Vampires could be really still when they wanted to be and even though the Weres weren’t saying anything either, I could at least still hear the scattered thoughts of their disbelief. I could only assume it was having a second dose of Eric’s blood earlier that evening that made it easier for me to hear them and from what I heard, not everyone was happy learning about my curse.
If I thought any of them were in a joking mood, I would tell them to get in line. It formed to the left.
The scary looking little female vampire Eric had saved from the night before was the first one to say anything, with her slowly hissing out in a menacingly low voice, “She can hear our thoughts?”
I had a feeling she wouldn’t have appreciated mine if she’d known I’d once pictured her in a pear tree.
I hadn’t said a word up until then. And while my panties had become twisted, hearing Eric more or less say I had to appear like a ‘good little girl’ in front of everyone, I could now see his point. They didn’t view me as an equal and I doubted I could win them over as quickly as I had Eric. They didn’t even view me as a typical fangbanger because – with my curse they now knew about – they saw me as something much worse.
From the tension in the air, I’d been able to tell right away it had been best to defer to Eric while in the company of so many supernaturals. But hearing the threat in her voice, I couldn’t stop myself from answering quickly with a vehement, “No!” Seeing the unhappy glares aimed my way, my nerves got the better of me and I rambled out, “I…vampires are silent to me. I can’t hear you. I can only sense that you’re there…like…like a bubble in the space where you are, but not your thoughts.”
The vampires in the crowd seemed appeased by my explanation, but I wasn’t out of the woods quite yet when the man I assumed was the Colonel asked, “And us?”
Sam’s inner voice broke through all of the other red snarly thoughts swirling into my head. And considering the still tense atmosphere, I might have been inclined to heed his warning and lie, had I not been able to hear the Colonel think, ‘If she can, it could come in handy when we go to Nevada. I suspect there are at least a few Were guards at the prison, but I can’t know for sure we can trust them.’
Some of the other Weres had similar thoughts, while others had the opposite viewpoint. But I trusted Eric to keep me safe and since the Colonel was their leader I could only hope they would follow his lead. So I replied semi-truthfully, “Some. Your thoughts are hazy and I can’t hear them as clearly as I can hear humans, but I can hear some things.”
And even more if I was touching them, but seeing the feral look on the face of one of the female Weres and hearing her displeasure over my answer, I kept that little tidbit to myself.
As soon as I’d finished speaking, I saw Alcide flinch as he replayed in his own mind his initial thoughts about me from the night before. But I could feel his sincerity when he directed his thoughts right at me and said, ‘Sorry Sookie.’
I hadn’t been expecting an apology, but I appreciated it just the same and smiled back at him. However my pleasure was short lived when the same livid female Were, who seemed hell bent on making her displeasure known, snarled out, “Some is too much! How do we know she can be trusted and isn’t going behind our backs, reporting everything she hears to the Fellowship? She’s a human and it’s the humans we’re up against!”
It was so odd.
Seeing someone who looked just like me declare so vehemently I wasn’t just like them. Genetics aside, all of us – humans, vampires, and Weres – were in part made of the same cloth. I saw it no differently than people hating other people based on the color of their skin, their ethnicity, or religious beliefs. It was something I’d never been able to understand.
Why should one be any better than the other? Why couldn’t we all just accept everyone had their differences, but for the most part we were all the same?
It truly didn’t make any sense to me. And perhaps picking up on my unease – or feeling a healthy dose of it himself – Eric gently squeezed my hand before barking out, “Enough. Sookie’s loyalty to our cause will not be questioned. We are only aware of the collusion between The Fellowship and the government because she discovered it with her gift and we are fortunate she has agreed to help us get back our own. Not only is she an invaluable asset, she is mine. Know now, any who threaten her – threaten me.”
I couldn’t be sure what had everyone looking so amazed. The fact Eric stood up for me or the fact he made it sound like we were going steady. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about the supernatural world and yet I had a feeling either one might do the trick, but I didn’t really care. The fact was Eric and me were definitely something to one another. I just couldn’t put a label on it. And considering how full our plates already were, I wasn’t going to be bothered trying to figure it out. We had more important things to worry about than whether or not Eric planned on wining and dining me.
But then I guessed in this case, he would be wining and dining on me.
Also something I didn’t need to think about right now.
And since my mind was chock full of not only my own thoughts I was trying not to think about, and everyone else’s in the group who had a heartbeat, I was lucky to have picked out the new ones rapidly closing in.
Eric’s head snapped towards me, likely feeling my surprise which was quickly followed by fear, just as I gasped out, “The Fellowship. Newlin’s soldiers are coming in through the woods. From there and there,” I pointed towards the surrounding tree line. I closed my eyes and counted them all, adding, “There are twelve of them. They’re coming to search for Gabe and Rene since they know this was a vampire’s house.”
I could feel their arrogance like it was my own. They weren’t fearful in the least to be searching a vampire’s property at night, having no doubts they would come out the victor. They thought they were infallible, fully believing every sanctimonious sermon spouted to them by Newlin. God was testing them by putting vampires on this earth. They had to prove their faith in Him by acting as his soldiers. By doing so, God would protect them.
And I knew they were about to be shown just how wrong they were.
The sound of fangs snapping down was drowned out by the still-had-a-heartbeat half of the crowd. After seeing for myself Dean turn back into Sam, I probably shouldn’t have been shocked when the Weres surrounding us began to shift, but I was.
It would be hard not to feel shocked when you suddenly found yourself surrounded by a pack of wolves.
My name wasn’t Bella.
But knowing another bloodbath was the last thing we needed, I tried to be the voice of reason by shouting, “Wait!”
I didn’t know if the Weres would understand me when they were in their furry form, but Eric did and he threw up his hand, snarling out to the crowd, “Halt!”
When he looked back at me, I explained, “If you kill them all, then the Fellowship will know there’s still a group of vampires in the area. I caught from Newlin they believe there are only a few – if any – left in this half of the state. We’ll just be drawing attention to ourselves and hurting our cause if another massacre happens here tonight. Can’t you just – I don’t know – glamour them into believing they didn’t find anything and send them on their way?”
“You think we should let them go free so they can capture more of our kind?” the male vamp who asked if I was a Sookie snack cake snarled.
“No!” I snapped back. “But sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture and if you guys leave a mess behind like the one in Dallas, you’re only going to further alienate yourself from the rest of the human population that’s still undecided.”
My eyes snapped back to Eric, hoping he would back me up. I could tell he was furious, but I didn’t know if it was from my inability to keep my mouth shut or if it was the threat of the incoming Fellowship soldiers.
Probably a mixture of both.
His eyes narrowed back at me right before he turned to the crowd and said, “Yes. Sometimes we have to consider the bigger picture.” Just like I’d warned him not to do, I was already counting my chickens, thinking he was agreeing with me until he added, “And while our fight is with the Fellowship and their co-conspirators, the battle will need to be waged in Nevada. Let them believe we have amassed our own army to defend our territory. While they search for us here, we will bring the war to their front door.”
His reasoning kind of made sense, but at the same time I didn’t agree. I thought it would do more harm than good if another pile of bodies were displayed on the evening news. But before I could say anything more, he turned away from me and locked his eyes onto the frenzied crowd, saying, “Those who come for us now are not innocents. Kill them all.”
Right. Not a democracy.
No one had to be told twice and my hair blew up around my face when the crowd suddenly dispersed. I wasn’t sure what I should be doing at the moment and considering my feet were frozen to the ground, I couldn’t really do much more than stand there. Not only didn’t I agree with their decision – albeit more for strategic purposes than humane ones – I didn’t have a weapon. My baseball bat was still tucked away in the back of my car. And the truth was, I didn’t know if I would have it in me to kill another being – human or otherwise – if it wasn’t in defense of my own life or someone else’s.
Like the others had said earlier, I wasn’t like them. And it was never more apparent than right now.
I didn’t think any less of them for what they were doing though. In my opinion, the Fellowship soldiers were getting what they had coming to them. I just hoped it wouldn’t backfire on us because if they kept leaving a bunch of drained bodies lying around, I didn’t think it would be long before the government would take a more active role in stopping them. I could already picture the National Guard setting up checkpoints and turning even a town as small as Bon Temps into a police state.
For now they were still operating behind the scenes and letting the Fellowship put their necks on the line. But if enough citizens were up in arms over the perceived threat vampires were posing to perceived everyday human beings, then they would have all the support they needed to publically take over the cause. And the Fellowship, while organized, was no match for the US military.
I was afraid of finding out the hard way the vampires weren’t either.
Since my knees were still locked, I had nothing better to do than to close my eyes and count the human minds as they flickered out one by one. I felt their surprise. Their shock. Their pain. Their horror. All of it flooded into me. And I took all of it into me in return. I dropped my shields completely and did nothing to block their thoughts from my mind. I withstood it when my knees threatened to buckle and allowed it to seep into my very veins. As horrible of a Christian as it may have made me, I needed it. I used it to try and toughen up my own skin – my own heart – knowing what awaited us in Nevada would be a thousand times worse. While I might not have agreed with Eric’s decision, I’d already known we were facing a horrific future. I couldn’t let myself become mired down by my own feelings of distress over what was happening now.
I needed to see the bigger picture.
But who knew the bigger picture could be drawn in the same amount of time it took my bread to toast?
Four minutes was all it took to end twelve lives and even then I was sure it was only because a few of their attackers chose to draw it out a little for their own pleasure. The deaths of the men Eric had killed the night before hadn’t affected me as much as these did, but I suspected a lot of it had to do with what I had seen in their minds. The men from the night before had all been leaders. Each and every one of them had been responsible for the kidnapping, torture and/or death of more than one vampire. But the ones who had just been ended weren’t leaders.
They were followers.
So I tried to tell myself they should’ve chosen who they’d hitched their wagons to more wisely and not let my feelings of hypocrisy take root.
It helped hearing the hatred in their thoughts before they were ended, but it still wasn’t easy for me. And I hoped it would never be easy for me. While I could understand – in part – the bigger picture, I didn’t want to completely lose myself to it. I had my own beliefs, morals, and ideals. And while I would do whatever I had to do to help free all those who had been unlawfully imprisoned, I didn’t want to lose me in the process.
“Why didn’t you go with them?” I asked, slightly louder than a whisper. My eyes were still closed, but I knew Eric hadn’t left my side, so I didn’t feel the need to raise my voice any. He could probably hear me whisper to him from clear across the field anyways.
“I will not leave you defenseless.”
Huh. In his own way I guessed Eric didn’t want to lose me either.
Chancing a peek at him, I saw he looked like he needed a little levity just as much as I did, so I asked, “Would it be bad form to say all of them running off the way they did was overkill?”
The five to one ratio of supes to humans made it seem like they were the early morning shoppers and the Fellowship soldiers were the flat screen TV’s on Black Friday.
And I may have snorted picturing Eric in a blue Walmart smock.
His hardened exterior cracked just a smidge, with his eyes softening and the sides of his lips quirking upwards, but it didn’t last for long. Instead the serious expression returned to his face and he moved to stand in front of me, locking his eyes onto mine and saying, “You are distressed.”
That right there was a ‘Duh!’ moment if I ever saw one.
But since he wasn’t Jason, I didn’t think it was necessary to point it out. Nor did I feel it was necessary to go into the reasons why because it wouldn’t change anything. I’d already hitched my wagon to Eric’s, so I only shrugged and changed the subject by asking, “Now what?”
My mind was already imagining the vampire-hate ratcheting up a ton, with news crews descending on our little town when they found the carnage. Maxine would have a field day, but before I could get too worked up about it and before Eric could reply, one by one the others started returning to our little group. I kept my eyes either on Eric or on the ground, not wanting to see the naked Weres now that they’d shifted back into their human forms. And I wanted to punch Alcide when he chuckled and thought, “Get used to it Sookie, but if it’ll make you feel any better, you could always strip down too.”
Eric would have a field day with that.
I’d even hazard a guess and say he’d be burying Alcide in the field right now if he could’ve heard him.
But I kept that to myself too and was doing my impression of the see no/speak no/hear-every-damn evil monkeys when Eric turned to the Colonel and said, “We should leave for Nevada before they’re discovered. This area won’t be safe for any of us to remain once they’re found.”
He nodded and added, “We should travel together in a convoy. It might draw more attention, but there’s safety in numbers. I know where we can get a few vans that’ll hold at least two coffins each and then rest of us can flank them in our own trucks. If we run into any problems, we’ll have a better chance of getting everyone out of there than if we stuck all of you guys in one tractor trailer.”
I hadn’t given any thought on how the vampires would travel while the sun was up, so it only reinforced the fact I didn’t know what in the hell I was doing. While I might not have wanted to change who I was at my core, I also didn’t want to be the weak link in the chain that could end up getting one of our own hurt. I needed to start thinking like they did. Strategically.
That picture was turning out to be way bigger than I had initially thought.
Eric looked undecided when his eyes flicked at me, so I took that as my cue and began actively listening to the Weres. Both the Colonel and Alcide seemed on board – excited even – and I didn’t hear anything from them that even hinted at double crossing the vamps. In fact, each of them were thinking in terms of logistics. Who would ride with who. Who their best fighters were and who were their best marksmen. Both of them already viewed Eric as the leader of our little band of merry marauders, so they were already planning on making him their number one priority if something went down and we were attacked. Even the nasty female Were from earlier, who had less than kind thoughts about me and the vampires, was now only thinking her pack leader knew best and she would follow him no matter where he led her to.
It eased my mind, which relaxed my shoulders, and I knew Eric would feel my assent without me saying a word. He proved me right by nodding imperceptibly and turned to the vampires in the crowd, saying, “All of you return to your resting places and gather what you need.” He gave them an address to a warehouse he owned in Shreveport where all of us would meet up as soon as we had what we needed. We would be able to get everything loaded together while remaining out of sight and whatever cars that would be staying behind could be left hidden away inside after we were gone.
Before Bubba could take off with them, Eric called him back and said, “You will remain here and watch over Mrs. Stackhouse. Stay hidden and do not let any harm come to her. Do you understand?”
“Sure thing Mr. Eric,” he grinned.
When he turned to leave, Eric grabbed onto his arm and stared back at him, adding, “And I’ll remind you, their cat is not a snack.”
Well, there went his grin.
Who knew Elvis was a world class pouter?
He nodded and took off towards the farmhouse as the rest of the group was breaking up. Sam walked over to me and I could tell from his thoughts that he didn’t want me involved, but knew better than to say it out loud. Instead he only offered, “I guess I’ll see you in a little bit, Chere.”
“No, you won’t.”
Eric’s voice intruded on our two-man huddle and I looked over at him suspiciously, wondering if he was going to start making asinine remarks about Sam wanting me romantically. I’d caught snippets from Sam before that could lead me to believe that might be true, but he’d never acted on them. That right there told me all I needed to know and while I could appreciate the way his muscles flexed whenever he lifted a case of beer from time to time, I’d always known deep down that’s all it was.
Sam was more like a brother to me and I was just glad he was more dependable than the actual brother God had gifted me with.
Talk about asinine.
Eric walked over to us and treated me to his arched eyebrow and smirk – telling me he knew I was waiting for him to make an ass out himself – but instead he looked at Sam and calmly explained, “You would do better by remaining here for a few days. You can explain away Sookie’s disappearance to whoever asks. The two of you taking off at the same time will only draw attention to you both and by staying for a few more days, you’ll be able hear what’s being said about the bodies that have yet to be found. It’ll take us several days to scout out a location and set up camp somewhere close to Groom Lake. I will send word when we need you to come and shift into a bug.”
And his condescending tone bugged me.
His grin got wider when he felt my irritation, but he ignored it and stared down at Sam, ordering, “Give me your cell phone.”
Sam’s own irritation shone through, but he still did as he was told. And when Eric was done programming – I assumed – his phone number into it, he pressed another button and began speaking into the receiver.
“Arlene baby? It’s me. I’m sorry I haven’t called, but me and Gabe are onto something. Something big. I can’t talk about it, but I’ll try and call you again soon. I just don’t want you to worrying about me. I…I gotta go. I’ll talk to ya soon. Love ya.”
Chills shot down my spine and I don’t think I’d ever been creeped out more in my life.
Eric had sounded exactly like Rene.
“How…how did you do that?” I asked.
I knew he could fly, but was his other gift of the Rich Little variety?
“You’d be surprised what you deign yourself to learn when faced with centuries of boredom,” he smirked. “I know his voice well after having spent so much quality time in his presence.”
My face scrunched up, knowing exactly how that time had been spent, as well as over the fact Eric could sound like him at all. But remembering exactly how I’d found him – thanks to Rene – I was almost proud of him for being able to gain something useful out of the experience.
Glass half full and all of that.
Eric gave the phone back to Sam and said, “When the woman Arlene is at work, you will call her home and play this recording into her answering machine. Do it during the daytime so no one will think he was glamoured into making the call. It will throw Newlin off of our scent.”
“But what about the bodies here?” I asked. “It’ll be like Dallas all over again.”
The mental images from Sam’s thoughts were already starting to filter into my head just as Eric shook his own and said, “They will be found in a much different state. The authorities might suspect vampire involvement, but the fact will remain it will appear as though the men were attacked by wolves.”
I’d only been focused on the thoughts of the humans and to be honest, I didn’t get much of anything from the Weres when they were in their animal form. I got absolutely nothing from vampires, so I’d had no idea they’d made their deaths look like an animal attack. But it made a lot of sense and it negated my entire argument for glamouring them and setting them free.
And recalling a few local news stories over the years, it made me wonder how many other deaths had been covered up in the same way. Were there were-alligators?
If so, I wouldn’t mind if my Uncle Bartlett met up with one.
However there were other more important issues to be dealt with, so I pushed that thought away too and pushed my legs to carry me towards the farmhouse. Since Eric had mentioned setting up camp, my head was already sorting out where the tent and sleeping bags were located in the attic in case he’d meant that literally. Considering the sparse desert terrain surrounding Groom Lake, I thought it was a real possibility, so I wasn’t paying any attention to anything else when I suddenly found myself swept up in Eric’s arms.
I gasped in surprise, which was all the invitation he needed to sweep his tongue into my mouth, and after everything that had already happened that night, I figured I was due for a break.
What better way to spend it than kissing Eric?
I had a feeling our alone time would be severely hindered in the coming days, so I decided to enjoy what little bit of time we had together now.
Was it selfish of me?
Did I care?
Not one bit.
I couldn’t deny all of the things I felt for him, so I saw no reason to deny either one of us the comfort we brought one another. And once again, I hadn’t been paying any attention – hopefully that wouldn’t get one of us killed one day – so I was surprised to find myself on the front porch when Eric eventually set me down and pulled back from our kiss. He looked like it physically pained him to say, “We must leave soon, so pack quickly.”
It pained me in more than one way to find out my break was over.
He was back to smirking at me again when the lust finally cleared from my eyes, so I playfully smacked his chest and went inside. While Eric stayed downstairs to explain to Gran we were leaving and that Bubba would be staying behind with her, I went upstairs to my room. I grabbed mostly clothes that would be comfortable and threw all of my toiletries into a bag with them, but remembering Newlin’s invitation to his Sunday sermon (and dinner) in Dallas, I grabbed a nicer dress just in case. I knew Eric would argue with me over going and I had no idea of how I would work out getting there from Nevada, but I still thought it was an opportunity we couldn’t afford to miss.
I would just have to plead my case and then see if he could plead a better one.
When everything – including the tent, sleeping bags, and what was left of the TruBlood – had been loaded into my car, I returned to the living room and hugged the stuffing out of Gran, saying, “I’ll call you when I can. I love you Gran.”
I dipped into her head to see what she was thinking and while she was worried sick about us, all she said, “I’m so proud of you, baby girl. I love you too.”
I was proud too, to have been raised by a woman like her. Gran didn’t talk about it often – not wanting to toot her own horn – but I’d known she’d attended rallies in the 1960’s in support of civil rights. And I’d known from both her thoughts and actions over the years, she didn’t tolerate hate in any form, be it over race, gender or sexual orientation. Her heart always ached especially hard for Lafayette, who was doubly scorned by the small minded residents of Bon Temps, and she always made it a point to be extra kind to him.
When she finally released me, she surprised Eric by hugging him too and saying, “You keep my baby safe.”
“I will,” he agreed. “I give you my word.”
“You know, in order to keep your promise, you’ll have to stay safe too,” she warned. Pulling back to look up at him, she gave him her serious face and ordered, “So don’t go making yourself out to be a liar by getting yourself hurt. I don’t care how old you are. I’ll make you pick your switch when you get back.”
He chuckled at her very real threat and while I was committed to helping Eric, I had to force my feet to follow him out the door. I was worried about leaving Gran all alone and even though I knew she was perfectly capable of seeing after herself – and Jason would at least show up whenever his stomach rumbled – I still felt responsible for her.
So I told myself I wasn’t leaving forever. I was just leaving for now.
Eric seemed to know I needed space to wrap my head around it all, so he didn’t try to speak to me as he drove us to Shreveport. His foot was so heavy and I was so lost in thought, I didn’t notice we had arrived until we were pulling into the warehouse. A lot of the others had already gotten there before us and Alcide appeared to be in charge of running the logistics end when I heard him barking out orders to everyone else. But before I could even get out of the car, Eric pulled my chin so that I’d look at him when he said, “Your grandmother will be safe, as will you. You will return.”
His expression was so soft – a complete contradiction to his sheriff face – and I knew enough by now to know that not everyone got to see that side of him. I knew he was grateful I’d rescued him and I knew he’d said my blood was his preferred flavor. But I also suspected none of that had anything to do with the way he treated me. How he saw me.
I still didn’t know what to call it, but whatever Eric and I were to one another, it wasn’t a passing thing.
“I trust you,” I offered softly.
And I meant it in every definition of the word.
He smiled and leaned forward, pressing his lips to my forehead and saying, “And I you.”
It was yet one more thing I doubted many had gotten to see from Eric.
He helped me get my things from the car and then left me there while he literally flew home to get everything else he wanted to bring. He returned a short while later, driving a black SUV worthy of any Secret Service agent. Inside was a travel coffin, which every vampire had brought with them, only Eric’s had added bling.
If several huge swords tucked away inside could be considered ‘bling’.
I wasn’t sure how effective they would be, considering what we were up against, but I kept my thoughts about ‘bringing a knife to a gun fight’ to myself. And I’d been rooting through the minds of the Weres the entire time I’d been there, so I knew they were armed to the teeth.
And snickered to myself over the irony.
When everything and everyone was sorted, we had twelve vans to transport thirty vampires, so nearly half of the vans would be carrying three coffins. Two Weres would be riding in each one and each van would have its own pickup truck that would run interference – if necessary – while transporting the other supplies we were taking with us. Flood thought it best that Eric be transported alone and he agreed, so he would be taken in the SUV he’d brought with him, with me riding shotgun and Flood driving, while Alcide drove his pickup behind us.
I had no way of knowing if the Colonel had said something to his pack while we’d been separated, but no one seemed wary of my presence anymore. They talked to and treated me like I was one of them and none of their thoughts led me to believe they had any reservations about being near me. Since we had nearly a twenty-four hour drive ahead of us and with daybreak less than an hour away, the vampires climbed into their coffins a little early so we could get on the road. I was equal parts terrified and excited to finally be on our way, but as we pulled onto the westbound interstate – our small army on its way to confront another much larger one – what I ended up feeling the most was completely unexpected.
And I felt myself smile as I turned to look out the window because for the first time in my life, I actually felt like I was where I belonged.