What?” she asked, frightened by the sudden, heavy tone of his voice.
“If things go badly tonight, I want you to run. Pam will know what to do, and she will have money for you to use.”
Sookie shook her head and was about to speak when Eric insisted, “Sookie, if Nan succeeds in killing us or if the Authority does not lift the execution orders for Bill and myself, then you will be in grave danger. Nan most likely plans to find you after doing away with Bill and me, and she will tie herself to you by the blood against your will. Then she will try to control your gifts and use you as a bargaining chip to further her own ambitions. This is not a life you would want, Sookie.” His voice had gotten low and his thumb stroked the palm of her hand. “Please,” he said, a desperate tinge to his voice, “In order to be at my sharpest tonight, I need to know you will be safe―no matter what happens to me.”
Sookie looked into his bright blue eyes and couldn’t deny him. She nodded in silent agreement.
“Thank you, Sookie. I will notify Pam after it’s all over―when I know we are all secure. And in addition to Bubba, I will leave Pam here. If there is no word from me by 12:30, Pam will know what to do.”
Sookie shook her head. “Your notifying Pam won’t be enough for me.” She gripped his hand tightly. “Come here―come back to me―when you know we are safe,” she said in a desperate whisper.
Eric nodded. “Always” was his simple response. He bent down and kissed her forehead lightly.
Eric and Sookie finished the walk to Lafayette’s home in silence, still holding each other’s hand. Pam was sitting on the porch with Jason, who had a star-struck look on his face.
Pam drawled, “Mister Genius here almost said the E-word, so I’m babysitting while the witches fawn over Bubba.”
Eric laughed and then began speaking to Pam quickly in Swedish. At one point he looked seriously at Sookie. After a few minutes, Pam nodded and said, “As you wish, master.”
After Eric was done talking to his child, he turned to Sookie, “You ready to meet the King?”
Sookie put her anxiety over Eric and Bill’s safety to the side and let her excitement build back up. She nodded and stared eagerly at the front door.
Eric took Sookie’s hand again and led her inside. Standing in the middle of the kitchen and looking somewhat nonplussed at the TruBlood in his hand was Elvis Presley. Sookie couldn’t hold back her squeal, and Eric gave her a slight warning glance.
“Bubba,” Eric said, “I’d like to introduce you to your charge.”
Sookie grinned as Bubba moved toward her. He reached out his hand to shake hers. Knowing vampires usually didn’t shake hands, she looked at Eric, wondering what to do.
Eric nodded at her and then dropped her hand, signaling that it was fine to answer Bubba’s gesture, so Sookie reached out and shook the hand of the King.
“Howdy, Miss Sookie,” Bubba said warmly, his tell-tale accent apparent. “Mister Eric said you was pretty and you sure are!”
Sookie smiled, “It’s so nice to meet you, Bubba, and thanks so much for taking care of me like this.”
Eric took in the room, noticing the daisies he’d sent arranged in a vase. Sookie followed his eyes.
“Thanks for the flowers, by the way,” she said looking at Eric.
He smiled. Again, he bent down to kiss her on the forehead. “I’ll see you later, Sookie.”
She caught the sob that was trying to rise in her throat and responded, “You’d better.”
“Don’t worry none, Mister Eric,” Bubba said. “I will look after her real good for you.”
“That is good, Bubba,” Eric said gratefully. “She’s very important to me.” He took Sookie’s hand once more and brought it slowly to his lips, giving it a soft kiss. “May I take one?” he asked, gesturing toward the daisies.
Sookie just nodded as Eric took a flower from the vase. He gave her one last glance, and then disappeared out the door.