As the guard got closer to our cell, I read from his thoughts he was more concerned about when he could have his next cigarette than the predicament Pam and I were in. But it was the second set of thoughts, trailing just behind him, that made my breath catch in my throat.
Because they were thinking right at me.
‘Sookie? Can you hear me, Chere? It’s me, Sam. No matter what you SEE, it’s really ME.’
While I normally only got snippets of his thoughts in the past, I would recognize his voice anywhere. And it was a good thing too because that was my only warning as they came into view, but despite his mental forewarning, I still shrank back in fear and disbelief at what my eyes saw.
And considering my current situation, it gave a whole new meaning to the phrase, ‘Dead man walking’.
Standing just a few feet away.
With his arms still attached and everything.
And it was also a good thing I was still sitting on the floor or else I surely would have fallen over. As it was, I wasn’t so sure my top half would be able to remain vertical for much longer.
But it was in part thanks to being surrounded by nothing but voids that allowed me to hear Sam’s mental chatter above the blood rushing through my ears.
‘Sookie! I swear, it’s me, Sam! I’ll explain everything later, Chere. But you gotta play along, okay?’
I felt my head nod, but that small sign of understanding could have just as easily been because I was about to check out for another day or three.
Which reminded me I hadn’t eaten anything in just as long, but when Pam moved to stand in front of me in a protective stance, hissing for all she was worth, I snapped out of it realizing she had no way of knowing the monster who’d held her was already dead.
Or that the man in front of us was really a collie in Gabe’s clothing.
Sam didn’t tell me shifters could shift into other human forms, but then again, it had been Eric who’d told me Sam was a shifter to begin with.
But that was an argument for another day.
So I moved closer to Pam’s back, whispering only as loud as I thought she would need to hear me, and said, “He’s not Gabe. He’s my boss, Sam. A shifter.”
The only sign she’d heard me was a slight shift in her shoulders, the tension in them ratcheting down just a hair. But when she took a small sniff in his direction, I could tell by the twitch of her delicate nose that she knew I was telling the truth.
It was a good thing too, because I almost questioned my own sanity when Sam opened his mouth and sounded exactly like Gabe, asking, “Why is the girl in there with her?”
It was a good question. One I hadn’t thought of until he’d asked, but then no one ever accused me of being smart.
The guard shrugged his shoulders and flipped through papers on the clipboard he held, offhandedly explaining, “An experiment.”
But only glancing at one set of the three pairs of eyes that were drilling into him for more information, he told Sam/Gabe, “They wanted to see if she would drain her or respect her Maker’s claim to the girl, since she was found with him.”
And giving Pam a quick once over with his gaze, he added disinterestedly, “She looks like she’s fed, but the girl is still alive, so I guess it’s a wash.”
Of all the lowdown, no good…
If Gran were there, she’d give them all a good whoopin’ that would put Harry Potter’s Whomping Willow Tree to shame.
I could hear it all in his thoughts.
How they viewed the vampires as nothing more than animals, slightly higher on the evolutionary scale than chimpanzees.
It sickened me.
But Sam/Gabe’s next words tore me from my thoughts when he said, “Newlin will be pissed. The girl is one of his flock.”
Even though his mental voice was trying to soothe me, telling me it was the only way to ensure I would get out of there alive, it was Pam’s reaction that had me worried.
Because I was the only telepath in the room and I hadn’t had the time to give her a complete rundown of everything that had led us to her.
Quicker than you could say, ‘Uh oh’ – I know because I’d only managed to get the first half of that utterance out – she had me by the throat with her fangs bared. It put me in mind of when I’d rescued Eric from Rene’s house of horrors.
Like Maker like vampire child, I supposed.
“You bitch,” she snarled and for a split second, I wondered if those would be the last words I would ever hear.
But quicker than a knife fight in a phone booth, Pam’s face – and more importantly her fangs – disappeared, now covered in some sort of macabre mask that I could only guess was lined with silver because her head lolled to the side, just as I heard the clap of metal scraping against metal when her hand let go of my throat.
I nearly cried out for them to not hurt her, but then I remembered where we were and what we were there to do.
At least I had some smarts some of the time.
Once they had Pam secured, Sam/Gabe threw her body over his shoulder and said, “I’ll be taking them now.”
I knew from the guard’s thoughts that it was what he expected to happen. Both Pam and I were free to leave with Sam/Gabe.
Because Pam was Gabe’s special project and I was Newlin’s.
But because I was the only telepath in the room, no one could hear my mental screams of, ‘What about Eric?’
I wished – not for the first time – that our blood tie was a two-way street. I couldn’t feel Eric’s presence at all to know where I could find him, but I felt it was a sure bet that if he’d managed to get away from our captors, it wouldn’t have been Sam disguised as Gabe freeing us.
It would have been a pissed off thousand year old vampire.
So they must have captured him too, but I’d rescued him once already.
I could do it again.
And like someone flipped a switch, I remembered exactly how I learned where he was the first time.
After all, I was the only telepath in the room.
Sometimes smarts and me weren’t even on a first name basis.
Sam kept moving, all the while thinking at me to just have patience. That we would figure out a way to free everyone inside and he gave me the answer I’d been looking for by thinking, ‘Northman too’.
And despite his vehement belief that would be the case, it wasn’t good enough for me.
I wouldn’t willingly leave without him.
Pretending to lose my footing, I fell forward and caught myself on the guard walking in front of me, while asking, “What about the vampire who had me? Were you able to capture him? Her Maker?”
I tried to make it sound like it was all Greek to me, so he wouldn’t become suspicious of my motives.
But touching him amplified his thoughts, so I was able to see Eric in his mind as he replied, “He’s been taken care of.”
He’d misconstrued my choked sob as one of relief, rather than horror, but I willed myself to not breakdown so I could gather every bit of information laid before me in his mind.
Eric was here – on this level – down in the bowels of their dirty little secret lair, where the only monsters to be found were human. Strapped down by silver to some weird looking cross between a table and a dentist’s chair, he was splayed out for all to see.
Part Christ’s crucifixion, part Vitruvian Man.
Eric – my Eric – was as helpless as a newborn babe.
Admittedly, it pissed me off.
And I’d already admitted that I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, so it was no surprise to me at least when we reached the literal end of the road – or rather, hallway – where freedom could be found to the right, that I hung a sharp left.
Sam used his actual voice, mimicking his internal dialogue, when he exclaimed, “Aw shit!” And not two seconds later, I vaguely registered the sound of a scuffle taking place behind me.
One I assumed Sam won, when the guard’s surprised thoughts faded away with his consciousness.
But I didn’t take the time to look back and instead scurried as fast as my feet could take me, which wasn’t all that fast considering I’d been unconscious for three days. But it was fast enough for me to make it through the maze of hallways I’d already navigated in the guard’s mind unhindered.
I’d known from his thoughts that daybreak wasn’t too far off because he’d been idly wondering if Pam would start smoking when Sam/Gabe got her outside – which then got him back to thinking about wanting to smoke – so I could only guess that the halls were empty because it was about the time when the change in shifts occurred.
A small part of me wondered what in the hell I would do if I came across anyone other than Eric. In spite of having Eric’s blood coursing through me, I doubted I had the strength to fight Jane Bodehouse off of her bar stool right then, much less trained soldiers. I had no weapons. No supernatural powers, like everyone else I’d been surrounded with as of late.
I just had a hair up my ass and a need to jerk a knot in someone’s tail.
So I could only hope that my Stackhouse stubbornness, combined with a healthy shot of adrenaline, would see me through it all.
I kept my mind open, looking for both human and vampire minds as I went, and finding a familiar telltale void in my head, I followed after it.
So color me shocked when it wasn’t Eric that I found, but Bill Compton.
He was encased inside of a clear cylindrical tube, reclined in an upright position on the same type of weird table I’d seen Eric on in the guard’s mind, with his eyes closed as if he was sleeping.
I had a strange urge to tap on the glass like I was at a vampire Sea World, but thankfully I managed to keep my tapping fingers to myself.
He looked nothing like I remembered him to be. His body had likely doubled in size and all of it was muscle by the looks of him. And even though I knew humans would likely be able to hear my racing heart, he didn’t seem to notice me at all.
Praise the Lord.
But his wasn’t the only void I could sense. There were no less than a dozen others, so I tiptoed from room to room, until I finally found the one I was looking for.
And yet he looked nothing like I remembered him to be either.
Already tall enough to hunt geese with a rake, Eric managed to tower over the room, despite being reclined inside of the same sort of tube Bill was in. I’d previously been blessed with the sight of what lied beneath his clothes, but I could easily see now that his landscape had changed.
His normally lean physique was thicker in mass. Where his chest, arms, and legs were beautifully sculpted before, merely hinting at the strength he contained, now he was built like a tree trunk.
An ancient Redwood tree trunk.
Hogwart’s Whomping Willow Tree had nothing on him.
It scared me to see how drastically they’d changed him, but I was even more afraid of what else may have changed.
Would he still remember me?
Bill had been squirrelly from the get-go, so I had no reason to believe – in his right mind – he wouldn’t have attacked us like he had anyway. But Eric – my Eric – wouldn’t harm me.
Not in his right mind.
And there was only one way to find out.
Fish or cut bait, as Gran would say.
Like Bill, Eric’s eyes were closed. There weren’t any windows – obviously – to tell me if the sun had already risen and I didn’t have eyes for anyone but him, so I didn’t know if there was a clock in the room.
All I knew was that I had to see for myself if the Eric I knew was still in there somewhere, merely lost in the limbs of a Redwood forest.
I would lead him out by the hand, if it was the last thing I did.
Reaching out with my own shaky hand, I tapped on the Plexiglas-like front with my fingernail.
With no outward response from him, I shored up my nerves and knocked on it next.
And then I knocked again.
I didn’t see any type of lock or handle to give me any clue as to how to open the futuristic coffin and before long, I was banging on the glass front with all of my might, willing him to open his eyes.
“He won’t wake unless I command him to.”
I’d been so caught up in my own internal freak-out that I hadn’t sensed the approach of anyone else until it was too late. I’d given up on keeping track of Sam when I’d heard him thinking how stupid I was for taking off like I had.
I couldn’t really fault him for his thoughts, all things considered.
But now that I was between a mad scientist’s lab coat and Eric’s hard case, I had nowhere else to go but to dive into the man’s mind while I asked, “Who are you?”
Only to crash into a vampire’s void.
It took all of my years of practice – and my Crazy Sookie smile – to hide my discovery, while he smiled at me and said, “I am Doctor Himmler. But you may call me Heinrich.”
The architect of the Holocaust, who tried to breed a master race of Nordic appearance, only to be thwarted by Hitler’s epic failure at making sound military decisions?
That Heinrich Himmler?
It just couldn’t be.
He’d supposedly committed suicide by biting down on a cyanide capsule, straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.
And yet there he stood.
No longer human, but a vampire.
I was caught – somewhere between The Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Deathly Hollows – not knowing if I should acknowledge the pale vampire in the room by admitting that I knew what he was.
Much less who he was.
But considering what he was, I shouldn’t have been surprised when he took in a long drag of air through his nose and then smiled, like we were chatting about what lovely weather we’d been having over a glass of sweet tea on my porch swing, and said, “You have had his blood. A vampire as old as he would not share his blood with just anyone. That is very…interesting.”
‘Interesting’ was surely a code word for ‘fucked’ because he kept up with his human airs as he casually walked towards me, with me doing a dosey for his every doe, until we managed to do a complete one-eighty of the room.
With me now standing where he had been, and him standing in front of Eric where I had been, he raised his right hand and held it over the metal frame holding the Plexiglas in place to the right of Eric’s hip. A soft beep sounded, followed by the sound of pressurized air being released, just as the front half of Eric’s enclosure began to swing open.
I didn’t know if I was more terrified or elated, seeing the final barrier keeping me from Eric fade away into my periphery.
But I was decidedly terrified when Eric’s eyes snapped open a second later, landing first on the madman in between us, before coming to rest on me.
There was no recognition.
Not even a spark, flirtatious or otherwise.
In spite of his behemoth body parts, he stepped out of the enclosure with all of the grace of a lion.
It was yet another new meaning for the phrase, ‘Dead man walking’.
Because that was exactly what he looked like.
A dead man walking.
Gone was his swagger. His innate zest for life, in spite of his un-beating heart. Even at his weakest, when I’d first found him in Rene’s cabin, Eric had shown signs he was a fighter.
This Eric was merely a giant shell of him.
And my wounded bison heart could hardly keep my knees from going out underneath me.
“What is your name, soldier?” the monster standing in between us asked.
And both my heart and my knees lurched sideways when Eric replied, “I am Designation Number Seven, Delta Company.”
It was too much. All of it was too much for this small town girl to handle.
But Gran hadn’t raised any weeping willows.
She’d raised a Whomping Willow.
And I swore then and there I would whomp that Nazi vampire if it was the last thing I did.
So I raised my head and straightened my spine, declaring, “No! You are Eric Northman, Sheriff of Area Five.”
You’re MY Eric!
But I may as well have told him he was Tom Riddle for all of the comprehension in his eyes.
Holocaust Heinrich merely darted his eyes back and forth between us before smiling like a creepy asshole and turning towards Eric, saying, “You have my permission to drain her.”
No no no no no…
My survival instincts carried me all of two steps before Eric was on me and my forward momentum had me twirling back around so that we were face to face.
Heartbroken to heartless face.
His arms wrapped around my body like steel bands, feeling nothing like any of the other times I’d been in his arms.
Then I’d felt safe.
Now I felt like a goddamned juice box.
And I couldn’t stop the scream that tore from my lips when his fangs tore into my neck.
That felt nothing like any of the other times he’d fed from me too. But somewhere in the deepest recesses of my mind, I recalled another conversation, in what felt like another lifetime.
One where blood was the topic of discussion and how mine seemed to be extra.
Sweet and medicinal.
Bonds were discussed too. Three mutual exchanges were all it would take to make Eric and I – at the very least – going steady in his world. We’d already exchanged twice.
One more was all it would take.
Granted, I’d likely only gotten the TV Guide version. A condensed highlights of what to expect, but not a complete recap of everything a permanent blood bond would entail.
But there wasn’t time to go to the library and do any research. Nor did I think Himmler the Vampire Asshobbit would care to educate me on all the ways I could get Eric to wake the hell up from our mutual nightmare.
So I didn’t spare any thought for the ramifications.
I didn’t give a wit about what it would mean.
I only hoped it would work.
So with not only my life literally hanging in the balance, but Eric’s too, I did the only thing I could think of.
I stopped fighting against him and hugged him with all I was worth, forcing away my terror – my outrage over everything that had been done to us – and instead blanketed him both inside and out, with every ounce of affection I felt for him. I knew he should be able to feel what I felt, but I didn’t know if that would still hold true now.
But it didn’t matter.
The only thing that mattered was that my unexpected actions were enough for him to loosen his grip just enough for me to lunge forward and sink my teeth into his neck.