“WHAT? You have got to be kidding me!”
“I do not kid. If I have to take care of his businesses, you have to take care of his house. You broke into his house. You cannot expect to go unpunished,” Eric said. He was standing up completely straight with his arms folded over his chest. Whenever he did that he looked so massive, it was almost impossible to argue with him.
I tried anyway. “But it’s icky in there,” I whined, and didn’t care. I knew what I’d done was wrong. I’d been a fool to think I could get away with it. Breaking and entering usually carried a jail sentence, not a sentence to clean and take care of the house one had broken into. That didn’t mean I had to like my punishment.
Eric raised an eyebrow, finding amusement in my whining. His lips twitched. He was trying his darnedest to suppress a smile. “You mean to tell me that the great Sookie Stackhouse is scared of an old house?”
“I’m not scared!” I said immediately, because the truth was that I was scared. A little bit, anyway. What if I found more stuff about me?
Of course, I should have known that Eric would feel my own small fear. “I’ll go with you the first time and help you. After that you’ll be on your own.”
He unfolded his arms and reached for me, pulling me to him and hugging me tight. “Not fair,” I said. My statement came out muffled against his chest, but I returned the hug and relaxed into it. The sad part was that I knew it was fair.
It was our second night back from our honeymoon and we were due at Fangtasia. We were dressed and almost ready to go. I’d just finished dinner when Eric told me the bad news that I had to take care of Bill’s house for the next two years. My cell phone rang and made me jump. Eric reached for it and handed it to me.
“It’s Claudine,” he announced after looking at the screen. I didn’t know why he looked at the screen, if it was an automatic thing or if he was jealous that somebody was calling me. Either way I didn’t mind. I had nothing to hide.
“Hey! I just got your message. I had a late day at work. What’s going on?” she asked. She sounded like she was walking outside, probably to her car from the store.
“I need your help. I need you to take a look at a necklace that Eric had made for me of the stones that Octavia used to undo the curse on him. Maybe you can tell us more about it?”
“Oh, sure! Listen, Fintan wants to visit you and talk to you. Why don’t we do this all at once? I’m free on Sunday. Can we meet then?” she asked. I heard the distinct sound of a car door closing in the background.
We set up our meeting for Sunday afternoon at the house in Bon Temps. It was Thursday already. Eric approved, more out of relief that maybe we’d get some answers than from a need to control. The next phone call I got was from my brother.
“Sookie, I thought you might want to know,” Jason’s voice was grave and serious. I almost never heard him talk like that.
“What happened? What’s wrong?” I asked immediately. My stomach started sinking and I didn’t even know what was wrong yet.
“Sam was shot. He’s alive and in the hospital, but he’s not doing well,” Jason said, and I thought I might throw up. I took some deep breaths while Eric took the phone from me. He’d heard everything.
“When? Where is he now? Who shot him?” Eric asked. There had been a pause after each question while he let Jason answer. “Thank you, Jason,” he said, and handed the phone back to me while he pulled out his own.
“Eric will give you the particulars. I gotta get back inside and see how Sam’s doing,” Jason said.
“Are you at the hospital?” I asked.
“Yeah. I’ll call, okay?”
“Okay,” I said and we hung up. I started listening to Eric’s conversation. Whoever he was talking to, he was calling him Packmaster. He hung up after a couple of minutes.
“Someone is targeting shifters in the area,” Eric said in a voice just as grave as my brother’s had been.
“What do you mean targeting?”
“Someone’s been shooting them, aiming to kill them. Sam is the third one to be shot. The first one, a girl, was killed. The second was Calvin Norris, the head of the werepanthers in Hot Shot. The Packmaster of the Shreveport Weres is helping Calvin and Sam, even though they’re not Weres. I offered help, but he says he has everything under control,” Eric had been pacing. He stopped and looked at me with a worried expression. His eyebrows were set low over his eyes. “I suppose you want to go see how Sam is doing.” It wasn’t a question.
I was torn. Sam had been so nice to me for so long, I felt I owed him. On the other hand, Eric had every right to be upset at my wanting to see him. I didn’t know what to do. I looked down at the floor without answering.
“Put your coat on, Sookie. We have to go,” Eric said, reaching for my coat and helping me with it.
“He was shot this morning,” Eric said in the car.
I looked up at him. I’d been picking around my nails and not really paying attention to anything. I wasn’t even sure if Eric had said something before his cryptic sentence. “W-who?” I stuttered.
“Sam. He was shot this morning, behind the bar. Terry Bellefleur found him when he came in to work. Do you know who that Bellefleur is?” Eric asked.
“Um… Terry helps Sam tend bar sometimes, particularly on full moon nights,” I realized that suddenly. “Terry also cleans the bar every night after it closes.”
“Could he have hurt Sam?” Eric asked.
“No,” I answered, absolutely sure that Terry could never have hurt anybody. “Terry’s a good soul. He came back with from Afghanistan with PTSD, so we have to be extra careful with him and not stress him out too much,” I said, talking as if I still worked at Merlotte’s. “Sam hired him as soon as he opened the bar, just like he hired me. I think Sam’s always had a soft spot for damaged people.” I felt tears smart my eyes.
“You’re not damaged, Sookie,” Eric said in a soft voice, meaning to be tender.
I shrugged. It really didn’t matter what I was. I’d been Crazy Sookie from Bon Temps, and Sam hired me anyway. I made up my mind that I would go see him at the hospital the next morning. Eric would never have to find out.
“We’re here,” Eric announced.
I finally looked up, half expecting to see Fangtasia’s back parking lot. Instead we were parked amongst rows and rows of cars. “Where is here?”
“LSU Medical Center. They airlifted Sam here, to shock trauma. He’s really sick, Sookie,” Eric said, fixing me with his eyes. He was trying to make me understand the seriousness of the situation.
Eric got out of the car and came to get my door. The only reason he’d had to do that was because I hadn’t moved an inch. I’d barely breathed. Shock trauma. That was bad, wasn’t it? It was so bad that none of the hospitals near Bon Temps could help Sam We were still in Shreveport. I held onto Eric’s hand. He was keeping me centered.
“Thank you,” I said quietly. I knew this wasn’t easy for him, and I didn’t want him to think I took his thoughtfulness for granted.
“I don’t hate the man, Sookie, and I certainly would not have kept you from seeing him in the hospital.”
The guard at the front desk directed us to where they were keeping Sam, gave us badges, and we were sent on our way. We found Jason in the waiting area right outside the ICU. I was beginning to really hate hospitals.
“He’s been out of surgery for two hours and can’t seem to get him stable. His blood pressure is all over the place,” Jason said without preamble as soon as he saw us.
“Where was he hit?” Eric asked, obviously keeping his wits, whereas I couldn’t.
“It was very close to the heart. His left lung collapsed, and the bullet nicked the aorta. They said they repaired all the damage, so they don’t understand…”
“Excuse me. Are you friends of Sam Merlotte?” a nurse interrupted us. She was thinking that she needed to call Sam’s family because he was in serious trouble and might not survive the night.
A sob escaped me before I could stop it, and I quickly reached for my phone. “I have Sam’s mom’s phone number in Texas,” I said. I didn’t even realize that the nurse hadn’t asked the question out loud. Eric rubbed my back slowly, trying to soothe me as I rattled off the number.
“Um, thanks,” the nurse said. She’d eyed me curiously but decided to keep it professional. “They’re very busy with him right now. If we can get his blood pressure stable we can let you in one at a time to see him,” she said, and with a strained smile she left.
“He might not survive the night,” I whispered looking up at Eric. He didn’t need to ask how I knew that. He simply held me close and wiped my cheeks with his handkerchief.
We sat down without a word. Jason left briefly to get something to drink for both me and him. No way to get a True Blood for Eric at a hospital. They probably used them for actual transfusions, as that was their original intended purpose. I wondered if Sam had needed a transfusion, and if Sam’s blood was like a regular human’s blood, with the same antigens and stuff.
“Ms. Stackhouse?” a different nurse came out and asked. It had been at least forty five minutes since the first nurse had come around.
I looked up. “Yes?”
“Mr. Merlotte asked for you,” the nurse said with a serious expression.
Eric pushed me up from my seat, feeling my hesitation. I followed the nurse past a set of doors that would only open with a security card. The nursed felt the need to brief me before letting me inside Sam’s room.
“Mr. Merlotte asked for you during a brief period of lucidity. His body is still in shock from the shooting, and he’s been drifting in and out of consciousness. We finally were able to stabilize his blood pressure, but it’s lower than we would like it. I was able to reach his family and they’re on their way, but he was adamant that he wanted to talk to you,” she said, eyeing me cautiously.
I was trying to keep it together. God only knew what I would see when I went inside Sam’s room. I nodded, not trusting my voice, and she led me through the door to the actual ICU. We circled the busy nurse’s station and she led me to Sam’s room through a set of double doors, one of which had been left open.
Sam had tubes coming out from everywhere, including his mouth. “How did he ask for me?” I asked confused.
“We intubated later. He was having trouble breathing. His lung hasn’t re-inflated yet. We hope that will happen soon on its own. For now we’re keeping him mildly sedated, which helped with the blood pressure issues,” the nurse kept talking, but I’d stopped listening to her mouth and mind.
“Can I have a moment?” I asked her. She left me alone with Sam, saying she would return in a few minutes. Actually, I wasn’t sure if she’d actually spoken or merely said it in her brain.
I sat next to Sam and grabbed his hand, fully intending to listen to him and whatever was passing through his sedated mind. His eyes were closed. If it wasn’t for the tube coming out of his mouth, I would have thought he was asleep. His mind was a mess of information that had no rhyme or reason. It read like a sleeping person’s brain, someone who was having a nightmare.
“Sam, I’m here like you asked,” I said out loud, still holding his hand. His brain registered my voice and conjured up my image. He remembered me in my Merlotte’s uniform, my hair in a high ponytail, and smiling at him across his bar. Then images of me started filing past too fast for me to see them in detail. I only knew it was me because of the blond hair and blue eyes. “Sam, calm down, I’m here. Can you think about what you wanted to tell me? I can hear you.”
Sam’s thoughts slowed down. He opened his eyes briefly, and as he did his thoughts filled with a mirror image of me. As soon as his eyes were closed again, he started thinking words at me. He was trying to convey his anger along with the words. “Shifter shot me. Bitten, not born.” He thought the same two sentences at me a few times until I repeated them out loud for him to know that I got him.
“Do you know who?” I asked. The image I got back was of a blond woman, though I didn’t know her. I committed the image to memory, though. If Sam died tonight… I could barely form the thought. If Sam died tonight, I would know who his killer had been. “Okay, Sam. I’ll give Alcee Beck the description, and…” I stopped in my tracks. The woman was working in the kitchen at Merlotte’s. No wonder Sam wanted me here. I could read his mind, and then convey the information to the right people. Nobody would question how I’d come across the information. Everybody would know. “I should probably not tell Alcee,” I thought out loud. I didn’t know much about bitten shifters, but I did know that shifters in general were stronger than humans. “I’ll let Eric call the Shreveport Packmaster,” I said, thinking quickly.
“Ms. Stackhouse?” the nurse was at the door. I wondered how long she’d been there.
Sam’s thoughts became chaotic once more, like he had slipped back into the nightmare. “I’ll come see you tomorrow, Sam,” I whispered leaning in, and kissed his forehead. That steered his thoughts to the kiss we had shared. I couldn’t fault him, and I was certainly not going to stop him. That one thought had settled his mind.
I returned to Eric and Jason, who were waiting for me in different states of worry. Jason was a walker. Eric was sitting and looked to be in down time until I approached.
“Sam wanted to see me because he knows who shot him,” I said to Eric, and then turned to Jason. “Eric and I have to go now. The nurse said she’d gotten a hold of Sam’s family and they’re on their way.”
“I’ll stay a little longer,” Jason said, waiting for me to elaborate on who had shot Sam.
“I can’t tell you yet,” I answered Jason’s mental question. My shields were completely shot. “But whatever you do stay away from Merlotte’s until I tell you it’s safe, okay?”
Jason frowned, but he knew better than to question me about something like that. Eric and I made our way out. The minute we were completely outside the hospital I told Eric everything in a quick whisper. He called the Packmaster immediately, and kept making phone calls as we walked back to the car.
“Are you okay?” he asked me when we got in the car.
“No, not really. I feel very helpless,” I answered honestly.
“And yet you have helped the most,” Eric pointed out.
“It will be of no use to find the perpetrator if Sam dies.” I looked out the window. I knew Eric was trying his best, sending me love and comfort through the bond, but unable to say that everything would be okay. Even super vampires couldn’t tell the future.
“Why are you so nervous?” Claudine asked me as we waited for my grandfather to show up. Sure I’d met him briefly while he was saving my life, but this would be our first official civilized meeting. Claudine gathered as much and chuckled. It was nice that she was able to read my mind. I didn’t have to put into words the fact that I wasn’t truly nervous, more like apprehensive.
“Do you think he’ll like me?” I asked anyway.
“Sookie, sometimes I wonder about you,” she said, sounding a lot like Pam, actually. “Of course he likes you. You’re a hard person to not like,” she took a sip of her iced tea. I’d made peach tea, knowing fairies’ aversion to lemons. “Delicious. Why don’t you bring me your necklace while we wait for Fintan? Sometimes the portal acts up. We might wait here for a long time.”
I retrieved my amber and jet necklace and handed it to her without saying a word. I’d handled it with reverence, so she did the same. The fact that those were Freyja’s sacred stones was not lost on me.
“Tell me everything about these stones, how they were used, how come you have them?” she said.
I told Claudine everything, from when the witches used them to make a circle around Eric, to when Octavia handed them to him and what she’d said about his protection against witch’s spells, to the fact that instead of keeping them for his protection, Eric had chosen to have them set into the necklace for my protection. She listened intently.
“The fact that he gave them to you shows how much he truly loves you. He would rather remain unprotected as long as you are safe. That gesture changed their purpose,” she looked at the stones, examining each one like a geologist.
“What do you mean it changed their purpose? They’re not for protection anymore?” I asked.
“They’re still for protection. I wonder what else they’re for. When someone chooses another’s wellbeing over their own, it creates a sort of debt. It’s like karma, if you will. Whatever you give you shall receive, that kind of thing. Eric gave you his protection, so what is he getting in return? That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” she said, still examining each stone.
“I didn’t tell you something,” I said, and closed my eyes, showing her in minute detail what it had made us do.
“Whoa!” she exclaimed. I opened my eyes and she was staring at me wide-eyed. “That was some really potent pheromone action. You guys went at it like fairies in heat. I’ll have to ask Niall. If these stones were truly touched by a goddess, then he would know more. I don’t have access to the upper echelon… yet,” she smiled, but her smile faded a little at seeing me frown. “Don’t worry. Whatever it is, it’s not bad.”
Fintan arrived shortly after that. When I showed him in he grabbed me and gave me a huge hug, and kissed my cheek just like Claudine had done. I was beginning to understand that fairies liked to be close to other fairies, no matter how much fairy blood they had. I very much enjoyed being close to Claudine and now Fintan.
“I hear you went on a trip with your husband,” Fintan said good-naturedly. He didn’t seem to mind that my husband was from a rival species.
“Yes,” I smiled. “We finally found the time to have a honeymoon. It was very nice.”
“You seem to like the sun. Your skin is glowing with it,” he said. He’d been holding my hand and now was looking at it, checking out the awesome tan I’d developed.
“I love the sun. I suntan often, but it’s hard to do in the winter. That’s why Eric chose to take me to the Caribbean, so I could enjoy the sun in the middle of winter.”
Fintan and Claudine exchanged a knowing look, and understood my confusion right away. “We’re sky fairies. That’s probably why you enjoy the sun so much,” Fintan explained.
“So does Jason,” I said, wanting them very much to start including Jason if we were going to have habitual family meetings. “He likes to work outside in the sun.”
We talked a little bit about Fairy. Actually, Fintan explained that there was a portal near this house, and that’s how he’d met Gran. He liked to travel back and forth, and that portal was the closest to where he lived in Fairy. Curiosity got the better of him one day.
“She was working in the garden right outside the first time I saw her. It was early in the morning, and she was planting little things,” Fintan said with a far off look. “Adele looked a lot like you and was about your age when we met.”
Fintan didn’t go into detail (thank God), but he did tell me he watched over all of us. He’d never stopped visiting Gran, and loved her very much, right up until the end. It gave me a new appreciation for Eric’s feelings towards me. Fintan looked to be about forty five years old, but I knew he was several centuries old. If he could love my Gran as much as he said right up until her death, then I could believe when Eric said the same thing. It was possible. I didn’t like to think about the future too much anyway, so I refocused on the matter at hand.
“Look at these, Uncle Fintan. What do you think?” Claudine asked, handing him the amber and jet necklace.
“They’re beautiful. A gift from your Viking, no doubt. They did treasure pretty baubles,” he smiled at me then set to examining them just like Claudine had done. Fintan looked up at Claudine, “These are more, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” she answered. “I believe they have been touched by Eric’s goddess.”
“They feel like it. I’ve not come across many god-touched objects, but this necklace fills the bill,” Fintan said. I wondered what they felt.
Claudine answered my unspoken question. “It’s like a soft hum of sorts. Different kinds of magic have different kinds of hum. It’s hard to describe, because it has to do with our energy core, and you don’t have one, unfortunately. That’s why you can’t make candy bars appear at will,” she snickered.
“But a human witch can do magic,” I countered, “and they wouldn’t have an energy core either.”
“No, but they learn to channel the energy from the earth and the heavens. It takes many years of study to become a witch. As you saw, they invoke the help of a god or goddess when it is needed,” Claudine explained.
I switched subjects slightly. “Eric was wondering if you were taking the place of a different guardian angel to watch over me.”
Claudine blinked, seeing the red-haired woman that my mind conjured whenever I thought of my guardian angel. “No, I don’t know who she is. Not everybody gets a guardian angel, and technically I’m your fairy godmother,” she smiled.
“Niall has met the upper echelon. Perhaps he can shed some light on all this,” Fintan said, patting the hand he was still holding.
We talked a little bit longer and they left about half an hour before sunset. That gave me just enough time to hop in the shower and wash the fairy scent off me. I was nearly done when Eric’s beautiful face startled me.
“May I join you, gorgeous?” he asked, smiling from ear to ear.
“Of course,” like he needed to ask.
“I smelled fairy in your living room,” he said, grabbing me and bringing me close. He buried his nose at my neck, nuzzling it lovingly.
“I see,” I said, but actually I felt more than I saw. He was poking my belly with his happy gracious plenty. I reached between us to stroke him. It was official. I didn’t think I would ever stop wanting Eric in every way. We’d had sex at least twice a night during our honeymoon, and ever since we’d gotten home we tried to squeeze in at least one session.
“Do you see, Sookie? Do you see what you do to me?” he asked, kissing me everywhere. He lifted me easily, and I wrapped my legs around him. He lowered me slowly onto him, and I held on to his neck, bringing him close.
I claimed his mouth as he claimed me, sucking on his tongue, biting his lower lip, eating all his moans. He drove me crazy whenever he moaned like that. It was such a delicious sound that it made me want to come just hearing him.
“Bite me, Sookie,” he said, offering his neck to me. I kissed his soft skin first then licked the water off it. He started pumping faster, spurring me on to bite in a frenzy of passion. He bit my shoulder and we gave each other blood at the same time that we reached our climax together. Those were the times I could hear Eric’s mind. That night he was remembering how he’d woken up with wild little me making love to him. He’d seen the haze of blue enveloping me, and had felt the same crazy need I’d felt.
I had to wash again, but I washed him first, taking care of Mr. Happy and the boys especially. I heard him chuckle.
“What?” I asked, looking up.
“You are being very meticulous about the way you wash certain parts of my anatomy,” he explained.
“Oh, like you don’t do the same thing to my boobs,” I said, pretending to be mad, but I couldn’t keep the pretense for long. I giggled.
“These are not boobs. Nothing this beautiful could have such an awful name,” he said, caressing each of my girls in a loving way.
Yep! We were still two sappy lovers. Eventually we made it out of the shower and got ready for work.
“Have you heard from Sam’s mom today?” Eric asked as he kept me company during dinner.
“Yes. He’s talking, and he’s as well as can be expected,” I answered.
Sam hadn’t died like the doctors had feared, and that was solely because he was a shifter, though the doctors didn’t know that. Eric explained that the magic that helped them change also helped them heal. The Shreveport Packmaster of the Weres had sent a couple of people to help with Sam’s business, so that he wouldn’t lose revenue. He’d need it now more than ever to pay for medical bills. Apparently the same Packmaster had helped out with the people from Hot Shot, though they didn’t need as much help as lonely Sam.
And me? I’d gone to visit him on Friday, like I promised, and again on Saturday, watching as he mended slowly. We’d developed our mind-talk so he didn’t have to speak while his throat healed from the tube they had inserted.
“What did Claudine say about the necklace?” Eric asked next.
“That it felt god-touched, but that she would have to ask Niall more about it. Fintan agreed. Claudine said that since the stones were meant for your protection, when you gave them to me you changed their purpose. You chose my safety over yours and created some sort of karmic vacuum. She thinks now they’re protecting me, but they’re also doing something else… I’m not sure. This is her area more than mine. She’s going to call me as soon as she talks to Niall,” I tried to explain, badly.
That’s when I found another of the many perks of being married: there was no need to suffer through confusion alone. You could be confused together.