With her telepathy, Sookie ‘listened’ to what was going on outside as Eric and she approached the exit. She heard four human brains in the parking lot—brains that belonged to Bill’s heavily-armed guards. Her anxiety rocketed through the bond, and she was frustrated with herself for not thinking to listen to see if Bill had any guards outside before.
Eric felt Sookie’s unease, guessed its origin, and―since Bill was walking in front of them—mouthed the word, “Miranda,” to her. Sookie immediately relaxed and squeezed his hand. For about the millionth time, she was glad that her man was a Plan A to Z kind of guy. Eric seemed to prepare for all foreseeable contingencies; her pride for her husband surged through the bond, and she caught him smiling a little at the feeling of that surge.
“So―what’s all this about?” Bill asked impatiently once they had moved quite a distance from the front door and were definitely out of the earshot of all those inside—be they human or shifter or Were. Sookie noticed that Bubba had taken up a position about twenty feet to their right, and she smiled at her loyal vampire guard. She also saw that Thalia was right next to Bubba, looking on with her normal fierce expression.
“What has Jessica done?” Bill asked, more insistently. “Did she break a bottle on your precious bar room floor?”
“No, Bill,” Eric managed to keep his voice even, though Sookie felt his anger surge through the bond. “Tonight your child―in front of six witnesses―took the blood of an unwilling Were.”
“What?” Bill asked, looking truly worried. “I have told her again and again that she must take blood only in private and only from the willing. She would not disobey me.”
“Did you command her?” Eric asked Bill, impatience now edging into his voice.
“No―but she has almost always done what I’ve asked her to do,” Bill insisted.
“Well, according to the witnesses, one of whom was Pam, she did not follow your advice, Bill. She attacked the under-aged Were in the middle of the back room at Fangtasia,” Eric said, his voice now low. “Pam has contained the situation, and the human witnesses have been glamoured and their picture-taking devices checked. However, there were also vampire witnesses and another Were on the premises.”
“What of Jessica?” Bill asked.
“She’s being held under silver in the basement of Fangtasia by Pam.”
Bill closed his eyes and assessed his bond with his child. “But I feel no pain from her,” he said.
“I have instructed Pam to secure her with silver but not to place it onto her skin until I have passed judgment for her crime,” Eric said.
“But surely I can take care of the situation so that no punishment is required. It was only a Were, after all,” Bill said with a sneer.
Eric growled a bit at Bill’s dismissal of Weres as a whole and then shook his head. “No, Bill. Even if I were incompetent enough of a sheriff to overlook my duties, I could not in this case. There are too many witnesses.”
“Surely Jessica is not fully to blame,” Bill hedged, his Southern accent beginning to grate on Eric’s nerves. “This boy―the Were—did he have any culpability?”
Eric sighed, “According to Pam, Jessica and the Were had been dancing for a while and seemed to be getting along well, but at some point, Jessica took things too far, and the boy tried to leave. That is when she attacked him. She nearly tore his fucking throat out, Bill. Ludwig was required! That kind of thing cannot just be swept under a rug—and will not be swept under a rug in Area 5.”
“So he led her on then?” Bill insisted. “He is at least as much to blame as she is. Jessica is young and simply couldn’t control her urges.”
Sookie spoke up, “Listen, Bill, I wasn’t there, and you know how much I care for Jessica, but ‘no’ means no, okay? And the Were apparently said ‘no’ at some point.”
Bill looked at Sookie sharply, “But that is exactly what Eric did to you with Russell―he took your blood without your permission! If that is the case, then he needs to be punished too!”
Sookie tried to keep her voice even, “You took a whole hell of a lot more blood from me than Eric did in the back of that van, Bill Compton. By your logic, both of you need to be punished.” She took a deep breath, “You can’t compare what happened with Eric and me―or with you and me―to what happened with Jessica.”
Eric looked at Bill with anger in his eyes, “Yes―Bill, let’s not make fallacious comparisons, and let’s also not forget that I was fucking punished for what I did to Sookie. I passed the fucking sentence myself, and you watched via closed-circuit television if I remember correctly.”
“Eric?” Sookie looked up at him with questioning in her eyes.
Eric sighed and calmed his temper by concentrating on the feel of Sookie’s hand still nestled in his.
Bill looked triumphant, “I see you still hold secrets from Sookie―something I would never do.”
“Eric?” Sookie asked her husband again, not looking at Bill.
“I do not keep secrets from my bonded and pledged mate, Compton,” Eric returned, still trying to contain his rage. “But she was gone for a year, and many topics have yet to arise between us.” He looked down at Sookie and raised her hand to his lips. “I will tell you now if you wish, min kván.” He turned a glare onto Bill. “Or better yet, Bill―why don’t you tell Sookie. I’m sure that she would be happy to hear about your initiative in the matter.”
Sookie looked at Bill, “Well?”
Bill glared at Eric and then looked at Sookie with pleading eyes. “Eric took blood from you without your permission, and then you disappeared. He needed to be punished.”
Eric bent down toward Sookie, curving his back a bit in the way she loved so much. “I did take your blood against your will, min kära. That act is now against our laws no matter who does it and no matter what purpose it is done for. I had already submitted the paperwork for my own punishment before Bill and I even took Russell to his cement grave.”
“Lies!” Bill yelled. “Eric would never willingly submit to punishment because he would never admit that he was wrong!”
Sookie squeezed Eric’s hand. Bill had no idea that she could feel the truth in Eric’s words through their bond. And the Civil War veteran also had no idea that she had already noticed several eye twitches from him.
“What was the punishment?” she asked Eric softly.
“I suggested the standard punishment for myself. I left your name out of the situation, but I reported to Nan and the Authority that I had taken blood from an unwilling human in order to entrap Russell. I also admitted to encouraging Russell to feed as well. The official story is that the blood of the human was AB-negative and of very rare quality. I told the Authority that I was able to subdue Russell with silver when he was distracted by taking blood from the woman.”
“What’s the standard punishment, Eric?” Sookie asked, placing a gentle hand on his forearm.
“When the offense is out of the public eye, and the human in question is not damaged to the point of needing medical attention, the standard punishment is silvering and the payment of reparations to the humans and a fine to the Authority,” Eric responded. “Of course,” he continued, “very few such cases are heard because the human is most often glamoured to forget what has happened.”
Sookie trembled a little. “You were silvered for me?”
“Yes,” Eric answered evenly. “It was not for long.”
“How long?” Sookie asked, thinking of Eric being chained down with silver at the Fellowship of the Sun church and then again during the Marnie incident.
“Five days,” Eric answered evenly.
“Five,” Sookie quaked as she pulled herself into Eric’s embrace. “Days and nights?”
“Yes,” Eric answered even as he comforted her. “It was nothing Sookie. Nothing like the pain of you being gone,” he whispered to her.
Sookie sniffled loudly as her sorrow was replaced by anger. She pulled back from Eric and leveled her gaze at Bill. “How long is the standard silvering?” she asked Eric even though she was glaring at Bill. “How long will Jessica have to endure it?”
“If her victim is agreeable, then she will face a few hours under silver,” Eric said coolly.
Bill spoke in a beseeching voice, “Sookie, Eric used you—is still just using you! He forced you to take his blood. He took your blood without your permission! And then he broke your heart by telling you about the queen’s plans. Once I was king, I was in the position to make sure he paid, so I did.” Bill looked at Eric with hatred in his eyes. “Eric is to blame for our not being together now, Sookie. You must know this!”
“Ah,” Sookie said, gripping her mate’s hand hard and desperately trying to control her building rage. “That’s the heart of the matter, isn’t it, Bill? Eric made sure that I would know about your duplicity, and you wanted your revenge!”
Bill looked at Sookie with imploring eyes, “You were about to forgive me for my transgressions that evening, Sookie. We would be happy and together even now if he hadn’t ruined things!”
Sookie could feel the magic burning inside of her. Eric felt her grip on him tighten even more.
“And what did you do to punish yourself, Bill Compton? You also took my blood without my permission in that van. And god knows what you would have done to me if Alcide and Tara hadn’t opened those van doors!” Her voice lowered and her tone became pained, “Don’t think that I don’t know how close you came to raping me.”
At these words, Eric stiffened, his own rage now filling the bond. It was Sookie’s turn to send him comfort and hold him back.
Sookie shook her head, “Bill Compton, I have tried to be polite to you because you are essentially Eric’s boss and because I once thought I loved you.” Her voice grew cold. “But I’m finished with all that. You are a two-faced, manipulative sack of shit. Do you actually think that Eric deserved to lie in silver chains for five fucking days and nights after he saved all of our lives by trapping Russell? No—you wanted him in those chains so that you could get revenge because he told me the truth about you—the fuckin’ truth, Bill!”
Eric felt Sookie’s wrath, and he instinctually knew that he couldn’t stop the magic that was welling up in her right along with that rage. “Thalia containment!” he said in the direction of the diminutive vampiress standing next to Bubba. Immediately she disappeared into the night.
Eric then sent waves of support to his wife. Whatever she was about to do, he wanted her to know that he was behind her.
Sookie was not finished with Bill. “You are the one that took advantage, Bill. You lied to me the first night we met. You had me beaten, you tricked me into taking your blood, and you took mine―without fuckin’ askin’ first, I might add. You also took my virginity, you hid things from me, you outright lied to me, and you intended to take me to Sophie-Anne.”
“But I love you,” Bill stammered. “I never . . .”
Sookie interrupted, “No! No more, Bill!” She seemed to be lighting up from within, and Eric absorbed as much of her power as he could through their share grip. In his chest, he felt the fairy bond warming and pulling at him, almost as if it were trying to absorb his magic.
Sookie continued, “You shut the fuck up, Bill Compton! Here is the score―okay. You need to get over this delusion that you have. You don’t truly love me, and you haven’t done everything you’ve done to protect me! You are never―never―gonna have me, Bill Compton. Never! And if you ever―ever―try to put your blood into me again, I will fuckin’ end you! And if you ever hurt Eric, I will fuckin’ hurt you, and then I will end you. And if Eric is ever hurt by a seemingly random event, I will fuckin’ kill you for good fuckin’ measure—just in case!”
“Darling, I love . . . ,” Bill started.
At Bill’s use of the word, ‘darling,’ Eric dropped his wife’s hand, no longer able to take the energy flowing through her and no longer wanting to stop her from doing what she needed to do. Whatever the consequences, he was going to simply stand back and watch his wife work, and if he had to become king at the end of the night because Bill was a pile of goo, he’d gladly do whatever it took for Sookie to have her peace of mind.
Sookie’s voice was ice cold and fire at the same time. “I warned you never to call me that again!” Light shot from Sookie’s fingertips―yellow light that brightened the parking lot and shot straight into Bill’s chest. The white light that had enveloped and healed Eric during the Festival of Tolerance was nothing like the blaze that was now shooting Bill Compton straight into Sookie’s car, which she’d insisted upon driving with Miranda that morning. The force of Bill’s body dented the front end of the car beyond repair, and he yelled out at the impact.
Eric watched in awe as the light died from Sookie’s hands and she slowly walked the twenty feet that now stood between her and Bill; Eric followed his wife at a distance. Unable to move, Compton lay prostrate on the hood of Sookie’s now-destroyed car.
“That was for lyin’ to me and stealin’ things from me!” She spat on him in just the way Jason had taught her when they were kids. “And that is for doin’ what you did to Eric! You better keep your mother fuckin’ hands off of my mother fuckin’ husband from now on, your majesty. What I gave you tonight is just the appetizer. If you cross me again, I’ll feed you the fuckin’ main course!”
Eric quickly used his senses to assess the surroundings. Jarod had Bill’s human guards subdued on the other side of the building. Thalia had made sure that no witnesses had come out of Merlotte’s during the last few minutes, and no one new had arrived since they’d come outside. The only witnesses to Sookie’s display―other than Thalia, Bubba, Bill and himself―had been Miranda and Tray, whom Eric heard waiting at the side of the building. “Son of a bitch,” Eric heard Miranda intone under her breath.
Bill was in obvious pain, but he hesitantly sat up and then slowly got down from the hood of Sookie’s car.
“Do you and I have an understanding now, Bill?” Sookie asked harshly.
Bill nodded. “Yes,” he whispered.
“Excellent,” Sookie said, “Now, why don’t you and Eric talk about what is gonna happen to Jessica?”
Bill nodded again.
Sookie took in the damage to her car for the first time. Under her breath, she muttered, “Oh—Eric’s gonna just love this.” And Sookie did indeed feel her husband’s amusement—along with a large dose of pride—coming from his side of the bond.
“You broke your car with Bill,” Eric chuckled.
She turned around and gave her husband a warning glance. “I’ll slam your ass into the other end of it if you don’t stop gloating, Mr. Viking!” She put her hands on her hips.
Eric’s chuckle changed to a smirk, but his amusement doubled in the bond. “You can slam my ass whenever and wherever you see fit, lover.”
Sookie sighed indulgently and rolled her eyes. She shook her finger at him. “You will not buy me a new car, Viking.”
Eric’s smirk stayed on his face as Sookie walked back to his side.
“Warmed him up for me―did you, sweetie?” Eric asked playfully.
“He’s all yours, sugar lips,” Sookie answered sassily.
Unable to stop himself, Eric pulled her into a searing kiss that promised a lot more for later.
“Fuck,” Sookie muttered. “Sugar lips is right. You’d better follow through with that kiss later.”
Eric growled and then let her go as he approached Bill. “My wife is the fucking bomb, isn’t she?” he asked.
Sookie chuckled lightly at Eric’s use of slang.
“Now, here is what is going to happen with your child, your majesty. Jessica is going to face the usual punishment with silver. I will ask Pam to take care of this.”
Bill had recovered enough by this time to scoff.
“Pamela is well-versed in the arts of torture, I assure you,” Eric said, his voice menacing. “It was I who taught them to her. Jessica will feel much pain for several hours but have no lasting damage.”
“Fine,” Bill said, keeping his own anger in check. His eyes fleeted between Eric and Sookie. “What else?”
“You will pay the medical bills and reparations of fifty thousand dollars to the family of the Were.”
Bill looked up at Eric with hate in his eyes, but choked out, “Agreeable.”
“Good,” Eric said. “And according to the mandates of Area 5, Jessica is to be banished.”
“No!” Bill said quickly. “She will be killed or die if she has to be completely on her own. She lacks the ability to care for herself right now!”
“And whose fucking fault is that, Bill?” Eric asked. “You’ve had the better part of two years with her. Two years to train her! By two years old, Pam was already an amazing vampire, and you have seen how obstinate she can be. Jessica could have been thus if you had taken a firm hand with her—if you had been an adequate maker.”
Bill shook his head almost scornfully. “Jessica came out of the fucking grave fighting me—defying me. I thought that she’d grown out of all that.” He shook his head ruefully. “I will pay the fine, and she will face silver. That is enough punishment.
That was the cue Tray needed to step forward. “Not good enough, sheriff,” the Were said threateningly. “Not nearly fucking good enough! A few hours in silver and a fine that the AVL will probably pay for their poster boy are not gonna do it! And banishment is no guarantee that the girl won’t come back and finish what she started tonight.”
“She will be chained in silver and placed in a coffin for a year if she comes back into this territory after she is banished,” Eric said.
“But what about the damage she could cause before she is caught the next time?” Tray asked. “No―I need more assurances than that for my pack.”
Bill spoke up, “I will guarantee that she won’t harm the boy again. As her maker, I will command her.”
Tray sneered. “Still not good enough. You have proven yourself an inept maker, Compton, and I don’t trust you to make sure that the girl is made safe to be around Weres.”
Bill had puffed himself up, despite the fact that his clothes were still unkempt from Sookie’s blast. “How dare you, Were! I am the king of Louisiana!”
“Yes―the vampire king. Not my king!” Tray yelled. “And I am the packmaster of this region, and I aim to make sure that my people are safe.”
Bill scoffed, “You are in Eric’s back pocket, packmaster. Don’t think that I don’t see what is going on here.”
Tray was in front of Bill in a second, his hands held like claws. In his weakened state, Bill shrunk back a bit. “Northman may be my associate—even my friend—in some things, but the Were that was attacked tonight is my fucking nephew, Compton, so despite the respect that I might hold for the Sheriff of Area 5, my first allegiance is to my own flesh and blood and my pack! And for the record, I hold no such respect for you.”
Tray was so convincing that even Sookie shrunk back a bit. The Were continued, “And I’m a new packmaster too. An example must be made of this vampire if our cordial relationship is to continue, Northman!” Tray turned around for a moment to give Sookie and Eric a sly wink before looking back at Bill. “Banishment for the girl is not acceptable. If she’d attacked a human in this way, she would be killed—no questions asked! I want her in a silver coffin for the boy’s lifetime—at the very least!”
“Put her in my custody,” Bill pleaded. “I will guarantee . . .”
Tray interrupted. “I already said that wasn’t fucking good enough! I don’t trust you to keep your child in line! I want her controlled or dead for what she did to my nephew!”
There were a few moments of tense silence.
“Would you trust me?” Eric asked Tray.
“What do you mean?” Tray snarled, turning around a bit so that he could look at Eric while still keeping an eye on Bill.
“After her silvering, I will place her into Pam’s custody. The vampire in question is actually quite promising. With the right hand, she could turn out well,” Eric reasoned.
Tray looked back at Eric, “You would guarantee her behavior yourself?”
Eric nodded. “If she misbehaves again—even a little—she will go to the coffin in silver or to her final death.”
Tray looked back at Bill. “I want assurances that her maker,” he said the last word with excess contempt, “cannot interfere with your governance of her, Northman. Otherwise, there is no deal, and there will be no further dealings between vampires and Weres in this region. I will also report this matter to the AVL! Let’s see what they would do with the information that a vampire has attacked a Were in front of humans! I’m guessin’ they’d order her immediate death.”
Eric walked closer to Bill. “King, I suggest you order Jessica to obey Pam like a maker and then lift your hold over the girl and set her free. After that, Pamela and I will take responsibility for her.” He looked at Tray. “Would that be acceptable to the pack, Dawson?”
Bill shook his head and yelled out, “Never—I’ll not allow you to take Jessica too.” He looked at Sookie.
Tray stepped back, “Then, vampire king, we’ll leave it up to the AVL.”
Bill looked from Tray to Eric. “But the AVL will surely order her death.”
“And good riddance,” Tray said harshly.
“It is your choice, Bill,” Eric said—his voice taking on a conciliatory tone. “You and I both know that Jessica would be dead already had she attacked a human instead of a Were.” Eric sighed audibly, drawing Bill’s attention completely to him. “Bill, we have many differences, and I know that you hate me because Sookie is mine, but I do not want to see young Jessica die. And I fear that with banishment or with interference from the AVL or the Authority, that is exactly what will happen to her. Did you not see her potential during the witch war, Bill? Jessica could—with someone who wished to guide her—become a great vampire. And you yourself have told me that you never wanted to be a maker. Let Pam have a try with the girl. Let your child live, Bill.” Sookie could tell through the bond that every word Eric was saying was sincere. She just hoped that Bill would agree—for Jessica’s sake.
Bill looked at Eric and then at Tray, who had folded his arms over his chest defiantly. Bill’s expression turned to defeat. “Fine―I agree to your terms, Were.”
Sookie walked up and took Eric’s hand. She looked at Bill, “For what it’s worth,” she said in a kind voice, “I think you’re doing the right thing, Bill. You never wanted a child anyway.”
“Saving your life gave her to me,” Bill said bitterly.
Sookie took a deep breath, and the kindness slipped from her tone. “Saving my life to protect me so that you could hand me over to your queen DID cause you to have to make Jessica, Bill.” Sookie looked up at Eric, “Can we go back in? I’m freezin’ my ass off out here.”
Eric chuckled and took off his leather jacket to drape around Sookie’s shoulders. “I’m sorry, min kära. I should have given you this before; however, in my defense you were―quite literally―on fire earlier.”
She pulled the coat around her and smiled. “Well—now I’m cold, so thanks.”
Eric glanced back at Bill and pulled out his phone to text Pam. “I will have Pam conduct Jessica’s punishment in one hour’s time if you wish to temporarily close off or limit your bond with her. Dawson, are three hours sufficient?”
The Were nodded curtly.
Eric continued, “Good―Jessica will be brought to our home tomorrow evening, Bill, and you will come at 7:00 sharp to complete what you agreed to here.”
“I demand to be there as a witness,” Tray growled.
Sookie said, “You are welcome at our home whenever you want, Tray.”
The Were couldn’t help but to smile at the fact that Sookie’s polite tone had essentially canceled out his bullish one. “Thank you, Sookie,” he nodded.
Eric looked at Bill, “Your human guards will be glamoured so that if they did witness or hear anything that Sookie did tonight, they will neither remember nor be able to speak of it.” He motioned to Thalia, who quickly went around to the other side of the building.
Bill huffed as he straightened his clothing. “Do not forget that I am the king here.”
Eric was in his face at full fang in less than a second, “And do not forget who enabled you to stay in that position, Billy boy. Do you remember the bargain that we made―that if Sookie chose you, I would back off, and you would do the same? She has chosen! Now you live up to your part of that bargain if you want to keep living at all.” Eric smiled warningly, “Or I’ll send my wife ‘round to knock you on your ass again.”
Bill snarled, “Do not forget that she saved my life at the Festival of Tolerance by knocking you out with her magic too, Eric.”
“Did you see me on my ass that day, Bill?” Eric asked with a snarl of his own. “Tsk, tsk, your majesty. You have no fucking clue the kind of magic that Sookie and I have together; if you want to find out, however, you will continue to push us.”
Eric moved back. “Meanwhile, Bill,” the Viking said, “you should see to your date. We’ll be expecting your summons for Sookie’s work.”
He bowed curtly even as Sookie reached for his hand, and the couple began the short walk back to the bar.