A/N. I do not own (though how I wish I did :), and I do not make any money. All I get out of this is reviews and an extra helping of fangirly squee. I'd like to thank my dear beta and friend Kristen for parsing this for errors and slips. Enjoy and please feed the muse - leave me a note.
We all have our quirks, every single person on this planet does. Some are quite innocuous, possibly cute, and, in a way, even useful. Take, for example, my fellow waitress (and Bon Temps resident witch) Holly who is afraid of pizza. Or my friend Amelia (another a witch), who cleans when she's nervous, scared or plain old emotional. Some people's quirks are less innocent, and trust me, I know, I've been inside enough heads to figure this one out myself. Take, for instance, my brother Jason and things he likes to do in bed. And no, I didn't ask to know this.
Some quirks are just… quirkier than most. Like my little thing. Just a few months ago I used to think that while I'll never embrace it fully, I may, at least, come to terms with it, eventually. After all, it was handy at times. I'm even proud to say it saved lives.
Right now, however, I was hating it with a fire of a thousand suns. And all because a certain vampire king (let's not point fingers here, alright?) was a blab.
That's right, it's all because of Felipe De Castro that I have found myself in this predicament. At first, it wasn't so bad, when the vampires started coming to Merlotte's. Vampire heads are like opaque magic balls to me. Can't see a thing in them. The vampires would come, throw cautious sideways glances at me, order a blood or two, maybe pick up a willing partner for the rest of the night, and leave. None of them would even talk to me, but I was sure as hell, it was me they were here for. They were all on their best behavior, since they were on Eric Northman's turf. And Eric did not take lightly to vamps fooling around while in his territory. And really, since they didn't approach me, he could do nothing. Merlotte's was a public place, and no one gets in trouble for looking.
But then, the humans started coming in. Humans, who didn't have unhurried decades of time to hone their patience and tolerance. Humans, who thought that because they had some kind of a formal (or informal) association with high-standing vampires, they were in a position to look down at everyone else. They would come, leave their drivers to watch over their flashy cars, frown upon our greasy menu, which was sporting not a single item of healthy food (apart from a side dish of green salad), order a glass of wine and be generally complacent morons.
Those newcomers eyed me with blatant lack of manners. They made it obvious that the sole reason of their presence here was me – a backwater town telepathic waitress. They wanted to know why, why oh why in the world would Felipe De Castro, the great ancient king, take interest in, extend personal protection to and talk highly of some white trash tramp when they had expensive looks, polished by everything the modern medicine could provide, indefinite bank account depths, educated conversation and political influence to offer.
Why her, why not me. What is it that her mind trick can do that money and power and brains can't? Each one of those men and women had this thought red-lining through their heads.
The minds of those humans (and I actually hate using this word on my fellow humankind in a way vampires usually do, but I can't help but separate myself from them) were as identical as apples in the fruit rack at Wal-Mart. Money, sex, power, money, how do I look, blah, blah. But I gleaned quite a bit about the vampire politics from those expensive fangbangers.
Felipe was not just a king. In the United States, where both vampires and the humans who had dealings with them were growing tired of their feudal fragmentation of power, Felipe was viewed as the most viable candidate to unite the Vampire society under firm central rule. And these humans were sharp enough to try and secure a place with him before it happened. Because when this happened, he would be a force to be reckoned with for everyone, human or not.
This was also how I found out that Felipe had big plans for me, though none of the people who knew of this were sure exactly what these plans entailed. And he also apparently bragged of how exquisite and smart and brave I am. And what an invaluable asset I am to his kingdom.
So they all came to look at me, as if I were some scandalous museum oddity or a newborn polar bear cub in a zoo, and try to answer the big why question.
To say I was pissed would be a huge understatement. I was used to the disdain and holier-than-thou attitude of people around me. But never did I want to become a Bon Temps own little attraction; never did I look for that kind of fame (or infamy).
The worst thing about the situation was that I wasn't the only one getting my feathers seriously ruffled. The locals were becoming increasingly aware of these strangers and did not like it one bit. Sure, they weren't the first uptight snobs Merlotte's had seen and served. Every now and then there was one or two: a couple of preppy big-city college kids on a road trip or a yuppie businessman on an odd errand. But never had there been so many and with such strong, almost tangible air of maliciousness that even the most thick-skinned bar patrons were able to pick upon.
Sam, my boss, was not amused. First, they were bad for business. They were loud, obnoxious and impudent. They didn't order much or tip. They would not get up and just leave when told. And in the long run, they started affecting the overnight revenues. It also did not take him long to figure out the reason they were here. Sam was a very, very perceptive man. He had canine senses, literally.
Strangely, though I knew it was my fault, I felt guilt-free. Probably, because the last few months had taken their toll on me and changed me. It seemed like my mind was growing numb, a pathetic defense mechanism if you ask me. But for a few weeks I'd been able to handle the situation rather well. It was like my brain was putting it on the back burner and going to my happy place each time a person dressed in European brands I wasn't sure I could pronounce correctly walked in and after looking around and checking out all the waitresses, washed me over with a contemptuous look.
Actually, I had two happy places I took turn going to. The first one was my home and my family. For the first time since Gran died two years ago, I was able to say I had both a home and a family. My full-blooded fairy cousin, Claude (who could charm a nun out of her underwear if he kept his eyes open and his mouth closed), was still staying with me. I have to admit, that after all we had been through together, I really started to appreciate the often ill-mannered and too straight-forward fairy. The fact that he was actually taking pains in being more civilized, since he wanted to live with humans, helped a great bit.
And then, there was Dermot. He didn't live with Claude and me, in fact, I still didn't know where he lived, but he ran by very often. Several times a week. Sometimes he'd spend the night bunking on the couch in the living room, which meant that come morning, Claude and I would be treated to a most delicious breakfast made of things I didn't even know I had in my pantry or fridge.
I really liked Dermot. He had a rare quietness about him that made you feel comfortable around him and words – an unnecessary chore. He was kind and considerate and shy. And because he so eerily resembled my brother Jason—who was quite the opposite of all these qualities—it was a baffling contradiction to his looks. Though, if you looked at him twice, you'd never mistake him for Jason again. They did look very much a like, but Dermot had some kind of evasive, refined grace about him I supposed came from his very old age and being half-fae. Claude told me that Dermot was much more fae than his brother Fintan, my grandfather.
Dermot didn't talk a lot; I think he firmly believed that actions speak louder than words, and his actions always spoke of warmth and affection. They felt genuine and I needed them so much in my life that I never let myself question his loyalty or his history with Breandon, my family and Niall, and the spell he was under. I took to 'let the goners be goners' attitude, and it felt right to do so. I think Dermot appreciated it a great bit, too.
The three of us spent many an evening watching movies and playing board games. We would go shopping together and fish at weekends, tend the garden or do housework. We would help each other out in big and little everyday things. Whatever we did, it always gave me a feeling of the living finally being easy, as in that Summer Time song. The last time I felt so… loved, for the lack of better word, was when Gran was alive. It was the homey kind of love. Not the passion and the novelty of the fresh-in-love I had experienced with Bill, not the rollercoaster ride of feelings I have for Eric. I cherished this feeling and basked in it and for the first time in a long while looked forward to coming home with great eagerness.
Eric, by the way, was my other happy place. Except, of late, it was not all that happy. When Eric came down from the fairy-blood induced high, the realization of his maker's final death hit him hard. And the fact that I was well and truly ready to do the deed myself, if not for Colman's unlucky aim, added a lot of bad factor to the bad place Eric was currently in.
He still came to see me or called me to come to him in Shreveport. He was still passionate and inventive in bed (or on any other surface we made love on), still as subtly obsessive as ever when it came to my safety. But I could tell that something was just… off. Something didn't compute anymore, and though the big picture was still lovely and bright, something was there, around the edges, eluding being put a finger on, but showing itself in little things.
Our bond felt differently, too. After being crowded with presences of Appius and Alexei—none of which I can tag either healthy or benevolent—it felt strangely empty now that both were gone. The Pollyanna part of me kept attributing to the fact that whatever part of my mind that was the bond was heavily screwed during Appius's little family visit and was now desensitized. But some hidden, shy part of me kept wondering if the emptiness I was feeling was in face, Eric's emptiness, if this is how he felt afte his maker was lost.
The words Appius had said to me before he had let out his final (though already long non-existent) breath kept playing in my head on repeat. You won't keep Eric.
I knew I had to set things straight, call him out on it, but I didn't really even know what it was that I wanted to call my vampire out on. So, I just let it simmer for the time being. I let him have his space, and I myself needed some elbow room; I was being overloaded with problems as it was.
And my first problem for today was my ex, Bill. He showed up soon after the quick darkness of southern night swallowed Bon Temps up. And there were several things that were different about him. First, he looked like the healthy, stealthy, sharp and handsome vampire I first met more than two years ago. Second, he didn't sit in my section. And third, when I surreptitiously checked out his order slip Holly took, I saw A negative. The first time I could recall that Bill didn't order my blood type when he had a choice.
I knew I should be happy for him. After all, it wasn't like there was a snowflake's chance in hell that we could restore our relationship. I had sort of forgiven Bill, but there was too much bad blood between us. And I was in love with Eric. For all intents and purposes, I was married to him as far as the vampire world went. We were blood-bonded.
But I realized that it didn't stop my heart from clenching in wistful sadness. I also realized, that I got inherently used to Bill just being there on a deeper level than I cared to. He was like an unobtrusive vigil to my wellbeing ( though sometimes, unobtrusive was the last thing to call Bill, and it was a good thing). His orders of O positive became like a token of his love I could not take but could still appreciate, like something of a constant to me. And hell if I did not come to rely on that constant.
I answered Bill's friendly wave with a smile, as sincere as I could muster under the circumstances and promised to give self a serious pep-talk about being unselfish and able to empathize with Bill's happiness, even if said happiness did not involve my person anymore.
My other problem was a woman who had come into the bar only fifteen minutes ago, but was already preparing to kick up a row. She wore a tasteful, smart casual dress and a jacket, expensive accessories and had a to-die-for hair stylist and dentist. She was beautiful in a cultured, assisted way.
The woman was worried about someone stealing her car and was thinking callously that we inbreds probably had never seen a Porsche before. I brought out her order of a club sandwich and iced tea, and after sparing my name tag a haughty look, she kept calling me 'hey, you' and contemplating whether she should pull the 'broken glass in my salad' act with me or not. She was also regretful that vampires couldn't have babies. Otherwise, Victor could be hers, even if she had to go to court and make an ass out of herself. She'd done it before and would stoop to do it again.
So, she was Victor's… whoever she was to him. Victor Madden, Felipe's lieutenant and Louisiana regent would not make even the long list of my favorite vampires. I couldn't suppress the shudder of revulsion. Unfortunately, the woman saw it and decided to act. 'Glass shards in my salad' trick it is, then.
Very soon, there was a whole skirmish, which involved me seething, Sam trying to calm the woman down fruitlessly and getting more and more upset by the second and the woman (whose name was Deirdre) screaming and promising to sic Louisiana Health Department on Sam.
The place was charged with tension, and everyone's food was forgotten. Who knows how it would have ended. I was ready to explode and start airing some of Deirdre's very dirty laundry when Bill appeared silently behind me and caught the woman's eyes.
"Oh, you're a vampire!" she exhaled like she'd just escaped being stomped by a horde of rabid elephants. "Thank god, I thought I wouldn't find a decent face in this swamp."
"Let me help you, Ma'am," Bill said in that cold, mesmerizing voice he used when he was about to get what he wanted from humans.
You would have thought someone who supposedly had so much experience dealing with vampires, and such sneaky devils as Victor Madden at that, would know how to avoid being glamoured by one of them.
Three minutes later Bill, ever the gentleman, was walking Deirdre to her car. She praised the fine establishment and left in a flurry of heartfelt goodbyes, having tipped me handsomely and talking Bill's ear off about her Chihuahua, who was about to give birth and suddenly needed her own personal supervision. Sam gave me an indecipherable look and stomped off to his office.
At that moment I understood that the majority of the patrons had never seen a vampire in his element like this before. And more than a few of them seemed to realize just how dangerous Vampire Bill actually was. Five more minutes after that it started to look like it would be a very slow night.
I walked to Sam's office tentatively when I had nothing left to do.
My boss was sitting at his desk, his head in his hands.
"I'm sorry it has come to this, Sam," I said.
"I know, I know, Sookie. It's just… It's just a little too much for one day, you know what I mean?"
Yeah, I know what you mean, Sam, I thought. I've had countless days like this.
I lowered my shields and listened a bit. Sam was a shape-shifter, and I couldn't read his thoughts as clearly as regular people's, but I caught a distinct vibe of sadness and anger. Sam was very upset. And underneath it all, there was a strange undercurrent of… guilt? Huh.
But Sam was one of my best friends and a boss few are lucky to have, and I wanted to make it all better for him.
"It will die down soon, Sam. I'm not going to get… promoted or join Felipe's court. I'm not going anywhere! I'm still the crazy Sookie everyone loves to hate!" I joked lamely, but Sam didn't find it that funny. Or true.
"It's just been so hectic, Sook. And that thing Bill did… and everyone saw, everyone! Good God, Sookie."
I felt a nip of anger. For Chrissakes, Sam shifted into a collie every full moon and now he was judging Bill for handling the situation in the only safe way possible?
"I don't think you're being fair to Bill here, Sam," I said with steel in my voice.
"I know." Sam answered, resigned. Neither am I being fair to you.
Before I could think this over, Sam continued, in speech now.
"You know, Alcide thinks you're not going to be here for long now. He thinks you'll be… joining Felipe… as one of them. Soon." There was pain in Sam's eyes, and, acting on an instinct, I came closer and reached for his hand.
It wasn't Alcide thinking so. It was Jannalynne, a Were who Sam was seeing, but who I thought had serious hots for Alcide (or, rather, his position as the Packmaster of Shreveport). Jannalynne also thought I was bad for Sam's business, detrimental even.
To my overwhelming horror, at least some part of Sam was agreeing with her.
"Do you want me to quit?" I asked in jagged whisper before Sam realized what I saw in his head.
"Sookie, what? Sookie, calm down, let's talk, Sook. Sook!"
Sam's words came to me through some haze, and I felt hot, bitter tears of utter hurt running down my face. Sam didn't say yes. But he didn't say no either.
He was saying something, running his hand through his curly, spiky red-blonde hair, but I tuned him out. In a daze, I took off my apron and went about gathering my things. I knew I had a few minutes, half an hour maybe, of this numbness to autopilot myself home before the pain of Sam's betrayal finally uncoiled in my stomach.
Yes, at the moment, I was seeing this as a betrayal. He once said that no matter what, I would always have this job. And it was another constant in my life which proved to be a variable when put to test, however strenuous.
First Bill, then Sam. Somewhere deep down, where my sensible side was taking a vacation, I knew I was being unfair, but perhaps, it was just time for me to count my anti-blessings.
I ran out of the bar and fumbled in my purse for the cell phone. My fingers shook so bad, I thanked god Eric was on speed dial, otherwise pressing all the keys would have proved a challenge.
The phone rang one, two, four times and went to voicemail. I hang up before Eric's husky voice finished asking me to leave a message so that he'd get hold of me soon. I didn't know what to tell him. Probably, I was just hoping to hear his reassuring 'hello, my lover' and take it from there.
It was nothing, I told myself. He's just out in the bar, solemnly sitting in his throne, or tending to some business or other.
But somewhere in the heart of me it felt like yet another constant of my life was sifting slowly but inevitably through my fingers like sand.
I drove home like an automat, ignored my dinner, considerably left out in the microwave by Claude, who left a note saying that he felt a bit off and needed to walk it out (meaning, felt horny and wanted a one-night stand), forewent the shower and cried myself to sleep.
A sudden feeling of engulfing urgency woke me up. My head was heavy and cotton-stuffed after all the crying, and I felt the beginnings of a tension headache behind my puffy eyes. It was still dark out and I jumped up in bed trying to figure out the source of the uncomfortable compulsion.
Sure enough, there was a presence in my room.
He stood shyly at the window, looking at the pictures at my vanity. Sensing me awake, he turned around.
A wave of relief flushed over me. Jason.
Except, what was Jason doing in my bedroom in the middle of the night?
I squinted, and my sleep-addled brain registered that it was not Jason at all. The face was softer and somehow more spirited. The man's build was lither and his hair longer, with a luxurious wave to it, a guileless look in his eyes.
He gave out an ethereal glow. And for the love of me, I could swear I was able to see my make-up and perfume bottles on my vanity right through him.
Then it dawned on me.