Characters belong to Charlaine Harris. I just gave them my hometown and a little bit of my attitude. As I have not read either Dead Locked or Dead Ever After, they will not influence this story. This story was actually outlined back in 2011 when I first began posting. Any plot twists occurring in this chapter are purely coincidental.
With Arlene off for the night, the unexpected bachelor party kept me, Sam, and the part-time barmaid, Holly, pretty busy. Which was just as well, as I didn't want to dwell too much on Eric's guests. As it was, I could feel eyes on me throughout the evening, bringing prickles to my spine.
After a while Eric caught my eye and motioned for me to come over. Recognizing a familiar glint in his eyes, briefly I forgot my fear.
"Hey," I smiled at him.
"Sookie," he said, returning the grin.
Pam looked sharply between the two of us and scowled. I told myself to ignore it.
Suddenly an abrupt change came over Eric. He became all business.
"We are leaving now, Sookie."
"Oh, okay," I said brightly, too brightly.
I couldn't help the relief that flooded my body even if it was rude to Eric's two "friends." Eric's tone was odd. Strained. I glanced at Pam and Long Shadow. If they felt slighted by my reaction to the news of their departure, they didn't show it. Pam smirked while Long Shadow's face showed nothing at all. I felt a smile stiffen across my face.
"Well, enjoy yourselves. Bay Ridge is a lot of fun. There's a lot of fun people—or stuff to do, in Brooklyn."
Inwardly, I winced. I was single-handedly producing the most twisted tourism commercial ever. 'Come vampires. Brooklyn awaits. Ethnically diverse, up late, and fun.'
It seemed that Pam at least caught on to the dark nuance of my words as she threw me a bemused look.
Whatever it was they were going out to do, Eric wasn't offering up details. I knew without question that I was better off not knowing.
"Will you be all right?" Eric asked quietly.
"Fine," I replied, my "Crazy Sookie" smile now a fixture. "I'll be fine."
Remembering the cause for his concern, a rush of thoughts flitted across my mind. Was there more to Pam's visit than just a child checking in with her maker? What about Long Shadow? Could they have anything to do with my fairy relatives or the blood manufacturing plant?
Did Eric know something that I didn't?
Or, did I know something that Eric didn't?
Could this be a trap?
Despite my fears, I kept the smile planted on my face and managed to pull off a breezy reply.
"You know I've managed to get myself home okay for while now."
Eric squinted as he stared at me. I watched as his eyes shot in the direction of Long Shadow. Long Shadow glared back, his face not betraying any secrets. Oh, hell. I wasn't sure what to make of that.
"Take caution," Eric said, nodding.
Eric started to pull away and gestured to his companions that it was time to leave. They took a few steps towards the door when all of a sudden Eric stopped and looked back at me.
"Have the shifter walk you home."
I glanced at Sam who was busy pouring drinks and even busier keeping at eye on the scene at the front of the bar.
"Maybe," I replied uncertainly.
"Do as I request, Sookie."
Silently I nodded. I'd finally lost the smile from my face.
A few hours later, I found myself making my way down Third Avenue with Sam. While initially I had read a hint of trepidation – or maybe concern is more accurate – in his head, he didn't hesitate to agree to walking me home.
Enjoying the silence and the stillness of the night, I debated saying anything. Sam had mentioned wanting to talk to me earlier and if I opened the conversational door, I might get more than I bargained for. But, I was Adele Stackhouse's granddaughter and I did owe him a thank you.
"Thank you, Sam." I gave him a sidelong glance as we walked. "Thank you for walking me home."
"Not a problem, Sookie," he smiled reassuringly. "You know I think of you more as a friend than an employee."
"I know, I know," I nodded. "Me too. I feel the same way. It's just I know you probably cancelled plans to walk me and I wanted to let you know I appreciated it."
We fell into a comfortable silence before I shattered it with my next words.
"Eric was pretty adamant about me not walking home alone."
Seeing Sam's reaction, I immediately regretted my words.
Suddenly we stopped walking and Sam turned on me, a harsh look on his face.
"Sookie, I don't get it." His eyes bore into mine. "I don't get you and him. I don't understand what he's up to. He treats you like you're his damn girlfriend—"
Righteous indignation seems to be communicable when it comes to Sam. Glaring at him, I made no effort to bite back my words.
"That's 'cause I am his damn girlfriend!"
"Vampires..." he continued, bitterly. Then, all of a sudden, he was deflated and fell quiet. Maybe it was something he saw in my face. I watched as he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he picked up, his words were much more measured, his emotions in check. "Sookie, vampires don't have relationships. They're predators. Humans are happy meals to them." He paused for effect. "Pretty, stupid happy meals."
I could feel the anger growing inside me. With all that I had on my plate, I really didn't need Sam lecturing me about Eric right then.
"Sam! Will you please give me some credit? I know Eric better than you do. I know what he is and believe me, I definitely know what he's capable of."
He nearly killed me when we first met. I knew—as much as I could promise to keep his secret—he could always turn around and think I'm a risk to him. I held onto hope that they would perfect the synthetic blood formula and that the vampires would come out then. That would be the game-changer. Things would be different then.
I just needed to survive until then.
Suddenly my anger at Sam dissipated. He was annoying the hell out of me with his attitude but I knew it came from his heart. I knew it was because he was worried about me.
"Sam," I took his hand and smiled. "I love you and I know I'm incredibly lucky to have you as a friend. And I appreciate your concern, but I have a lot of things going on. Some stuff you don't know about."
"Sookie, I know your gift makes you uneasy—"
"It's more than that," I interrupted him. "It's more than that." My exhaustion hit me all at once. I closed my eyes.
Sam must have realized how he was doing a sub-par job of walking me home. My eyelids continued to droop heavily; I felt his hand tugging on my arm.
"Come on," he said. "Let's walk while we talk."
With eyes barely open, I allowed my boss to lead me down the sidewalk.
"Those two tonight…?"
"Do you trust them not to hurt you?"
I didn't hesitate with my answer.
"Do you know how to kill them?"
Suddenly wide-awake, I pulled away to look at Sam. "Sam, I couldn't—"
My words died on my lips. I was counting on myself being able to defend myself against my family's fairy enemies. Why wouldn't I make an effort to protect myself against from the vampires? Especially now after I know others are in the area who seem to think I might be delicious?
"Sookie, you saw those two tonight. Eric may want you alive, but you don't know about those others. If they find out you're different, they…they may want things of you. Damn, Sookie. Despite what you think you have with Eric, they're not like normal people. They are predators. Monsters. Even with Eric. You can't deny that he would kill you if he thought you were a threat to him. Don't you see you're justified to feel the same?"
Sighing heavily I glanced up at my friend and boss of five years who seemed to be trying to talk me into murdering my boyfriend.
"Sam, what exactly are you suggesting?"
"If they never come up with this blood substitute, if you guys broke up, if you came to your senses or if Eric just got tired of you because you were getting older, do you really think he'd let you just walk away from him?"
As if I were on autopilot, I responded to Sam with the line of reasoning I'd long repeated to myself.
"It won't be a problem. When the blood substitute is available, the vampires are going to make themselves known—"
"If, Sookie. If the blood substitute is available."
I frowned. "Why're you saying it that way? Eric says it's nearly ready. Early formulas came close enough that everyone's figuring it'll be any day now." I gave Sam a steady look. Do you know anything different?"
"No. Yes. I don't know, Sook. I do know something you don't: vampires operate under a different sense of time. And I know this: they've been on the verge of finalizing the blood formula for at least eight years."
"I didn't know that."
"No reason why you would know that." I watched as Sam bent to pick up a fast-food wrapper from the sidewalk and toss it into the trash. "It's not like I'd expect him to be honest with you."
I thought about that.
"Eric didn't lie to me."
"A matter of degrees."
"It's not like I asked him straight out how long the research has been going on for."
"Lies of omission are still lies, Sookie."
I didn't want to delve too deeply into that train of thought. If Eric had a typical "bad boyfriend" habit, not being fully honest with me was probably it. But since he was 1,000 years old, in terms of bad habits a boyfriend could have, I told myself it was mild.
Besides, I reminded myself, Eric's truths were hard enough.
I guess I'd have to change my tune if his not sharing a piece of information with me ever caused me harm or brought about my death. Of course, my quibbles about him having bad boyfriend habits would be moot at that point.
Replaying the past few minutes of conversation, I realized Sam had unintentionally let the cat (dog?) out of the bag.
How did he know the search for the synthetic blood formula had been going on for eight years? Mr. Mild Mannered Bartender Pooch?
"I know all about lies of omission, Sam." I said truthfully, a hard edge to my voice.
Looking at my friend, I saw the hurt in Sam's eyes and a wave of guilt promptly came over me.
"Sorry," I muttered.
"It's okay, Sookie."
At that point, we fell into a slightly uncomfortable silence. Thankfully, soon we were in front of my building.
"We're here." I smiled. "Safe and sound."
"Yep." Sam looked at me and I could tell he had more he wanted to say. I fought the impulse to dip into his brain and try to read his thoughts.
"Sam? What is it?"
"Listen, Sookie, I'm serious about you protecting yourself. I have an acquaintance. His name's Alcide Herveaux."
My eyebrow quirked; I thought the name sounded familiar.
"I know that name. Who is he?"
"Alcide is a carpenter. Did some work for the bar few years back." He looked at me, considering. "I don't think you met him. The bar was closed when he did the work. But you probably heard his name and saw it on some paperwork."
"He's like me."
I kept my face still. Was Sam finally acknowledging what I already knew? We both knew Sam wasn't referring to his birth sign (Aquarius). But I wasn't going to make it easy for him. Not after all this time.
"And by that you mean...?"
"Sookie, we both know what I'm talking about. Eric's filled you in on what I am, hasn't he?"
My silence gave me away.
"I'm a shifter. I change into a dog. Alcide is a Were. He changes into a wolf."
Where in the hell would a man change into a wolf in Brooklyn? As if he were reading my mind, Sam filled in the blanks.
"Alcide's got a place up in Ulster County. Rural. There's nothing there."
Wordlessly, I nodded. Ulster County was about an hour and fifteen minutes north of the City although with traffic, the drive likely took upwards of two hours. If you asked a city resident, they'd say Ulster was in Upstate New York. If you asked a resident of Ulster, they'd say they lived outside the City. New York City has a bit of a love/hate relationship with the rest of the state.
"Anyway," Sam paused a beat, searching for the right words. Quietly I waited. "He's real clever. Good with woodworking. If you wanted something-maybe ten inches long with a sharpened point—he could probably make it so it looked like an umbrella handle."
A stake. Sam was talking about a stake. I felt my heart skip a beat.
"Sam, I couldn't do that to Eric—"
Frowning, Sam looked at me thoughtfully.
"Not necessarily talking about Eric. I'm kind of surprised and a little concerned that that's where your mind jumped to frankly. What about those two from tonight? What about others like them? Eric shared his secret with you—their secret. Some vamps may not like that. It's bad enough them knowing about you—just that you exist. Do they know that you can't be made to forget? That's their number one defense mechanism and it doesn't work with you. Do they know that? "
I nodded. Sam was voicing my own, unvoiced fear. I could tell from the way they were behaving towards me—and Pam's comments about dinner—that they knew I understood their true natures. Did they know about my telepathy? Did they know I couldn't be glamoured? Did they know I was part-fairy?
Did any of that matter to them?
"Just think about it, Sookie. You could keep it in your apartment. Or carry in your bag. Just… in... case."
In case. Along with the iron tools and the emergency lemon juice.
After a few moments' silence, I'd made my decision.
"I'll think about it, Sam. Good night."
I gave Sam a hug and made my way into my building.
I hated the risk of having another secret from Eric.
But I hated the risk of becoming Pam's dinner more.
AN: Again, I never thought it would be this long between updates. Sorry. I'm done with the books. I regard the last few CH books as fanfic rather than canon. I enjoy my character portrayals more than the originals now. Wish I had more time to write. I apologize if there are any quirks. I'm trying to make sure there's no inconsistencies but I don't have time now to reread all that came before. I hope to clean it up when it's done like I did with ROTSS and Dead Man. Thank you for reading!