A/N: I want to thank all of you who have been awaiting the arrival of this sequel for your patience. This is the follow up to my story Dead to Rights. If you haven't read it, I'd highly suggest doing so (also the short story In Between), or you'll be missing a lot pertaining to this sequel. To all of you who have been sending pms and reviews encouraging me to continue, there aren't enough words to express my gratitude. I hope Left For Dead will live up to your expectations.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters or stories from The Southern Vampire series. I can only hope that Ms. Harris does not mind me taking them out to play with.
Left For Dead - Part I
"We are vigorously pursuing all leads. I want to personally assure the residents of Bossier City, and all Louisiana, that State and Federal law enforcement agencies are working in full cooperation, and that the culpable parties will be caught and brought to justice."
I hugged my knees up to my chest, unable to look away from the television screen. Sam reached an arm around my shoulders, giving me a gentle squeeze.
"It was a grim scene today in the parking lot of the Bossier City Horseshoe Hotel and Casino as hundreds of mourners gathered to lay flowers and candles in an impromptu memorial to the victims of the New Year's Eve Massacre. Details are still sketchy, but here's what we know so far, Brad: acting on information from a victim who managed to escape the bloodshed, police arrived here three days ago and began a search of the hotel grounds. Using ground scanning radar, the first body was located about four hours into the search. Over the next two days, a total of fourteen sets of human remains were located, and police aren't ruling out the possibility of more casualties yet to be found. According to the tipster, whom police won't identify due to security concerns, a group of vampires turned the nights' festivities into tragedy; attacking, feeding from, and killing scores of party-goers."
I felt Sam's grip on my shoulders tighten as we watched the local news reporter. I couldn't bring myself to look at him. We were sitting on my living room couch, about to leave for Merlotte's, when the newscast began. I was numb... maybe in shock... the full gravity of the situation finally hitting me. My thoughts drifted back to the last night I'd spent with Eric...
"Sookie... they've called a tribunal."
My first instinct had been that Russell Edgington or Victor Madden had betrayed Eric, somehow making him look solely responsible for the death of Felipe de Castro.
"I wish that's all it were..." he'd responded. Even Eric didn't know then just how bad things were going to get.
The cleanup from New Year's had received far less than the normal vampire efficiency. There were too many injured, too many dead. Those still standing were more concerned with getting others to safety and medical treatment (in the case of the shifters) or blood. Despite Eric, Russell, and Victor's incessant planning, everything had fallen apart in the aftermath. Bodies of fallen shifters, and humans caught in the crossfire, were hastily buried close by. Humans easily found were glamoured or drained, but there was too much chaos to account for every witness.
The hotel wasn't vampire owned, and it was the last place any of them would've chosen to stage their attack. In retrospect, I was shocked Russell had even agreed to being involved, but I guessed Eric didn't give him much choice if Edgington wanted to lay any claim to Louisiana. The whole nightmare had come about because, once again, Eric had to save me. Felipe de Castro was only moments away from turning me, making me into his vampire child. The result, which Pam called a 'minor skirmish', was the battle now being termed 'The New Year's Eve Massacre' by the press. Eric had risked everything just to keep me with him... and now it looked as though it may all be in vain.
From what little information I could get out of Eric, knowledge that a witness had escaped detection had come from a mole the shifters planted with the Fellowship of the Sun, much like Luna had been in Dallas. Apparently the girl had gone to the Fellowship first. It was now apparent they'd talked her into coming forward to the police, and with a completely twisted version of events. There had been several attempts by the vampires and shifters to get to her, but the Fellowship had been smart enough to hide her away in an undisclosed location, probably only known to Steve Newlin and his closest advisors. She was just what they needed to revive their reputations, and take them from the status of a fanatical cult, to a mainstream activist group.
Needless to say, the vampire community at large had been forced into scramble mode. The repercussions of this... development could force them back into the shadows... into hiding... perhaps fighting for their very survival. The radical right was already calling them demons of evil that must be purged, others were calling them terrorists. Eric told me the highest echelon of vampire society, something called the Council of Seven, had been convened. I really had little idea of what that meant, and Eric wouldn't elaborate, other than to tell me they had called the tribunal.
There were dozens of vampires that were to be tried, including Bill, Pam, and several others from Fangtasia. However, the three principle cases were Russell Edgington, Victor Madden, and Eric. I had begged and pleaded with Eric to take me with him, but he said it was absolutely not possible, and there was no way he could keep me safe. This tribunal would be nothing like the ones in Rhodes, and no humans would be allowed anywhere near it. I couldn't even get a general location out of him. I'd never wished so much that I could read vampire minds, and was still debating calling my Great Grandfather for help to find it. At one point, during my hysterics that night, I'd asked Eric to turn me just so I could go. He'd refused, claiming reasons that he wouldn't be able to be there for me as a new vampire, but I didn't need to be a mind reader to know the real reason. He knew I didn't really want to be a vampire, and he'd only have been taking advantage of my desperate state.
They'd all left the night after Eric told me. Fangtasia was closed until further notice. Eric had round the clock bodyguards watching me, including Sam. I'd even discovered, through a slip by Sam, that Eric had put him in charge of a trust fund that was to support me and pay for guards indefinitely, in the event he didn't...
Sam pulled me tighter into his arms as I broke down for probably the hundredth time that day. He stroked my hair and did his best to soothe me, and I buried my face in his chest, soaking yet another shirt of his. I hated being so weak, and it just made me cry more. Eric had asked me to be strong for him, and I promised I would try... but my thoughts were consumed with nightmarish scenarios, each one worse than the last. Would they torture him? Stake him? Starve him for decades?
"Shhh... Sookie," Sam said gently.
"I can't, Sam... I can't take this..." I croaked out between sobs.
He put a finger beneath my chin, tilting my head up to look at him. "Can you still feel him?" he asked.
I swallowed hard, closing my eyes, and tried to probe the bond as Eric had taught me the night before he left. I breathed a small sigh of relief. He was still with me. I couldn't feel any specific emotion, the distance must be too great, but I could at least confirm he wasn't finally dead. I knew if the night came I could no longer feel him... well, I didn't know what I would do.
I nodded to Sam, and he smiled softly, wiping my tears with his sleeve. He didn't seem to mind that he was going through shirts like tissues the last few days. I was so grateful that he was with me, and knew that he, Amelia, and Claudine were the only ones preventing me from becoming entirely unglued. I suspected the three of them had worked out some sort of 'Take Care of Sookie' schedule. Not a moment had gone by that at least one of them wasn't there.
I had other guards as well. Eric had made arrangements with Alcide for my daytime protection. Nights were handled by Bubba mostly, but a new vampire named Elana was also around. She was Bill's new... well, I wasn't entirely sure what they were to each other, but she was apparently living with him. She wasn't around during the battle, so I guessed that's why she wasn't called to the tribunal. As for Bubba, well... he's Bubba, and I suppose even the big whig vamp council revered him... or at least pitied him.
Normally I would've fought all this guarding and babying by my friends tooth and nail, but I knew I needed them. My pride had given up the moment I realized Eric was in real danger. I wouldn't add to his stress by causing him to worry about my well-being, even though he would anyway. Eric didn't think anyone but him could truly protect me, and I had to indulge anything that would bring him some small measure of solace. Besides, I didn't think I'd have gotten past the first night without my friends. Some moments it felt like my fear would just swallow me whole.
Sam clicked off the television, nudging me. "We need to get going, Sooks. Go splash some cold water on your face, and I'll meet you at the car."
I nodded, attempting to pull myself back together. It may have seemed cold, but Sam knew I needed the distraction that work provided. If left to my own devices, I'd just stay in bed and wallow. I trudged to my room and half-heartedly tried to fix my appearance. There were dark, puffy circles under my eyes, but I didn't care enough to bother with concealer. My ponytail was a bit crooked, but again, I didn't care enough to fix it. I stared at myself in the mirror, feeling like I was looking at a stranger. The only bright spot was the golden charm around my neck... the ornate 'E' with the blood drop shaped ruby dangling from the bottom. Somehow Eric had retrieved it from the penthouse of the hotel, where Felipe had ripped it from my neck, and had it fixed. He'd given it back to me that last night at Fangtasia. It hadn't left me since.
I headed out to the back door, grabbing my cranberry coat off the peg, managing to fight back another round of tears. I glanced longingly at Eric's Corvette, which had been vandalized that night at Fangtasia. He was so angry when he saw the dented hood and smashed in windshield, I was glad there was no one else nearby. As it was he'd put his fist through the back door of the club. We could only assume some Fellowship flunky had caused the damage. Eric didn't have time to get it fixed, so I offered to make sure it was taken care of, and he told me to drive it while he was away. I doubted I would, but I'd spent plenty of time the last few days just sitting in it, closing my eyes and sinking into the memories.
Sam took my hand, helping me up into his truck. I listened to the sound of the gravel driveway Eric had bought me as we pulled out, headed for Merlotte's. I wondered if a day would ever come when I could take more than a step without something setting off another torrent of tears. It was as if the whole world were mocking me, taunting me with the love I'd dreamed of for so long and finally found, only to have it snatched away. Yes, I was neck deep in a pity party, and Gran would've scolded me out of it if she were here... but she isn't. If Sam were smart he'd get as far away from me as possible. Everyone who had the misfortune of caring too much about me seemed to wind up in hot water, or worse, because of it.
We arrived at the bar, and I went through the usual motions of putting my purse in Sam's desk and tying on my apron. In truth, I'd barely worked the last few nights. Sure I was here, but I ended up spending most of my time sitting on the floor behind the bar, or curled up on the couch in the office. Everyone walked on eggshells around me, giving me pitying looks, and thinking about how I might need anti-depressants. Of course, most of them didn't know the real reasons for my current state, and just assumed I'd 'finally realized what monsters those bloodsuckers were'. I didn't have the energy to keep my shields up more than minimally, but I was so lost in my own mind that most of what I heard barely registered, becoming just a sort of white noise in the background. My head constantly ached from it.
There was, however, one person that wasn't avoiding me or showing any sympathy, and to my dismay she was working tonight. I had just joined Sam behind the bar, leaning back against the far wall, and falling into my now usual routine of staring blankly around the room.
"You actually going to do some work tonight, Sookie?" Arlene spat when she came up to retrieve an order.
"Arlene..." Sam said, his tone giving an implied warning.
She narrowed her eyes, "Sam Merlotte, don't you dare get huffy with me because you've got a thing for that... that... lazy, good-for-nothing, fangbanger whore!"
In that split-second, all the despair and fear in me turned to rage, my fists clenching and jaw tightening. All the anger I harbored toward the Fellowship and those like them was focused on this singular target, who was now the embodiment of them all. Before I knew it I was vaulting over the bar and onto Arlene, knocking her to the ground, and waylaying her with a flurry of punches to the face. She was screaming for help, trying to cover her face, and a torrent of curse words was flying from my mouth. I'd never felt so possessed by rage and hate in my life.
It couldn't have been more than a few seconds before Sam was pulling me off her, still kicking and screaming. Arlene was hollering and crying that she'd see me arrested, blood dripping from her nose. I should be ashamed at how satisfying that was, but my vision was still red with anger. Sam dragged me into his office, telling me in a firm tone to stay put, then ran back out the bar. I didn't care that Andy Bellefleur would probably be arriving any moment to haul me off to jail. As far as I was concerned, Arlene had it coming. It was her kind of venom that was making an already desperate situation that much worse.
I flopped onto Sam's couch, my rage beginning to subside back into sadness. The tears were spilling down my cheeks, but I would not give noise to my sobs. I realized Sam would probably have no choice but to fire me, and I felt awful for that. I knew it would hurt him to do it. I clung to the charm around my neck, curling up on my side, and probed the bond for Eric. Still there...
I must've fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, I was opening my eyes to Sam sitting beside me, stroking my hair.
"Oh, Sam... I'm so sorry," I whispered.
He leaned over and kissed my forehead, "It's alright, Sookie. Hell, I wanted to punch her, too."
I gave a weak laugh, and Sam lifted my head to sit beside me, laying me back down on his lap. "It's been taken care of," he said softly.
"I called Elana."
I nodded in understanding. The young vampire must've glamoured the appropriate parties, making them believe some other incident had taken place. I'd have to thank her later.
"Sookie..." Sam said hesitantly.
"I know... I'm fired."
"No, no, of course not. If anything I'll be firing Arlene. Listen, Sook," he continued, shifting my head a bit in his lap. "Elana... she's offered... if you want someone to talk to... well, she was a psychologist in her mortal life."
I bolted upright, "You think I need a shrink, too?"
Sam's brow furrowed, "I don't think you're crazy, Sookie. I just thought..."
"That I should be heavily medicated?" I spat.
He sighed, "Sookie, stop it. You know I don't think that. I just don't know how to help you and... frankly, you're scaring the hell out of me. I've never seen you so..."
The look in his eyes was almost desperate, and I realized just what a toll I was taking on him. He really did look frightened for me.
"Sam..." I said softly, hugging my knees up to my chest. "I'll think about it." It was a lie, but I had to try and make him feel better. It's not like I was going to go slitting my wrists or something. I'd make an effort to at least take a little bit better care of myself to ease his fears, but that was the best I could do. I wasn't about to go babbling to some stranger, a vampire no less, about my emotions and fears.
He smiled weakly, pulling me back into his arms, "Good." He held me for a few minutes, and I tried to block out the undercurrent of emotion I 'heard' running through him. I knew he'd never act on it, especially now, but part of him certainly wanted to be doing more than just holding me. In another time and place, I might have felt the same. I gently disentangled myself from his embrace, doing my best to give him a smile.
"Elana's waiting to take you home," he said, gaze fixed on mine, "Unless... you'd rather just stay with me tonight. I've got the extra bed..."
There wasn't any hint of suggestion in his tone, and I knew he just wanted to keep me close to him. I didn't relish the idea of Elana's company, knowing now that she'd probably try her psycho-babble on me, but staying with Sam was just too big a can of worms for me to deal with.
"Thanks, Sam, but I really just need my own bed."
"Okay, Sook, but promise you'll call if you need anything."
"I will," I replied, gathering myself up and retrieving my purse. I felt like I should say something more, but nothing really came to mind. I gave him another quick hug, and headed out the back door.
Elana was sitting on the hood of Bill's car. I was struck by how innocent she always looked, so petite and almost cute. She was completely non-threatening in appearance, and I often had to remind myself that she could snap me like a twig. Her mode of dress always spoke of her Cuban heritage, usually brightly colored, billowy blouses and long skirts. Her dark brown hair flowed about her shoulders, and her olive skin glowed in the moonlight. She was truly striking, and I could see why Bill enjoyed her company. I found myself hoping that he'd found some happiness without me, and that they'd be reunited when... if... this whole mess ended.
She smiled, hopping off the car as I approached, nodding a bit. "Hi, Sookie."
"Hello, Elana. Thank you for taking me home," I replied wearily, though managing a small smile.
"Hey, I should be thanking you. It's nice to have something to do..." she said softly, her accent a bit more pronounced than usual. I noticed that seemed to happen with most vampires when they were troubled. I imagined she might be just as worried about Bill and the others as I was.
"You know, Sookie..." she began as we drove back toward Hummingbird Lane.
I immediately cut her off, "Elana, Sam told me about your offer. While I'm appreciative... I'm just not really in the mood to... well, to talk about it."
She quirked a brow, laughing lightly. "Oh, Sookie... I just said that to try and calm the shifter down. Poor man's in an awful state worrying about you."
"I... ah... oh. Well... thank you, then," I said, a bit surprised.
"You're welcome. Hey, they can't possibly understand what we're going through, right? I mean, of course we're upset and emotionally volatile."
I nodded quietly. Elana had to be the most human vampire I'd ever met. There was no trace of the superiority and detachment I'd grown so accustomed to from them. "What were you going to say, then?" I inquired.
She stayed silent a few moments, guiding the car into my driveway. She threw it into park, shutting down the engine, and leaned her head back against the seat. I could tell she was deep in thought, and I allowed her time to process. Bill had always been good about that, giving me space to think when I needed it.
She turned toward me, tucking one leg up underneath her, and I caught a glint of excitement in her eyes. "Sookie, I know where they're at."
I felt my eyes go wide, and I searched hers, trying to determine what she was suggesting.
"They need us, Sookie. We're the only ones with any shot at fixing this mess, and maybe... if we can..." she trailed off.
I now knew we were on the same page. She felt as useless as I had just sitting around, waiting for the worst. Sitting around was something I was never good at, but until now, I hadn't known what else to do. I'd needed an ally, someone to spur me into action, and now here she was. I had no idea what we were going to do, but I told myself we'd find a way. I'd been around Eric long enough to know we'd have to have one hell of a plan, accounting for every possible contingency. I hoped Elana had some of the vampire flare for meticulous planning. For the first time since this nightmare began, I felt a twinge of hope. It was a long shot, at best, but if we could come up with a plan...
"I'm in," I said without hesitation.
Elana grinned, and we rushed inside, eager to get down to business. As we headed for the kitchen, I couldn't help but probe the bond, trying as hard as I could to send positive thoughts to Eric. I doubted whether he could feel them specifically, but I desperately needed him to feel me.
Hang on, my love... I'm coming.