Sookie, Eric, and the other characters in this fic are not owned by yours truly.

Reviews and alerts are like little electronic sweets! Thanks everyone!

I'm sure you have all heard about the F-5 tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri. One of my friends just bought a house there a few months ago and it was completely destroyed. Luckily she survived, but her cat, Espresso, is missing. I thought maybe we could all send some positive energy her way since she has literally lost everything.

Chapter Six

The Gift

My cat, Tina, was usually so aloof it was a treat when she allowed me to pet her, but the moment she saw Eric she began rubbing against his leg. Huh. Gran always said you can trust a person animals take a liking to.

I couldn't help but grin watching Eric's response to Tina. He stared down at her as if she was an alien life form, then pulled his leg away. Tina, however, was persistent. She followed after him and continued rubbing with more zest than before, adding in some loud purring for good measure.

When we arrived I figured Eric would leave as soon as possible because of the Patsy Cline incident. I was surprised when he politely asked if he could accompany me inside. Of course I hesitated, since it might be a ploy to try to seduce me, but he assured me he wanted to take a look around in case Debbie had made another appearance. I pointed out that I would sense her mind if she was nearby, (and I didn't sense it). He pointed out that she could have been roaming about the property earlier. If her scent was recent it would be a good thing to know.

I couldn't argue with that.

Once we were inside the house, Eric glanced around my living room, but not in the way a normal person would. He seemed to be taking in the lay-out, searching for possible ways that someone could break in. It was how I imagined a bodyguard would check a new environment before allowing his charge to enter. He scrutinized the rest of my house in the same fashion. I trailed behind him, curious what he intended to do, but all he did was move from room to room. Eventually we returned to the living area, and he said Debbie's scent was still several days old.

That was when Tina began rubbing against him.

He stared down at her, one brow cocked. He was as rigid as a board. "I have not been exposed to a cat in a very long time." There was a wistfulness in his voice that intrigued me.

Whenever I thought of Eric it was usually in a sexual context due to his libido-raising blood, or I was brooding over something he did that angered me. I'd never thought of him in the context of a real person, as terrible as that was. But now I was beginning to wonder about his personal life - other than the things he did in the bedroom - and his personal history.

"How old are you? Or is asking bad etiquette?" Speaking of etiquette, I didn't have any synthetic blood on hand, and there wasn't anything else I could give him. I certainly didn't intend to offer one of my veins.

"I am not wholly sure," he said. "My best estimate is that I am approximately a thousand years old."

My jaw dropped. A thousand years? He had been walking the earth for a millennium? An entire millennium? It was almost inconceivable.

Maybe there was more to Eric than I guessed. Surely anyone who had been alive (or undead) for that long had to be a wise person. What had he learned about the world, and about life, during all that time? My curiosity began to burn. I knew if Gran had the opportunity she would be picking his brain. She loved history, was in fact a charter member of the Descendents of the Glorious Dead before she passed on.

"Make yourself comfortable if you like," I blurted.

My eyes widened a bit at my own words. What in the hell was I thinking, asking him to make himself comfortable? But it was instinct for me to be a good hostess, and he was standing rather stiffly in the middle of my living room. Hopefully I wouldn't regret it.

He settled on the couch, and Tina hopped up on the cushion next to him. I peered at the cat, wondering why she was so drawn to him.

Now I was examining him from a new perspective. "I'm only twenty-six. You're what? 974 years older than me?" I was still having trouble processing the notion that someone could live for so long. "Are there vamps older than you?"

"Several," he said. He was staring at Tina, who was staring back at him. And slowly, as if he wasn't sure how to do it, he stretched out a finger and stroked her head. He used only one finger and moved it rigidly back and forth. Tina's purring reached epic levels, so he repeated the motion.

My night had stunk to high heaven, but I found myself chuckling. Eric was so stiff and awkward - I had never seen anyone pet an animal like he did.

His gaze snapped over to me, and at first I was worried he might be angry I was laughing at him. Maybe he noticed my laughter was good-natured, because he flashed a grin. This wasn't an I want to strip you naked grin. This was a different sort of grin, one that showed a little glimpse of what he might be like as a friend. I smiled back, thinking that being friends with Eric might not be so terrible.

A scratching on the front door grabbed my attention. Eric made no reaction at all, so I figured there was no danger in the air. I should have known what to expect when I opened the door. There was a collie on my front porch, wagging his tail at me.

Sometimes when Sam transformed he acted like a human in dog's clothing. Other times his canine instincts kicked in, and he acted as if he really was a dog. I wasn't sure which version he would be tonight.

I had my answer soon enough. When he saw Tina he bent his hind legs as if about to leap on her. This would not be good. He would land on Eric…and that just had bad idea written all over it. I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, feeling his soft fur bunching up inside my fist.

"Don't forget your manners," I warned. Sam or no, if he was going to misbehave when he was in my house - such as chasing my cat or emptying his bowels on my carpet - he would not be welcome.

Eric gave Sam a distasteful look; he appeared to be smelling something foul. "I must return to Fangtasia," he said, and rose.

"Sure." I couldn't think of anything else to say.

"I will contact you soon."

And then he was gone. I looked down at Sam and scratched the top of his head. With one finger, just to try it out.

Terry Bellefleur was in one of his moods. He was a war veteran with a serious case of PTSD and he could be unpredictable. I never, ever looked in Terry's mind because it was a scary place.

He was our cook for the evening. Lafayette had a hot date and cleared the night off with Sam earlier in the week.

At least someone was getting lucky. I surely wasn't. And oh, it literally hurt. I ached and throbbed and was generally in torment day and night.

Sam kept a respectable distance from me, probably because he was smelling it all and it made him uncomfortable. He'd been hiding in his office since I clocked in for my shift.

"Would you join me in the bathroom for a sec, Sook?" asked Arlene. "I want to ask you for a favor."

I took a look at my tables and made sure everything was under control before agreeing.

Together we went into the bathroom, and Arlene locked the door. She immediately went to the mirror and checked her reflection.

Arlene must have gotten her hair dyed earlier today, because it was a bright, cranberry red. And she must have had a manicure as well, since her nails were long as talons and quite obviously fake. Uh-oh. I knew the signs. She was primping for a new man, or a potential new man. She had horrible taste in men, and her relationships (she had been married four times) tended to be disastrous.

"I'm dating somebody," she said. This, of course, was not a surprise. "He's coming in to Merlotte's tonight. I want you to do your thing. Find out what his intentions are. Lord knows I don't need to end up with another loser."

This was how she referred to my freaky talent. She was so uncomfortable with it she thought she needed to use code words, but she wasn't so uncomfortable she refrained from asking me to scan his thoughts.

"All right," I said, and sighed. Being the town freak, I didn't have many friends. Arlene was one of them.

"Thanks, Sookie." She began coating her lips with red gloss. I took that as a sign the conversation was over.

My customers were well taken care of, and one group had left. Two quarters shone on the table. They might as well have stiffed me if that was all they cared to leave. I stowed the fifty cents in my apron anyhow, then turned when movement registered from the corner of my eye.

Amelia was at a nearby booth, waving me over. My stomach took a nose dive. I plastered on one of my fake smiles and joined her.

"How have you been?" she asked, as if we'd known one another for years.

"I've been okay. And you?"

She shrugged. "Been staying in a crappy hotel in Shreveport. Can't afford anything nicer."

"Uh-huh." I'd taken a sip of her mind and knew what she was hinting at. I would rather not have to deal with the problem she suddenly posed. "Would you like to order anything?"

Her smile faltered. "I guess some fries and a Coke."

"Anything else?"

"You're not going to make this easy, huh?" She was fidgeting so much she was making me nervous. "I'm sure you already know what I want to ask."

"You want to stay at my house temporarily. Until you no longer have a job here." Under Eric's employ, I could have added, but didn't. I was still technically under Eric's employ as well, but I hadn't seen hide nor hair of him for a week.

"It wasn't my idea, but it makes sense," she said quickly.

"Whose idea was it?"

"You know." She glanced around, but no one was paying any attention to us. "The boss."

Eric. Eric had suggested the witch shack up with me for weeks, maybe even months, until he no longer needed her services. That pissed me off. He had a thriving business and drove a Corvette. He could afford to pay for Amelia's hotel room.

"You seem nice enough, Amelia, but I don't know you. And my house isn't exactly a safe place to be." I lowered my voice. "I was almost killed there the other day."

"I can erect some wards. They'll keep your enemies out of your home."

"You can do that?"

She smiled, showing off her very white teeth. "I can do that. And I can pay rent, too. Not a lot, unfortunately, but a reasonable amount for one of your spare rooms."

I'd seen deeply into her mind and knew she was a decent sort. And it would be nice to have an extra pair of eyes and ears around, in case Debbie returned. Furthermore, if she could really erect these wards she mentioned I would be doubly safe.

"Let me think about it while I go fetch your fries and Coke," I said.

I poured her a cup of Coke and grabbed the fries Terry had left in the window. He grunted under his breath as I took the plate.

Amelia motioned for me to sit in the booth with her after I delivered her fare. I decided resting my feet for a while wouldn't harm anyone, so I settled in across from her.

Amelia unscrewed the cap on the ketchup and upended the bottle. "You know, he was a Viking."

No ketchup was pouring from the bottle. She began to shake it up and down, but to no avail. I knew the trick, so I plucked it away from her, turned it at a forty-five degree angle, and smacked the side as close to the bottom as possible. Ketchup began plopping out. I handed the bottle back to her and she copied my example.

"Who was a Viking?" I asked.

"The boss."

Eric was a Viking? He was tall, pale, blonde, and blue-eyed - he had all the genetic markers of someone who was Nordic. It was easy to imagine him swinging a sword and wearing armor.

Wow. That image was arousing, to say the least. Then again, everything about him aroused me because of the blood in my system.

I doubted Eric sat her down and had a heart to heart with her. "How did you find out about this?"

Amelia's cheeks pinked, and her broadcasting painted the rest of the picture. She and Pam were dating. I suppressed a shudder. I couldn't imagine Pam taking Amelia to dinner and a movie like a normal person. I also couldn't imagine Pam telling Amelia private things about Eric. Pillow talk, I thought. Ew.

"Pam's really great," she said. My face must have betrayed my feelings about that statement, because Amelia went on. "She is. Seriously."

"I'm sure she is. To you." I slipped out of the booth. "We'll try out being roommates. If it doesn't work out you'll have to go."

"I'm an excellent guest. I'm a very clean person."

The door swung open, and Jason and Hoyt Fortenberry strode into the bar. Jason, my dear older brother, was convinced he was the hottest ticket in town - and his arrogant swagger proved it. He was just as much of a man slut as Eric was. Jason's sidekick, Hoyt, wasn't nearly as lucky with the females. The two worked together on a road crew during the day and prowled Bon Temps at night.

"Gotta go," I said. "I'm off in a few hours, though. We can meet at my place after that if you want."

"I'll stick around for a while. Might be interesting to take in a little of the local flavor." She popped a fry in her mouth and winked.

I went over to Jason's table and he ordered a pitcher of beer without even saying hello. He was distracted because he was scanning the bar, looking for a potential one night stand. I rolled my eyes and greeted Hoyt, who greeted me in return.

Just as I turned to fetch the pitcher, Jason spoke. "Holy shit, that's Rene Lenier, ain't it?"

I followed Jason's line of sight to the television bolted to the wall. Mostly it droned on and on soundlessly, ignored by the patrons unless there was a game on. Now, however, a photograph of a man with dark hair covered the screen. I remembered Rene. About a year ago he moved to town, worked with Jason on the road crew for a few weeks, and then up and left without telling anyone good-bye. No one knew what had become of him.

Arlene, who had gone on a couple of dates with him, dashed over to the television and turned up the volume.

The newscaster explained that Rene, whose name was actually Drew Marshall, was arrested in New Orleans after the body of a twenty-year old woman was found in the trunk of the stolen car he was driving. Apparently highway patrol pulled him over for a minor traffic offense and for some reason decided to take a gander inside the trunk.

After his arrest he confessed to the murder of six other women, (all of which he had murdered over a number of years) who were chosen specifically because they were fang-bangers. One of his victims was his own sister, who he strangled in a fit of rage after he learned she was dating a vampire.

Jason and Hoyt exchanged expressions of shock.

Arlene went pale and cupped a hand over her mouth. Her hand quivered as she pried it away from her lips. "I trusted him with my kids! Oh, God. Coby and Lisa! He took them to play miniature golf!"

I wondered why Rene left Bon Temps in such haste. It was a mystery that would probably never be solved.

The bar erupted into conversation. Everyone spoke of Rene and how they'd crossed paths with him while he lived in town. Meanwhile, I fetched the pitcher and brought it back to Jason and Hoyt.

Jason again ignored me. I understood why when I saw he was making eyes at a girl I vaguely recognized. I thought her name was Crystal. She lived out in Hot Shot, an odd, little community that didn't welcome outsiders. Her mind was fuzzy, which meant she was one of the two-natured. Jason didn't know there were supes other than vampires. He'd spent some time with Alcide, but Alcide was very careful not to reveal his true colors.

I glared at Jason until he sensed my gaze and looked at me.

"Next," I whispered.

His brow furrowed. "Huh?"

"Pick another one."

Jason's face smoothed as he put two and two together. "Whatever," he said, and made eyes at Crystal once more.

Fine. If he refused to take a telepath's opinion, then he deserved whatever he got.

Two men entered the bar. One had a bald spot and a prominent beer gut. If he was a woman I would have thought he was about six months pregnant. Arlene rushed over to him, and he pecked her on the lips. If I remembered correctly his name was Whit Spradlin. He worked at a Home Depot in Shreveport.

He was also a member of the Fellowship of the Sun.

The Fellowship of the Sun was a church, but it was also a vampire hate group. I had seen the founders, Steve and Sarah Newlin, on the news on several occasions. They were fanatics, plain and simple, and fanatics of any kind creeped me out. Especially ones driven by prejudice.

And this man, Whit Spradlin, was as bigoted as they came. Even his surface thoughts were filled with loathing for anyone who wasn't a Caucasian male. In his view, vampires were disgusting, unnatural monsters who deserved to be staked.

Arlene ushered him and his friend over to a table in her section, and glanced over at me as if to say, Well? Get on with it.

I really didn't want to delve any further into his mind. I already felt tainted enough from a faint scan, but I told Arlene I would discover his intentions toward her. I steeled myself to dip into his thoughts again.

Since Arlene was right in front of him, his thoughts naturally turned to her. He had many intentions. He was glad she'd attended church with him the Sunday before. He was sure that with a little more prodding he would convince her to join the Fellowship. He wanted to sleep with her, but he didn't want to settle down with a woman who already had kids. To him, Coby and Lisa were balls and chains that would drain his bank account. He didn't like them a single bit.

I was still trying to recover from the sheer grossness of his mind when Arlene came over to me. "Well?" she asked.

"Run away. As fast as you can."

"Are you sure? He has a steady job, he's religious, and he's good with the kids."

"If I was you I wouldn't allow him in the same room with Coby and Lisa."

She opened her mouth - to ask me to explain what I meant by that - then shut her mouth again. She decided she didn't want to know. Not after what her ex-boyfriend, Rene, had recently been arrested for.

Arlene shook her head and peered at Whit, struggling to figure out what I found wrong with him. "Dang it, I was really liking this one."

She was too scared to ask me to tell her straight out, and she was annoyed with me because I hadn't told her what she wanted to hear.

This annoyed me, so I tightened up my shields and blocked out everyone. It takes concentration to tighten up my shields like this. One half of my mind is paying attention to everything around me, and the other half is focusing on keeping my shields up. Sometimes I act a little strange as I'm struggling to do this, which is one of the reasons why some people refer to me as "Crazy Sookie".

I gave a little sigh of relief when Bill sat at a booth in my section. I immediately honed in on his mind, and it was so quiet and blank and wonderful…it was like that first breath of air after swimming under water for too long.

Now, I didn't trust Bill (I didn't quite trust any of the vamps I'd met) but his blank mind made me happy to see him. I sensed him around my property each night, since he was following Eric's orders and keeping an eye on me, but I hadn't seen him in person.

"Hello, Miss Stackhouse," he said. He wore a polo shirt and Dockers. He sort of looked like he was about to play a round of golf.

"Hey, Bill. We have some TrueBlood if you're interested."

"Thank you. I would prefer A-negative if you have it."

"Sure thing." I gave him a bright, genuine smile - as opposed to the fake smiles I hand out all day - and went to retrieve his order. As I did so, I relaxed my shields a fraction, and that's when I heard Whit Spradlin's thoughts about Bill.

They were violent and bloody. His mind was so angry it buzzed like a hornet's nest. I glanced over at Whit, and he and his friend were glaring at Bill.

Idiots. Did they actually think they could kill a vamp? Either they were ignorant of how fast and strong vamps were, or they had way too much confidence in their fighting skills.

The microwave dinged, and I pulled out the TrueBlood and brought it to Bill.

"Watch out for those two," I whispered. Bill would know who I meant. The men were still glaring at him. "They're Fellowship of the Sun."

He nodded and wrapped a pale hand around his TrueBlood.

For a while I worried Whit would make a scene. Even Sam must have sensed tension in the air, because he came out of his office for the first time since I clocked in. But Whit, despite his savage thoughts, finished up his beer and made a hasty exit, his friend close on his heels. I caught a lot of things he wanted to do to Bill, but nothing definitive.

My shift past quickly after that. Jason, against my advice, left arm-in-arm with Crystal. Hoyt struck out a couple of times and left alone. Sam went back to hide in his office. Bill finished up his TrueBlood and left me a nice tip. Arlene was still annoyed with me and didn't say a word in my direction. And as for Amelia, she met me at the bar after I clocked out and followed me home.

"Sookie! Sookie!"

The shouting woke me, and I shot up into a seated position. I was groggy, and the dream I was having before I was so rudely awoken slipped away…but not before I remembered it was a naughty dream, and Eric was prominently featured in it.

"What?" I asked. Still bleary-eyed, I looked at my alarm clock. It was seven o'clock in the a.m. If this was Amelia's idea of being a good roommate, she was dead wrong.

"Can I come in?"

I grunted something that might have been yes. She took it as such and burst in.

"There's a break in the case."

"What case?" I crawled out of bed and slipped into a robe. After this I wouldn't be able to go back to sleep, no matter how hard I tried.

"The one we've been working on." She was extraordinarily chipper - a morning person, no doubt. I used to be a morning person until I started working the night shift at a bar. Amelia hadn't even been in my home twenty-four hours, and I was already wondering if letting her stay with me was a mistake.

"Hallow's coven will be at a party I've been invited to," she said. "It's a party for witches, kind of an exclusive thing. There will be practitioners there from all over Louisiana. I can bring along a plus one, and I thought it could be you. You could read Hallow's mind, and Mark's mind, and any other witches that seem suspicious. It will be great. You'll get to go undercover."

"I'm not a spy," I said. That wasn't really true. I intentionally and unintentionally spied on other minds all the time. "At least, I'm not a trained one. What if they realize what I'm doing? It could be dangerous."

"My coven will protect you, but I doubt that will be necessary." She was disappointed I wasn't as enthused as she was. "I'm sure the boss will agree it's a good idea."

"Maybe, but I won't go to this party just because he thinks it's a good idea."

Amelia smirked. "You should bump uglies with him and get it over with. If I was you, I would."

"I am not bumping uglies with him."

Normally I made my bed as soon as I woke, but I was too tired this morning. I would jump on it after I had a cup of coffee. I stumbled out into the hall and she followed.

"Why not?" she asked.

"It's too early for this conversation."

"No girl talk, then?"

I shook my head. The closer I came to the kitchen, the more I smelled coffee. At least she'd made a fresh pot.

"The party is this Saturday, eight o'clock. We're to dress formally." Amelia added that she'd found the invitation when she checked her e-mail a few minutes ago and had run right in to tell me.

She was speaking as if I had already agreed to attend. I remained silent and poured a cup of the brew. It was a little stronger than I usually took it, but I needed strong after getting less sleep than I was used to. Then I wrapped myself in an afghan and ventured outside to sit on my front porch.

It was chilly, but not so cold I wanted to rush back into the house. I was just about to sit on my porch swing when I saw a package next to my front door. I was certain it hadn't been there last night.

I searched around, both with my eyes and my freaky talent. I saw no one, and Amelia's brain was the only brain I sensed.

The box was white. There was no name written on it, no address, and no postmark. It was cube shaped and an object as big as a basketball could have fit in it. I shook it like it was a Christmas present, and something banged around inside. I lifted the box a little higher, and that's when I saw something reddish-brown crusted on the bottom.

My screen door slammed, and I jolted.

"What is it?" Amelia asked.

"I don't know."

"Do you plan on opening it?"

That reddish-brown substance frightened me because it looked like blood had leaked through and dried. But how was I to respond? I could dispose of the box unopened, but then some part of me would always wonder what it contained. It was like looking at a train wreck.

Dread yanked at my gut as I brought the box into the house. I held it at arm's length, and rather than putting it on the table, I put it on the kitchen floor.

Amelia handed me a steak knife from the drawer. "You're acting like it's a bomb or something."

I sliced the tape over the top of the box. The two flaps popped open, and I screamed.


In canon, Rene strangled the women and left them where he killed them. In this A/U, he buries them, which is why there was a body found in his trunk. He was taking her to the woods to dispose of her. He also never married Arlene (I think he was her second husband). They only dated briefly.

jaxg asked: Why is Eric so concerned about Ginger being missing?

In the books Eric was protective of his people. It's true that Ginger is pretty low on the totem pole, but if he was to do nothing it would make him look weak. Other enemies might think if someone could get away with kidnapping one of Eric's employees, maybe they could get away with other things, too. And besides, her kidnapping could hint to a darker conspiracy against him. He needs to find out who did it and why.

AlexJade asked: Has Alcide lied about the fact that he was separated from Debbie? Did he really care for Sookie at all?

We will learn more about the Alcide/Debbie situation in later chapters. I won't leave you guys hanging. In the books, Sookie is not the type to confront men she's in relationships with, especially in the earlier ones. She had a tendency to run away/avoid the issues instead. How long did we want her to talk to Eric about the blood bond and his recovered memories? This is why I haven't had her confront Alcide yet.

knblas asked: Will you address why Sophie-Ann isn't involved yet? Unless that's Eric's job this time around?

This will be addressed as well, but in a different way since this is an A/U.