As dawn approached I kept track of the vampire brains I could feel. At the same time I couldn’t keep Nino’s mind from invading mine, and found myself drawn to it in curiosity, something I never expected. I usually endeavored to stay out of other people’s brains unless it was absolutely necessary, or if my mental shields weren’t holding. I didn’t go into someone’s mind on purpose to amuse myself. But Nino’s mind was different.
He had an open curiosity about me, not at all mean. He thought in his native language, but I could “see” the pictures in his mind. He was hungry, I gathered that much. Poor guy. He also wasn’t bitter about this unlucky turn of events. He figured he had been glamoured into going along with the vampire, and only remembered from the time he’d been inside this cell and given the order to take care of me. Nino was also a master at self-possession, not giving in to the sudden fear of being imprisoned, and getting to work as soon as he saw my injury.
I didn’t know that there were people who could be curious without judgment. I didn’t know that there were males who found me attractive but weren’t necessarily thinking of having sex with me at every turn. Not that Nino didn’t think it, he did; he just didn’t entertain it.
Nino drifted off to sleep and his brain calmed. By that time it must have been past dawn because I couldn’t detect any brain activity within whatever type of building we were in. I figured it was a house, judging by how easily I was able to count brains around us. My best distance so far had been about thirty feet, more or less.
I passed the time trying to rest as well. My head still hurt but not as much, and I had started to drift into a half sleep when I felt a live brain come into my “scope.” It was a human, but since I didn’t know if it was someone who could hurt me, I decided to keep quiet instead of calling for help. The way I saw it, no matter what, Queen Sophie-Anne still wanted my services, so it would behoove a vampire to take care of me… therefore poor Doctor Nino getting abducted alongside me. As for humans, they couldn’t care less about me or the doc.
It didn’t matter because the brain of… it was a man… the brain of the man was thinking about bringing food down… huh! We were below a house, in a basement or part of a basement. The human was another vampire’s day person… another sheriff’s day person. Gervaise, Sheriff of Area 4. We were in his house, or at least in his property. And THIS is what separated Eric from the rest, why Felipe De Castro hadn’t killed Eric when he killed all the other sheriffs in Louisiana. Eric didn’t engage in shady. His house was his, and none but him, Pam, his day person and me had ever been in it. There was no way he would compromise himself in that way.
Thinking of Eric was a hard thing to do given the circumstances. I could imagine his face in pain, worry and anger. I’d seen all those emotions mar his features at one time or another. I was almost sure he had heard when Bill abducted me. Eric could feel me already; he knew I was in trouble. But was the fledgling bond strong enough for him to find me? I wished with all my might that it was. What was more, I hoped Bill hadn’t caught on to the fact that Eric and I had exchanged blood a couple of times already.
The door opened while I still pretended to sleep. I heard Nino sit up brusquely, as if he’d been woken up with a bucket of water. Of course, he must have been barely asleep, so he heard the door and it woke him easily. I kept my eyes closed. If something was coming at me, I didn’t want to see. I’d become a coward.
“Don’t try anything funny,” I heard the day person say. He had a gun, but he was really hoping he didn’t have to use it. He’d be left to clean up the mess. At least he was honest. I did a mental eye roll. People got their motives confused all the time, particularly jerks like the one bringing us food.
At least the food seemed okay. From what I gathered he’d gone to a diner, per a note and some money that had been left for him: two hearty breakfasts with a few bottles of water, bring back the receipt and the change. It was obvious that they (or Bill, rather) wanted to keep us abductees healthy and thriving. I would have appreciated it if I’d been hungry, but I didn’t think I could eat.
Once Gervaise’s day guy had left, I felt Nino’s soft touch on my shoulder. Of course, touch amplified his thoughts. He was thinking petit-déjeuner, and even if I’d been born and raised in the non-French part of Louisiana, I understood that was breakfast.
I pretended to wake up and listened to why I should eat. It all boiled down to doctor’s orders. Nino helped me sit up and started handing me food, napkins and utensils. He also made sure I drank my water.
“You lost some blood. Not a lot. But water will help with the pain,” he said in his delightful accent.
“Thank you,” I said and dug in. Or tried. Truth was that I had to force myself to eat. I wasn’t sure how much longer the hospitality would last, so I ate. Nino ate as well, but the poor guy had been hungry. I gave him my biscuit. There simply was no way I could eat it, and he was a big enough man.
I studied Nino’s physique with the same curiosity as when I read his mind. He was about six feet tall, or close, not skinny but normal, healthy. He’d been wearing blue scrubs and Nike’s. His hair was cropped short, a dark blond. His hands looked like doctor hands, smooth with long fingers. They were also a shade lighter than his arms, probably from washing them so often. He must have been wearing a watch because he had a tan line from one, but no watch. No ring on either hand, but that didn’t mean much. He hadn’t thought about a significant other, though.
“Who might be looking for you, Nino?” I asked, worried for him, about him. I still felt somewhat responsible for his fate, even though it wasn’t in my hands, and his abduction wasn’t my fault. I had to remember that. Tough proposition, that one.
“My colleague is not expecting me today. We worked until very late last night and we were going to take a day off today. If we are not released today, then he will be very worried about me come tomorrow morning.” Nino’s English was very good and practiced, his accent a pleasure to listen to.
I didn’t say anything. Besides Eric, I wasn’t sure as to who else might miss me, at least during the day. It hit me that I was a very lonely person.
“Who is looking for you, Sookie?” Nino asked after I didn’t offer the information on my own.
I shrugged. “Another vampire. I’m pretty sure he heard when I got abducted. We were on the phone when it happened.”
“Do you think he will come?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure if he knows where I am. I hope he does.”
“This other vampire, he is good?”
“Yes, very.” I hesitated, but then decided to come clean. “His name is Eric, and he’s my boyfriend.”
“Why do these vampires want you? Are you a hostage?” Nino asked. He had deduced almost correctly.
“I’m not entirely sure, but maybe.”
“Does your boyfriend have a lot of money? Do you think he will pay?”
“It’s not what he has, it’s what I have. That’s what they want.” I felt tempted to tell Nino everything, and after a short pause I decided to go ahead and do just that. After all, someone would glamour him into forgetting his time here. “I’m a telepath.”
Nino frowned and then raised an eyebrow. He didn’t believe me.
“It’s not a parlor trick or anything. You can test me if you like,” I said and waved my hand to give him permission.
He took me up on it. “What am I thinking now?”
His thoughts jumbled and then settled on a… hmmm… He wanted me to get a CT scan and an MRI, then he saw me with electrodes poking out of my head. If I was telling the truth, then he would get to see what part of my brain was being used to read minds. If I was lying… well, no harm to me. I told him all this and then said, “I’d rather you had kept on thinking about your home. That was way more interesting than me on a flat bed getting poked and prodded, or wires coming out of my head.”
I knew I’d blown Nino’s socks off when he didn’t utter a word for a few minutes. His thoughts kept cycling between the tests he wanted me to take and his home, like he was stuck on those things and nothing else could enter his brain. He thought a few words at me, but I don’t know French. Either way, it didn’t seem like he thought I was a freak. He seemed to think me a miracle. It wasn’t the first time someone thought my curse was a gift… but usually those people tended to be vampires, people whose minds I couldn’t read. This human doctor was not shy about sharing his thoughts or asking me open questions.
We spent hours talking about my telepathy. Turns out Nino was a neurosurgeon. He’d come to Baton Rouge to learn of new research being performed at Oschner. I’d heard of the hospital in passing, since I lived a few hours away and didn’t really frequent Baton Rouge at all. As he spoke I learned something else about me: not only was I lonely, I’d been stuck in the same corner of the world for a very long time. The images inside Nino’s head were a kind of wake up call, and had me wondering when I could ask for vacation time from my new job so that I could go travel somewhere.
Nino was also very attentive, checking the wound on my head and making sure my pain was indeed going away. He would ask me every half hour or so. We fell asleep for a little while when I told him we were alone in the house with sleeping vampires, but it was a restless sleep for both. At one point we both woke up at the same time, checking on each other. When our eyes met we both laughed, he because he thought he was protecting me and seeing me protecting him was funny, me because of the same reason.
At some point Gervaise’s day man stopped to drop off lunch, and I was thankful it was a simple turkey on wheat. Even if time spent with Nino was an unexpected pleasure, I was still nervous. Nino watched to make sure I ate.
“I find the brain fascinating,” Nino said when we had finished out lunch. “And yours must be phenomenal.”
I shrugged. The magic that had given me the ability to read others’ minds wasn’t all that phenomenal to me. It was a curse. I told him as much. “Growing up it was really difficult. You can’t imagine what it felt like…” my voice drifted as I remembered the things I saw inside Uncle Bartlett’s brain. I shuddered involuntarily and looked away, trying to lock up all those memories again.
Nino was silent, listening and analyzing my body language. He got it. He got me. Not only did he understand, he thought it had been unfair. Even through the language barrier, I gathered he thought me stronger than he’d imagined just for surviving my early years unscathed and still alive. He was imagining a broody teenager with suicidal tendencies evading that terrible fate. Little did he know how much my grandmother had helped me overcome that particular hurdle.
He sat next to me, radiating comfort and acceptance. Never in a million years would I have expected something like that from a human being who knew I could read his mind. It almost made me want to cry.
Night fell and vampire brains came “on line” one at a time, until I was able to follow the voids as they moved about the house. It was obvious that one of those brains was heading in our direction. I told Nino and he took a protective stance, standing up in front of me, putting his body between me and the door.
The one who opened the door was none other than Bill himself. I tried my best to keep my emotions in check, but my adrenaline started coursing through my body, elevating my heart rate and my blood pressure.
“I thank you for your services, doctor, but I need your patient,” Bill said with nothing in his voice or demeanor other than his usual southern charm.
“Sookie is still recuperating. She should be taken to the hospital to assess…” Nino began but was swiftly interrupted.
“I can cure her of anything. I’ve done it before. Please tell him, Sookie,” Bill said.
I was worried that Nino would get himself hurt or worse instead of glamoured, so I put my hand on his shoulder asking him silently to back off. “I’ll be fine,” I said in a low voice, not believing myself for a second.
“No, you will not. She could still suffer from a stroke or a hemorrhage. Please take her to a hospital. Keep me instead,” Nino suggested. Of course, he already knew that he didn’t have what the vampires wanted.
I felt another vampire come close to where Bill was standing. Since he was filling the door I couldn’t see who it was. I could see, however, that Bill became very mad about whatever the other vampire was telling him. The conversation was too quiet for my human ears. Suddenly the door closed and locked. Nino and I were once again alone.
“You would go with them so willingly,” Nino said. It was a question, but he was mad at me, so it lacked the inflection.
“Yes. You were about to get hurt…”
“So what? !” Nino threw his hands in the air.
“You barely know me,” I said, trying to appeal to his common sense. “I can get you out of here. You need to trust me.”
“I am not leaving without you,” he said adamant.
“You don’t have a choice.”
“They will hurt you.”
“I’m used to it!” I said without even thinking. A horrible memory entered my mind and high-jacked my brain, one that I thought I’d put away for good: pitch black, trunk of a car, hungry vampire and… what he’d done. I buried my face in my hands trying to drive the memory back into its hiding place and succeeding very little. I began shaking until I felt two strong arms around me, holding me tight. It helped with the shaking.
“You are my patient. I am your doctor. You must obey me,” he said. I could see what he meant in his mind. He didn’t mean “obey,” more like “follow.” At least it made me smile a little.
Nino sat us back down and kept holding me. I wondered if doctors had to take psychology classes, and I figured they did at some point. They needed to talk to their patients and understand them. We sat in silence for a few minutes. I was trying to think of happy things, things that had nothing to do with Bill, or the times my body had taken beating after beating, my spirit crumbling every time. It was a useless thing. I began to get mad about it.
It had all started with vampires. The moment Hadley opened her big fucking mouth I’d become a target. A target for people like the Rattrays, who viewed vampires as vampires viewed humans. A target for Rene, who thought my dating a vampire was heinous enough a crime that I deserved a death sentence. A target for the Fellowship, for other vampires, for maenads and fairies and God-only-knew what else. I was tired of this!
If only I didn’t love Eric as much as I did…
“Do you want to talk about it?” Nino asked.
“Not right now, but later I might. I might also take you up on your offer and let you scan my brain,” I answered, utterly convinced now that I wanted to let him do research on me. I was starting to lose my grip on all common sense.
I looked at him and his wasn’t the face of excitement I thought I would see. He was wisely thinking of my safety in that scenario I’d just proposed. “It would satisfy my curiosity about you, but I don’t think I could do it,” he confessed, and he was absolutely honest.
Then he proceeded to make me remember his phone number. It was an international number, but I memorized it quickly. He memorized mine even quicker, since he already knew the international code to call the U.S. He also made me memorize his email address. “Either way you can contact me.”
“If they glamour you, you won’t remember me,” I pointed out.
Nino bit his lip, thinking. “I think I might if I hear your name. It will be my trigger and I will remember.”
I smiled. He knew so little of what a vampire’s glamour did to a brain, but I didn’t want to dash his hopes. “How?”
Nino looked at me intensely. I could read what was going to happen in his mind, but I didn’t want to stop him. For once I wanted to feel. He caressed my cheek and leaned closer, very close, then stopped. He was letting me make the final decision. I didn’t hesitate and closed the gap.
Good golly, the French doctor could kiss! It wasn’t a passionate one that would leave me panting. It was soft and sweet, just like Nino. His thoughts were completely different than I thought they would be. He was thinking about us, yes, but more along the lines of us kissing under the stars, sitting on a bench in a beautiful French park. He pulled away first, licking his lips and smiling, leaving me surprised.
Never in my life did I think that a man could kiss me with something other than sex on his mind. That had never happened. I was sure that even inside the brains I couldn’t read there had been nothing but sex behind those kisses. I stared at Nino, waiting for some kind of explanation, even though I knew I wouldn’t get one. That was the way he was.
“I will remember that kiss,” he said, and his smile widened.
The door opened again. This time the vampire that filled it was the Sheriff of Area 4, Gervaise. I remembered him from our trip to Rhodes, but had to remind myself that I didn’t know him in this timeline.
“Miss Stackhouse, Dr. Bettencourt, would you please follow me? I mean you no harm,” Gervaise said and tried for a beatific smile. When we didn’t move he had to explain. “Apparently there was some mistake on my part in allowing Mr. Compton to house you here for the day. I have been contacted by Mr. Northman and he is on his way to retrieve you, Miss Stackhouse. In the meantime, you are my guests.” He stepped away from the door.
Hearing Eric’s name filled me with joy and guilt at the same time. I’d kissed Nino and more than liked it. He’d shown me I could live among humans, that my world was so very small. What I’d known of this corner of the world and of these people was not true everywhere else. I could yet lead a normal life.
Nino and I followed Gervaise up a set of stairs and into a beautiful mansion. I remembered that Sophie-Anne had moved here while New Orleans recovered from the hurricane. The place was certainly regal enough for her. She would have never liked Eric’s house, with its mostly monochromatic décor and sleek Scandinavian furniture. Gervaise’s house was more antebellum than seventeenth century France, but it was nice nevertheless.
We were led to a sitting room and invited to relax. Did we need anything? Could he offer us food or something to drink? Gervaise had to attend to some errands but we were free. During all this I wondered what had become of Bill. This wasn’t good. I really didn’t want Bill to finish whatever he had begun. I wondered if his next move was to take me to New Orleans, or to turn me, or… I shuddered again to think of what else he might have wanted.
This was not the same Bill I’d fallen in love with. I’d changed our relationship and the dynamic was all wrong. He abducted me, for God’s sake! I had to come to grips with the fact that the man that I’d come to think of as a friend was a fallacy (Word of the Day) in this time. We’d lost what we had, I’d pushed him away. He wanted to finish his job and chose a more direct route when his wooing didn’t work. I was sad about that. I’d truly loved Bill, but obviously his love for me had blossomed much later than his love for me. And here I was in love again, this time with Eric, but the circumstances were so different. Could I honestly say Eric loved me now? For my own sake, I had to ask.
I heard Eric before I saw him. He was livid, yelling up a storm, so loud and strident that I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I was almost sure it was English, though. When he saw me his anger vanished as he realized I was safe. He got me vampire fast and scooped me up into his arms, hugging me tight to the point that I could barely breathe. I hugged him back, burying my face into his shoulder and taking deep calming breaths.
“He hurt you,” he murmured. “I’ll kill him.”
“Okay,” I said weakly. “Dr. Bettencourt made sure I was okay,” I said, pointing at Nino and hoping Eric would be gracious. “Bill abducted him too,” I added, just in case he didn’t understand.
“Gervaise will take care of the doctor,” Eric said in a quiet voice and turned to leave. He walked purposefully towards the front door of the mansion. I could no longer see Nino.
“Please don’t hurt him. Please… Don’t erase his memory,” I blurted out, seeing Gervaise go into the sitting room where Nino remained.
“Sookie, this is up to the sheriff. I’m taking you home now,” Eric said. The subject was closed and it would do me no good to continue arguing. If anything it would attract suspicion. Besides, I really wanted to go home and take a shower… and sleep.
Sleep came to me on the ride back home. The seats in the Corvette reclined enough so that I curled up as best I could and slept, knowing I was finally safe.