You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog
Cryin’ all the time
Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit and you ain’t no friend of mine
After calming himself down from his discussion with Bill and sending a few quick texts arranging for his and Sookie’s travel that night, Eric entered Alcide’s apartment to find the Were putting two sandwiches, a soft drink, and a bottle of water into a brown paper bag.
“I own the unit next door,” the Were mumbled. “I’ll expect a check for the damages I heard you making to the walls.”
Eric strolled toward the kitchen. “Send your bill to Bill,” he smirked, enjoying his play on words. “After all, all of the dents are shaped like him.”
With that, Eric left the irritated Were and went to check on Sookie. Knowing that she had returned to the bedroom she’d been staying in, he knocked lightly on the door.
“Come in,” she said.
Her back was to him, but Eric could easily smell her tears.
He approached her slowly. “Sookie?”
“There’s a vampire next door. From his void, I—uh . . . . It’s Bill—right?” she asked, though she already seemed sure about the answer. The vampire with her noticed—and noted—that certainty.
“Yes. I did not know the Were would bring him so close, but I can assure you that Compton will not bother you tonight.”
“Thanks,” she whispered, though—of course—Eric could already feel her gratitude through the blood tie.
“You are welcome,” he returned.
“I did not realize you could tell the difference between vampires,” the vampire commented after a moment or two of silence.
“When I know them for a little while, their—uh—voids start to seem familiar. I can tell with Bill, Pam, Bubba, and you.”
“How are we different?” Eric asked curiously.
“Your voids are each a little unique—in shape. In size. Even in feel. Yours is the largest I had encountered—until Russell’s. But yours is warmer somehow—and rounder; its edges wash back and forth a little all the way around its circumference—like a round sea whose waves are all ebbing and then surging. It’s beautiful,” she whispered. “Bubba’s void is small and—uh—uncomplicated. It’s sort of triangular in a way. Pam’s and Bill’s voids are of about the same size; his is like a trapezoid—lots of sides. Pam’s is more circular, but hers is denser.”
“Well—Pam can be dense,” the vampire tried to joke.
Sookie let out the tiniest of snorts. “Purposefully?”
“Of course,” Eric chuckled. “She’s most dense when she pretends that she made a ‘clerical error’ in ordering a designer’s entire seasonal collection of garments and accessories.”
Sookie turned around, even as Eric felt mirth from her. Her slight smile was much better than her tears. “Pam’s clothing choices have baffled me from almost the start.”
“How so?” Eric asked curiously.
“Well—one minute, she looks like a dominatrix or something. The next, she looks like a P.T.A. mom.”
The vampire grinned. “The first category is my doing—a uniform of sorts. She hates it, but the throne was her idea.”
“A trade off?” Sookie asked with amusement.
“You are perceptive,” the vampire nodded. “Yes—I agreed to sit on that damnable throne for a few hours several nights a week, while she has to dress as if she were a fangbanger’s wet dream.”
Sookie blushed slightly.
Eric’s face lit up a bit. “I like that look on you.”
“Hmm?” Sookie asked, somewhat confused, but mostly embarrassed.
“A blush,” he smiled. “A vampire can forget them. I almost forgot what they looked like—till you,” he added, his voice becoming faraway.
“Mmmm,” he sounded in agreement. “A vampire does not blush, and—even if one could—most of us are open with our expressions with only a few of our own kind.”
“I’m surprised you haven’t made a lot of human women blush,” she ventured, blushing deeper with the effort of her statement.
Eric shrugged. “I suppose I have—made a few blush. However, quite a while back, I stopped pursuing my meals and physical needs with women who were innocent—or close enough to it to blush.” He shook his head. “The only blush a fangbanger might have is covered.”
“By the makeup they use to look pale—like a vampire,” Sookie finished.
“Yes. Their efforts really are wasted. It is as if they want to be unappealing.”
The telepath shrugged. “They probably just want to be more like vampires. Or maybe they think that vampires want humans to be more like them?”
Eric shook his head. “You have never entered Fangtasia in a costume, Sookie. I like that about you.”
She chuckled. “No. I don’t own Fangtasia-wear. But—even if I did—now that I know some vampires, I figure that most of y’all are tired of the repetition of the people that come into Fangtasia.”
“Repetition?” Eric asked, hoping she’d clarify her thoughts.
“Yeah. They try to look and act like extras from cheesy vampire movies. I doubt if it takes y’all long to get tired of the predictability. I figure most vampires like uniqueness, and people have no chance at being that if they’re tryin’ to be something they’re not.”
Eric reached slowly out to tuck a slightly damp tendril behind her ear.
“You are nothing but unique, Sookie Stackhouse. And that includes the way you look at the world—the way you are willing to look at beings different from yourself and find empathy while you quest for understanding.”
“I think you’re giving me too much credit,” she said bashfully.
“I think you’ve been around too many people who don’t give you enough.”
Eric’s words reminded Sookie of one of those people; she sighed, even as her expression clouded a bit. “Bill—did you hurt him?” the telepath asked.
“Not really. But I very much wanted to,” the vampire answered honestly.
“I know,” Sookie said.
“Is that why you were so upset when I came in?” Eric asked. “Did you worry that I had harmed Bill?”
“No,” she whispered. “I’m upset because I’ve lowered my shields as far as I can,” she added, barely mouthing the words as she looked significantly toward where the kitchen was located in the house.
Clearly, she’d heard something unpleasant from Alcide.
“Later?” he mouthed to her in question.
She nodded in agreement and then went to pick up the well-worn suitcase that she’d brought with her; it had belonged to Gran. Before that, Sookie didn’t know its history, but it looked to have a long one. Eric had the case in his hands before she could blink.
“The storm has lifted somewhat,” he grinned. “Do you mind a flight home? It’d be faster than driving.”
“On an airplane—right?”
He smirked and nodded. “Yes.”
“Flying used to scare me,” Sookie shared.
“Used to?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I think other things are more worth bein’ scared of now.”
He nodded somberly in agreement.
“What scares you?” she found herself asking the seemingly unflappable vampire.
Maintaining eye contact with her and moving very slowly, Eric bent down. “Things I am unwilling to share when others are nearby,” he whispered at a volume Sookie was certain even Alcide could not hear.
She closed her eyes and shivered at the pleasurable sensation caused by Eric’s closeness and then looked up at him just in time to find him looking pleased by her response—but not leering at her in a way that would have made her uncomfortable. If anything, he seemed happy that her reaction to his nearness had not been fear.
Unable to help herself, Sookie found herself smiling at the vampire, an expression she’d figured—only hours before—that she’d never make again. However, her expression soured as they entered the front of the apartment—where Alcide was sitting on the couch, waiting impatiently for them to come out of the bedroom.
There was already a judgmental look on his face as he looked at Eric; it transformed into a pleading one as he turned toward Sookie.
“Sook, you’re welcome to stay here—under my protection. I have friends in the Jackson pack. It would be better for you than throwin’ your lot in with vamps—better than bein’ with him,” he added, gesturing toward Eric.
The telepath shook her head in confusion. “Why do you dislike Eric so much?” she asked, even as she used her telepathy to “listen in” to Alcide’s true response to her question. There had been a time—only the day before, in fact—when she would have avoided doing that with an acquaintance (let alone a friend), but being in the trunk had caused her to reevaluate many of her past behaviors.
Alcide seemed to flounder for a moment, clearly having not expected that question. “He’s a vampire,” he finally responded.
“But that fact doesn’t automatically damn him in my eyes,” Sookie responded. “Try again.”
“He—uh—well—he blackmailed me to get me to look out for you. Not that I wouldn’t have done it anyway,” Alcide tagged on quickly.
Sookie sighed. “You’re working off debts your father has with Eric—debts in the six figures,” she returned wearily. “Because Eric hasn’t called in the marker—which he could have done—your family has been able to keep your business. I know you hate the idea of working for Eric—or any vampire—and you blame vampires for your dad’s gambling addiction, but that’s not blackmail. Try again,” she repeated firmly.
“Sookie, you don’t know vampires like I do,” Alcide tried, obviously uncomfortable that she was bringing to light his own thoughts.
“Or maybe you don’t know them like I do,” she responded. “Try again.”
“A vampire just tried to rape you. He would have drained you,” Alcide reminded avidly.
Sookie cringed and took a step away from the Were, taking Eric’s hand automatically as she leaned a bit against his side.
“I don’t need you to remind me of what Bill did—or of what he wanted to do. And, for the record, the celebration currently occurring in your thoughts—the one where you are right about vampires being heartless and cruel—is happening at my expense. Not your expense! Meanwhile, you are ignoring the fact that another vampire—not you—rescued me,” she added softly, even as she squeezed Eric’s hand.
“Sookie . . . ,” Alcide started.
“The only werefox I’ve ever met tried to kill me today,” she said quietly, but pointedly. “Should I now hate all werefoxes? Blame them for Debbie’s actions? Should I blame all of those with two-natures? Should I blame you for dating her? Should I blame myself for pretending that I was your girlfriend at Josephine’s? Or should I place my blame on the one who wanted me dead? On the one who tied me up, gagged me, and gave Bill the opportunity to rape and drain me—as you so accurately just pointed out!?”
“Sookie, please, Debbie’s a little crazy, but I’m sure she didn’t mean . . . ,” he began.
Sookie interrupted. “She meant everything she did, Alcide. I know exactly what she wanted. And even you don’t believe in her innocence, though you love her nonetheless.” She sighed. “You should know this: Debbie came here looking to cause trouble for you today. She was hoping to find us in bed and cause a scene. Oh—and she still has a key to this place.” She paused and frowned as she read his thoughts, shaking her head as she did so. “But you already knew that. Part of you likes the fact that she sneaks in here when you’re out of town and places her scent on your things. That’s why you didn’t find it suspicious that you picked up her scent in the parking garage earlier.”
“Sookie, Debbie and I have a long history,” Alcide attempted to justify.
Sookie huffed. “And I’m not gonna judge you for it, though I don’t think it’s healthy. You need to know that she is heavily addicted to V.”
“I figured,” Alcide admitted in a strangled tone.
Again, Sookie shook her head, feeling pity for her new friend. “Debbie lucked into Bill in the parking garage,” she continued her story. “And—when I had the misfortune of stumbling upon her feeding from him down there—she kicked my ass and threw me into that trunk, knowing full well was Bill would do. She thought that, perhaps, he’d even turn me. She wanted those things to happen—thought that I deserved for them to happen—even after I told her that you and I were never a real couple. That is the truth. She is sick and twisted, and she’d do anything to get you back. Anything! I heard her words and her thoughts. There is no room for rationalizations for her actions,” Sookie stated straightforwardly, hoping Alcide would truly absorb her words and the concern behind them.
“Sookie, Debbie and my relationship is, “Alcide paused, “complicated. Please don’t let him . . . .” He looked at Eric, but left his sentence incomplete.
“Please don’t let Eric kill her?” Sookie finished for the Were—having read the plea in his thoughts. At least, he felt ashamed for making it, and that meant something to the telepath. She sighed. “Alcide, I honestly don’t know how to respond to that request. Debbie wants me dead. And—just so you know—complicated doesn’t lead sane people to homicide.”
“I know,” Alcide responded, his tone and agonized expression making his mixed feelings obvious.
“You do and you don’t know,” Sookie returned sadly. “Your thoughts are conflicted. On the one hand, you love Debbie and want to believe in the good in her. Of course, you also want to change her—to make her fit the mold you desire for a mate.”
Finding her telepathy much more potent—likely because of Eric’s blood—Sookie closed her eyes to delve further into Alcide’s mind before adding, “You want a woman who doesn’t want to procreate and add to the supernatural population. Part of you hates what you are, and you hate that she loves being a werefox.”
“Sookie—I . . . .”
She interrupted the Were. “On the other hand, you had begun imagining a life with me. You wonder how I got my telepathy and whether or not it would be passed on like the gene for two natures,” she finished, opening her eyes.
“Sookie, I—uh—we could be a couple—a good one. I could feel it as soon as I met you—the attraction between us. Stay with me—please! We could be good together. I know it!”
“Herveaux, tonight is not the night to bring up such . . . ,” Eric began angrily, though he kept only a tender hold upon Sookie’s hand.
“Eric, it’s okay,” Sookie interrupted, squeezing the vampire’s hand. “Alcide, I’m real sorry if I did anything to lead you on. I was upset and vulnerable because of Bill, and I let that kiss happen between us. But I shouldn’t have. In addition, I’m about as naïve as a person can be when it comes to relationships, but I’m not about to start something up with someone who still loves the woman who tried to kill me. Plus, you’re at a point in your life where you want to deny the fact that you’re a Supe. I was in the same place yesterday, but today I’m just not there anymore. And I hope never to be there again.”
“Sookie, please,” Alcide responded.
The telepath shook her head. “For your own sake, Alcide, I hope you come to terms with what you are.” She sighed. “I was hiding from myself too, so I know denial. I don’t judge you, Alcide, but I couldn’t be with someone like you either—not anymore.”
“Sookie . . . ,” Alcide began again.
“Just keep Debbie away from me,” she interrupted, “and—in turn—I’ll do what I can to make sure Eric doesn’t kill her for what she did to me today. But—just so you know—she would deserve it,” Sookie added forcefully. “And if I ever see her again, I will act first and ask questions later.”
“So will I,” Eric echoed.
“Goodbye, Alcide,” Sookie said a little sadly. “Thanks for tryin’ to look out for me here.”
“Sookie, please. Reconsider staying—with me,” Alcide entreated.
Sookie shook her head. “As you said, I’ve already thrown in my lot with Eric. I hope you and I can still be friends—eventually—but, for now, I’m happy with my current company, and you haven’t severed your bad company.”
And with those words, Sookie and Eric left the Were’s apartment.
FIVE MINUTES LATER
Sookie was thankful that Alcide hadn’t come after her and Eric—in an attempt to continue with his arguments either against the vampire or for her staying with him in Jackson.
To be honest—given the fact that she and the Were had known each other for only a short time—the telepath had been a bit mystified by his fervent protests and offers.
That is, until she’d read his motives from his thoughts—motives she’d chosen not to throw in his face.
He’d felt incredibly guilty for Debbie’s actions and wanted to make up for them somehow.
Plus, he really, really hated vampires.
But, mostly, he was feeling territorial when it came to her, which Sookie speculated was because of either the full moon or Alcide’s self-perceived competition with vampires for her affections.
In addition to Alcide “giving up” for the moment, the telepath was also grateful that Bill had stayed out of sight as she and Eric had left the Were’s apartment. The last thing she would have been able to handle in that moment was Bill’s face—his physical presence.
Just sensing his “void” had been difficult enough.
As she looked at the profile of the vampire driving the rental car he’d somehow managed to secure for them, she couldn’t help but to speculate that he had likely threatened Bill to within an inch of his “un-death” if he made an appearance.
Perhaps, it was wrong to condone any threat, but she found herself happy for those that Eric had made on her behalf that night. They were—in many ways—keeping her from rattling apart.
The Viking had also sensed that going near either the creaky elevator or the parking garage would have been too much for her to take. Thus, they’d taken the stairs and exited the apartment complex at the street level—where an agent from Hertz had been waiting with a huge umbrella and a Honda. Sookie couldn’t help but to notice that her purse, shoes, and shawl—which had been left in the Lincoln—were waiting for her in the front seat when Eric opened the door for her.
“I would have flown us to the airfield—if it were not still raining a bit,” Eric commented, breaking Sookie from her reverie.
She nodded. She’d seen him hovering outside of her second-story hospital window, so she’d figured that he could fly—though she’d not allowed herself to think about it that much.
“What’s it like? Flying?” she asked now.
He smiled. “Which kind?”
“The kind only vampires can do—uh—only certain vampires,” she corrected, for she knew that Bill couldn’t fly.
“It’s freeing,” Eric answered after a few moments of contemplation. “At my fastest, it can even be,” he paused, “cleansing for me. I like to be above the noise of the earth.”
“I think I’d like that too,” she sighed, settling back into her seat. “To be high above everyone else’s thoughts.”
“Well—the plane will soon take us there,” he assured, pulling into what looked like an abandoned field.
“Uh—where’s the airport? The airplane?” Sookie asked, her mind also trying to figure out just how there’d be no other “thoughts” once they were in the air. Were the pilot and flight attendants vampires too?
Eric chuckled. “Right in there,” he said motioning toward a building that looked like a large metal barn with a rounded roof.
At that moment, a door opened, and a gray-haired man exited the “barn” with yet another huge umbrella.
Sookie immediately dipped into his thoughts—a new “defense mechanism” that she was determined to utilize.
As if he could sense what she was doing, Eric was silent for a moment.
“Everything check out?” he asked.
“He’s just a human,” she informed. “He had to scramble a bit when you asked for a huge umbrella for me; thanks for that, by the way. Uh—he’s already fueled your plane. Wait! Your plane!” she exclaimed. “Yours!?”
He chuckled. “Yes.”
“When I said that I wasn’t scared of flyin’ anymore, I meant in the big ones!” she exclaimed. “With professional pilots!”
He chuckled louder as he quickly got out of the car and took her luggage from the back seat; he’d not used the car’s trunk—a fact that Sookie had noticed.
Within seconds, he had handed off Sookie’s suitcase to the airfield worker and had taken the umbrella from him. Since the telepath was still dumbfounded by the idea of Eric FLYING them home, the vampire had to open her car door, release her seatbelt for her, and tap her on the shoulder to signal her to get out of the car.
“It’s not rainin’ too hard to fly in an airplane—is it?” she asked Eric with trepidation.
“Not at all,” he chuckled. “The rain is quite mild now—unlike the storm earlier. And the radar is clear to the west. Plus, the FAA has nothing on me when it comes to safety regulations.”
“I’m sure,” Sookie mumbled, as she walked with Eric into what she now knew was an airplane hangar. As he led her to a small—as in very small—private plane, she wanted to turn around and run. “That contraption looks like it’s a toy. Can it even fly in pristine weather?” she muttered.
He laughed heartily. “It seats up to fifteen, Sookie. That’s hardly small. I assure you—this model is the safest of its size on the market. And I would know,” he leaned down to whisper as if telling her a secret.
She looked up at him skeptically.
“Fun fact!” he grinned widely. “Howard Hughes himself taught me how to fly. I even saved his life once—when he decided to test a particularly risky plane—not this kind,” he chuckled, gesturing toward the plane.
“What? Huh? Really?” Granted, most of what Sookie knew about Howard Hughes had been learned from the movie The Aviator. “Um—was he really crazy?”
Eric nodded. “So nuts that no one listened when he insisted that vampires were real! Go figure!”
“What?” Sookie asked.
Eric laughed louder. “Just joking. Howard believed in any conspiracy theory he heard, and he was as germophobic as any human I ever knew. And that was why the vampires who knew him—and there were quite a few of us, especially during his earlier years—made sure that he never knew what we were. And—I’m only speaking for myself—but I never drank from the man either.”
“Worried about catching the crazy?” Sookie smirked.
“Absolutely!” Eric answered honestly. “Plus, given his odd diet, he smelled horrible! But he was a visionary when he could maintain his grasp upon his sanity. And an amazing pilot. But I’m better.”
“Bragging?” Sookie asked.
The worker, who’d been stowing Sookie’s belongings inside the plane, reemerged. “The travel plan’s been filed and okayed, and the tower is ready for you, Mr. Smith.”
Sookie’s eyebrows rose at the name “Smith.”
“There’s a bathroom at that end of the hangar,” the older man pointed, as he looked at them as if they were both human, “if you need the facilities before you board. I’ll go ahead and open up the main door so that I can tow you out when you’re ready. After I unhook, just radio the tower when you’re five minutes from wantin’ to take off, and they’ll get you worked out.”
“Thank you,” Eric said to the man.
“Do you need the facilities?” Eric asked Sookie after the worker had gone about his duties.
“Do you?” Sookie joked.
He chuckled, thoroughly enjoying the easy moment with her. Such a thing was welcome that night.
“How long’s the flight?” she asked.
“Just a bit more than an hour from hangar to hangar,” Eric responded.
“Then I’ll be good,” she said as Eric led her into the plane.
He handed her the small paper bag he’d taken from Alcide’s home as he motioned toward the copilot seat. “The Were packed some food and drink—if you require it.”
“Uh—I could just sit in the back,” Sookie said with apprehension as she looked at the control panel.
“Keep me company instead?” the vampire asked.
“I won’t have to do anything—right?” the telepath inquired, still looking around the cockpit as if it were a snake pit.
“You will need to breathe,” he chuckled, for she had been holding her breath in nervousness.
She let out a loud exhalation as she rolled her eyes at the vampire and then took the copilot seat, letting Eric secure her into the harness.
After he sat down and strapped in, he gave the worker a thumbs-up sign, and the plane lurched forward as it was pulled out of the hangar by a large truck.
“Breathe,” Eric reminded.
Sookie nodded and tried to compose herself as the plane came to a stop and the worker unhitched the truck and waved a quick goodbye before pulling the truck away.
To preoccupy herself from thinking about her odd situation, Sookie stowed her purse and the little “satchel” she’d made out of her shawl so that her shoes from the night before could be easily carried. Then she looked inside of the bag. She grabbed the Dr. Pepper Alcide had put in there. It wasn’t coffee, but both the sugar and caffeine would be welcome.
“You should have some food—if you can,” Eric said when she began to close the bag.
“I’m not hungry,” Sookie frowned as she watched him clicking buttons and flipping levers.
“Have you eaten anything today?” Eric asked gently.
She shook her head.
“Well—you know best about what a human body needs,” he returned, still speaking in a soft—almost soothing—tone. “I have not eaten human food in many, many years, though I recall the need for sustenance several times per day—especially during times of battle,” he added off-handedly.
“But I haven’t fought a battle today,” Sookie frowned.
“Have you not?” Eric asked with a shake of his head, before turning his focus back to the airplane. “The dents you managed to put into that trunk—despite how you were tied up—beg to differ. The wounds that I saw upon your wrists—obviously made from your trying to get out of your bonds—beg to differ. And they were quite deep,” he frowned. “Must have been painful to make. Not to mention the bruises on your face and your tender throat. You must have tried to bite through your gag and scream for hours,” he finished before turning the plane’s propellers on.
The telepath cringed through Eric’s words. The vampire’s forensic-sounding description had been accurate—too accurate. That description was enough to cause her to reopen the bag and take out what looked to be a ham sandwich.
Sookie watched Eric to see if he would look at her in victory as she took a bite of the food she wasn’t hungry for, but agreed she should eat. However, there were no “I told you so’s” from Eric. He simply kept readying the plane and began a short dialogue over the radio.
After saying many technical things that Sookie didn’t understand about runways and flight paths, Eric eased the plane into motion and drove it toward what looked to be a long, straight road.
He turned to her then, obviously feeling her nervousness spike.
“You will be fine, Sookie. I have you.”
She swallowed hard, though she didn’t have a bite in her mouth in that moment.
“I know,” she replied. “I know you have me. Thank you, Eric. Thank you.”
A/N: Here is this week’s chapter. Sorry it’s a bit late coming to you. I hope you enjoyed the “come to Jesus” Sookie had with Alcide. I wanted to show her dealing with him in a rational way–controlling her emotions and reactions in a way that I’m hoping shows the maturity she gained in the trunk.
I hope you will comment if you have the time and the inclination!
Thanks to Kleannhouse and Sephrenia!