Disclaimer: The Sookie Stackhouse Series is the creation of Charlaine Harris. Don't sue me Charlaine! I love your books.

A/N- 1 & 2 have been combined into one document because of upload space limitations.

The Gamble


May 2nd, the night Victor Madden showed up in the bar, was the night my paradigm (word of the day, April 29th) shifted from what it had been. I was not at Fangtasia. I was at work, in Merlotte's.

It was 11:00 pm and I had an hour left on the clock, although the bar closed at 1 am that night. I was still working on a shorter schedule, thanks to my loved one. In at 5pm and out by midnight on my late days. I had no idea how Sam was explaining this to Arlene, Holly and Tanya and that new girl he'd hired at my suggestion. ("nice clean mind, really likes to be useful…") I had originally had secret suspicions that by having me start a half hour late and leave an hour early, Eric thought that Sam would get sick of it and lay me off. He really didn't know Sam. Or me. Besides, if you're not awake in the afternoon, you can't know what time I start work. Some days I actually showed up at 4:30 pm or even earlier if I knew Sam was restocking the bar. My official work hours were all I was paid for, though, and if Sam felt so inclined, he'd spot me lunch or dinner to make up for it. But then again, getting off earlier meant more time at home before dawn.

After Victor walked in, as if by some unspoken agreement between us, Sam left the bar for the "stockroom" and I could tell from a mile away that he was calling Eric on speed dial faster than all get out. Just an update. Just in case.

Victor, who was dressed in his typical perfectly tailored suit, inquired which was my section and then settled himself in a booth, smiling broadly as I approached. Take away the GQ suit and he looked like a curly haired kid, with those sparkling eyes. I had presumed he was here to meet with Bill. I had to say that I hadn't found Victor all that bad to deal with so far, but I wasn't going to chance really digging in there to see if what was rolling around in his head was as bad as I had gathered that night in my house last December. That was the night that Sophie-Anne died and the King of Nevada, Felipe de Castro, took over Louisiana and Arkansas in one fell swoop.

If he was meeting Bill it was odd to do it in such a public place. I was curious about Victor's agenda in coming to Merlotte's but not enough so to be risky about it. Recent experience had led me to believe that any vampire worth his salt was likely to have his or her antenna stirred at least slightly by my searching through the files of their mind. Victor was big game in that respect. He seemed very aware of things around him. I had not seen Victor since Eric and I made a brief trip to Las Vegas to do some business for Felipe at the beginning of April. My work had involved ferreting out information about someone who was skimming Felipe's casino's cash carts for tens of thousands at a time. I'd spent an entire day being chaperoned by Victor on the floor of the casino, pretending to gamble but listening in. I had identified three people involved in the thefts and they were arrested.

"What can I get you tonight, Victor?" I asked as pleasantly as I could.

"Oh, I'll have an AB negative" he replied with a dazzling smile.

"You, know, I'll have to see if we have any left," I said. "We don't get as much request for AB. Is O neg okay if we don't have AB?"

"Well, sure," he responded, though he didn't look too pleased. Mental note to Sam: if Felipe de Castro's lieutenant is in the area, stock some AB.

After dropping off a beer at another table on my way back to him (a point not lost in the least on Victor, as I could tell just from body language) I handed him a warm O neg "with Sam Merlotte's regrets" that we were out of his preferred AB.

"Enjoy," I said with a smile, still trying to be pleasant, and started to move away.

"Well, Sookie, actually I'm here to see you. Can you sit for a few minutes?" Oh, he sounded so cordial and friendly, now didn't he?

I felt like a chilly cloak had just been wrapped around me. What would Victor Madden have to discuss with me directly, I wondered?

"Well, Victor, it's a little awkward. I'm still on the clock and I have customers."

Victor looked nonplussed. Glancing over at the bar, where Sam was trying hard to make it less than obvious that he was following Victor's every move, he made eye contact with Sam as if to tell Sam that he was going to do whatever he wanted. Sam glanced at me and gave me a pleasant faced nod toward the other side of Victor's booth, indicating that, sure, I could sit and "chat".

As I sat down in the booth, I had the feeling that Victor sometimes looked at me like I was one tempting confection. This was not a feeling I enjoyed.

"Well, what brings you to Bon Temps, Victor?" I said, trying to sound chipper, interested, and not freaked out.

"Sookie, I come on behalf of Felipe. He would like to meet with you about a business offer."

My insides lurched. This was a serious breach of vampire protocol. I was, for wont of a better word, Eric Northman's asset. Any business for me had to be negotiated through Eric. In late April, for instance, I'd been back to Jackson, with Bill as my bodyguard, doing a quick job for Russell Eddington and his second, Betty Jo. All negotiated first with Eric, even though I had spoken after the initial contact, with Betty Jo, extensively. I knew full well, and Victor knew I knew, that business with an asset of Eric's went through Eric. And I liked it that way. It was much safer that way. Eric knew what I would do and what I would refuse to do. Not only was it the only way that vampire business was conducted, to negotiate directly with a human, who actually belonged to another vampire, was… highly suspect.

"Well, Victor, I… I really don't know what to say. It seems rather… unusual, to say the least. I'll be off work in another hour and Eric should be here." I tried to make it plain, but not in an offensive fashion, that I was not going to play ball.

"I don't want to talk to Eric. Felipe wants me to talk directly to you."

Well, terrific. My blood was running cooler by the minute.

At that precise moment, Bill, trying to look relaxed, but clearly, I could feel, not relaxed, strode into the bar. After a quick chat with Sam, he glanced around as if looking for me, though he knew exactly where I was. He casually walked over to the booth and nodded deferentially to Victor.

He noted the silence at our little get together and said, "I hope I'm not interrupting? Sookie, I was looking for you. I have to confirm with you what specific software you'll need on your laptop for your classes."

Victor simply turned to Bill and dismissively said, "Leave".

I blanched. I placed my hand flat on the table as a peaceful gesture and plea for a moment of Victor's valuable time. In my best Southern belle accent I said,

"If I could just respond to Bill, Victor, I really have to get this laptop thing scoped out asap? I hope you don't mind?" I smiled at him.

Victor regarded me carefully. He had heard things about me, I'm sure. That I was a bit "delicate". Pam had told him skillfully, early on, that I always did my best work when I was handled politely, when I was happy. It helped to portray my "gift" as sort of an "art" in Eric's opinion. Not something that could be forced out of me. He said it was definitely safer for me, for us, to make that point loud and clear. I didn't want anyone thinking that they could go after Eric, or my friends, and get any good work out of me.

With an eye on me, Victor nodded curtly.

Good. Stalling for time…. "Bill, I know I'll need all that Office stuff, but there's this program that's not in it that's for journaling. It's made by the same company. I'll need that for one of the classes. We have to able to sumbit things in that journal form."

Bill nodded thoughtfully as if making mental notes. In fact, since we'd had this entire conversation the day before, he was actually letting me know, in subtext, that he was here to safeguard me until Eric arrived shortly. In the meantime, Bill could let me silently pick his brains on just want the hell was going on. Because of vampires' ability to pick up on each other's thoughts, however, this was no mean trick. Whatever was in there for me, I'd have to grab it on the down low, as they say.

"And we're still on for tomorrow evening for learning how to use everything, okay?" said Bill, with a smile. "I have no clue as to what to tell you to do here. Stay calm. He's coming."

Victor was looking rather impatient already. But he didn't appear to be picking up on the whole subtext thing, thank goodness. Bill and I had never really done this 'live' before. We'd only practiced, while Eric tried to detect it.

"Eric said that you thought the textbooks are cheaper from an internet bookstore?" I countered. I was grasping at straws to stall, revisiting real issues, previously discussed. I knew Bill was sensing my acute discomfort but by mentioning Eric I made it plain that I got his message.

"Well, sure. They well could be. We can check that tomorrow, too." He replied. "And we are playing one dangerous game here, Sookie."

"Thanks so much, Bill. I really appreciate your help so much." Best to let him get out of here on that account. Even if he couldn't help, and didn't have a clue, I took comfort in the fact that he and Sam were here with me.

I turned my full attention to Victor and smiled as Bill slinked away back to the bar to sit and "chat" with Sam. With the music on, it would be unlikely that he could hear much of our conversation, unfortunately.

"So, Sookie, Felipe would like to meet with you in Las Vegas. The day after tomorrow would be fine. We can have a private jet pick you up at say 2 pm? You will of course be compensated for having to rearrange your schedule on such short notice. No need to plan for formal attire."

I was pretty much stunned. How to respond without causing even more trouble than this looked to be? A departure date and no promised return date on top of it. This was troubling, to say the least.

"I, well, I'd have to discuss this with Eric, Victor."

He looked at me stonily. "This matter doesn't involve Eric. It involves issues in Nevada."

"Well, Victor, I live with Eric. It's not like he's not going to notice that I'm not home. And frankly, I won't travel without him at all."

"Perhaps Mr. Compton can accompany you. That can be arranged. I understand he did when you were recently working for Russell in Jackson."

Well, damn! They were obviously keeping track of my movements, weren't they…

"Victor, that was a single day job, which Russell arranged through Eric, for a specific purpose of which I had prior knowledge and which I was in agreement I could perform. Bill acted as my bodyguard only because Eric could not get away from his work at the time and it was an urgent situation. I am afraid I just think it inappropriate in my situation to leave Eric out of this plan. I won't do that. If Felipe wants to meet with me, it will be with Eric as well. Please convey my sincere apologies to him if he is displeased with my decision in the matter."

And with that little speech, I rose from the table and went to get Hoyt Fortenberry's check tallied.

When I got over to the register, my hands were trembling. Sam and Bill picked up on the fact that I was shaking. Bill obviously couldn't talk to me too much, but Sam came over and appeared to be pointing out something on the check while whispering, "Hang in, he should be here any minute."

As I walked over to hand Hoyt his check, Victor called out in a firm, cold voice,

"Miss Stackhouse, I wasn't done with you."


I turned back toward Victor and was sure that Sam and Bill turned toward him as well after hearing that tone of voice. I was trembling inside. Eric owed Felipe fealty. The issue of whether that meant that Eric owed anything directly to Victor (as Felipe's lieutenant) and whether as Eric's asset I therefore owed anything to Felipe or Victor was still a murky one in my mind. I usually took my cues on vampire protocol from Pam or from Eric. I was therefore in no man's land. I decided to go rogue.

"Mr. Madden, I'll be with you in a minute." I was equally firm and cold but not overtly annoyed.

I proceeded to hand over the check to Hoyt, inquire about Jason, who was his best friend, take his cash, make his change back at the register, return his change and then head off to Kevin and Kenya's table to pick up their plates and ask if they wanted anything else. They asked for dessert and coffee, bless them. I was on my way to get their pie, when of all people, Jason walked in the door. Well, now this was awkward.

Jason and I had spoken seldom since the night I'd been forced to break a number of bones in Calvin Norris's hand because Calvin's niece, Crystal had broken her marriage vows to Jason. He looked disheveled, as if he had thrown on something to get here. Had Eric actually called Jason? He was another warm body in the Bon Temps area who had an interest in protecting me, I supposed.

Jason came around the counter, shook Sam's hand and then engulfed me in a bear hug. In spite of everything, it felt good. I missed Jason at times lately and had even verbalized it. We'd only spoken twice since Christmas. He'd called me three weeks ago, saying he'd noticed that I wasn't staying much in Bon Temps lately and wanted to know what was going on. Eric and I were just back from Vegas. I mentioned that I was staying a good fraction of every week in Shreveport with Eric. It was an awkward conversation. He had been none too thrilled to know that I'd gotten involved with another vampire. He'd met Eric when I had cared for Eric a year and a half ago. He kind of liked Eric, but the Eric he knew was the one from the time Eric had not been himself. He had never forgotten how funny he thought it was when Eric had suggested that Jason should be taking better care of his sister. Eric's opinion on Jason had not improved in the least since then, I thought. But here Jason was and damn if I wasn't getting the impression that Eric had indeed called him and told him to haul himself over to Merlotte's to help keep an eye on me. And Jason had actually shown up. Jason didn't have any particular skill set, but he was a bitten were and was physically stronger for it. Jason was also a loose cannon at times. It added to my feeling of tension that he was here, rather than diminishing it. Jason sat down at the table that Hoyt had not yet vacated.

As I delivered pie and coffee to Kevin and Kenya, I could sense Victor following my every move. I held off on giving Kevin the check because it was one more thing I could use to stall for time.

I went back to the bar, heated another O neg and walked back over to Victor.

"This one's on me. I'm sorry to have kept you waiting." I did not sit down.

Victor looked at me in a somewhat less friendly manner. Quietly but firmly he said "Sookie I'm afraid I didn't make myself clear. Felipe expects you in Vegas on Wednesday. I would strongly suggest that you be there."

"Well, I'll have to see if Eric can drop everything that fast, Victor."

"Eric is not invited, Sookie. Just you."

"Well, I've already made my position quite clear, Victor. My situation makes that impossible. I'm very sorry if I'm making things difficult for you." I turned to walk away and Victor, snarling, grabbed my wrist so hard that I cried out.

Within an instant, Sam, Bill, Jason, Hoyt and Kevin were approaching me, or should I say, approaching Victor. Kenya had her radio in her hand, ready to call it in. But Sam had a billiards cue stick. I was very afraid things could get out of hand and that Victor was going to be on the sharp end of a stake, with Bill as a witness. That would not be a good situation. A vampire had been staked in this bar for attacking me once before. But he had not been a vampire in a position of such power. I twisted my wrist free. That was going to leave me black and blue, I thought to myself, and Eric would not take it lightly when he saw it. Victor stared at me menacingly, fangs starting to run down. Bill looked about the same way at Victor. Hoyt was just open mouthed. Jason was being restrained by Sam and was running his mouth off.

"Don't you dare lay a hand on my sister…" Thank goodness he didn't add the "you vampire scum" comment that he was thinking.

At that precise moment, Eric strode into the bar. He took in the scene. I tried to hide my wrist at my side, but he cut through the small group of men and pulled me toward him as if he already knew what had happened. He looked from my eyes to my wrist and then at Victor. I tried to start pushing him back, away from Victor's booth with my other hand but he was too fast, and far too strong. It took Bill, Sam, Kevin and Jason, to pull Eric off Victor after I started protesting and pleading with him that he had to stop. Please, please stop. I was so scared he wouldn't. The consequences could have been dire.

Victor didn't look too bad, considering the boiling rage that I felt streaming through Eric. He was bleeding in several places on his head and had an especially nasty bite on his jawline. He grabbed some napkins to keep from bleeding on his beautiful suit. Geeez, Eric was literally going for his throat, I thought to myself with a shiver. Victor looked quite shaken. Eric was half a foot taller than Victor and I'd have estimated at least five hundred years older. In a fight, my money would be on Eric every time. Eric had a nasty wound on his arm that he wouldn't let me touch. He just waved me off.

"What the hell were you doing, Madden?" Eric thundered, while towering over Victor, who was in a corner of the booth.

"I was discussing a private business matter with Sookie and she was being uncooperative."

"And what private business could you possibly have with my wife that would not concern me?" He said, glowering over Victor with his arms crossed.

You could have heard the proverbial pin drop.