“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”—Eleanor Roosevelt
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.”
Sookie looked up at the vampire in surprise. “Go with you? Eric—I can’t go with you!”
Eric lowered his eyes to the floor. This is what he’d expected her to say. He had never anticipated that Sookie would actually leave her friends and family. He had never expected her to give up her home. For the thousandth time, he wondered why he had even come. It would have been better for her if she had just slipped away to her death in her sleep.
He closed his eyes. She would be taken. She would be used. She would resist. She would eventually be killed—despite her usefulness. Or she would be broken—despite her spirit.
Or—worst of all—she would be turned and then broken by her maker’s command.
The thought of those things made Eric want to take Sookie with him against her will, but her will was what he liked most about her, so he wouldn’t. He took a step back and looked at her.
“Then run, Sookie. Promise me that you will run away. Run as far as you can and keep running.” He didn’t like the desperation that was in his voice, but his control had finally left him after the long night of worry. The balls that he’d so carefully kept in the air now seemed to be tumbling down all at once.
“Eric,” Sookie said, her eyes finally softening, “why are you here? Why did you come?”
He took a step toward the hospital bed. However, before he could answer her question, his nose picked up a familiar scent, and he tensed.
“Bill is coming,” he said simply.
Eric took up a defensive stance in front of Sookie as the Civil War veteran sped into the room.
“Sookie,” Bill said, his Southern accent thick. He looked at Eric and demanded, “What the fuck are you doing here, Northman?”
Eric smirked, his earlier indecisiveness gone now that he had a foe to face. “You almost killed her, Bill. I healed her. Take a whiff,” he mocked.
Bill inhaled sharply. “You let him give you his blood, darling?” he asked, jetting to the other side of Sookie’s hospital bed.
Eric was poised, ready to fight Bill if necessary. The Viking knew that he could easily kill Compton before he could lay an unwanted finger onto Sookie, but he was waiting for a cue from her—waiting to know how to act.
If Sookie had shrunk back a bit from Eric’s sudden movements before, she recoiled violently from Bill’s. Eric growled protectively.
“Back off, Compton,” the Viking said in a low, threatening voice. “Back off. Right. Fucking. Now.”
Bill—to his credit—did take a step away. “Sookie,” he said in an insistent, pleading tone, “I’m sorry about before. I was near-death. I couldn’t control my feeding!”
Sookie’s body shook as she shrank back farther into her hospital bed. Even her voice trembled as she spoke. “I don’t blame you for that, Bill. I was dumb for tryin’ to give you my blood,” she paused, “when you were so sick.”
“I knew you would forgive me, darling!” Bill said, taking a step forward again. At Sookie’s words and quick forgiveness of Bill for almost draining her, Eric took a half step back from her. He thought for a moment about using his blood to try to influence her—to make her doubt Bill—but he didn’t. He wouldn’t. The room suddenly felt tiny to the large Viking.
“Bill,” Sookie said in a pained voice, “we can’t keep goin’ on like this.” She let out a little sob. “You hurt me, and I’m not just talkin’ about in that van. I’m talkin’ about when you slept with Lorena.”
She looked over toward Eric as if searching for strength. The Viking noticed Sookie’s fingers, stretching toward him. He recognized that the movement was unconscious on her part. He knew that she just wanted someone to support her—not him in particular.
But he couldn’t control himself.
He hated how he couldn’t control himself!
He reached out and took her hand in his. She looked at him with surprise and then gratefulness before looking back at Bill.
Sookie took a deep breath and squeezed Eric’s hand. He squeezed back.
“Bill, were you sent by the queen to find me—to procure me for her?” Sookie asked, looking at Bill with scrutiny.
“What has he told you?” Bill asked vindictively, even as he looked at Eric. “Darling, you know that Eric is a master manipulator. You cannot believe his lies!”
Again, Sookie squeezed Eric’s hand. “I saw the file, Bill. Your file. Russell had it.”
“What file?” Bill hedged.
“The one written about me,” she said. “The one found in your house.”
“If there was something there, then Eric planted it there!” Bill insisted accusingly.
“It was written in your handwriting, Bill,” Sookie said quietly. “Don’t lie to me.”
Bill looked as if he were being tortured. “Darling, you must believe me,” he begged. “There are things that I have been trying to protect you from,”
Eric felt Sookie’s blood pulling on him, pulling so hard that it seemed to be taking some of his own strength from his body—even though that shouldn’t have been possible given the fact that they’d never even had a single proper blood exchange. Only a bonded pair should have been able to do such things. Still, Eric allowed his strength to flow where it was being asked to go.
“Were you sent by the queen to procure me?” Sookie asked her question again, this time with no emotion in her voice.
“Sookie,” Bill stammered. “Please. I love you.”
“That’s not an answer, Bill, and I need one,” Sookie said. “Right. Now.”
Again Bill tried to blame Eric. “He told you this, didn’t he?” he asked as he glared at Eric.
“Yes,” Sookie said. “Did Eric tell me a lie? Was he wrong about your plan to give me to the queen?”
Bill looked at her with a tormented expression. “No—but I wasn’t going to do it! Not anymore. Not since I fell in love with you. I wanted to elope with you, to take you away from Louisiana until I could figure out how to keep Sophie-Anne from getting you.”
Sookie looked at Bill and asked quietly. “When did you fall in love with me, Bill?”
“I don’t know,” the Civil War veteran answered as his eyes lowered toward the floor. “Sookie, I’m sorry,” he said guiltily as he looked at her again. “But I know that I can make this all up to you if you let me. Russell will come after you, and you need for me to protect you. I would die for you, Sookie!”
Sookie shook her head slowly. “No, Bill.” Tears dripped from her eyes. “I need you to go. Now.”
Bill looked at Eric. “This is all your fault! If Sophie-Anne hadn’t been so concerned that you would steal Sookie out from under her, then I would not have been sent.”
Eric nodded. “You’re right about one thing. I would have wanted her for myself,” Eric said, even though he feared Sookie would pull her hand from his. She didn’t. “Sookie was in my area,” the Viking continued. “She should have been my asset. Sophie-Anne should have let me negotiate with Sookie. Sophie-Anne could have hired her through me for a fair price. There could have been a contract put in place that would have helped Sookie maintain a normal life! That’s how it’s supposed to work now, Bill.”
Bill scoffed. “Sophie-Anne is your queen. Surely you understand the hierarchy. Plus—I know how you treat your ‘assets,’ Eric,” he added accusingly.
Sookie looked up at Bill. “Wait—I am already Eric’s asset.” She bit her lip. “He’s paid me for doing work for him. And he hasn’t tried to take me away from my home. He hasn’t tried to steal me from you—except for when he tricked me into drinkin’ his blood in Dallas. But that wasn’t really planned out. And he hasn’t planned—not ever—to pass me along to his queen.”
Bill gave Sookie a sorrowful look. “Please, you don’t know what you’re talking about, Sookie. Just come with me. I will finish healing you, and then we can sort this out. I’m sure that if I talk to Russell and explain things, he would be happy to offer you protection from the likes of Eric!” He sneered out Eric’s name as if it were laced with poison.
As Bill reached out to grab her free hand, Sookie cringed again, and Eric growled—a low, feral growl from deep within his chest.
“Sookie is mine!” Bill yelled out.
Eric looked at Sookie, who was shaking her head in denial. “Just go, Bill—okay? We’ll talk later; I’ll be home tomorrow—alright?”
“But Russell may look for you at your house,” Bill said.
Sookie nodded. “That’s fine. You can come see me at first dark tomorrow night—okay? And then you can run interference for me with Russell—you know, explain things to him. I’m not gonna be discharged from here until tomorrow anyway, and I just need some time to think about things.”
Eric hated the words that Sookie was speaking, but she squeezed his hand, almost as if in reassurance. If Eric’s heart could have beaten, it would have thumped triumphantly as he realized that Sookie was lying to Bill.
Bill looked reluctant to go.
“Just keep safe, Bill,” Sookie said, though Eric could feel a kind of “hitch” to the sentiment in Sookie’s blood. He prayed that Bill couldn’t feel it too. She went on. “Russell is looking for you too, and until he realizes that we had to kill Lorena in order to save ourselves, he’s sure to be angry. Maybe you could call him for us—let him know that it was self-defense and that I’m willin’ to talk to him.”
Bill looked at her as if he wished to glamour her. At that moment, Eric felt Bill’s blood inside of Sookie come more to life. It sought to rev up the hormones that controlled Sookie’s fear and anxiety.
Despite his inclination to stop Bill’s blood, Eric did not. Instead, he just held firmly onto Sookie’s hand and used his own blood to “shine a light”—so to speak—on Bill’s duplicity. He wondered if Sookie would be able to sense it.
“When I contact Russell, may I tell him that you will willingly work for him?” Bill asked. “It really is the best way,” he added.
“Sure Bill,” Sookie said in a resigned voice, even as she shook a bit with fear. She dropped Eric’s hand and pulled her knees up before wrapping both of her arms around them as if to hug herself. “If it’s what you think is best. I just need some time to myself before I can let go of everything that’s happened since you proposed to me—so that I can,” she paused, “move on from it.”
Bill nodded and smiled at Sookie’s response. He glared at Eric. “I don’t want to leave you alone with Russell’s new boy toy here.”
Eric didn’t react to that. He knew several things in that moment. The first was that Bill was a self-absorbed, self-serving ass, and whether he loved Sookie or not was immaterial. The second thing he knew is that Sookie was very clever.
She was telling Bill exactly what he needed to hear in order to get him to leave the hospital.
Bill looked to be doing just that before he suddenly turned around.
“No!” the younger vampire said as he looked right at Eric. “I know you don’t want me here right now, darling, but I cannot leave you with the likes of Eric.” Bill’s fangs dropped down, and Eric answered by dropping his own fangs and moving directly into Bill’s path to Sookie.
Sookie muttered some words almost to herself, but Eric was able to hear them crystal clear. “Gran always said that the devil you knew was a devil was not nearly as frightening as the one you didn’t know was one.”
Eric smirked, even as he kept his eyes on Bill, “I’ve always heard, ‘Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.'”
Eric couldn’t see it, but he heard the smile in Sookie’s voice. “Gran changed the saying a bit. Her way made more sense to me because of my telepathy.”
Bill looked a bit confused at their exchange, but for the first time, Eric felt hopeful that Sookie might leave the hospital with him.
Both vampires heard Sookie’s grunt of pain as she pulled the second IV from her arm. And both vampires reacted to the smell of her blood. Only one sent his blood like a jetliner to heal the wound. The other moved to try to drink the precious liquid.
Bill rushed toward Sookie’s body. “Let me heal you with my saliva, my love,” he said with a twinge of desperation in his tone.
However, before he could get to Sookie, he met a Viking-sized wall, and that wall pushed him—hard—against another wall: the concrete hospital wall.
“Move again, Bill,” Eric said threateningly. “Come for her blood again, and you will learn the difference between 150 years as vampire and one thousand.”
“I accept your offer, Eric,” came Sookie’s voice from behind him.
Not letting his surprise show, Eric zipped to Sookie’s side and picked her up, even as her arms went automatically around his neck. Bill came at them again, and, this time, his stomach was met by a large boot, which kicked him forcefully into the wall again. Bill was not so quick to get up after his second introduction to the cold surface.
As quick as a flash, Eric reached down and thrust the blanket from the bed into Sookie’s arms, and before Bill could react again, he was out of the room with Sookie. He hurried to the roof.
“What are we doin’ up here?” Sookie asked.
“I’m going to fly us away. It is the safest way, and I know Bill can’t fly.”
“Fly?” Sookie asked, her voice now quivering with anxiety.
“Yes,” he confirmed. “Wrap yourself in the blanket.”
“I’m scared of heights,” Sookie mumbled, even as she obeyed.
Eric quickly moved them toward the far side of the roof. He could smell that Bill was pursuing them.
“I wish I could say goodbye to them, but it’s probably safer that I don’t,” Sookie said as she gripped Eric’s neck tighter.
“You’re right about that, Sookie,” Eric said softly—kindly.
Just then, Bill thrust the door to the roof open. “Sookie don’t! I may have lied to you, but I’m not a monster like Eric is!” The Civil War veteran sped toward them, but stopped when he was about ten feet away. He raised his hands as if in peace. “Please, Sookie. I love you.”
Sookie looked from Bill to Eric. Tears streamed down her face. “Can you go slowly? I really am scared of ‘F-ing’ heights.”
Eric smirked briefly at her. “Then don’t look down. Just look at me, Sookie.” With no other words, he took off into the night sky.
Both of them heard Bill yelling from the rooftop.
Eric sighed as the petite human in his arms buried her face into his chest out of both fear and sadness.
Sookie Stackhouse was finally completely under his power, but all Eric could think about was how good it felt to hold her.
In that moment, a large part of him hated both himself and Sookie. He knew that his life would be easier if he dropped her to the ground. But he didn’t. Instead, he gripped her tighter so that she wouldn’t as frightened.
Eric knew that he would still have to deal with Sophie-Anne and Russell—his remaining two balls in the air. However, at least for the moment, Sookie Stackhouse was “caught” and quite secure in his arms. Still weakened from blood loss and from the confrontation with Bill, she kept her face pressed against his chest, inhaled deeply, and slept—even as he sped them through the air, high above the ground.