“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?”
“Do you need help?” Eric asked after hearing Thalia’s answer.
“Fine,” he said gruffly. “I will send Pam to collect them. But—if they are more formidable than you think they will be, then I want you to fly away from there.”
He rolled his eyes in response to whatever she said to him.
“I know very well how old you are. But I don’t think that even you could take out four Weres while you are dead for the day,” he smirked.
“Or wrapped in silver,” he said after a moment.
There was another pause as Sookie listened raptly.
“Okay—perhaps with one arm tied behind your back with silver.”
He chuckled after a few more moments. “Fine! Just seeing you dead for the day would scare the Weres to their own demise,” he said sarcastically. “Still—keep yourself safe, Thalia,” he cautioned before hanging up.
“Four Weres?” Sookie asked, having followed enough of the call to know that it wasn’t good—for her. On the other hand, Thalia seemed to be happy about the development.
Eric sighed, but Sookie didn’t chastise him for making the sound this time; indeed, she felt a very different reaction: appreciation.
“Yes. The Weres are currently lying in wait at your home. Thalia should be capable of subduing them, and Pam will transport them to Fangtasia for questioning.”
“Will—uh—Thalia be okay?” Sookie asked, avoiding the question she dreaded asking, which was why the Weres continued to target her.
Eric was having none of the telepath’s evasion. “Thalia knows her limitations. And I believe the Weres are at your home for the same reason one was at Alcide’s home—or, perhaps, because that Were has gone missing. And—don’t think I didn’t catch on that you weren’t surprised that Bubba put a dead Were into Alcide’s closet,” he stated, giving Sookie a sideways glance.
Sookie explained, “Alcide and I found him in the hall closet. Alcide recognized him as someone who’d hassled us at Josephine’s. He figured someone was trying to frame us for the Were’s murder, so we—uh—sort of—uh—hid the body,” she ended in a mumble, clearly somewhat ashamed of the situation.
“Hid?!” Eric asked, not hiding his amusement.
She glared at him, but blushed all the same. “It was horrible! We had to wrap up his body, and we took him to the woods to hide him.”
Eric snorted out a laugh.
“Not funny!” Sookie chastised.
“I’m just picturing you and the Were.” He closed his eyes. “Yes—it’s funny!” he laughed.
“Killin’ isn’t funny!” Sookie yelled.
“Stop complaining; you’re ruining this for me,” Eric said, opening one eye and smirking at her.
She smacked his arm. “I’ll never understand Supes and death—how casual you all are with it!”
Stifling the impulse to tease her some more, Eric shrugged as he opened his other eye. “That Were was where he ought not to have been—doing something that could have led to your harm or Herveaux’s. I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending that I’m upset in the slightest that he’s dead. The only concern I have is the potential repercussions that death will have on you or Bubba. But, by tomorrow night—or even dawn today—I will know why the Weres were waiting for you, and then I will take appropriate action.”
“And until you know?” she asked.
“Do not worry. Thalia is on the job. And Tray will keep an eye on you tomorrow. Maria-Star should be able to come right away too—since she is local. Knowing Thalia, she has already called her—to ensure that Tray has back-up just in case another Were group comes for you tomorrow while the sun it up.”
“Thalia would take the initiative to do that?” Sookie asked.
“It’s part of her job. Plus, in the text I sent to her, I told her my own suggestions for your team; she will know that Maria-Star lives in Shreveport. Oh—and Thalia is extra motivated to protect you.”
“What do you mean?”
Eric chuckled. “I offered to release her from serving in any other capacity as long as she remains your chief of security—and you stay safe. Thalia absolutely loathed doing time at Fangtasia; needless to say, she jumped at the offer.”
“Chief of security?” Sookie gasped, balking at the serious and official-sounding title.
“Trust me. Thalia will ensure that you are safe in the least intrusive way possible,” he assured her.
Realization hit Sookie. “Because she hates for her own life to be intruded upon.”
Eric nodded. “Exactly. You two have that in common. Plus, she’s extremely efficient. She likes living in my territory because I accept her quirks. And because we have a mutual respect for one another.”
“Then why make her serve time at Fangtasia to begin with?” Sookie asked aptly.
“I wouldn’t have,” Eric grinned, “if she hadn’t lost a coin flip. I was ready to tell her that she was exempt from the policy I’d mandated for Area 5 vampires after the Great Revelation, but she began speaking before I could—suggesting that her service be decided by a coin flip. She figured that she’d have a fifty-fifty chance of getting out of the service.”
“And she had no idea that she had a 100% guarantee of getting out of it if you’d never flipped the coin,” Sookie laughed.
“Yep. Pam was the flipper and took the coin from Ginger’s purse—just to ensure that it wasn’t ‘loaded.'” Eric rolled his eyes. “Apparently, the one Thalia brought seemed destined to land on heads every time.”
“She took her loss stoically,” Eric recalled with a smirk.
“But how many humans suffered?” the telepath asked jokingly.
“None too badly—I’m sure,” Eric responded a bit too seriously for Sookie. “But I do believe she has made it her mission to destroy dimes since then; I find about a hundred of them a week in the corners of Fangtasia—crushed, of course.”
“An inferior coin—according to Thalia.”
“I take it that’s the one that Pam flipped.”
“Indeed,” Eric chuckled.
The telepath shook her head even as her smile disappeared. “So what will happen to the Weres after you question them? Do I want to know?”
Eric shrugged. “It depends. If I’m correct, they are from Mississippi. If they are looking for revenge for their fallen comrade, then I’ll contact Russell and negotiate an acceptable settlement for all sides, and the Weres will leave with their lives. If, on the other hand, they have been sent by a larger threat to you, I will stop at nothing to ensure your safety,” he added passionately.
Sookie took a deep, steadying breath. “The supernatural world is pretty damned intense. And frightening.”
“That it is,” Eric agreed. “My only question for you is how far you want to enter into it?”
“What do you mean?” Sookie asked.
“You mentioned the possibility of using your telepathy for more than you do now. But making yourself known to humans would be precarious.”
“Just humans?” she returned wryly.
“I am not one-hundred percent certain about idioms, but I believe Bubba would enjoy this one: ‘The cat is out of the bag’ about you—in the supernatural world. Why not control the situation?”
Simultaneously, Sookie both chuckled and cringed at the mention of cats and Bubba in the same sentence; it still grossed her out that cats were his favorite cuisine.
“Okay,” she sighed, “it’s extremely likely the queen knows about me and my ability.”
“Stan knows too,” Eric reminded.
Sookie frowned. “Why make me known to him? I mean—I’m glad I could help Farrell, but . . . .”
Eric contemplated for a moment. “Will you hate me if I admit to hoping you’d be nudged by the experience in Dallas?”
“Nudged?” Sookie asked, her eyebrows furrowing. “How?”
“I thought the matter would be an easy one for you,” Eric explained. “After all, Stan had already identified employees at the bar who’d seen Farrell on the night he disappeared.”
“You thought I’d read them and be out of there?” she asked.
He nodded. “And I thought that the knowledge of your gift would be well-contained. I underestimated both you and the Fellowship. As soon as you found the listening device in Stan’s nest, the game changed.”
“I’m not a game,” Sookie frowned.
“You are not; not to me. But to others, you will be a commodity to be won or stolen. And—trust me—you’d rather be won than stolen.”
“What do you mean?” she frowned.
Eric contemplated his words for a few moments. “I cannot be completely sure, but it is very likely that the queen hoped that Compton would bring a cooperative telepath to her court. She would have been pleased about your romantic connection with him—encouraged it even. As Bill’s human, you would have been asked to work for the queen—probably even paid for the work. Your happiness would have been welcomed by the queen. And Hadley would have been introduced into the equation as a lucky coincidence.”
“I could have read the truth from Hadley’s mind,” Sookie pointed out.
“Not if certain things had already been glamoured from it. Not if she had already been made a vampire,” Eric returned softly.
“So I would have remained oblivious—if Bill had managed to manipulate me into going to New Orleans,” Sookie sighed as moisture began to rebuild in her eyes.
“Please,” Eric entreated as he squirmed a little in his seat, “I do not like it when you cry.”
Sookie chuckled, despite the serious situation. “I don’t think I’m gonna be able to help it,” she said as she brushed a tear from her cheek. “I can see myself staying with Bill—if Lorena hadn’t called him to her. I can see him telling me that he needed to travel to New Orleans to meet with the queen. I can see him using the threat of you to make me too afraid to stay in Area 5 without him.”
“Yes, Bill likely painted me as quite the villain,” Eric said disdainfully.
“He said you’d try to manipulate me however you could because you wanted to steal me away from him,” she confirmed.
“Well that part is somewhat true—if turning on my natural charm is considered manipulation,” he boasted, hoping to quell her tears by drawing either her laughter or her wrath.
She rolled her eyes, but a few more tears fell from them nonetheless. “Especially after Dallas, Bill called into question your behavior—everything you did, in fact. And—though I wasn’t as sure of him as I’d been before—I would have gone with him to meet the queen. If only to please him.” She sighed. “I was worried about losing him—even before Lorena.”
“What?” Eric asked with surprise. “I cannot imagine him giving you up.”
She shrugged. “Bill had started to all-but ignore me in order to focus on his database. I was lucky to exchange ten words a night with him in the end.”
“Fool,” Eric growled out.
“Eric,” Sookie started somewhat pensively, “there’s something I just don’t get. Why did Bill arrange for you to watch over me once Lorena called him? I don’t get why he didn’t just hand me over to the queen.”
“I will admit that I, too, have been wondering why Bill sent me to you. After all, almost every action he’d made up to that point had been geared toward keeping me away from you. I have come up with only two theories to explain that decision on his part.”
“He knew you wouldn’t take me to the queen and hoped that his time with Lorena would be limited enough for him to get back to his assignment? So that he could still control me and gain favor with the queen?” Sookie speculated, angrily brushing away more tears.
“Yes. That is one of my theories. The other is that he was motivated by his care for you. Perhaps, even his ignoring you is indicative that he no longer wanted to manipulate you with romance.”
“That explanation might work—if he’d stopped having sex with me. Stopped feeding from me,” she responded bitterly. “I’m betting that he was hoping to get his database to a certain point before taking it and me to the queen. He’d have been doubly rewarded, and the presentation of the database would have been the perfect excuse for why we needed to stay in New Orleans for a while.”
Eric nodded in silent agreement with her assessment.
“I just don’t get why he didn’t bond with me,” Sookie frowned.
“He could have been ordered not to do it,” Eric suggested. “Likely, it would have eventually been mentioned that a bond would be needed—for your safety. I imagine the queen had either herself or her eldest child, Andre, in mind for the task.”
“More manipulations of me,” she said sadly, wiping a fresh stream of tears away. “And I would have never known I was a bird in a cage.”
“All things considered, that fate would have been one of the better ones for you,” the Viking commented.
“How can you say that!? I would have been living a lie!”
“A pretty lie,” he returned calmly. “From what I have gathered, Sophie-Anne was abused as either a human or a young vampire. Because of this, she is compassionate to victims of assault.”
“Manipulation is assault!” Sookie huffed. “And Gran died because I was with Bill, so it’s not like my family wasn’t targeted either,” she added bitterly.
Eric nodded. “I agree. And that doesn’t even account for the way in which you were attacked tonight,” he added in almost a whisper.
Brushing more tears away, Sookie sighed. “I’ve been a fool.”
“You’ve been a person reacting to a new world. From what I’ve gathered, Bill didn’t offer you adequate information about that world because he wanted you to remain either innocent or ignorant.”
“Until earlier tonight,” she remarked. “His actions in the trunk would have neither kept me innocent nor continued my ignorance about his potential violence,” she whimpered. “Do you think he . . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“Do I think he what?”
“Do you think he had any control over his actions? In the trunk?” Sookie croaked out. “Today, I spent hours wondering if he would have any power over himself—if his ‘love’ for me would stop him from hurting me. It didn’t,” she ended flatly.
“Do you want the truth? It’ll hurt,” the Viking warned.
A/N: Hi! Thanks for so many of you welcoming back after my hiatus! I felt so much love! I hope you enjoyed this chapter. The plane ride is coming to an end soon, but it’s been fun using this plane ride as a place for a conversation neither of them could run away from.
I hope you will comment if you feel inclined.