The shifter knew immediately what Sookie had “seen” in his thoughts.
“Sam!?” the telepath looked at her friend in horror.
“The night I did that was the night I learned why my dad was killed. And there was no why!” he sobbed. “No fucking reason!”
“Sam?” Sookie asked, seeing how stricken with grief her friend was as his memories gushed to the surface, seemingly all at once. She had to shut them out for a moment, just so that she wouldn’t succumb to the pain of them.
“That man you saw me kill—he was a Were. He worked for Victor Madden, a high-up vamp in Nevada. Dad wasn’t doin’ any goddamned thing wrong when Victor came across him! Dad was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Were told me that Dad witnessed something that the Las Vegas vampires were up to, but I couldn’t get the specifics out of him,” he said with clear shame in his tone. “But I did learn some things.”
“What?” Sookie gasped when Sam seemed reluctant to go on.
“I learned that the Vegas vamps knew my dad was a trustworthy shifter; he’d been trucking long enough—for the shadier kind of people—to have gained a reputation for keeping his mouth shut about what he hauled and where he hauled it. I learned that my dad swore he would never tell what he had seen. And—when that was clearly not good enough—he begged to be killed quickly.” Sam’s jaw hardened. “But that wasn’t what the vampires had in mind that night; they wanted some,” he paused, his eyes flashing yellow, “entertainment. Dad was innocent, but they took their fucking time with him!”
Sookie breathed out a rattled breath.
“So—you see. They’re fucking monsters, Sookie. And they made me a fucking monster! I killed that Were with my bare hands because I knew I couldn’t kill the vamps and because I knew he’d tell them all about me if I let him go. I had a mother and two siblings to protect!”
“Oh Sam,” Sookie sighed sympathetically.
“Don’t pity me!” Sam said insistently. “I don’t deserve it! That Were I killed had been a witness to my dad’s murder, but he couldn’t do nothing to stop them, and he had his own family to take care of—a family that I ripped apart!” Sam sobbed for a few moments, his guilt seeming to suck up all the air in the small office.
“If I can become that,” he paused, “monster because of vamps, you cannot tell me that any vamp sheriff,” he spit out the words, “hasn’t done the same fuckin’ kind of thing that was done to my father—or worse—plenty of times in order to protect vampires’ precious interests!” he finished with a snarl.
“Oh, Sam,” Sookie repeated, even as tears fell down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry for you.”
“Don’t be sorry!” Sam said gruffly. “Be safe!”
She sighed again and reached out to squeeze Sam’s hand, even as she dropped her shields—since Sam had calmed done. “I’m tryin’ to be,” she said, disengaging her hand after only a moment. “I hate what happened to you and your dad,” she said quietly. “And I can understand why you’d want to take out your pain on all vampires. Some of them probably even deserve it—just like humans like Rene Lenier deserve to be despised. But I don’t believe all vampires would do the kinds of things that happened to your father. And I know that Eric wouldn’t.”
“Sookie, you don’t have any idea what they’re capable of!” he said, his voice pleading with her. “Please, just stay away from them!”
She shook her head. “It’s too late for me to do that, Sam. And—to be honest—I wouldn’t even if I could. Not now.” She took a deep breath. “I’m probably falling in love with Eric,” she admitted, surprising them both with her words. She just hoped that Thalia would keep that piece of news to herself. It was way too early for her to be sure about anything related to the big L-word, but she couldn’t deny how she felt when she thought about or spoke with Eric—nor would she deny herself the pleasure of feeling such “good” things when they came to her.
“Sookie . . . ,” Sam started, his voice clearly strained even before a tear fell down his cheek, “you’ll end up dead.”
“Even vampires die,” she responded softly. “And—for the record—I don’t believe I will end up dead any time soon—especially not because of Eric,” she added. “Regardless, I’m gonna take a chance on him—with him—because I have a feeling in my gut that it’ll be the best chance I ever take.”
“You thought that with Bill too,” Sam said dejectedly.
“No,” Sookie declared with certainty. “I did feel something with Bill; I won’t deny it. But it wasn’t this.”
“Maybe I could give you that feeling,” Sam said hopefully.
Sookie shook her head. “If you could, I would have known it by now.” She shrugged. “I’m starting to believe there’s something to the concept of soul mates,” she acknowledged.
“Chère, vampires don’t have souls,” Sam pronounced fervently as if he’d never believed anything more.
“Of course, they do!” Sookie responded, just as sure of her own words. “I’ll always believe that it takes a lot more than death to snuff out a soul,” she continued quietly, “just as I believe that it takes more than a beating heart to prove there’s one in a body.” She exhaled deeply. “When Rene came after me, his thoughts proved that he had no soul. And—when Eric looks at me—I know with certainty that he does have one.”
Sam frowned deeply, and Sookie heard a clear question ringing in his mind.
“Yes, Sam. You have a soul,” the telepath assured, taking his hand and keeping hold of it this time.
“What I’ve done, chère. What I’ve been forced to do,” he practically choked out.
In that moment, she saw him discharging his weapon at some insurgents in Afghanistan. They were enemies aiming guns back at him—firing at him—but he still carried the weight of those kills. And then she saw the Were he killed when investigating his father’s death. She read from Sam’s thoughts that he knew with certainty that—if he let the Were live—he’d tell his vampire bosses, and Sam and his family would be killed. Still, the guilt of that cold-blooded kill had left Sam a shell for a long time. And the fear that he’d be found out had led her friend to Bon Temps.
“What you did was for your country. And for your family,” she said softly, squeezing his hand. “It didn’t take away your soul any more than . . . ,” she paused.
“Than what?” Sam asked, as if looking for a life raft in a raging sea.
“I killed Bill’s maker, Lorena,” she said, even as a sob escaped her own lips. “She was horrible, and she was trying to kill me at the time. But I still feel the guilt for taking a life. I probably always will feel a little bad about killin’ and even worse that I’m glad Lorena’s dead. But taking her life—her “un-death”—didn’t jeopardize my soul, Sam,” she continued, letting her own words act as a balm to some of the feelings she’d been suppressing since her encounter with Lorena. In that moment, she knew her words to be true—felt them to be true. Sam wasn’t there yet. But she hoped that he’d eventually find a way through his guilt. Of course, Sookie could “see” that the last death on Sam’s conscience was different. He’d not killed the Were when he was being physically threatened; the Were was already subdued—tied to a chair with thick ropes and chain. Sam had killed him after he’d pounded information from him—in order to prevent future danger.
The Were had been begging for his life. The Were had been crying for his wife and children.
Sam could only “see” his father doing the same as the vampires killed him, so her friend thought himself to be no better than those monsters.
The telepath found herself wondering if she could have done what Sam did—kill a person who could be a danger to her in the future, but wasn’t an immediate threat.
She’d sure as heck prevented Eric from doing the same to Debbie Pelt, even though she was 99% sure that Debbie was still a threat to her. She also figured that Eric had killed “preemptively.” She wondered if such kills made the vampire experience guilt—as Sam still experienced it. She had a feeling that the Viking had “out-lived” that kind of guilt.
“What are you thinking about?” Sam asked.
“Eric,” she replied honestly. “I wonder how many people he’s killed in order to protect himself from future threats.”
“Like I did,” Sam said in a whisper.
“Yes,” Sookie responded.
“I envy him; I doubt he feels any guilt or remorse when he’s killed like that,” the shifter observed honestly, though with a tinge of bitterness in his tone.
“I know, Sam.”
The two sat quietly for a moment.
“You’re not coming back to work after tonight—are you?” Sam asked, sounding a little broken.
“I don’t want to,” Sookie replied honestly. “I’d rather get started with the next phase of my life.”
“You’re really gonna hire out your ability? To Supes?” Sam asked.
Sookie nodded. “Yeah. Eric believes that every happy customer will be a potential ally. Plus—if I make my ability my job—people will be more likely to hire me, rather than try to kidnap me.”
“Some vamps will still want you for themselves,” Sam said warningly.
“I know,” the telepath acknowledged. “I really do have my eyes opened, and I’ve chosen what I feel is the best road for me.” She squeezed Sam’s hand a final time before taking hers from his. “I know you hate what I’m doing, Sam. And I don’t expect you to suddenly start trusting all vampires, though I do hope you’ll give Eric a real chance to treat me right—before you accuse him of treating me wrong.” She sighed. “I know you wish I was yours. A little part of me—the part that wanted a ‘normal life’ so badly it hurt sometimes—wishes we could have worked out too. But that part isn’t really real—because I’ve never been normal, Sam. I’m just starting to accept that.”
“I’m not normal either, Sook,” Sam said, looking as her with love in his eyes. And an inkling of hope. Sookie knew that he was making his last-ditch attempt to get her to see his way of thinking—to convince her that he was the best choice for her.
“You want to be normal though,” Sookie said with a sad smile. “You wish you were a regular human. You wish the Supernatural had never touched you or your family.”
Sam gasped a little, his sound an acknowledgment of the truth of Sookie’s words.
“I was right there with you until a few days ago,” Sookie admitted. “But I’m tired—so tired—of denying who I am. I’m tired of spending all my waking hours around other people tryin’ to cover up who I am and what I can do.” She took a breath before continuing. “I know that I’ll have to keep my telepathy from most humans. But it’ll be nice not to have to keep me apart from everyone.”
Sam looked at her with dawning realization in his eyes. Sookie could “hear” that her friend was coming to understand just how isolated she’d been during her life. Even shifters—for all their desire to be set apart from others—enjoyed finding and running with their own kind. Though rare, they were not alone, and others helped them to understand what they were when the time of their first shifting came.
“Thank you,” Sookie said to her friend.
“For what?” Sam asked, mystified about why she was thanking him.
“For letting yourself—just now—understand that it’s been miserable for me in a lot of ways,” she said in a quiet voice, even as she tapped her temple so that he would know that she was “listening in” on him. “Until I met the other telepath in Dallas, I felt as if I was the only one in the world.” She closed her eyes. “You are thinking that—even though your dad was hardly ever around—he told you about shifting, and he ran with you the first time you changed.”
Both friends wiped tears from their eyes as they were momentarily lost in the beauty of Sam’s memory.
“You never had anything like that,” Sam observed quietly.
“That’s not true,” Sookie said softly.
“The other telepath? What was his name? Barry?”
“No, not him. He hates what he is and what he can do even more than I ever did because he didn’t have a Gran,” she said sadly. “No—meeting him didn’t help me accept myself. Eric did,” she acknowledged softly. “With him, I feel understood; I don’t have to hide. He’s the first—to make me feel that way—the first to encourage me to feel that way about myself.”
Sam frowned, and Sookie could read her friend’s shame as he realized that he, too, had inadvertently “encouraged” the telepath to “cover up” her ability—cover up herself.
“I’m sorry it wasn’t me,” he said honestly.
Sookie gave his arm a pat, but was unwilling to agree with him. She wasn’t sorry that it hadn’t been Sam—because she was happy it was Eric. Again, it was her gut that told her that the vampire—and only him—was meant to be the one to help her to accept herself. Why he was the one wasn’t a gift that she would question.
“So—this is it?” Sam asked sadly.
“Actually, no. Not if you don’t want it to be,” she smiled. “How about I come in tomorrow—as planned. But—instead of just working my tables—how about you go through that stack of applications you have in your desk. I’ll help you interview the promising people, and then I’ll train them,” she added warmly. “And the interviews will help me train too!”
Sam chuckled a little. “You’re gonna use your ability to help in the interviews?”
“Yes, sir!” she grinned. “And I won’t even let Eric charge you,” she winked. “He’s normally gonna make customers pay five hundred a head! Actually, more than that!”
Sam’s eyes widened. “So much?”
Sookie shrugged. “We’ll see. I’m sure I’ll work for a lot less sometimes. But for peace of mind with guards, day-people, business partners and such, Eric seems to believe that I’ll be worth the price.”
The shifter nodded. “You will be. I know it.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Sookie. For what I said yesterday and the day before. I really am.”
“I know you’re sorry you hurt me,” the telepath said with honesty. “And I accept that your fears for me and your beliefs about vampires won’t change overnight. And I can also tell that you are trying to be supportive now. So thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Thank you for giving me another chance—to be your friend.”
“You’re welcome,” she rejoined.
He gave her a wry smile. “So—you’ll be here tomorrow.”
She nodded. “But—after the hiring and the training—I think it’s best if I move on,” she said quietly.
“Move on,” Sam said quietly.
“Not from being your friend, Sam,” Sookie said with resolution. “I really don’t want to do that—okay?”
“But you will—if I go back to actin’ like a dumbass,” he said gruffly.
“I will,” the telepath agreed sadly. “Ball’s in your court, Sam.”
“I can’t stop myself from worrying. And I can’t stop how I,” he paused, “feel about you.”
“But you can stop being an asshole,” she said bluntly.
He chuckled. “That I will try to do, chère.”
The two friends rose, and met near the door for a hug that both of them needed.
“I’ll call Arlene to take the second half of your double shift tomorrow,” he said after letting her go. “I was bein’ a prick when I made that schedule for you, and I’d already decided not to follow through with it.”
“I know,” Sookie said, tapping her head.
“If you change your mind—about the new job—Merlotte’s will be here. I’ll be here,” he said softly.
“I won’t,” she answered confidently. “But thanks.”
A/N: Hello all! I hope you had a good week and that—if you celebrate—you are having a blessed Easter season. So—now we know all of Sam’s background and why he has such an issue with vampires. What did you think? Ultimately, I wanted Sookie to leave Merlotte’s right away—but to be able to do so without ruining a friendship that really did help her immeasurably. She’s “outgrown” Merlotte’s though—and she’s outgrown Sam in significant ways because she’s embracing the Supernatural within her and taking a place in the Supe world. I really did consider having Sam push her to the point of just walking out—with a big “take this job and shove it” moment. I even started to draft a scene for it. But—the further I wrote into it—the less “natural” it felt. I honestly think Sam is a good guy. His character got “lost” in the later books as he began manipulating Sookie (the whole brother’s wedding thing still makes my head want to explode!). Anyway, I truly hope you liked this look at Sookie taking her life into her own hands. Next up, I promise a chapter that will include both Sookie and Eric.