“You have saved my life one too many times for me to be afraid of you, Eric—whether I should be or not,” she returned boldly.
Eric shook his head. “I have not saved your life, Sookie.”
She scoffed. “What do you call tonight?”
“That was the protection of an asset,” he said stiffly, as he stood up and moved across the room, his back turned to her.
“Am I still even your asset? Are you even Sheriff of Area 5 anymore?” she asked, her hands finding her hips—despite her seated position.
He turned to glare at her. “No. Russell informed me that I was to be Sheriff of Area 1, but now that I have fled, I have no position.”
“So I am not your asset anymore,” she said cheekily.
“You are! Until we separate, you are,” he said coldly, though there was an emotion in his eyes that she couldn’t interpret. “And you would be an asset to me, Miss Stackhouse. You would be able to help protect me during the day if you stayed with me.”
She closed her eyes, taking in both the truth and the harshness embedded in his words. “So you saved me tonight in order to use me?”
“Yes,” he said. “That is the reason.”
“The only reason?” Sookie asked, looking at him skeptically.
“Yes,” Eric responded unconvincingly.
Sookie felt something in that moment—almost like a tingling of her blood.
“I think you’re lying.”
“Think what you want.”
“In addition to tonight, you also saved my life when Bill brought me to Fangtasia the night the Maenad attacked me?” Sookie reminded him.
“That was Ludwig’s work.”
“That was you arranging for Ludwig to help and paying for her to help,” Sookie challenged.
“Again, I was protecting an asset,” Eric said. “And I was making Bill indebted to me.”
“Fine,” Sookie said with exasperation. “What about in the church? Was that because I was an asset too?”
“As I said, I was willing to sacrifice myself for Godric.”
“You said both of us.”
“Yes!” he let out in frustration. “But I don’t know why I said that!” He stuffed his hands into his pockets, even as a look of confusion swept over his handsome features. “Perhaps, I was trying to garner sympathy from Newlin by seeming to be sacrificing myself for a human life, instead of just a vampire one,” he spit out bitterly.
“I don’t believe that,” Sookie said as she shook her head. “What about the bomb, Eric?”
“You mean the bomb that gave me the chance to get my blood into you, Sookie?” he said, his expression changing immediately to a smirk. “Yes, I will never forget how you sucked that silver from my body. Your lips were divine—rapturous, even.” He licked his own lips at the memory.
She shook her head. “And I will never forget the gooey vampire remains of Stan just a few feet to our left, Eric! Or the cries of all the vampires around us who’d been hit with silver.” She took a deep breath. “I will never forget the moment that the twenty human minds I felt in that room changed to seven in a split second. Or the severed human body parts I saw. Or the broken bodies of the people, who’d been thrown across the room because of the impact of the blast.” She shook her head again as Eric’s smirk faded. “I have had a lot of time to think about that night—a lot of time.”
The vampire rose and turned his back to Sookie before walking over toward the window.
Sookie kept talking. “It must have been less than a second between the time Luke pushed that button and the blast occurred. And you had been behind me!” She emphasized, “I remember clearly that you had been behind me when I first saw Luke. But then . . . .” She paused as Eric began pacing by the window.
He gave her a warning look. “Don’t think about it too much, Sookie.”
She stood up. “How come? Because if I do, I will think about how you put your own body between that bomb and me? Because if I do, I will realize that you had to move closer to the bomb to save my life?”
“You are an asset, Sookie Stackhouse,” he seethed, his fangs clicking down.
She ignored his words and his intimidating posture. “Because if I thought about it, I would realize that you were smart enough to know that you would likely be killed when you chose to protect me? After all, that bomb was laced with silver. And like I said, Stan, who was standing only a few feet closer to Luke than I was, died. Are you afraid that if I really thought about it, then I would realize that you absorbed that whole blast so that I wouldn’t go flyin’ across the room with the other humans? Eric, you may have been a manipulative bastard after you saved my life, but when that bomb was about to go off, tricking me was not what you were thinkin’ about.”
“I wasn’t thinking,” Eric said in a low growl, his hostility clear. “I never think when you are around.” He bared his fangs and came toward her, stopping only inches from her body. He towered over her, but she raised her chin defiantly, refusing to cower.
“I should kill you, Sookie Stackhouse,” he said, his voice colder and harder than steel. “I should kill you before Bill Compton finds you. I should kill you before he leads Russell Edgington right to you. I should kill you before I . . . .” He stopped.
“Before you what?” Sookie asked, trying to keep her fear from her voice. She didn’t know if she was more afraid of his body looming over hers or his words in that moment.
Eric stared at her for a few moments, spending a good amount of that stare studying her trembling lips. He leaned in slightly, and Sookie’s heart felt as if it would beat out of her chest. She wasn’t sure if he was going to kiss her or bite her.
He didn’t seem sure of what he wanted to do either. “Before I get killed because of you,” he finally whispered.
Eric turned back around to face the window, and Sookie sat heavily onto the bed once more, as an uneasy silence fell over the room.
“What other choice do I have to make?” Sookie asked after a few minutes, changing the subject back to where it had begun.
Composed and with an impassive expression on his face once again, Eric turned and retook his seat. “Because his blood is inside of you,” Eric started, “Bill will eventually be able to track you down. While we were flying here, I was somehow able to use my own blood to hinder his ability to track you, but his blood will eventually regain its footing, and he will come for you. Plus, Russell’s Weres are already tracking Bill, though it may take them a day or so to find him—unless the fool returns home or goes to Russell voluntarily, which are both distinct possibilities, given Bill’s past behavior.” Eric’s expression stayed the same, though his eyes seemed to be apologizing. “Sookie, with Bill’s blood in you, I cannot run with you and expect to live, and—make no mistake— I do intend to live. And, with that in mind, I will run―and hide—until I can figure out a way to defeat Russell.”
“Are you just gonna leave me here then?” Sookie asked, looking straight into his eyes.
“I don’t know,” Eric responded softly. “I don’t want to. I want to use you, Sookie.”
She scoffed at his words and looked downward.
He grabbed her chin in his hand and tilted her face so that her eyes met his again. He was careful not to hurt her with his grip, but he certainly got her attention with it.
“I understand that you do not like to hear that you are an asset, but you are. And that is not a bad thing, Sookie—at least not from a vampire’s perspective. If you are an asset, then you live! Godric saw that I was a strong warrior, and he thought that I could be an asset to him; that is why he turned me. I felt the same about Pam before I turned her. I was chosen to be a sheriff because Sophie-Anne knew that I was a good asset. We are all used for our skills by others.”
She shook her head out of his grip. “That might be the way things are to vampires, but not to humans!”
“If you think that, then you are more naïve than I thought, little one. Are you not an asset to the shifter?”
“Sam pays me a fair wage to do honest work.”
“Just as I paid you for the work you did for me?”
Sookie shook her head stubbornly. “It’s not the same.”
“No,” Eric said just at stubbornly. “I pay better!”
Sookie crossed her arms over her chest. “How do you want to use me now? Wait! I mean—what honest work do you want for me to do for you now?” she asked sarcastically.
He spoke through gritted teeth, “I want you to watch over me during the daytime—or to drive us to new locations while I’m sleeping. I want to use your telepathy to know when Russell’s Weres are approaching. And I want to try to harness your light powers so that you can help me defeat Russell.”
She shook her head. “So I’ll be your employee? Your asset?”
“Yes,” he answered quickly—almost angrily. “I will pay you for your time. And you could be my best asset in defeating Russell.”
“But how?” she asked desperately. “I’m just a waitress. I know I have telepathy, and the little light thing in my hands is weird, but I can’t do anything against a vampire as strong as Russell!”
“There’s more to you than you know,” Eric said quickly.
“What?” she asked.
Eric shook his head. “Not now, Sookie. That discussion would take us longer than we have left tonight. Plus, I need to speak with someone about what I have learned concerning you first. If you do, indeed, trust me as you said earlier, then I’m asking you to do that again—now. I will tell you what I have learned soon—once I know for sure. And if you do not come with me—well—it would be better if you did not know.”
Sookie looked at Eric through narrowed eyes. “Fine!” She re-crossed her arms. “You still haven’t told me the choice you say I need to make.”
Eric sighed and sat back down. “As I said, if you run with me, Bill will be able to track you, and that will soon bring Russell and Sophie-Anne. I couldn’t protect you from Russell any more than I could protect myself.”
“So you have to leave me behind, or they’ll find both of us?” Sookie whispered as realization hit her.
“Yes,” Eric answered softly. “Or,” he raised his blue eyes to her brown ones, “you could get rid of your blood tie with Bill.”
Sookie tilted her head in question. “Huh?”
Eric smirked at her inelegant noise. “It is called a severing spell. A witch would perform a magical spell that would eliminate Bill’s blood from your body.”
“Witches?” Sookie asked. “Werewolves and vampires just couldn’t be enough! Now there are fuckin’ witches!” she added sarcastically.
Eric chuckled. “You don’t know the half of it, little one. But, yes, there are witches.”
She shook her head, trying to take in everything he was saying to her. “So—if I did this spell, Bill couldn’t track me?”
“No,” Eric confirmed.
“But Bill’s had my blood. Wouldn’t he be able to track me using that?”
“No,” Eric repeated. “It is only when our blood is inside a human that a tie is formed. It is with that tie that we can track a human. Just taking a human’s blood doesn’t create a connection. Otherwise, vampires would be driven mad by the number of connections we had.”
“Can you really feel my emotions—like Bill said he could when I had his blood?”
Eric nodded. “Yes. I can feel them. And—as I said before—I could influence them if I wished.”
“Show me what that feels like?” she requested.
Immediately, Eric looked uncomfortable. “I do not wish to,” he said.
She sighed. “Do it anyway. I need to know—before I decide what to do about Bill’s blood in me.”
Eric looked a bit pained, but nodded in agreement.
Moments later, Sookie felt herself breaking out in a cold sweat; she shivered a little and suddenly had the urge to run to the door. A few seconds after that, the feeling subsided.
“Was that you?” she asked.
He nodded. “I used my blood to stir the production of epinephrine, which controls your heart rate, among other things. I take it that you felt it.”
She nodded in confirmation.
“Epinephrine is stimulated when you feel fear naturally; by stimulating it unnaturally, I am manipulating your body to feel the same effect.”
“Do another one,” she requested.
Moments later she felt as if she wanted to hit him.
“Anger?” she asked when the feeling subsided as quickly as it had come to her.
He nodded. “I used my blood to manipulate your levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline. This caused your heart rate and blood pressure to increase.”
She shivered. “How can I know that everything I’ve been feelin’—for months—hasn’t been a lie?”
Eric sighed. “I don’t know, but I think that you could probably sense the presence of something foreign in you just now—correct?”
She nodded in affirmation.
“Then Bill’s use of his blood would have had to have been subtle for you not to notice it, and I imagine that your own blood was resistant. But it’s difficult to be sure. I can say that I felt your blood trying to resist the influence of mine just now. And I felt it doing the same with Bill’s in the hospital.”
She took a deep breath. “Does the blood really ‘increase the libido?'” Sookie asked, using air quotes around the words Bill had used.
Eric quirked a brow. “Is that what Bill said?” He chuckled. “I suppose that’s true in a way. However, it is not that general. The blood increases your attraction for only the particular vampire who fed you. Surely, you have felt more pulled toward me since you took those drops of me, Sookie.” He smirked. “I sensed that you were attracted to me even before; however, after you had my blood, you’ve had a more difficult time denying that attraction—have you not?”
She glared at him and he chuckled.
“Though not right now,” he grinned.
She shook her head. “Of course,” she said ruefully, “how have I not thought of this before?” She smacked her head. “Stupid, Sookie—stupid!”
Eric looked at her in question.
“Bill said that his blood would increase my libido in a general way—at least, that was what he implied. But it was right after that . . . .” She stopped midsentence and closed her eyes as tears rose into them. “Is anything I feel for Bill real? Or has it all just been manufactured by his blood in me?”
She felt Eric’s touch on her shoulder. The contact comforted her, and she felt herself leaning into it.
She laughed ruefully. “How can I even know if the comfort I’m feeling from this,” she looked at his hand, “is real?” She raised her eyes to his. “What’s real, Eric?”
Not liking her lost expression, the vampire shrugged, “As far as what is real regarding Bill Compton, I cannot even begin to guess—though he acts like a vampire who is obsessed with a human. In my thousand years, I have seen such things. He calls it love, but . . . .” Eric stopped.
“But?” Sookie asked.
Eric smiled, “Miss Stackhouse, on the topic of Bill Compton—especially concerning his affections for you—I am not to be trusted. I find that my bias against him is strong.”
She laughed through her tears.
“If I break the tie with Bill—get his blood out of me—then I can go with you?”
Eric nodded. “That is what I want.”
“Because you wanna use me?”
Eric nodded again. “Yes.”
“Is there any part of you that also wants to protect me, Eric?”
Eric sighed and nodded for a third time. He didn’t say anything, but his eyes spoke of his sincerity—or at least that’s what Sookie’s instincts were telling her she saw in his blue orbs.
“If I don’t do it, Bill won’t leave me alone—will he?” Sookie asked.
Eric shook his head. “I don’t think so. He will come to you now out of the feeling that he needs to save you from me. He will continue coming because he feels that he loves you. He might even really have that affection for you, Sookie. But his inability to stay away will eventually be a problem for you.”
“Because he’ll lead Russell right to me.”
“And Russell wants me.”
“Yes. So does Sophie-Anne,” Eric said. “And those two are together now—as I said before.”
“So goin’ home and just hopin’ they don’t come is a fairy tale.”
Eric smiled, “Good choice of words, little one.”
Sookie, of course, didn’t catch Eric’s double meaning.
She looked at the floor sadly. “Bill almost drained me in that van.”
“He was following his instinct to live,” Eric allowed.
“He could have raped me too—did you know that? I felt his legs parting my legs and his hand on my . . . .” She paused. “His hands on me before I passed out.”
Eric had not known that, and he couldn’t control his low growl.
“Were you,” Eric paused, “sore?”
Sookie looked a little uncertain. “No. Not when I woke up.”
“My blood might have,” Eric hissed out, “covered things, and you had pain medication in your body too. It might have numbed you,” he said angrily.
Sookie let out a shaky breath. “I don’t think he did. While you were out of the room, I asked Tara and Alcide if it looked like he’d,” she paused, “done that before they stopped him. And they said no. My clothes were still on. And so were his.”
Eric’s shoulders relaxed visibly. “Okay,” he said.
“But he was moving to climb on top of me.” Sookie said softly—bitterly. “Was that part of his instinct too?”
Eric shook his head. “That—Sookie—is matter of control. With bloodlust come other kinds of lust—most notably sexual—but those can be controlled.”
“Even in a state like Bill was in?” Sookie asked. “He was very weak.”
Eric scoffed, “He’d obviously grown strong enough with your blood to be able to force himself upon you. So he was strong enough to be able to listen to his mind instead of simply his carnal nature. Rape is a weak act performed by weak people, Sookie.”
Sookie was surprised by the fervor behind his words.
Eric continued. “Vampires should be strong creatures. Yes. We can and do take what we want, but the moment we allow ourselves to take something like that—to rape—then we truly do become unthinking monsters.”
Sookie shook her head. “I don’t understand you, Eric Northman. One minute, you say things like that. And the next, you trick your blood into me or tell me you want to use me. You’ve made it clear that you want to take my blood too. And I know you want my body.”
“But I’ve taken neither, Sookie. I want to, but I have not.”
“So you are fighting your vampire instincts?”
Eric smiled. “Yes. Every single fucking minute I am with you.”
“But you tricked me into taking your blood. And now you can feel me and apparently affect my emotions.”
“True,” Eric said. “But I do have a line, Sookie. I may not draw it where a human might, but I draw it very differently than many vampires would.”
“Like Bill?” Sookie asked as she trembled a little.
“Yes. It is safe to say that Bill and I have very different lines,” Eric said before standing up and returning to the window again.