“In a time of universal deceit—telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”—George Orwell
To escape her appraising gaze, Eric quickly glanced around the room. Everyone there was watching him as if he were about to tear out Sookie’s throat. He wondered if she thought the same, but he made himself look back at her anyway.
“I need to speak to you alone—just for a few minutes,” he tried again.
“Okay,” she said her eyes going back and forth between mistrust and thankfulness. In the end stubbornness won out. “Go ahead—but this is my family; what you say to me can be said to them.”
Eric knew of Sookie’s stubbornness well. He also knew that he could not say everything he wanted to say in front of the people in that room. In truth, he couldn’t believe that he wanted to say his intended words to any being—living or undead.
No. His most “costly” words would be for Sookie Stackhouse, or they would be for no one.
But he could say some things in front of the others, and after that—well—he would either leave, or she would agree to speak to him in private for a moment. He took in the faces in the room again. Jason Stackhouse looked a bit frazzled, as if still in shock. Tara Thornton was looking at him with pure hatred in her eyes. Lafayette looked cautious and a little afraid of him. And Alcide Herveaux looked satisfied, probably because he’d just been lumped in with Sookie’s family after only a short acquaintance with her.
“Very well,” Eric began, “I will speak of some things in front of the audience you have set for me. Russell Edgington, the three-thousand-year-old vampire king of Mississippi and now Louisiana, is probably at your home in Bon Temps even as I speak. He intends to hunt you down, kidnap you, and use you. And—trust me—you would not escape again. He is not happy that Lorena is dead, nor is he happy that you freed Compton, for whom he is also searching.”
Eric watched as concern for Bill flooded Sookie’s eyes. But he kept his countenance steady. He had to. When he looked at the woman in the hospital bed before him, his body and mind ached for something he’d never found—something that every bit of his blood longed for.
Something he couldn’t even name.
But seeing her worry for Bill told him that all of his secret hopes and fantasies were just bullshit illusions.
Sookie had not been waiting for him to come to her in Jackson. She had not opened the window of the room she’d been staying in at the Were’s apartment. She had not invited him in and joked with him about his ability to fly or her inability to sing. She had not told him that he was the one that she really wanted. She had not looked at him as if she could see into his dead soul and yet still wanted him. She had not swept his jacket from his shoulders or kissed him with more passion than anyone ever had. She had not pushed him back onto her bed with the intention of fucking him—let alone making love to him.
All of those things had been mere tricks of his imagination—fictions that he would never be able to live out. He hated the part of himself that had concocted them to begin with. And he hated himself now—for wishing with all of his might that they were true.
Still, he went on, “You will not be able to hide with your brother, Lafayette, Sam, or Tara because Russell knows of all of them from the file Franklin Mott found in Bill Compton’s home.”
Eric saw Tara Thornton cringe at the mention of Mott’s name. She was brave, but she’d likely been brutalized, given Mott’s reputation. Eric sighed and spoke to Sookie’s friend, “You did a good job injuring him, but you did not send him to his true death. And he is not one to be denied.”
Tara shrank back into Lafayette’s arms in fear.
Eric continued speaking to Tara. “Mott is not a very old vampire, however. It will take him at least a week to heal—if Talbot is to be believed about the extent of Mott’s injuries.” Eric paused for a moment. “Actually—to be safe—you should count on only four days until Mott comes for you. And Russell is already looking for you since you escaped with Sookie. I suggest wooden bullets for Mott; he has not yet reached an age when he can easily move out of their path. Alcide will know how to find a suitable weapon should you wish to try to stand your ground against him. Otherwise, you should run.”
Without another word to a stunned Tara, Eric looked back at Sookie. His blood in her was longing for a connection, and he contemplated touching her fingers as he’d done earlier before she’d woken up or smoothing the hair away from her forehead. He longed for her soft eyes to look at him again—instead of her suspicious ones.
But that was not to be.
He shook himself from his fantasies again; he needed to focus for both of their sakes. “Sookie, you could try to hide with Herveaux, but a Were named Debbie Pelt, who according to Talbot’s ramblings has a connection to him, is now hunting for you as well. She will likely go to Herveaux’s usual places to seek you out. Or she will tell Russell of them.”
Her eyes softening a little, Sookie looked quickly to Alcide. The Were nodded sheepishly.
“Yeah—that sounds like what she’d do alright,” Alcide confirmed.
Eric tried to ignore the fact that Sookie’s eyes once more hardened a little as they found his own again. Perhaps, he deserved her ire. After all, from her perspective, he’d tortured her friend, tricked her into taking his blood, and taken Russell’s side against her and Bill. And that didn’t even count the “crimes” that Bill would have reported against him.
“Russell will not give up,” Eric said, trying to make Sookie understand. “He is now married to the queen of Louisiana, Sophie-Anne, and she wants you too. Before Bill came to Bon Temps, he worked in Sophie-Anne’s court.”
Sookie tilted her head in question.
Eric continued, “He was her procurer.”
“Procurer?” Sookie asked as Alcide shifted uncomfortably, likely guessing what was coming.
“Yes,” Eric responded, as gently as he was capable in front of the others. “Most wealthy vampires have one. Bill is well-known for his superior glamouring ability, as well as for his aptitude for finding delicacies. And those things make him very good at his job.”
“Delicacies,” Sookie murmured. “What was his job—specifically?”
“He found humans for the queen—those of noteworthy or exotic blood.”
“That file on me?” Sookie asked in horror.
“That file was the work of a meticulous procurer who was very interested in why you have such wonderful blood, Sookie. And make no mistake—I have not tasted you, but from your scent, I know that your blood would be exquisite.”
“Stay the fuck away from her, Northman!” Alcide growled.
Eric rolled his eyes. “I am the fuck away from her, Herveaux. I could have had Sookie’s blood many times, but I do not take blood by force.” He growled. “And don’t forget who hired you to protect her! I know that I will not forget that I found her almost dead tonight!” Eric’s glare at the Were caused Alcide to take a step back.
“Was Bill gonna offer me to the queen then?” Sookie asked in a shaky voice, even as tears trailed down her cheeks.
Eric kept himself from brushing those drops of salt water away by shoving his hands deep into his pockets. “I do not know everything,” the vampire said quietly, “but I have found out some things and guessed some others. I know that your cousin Hadley is the queen’s chief courtesan and favorite blood donor. I know that her blood tastes delicious and that she smells lovely, but her scent is nothing to yours. I know that several months ago Hadley boasted to the queen that she had a “special” cousin, a girl who seemed to be able to read people’s thoughts right out of their heads. I know that Bill was still working for the queen at the time that Hadley let the story of her unique cousin slip. I know that you cannot be glamoured and that Bill’s usual way of gaining control over new ‘requisitions’ is by glamouring them. I know that Bill originally procured Hadley. And I know that Bill has a lot of his blood in you even now. I know that my blood drew me here, and if Bill is still alive, he will likely come here too. Or he will go to his home, get himself captured by Russell, and save himself by using your blood connection to lead Russell straight to you.”
Sookie looked genuinely afraid now—as well as pissed off, though Eric couldn’t tell who the target of her anger was.
“How do you know all this? And how long have you known?”
“I learned of Hadley’s connection to you yesterday—from Hadley herself,” he answered smoothly. “I knew of Compton’s former position in Sophie-Anne’s court before; however, I did not know that Bill already knew of Hadley’s telepathic cousin when he so conveniently found you. I learned of the file on you because of Franklin Mott’s boasting—after you saw it.”
“You think the queen sent Bill to procure me?” Sookie asked, the hurt clear in her voice.
“That is what Hadley told me.”
“You think that since Bill couldn’t glamour me, he decided that seduction would be the best way?”
“Yes,” Eric answered softly. He did not like the brokenness in her voice or the slump of her shoulders, but he told her what he thought was the truth anyway. “And to help him with that, he would have wanted to get his blood into you as soon as possible.”
“Like you did?”
“Yes,” Eric responded honestly. “I have wanted you since the night I met you.”
“See—they’re all bastards!” Tara yelled out.
Sookie raised her hand to silence her friend. “You think Bill will just hand me over to Russell and Sophie-Anne when he finds me?”
Eric considered for a moment. “Yes and no. I think he truly believes that he loves you, so—at first—he will try to protect you from them. But he will fail. He is not experienced enough to shield you from a vampire like Russell, nor is he particularly strong.” Eric couldn’t prevent some of his derision for the younger vampire from creeping into his response. “Make no mistake: When Russell finds Compton, he will break—quickly—under torture. Then he will be forced to use your blood connection to lead Russell to you.” Eric paused. “Bill will likely talk himself into believing that it would be the best thing for you—the only way he could ensure your life.”
“Would it be?” Sookie asked, her brown eyes searching him—threatening to tear his control to shreds. “Would it be the best way?”
Eric couldn’t help the sigh that escaped his lips. He shook his head. “No. Sophie-Anne would likely insist upon taking you for her lover, probably forcing you to service her alongside your cousin. She likes the taboo, and that thought would arouse her.”
Sookie cringed, but Eric went on, “At least at first, Sophie-Anne would feed from you excessively if left to her own devices.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “When I first saw Hadley, she was horribly anemic, yet Sophie-Anne still fed.” He opened his eyes to see that Sookie’s were full of tears. “Russell would likely force the queen to curb her appetites for your blood, but he is no better guardian. He is insane and powerful. He would use your telepathy all the time—until, I fear, you would be worn down. Talbot would be allowed to create dishes with your blood as if you were a fine wine. You might be able to share a room with Compton if you behaved. Bill would likely act as your keeper and give you more and more of his blood to keep you alive.”
His voice softened a little. “It might not be all bad, however. Perhaps, you would be allowed to read some books during the day when you had the energy to do so—at least when you were not reading humans’ minds. And—you might even be allowed whole days to yourself as you recovered from blood loss. However, your family and friends would likely be gone from your life.”
Sookie let out a harsh sob. “You paint a bleak picture, Mr. Northman.”
“I tried not to make it as bleak as it could be, Miss Stackhouse.” He smiled at her a little as they both recognized the absurdity of their using each other’s last names at this point.
And for a moment—just a moment—she smiled back.
“You think I would be killed by them,” she stated after that moment ended.
“Yes,” Eric confirmed, deadly serious again, “eventually. But you would wish for death long before it came to you.”
“Would they turn me?” Sookie asked in a voice so quiet that Eric could barely hear her question.
He nodded. “It is likely.”
Sookie took a deep, ragged breath. “What about you, Eric? Why are you here? What do you want from me?”
“My blood in you pulled me here.” He answered her second question honestly and ignored the others. To be frank, he did not have answers for them.
“If Russell finds out you helped me—warned me—you will be in trouble, won’t you?”
“That is the least of my worries, Sookie, and it should be the least of yours too,” the vampire replied.
She took another shaky breath. “What should I be worried about?”
He looked around the room again and then back at her. “Sookie, you have a choice to make. I have warned you. I have told you of the threat and of what I learned of Bill.”
Eric sighed. He couldn’t help himself as he looked into her still suspicious eyes. “I will leave now Sookie, or I will speak with you alone. There are some things that are as much about me and my safety as yours, and these are not things for the ears of your,” he paused, “family. The words I wish to say to you now are not words that can be listened to by people who can be glamoured. They are not words to be listened to by people for whom I have no trust. They are words for you only—if you choose to hear them. If you do not, then I will say goodbye, Miss Stackhouse, for I will likely never see you again.”
Sookie looked up at Eric in surprise.
Tara spoke up, “Fuck no! After all the shit you just said, how do we know that you ain’t just here healin’ Sookie for Russell? How do we know you won’t just take Sookie to him if we leave her alone with you? You were pretty damned cozy with him when I was brought to his house of fuckin’ horrors the other night!”
“You don’t know,” Eric said evenly. “It is up to Sookie to decide whether or not to trust me. If she chooses not to, then I will go now.” He pulled his hands out of his pockets and picked up a pad and pen from the bedside table. He wrote down an address and a security code.
He looked at Sookie. “This is my safest residence in the Shreveport area. There is a hidden compartment under the cabinet next to the refrigerator. In it is a little more than thirty thousand dollars. Your family and friends will all be watched by Russell. If you do not wish to hear me out now, then I hope that you will trust me enough to go here tomorrow during the day, take the money, and run.” Eric looked at Alcide and then back at Sookie. “You should take the Were or your shifter boss. They cannot protect you against a vampire—especially not one who is three thousand years old—but they could help to protect you during the day, and they both have connections that might help you. I have removed your name and all evidence of you from the records of this hospital. Just promise me one thing.”
“What?” Sookie asked with a whimper.
“Don’t go running to Compton. And don’t go home.”
“I don’t know if I can promise you that I won’t go home,” she said quietly.
“Then they already have you,” he said in a tortured tone.
Eric reached forward with his hand—the one that still held the piece of paper—but he stopped just short of touching her fingers. The air seemed to vibrate in the space between their flesh.
“Hate me if you must, Sookie. Distrust me if you must, but please—please—run. Run from Bill and from Russell and from Sophie-Anne. Hell—run from me if it makes you feel better. But go. Take more of my blood and get stronger so that you can leave this place now, or . . . .” His voice trailed off.
“Or?” she asked.
“Or talk to me alone for a few minutes, Sookie.” Eric pulled back his hand before letting the slip of paper drop onto the hospital bed next to her hand. “Decide,” he finished simply.
Sookie had studied people for a long time. Her telepathy had always allowed her the luxury of comparing people’s thoughts to their facial expressions, and though she couldn’t read Eric’s thoughts, she’d been able to read his face a few times that night. Mostly, it had been stony, almost expressionless, but a few times, she’d seen more—things he’d clearly not wanted her to see. He’d been hurt when she shrank from him as he’d offered her the water. He’d been sorry when he told her about Bill’s duplicity. And—most importantly—the eyes that she’d opened hers to that night had cared for her.
“Okay,” she said, looking at the others in the room. “I wanna talk to Eric alone for a little while.”
“Hell no!” Tara exclaimed. “Sookie! He’s a fucking vampire!”
“And he saved my life, Tara. I owe him a few minutes,” Sookie said with strength in her voice.
Alcide glared at Eric, “We’ll wait right outside, cher.”
Eric hated that fucking endearment. He hated even more that Sookie would be angry if he tried to use it, but she just nodded to Alcide.
Eric, however, shook his head. “No, Were, you will move out of range of hearing, or I will go now.” He looked down at Sookie. “I won’t have others hear what I say, whether they hear it through the door or in the room.”
Sookie nodded again. “Okay. Alcide, why don’t you go get some coffee or something?” She looked at her brother. “Take Jason with you—will you? He looks like he could use some. And I’m feeling up to a little myself.”
Alcide reluctantly led Jason from the room, snarling at Eric as he left.
Lafayette spoke up, “Come on, hooker,” he said to Tara.
She brushed off Lafayette’s hand from her shoulder, and glared at Sookie. “If you voluntarily put yourself into a situation where you’re alone with a vamp again, Sookie, I’m done! The last time I left you alone with one, he nearly drained you!” Tara had tears in her eyes. “I can’t do this anymore, Sook. Please! The choice that you should be makin’ is the one that’ll keep you safe from them. Please!”
Sookie gave Tara a tender yet strong look. “Tara, I need to do this, okay? It’ll be alright.”
Tara shook her head angrily and stormed out of the room. “Fine! I’m done with this shit!”
Lafayette meekly followed after her.
Eric looked down at Sookie. Again, the desire to touch her was great, but again he kept himself from doing it. He waited until he was certain the Were could no longer hear them before he spoke. “Sookie,” he began, “tonight, Russell Edgington began to suspect that I want him finally dead.”
“But I thought that you were workin’ for him now,” Sookie said somewhat bitterly. “I thought he was your king.”
Eric shook his head, “There are—as you should realize by now—often major differences between what appears to be so and what is so. Those tattooed Weres work for Russell; their ancestors also worked for him. And in Russell’s home, I found my father’s crown—my human father’s crown.”
“What are you sayin’?” Sookie asked, her eyebrows furrowing.
“I’m saying that Russell was there the night my human family was murdered—my father, my mother, and my sister—but I couldn’t see him. He was wearing a cloak, and one of the members of his Were pack took him the crown.”
Eric continued with foreboding in his tone. “The night he was responsible for killing my family, Russell did see me. He told me not to come after him. And—I did not. I admit to you, Sookie—just to you,” he said with shining eyes, “that I was a coward that night.” The Viking paused. “I did not follow him into the dark.”
“Oh Eric,” she said.
“Do not pity me!” he barked.
“Okay,” she responded apologetically.
Quickly, he regained his calm and went on, “When Russell saw me, I was younger than I appear now, but it will not take him long to remember—especially now that Talbot has pointed out my interest in one of Russell’s artifacts.”
“Artifacts?” Sookie questioned quietly.
“The crown,” Eric seethed. “It was,” he paused, “on display in a glass case—as if it were only some kind of museum piece!”
Sookie inhaled deeply, but she didn’t offer Eric any sympathy this time. Soon his expression became stoic again.
“Russell sees you in the same way he sees that crown,” Eric said quietly. “And he will have no compunction about hurting whomever it takes to secure his newest museum piece.”
They were quiet for a moment as Sookie absorbed what he was saying.
“He’ll be hunting you too?” Sookie asked.
Eric nodded. “Yes, he will. Before—I might have been able to have gained his trust enough for him let his guard down. Then, I would have killed him, but now that he is suspicious of me, that will not happen. Clearly, something is nagging at him, and soon he will realize that it is the memory of a young Viking who was too afraid of him and his wolves to avenge his family members’ deaths.” He closed his eyes. “It will not take Russell long to connect the dots, Sookie. So I have sent Pam away. And I will go away, too. But . . . .” He stopped.
“If I leave you here, Russell will find you. You might elude him for a while if you run with Herveaux or Merlotte, but Russell will not stop until he tracks you down. You are too great a prize for him to let go.”
“What do I do then? If anyone helps me, I’m assuming they’ll be in danger too.”
“Yes—Russell will likely kill any that try to aid you. Bill’s files and, therefore, Mott’s information is somewhat outdated in that it still says that you are estranged from your brother, so Jason will likely stay safe unless you contact him. Your friends too. Russell will continue to watch everyone that you care about, but as long as he thinks they might be useful, they will stay safe—except for Tara, who will be in danger because of Mott. I am sorry, Sookie, but the home you love is lost to you—or, at least, it needs to be.” He ran his hand through his hair, a nervous gesture he didn’t often indulge in. “However—if you are caught—what I said about your family and friends being safe will be nullified. Once Russell has you, then their only function would be to help him control you. They will be in more danger if he has you than if he does not.”
Sookie sighed deeply. She had heard what sounded like true regret in Eric’s voice. She knew that he was losing his home as well. He was also losing Fangtasia, but—again—she intuited that he didn’t want her pity.
“What do I do then?” she asked again.
Eric smirked at little. “You could choose to come with me, Sookie Stackhouse.”
A/N: As you can see, this Eric is going to be more forthcoming. Now—the question will be what Sookie will decide. Meanwhile, try not to hate Tara too much (I know it’s hard). But she just saw her best friend almost die. And she was horribly abused by Franklin Mott. So she’s got some well-deserved angst this time.
Thanks for reading.