Eric didn’t like the fact that Sookie was blaming herself for her Gran’s death. While it was admirable of her to want to take responsibility for the mistakes she had made he failed to see how her grandmother’s murder was in any way her fault. He very clearly remembered the night he met Sookie and how she had fearlessly approached him looking for answers. Even before they were face to face he had heard the conversation she was having with Bill.
He had given away her secret in a room full of vampires, although it could easily be taken as a snide remark to Sookie’s obvious disgust with the fangbangers. Eric knew what they wanted—they all came for the same reason. Even if a patron came in and only observed the vampires milling about the bar, or gawked at him like he was a living historical exhibit, they wanted to challenge death. The word ‘telepath,’ in any of its varieties, wasn’t one that Eric heard very often and it had caught his attention.
Then when Pam had come to inform him that Sookie was in the bar and asking questions about two former customers, he couldn’t help but look in Sookie’s direction. Bill was wise to be on his guard. Obviously he knew that Sookie was a valuable asset, or he would have let her come on her own. There were only two reasons that Eric could think of as to why a vampire would stick their neck out for a human. The first was that the vampire was in love with the human. The second was because they were protecting an asset.
But what was so special about Sookie, he’d wondered. Bill definitely didn’t have the reputation of a gentleman among vampires. Of course Sookie had no way of knowing about Bill’s penchant for draining whores and leaving a bloody mess everywhere he went with his crazy bitch Maker. Bill could whine until the end of time about being turned a vampire and the loss of his precious humanity, but it was in the moments when he fully immersed himself in the vampire inside of him that he became a deadly weapon. There were stacks of dead bodies to prove it.
And a number of them were in Bon Temps alone.
After further discussion with Sookie in regards to the things that had happened prior to her grandmother’s death, Eric thought it was safe to assume that Bill had killed at least four people. He’d avenged the attempted draining by killing those imbecile rednecks, drained the uncle that had abused Sookie and brutally murdered her grandmother. Bill was a clusterfuck and a loose cannon. It was hard to see where his loyalties lay.
He claimed to love Sookie, and yet he had betrayed her at nearly every turn to further his own agenda. Eric didn’t claim to be an expert on love, and it frankly still shocked him that he felt such an emotion for Sookie, but he would never betray her to save his own skin. He would die a thousand deaths before he allowed that to happen, which was something that Godric had warned him was dangerous. Feeling that sort of devotion or passion for someone, human or otherwise, could cost Eric his undead life.
There were two ways things could go. Loving Sookie could either make him stronger or weaker, at least in the eyes of his enemies. He was almost hoping they would assume he had dropped his guard and softened up in the wake of bonding himself to such a pretty little human. On the other hand, it would be best if everyone just left them the fuck alone. He fought because he had to, and because it was the way he survived. But getting into battles just to prove himself didn’t hold the same thrill that it had centuries ago.
As a human it was a way of proving how much of a man he was. Not backing down put him higher up on the food chain. His arrogance had gotten the better of him, and it ultimately led to him lying on a funeral pyre waiting for the Valkyries to come and take him to Vallhalla. Instead, Godric, a very different kind of death, came to him and had given him a new life.
He thought about Pam’s question of whether or not Sookie would be her sister. At this point in Sookie’s life she wasn’t ready to accept the possibility that there could be something more for her than just the eighty or so years she could have as a human. She could go on for centuries, millennia, even, and continue to make a difference in the world. First she would have to understand and accept just how valuable a gift like hers truly was. It wasn’t simply a disability that she had been cursed with, although he was getting better at understanding why she felt it was.
While Eric watched her sleep on the enormous bed beside him, a light sheen of sweat slowly drying on her skin after spending a glorious hour very nearly in orgasm for most of it, she was spent. He trailed a finger down her spine and watched the goose bumps break out on her skin. Sookie didn’t move and there was no change in their bond. She was out cold. He thought about the things she’d said earlier in the night about the reasons why she wouldn’t ever end up with a human man.
Was it because she had never really thought it was a possibility, or truly because she felt like she belonged with him? Eric didn’t enjoy the feeling of insecurity. It wasn’t a feeling he was used to, and he wondered how other people dealt with feeling it on a constant basis. With Sookie he felt like he had something to lose, but that also he had something worth fighting for. And he definitely wouldn’t be giving Sookie up without a fight. Their bond wasn’t a guarantee that their relationship would work out, only that they were bound together until one of them died or approached the witches to cut the ties.
But Eric had warned Sookie that if she entered into the bond, that was it. She was accepting him as a part of her for the rest of her life. Breaking the bond wasn’t an option, as far as he was concerned, and he was honorable enough that even if things didn’t work out between them he could give her the space she needed to move on and find someone new to share her time. It would kill him to do it, but wasn’t that what it meant to love someone?
He heard the fax machine kick in down the hall in his office, and he got up to check it. Old newspaper articles came through and Eric started to read through them one by one. The articles were all pretty similar, touting Earl Stackhouse as a local hero for one thing or another. A missing child here, a thwarted bank robbery there… and then there was the article memorializing Sookie’s parents.
On the night of October 17th Corbett and Michele Stackhouse were crossing the parish bridge that separated their home from the home of Corbett’s parents. The children weren’t the car, thankfully, at the time of the incident. A severe thunderstorm had swept through the area earlier in the day, and the creek underneath the bridge was on the rise. They had taken the children to their grandmother’s house to keep them out of harm’s way since the pond behind the house was also flooding. They had planned to sandbag the property to help prevent the house from flooding, and the work would be easier to do without the children in the way.
They were driving back from dropping the kids off when all of a sudden water rose up over the bridge and washed the car away several miles downstream. Their bodies were discovered two days later by a pair of rednecks in Hotshot. The official cause of death, as one would expect, was drowning. There were no records to indicate foul play. By all appearances and accounts, Corbett and Michele Stackhouse had died in a tragic accident.
The article was included, Eric supposed, because there was mention of Corbett being survived by both of his parents, his sister Linda, niece Hadley and his two children, eleven-year-old Jason and eight-year-old Susannah. Eric debated whether or not to keep that article, but decided it probably didn’t tell Sookie anything she didn’t already know about the death of her parents. Everything looked pretty standard as far as human interest stories were concerned.
Only it wasn’t just humans that found the stories interesting.
There was maybe an hour left before sunrise. He could make it to Bon Temps very easily before the sun rose, but he wouldn’t be making it back by then. After a moment’s debate Eric decided there was no time like the present. He left Sookie a note on the nightstand, and then left the house. With Bill out of the way, he had some investigating to do and he decided the best place to start was with the wayward vampire who knew a little bit too much about the Stackhouse family.
Eric landed softly on the lawn outside Bill’s house twenty minutes later. He sensed no one else nearby, including the redheaded progeny Bill left behind. Jessica’s location was of no consequence to him. She could meet the sun for all Eric cared. Her not being home was actually a blessing. Since the house was owned by a vampire he didn’t require an invitation inside. The front door was left unlocked, which begged the question of whether or not Jessica had a key or just very trusting the neighbors.
Either way it was to his benefit. Eric let himself into the house, still sensing no one else. He didn’t know where Bill would hide information about Sookie, but his bedroom seemed like the least logical place to start since that was a room Sookie had probably frequented in their relationship. Eric tamped down the rage he felt at the idea that Sookie had been manipulated into a sexual relationship, and wondered if Bill would have acted differently had he known about her ‘funny uncle,’ as Sookie called him, from the beginning.
It didn’t matter, he decided, and started searching the house. He wasn’t even sure what he was looking for, but Eric was meticulous about putting things back in their precise location so as not to disturb any dust. Had he been a human he probably would have been sneezing up a storm with all of the dust mites flying about. With any luck he would be able to find what he was looking for and get out of the house before Jessica returned. If not, at least he had the advantage of being the sheriff and Jessica was still a newborn learning the ways of vampires.
Bill’s daytime resting place might also be a good place for him to hide something he didn’t want anyone else to find, but where did Bill rest for the day? Obviously not in the upstairs in the bedroom since the windows hadn’t been modified to be light tight. Perhaps in a closet with a false back or bottom? Eric moved from room to room, opening and closing drawers, feeling along walls for secret doorways that would lead to hidden compartments.
He located Bill’s resting place underneath the stairs. There was a crawl space below the house that made him wonder if, at some point, this house had been a stop on the Underground Railroad. Eric had settled in America shortly after the Civil War ended, but had remained in the Union States before making his way to California where there was a sudden rush of people hoping to strike it rich mining gold. Because of all the traveling it was the perfect place to feed on new settlers before they got the chance to write letters to family in other states announcing their arrival at a new homestead.
Just for the sake of being thorough, Eric checked the kitchen as well. With the exception of the cases of TruBlood and a few bottles of vitamins that had more than likely been for Sookie, the kitchen was bare. The refrigerator contained only TruBlood. There was mainstreaming and then there was denying one’s true nature. Eric could tow the party line but there was no way in hell he was going to drink a TruBlood as long as he had a healthy, willing human to feed him. Everything about Bill screamed that he was trying too damn hard.
Eric closed the fridge and moved on to the dining room. It was the only room left, and probably the least used room in the entire house. The furniture was old and it wouldn’t surprise him at all to learn that it had been built before Bill was even born. It screamed of being handcrafted, which Eric could actually appreciate. He had a fondness for old things, after all. Eric checked under the table, knowing it was possible Bill could have strapped something underneath. He checked the large hutch that more than likely housed the family’s silver and china collections. Now it stood empty, less the four crystal goblets that remained and they were full of dust.
The last piece of furniture to check was an old highboy. What it might have been used for one could only guess, but Eric started at the top and worked his way down. The drawers were heavy and difficult to move. The humidity more than likely had something to do with that since it caused the wood to expand and soak up the moisture in the air. There were a total of six drawers to the piece, and it was in the fourth that he discovered a manila folder.
A pickup truck pulled up in front of the house. Eric quickly closed the drawer and tucked the folder into the waistband of his jeans so it was out of sight from Bill’s progeny. He saw the redhead get out of the truck and then zip around to the driver’s side to kiss her escort goodnight. She was a blur of movement as she came up to the front door, and Eric stood in the archway waiting for her to come inside. She was cutting it close with only ten or so minutes until the sun rose.
The door opened and when Jessica stepped inside, she closed the door behind her to lean against it. She was smiling from ear to ear with her eyes closed. She smelled of male, blood, sweat and sex. It wasn’t hard to figure out what she’d been doing.
“Cutting it close,” Eric said, and Jessica screamed when she saw him standing there.
“Eric, what are you doin’ here?” she asked, putting her hand over her silent heart.
Those human mannerisms always took time to fade.
“I’m here to give you an update about Bill,” he said, figuring it was the most solid excuse he had for being in the house. Technically, he didn’t need one since he was a sheriff. “The queen will be sending for him. I don’t know how long she will be keeping him in her court. Because you were turned within the last six months I’m going to instate a curfew for you that will adhere to. I don’t need a newborn vampire running amuck and leaving a trail of dead bodies for me to clean up, and considering who your Maker is I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened.”
“Bill is a mainstreamer,” Jessica said. “I’ve never even seen him feed off of a human.”
“So he didn’t teach you how to feed?” Eric asked.
She shook her head and said, “No, he didn’t. Pam was going to, but then y’all brought me back here and Bill said there’s no reason for me to ever have to kill a human when there’s TruBlood.”
“I smell blood, Jessica, and it isn’t yours,” Eric said. “You fed tonight.”
She would have blushed if she could have, but instead she dropped her eyes in embarrassment.
“There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Feeding from humans is in our nature, regardless of the horseshit being shoveled to humans to keep them complacent and unafraid of our kind. You need to learn to feed properly or you’re going to kill someone. Do you know how to dispose of a body?” Eric asked, and again her eyes dropped. “Jessica, did you drain a human?”
She hesitated to look at him, but when he barked her name she finally said, “I was hungry and no matter how much TruBlood I drank, it didn’t take the edge off. Bill wasn’t around and my boyfriend… I love him, but I didn’t want to hurt him so I went to this dive bar close to Baton Rouge. I glamoured a guy into following me out and I fed on him in the back of his truck. Only I couldn’t make myself stop. He just tasted so good and I wanted more and more and… then his heart stopped. I didn’t know what to do so I healed my bites and left him there.”
Eric didn’t know if he should be enraged or at least impressed that Jessica hadn’t pulled that shit in his area. He also knew from conversations with Luis, the sheriff in Area 2, that there was no need for alarm.
“How many have you drained and left behind, Jessica?” Eric asked, and again her eyes went to the floor. “How many?” he demanded in a louder, more authoritative tone.
Newborns, he sighed internally.
“Three,” she admitted in a whisper.
Shit. This was going to become a habit if something wasn’t done about it, but the sun was about to crest the horizon. He would deal with this when he rose.
“I’m spending the day here,” Eric announced. “We’ll discuss your punishment at sundown.”
“Punishment?” Jessica’s eyes went wide. “But Eric, I didn’t know—”
“And you’re going to learn from your mistake. Now go rest,” he said.
Jessica opened her mouth to argue with him, but the look on his face stopped her. She nodded instead and said, “Have a good rest, Eric.”
He watched her speed from the entryway of the house to wherever it was she spent her days inside the house. Eric locked the door, completely untrusting of the extremely lax security system in Bill’s home. Bon Temps might be a backwater town that was generally accepting of vampires but there was no excuse to get sloppy—unless Bill had a death wish, and it was becoming more and more apparent it was either that, or he was just plain arrogant. Eric was willing to bet it was a combination of the two.
It was a bitch getting himself folded into Bill’s resting place for the day, but he made it work. It was better than burying himself in the woods, at least. Eric remained awake long enough to look over the documents he’d found in the chest, and was irritated, to put it nicely, by what he’d found. There were photos of Sookie at various stages of her life, and given the age of some of the prints he suspected that they had been taken by someone watching her, or that they’d been stolen from her house. Copies of the newspaper articles that had been faxed over to his house were in the file as well, along with a few clippings of articles that mentioned Sookie in other ways.
Her fifth grade spelling bee win, her brother’s scholarship to play football at LSU and the injury that subsequently ended his football career before it even really took off. There was talk about Merlotte’s, and some volunteer work Sookie had done in the children’s section of the Bon Temps Public Library. There were articles talking about the disappearance of Earl Stackhouse, as well as Adele’s multiple wins at the Renard Parish county fair pie baking contest. For six years running she had been crowned grand champion of the pecan division, and had also won ribbons for her ability to preserve strawberries and peaches.
What he found most interesting was a family tree that traced back the Stackhouse lineage for five generations. The chart had been made by computer so it wasn’t as if he’d stolen the information from a family Bible. Bill, or someone, had researched the Stackhouses to compile the information. Sookie and Earl’s names were both circled, obviously to note that they were telepathic, but what caught Eric’s eye was the line descending from her cousin’s name.
Hadley had a child—a son named Hunter.
He wondered if Sookie was privy to that information and decided she probably wasn’t or she would have expressed a desire in finding the boy. If there was the chance he was telepathic like Sookie, he was more than likely in danger. Sophie-Anne was also most likely to know about this child, in which case it was safe to assume that it was only a matter of time before she searched him out. She’d found Sookie, so it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if she went after the boy as well. He was going to have to talk to Sookie about this when he returned home later on in the day.
The information didn’t really do much to reveal Sookie’s abilities, but it did provide a glimpse into her life and the lives of those closest to her. The last thing he saw was a picture of Sookie and an African-American girl that looked to be taken close to a decade before. Sookie hadn’t changed much since that picture was taken, although her face was definitely thinner and her hair was longer. She had been in a talent show, showcasing her abilities as a dancer. Abilities Eric was only slightly aware of.
A smile crossed his face when he wondered if he could talk Sookie into reenacting the routine that had won her and her friend Tara a second place prize. When he started to feel the bleeds coming on, Eric put all of the papers back in the folder and left it lying on the ground beside him. Then the sun pulled him under for the day.
At sunset Eric’s eyes popped open like they were spring loaded. He sensed Jessica’s presence but didn’t hear her moving about the house, no doubt hoping Eric would forget about the punishment he’d promised to levy against her. He got out of Bill’s daytime resting place and waited for Jessica to come out of hers. While he waited he sent Sookie a text message to let her know that he would be home within the hour. She called back instead of texting.
“Evening, Lover,” he purred into the phone.
“You about scared me to death, Eric,” she said, obviously agitated. “If I just decided not to come home you’d be damn mad at me.”
She was right, of course, but his reasons for not coming back or waiting until sunset were good ones.
“My mission was successful,” he said. “We’ll discuss it when I get back. Jessica and I need to have a little chat and then I’ll be home.”
“Fine,” Sookie sighed. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“As am I,” he answered as Jessica appeared sheepishly. “Duty calls. I’ll see you soon.”
Eric waited for Sookie to say goodbye and then disconnected the call.
“Listen, Eric, I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry if I caused any trouble. I swear it’ll never happen again,” Jessica apologized.
“I’m not interested in an apology, Jessica.” He slipped his phone into the inner pocket of his leather jacket. “I’m more concerned with you learning the proper ways of handling your urges and instincts. There is nothing wrong with feeding from humans but you need to learn to do it without draining them. The usual punishment in my area is a month chained in silver without feeding for every body left behind.”
Three months without feeding? Jessica’s eyes lined with red and her jaw dropped.
“But, given your circumstances I’m going to try something different,” he said. “You need to be educated and it’s obvious to me that your Maker hasn’t taken his responsibilities seriously. Since there is no guarantee that he’ll be coming back to you I’m going to put you under Pam’s watch. She will teach you to feed and a few other important things that you need to know. You will report to Fangtasia every night for the next three weeks. You will work at the bar and you will take lessons from Pam. You will not bring your human with you. I don’t need him getting jealous and starting fights, are we clear?”
“Very good. You will be at the bar before we open at ten and you will remain there until Pam decides to send you home. After you are released you will come straight home, and if I need to I will have a tracker follow you. Will that be necessary?” Eric asked.
“No, sir,” she shook her head.
“Excellent. Do you have any questions?” Eric asked her.
“What if the queen kills Bill?” she asked.
Good question, since it was still possible.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Eric said. “Be at Fangtasia by nine tonight. Don’t make me send Pam to come get you.”
“I won’t,” Jessica promised.
Eric turned and walked to the front door. He flipped the deadbolt over and pulled the release at the top of the door.
“Oh, and Jessica?”
“Start locking the doors before you go to rest. Your Maker might not believe in security measures, but there’s no excuse to be sloppy,” he told her.
Jessica kept quiet as Eric threw the doors open and then stepped out onto the porch to fly home.