“Nothing so completely baffles one who is full of trick and duplicity himself, than straightforward and simple integrity in another.”—Charles Caleb Colton
In truth, Bill Compton was having a difficult time pinning down his current motives.
When he’d first seen the altered video of Eric and Freyda, he’d celebrated, knowing that the images would likely destroy any faith that Susanna—or Sookie (as she apparently still wanted to be known)—had in Eric Northman.
It wasn’t as if Bill had become obsessed with looking for a way to drive a wedge between Eric and Sookie. After he’d seen Sookie back in late December, Bill had resolved to move on. After all, Sookie had seemed quite attached to Northman, and Bill had wanted nothing to do with Bobby Burnham, Eric’s watchdog. Moreover, Agent Travis Fletcher had offered Bill a threat—though it had been disguised as a piece of advice.
Fletcher had told Bill that, should he do anything to interfere in Eric’s and Sookie’s lives, Bill’s more questionable “recruitment tactics”—including his seduction of Michelle Stackhouse in order to get information on Sookie—would come to light. It wasn’t as if Bill was scared of Travis Fletcher. The man wasn’t his direct superior, nor were they even in the same division.
However, Fletcher’s threat was the tipping point, as Bill’s own self-preservation impulses became stronger than his desire to get Sookie back.
But it wasn’t as if Bill had given up entirely either. Michelle Stackhouse had obviously spilled her guts to Franklin Mott; then, Mott had shown up on Bill’s doorstep in Texas. Bill hadn’t told the man much—at least, not at first. He had thought that Franklin might be a plant from Eric Northman or Fletcher, sent to try to trip him up.
Unfortunately, however, Lorena had been “visiting” Bill when Mott had arrived, and she’d hit it off with him. As soon as it had become apparent that Mott had been sent by Appius Northman, who seemed to have great animosity toward his son, Bill had made the choice to play both sides. He’d given Mott some information, but he’d mainly ensured—through manipulation—that Lorena would tell Mott all she knew.
To further his aims, Bill had initiated a fight with Lorena and sent her away, knowing that she’d seek out the still snooping Mott out of spite. Then, Bill had called Travis Fletcher, explaining that he needed to contact Sookie in order to warn her about Mott. Of course, Fletcher had denied him Sookie’s phone number, which Bill—of course—already knew anyway. He was in the FBI, after all! And he had connections of his own—and access to the Bureau’s secured internet server. However, Bill had refrained from calling Sookie and had, instead, called Bobby Burnham, whose number Fletcher had given to him.
Pretending contrition, Bill had told Burnham all about Mott visiting him, his theory that Mott had been sent by Appius Northman, and his supposition that Michelle Stackhouse had already spoken to Mott.
Bill had hoped that Sookie would at least call him to thank him for his efforts, but she hadn’t.
He had been disappointed, but he’d moved on. And, for a little while, he didn’t think much about Sookie. He began recruiting a lovely woman named Selah, who was gifted in languages and accents. And that wasn’t all her tongue was good at producing either—thus the distraction. Selah, unlike Sookie, had embraced the offer to become a member of the FBI, and Bill had helped with her initial training. In turn, she’d helped him to forget about Sookie for a while.
But Selah was on assignment now, and Bill didn’t expect to see her again for quite some time. He’d been bored and horny when he’d been called to present at the conference at Quantico. However, that boredom dissipated when Warren Daniels showed him the cleverly modified video of “Eric” fucking Freyda de Castro. In fact, the tampering was so good that many experts wouldn’t even have spotted the editing.
Bill had immediately realized that the video, which had not yet been released to the Press, could be his ticket back into Sookie’s good graces. He’d wanted to go to her immediately in order to tell her that one of his “sources” had told him about a video that would soon be released to the public. Bill planned to feign concern and tell Sookie that he’d wanted to make sure that she wasn’t caught unaware by the video’s “disturbing” contents.
However, Bill couldn’t find any trace of Sookie. She’d left her job at Northman Publishing, and, according to the tabloids, Eric Northman had had a breakdown. That’s when Bill had contacted Lorena, wondering if she could be persuaded to tell him how she’d come to be involved in the situation. By the time he was done, Bill had manipulated his ex into telling him everything: all about Appius Northman spying on his son, all about Sookie running away from New York when it became clear that she wouldn’t get to marry Eric Northman, and all about Eric’s retreat to the Hamptons following his breakdown.
After that, Bill had decided to visit Northman. Indeed, his plan had initially been to use his proof that the sex-tape had been faked as leverage to compel Eric to tell him Sookie’s location. And—if Eric didn’t know where she was—then Bill was prepared to take a payoff in exchange for the proof. But Bill hadn’t encountered Eric. He’d interrupted a strategy session taking place. And, in that moment, he’d decided that his best move would be to freely offer the proof that the video had been altered—and then to wait to figure out his next move.
After he’d learned that Sookie was married to Eric and expecting a child, the game had changed, and he’d had an important question to answer.
Did he still want Sookie?
As Bill looked at her, he became certain that he did still want her. He wanted the children she carried to be his children. However, there was currently not a clear path to her—at least, not one that didn’t involve alienating the powerful people currently in the room.
And, in all fairness, he could tell that she was truly happy with Northman. Should he simply help them and then step away? Indeed, that would be the unselfish thing to do.
Or would it?
Northman had obviously alienated his own father, and Appius Northman was a dangerous enemy to have. What if Sookie was directly targeted by him? That meant the truly unselfish thing for Bill to do would be to risk himself in order to protect her. And—just like that—Bill knew what he had to do: bide his time.
He would “help” Eric and Sookie now. He would ingratiate himself to them, and, in time, Sookie’s heart would soften toward him. Meanwhile, he would offer to track Eric for Appius. Bill knew he could convince his superior, Nan Flanagan, to let him do as he needed, since there would—once again—be an opportunity for him to recruit Sookie.
Bill smiled to himself. He would work both sides. He would make it seem like his tracking Eric for Appius was a good thing, for it would get Mott off his back. He’d tell Eric that he would do this in order to try to help them prove that Appius was behind the engineered video. Hell—he’d even bring Northman proof of Appius’s involvement in order to solidify the group’s trust in him.
Meanwhile, he would be planting ideas into Appius’s head about Eric undermining him at Northman Publishing. Bill didn’t plan to say a word about Sookie or the child, but he figured he could amp up Appius’s paranoia about his son. With any luck, that paranoia would eventually boil over and permanently damage the man holding the woman that Bill was still determined to make his own.
For her own good.
He’d just have to be patient.
He’d have to watch and wait for the perfect moment to set up Eric’s downfall. And—when it came—he would be there to help Sookie pick up the pieces. And, even better, he would have earned her trust by then—by pretending to lend Eric a helping hand, even as he stabbed him in the back.
Having made his plans, Bill felt confident as he explained to Eric and Sookie how he’d become aware of the video. He’d learned a long time before that it was often best to confess some shortcomings in order to foster future trust, so he admitted that he’d had ulterior motives in seeking Eric out, though he indicated that he hoped to use the proof of the falsified tape only as leverage to find out where Sookie was—in order to make sure that she was okay.
When she asked him what his current motivation was, Bill celebrated inside. He was ready to activate his plan to begin earning Sookie’s trust.
“What are your motives now?” Sookie asked again.
Bill ran his hand through his hair. “To help you, Sookie. I feel partially to blame for all that has happened, and I want to make that up to you—if I can.
“What do you mean by being ‘partially to blame?'” she asked.
“Had Lorena never come into your life, you and Eric might not be dealing with this current scandal. And—Lorena is in the picture only because of me,” Bill added contritely.
“How did Lorena come to get involved with Appius?” Eric asked suspiciously.
“She was—uh—visiting when Franklin Mott came to question me. They hit it off, so to speak,” Bill added bitterly.
Sookie sighed. “Thank you, Bill—for giving us proof that the video is fake.”
“You are welcome,” Bill said sincerely.
Sookie turned her attention to the others in the room. “What exactly does the tape show?” she asked in a quiet voice.
“It doesn’t matter,” Niall said protectively. “It’s a fake—like Compton said.”
Sookie looked at Niall pointedly. “I wouldn’t have needed Bill to tell me that. I know my husband.” Her tone softened a little. “But I still need to know what’s in that video. I don’t want to be blindsided.”
Bobby nodded in the direction of Blake, who stood in front of Niall’s big screen television. Blake pushed a button on the remote in his hand, and the gathered people silently watched the latest gossip report, which included a replay of the sex-tape as well as snippets from various interviews that Freyda had given during the last couple of days.
Throughout the whole report, Eric and Sookie held onto each other, and Dr. Ludwig watched the blood pressure monitor like a hawk.
“Oh my God!” Sookie exclaimed when the report had ended. “Appius is using that poor girl!”
Everyone—except for Eric—looked at Sookie with surprise.
“Sookie, Freyda isn’t innocent here,” Bobby said.
Sookie sighed. “I know that. She’s just accused my husband of sleeping with her and fathering her child, and a part of me hates her for trying to entrap Eric. But it’s also clear that she’s delusional. And—even if I’m wrong and she’s completely sane—there’s still an innocent child involved.” She wiped away a tear as her hands moved to cover her own child in her womb. “Appius is going to try to use that baby to control Eric. And he’s not gonna care at all if the child gets hurt in the process!”
Eric placed both of his hands onto Sookie’s. He was feeling his own mixture of feelings acutely. On the one hand, he hated Freyda for trying to deceive him. On the other, he too felt sorry for the child. However, his main emotion in that moment was pride. He was so damned proud of his wife—his wife.
And he was grateful.
Not for a moment had she doubted him. And her in-tune perceptions had immediately picked up on the fact that Freyda—though she was, indeed, probably unhinged—was also another victim, as was her child. At that moment, realization hit Eric like a ton of bricks. Appius doled out abuse and manipulation like most parents gave out chocolate chip cookies or other treats. To Appius, the “treat” was always seeing Eric hurt. And Appius had a special talent for causing hurt that was more insidious than overt.
Because of Sookie’s help and his sessions with Claudine, Eric had come to recognize that his father most enjoyed puttingEric into situations where he would actually hurt himself. Appius would—in many ways—set up a scene and then revel in the fact that Eric willingly acted in it. He’d done that with Eric’s first attempts to make friends in school. By influencing those kids’ parents, Appius was able to take Eric’s friends from him. And then—once that scene was set—Eric simply stopped trying to build real friendships. The fact that Bobby had been in his life for so long could be attributed to two reasons—neither of which was something Eric had done. Godric, out of pity for the friendless child at his school, introduced Bobby into Eric’s life. And it had been Bobby’s persistence that had ensured that they became friends. After all, for years, Eric had hardly spoken to Bobby when they hung out playing the old arcade games in the school’s common room. And it had been only since Sookie came into his life that Eric had really been able to open up to Bobby. Indeed, looking back, Eric recognized other people who might have been good friends to him if he’d not kept them at arm’s length. However, Appius’s “setting of the stage” had made Eric believe that distancing himself from others was the safest course of action. Thus, Eric had acted against his own self-interest. He had harmed himself, and Appius had celebrated that fact.
Eric had also harmed himself by keeping his distance from the rest of his family. When Eric was only a small boy, Appius had told him the he’d not be able to see his mormor or morfar again if he spoke about his “meetings” with his father. So—of course—he hadn’t. Even when he was older, he didn’t speak to his family about Appius’s treatment of him. Again, Appius had set the scene for Eric to isolate himself, and he had. He’d made Eric his own worst enemy.
Even the contract he’d signed with Appius was a study in his father’s ability to cause Eric to inflict pain upon himself. Eric had—because he’d thought he deserved no better and because he was afraid of Appius—signed many of his choices away. But at the time, Eric would have sworn that it was a “good deal.” Indeed, even if Appius hadn’t been blackmailing him to sign the contract, Eric wondered if he would have resisted his father’s demands. After all, Appius had conditioned him to believe that any dreams or hopes that he had for himself were pointless. So Eric had stopped even trying to hope or dream; again, he’d become his own worst enemy.
All of these thoughts flew through Eric’s mind quickly—as did another thought. Appius had wanted Freyda to become pregnant. He had wanted Eric to be too weak to resist the lure of a family of his own—even if it was with a crazy woman. He had wanted to use Eric’s supposed breakdown against him—to cause Eric to doubt his own memories—and maybe even to accept the proposition that he had actually fathered Freyda’s child. He had wanted Eric to hammer in the nails of his own coffin.
Eric sighed and the truth of what his father must have done became apparent to him. “Appius is the father of Freyda’s baby,” he stated. “I know it.”
“What?” Sookie asked.
“It’s the only thing that would make sense to Appius. He would have known that I would insist upon a DNA test, and he would need that test to make me doubt myself just enough so that I would come to accept Freyda’s story as possible.”
“You are smarter than you look,” Dr. Ludwig intoned.
Eric looked at her with a raised eyebrow.
Ludwig smirked. “What? You know I like you, Eric, but men who look like you usually have the intellect of a bag of beans.”
Eric smiled and chuckled, silently thanking the diminutive doctor for lightening the stress of the moment.
She gave him a nod, though her smirk didn’t leave her face. “Anyway, now that your ego is in check,” she said with a wink, “it’s time to catch you up on what I’ve already found out. You are right about Appius being Freyda’s child’s father. Bobby and I were able to track down Dr. Sheraton, who performed your DNA test a few years ago,” she explained. “It turns out that he shares an office space with a good friend of mine. I went to see her yesterday—while Claude and Amelia went to see Dr. Sheraton, pretending to be a couple looking into artificial insemination.”
Amelia smiled at Sookie. “You should have seen the asshole scramble to open up his schedule once he realized he had a Carmichael and a Crane wanting to see him. He was very accommodating,” she chuckled.
“While the good doctor gave Amelia and Claude a tour,” Dr. Ludwig picked up, “my intern snuck into his office.”
“Intern?” Sookie asked.
“Me,” Thalia grinned. “I planted my own personal version of a spyware virus onto his computer, so we can monitor Dr. Sheraton’s emails to prove that Appius is in touch with him.”
“Is he?” Eric asked.
“Oh, yes,” Thalia responded with a smirk. “And—just this morning—Dr. Ludwig here was able to interpret a document sent to Appius by Dr. Sheraton.”
“Amy?” Eric asked.
“The document outlined how to twist the findings of DNA testing involving a child and his or her father. Dr. Sheraton has done several simulations with Freyda’s, Appius’s, and your DNA. It is his opinion that—even if you conducted independent testing with a ‘reputable’ doctor, the tests would determine that there was a 65-80% chance that you were likely the child’s father—if the child is a boy. Should the child be a girl, the percentages go down a bit, but Appius is certain that as long as it’s 50% or above, you’ll accept the paternity.”
Sookie shook her head. “But that’s crazy. Appius had to have known that you would suspect him of fathering the child once it seemed likely that you shared some DNA with him or her!”
Eric sighed. “In January, Appius lost control. It’s very possible that he truly is starting to lose it. Or, perhaps, he’s just convinced himself that I am so mentally wounded that I could be railroaded into accepting almost anything right now—including a child that wasn’t really mine.”
“That poor baby,” Sookie whispered. She looked at Eric. “We have to do something to help him or her.”
“We will,” he promised, leaning toward her. “You’re amazing,” he whispered so that only she could hear it.
Her lips twitched up a little.
Eric smiled back at her and then looked at the older men in the room—Russell, Copley, and Niall—who were all speaking quietly with each other.
“What do you propose?” Eric asked, getting the men’s attention.
“It depends,” Russell said, his brogue accent coming through.
“On what?” Eric asked.
“On when you want to act and how much damage you want to do to Appius,” Niall said matter-of-factly.
Eric sighed deeply and looked at Sookie. “I want to wait until after our baby is born—if we can.”
Sookie went to protest, but Eric stole her words with a kiss.
“You and Johan are my priority,” Eric reminded as soon as he released her lips.
Henry smiled. “We figured you’d say that.”
“I’ve already drawn up the paperwork for a DNA test for Freyda’s child,” Bobby said.
“But Freyda’s physician will stall,” Dr. Ludwig picked up. “There’s some precedent for waiting until the child is born—or at least until further along in a woman’s pregnancy—to conduct DNA tests. However, new tests that are noninvasive can been done as early as nine weeks into the pregnancy.”
“Still—depending on the judge—the DNA testing could be delayed until Freyda’s child’s birth,” Bobby said.
“How far along is Freyda?” Sookie asked.
“According to the information in the email, she is approximately two weeks along,” Thalia informed. “And that matches the time-stamp on the sex-tape.”
Eric sighed. “So the earliest that a DNA test could happen to prove Appius is the real father and I’m not is about two months anyway.”
A scoff was heard, and everyone turned to see who was making the noise: Bill.
“Sorry,” Bill apologized with a little shake of the head. “I still have it in my brain that you’re an ass,” he said to Eric.
“Bill,” Sookie said warningly.
“I’m trying,” her ex-boyfriend said contritely. He looked at Sookie with pleading eyes. “I am trying.”
Eric ran his hand through his hair. “So we wait. Meanwhile, I’ll release a statement to the Press.” He looked at Claudine. “I’ll need you to back me up.”
“What are you going to say?” Niall asked.
“I’m going to play along with what Appius expects. I’ll admit that I had a breakdown, but I will deny being the father of Freyda’s child. However, I will own to the notion that—up until last week—I had been taking strong medications that could have altered my short-term memories.” He looked back at Claudine. “I need for you to say that I’ve been under your care and am getting better so that my clients at NP don’t think me incapable.”
Claudine nodded. “I can do that.”
Eric smiled gratefully and looked at Pam. “And I’ll need you to keep having my back at work too.”
“Are you okay?” Eric asked his sister.
“No,” she responded, even as Amelia put an arm around her. “This is the last straw for me.” She shook her head. “I don’t have a father anymore.”
“I’m sorry, Pam,” Eric said.
“Don’t be sorry. Just beat him,” Pam said quietly, “for all of us.”
Eric nodded his promise, and there was silence in the room for a few moments.
Eric finally continued. “I’ll also indicate in my statement that I am willing to undergo DNA testing as soon as possible and will take full responsibility if the child is mine.”
“You are going to do that in order to keep Freyda from doing anything that could harm the child,” Russell said astutely, his face showing what looked almost like paternal pride.
Eric nodded. “Yes—for that reason and others, it’s best to seem to go along with this insanity for now, though there’s no way I’m going to have any contact with Freyda.”
Henry spoke up. “To make sure that the surveillance equipment couldn’t be linked to himself or Senator Davis or Debbie Pelt or—I’d imagine—Bill’s ex in the FBI, Appius removed it after he made the tape of Freyda and whoever else that was in your room. Blake has checked your home for the last several days to sweep for new devices, but I would suggest that you arrange for private security to be in your home and with you all the time so that Debbie Pelt cannot get in there. I’ve been trying to keep a close watch on her, but she’s good at what she does. After all, she obviously snuck Freyda and God only knows who else into your home once without my knowing,” Henry said with obvious frustration and apology.
“They were in our bedroom,” Sookie practically snarled, a look of disgust on her face.
“Yes,” Bobby said quietly.
“Our bed,” Eric added with a shiver.
“We’re getting a new mattress,” Sookie said.
“A whole new bed,” Eric added. “And we’re going to burn the sheets and the bedspread.”
Sookie shook her head. “No—we’re gonna bleach them and then donate them. And donate everything else in there too—except the lounge chair, which I want cleaned by a professional.”
Eric chuckled and smiled at his wife. “You’re the lottery, Sookie—the fucking lottery,” he whispered.
She rolled her eyes but placed a kiss onto his cheek.
Russell exhaled deeply and looked at his daughter and then at Eric and Sookie. “I would have been honored if you were truly going to be my son-in-law,” he said, with a hint of regret.
“Daddy,” Isabel said with a little warning in her voice. It had been the first time she’d spoken up that afternoon.
Russell smiled at her and winked. “You know that you don’t ever have to get married—right? You know that I’m fine with whatever life you choose.”
Isabel smiled at him. “I know. And that’s why we’re helping Eric—so that my friend can have the life he has chosen.”
Russell nodded and looked back at Eric and Sookie. “Appius is even more of a fool than I could have imagined. If you were my son, I would shout my approval from the fucking rooftops.”
“Me too,” Copley said.
“And me,” Niall added.
Eric felt his emotions rise into his throat.
Russell looked at him with assuredness. “As I said earlier, you have options, and—as you can see—you are not alone.”
Eric closed his eyes for a moment. “Thank you,” he said.
“You’re welcome,” Russell responded. “Now—you have only one thing to decide.”
“What’s that?” Eric asked.
“Just how much Appius suffers,” Russell said.
A/N: So many of you seemed to want Bill to have reformed that I almost rethought the way I’d drafted him, but I just couldn’t. But don’t worry: the only one falling for Bill’s nonsense regarding Sookie will be Bill, though he will be fooling everyone about his intentions for a while.
I hope—despite my making Bill somewhat of a “bad” guy—that you still enjoyed the chapter. I have a head of steam w/ this story, so I’m planning to get you two more chapters before Tuesday, which is when I’ll be transitioning to Uncharted. BTW, I was wrong in my chapter count (we almost had two chapter 18’s—LOL. And that means there are 39 chapters and an epilogue at this time).