Disclaimer: See part 1, also very tiny tribute in here to the late and great Nan Dibble. A whole slew of points to anyone who picks up on it and no meaning at all lost if you don't.
Note: Here we are 30 chapter and nearly 100k words later. Who knew this would end up a novel? Last chapter, if you remember, was not quite linear. This chapter picks up where that left off, therefore it is still the morning before the Southwest flight. Thanks to nyc for her mad beta skillz.
More important note: We're going to leave off here for a while. Due to the plot intricacies, I've decided it's better if I complete the story before posting any more updates. Therefore, after this chapter expect a break of a month or two. When updates come again, I plan to post the chapters every few days (like I was at the beginning of things) until we reach the end. So this is my official last apology for slow updates. See you on the other side.
"Jack, what happens if you have vampire blood?"
"The world ends."
Simon and I, both forgetting to breathe, stared at the Walker for a full minute before realizing he was kidding. Or something. I crossed my arms and gave him my best glower (which is a darn good glower, if I do say so myself). "Not. Funny."
His smirk begged to differ.
"Really Jack … you're more human than human. You'll heal like anyone else would." Maybe I was trying to convince myself a little. His joke had left me a little uneasy. The Walker had wreaked some pretty serious havoc with his own blood in the past, so I figured 'uneasy' was a reasonable way to feel. "And Eric's blood is strong. It works fast."
Jack's smirk turned into a level stare. I didn't have to read his mind to know he didn't plan on cooperating.
"Is it that you don't want vampire blood or that you don't want Eric's blood?" I asked, pretty sure I could guess the answer.
"There are two vampires here," Simon pointed out quietly when Jack didn't respond.
"Bill was poisoned with silver recently," I explained. "I don't think it'd be a good idea for him to lose blood." Plus, while I was as sure as my name is Sookie Stackhouse that Eric would be beyond angry (probably more like furiousfuckingmad) at me for doling his blood out without permission, I'd feel even more wrong about taking it from Bill. We were busting Jack out, against his will, to save Eric from trial. So if someone was going to give blood (against his will), it should be Eric. It was just logical.
The Walker smiled nastily and broke his silence. "Come near me with that vampire's blood and I will Walk out on you faster than Bill Compton did."
He was just trying to get my back up, but it wasn't going to work, even if my eyebrows had promptly gone skyward in surprise at the sudden rancor. If he Walked now, we'd be able to get the blood into him whether he wanted it or not. I thought about forcing Jack to drink from Eric for all of two seconds. When, exactly, did you become Andre? The little voice was even nastier than Jack's, since it was mine.
"Jack," I said in as reasonable a tone as I could muster. "You're hurt. Really, really hurt. Anyone hurt like that … anyone else would take the blood."
"Well it's too bad for me that I'm not anyone else." He matched my reasonable tone. "Just me." He shifted in his chair, taking as much weight as possible off the burnt portions of his body. "I don't need to get any prettier and I'm not about to jump at the chance to swallow down vampire GPS."
That, the fact that Eric's blood would act like a homing beacon, had been the angle that Simon had been trying to think his way around for the past few minutes. Guy like him doesn't want to make himself easier to find, Simon reasoned. Going in and out the way he does. Body's the vulnerable part.
I had a feeling there was more to it than that. "Is it vampire blood you don't want?" I asked again. "Or Eric's blood?"
"Are you suggesting that I turn Eric human and then drink his blood?" Jack, a perfect portrait of shock and horror, asked. "Because that seems like a strange and disgusting idea. Even from you."
If Eric needed to breathe, he'd have gone blue in the face with all the times he'd warned me about the Walker, so I was on my toes. I knew that he was trying to manipulate me even when he was joking. Like now. He'd been in my memories. He'd seen the situations I'd gotten myself into, the stupid things I'd done that usually ended in me getting beaten up, or staked, or shot. But he'd also seen me make it out of each situation alive.
"Jack, you're really old, right?" I asked rhetorically, since it was a well established fact. "And being … what you are … you've died a bunch of times? Well I might be younger than your newest pair of underwear, but I haven't died yet, so it's my strange and disgusting ideas we're going to go with, got it?"
It was Jack's turn to look surprised. Eyes wide, he smiled and laughed. For the first time that day, there might have been actual humor in it. "Fine," he said, just like that. "But you don't actually want me to drink his blood when he's human, right? Because that really is disgusting."
I rolled my eyes but found myself smiling at him anyway. I couldn't hear anything but the barest impressions of his thoughts, but I got the feeling that he'd always meant to agree, just like he'd walked up the stairs with Simon without a fight. What it all meant was this: part of him probably wanted to go along with us, to help end all the bloodshed, to finally meet his sister, and the other part probably wanted to keep running. I wasn't really arguing with him, I was helping him mediate his argument with himself.
Hands on his knees like he was trying to convince himself to stand up, the Walker stared at Eric's coffin.
"Simon, could you ...." I glanced at the door and with the intuition of a man in the high end hospitality industry (which is nearly as good as telepathy), Simon quickly exited the ballroom.
"It's Eric's blood," I guessed, though I'd known all along. "You're afraid."
Jack pushed himself to his feet and I thought it wasn't just the pain-filled way he walked that made him look suddenly old. He ran his fingers along the seam of the coffin, finding the catch and opening the lid so Eric was revealed. My vampire wasn't stretched out in Crusader's pose like he'd been laid out for a funeral but turned on his side, one arm curled under his head like he'd just happened to fall asleep inside a coffin.
My protective instincts rose up and I took an involuntary step forward. But then something held me in check. Seeing the Walker looking down at the vampire, I knew Jack had a claim here too and it was different than mine, separate, older. He is one of mine, Jack had told me once while we stood side-by-side and looked at Eric's soul.
"He was so powerful and beautiful. Samael," Jack said, fingertips resting delicately on the lip on the coffin. His eyes shone, bright and wet. "He was all will. Unbreakable, unrelenting."
"That sounds familiar," I heard myself say. I was surprised to find that my lips and vocal cords were working. The rest of my muscles seemed to have frozen. We didn't have time for this but it was time anyway.
Jack nodded after a while. Slowly and deeply. Like it wasn't me he was agreeing with but someone very far away. "He could do anything, with just a word, anything at all. Except be what he was not." Jack frowned a little and cocked his head to one side. "I didn't understand it, we didn't understand it at the time. We thought it was a test. We spent a long time, lifetimes, wondering if we'd passed. But I think it might have been about him all along. Change. It was the one thing he couldn't do and the thing we do constantly.
"We thought he was our enemy. Death. Evil. And maybe he was … but we couldn't understand him any better than he could understand us." Jack turned from Eric slowly, like he was forcing himself to remember that I was there. "He asked us to change him, to make him like us, and we didn't understand that either."
"He was an angel," I said, trying to catch up. "And you made him human so he could understand humans, understand change." A fallen angel. Kind of an important adjective there.
Jack shook his head. "Maybe that's what he wanted but we didn't understand. We just knew that if there was something out there … if there was really something that made us, made everything, he was at odds with it and we shouldn't be dealing with him. But, sometimes when you are very young, you cross lines just to see if you can, just to see if someone's watching."
I nodded. He probably thought I couldn't understand. Like he said, it was all so big. But I'd fallen in love with a vampire, with death, maybe with the Devil himself. I had some idea what it meant to realize you only ever crossed your own lines, and that the truly scary thing was that, on the other side, you were responsible for figuring out what was right or wrong. "What happened?"
"We did it, like he wanted. It was a long time ago, back near the beginning of things. We exchanged blood with him, both of us. It was the old magic, human magic. Blood and spit and tears and sex. All of it. We got him close enough to make him like us. To make it permanent. But he was so powerful," Jack said, eyes wide like he still couldn't take it all in. "He was so powerful and things don't just disappear."
The Walker was quiet a while, and, even through the onslaught of information, I felt the press of time. I thought about touching his skin, trying to learn what he needed to tell me directly from his mind. But his wide eyes stopped me. Whatever he was remembering … I had the feeling that trying to get it direct from his mind would be like trying to drink from a fire hose.
"As he was, Samael was outside time. He had to come into it. Maybe he picked that time and those people because they were like him. Dangerous. Violent. Willful. All we knew was, he was gone. And then it began to happen. There was new power in our children. They started to be born more than human: fairies, shifters, witches, vampires. There was suddenly more magic in the world, building every year. Near us, the magic would collapse, our children would become human just as he had. There was always trouble for us then, angry beings that were afraid of being made less than they had been.
"We lived and died as so many people, always finding him in our memories, always wondering what became of him. And then the magic reached its height, a thousand years ago. It was too strong in the world. Wars broke out ... we'd finally come to the point when he'd been born, when he'd entered time. We understood. All that power that had been his, that had made suns, it could never fit inside a single human life so it flowed out of him, forward and backward through time. It had gone through us to our children since we had taken it from him. And there he was, just another man. We thought he'd live and love and fight and die like any other man and it would be over. He'd learn what he'd wanted to learn and become himself again, take his power back. Make us safe."
"But he was turned," I said. "By the Roman legionnaire." We were talking about Eric now. At least I hoped we were. If not, I was lost.
"Yes," Jack said and picked up one of Eric's hands. "The angel who wanted to try being a man ended up a vampire."
"Ironic," I said, because what else do you say to that?
"Maybe not," Jack said and looked at me strangely. "Maybe it was just inevitable. Vampires don't really change either."
I turned away under the weight of the look, not sure what he wanted from me. "So, what? Does Eric know? Is he just waiting around until he catches a stray beam of sunlight and gets to go back to being all fallen angel and omnipotent?"
Jack actually snorted. "Does Eric Northman strike you as someone waiting around to die?"
"No," I replied. "Pretty much the opposite."
"You saw his soul," Jack said. "It's … impressive."
"Too much to take in," I said.
"Mhm," Jack nodded. "It's all there, I think, in the soul. But he became human. Just like the rest of you. This is the one life he knows. The other ...."
"It would be too much to take in," I said.
"It would swallow him up," Jack agreed. "He wouldn't be Eric anymore."
I didn't like the sound of that at all. But it did sound familiar. "That's what you're worried about with Emma," I remembered. "You're worried that if she gets too close to you she'll get lost in, what, being the Density?"
"Yeah," Jack said with as much uncertainty as I'd ever seen him express. "We're alike that way, us and Eric. Human and more than human. I guess I don't have to tell you that in a situation like that, the human usually loses."
He didn't have to tell me. I'd been in the hospital enough times now to be an authority on the subject. I figured it was about time to cut to the chase. "What's the worst that could happen here?"
"I don't know."
Fantastic. "Take a guess."
"Worst? For you? Well, I guess we could get to Emma in Shreveport and she could lose it completely and go super nova to black hole on us, change every supe for miles around. The people closest to her … even the humans could get pulled in some." He shrugged. "Or maybe I hear her out, why she's doing all this, and I change sides. Then it's both of us and some super-humans against the vampires. You already know how well that went for the vampires last time."
Okay, so he definitely wasn't one to sugarcoat. "Didn't work out so well for you either," I reminded him. "You killed your sister. Still haven't forgiven yourself for it."
"Don't worry, Sookie Stackhouse," he said, grinning like he hadn't just glibly described what would be a very, very ugly war. "That's the worst thing I can think of happening for you. But, rest assured, I'm on your side."
"Why? Residual guilt?"
Jack turned Eric's hand over, examining the wrist. "If there's another war, Eric might die. As of now, he's a being who's been stuck an extra thousand years in a borrowed form and still hasn't learned what he set out to learn. If he dies now, it was all a waste. All that power that forced human history to change shape, all the times my sister and I died, all wasted. He'd go back to what he was and never be able to understand us, never be able to love us. He'd just be Death. Your fallen angel. Your devil."
I did two things without meaning to: I shuddered and I moved to stand next to Jack. I looked down at Eric, dead to the world. Beautiful and powerful, yes, but …. "That's not him," I said to myself or to Jack, I wasn't sure. "He's Eric. He's, well, not good exactly but … he loves me."
"Which is why I'd rather him not die yet," Jack said, seemingly unconcerned that I was maybe crying. A little. "He's changing, Sookie. He's a vampire. He shouldn't do that, but he is. Because of you, I think. If he learns change, if he learns to really love just one of us .... Maybe when he is Samael once again ...."
"It'll be better," I finished and Jack nodded.
I promptly sat on the floor.
Jack dropped beside me in a crouch, wincing. "Sookie?" He asked in a hushed voice, looking around wildly. "What are we doing?"
"I'm being overwhelmed. What are you doing?"
"You dropped like rock," he said, as if I hadn't noticed. "I assumed we were being shot at or something." That was alright, as far as I was concerned. Only one of us was allowed to be overwhelmed and I'd already cornered the market.
"Are you shot at often?" I asked, brain on a rather sarcastic autopilot as I tried to process all I'd just learned.
"More than the average person I'd say," Jack said conversationally.
"Me too," I agreed.
Jack winced some and his breathing sped up.
"Now what are you doing?" I asked, concerned.
"Bleeding, most likely," he replied, standing up slowly. "Let's get this over with."
"Alright," I stood up shakily. Given the choice, I might have stayed parked on that floor for a few hours. Or maybe days. Or maybe just the rest of my natural life.
"You okay?" Jack seemed to expect a 'yes.'
"Jack, you pretty much just told me that I'm supposed to be responsible for reforming Satan. That's kind of a tall order." I wasn't even exaggerating. That really was what he'd told me, indirectly at least.
"If it makes you feel any better, I could be wrong."
The whole business of healing Jack and making the vamps daylight safe was kind of harrowing. For one thing, I had a really unexpected and embarrassingly intense attack of jealousy when Jack bit Eric's wrist. I'd been the only human to have Eric's blood in the last hundred years or so. Until now.
Vamp blood isn't inherently pleasant. At least, not in my experience. But it's not especially foul either. So the circumstances play into the experience a lot. A lovers' blood exchange is pretty thrilling—caring and violence and surrender and control all wrapped up in one.
Healing's a different kind of rush. You can feel the blood working in you, filling in the torn, damaged parts. There's a warmth to it, a sense of well-being. Like being held. You feel … precious.
Once he'd decided to go along with it, Jack wasn't squeamish about drinking from Eric. He bit right in to a a thick wrist and drank loudly but neatly. A few mouthfuls in, Jack's body must have realized that it was getting the healing it so badly needed because his eyes went kind of soft and unfocussed. When he pulled away, the Walker was definitely a little blissed out.
Yeah, part of me was really not okay with that. Especially considering whatever weird, kinky magic stuff he'd gotten up too with Samael that had resulted in permanent human-ification.
I felt little better when I could see the wounds on his skin knitting together. At least it had worked.
Then, finally seeming to get that time was of the essence, Jack started in on the vampires. Eric, he said, was simple since Emma had changed him already and now Jack had had his blood. The Walker just stuck a finger in Eric's mouth and gave him a good, hard shake.
Eric's eyes fluttered. "Hey. It's go time," Jack said.
Eric sniffed the air once and then he was sitting up, shaking his head and breathing. I felt a rush that was almost as warm as the bond. He was alive again, for a little while. And he was mine.
Sitting as he was in a coffin that rested across some chairs, Eric and I were pretty much eye-to-eye. It was the easiest thing in the world for me to lean over and kiss him. I made it a long, slow one, reveling in the temporary warmth of his mouth.
I love you, he thought in that very deliberate way that he had to think so that I could hear.
I felt strangely grateful. I hadn't realized just how much I needed to hear it again. So I said it back. Out loud. Since that was the only way Eric could hear it even if my whole mind was shouting reciprocation.
Our little bout of PDA didn't even seem to register with Jack who was busy contemplating Bill.
Bill turned out to be slightly trickier. "He's never been changed before," Jack said, frowning down at Bill who was still and dead in his coffin. "It won't stick as easily."
When he'd first woken, Eric had regarded Jack warily but now they exchanged a look. Jack nodded.
Both men (since that's what they were at the moment) shook Bill who was much harder to wake than Eric. When Bill's eyelids finally stirred, Jack sung, "Good morning!" Then he grabbed Bill by the ears and planted a big kiss right on the dazed vampire's mouth, holding him there until Bill started sputtering and struggling for breath.
I wish I could say I didn't laugh.
While Eric coached Bill through the intricacies of breathing, I called Simon in, and he helped the healing Jack change into clothes that didn't look as if they'd spent a few months in a dungeon.
Realizing that Eric, human as he was, probably didn't know he'd donated blood to the Walker, I decided to man up (woman up?) and tell him before he found out on his own. The fact that I felt pretty wretched about it didn't seem to signify.
Now, a few hours later, as he stared out the window of an airplane bound for Louisiana, out at a sunlit sky, it was pretty clear that Eric was still pissed. Not quite furiousfuckingmad like he'd been at the hotel, during check-in, and while waiting at the gate. But definitely pissed.
And I hadn't even told he him was Satan yet.
End part the first.