Dead to Rights by Trisha
Spoilers for Dead in the Family. Please do not read this if you do not want to be spoiled. Reviews are more than welcome, negative or positive. This is an Eric/Sookie story. The Sookieverse and everything relating belongs to Charlaine Harris, of course.
"How many babies you planning to have, Tara?" I shoved the last scrap of pastel wrapping paper into the burgeoning garbage bag and knotted the top. She sat across the room on her futon couch, using her belly as a platform for the plate from which she polished off the last of the World's Best Chocolate Cake. I tossed the bag towards its fellows by the door. "You could outfit a few more just off all this stuff."
Tara shook her head. "People went crazy, huh? I guess it's because it's twins. They go nuts when I tell them I've got two cooking in here."
I smiled at her belly, imagining the little miniature people swimming around in there together, safe and comfy. Innocent. "People can't help it. Twins are a sweet thing."
"Don't I know it. You should see JB at bedtime. I figure he really does think they can hear him if he speaks up close to my belly." She licked the last bit of cake from the fork and set the plate aside. "Most of it's just a pain in the rear, Sookie. I mean that literally. But then I get to thinking about how they might look, whose nose they might have and all that. And then I think, we could maybe do it again. In about a million years, once I've forgotten the butt-pain part."
Sounds like me and Eric, I thought. Just enough goodness to make doing it again the next day worth all the bad stuff that comes with it. It being our. . . marriage. Of a sort.
I shut away the well-worn mental worry stone that was my relationship with Eric for the past two weeks since his maker had died in my yard. Babies. We were talking about babies. "Butt-pains or not, your babies will be the best-dressed kids in Bon Temps after today."
Tara stood and stretched in a careful way that made me take a step closer, just in case. She caught me and shook her head. "I'm fine, don't hover. JB does enough of that for you both."
"He loves you," I said. "He has to hover a little. It's part of the daddy job."
"And part of the husband job too, I guess," she said. She raised one eyebrow at me. "Speaking of…"
"Eric's fine," I said, turning my back on Tara to grab my shoes from beneath the futon. "We're doing just great."
"Huh," she said. "Does that sound as sincere to you as it doesn't to me?"
I know. "Probably just about," I said with a hum in my tone that I hoped gave her the warning to back off. "We are fine. Honest." I am fine. And he must be fine enough. I'd know if he weren't.
She waited for a moment to see if I'd expand on that. I didn't. "Well, that is good, then, Sookie. I just haven't heard you talk much about him lately." she said.
I reached for my jacket. "Yep, we're good. He's just been busy." The temptation to confide in Tara nagged at me but she had her own worries. "I've gotta scoot; I work in a few hours and there's chores at home that need doing."
"Uh-huh," she said, and heaved a big sigh that was meant to tell me that she wasn't buying what I was selling but would give me a pass for now. "I'll see you. Thanks for the help."
"My pleasure," I said. That much, I really meant.
All the way home, which wasn't far, I kept my mind as quiet as I could. The sun would be setting soon. I had to take advantage of the daylight hours, those Eric spent asleep, to enjoy some mental alone time. Funny, I'd spent my entire life with other people's words in my head but I'd never felt truly crowded until the blood bond flared with Appius and Alexei's disaster of a family reunion.
I parked the car and walked around the yard. The grass on which the two vampires were killed (permanently) the week before had died. It looked awful until Sam had the bright idea of using some natural grass killer on the green between body outlines. Now instead of two man-shaped patches, I had a big, yellowed rectangle, thanks to the manly efforts of Sam, Jason, Claude and a large quantity of beer.
It wasn't easy to stay in the present for me, not these days. My eyes skimmed past the dead grass to remember what had killed it that night. I recalled Alexei, his young-old body full of madness, fighting with Claude while the blood ran into his eyes. And the fairy Colman, father of Claudine's poor baby, joining the ones he'd lost in the Summerland as Eric drank his life away. That fairy had hated me something fierce and I couldn't even really blame him for that.
More than any other ghost, though, it was Appius Livius Ocella who I saw in that ruined grass, Appius whose voice came back to me, as real as life. As I started back towards the door, I detoured a little and stomped down hard on the exact place Appius had laid, right over where his arrogant face had rested as he'd predicted the future. "You were only half right," I whispered, feeling Eric, far away, wake for the night as I spoke. I thought it felt like he was thinking of me. "Only half right." I knelt a little and patted the crunchy grass. "Rest in peace, if you can."
A movement in the shadowy depths of the porch caught my eye as I unlocked my front door. I jumped a little but then realized who it was and smiled. "Oh, hey Sam," I told the collie who wagged his tail at my feet. I let us both into the house. He trotted past me and made a beeline for the bathroom. I'd taken to leaving a pair of sweats and a tee-shirt in there for him. Too many embarrassing moments had taught me the wisdom of that and anyway, he was too small a man to fit into the clothes Eric stored in my bedroom.
Sam emerged a few moments later, barefoot and tousle-haired. I guessed I should have put something in there for his feet but he'd be okay. I'd had just enough time to grab us both glasses of lemonade. I used the small glasses, hoping he'd finished up this visit quickly. "Out for a walk?" I asked, trying to sound casual. Within my chest, something was slowly starting to tighten, a ball of emotion I knew did not belong to me.
"Yeah, more or less," Sam said, coughing a little. The transition from dog to man was easy for him but not completely effortless. He took a sip of the lemonade. "Thanks for this."
"Well, sure," I said, sitting at the kitchen table. I nudged the chair across from me out a little with my toe. He got the hint and sank down into it. "What's less?"
"I was scouting in your woods. Just checking, after everything that went on." He drained his glass quickly.
Uh-oh. "Sam, I didn't ask you to do that." And I hadn't for the very good reason that the last thing Sam needed was to get involved in anything that might start or end with the discovery of Debbie Pelt's body.
He shrugged. "Eric asked me to. He knows I don't mind."
"You saw Eric?" I tried for casual but Sam knows me better.
"Well, no," he said cautiously. "I got an email from Pam about it last week. Eric didn't tell you?"
"It must have slipped his mind," I said, though we both knew that couldn't be true. Things don't slip Eric's mind. "Okay, then." I tried to think of something to say that wouldn't sound suspicious. "Well, thanks, I guess."
"Well, you're welcome, I guess," he replied, copying my dubious tone. "Don't worry on it, Sookie. I owe you for taking over things when my mom got shot. And I'll owe you more coming up here, when you come with me to the wedding. Not that friends need to keep a tally."
The reminder of the wedding did not sit well with that ball of emotion that was feeling more and more like something I did need to worry on. I stood up, trying to loosen the tension, and cleared our glasses. "I guess I'll see you at work then?"
Sam got up, tucking the chair back up against the table. He always did have good manners that way. "Nope, not at work. I'm giving you the night off." He raised a hand to stave off my argument. "You've been on your feet all day at Tara's shower. Don't think I don't know that you worked the whole party. I told Tara that I'd buy your time at the shower, rather than you working your shift at the bar. It's my present to her and JB." He grinned. "It's better than another pack of onesies.'
Another Mr. Highhanded. I didn't like that he'd made this plan without seeing what I thought about it first but between the strangeness in my chest and the fact that he'd done a generous thing, I couldn't find it in me to make a fuss. My argument deflated, I leaned on the back of my chair with both hands wrapped around the top rung. "Okay then. I guess I'll see you tomorrow?"
"You seem like you're in an awful big hurry to get rid of me. Something going on?" He moved close enough that I felt the heat coming from him in waves, like those that rise off hot cement in the summer. It made me shiver though I couldn't say why.
"I'll go, that's fine," he said. "I just came in to tell you no one's stuck any more surprises in your woods. And I didn't smell any fairies either."
"Thanks for looking out for me, Sam," I said, giving him a little hug. He held on a second longer than I'd expected and so it seemed like I was pulling myself out of his grasp when I released him. We both ignored that, me because I wanted to get Sam out of my house before the ball of tension grew overwhelming. Sam had flushed and I could feel his embarrassment. Wanting to make it better, I said, "I know I can always count on you. That means a lot."
"You can." He rocked back on his heels, watching me intensely. "You certainly can."
All of a sudden, that big ball of tension exploded in my chest. I lurched back, sprawling halfway across the table. Pushing my hands against the feeling, I gasped for breath. It felt like getting the wind knocked out of me, only to the nth degree. "Sam," I managed. "Something's wrong. Can you. . . " The tension was full-blown pain now. "Something's wrong!"
His face was still flushed but grim now, and guarded. "My truck's outside. You need to get to Eric. He'll be at Fangtasia?"
As Sam helped me out the door, I nodded. Why not Fangtasia? Eric might be there. He might be in Barbados or in Russia or on the moon. I really hadn't the slightest clue where he'd gone.
The ride to Shreveport was silent. Sam didn't seem able to put his thoughts into words and I was too focused on the fire in my chest to pay him much mind. I'd like to think that the minutes of missing time I accrued during that drive were due to naps but truly, I was fighting to stay conscious until we were a few blocks from Fangtasia's parking lot. Then, as if it had never been, the pain vanished. All that was left behind was some combination of strong emotions too tangled to sort.
I gasped as the pain disappeared and Sam reached a hand out to pat my knee. "We're here, it's okay," he soothed. I closed my eyes as he parked the truck, knowing nothing causing this feeling could possibly be called okay.
I walked in under my own steam. It might have been easier to let Sam carry me, as he'd wanted, but it wasn't necessary and more importantly, I now knew Eric was definitely in the building someplace. If he saw me in Sam's arms, he'd think I'd been injured or had taken ill. Whatever he was dealing with, he didn't need a dose of fear to go along with it. Or possessiveness either.
No one manned the door and inside, the bar was dead. Dead empty, I mean. Most of the lights were off; I hadn't noticed the outside display but judging by Sam's rigid posture, it wasn't just me who thought the place was closed.
We stood for a minute, peering into the dark room, still as dummies. "Sam, I think you should wait outside," I whispered, though I don't know why I bothered. Anyone there would be a vampire, who'd hear me no matter how quiet I tried to be.
"Never gonna happen," he whispered back, squeezing my elbow. "Is Eric here?"
I tilted my head in the general direction of the office area. Eric was definitely back there. And something bad was happening. It might not have been the smartest move to make but my body catapulted into motion before my brain could catch up. "Eric!" I shouted, moving as quickly as I could towards the feel of his emotions, which spiked sharply as he must have heard my voice.
"Downstairs," I told Sam, shoving open the door to the basement area below the offices. I clattered down the stairs with Sam my faithful shadow. "Eric?"
In contrast to the empty bar, I'd never seen so many vampires in such a small place as we found in the basement. Most of the vampires were strangers to me but I saw a few familiar faces. The crowd parted in deference to our arrival, revealing the main event to which they had, apparently, been invited. Not good, not good, I thought, wiping my sweaty palms on my hips as I stopped and took in the scene.
I hadn't seen or heard from Eric since he'd flown away in joy the night his maker had died. It was a fact that stung me deeply for the first week or so. I'd expected him, needed him even. He hadn't seen fit to need me in return. The worst thing about it was that I knew he must have been hurting after the loss of the man who had been so important to him. I guess it might have been petty but I'd wanted him to turn to me, as I would to him, for comfort. Instead, I got silence. Again.
The first time, I could understand. Appius could have made Eric do any manner of thing to me against both of our wills and besides, I didn't think Eric wanted me to see him like that. Mastered. But there was no such protection involved in this silence. I'd moved past anger a few days back and worry as well, skipping straight to fear. I knew Eric would have called me if he'd been able. I knew that, right?
Seeing Eric sitting with his wrists and ankles bound in very thin but undeniably silver chains before Victor Madden showed me that my fear was not misplaced.
"Eric?" He looked exhausted. Every bone of his face was visible, even from halfway across the room. Before I realized I'd moved, I found myself kneeling at his feet. It was the only way to continue to look him in the eyes as the minute he'd seen me, his head had bowed. His hair curtained us both as I stretched up to press my mouth against his lips, which were hard, cold and utterly unyielding. "Honey?"
His arctic eyes met mine. "It's not safe for you here. You shouldn't be here." The words were meant in a caring way but the tone filled me with rage. It tipped me over an invisible ledge inside my heart. Eric, normally so vibrant and in control, had been put into the place of a victim one time too many. I'd seen it in him during that first moment of his maker's return and again the night Alexei snapped. I couldn't stand to see it again.
The parts of me which would have gladly shoved a tree branch into Appius' heart rose up. I swallowed it down as best I could, in the interest of self-preservation. Rising slowly to my feet, I faced Victor with some effort and asked, "What have you done?"
Victor gave me his snake charming smile. That smile was the only thing in this room colder than Eric right at that moment. "Sookie, I'll have to ask you to step back and join the rest of the observers. We're in the middle of a trial here."
For the first time, I saw another face I knew. Joseph Velasquez, Stan's right-hand man, sat in a chair identical to the one hosting Eric, though he had no restraints. He acknowledged me with a slight nod. The serious expression on Joseph's face paired up with the defeat resonating through the blood bond clued me in. In this trial, Joseph was the plaintiff and Eric the defendant. Whatever was happening, I'd jumped in way over my head. At least I had the experience to realize this, for once, though I couldn't let that stop me. Eric's silver chains were burning him, slowly but surely. I could smell it.
"What is this all about?" I couldn't imagine what Stan might have against Eric. Not that I knew everything there was to know. Clearly! The last I'd heard, Stan was healing and Joseph was busy running Texas. "I'm Eric's, uhm, Eric's wife. Shouldn't I have been contacted if he were accused of a crime?"
Eric lifted his head. "Lover, you were," he said quietly. "They made certain you would feel my..." His focus turned to Victor. "My dissatisfaction."
Oh. "Well, I did," I said. He and Victor continued their eyeball death match. I maneuvered myself between them, just a little. It was probably the stupidest move I could have made- if Victor wanted to flat-out murder Eric, he wouldn't be putting him on trial, one, and two, he'd fly right through me. But I couldn't help it. I guess this is love.
Joseph cleared his throat, drawing our attention back to him. "I am here in regards to the death of my king's child, Felicia, and Eric's culpability in the matter. You should have been contacted earlier, Ms. Stackhouse. Or is it Mrs. Northman?" Joseph tipped his head to me in the tiniest bow possible. "My apologies for this breach of protocol."
"Ms. Stackhouse," I said. Felicia? Eric had mentioned she was likely a spy but it still caught me off-guard. And they held Eric responsible? I bit down on my lip, realizing Joseph was waiting for my reply. "Yes, I should have been told. Pam might have phoned me, if you-all were too wrapped up in whatever this is."
A pang of despair shot through the bond. Eric bowed his head again. It dawned on me that Pam wasn't in the room where she should have been. Oh God. "Where is Pam?" I asked, my voice coming out all squeaky. "Where is she?"
Someone stepped up beside me. It was Heidi, who seemed to think I was a friend. Or else telling me her awful little story about her son had been a way of letting me know where her loyalties rested and why, which made her an enemy outright. Either way, I didn't want her close right then, to me or to Eric.
I put a hand on his shoulder, rigid as granite and just as immobile. "Where is Pam?" I asked again, surveying the crowd of expressionless faces. None of the bystanders wanted to get involved, I could tell. Eric leaned his head a little against my hand, the closest he could come to touching me.
Heidi took another step closer. "I'll take you to her."
I felt Eric nod. My hands clenched against him, not wanting to leave him in this friendless room, in his pain, alone. He nodded more firmly. "Alright then," I said. I kissed him hard on the top of his blond head, all the while giving Victor and Joseph the biggest glare I could muster. "Eric, I am coming right back."
The room was still and silent as Heidi led the way through and then up the stairs to the door. She closed it gently behind us and strode quickly down the hallway, leaving me to rush along after. Sam was still with me, I realized with a start. I'd completely forgotten him in my concern over Eric and whatever predicament was befalling us all now.
Heidi took us to Eric's office. Pam sat at the small couch across from the desk, a bottle of True Blood pressed between both hands. The way she held onto it, she seemed to be praying. Pam praying was the scariest notion I'd encountered that evening.
"Pam, what… what…" I stuttered, too many questions competing for space in my mouth. "Pam?"
"Hello, Sookie," she said. I heard a hitch in her voice. She had the strangest look on her face, something like bewilderment but really, I couldn't read a thing off her. I don't expect to with vampires, of course, and Pam's ability to hide her emotions rivaled even Eric's. As I stared, she put down the bottle and patted the couch cushion beside her. "You had better sit, my friend."
I moved as slowly as the deer would move beside the cougar when I lowered myself to sit where she had indicated. "Pam, what's going on here? Why didn't someone call me?"
"Eric was arrested within hours of leaving your home after Appius met his end. I escaped imprisonment but they watched me closely. Besides, Eric forbade it." Pam leaned back, stretching out her legs, the comfortable pose at odds with her voice, which was carefully detached."Is he still downstairs? I can't tell."
"Yes, he's there. I found him in the middle of . . . wait. You can't tell?"
She shook her head, her Alice in Wonderland hair swinging side to side. "I can't feel him at all, not any longer. They have severed our bond."
With those five words, I finally understood just how much trouble we were in.