Bill has been in a number of uncomfortable, untenable situations in his life. Over a century and a half with Lorena as his maker means that he long ago gave up on any notion that he has a right to things like boundaries. Immortality has a price. Bill is a vampire, at the service of vampires more powerful than he. They command, he obeys. Once, only once, has he dared to choose for himself.

He chose Sookie. He chose to defy the Queen for a human. He'd been prepared to lay down his life for her. But in the end, his life had not been required of him.

The rage, the humiliation of sitting here in handcuffs, while Eric Northman talks about Sookie as though he knows her, is enough to make Bill regret this fact.

"How do you even know Sookie?" Bill demands, glaring up at Eric from his chair. He'd heard Pam speak of her to Eric in a tone that insinuated-much. Bill had strained every nerve, every fiber to keep Sookie away from other vampires, because he had known what the result would be. Now it's all for nothing. Eric is a thousand years old, an expert at getting what he wants. Perhaps Bill should have spent more time with him before now, to learn how he manages it.

Eric lowers himself into a chair across from him, arms and legs sprawled in an attitude suggestive of perfect confidence.

"I went to see her." Eric gives him a smile. Bill is prepared to read it as taunting, but really it is-cold. "The day she gave testimony. I came to her cell afterwards."

"Your fangbangers leave you so dissatisfied that you must take a girl being tried for her life as your prey?" Bill barely restrains the snarl.

"Don't be a hypocrite, Bill, I find it tiresome." Eric leans forward a few degrees. "If anyone preyed on her, it was you. I merely offered her some assistance."

"You come to her with offers of help when she is at her most vulnerable and undefended, and you do not call that predation? She's just a girl, she doesn't understand the nature of a vampire's assistance."

"Oh, I think she does." There's no mistaking it this time; Eric's smile is glacial. "I think you taught her that."

Bill averts his eyes, and struggles to control his features. Shame boils up, hot and thick in his throat. So Eric knows. He is afraid to ask if Sookie knows as well, in case she doesn't and the idea takes Eric's fancy.

"I sought her out because after listening to her testify, I knew she was innocent." Eric leans back in his chair. "She was given a chance to speak for herself, and she chose instead to speak for you. I was...intrigued."

"What did she say?" Bill cannot help himself; his question follows Eric's statement with indecent haste. He has a flash of Sookie as she must have looked in the witness stand, fragile and passionate, fierce and beautiful. Her lawyer must have vilified him, the better to make her look a victim. And she, bless her heart, would not let the slander stand. Because she didn't know it was true, all of it, the very worst that her lawyer could think or dream up to say about him.

Eric does not answer his question. Instead, he gets to his feet and begins to stroll up and down the length of the room, still looking casual. "Did you know about the trial?" he asks, in a mild voice.

"Lorena told me," says Bill, hearing the weariness in his own voice, all the fight draining from him. "To torment me. I didn't know how much to believe."

"From Sookie's point of view, I imagine it's quite as bad as anything Lorena could have invented."

"Are they seeking the death penalty?"

"Baker is making noises about it, but in reality he has no intention of letting it get to that point. He's under orders from the Queen to strike a bargain with Sookie: the charges will be dropped, and Sookie will serve the Queen for the rest of her life."

For the first time since Lorena came for him, Bill smiles and means it, though the smile is a grim one. "She will never agree," he says. "She'll refuse on principle."

"Which is what I told the Queen, who promised to kill everyone she loves, if that's what it takes to cow her."

Bill shuts his eyes briefly. Tries, and fails, not to picture Sookie's face the night her grandmother was murdered. "Then Sookie's innocence must be demonstrated publically, so that the Queen has no leverage against her," he says. "Release me, and I will go directly to Bon Temps and present myself to the police. They know me there, they'll let her go."

"There's no such thing as public at 6 o'clock in the morning, Bill." Eric actually rolls his eyes. "And I have no intention of releasing you until we've come to an understanding."

"What sort of understanding?" says Bill, between his teeth.

Eric gives him a long, considering look. When he starts to speak again, it is in a voice of toneless formality.

"Sookie Stackhouse is under my protection now. When she is released, you will not importune her by protesting your love. You will not beg her to take you back. In short, you will not make a nuisance of yourself. Are we clear?"

If Bill had not been tied to the chair, he would have walked from the room, or hit Eric. He stares up at the older vampire in mute rage.

Eric watches his face for a long moment. "Do you love her?" he asks, a faint trace of curiosity buried under a thick layer of indifference. "Truly?"

Bill's nostrils flare. "That is none of your business."

Eric shrugs. "It would bring Sookie peace of mind, if she were certain, one way or another."

"Then I will tell her when I see her."

Eric gives him a pitying look, and a brief shake of the head. "Anything you say to her now will be suspect."

The certainty comes to settle in his stomach, heavy as a stone. "She knows I was working for the Queen."

"Yes."

"You told her?"

"Yes."

Bill shuts his eyes briefly. "Fuck you."

"Answer my question."

"Of couse I love her," Bill grates. "I defied the Queen for her. I killed vampires for her."

"And for how long have you loved her?" Eric's brow furrows over his eyes. Bill is sure that most of his earnest look is mockery. "Since she saved you from the drainers? Or since the night you stood back and let them beat her to death so that you could give her your blood?"

"Soon after." Bill stares at the floor, overcome by the memory. "The night her grandmother died. I felt her fear like a knife in my gut, and I knew then I could never lose her."

"Charming. Sookie will be delighted, I'm sure."

The words fall hard on Bill's ear, but even in the midst of his distress he notices something odd. Eric has a right to be angry at the discovery that the Queen was hatching schemes in his area without his knowledge, but there is something more than mere professional aggrievement in Eric's tone. Bill narrows his eyes.

"Is she yours now?" he demands.

"Yes." Eric's answer is simple, unhesitating, and yet-

"Does she agree?" says Bill, allowing his skepticism to be audible.

He's rewarded by a flicker of uncertainty in Eric's expression. "We're getting there," he says smoothly.

Bill's smile stretches his face in unprecedented ways. "Oh," he says. "Oh my. Eric Northman, I do believe a human girl is teaching you your place."

Eric scowls, but he makes no immediate denial, which tells Bill everything he needs to know.

"I could have told you Sookie wasn't just going to let you fold her into your retinue. What did you do, waltz into her cell and announce that she was yours now?" Eric flinches, and Bill laughs. "Oh my, I see you did. I would have liked to be there to see the look on her face."

"You will respect my authority in this matter." Eric cuts across his words in a harsh voice. "You will not speak to her unless she speaks to you first." Eric gives him a grim little smile. "And I do not think she will speak to you, Bill."

Abruptly, nothing about the scenario is funny anymore. Bill and Eric stare at each other for a minute.

"Do you, at least, care for her some?" Bill forces himself to ask, after a moment.

Eric steps back, stands straight. "I respect her," he says coolly. "Which is more, I think, than you can say for yourself, even now."

Bill does not have time to phrase a response to this before Eric has started on his way out the door.

"Rest well," Eric calls through the door. "We have work ahead of us tomorrow."

The lights in the room go out. Bill sits in his chair, his hands tied behind his back, and waits for the heavy pull of daylight to sweep his head clean of the rage, regret, and shame nesting there.