“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.
“I want the truth,” Sookie affirmed.
Eric nodded somberly. “I cannot be one-hundred percent sure.”
“Then tell me what you believe,” the telepath asked.
The vampire nodded. “At first waking, Bill likely had very little control, but your blood is so distinctive that he would have felt a nagging sensation as soon as he took his first mouthful. But that mouthful would have included his tasting more of me,” he added significantly. “And—for that reason—I will always be sorry, Sookie. You were in a car I secured for you, and you’d just had blood I had given to you. I thought you’d be dealing with Bill only during the day—when he wouldn’t be able to muster the strength to harm you. I took for granted that the Were would be available to help you by nightfall. Herveaux would have been able to subdue an injured, hungry vampire.”
He sighed loudly and then took his hand off of the controls long enough to run it through his hair—two nervous tics that Sookie was pretty sure Eric didn’t afford himself when he was in company he didn’t completely trust. For a moment, she wondered: was there anyone else he would show those signs of vulnerability to? Even as she asked that question, she felt her heart stretching—as if directly toward him.
“I did not take good enough care of you,” Eric continued his self-condemnation, interrupting her musing.
Sookie frowned. “You aren’t responsible for Bill’s actions. None of them.”
“Vampires are territorial, Sookie. Once he smelled—and tasted—my blood within you, he would have wanted to replace it with his own.”
“So what does that mean? Could he have controlled himself?”
“Based on several factors, I believe Bill should have been able to control himself within moments of tasting you. Stopping would have been extremely difficult if he were truly starving, but he wasn’t that far gone.”
“But Lorena had been torturing him,” Sookie reminded.
“What was his exact condition when you found him?” Eric probed.
“He’d clearly been beaten up and silvered. He was weak, but aware enough to help me get him into the trunk.”
“Pain can cause a vampire to stay awake after the sun rises, but—had Bill actually been starving—he would not have been able to move much and certainly not during the daytime,” Eric conveyed softly—gently. “And then there is the matter of how he looked when I saw him. Based upon what he drank from you and then the TrueBloods he had, he was . . . .”
“What was he?” Sookie pushed.
“Too strong to have been starving. Too old to have lost all semblance of his mind during his attack of you.”
“What about vampire instincts?” Sookie asked as if grasping for straws. “Wouldn’t those make him feed without thinking?”
“I believe Bill could have fought against those instincts had he chosen to,” Eric informed. “But, as I said, I cannot be certain.”
“Debbie said Bill would smell your blood in me—that he would attack to punish me. Do you think he did that?” she finished with a whimper.
“Yes,” the vampire said in a steely tone that did little to hide his hatred of the younger vampire and his actions.
“Would Bill have turned me—in order to re-claim me as his own? Would he have gone that far?” she asked with a mixture apprehension and anger after a few silent moments had passed between them.
“I do not know, Sookie. And I’m glad we’ll never know, but the queen’s endgame might be for him to do that. Or—for her or Andre to become your maker.”
“Against my will,” Sookie seethed. “Your queen doesn’t sound like someone compassionate for victims to me.”
“Sophie-Anne would have justified her ‘stealing’ and turning you by comparing it to what others would do,” the vampire explained.
“And what’s that?”
“They would threaten, torture, and/or kill your family and friends to force your compliance. They would kidnap you and keep you in chains. They would treat you like a blood whore, and—only when you were near-death—would they turn you,” he informed with brutal honesty.
Sookie shivered. “You’re saying that there are vampires who would do that?”
“Yes—and with no hesitation or compunction,” he responded gravely.
“That’s really why you want me to have protection—isn’t it? Not because of Debbie Pelt.”
“I want you to have protection for all kinds of reasons,” Eric said somewhat enigmatically, his sentence loaded with more meanings than Sookie felt capable of deciphering in that moment.
“A while ago—you said there was a difference between being stolen and won,” she said softly.
He turned to her. “Yes. I want to win you, but not like Bill. Not like the queen. I respect you, Sookie. I’m intrigued by you. The gods know I’m attracted to you. I want to,” he paused, “deserve you. I also want you to live up to your potential because I think we both deserve to see what that would be.”
“What do you think my potential is?” she asked somewhat tentatively, for she’d rarely let herself imagine it.
“Not to be a barmaid,” he returned quickly. “Sookie, your ability is as incredible as it is rare. I believe you should empower yourself by utilizing it to your best advantage. Jobs like the one you did in Dallas could earn you a lot of money, but they could also do much good for vampires and others. And consider this: You made several powerful allies in Dallas who would line up to protect you from potential harm if it came.”
“What? Who?” Sookie asked incredulously.
“Stan Davis, Isabel, and Farrell—to name a few. From Stan, I have learned that six other vampires in the Dallas nest credit you—directly—for their continued existences. Betty Jo Pickard also owes you her life. As you gain even more allies, Sophie-Anne will have to kiss your ass because every single job you do will add distinction to her kingdom as well as to your reputation.”
“This is why you asked me how far I wanted to delve into the supernatural world—isn’t it?” she realized.
Eric nodded. “Yes. Sookie, I will insulate you as much as possible—from any others knowing about your gift—if that’s what you want. Sophie-Anne will likely not try to take an asset from me, especially if you are willing to do occasional work for her. But imagine for a moment if you took the reins of your destiny and chose to be a telepath for hire among Supernaturals! You would control your rate of pay and the kinds of jobs you did! And every satisfied customer would equal an ally for you.”
“And you? Would you be my—uh—manager?” Sookie asked, her eyebrow lifting.
“Yes,” he stated matter-of-factly. “The position is called a ‘handler’ in the supernatural world. I would help you find and complete assignments—while ensuring that you become a wealthy woman. And—just to be clear—I’d profit just as much as you. I won’t deny it. But my main motive would not be about money; as I’ve indicated, I have plenty of that already. And it wouldn’t be about gaining more power either; I already have the kind of position I want.”
“What would your main motive be then?” she asked curiously.
“Motives actually,” he smiled. “I like your company. As your handler, I’d insist upon accompanying you on your assignments. If you chose me to be your romantic partner, that would be a bonus, but—even as merely your business partner and friend—I believe we would enjoy our time together. I’m also bored with Fangtasia—so a change of scenery would be welcome to me. Seeing you stretch your legs and explore the world would be fun. Honestly, protecting you would be diverting too. If someone dared to try to obtain you, I’d be able to justify a battle or a hunt—rare things in the world today because of the Great Revelation.”
Sookie gasped. “Battle? Hunt?”
“Don’t knock ’em till you’ve tried ’em,” Eric replied with a smirk.
Sookie couldn’t help but to giggle a little, but soon became serious again. “I wouldn’t want others hurt because of me.”
“They’d be hurt only if they tried to hurt you first,” he shrugged. “I wouldn’t act without cause.”
“So—you’re basically sayin’ you’d use me for entertainment?” she asked, her eyes sparkling with amusement, rather than annoyance.
“Oh yes!” he declared unabashedly. “But also for companionship. And hopefully for sex!” His grin became downright wolfish as she blushed. “I’ve lived long enough to know that tomorrows aren’t guaranteed, even for the supposedly immortal. I’ve also lived long enough to know that it’s within my own power to make myself more content. I think you could help me with that, Sookie Stackhouse. I won’t deny that I have selfish impulses every fucking time I think about you. I also won’t deny that the thought of you being selfish in regards to me makes me even happier. You and I could be good for each other.”
“What if you’re wrong?” she asked.
“What’s the worst-case scenario?” he countered. “If we didn’t work out on a romantic level, then so be it. You need to understand that the honor I learned as a human has only amplified since I’ve been a vampire—despite my maker’s own shortcomings. I would protect you with all that I am, even if you got tired of me and wanted someone else to become your lover.”
Doing a poor job of stifling her blush, Sookie countered, “I would think the worst-case scenario would be someone killing you. And then taking me, chaining me up, making me a blood slave, etc.”
Eric’s growl was all that could be heard in the plane for a moment. “Yes. But that outcome would be less likely if you and I were in control of when and how your gift were used. I’m not saying there aren’t risks, Sookie. I am saying that—if you try to keep your life the way it is now—there will be more risks.”
Sookie shook her head and cut her eyes at him. “It’s your growling that really ought to be my deciding factor.”
“I have never tried to hide my potential for violence, especially when those I care for are threatened,” he said somewhat defensively.
“The growl works in your favor,” Sookie quickly clarified. “It makes me know you care, though I’m still not sure why.”
He immediately relaxed. “Is anyone ever sure of the ‘why’ when it comes to attraction or affection? Beauty is one thing, and you certainly have that in your favor. But the rest of what you are is why I want to spend more time—much more time—with you.”
Sookie smiled and a blush once more exploded onto her cheeks. “I couldn’t have put that any better. About you.”
“So—what do you want to do about this?” the vampire smirked.
He chuckled. “We have already determined that we will begin by dating—yes?”
She nodded in confirmation.
“I was wondering what you wanted to do about your status in the Supernatural world,” he explained.
The telepath thought for a moment. “Honestly? I want to take a bit of time to be sure. Even before I was shoved in that trunk, I was thinking about making some major life changes. But right now, I feel a little numb: learning about Hadley and speculating about why Bill was really interested in me—not to mention trying not to dwell on almost being raped and killed by a person I thought I loved not even a week ago. But, most of all, I’m tryin’ to remind myself of the realizations I made in that trunk, even as I try to keep myself from dwelling on how terrified and hopeless I was in it.” She chuckled, though there was no mirth in the sound. “I’ll probably be claustrophobic for a while, and I doubt if I’ll turn off all the lights when I go to sleep for the foreseeable future. My electric bill is NOT going to be friendly,” she added, clearly trying to make a joke to cover up the trauma she’d been through.
“Your feelings are understandable—all of them. And I’m not quite opportunistic enough to suggest that becoming nocturnal would solve one of your problems,” he emphasized, again trying to tear her from her depressed mood.
She laughed lightly—but more sincerely this time.
Eric turned his head to smile at her. “I’m patient. And you are now protected. Take all the time you need to make your choices.”
“That’s sweet, but I just want a few days—maybe a week—to consider the job? Truthfully, I’ve almost decided about that already. And then I want to talk to Bill.”
“You really think that’s a good idea?” Eric asked. “To talk to him?”
“Like I said earlier, I have questions—even more after our talk—that only he can answer, and I think I need those answers in order to really move on.”
“I don’t like the idea of your being alone with him,” Eric shared.
Sookie reached out her hand, and the vampire quickly took it—having missed it for the last ten or so minutes of their conversation.
“I don’t like the idea of being alone with him either, but I don’t think he’ll talk as openly or honestly with you in the room. But you’ll be close. And Thalia will be too,” Sookie resolved. “Heck—the whole army you’re bound and determined to build for me can be nearby!”
Eric contemplated for a moment, though the worry lingered on his impossibly handsome face.
“You’re concerned that he’ll try to hurt me,” Sookie speculated.
“I’m sure he already has,” Eric answered softly. “I don’t want him to do any more damage.”
“You won’t let him,” the telepath said, her faith in the Viking clear.
“Sookie, I will speed to you if I feel any pain whatsoever from you, but it will still take me a second or two to get to you. Bill could harm you,” Eric relayed honestly, his voice sounding haunted at his admission.
“And the worst he could do to me?
“Kill you. Try to complete the bond with you. Try to turn you,” Eric responded.
“That would take more than two seconds—right?” Sookie asked.
“Likely. But if he hurts you—if he even tries—I won’t stop myself, Sookie. I’ll kill him,” he said evenly. “Tonight was my limit.”
“Okay,” Sookie agreed solemnly. “I’ll meet with him Friday, and you and I will have our date on Sunday—if you still want that,” she added.
“Absolutely,” he assured.
“And I should be able to tell you my final decision about my profession by then.”
“There really is no hurry,” Eric said with a sincere smile.
“There is for me,” Sookie said decisively. “It’s overdue.”
“Okay,” Eric supported, squeezing her hand a little.
“Good,” Sookie proclaimed. “Eric—uh—I want to try this thing with you. It’s one of those decisions that felt right to me in the trunk—when I thought I was gonna die and was makin’ myself promises about what I would do if I didn’t. I want to know you without Bill influencing my ideas about you. I can’t be sure of anything after that, but I believe that tryin’ with you will be a step in the right direction.”
Eric smiled. “I’m looking very much forward to taking that step with you.”
“And the rest we’ll play by ear?” Sookie asked.
Eric nodded in agreement, even as his phone rang.
“Northman,” he answered it.
He listened for a few moments.
“You are sure the situation is handled?” he asked.
Again, he listened for a few seconds.
“Very well. And the daytime guards?”
“Excellent,” he nodded after another pause. “We’ll be landing soon,” Eric informed before hanging up.
“Well?” Sookie asked.
“Thalia has successfully captured the Weres that were staked out at your home. And her preliminary questioning suggests that they were, indeed, looking to avenge the Were that Bubba killed. If that proves to be the case, then the matter will be dealt with by dawn, and any additional threats from that pack should be quelled immediately. However—just in case—Thalia has secured an expanded security detail for you during the daytime tomorrow.”
“Expanded?” Sookie asked.
“Mustapha, Warren, Onawa, and Willow will not be able to arrive before afternoon or early evening tomorrow. Meanwhile, Tray and Maria-Star are ready to begin at dawn. Along with them, Thalia has arranged for a few extra members from Long Tooth.”
“Isn’t that excessive?” Sookie asked.
“Not when four strong Weres were just found at your home,” Eric responded evenly.
Sookie sighed and shook her head. “Things happen fast in your world.”
Eric nodded, even as the plane bumped against the concrete of a landing strip.
Sookie immediately jumped and squealed. “What was that?”
“A successful landing,” Eric grinned.
“Oh—uh—I didn’t know we were about to land!”
“Better that way?” Eric asked with a raised eyebrow.
Sookie chuckled. “So much better!”
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this week’s chapter! Unfortunately, the plane ride of peaceful conversation had to end. I’m glad so many of you enjoyed it!