From Chapter 13
“How long till we land?” she asked.
“About twenty minutes,” he responded. “But those will not be easy minutes,” he added, his voice heavier than she’d ever heard it.
“Uh-oh,” she whimpered. “What do you mean by that?”
“Yes. Uh-oh,” he replied. “I’m sorry, Sookie, but I need you to know about a theory of mine—because, based upon something you said earlier, I’m now almost certain that it’s fact.”
“What did I say?” Sookie questioned.
“A name,” the vampire returned forebodingly. “Hadley.”
“Hadley!?” Sookie gasped.
Eric nodded. “I developed a theory regarding you a few weeks ago, but after you mentioned that unusual name, my theory has cemented in my mind,” Eric said after a few moments.
“What theory? And how do you know the name?” the telepath asked.
“The Hadley I have met is living in New Orleans with the Queen of Louisiana. She is Sophie-Anne’s most favored pet.”
Sookie gasped. “What does she look like? The Hadley you know?”
Eric considered for a moment. “Her hair was still growing out of a bad dye job, but it is light brown at the roots. Her eyes are neither blue nor brown. They carry both colors, but aren’t quite green either.”
Sookie gulped. “Hazel.”
Eric nodded. “She spoke with a stronger accent than yours, and she seemed uneducated. I would place her in her late-20s or early-30s, though I believe that hard living may be making her look a little older than she is. She is rail-thin and seems to like it that way. And she smelled unusually sweet.”
“Not unlike me?” Sookie frowned.
“Not unlike you,” he confirmed softly.
Sookie was silent for a moment.
“Tell me about her? Gran was so worried. I mean—after Hadley had been gone for about a year—Gran stopped bugging Sheriff Dearborn to check missing persons databases all the time to make sure she hadn’t been killed.”
“She hasn’t been killed—yet,” Eric sighed. “But my spy told me that the queen has been contemplating turning Hadley; your cousin seems quite willing though. Anxious even.”
Sookie took a deep breath. “Is Hadley happy?”
Eric shrugged. “As I told you, the queen favors her—and seems to genuinely care for her. Sophie-Anne also does not share her—as far as I know. However, it is clear that Hadley would not be restricted if she sought out male bedfellows.”
“How do you know that?” Sookie asked with some trepidation.
“She sought me out one night,” Eric admitted.
“So you—uh. You two—uh . . . ,” Sookie stammered.
“No,” Eric clarified. “With her scent, I was tempted, but I know better than to become even casually involved with the pet of a monarch.”
Again, the two were silent for a few moments.
“I’m glad you didn’t,” Sookie sighed. “It would have been weird.”
“Indeed,” Eric agreed.
“You know—I wish Hadley had been in touch with Gran before she died, but—really—her status as the queen’s—uh—pet doesn’t matter. I mean—I’m glad she’s alive. And I doubt your queen would stand for a druggie as a—um—blood source? So—uh—it’s okay. But I bet tryin’ to contact her would be complicated?” she half-stated and half-asked.
Eric nodded in confirmation. “Sookie,” the vampire tilted the conversation with his more somber tone, “I do not believe that Bill Compton returning to Bon Temps—finding you—was a coincidence.”
Sookie gasped as realization hit her.
“You think . . . ,” she began, but then could not continue her thought through the maze of questions forming in her brain.
When she did not resume after several seconds, Eric spoke. “I have no proof of anything, Sookie. I have only theories.”
“Tell me what you think you have no proof of,” she practically whimpered. “Tell me that you think Hadley somehow let on that she had an abnormal cousin with a strange ability.” Her pitch grew higher. “Tell me that you think the queen decided that a telepath would be a fun toy—an awesome pet to have! Tell me that Bill . . . . What did you call him—a procurer? Tell me he isn’t just good at collecting information. Tell me that he’s a people collector too! Tell me that the first man who I thought loved me . . . ,” her voice broke, and she yanked her hand from Eric’s as she began using all of her fingers to try to dam the flow of tears from her eyes.
“Sookie,” Eric whispered, hating her tears as much as he hated being the immediate cause of them.
“Tell me Bill was in Bon Temps on assignment!” the telepath soldiered on through her sobs. “Tell me that Gran was killed because I was interested in a vampire who wasn’t actually interested in me! Tell me that I almost died tonight because I saved that same vampire from his sadistic maker! Tell me I’m an idiot! A naïve fool!” she panted in anger, even as more tears streamed down her cheeks. “And, Eric, tell me that Bill didn’t manufacture the situation that almost got me beaten to death just so that he could get his blood inside of me right after we met!”
Eric sighed deeply.
“Don’t sigh!” Sookie yelled at him accusingly. “I know you don’t have to! I know you’re not human!”
Eric did not match her anger—or her hurt—with his own.
“And don’t fucking pity me either!” she railed, turning her head away from him—toward the right-side window of the plane.
He waited more than a minute before he spoke, his voice calm, “When I was a human, I tried to hide the sound of a sigh whenever I made it. It was believed to be a sign of indecision and weakness. As a young vampire, I was beaten and silvered the only time I dared to make the sound when in Appius’s presence. You are right that it is not a natural sound for me to make, but that is not because I am no longer human. It is because I have rarely let my guard down enough to let it out.”
Sookie was the one to sigh this time. She wiped away more hot tears from her dampened cheeks. “I’m sorry I snapped at you. You’re not the one I’m angry at.”
“I know,” Eric relayed softly. “And you do have a right to be angry at others.”
“Eric,” she wept—practically begged—as she looked back at him, “please tell me the truth about what you think.”
He nodded in part-agreement and part-resignation. “I believe your cousin, Hadley, informed the queen of your gift. I believe that Sophie-Anne was likely very intrigued by having a telepath in her court. Bill would have been the logical choice to send to procure you, given his profession in her court and his connection to your town. As for his feelings, I can say only that I believe that he cares for you—at least as much as he is capable. Otherwise, I would have killed him tonight.” Eric paused. “How long he has cared—or how deeply he cares—I know not. As for whether or not he arranged for you to be hurt so that he would have an excuse to give you his blood, I do not know that either. But I would love to find out—preferably with torture. However—since I believe you would feel guilt if I did as I wish—I will not push the issue. Unless I am wrong about your being queasy about the thought of Bill’s pain. If I am, I await only your permission, Sookie,” he said hopefully.
“You aren’t wrong. Not yet. I shouldn’t care if he lives or dies—or suffers—anymore, especially after this, but . . . .” She buried her face into her hands.
“But you need time to process everything,” the vampire offered.
“Yes. Once I do, I might wanna be the one to torture Bill myself,” she mumbled through her palms.
“Will you be selling tickets? Both Pam and I would love to attend!” Eric said lightly, desperate to do anything to help her escape the depression she’d been hurled into.
“I’ll let you know,” Sookie said with a small smile as she lifted her head. “But, even if I don’t torture him, I will need to see Bill.”
“Sookie, I don’t think . . . ,” Eric started.
“Closure,” Sookie interrupted. “Bill’s a chapter that I need to close—once and for all. I’m not sure of a lot of things, but that’s one of them.” She paused to use her sleeves to finish wiping away her tears. The vampire was grateful when no new ones fell in their place.
“I have things—better things—I wanna move on to,” she said firmly. “But to do that, I need to know for sure that your theory and my ideas about Hadley’s involvement are true,” she emphasized. “And I need to ask Bill about the other things too.”
“Will you let me be there?” Eric asked with concern.
“Close?” Sookie suggested. “As a compromise? Yeah—I want you close,” she affirmed. “I’d feel safer if you were around. So—uh—could you be close, but stay outside—unless I needed you?”
He nodded in agreement. “Yes. Thank you. I would worry otherwise.”
“Sookie?” he asked with a little uncertainty. “What are those better things?”
She took a deep breath and then turned to look at him. “I thought a lot while I was in that trunk—waitin’ for Bill to do,” she sighed, “whatever he was gonna do to me. And—uh—I think—maybe—there might be more that I can do with my life than bein’ a waitress. I mean—it’s honest work; don’t get me wrong. But I’m starting to believe that my telepathy might actually be the gift you say it is. And usin’ it to know if people need refills or ketchup seems like a waste.”
“It does to me too,” Eric acknowledged.
Sookie took another long, deep inhalation. “You’re a better thing too, Eric—at least, I really think you could be. Hope you might be.” She looked at the vampire with almost pleading eyes. “Would you be? Good for me?”
“I think we could be good for each other. I hope we could too. Will you give me the chance to prove it?”
Sookie nodded. “Yes. I think I’d like the chance to find out, too. No—I know I would like to know. But, Eric . . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“You need your closure first?”
She nodded again. “Yeah. And a little time to just,” she paused, “make sure I’m far enough away from the trunk to really give us a shot. I don’t think I’ll need much time. In fact,” she smiled shyly, “I was hopin’ you’d be up for a date this weekend—somethin’ casual? I—uh—might have until Monday off since Sam took me off this week’s schedule. I was—uh—hopin’ we could just—uh—hang out—uh—maybe on Sunday night? If you aren’t workin’? Maybe we could watch a movie together or—uh—talk?” she stammered nervously.
“A date,” the vampire stated, as if tasting the word for the first time—ever.
“Casual,” Sookie reaffirmed. “Just as friends—to start?”
“I’d like to try that,” Eric smiled.
Sookie smiled brightly in return for a moment, before her expression fell a little.
“What is it?” the vampire asked her.
“I’m thinkin’ things I don’t have the right to think yet,” she said almost stubbornly—almost as if she were angry at herself.
“I cannot imagine that a telepath would think that was an anomaly,” Eric smirked.
“Anomaly?” Sookie asked.
“A rarity. Something very unusual,” Eric defined, though Sookie noted that his tone was not patronizing as Bill’s had often been when Sookie did not know something.
“Thanks,” Sookie said. “And—you’re right. Lots of people jump the gun when it comes to things regarding their—uh—the people they—uh—date.”
“Could you—uh?” Sookie asked, motioning toward the plane’s “wheel” when she noticed his hand was off of it again.
“Of course,” Eric chuckled, placing one hand onto the controls to comfort the nervous telepath. “And absolutely.”
“Huh?” she asked inelegantly.
“Absolutely, you can think anything you want regarding me.”
“Huh?” she sounded again. “Are you tryin’ to be dirty?”
“Usually,” he laughed. “But not this time.”
“Then would you mind telling me what you mean? I can’t read your mind, after all,” she smiled.
“You require certain elements in a relationship, such as fidelity and probably many other items you will school me in during our time together. I have decided to pursue a relationship with you,” he said matter-of-factly. “As long as we do this, I will follow your rules. I think I will like them.” He chuckled. “Your God and my gods know that you’ll have to follow much more inane ones!”
“Huh?” she repeated.
“Vampire etiquette,” he said, a subtle apology in his tone. “Once we are a couple, there will be times when you have to defer to me in front of those higher than my station.”
“Once?” Sookie challenged.
“Would ‘if’ be better?” he asked.
She snorted out a small laugh. “For now. Yeah. ‘If’ would be better.”
“Okay—if,” he emphasized. “And as you contemplate that if, be sure to ask yourself if you would be willing to jump through the hoops that being mine will bring.”
Sookie sighed. “Bill taught me the drill. Don’t speak unless spoken to.”
Eric chuckled. “You don’t do such a good job with that one—you know. And—no—that is not what I would want from you. I’d just ask you to follow my lead if there were older or higher-authority vampires in our presence. Trust me—if a situation is precarious—I wouldn’t be speaking unless spoken to either!”
Sookie smirked as she thought about how Eric had dealt with the Sheriff of Dallas and the King of Mississippi. “Will I have to wear cheesy disguises, Leif?”
Eric laughed out loud. “No! But—just so you know—both Stan and Russell knew me for who I was. I use the name Leif when I don’t want Sophie-Anne to know I’ve ‘left the building.'”
“Oh no! Bubba!” Sookie yelled out. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of him before! Is he okay?”
Eric shrugged, but then took out his phone and dialed a number.
“You sure that doesn’t interfere with—uh—aviation stuff?” Sookie asked as she looked at the phone with trepidation.
Eric chuckled and shook his head.
Soon his call was picked up.
“Bubba,” Eric greeted before putting the call on speaker.
“Well! Hello, Mister Eric! Uh—I mean Mr. Leif. Why—I was just thinkin’ ’bout lookin’ for ya—and for Miss Sookie, too—of course.”
“She is with me,” Eric informed.
“Well—then I don’t have to worry none ’bout her. I surely woulda been trackin’ her down already if I hadn’t had the strangest night!”
“What kind of night?” Sookie asked.
“Well—howdy do, Miss Sookie!” Bubba exclaimed. “Are you with Mister Er—uh—Leif?”
Both the telepath and the Viking refrained from giving the obvious answer. “Where are you, Bubba?” Eric asked, getting the conversation back on track.
“Well—I spent a few hours with Mister King Russell,” Bubba reported. “I gotta say—I was mighty nervous for a while ’cause Mister King Russell thought I kilt a vampire lady and kidnapped Mister Bill!”
“Oh no!” Sookie gasped and then covered her mouth with her hand.
“Don’t worry none though. They was just gonna burn me on this wooden contraption—I think,” he informed them, his tone unconcerned. “Hard to know—’cause of the party and all. They had a big bon fire and barbeque!”
“Oh, my God!” Sookie cried out in horror.
“Well—they didn’t—uh—burn me after all,” Bubba said, his voice sounding as if he were confused by Sookie’s reaction. “In fact, Mister King Russell said he was real sorry after this werefox lady told him all about me. Hey, Miss Sookie, why would that werefox lady smell like you? She your friend?”
“No!” Eric said firmly. “That woman is not Sookie’s friend. And if you see her around Sookie, you must remember to protect Sookie from her.”
“Oh—uh—well sure thing!” Bubba said. “Too bad. I am mighty grateful she told Mister King Russell that I ain’t no bad guy. You know—I was so happy ’bout not bein’ burned and all—and ’bout that nice plump cat Mister King Russell got for me—that I decided to sing a couple of songs when he asked. There’s this song I know ’bout hound dogs. Closest I could think of that was fittin’ for the people listenin,'” he drawled.
“And after you sang?” Eric probed.
“Well—I just finished up—not ten minutes ago—and thought I’d look for Miss Sookie back at Mister Alcide’s place. Oh—and I need to tell him and Miss Sookie ’bout the Were I kilt too!”
“You killed that Were?” Sookie exclaimed. “And put him in Alcide’s closet?”
“Well,” Bubba said apologetically, “I wasn’t intendin’ to do no killin’, but he was sniffin’ ’round Mister Alcide’s place, and I overheard him talkin’ to someone on his phone. He said he was gonna hurt Mister Alcide and you, Miss Sookie. Couldn’t have that! No, siree, Bob!”
Sookie buried her face into her hands and let out a silent sob.
“You did well protecting Sookie,” Eric said quickly. “Make your way back to Shreveport, and Pam will see that you have all you need.”
“Why, thank you kindly, Mister Eric!” Bubba effused. “And it sure will be nice to see Miss Pam. She’s so nice that I think my momma would tell me to court her!”
Sookie looked up incredulously, her eyes widening.
Eric chuckled. “That’s probably not a good idea. But I am glad you are well,” he said before hanging up.
“He has no idea how close he came to dyin’—does he?” Sookie asked.
Eric shrugged. “He knows more than one would think. He just doesn’t seem capable of holding a grudge about the little ‘scrapes’ he manages to get into.”
“Do you think he told Russell that you and I are responsible for getting Bill out?” she asked.
Eric shrugged again. “It won’t matter. I’ll call Russell and tell him everything later. Likely, he was looking for a reason to get rid of the Lorena complication. Of course, he’ll bite himself later when he learns that there was an injured telepath in his grasps. But he’ll get over it; he’ll likely congratulate me for having you as an asset and try to employ you. He’s not one to hold a grudge, and condoning the Lorena and Bill matter wasn’t his style.”
“Why would he help Lorena then?” Sookie asked. “And does he know that several of his Weres—including Debbie Pelt—like V just a little too much?”
Eric frowned for a moment. “Russell is not above letting the Weres in his employ take the blood of vampires he is punishing or killing. Directly from the source, vampire blood is not as addictive, nor does it cause the same kinds of effects. In other words, it’s more like a buzz or a feeling of euphoria—as opposed to a psychedelic trip.”
Sookie smiled wryly. “I’m glad—since I’ve had vampire blood more than once.”
Eric nodded and then continued, “Still, I’ll tell him there might be a V issue among his Weres. As for why Russell would help Lorena, it’s likely because of her maker. Mateo could be a little flighty at times, but he was a decent vampire. Many owed him favors; Russell was likely one of them. But I doubt Russell will blame you for removing Lorena from this world. And you need not worry about Lorena’s maker either. He’s long dead.”
Sookie sighed with relief. “That’s good to hear.”
“Indeed, if he were still alive, I’d have to pay him a hefty fine,” he stated nonchalantly.
“Really? But I killed her—not you,” Sookie frowned.
“You were implementing a plan I suggested,” Eric reminded. “Moreover, I doubt you would have killed her for no reason. Indeed, I’m betting it was self-defense?”
Sookie nodded in confirmation.
“Yet I still feel some guilt from you—even for Lorena’s death,” Eric said, shaking his head. “You are an odd creature, Sookie Stackhouse.”
“But you like that?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I do,” he chuckled as his phone rang. He answered it after checking the caller ID. “Thalia,” he greeted.
He growled menacingly after listening for about ten seconds. “How many are there?”
A/N: Hi. I’m so sorry about how long of a hiatus I had to take from this story-and from posting anything. I just got overwhelmed with work and other commitments for a while. I know that you all understand “real life.” And I appreciate those of you who are still reading and encouraging me.
I’ll try to get back to posting a chapter every weekend and am currently trying to “bank” chapters with Kleannhouse, who’s still doing amazing beta work for me so that I get you a sharper finished product.
I hope you will leave a comment if you have time. I’d love to hear what you think and just know that you are still there. 😉