Disclaimer: They're not mine, but I'm playing with them and you can't stop me.

Spoilers for Books 1-8, No Dead and Gone. Ever. Just kidding, but really, CH? I love you, but can't you give us something a tad more satisfying? I guess that's what is for...

Another Apologetic, epic-length Author's Note:

Yeah. Sooo. How have you been? It's been a while…

….. Sorry! Sorry! Sorry! The end of school (teaching) gave way to an intense 6 credit grad school class. So, then, in light of that, where did I get the time to write this, you ask? That's a funny story, my friends.

So, I was playing second base on my husband's accounting firm's coed softball team, waiting for the short stop to throw me the ball to tag the runner out when I was blindsided by a speeding truck, or so it felt like. Turns out, the idiot giant of a man who was running towards second base never got the memo that you don't overrun second base like you do first (I guess "sliding" was a bit beyond his understanding of the game) and therefore continued his forward momentum after tagging the base to slam into me, breaking my collarbone on impact and causing me to fly about 4 feet. What did this man look like? Think a 6'6" The Rock. So….my grad school teacher gave me a week off and since I'm stuck on a couch, I actually had a bit of time on my hands to update my story!

Take pity on me and entertain me with reviews (and don't hate me for my month long hiatus). You know you want to. ;) It's my longest chapter thus far, after all!

In Chapter 12:

Pam's coming over soon, Eric took a bath and pulled our dear Sookie in with him for about .05 seconds, Sookie helped him dress, accidentally stripped for him, and…

"Lay next to me, lover," Eric said, eyes still closed but patting the bed next to him.

Well, how could I refuse that? I went to the other side of the bed and crawled in to join him under the covers and rested my head on a pillow. Before I could get situated there, Eric reached over and pulled me towards him and I couldn't help but feel like an oversized teddy bear as he wrapped himself around me, an arm across my waist and a leg across my thigh. Hell, if Eric's presence had such a soothing effect on me as it always does, logically maybe the opposite is true and a teddy bear was JUST what I was. If my mere company could bring him comfort, though, I guess could deal with that.

Leaning my head half on his shoulder, half on his pillow as he spooned me, I slipped off to sleep with my fingers threaded with his.

Chapter 13

I awoke entwined in Eric's heavy limbs to the sound of Eric's phone ringing loudly in my ear. I struggled to sit up, pushing my mess of plentiful hair from my eyes and, glancing over at my companion, noted that Eric still seemed to be sleeping. I thought to myself that he must really be exhausted if he was actually sleeping during the night, especially deeply enough not to be roused by my movements and The Door's Wild Child blaring in his ear (which just made me chuckle—I could just see Eric at Doors concerts way back when…his long hair would've been all the rage!), but I already knew this to be true before making the observation. I reached across him to the night stand to look at the phone's little LCD screen to see who was calling. When I saw it was Pam, I answered.

"Hi Pam, what's up?" I quietly croaked, still groggy from waking up. I stretched in an attempt to wake up and the movement felt so good in my aching muscles that I almost moaned aloud. That'd probably give Pam the wrong idea, huh?

"Sookie, where is Eric?" Pam demanded, concerned. Obviously others don't answer his phone often.

"Um," I whispered, looking down at Eric's peaceful expression as he slept, "he's sleeping. He's really exhausted, Pam."

"I must speak with him."

"You want me to wake him up? Really?" I almost whined, wishing I could just let Eric sleep.

"Yes, Sookie. I have news and I must ask him what he intends me to do with the captive."

"Oh, so you found her?" I asked, feeling a jolt of excitement pass through me.

"Yes, we have. I was instructed to call when we found her. We are on our way back to Bon Temps now." Pam's patience with having to deal with a human "middleman" to get to the head honcho was apparently quickly dwindling by the second.

I sighed. "Ohhh aalllright. Hold on."

I hit the hold button, put the phone down on the bed, and put my hand on Eric's cheek, patting it softly.

"Eric? Eric, honey," damn it, I did it again!, I cringed,"you need to wake up for a minute." He didn't respond at first, but as soon as I started to feel the twangs of panic at his not waking up, his eyelids fluttered and thrust open and he looked around for the source of the danger, clumsily propping himself up on an elbow. He must have felt my panic and assumed we were under attack.

He squinted, bleary eyed, at me. "What has happened?" he asked softly with a rough voice thick with accent.

I relaxed, trying to send soothing feelings to Eric as he has done for me on so many occasions. "I'm sorry I had to wake you up. Pam is on the phone. They found that woman you fed from. They're calling to see what the plan is." I couldn't help the sad tone that my voice bore; he really just needed to sleep—not be the boss-man right now.

Eric groaned quietly and struggled to turn over and sit up. I helped him by arranging the pillows behind his back, then handed him the phone when he held out his hand. I hit the hold button just before relinquishing the phone to him.

"Pam. Give me news," he commanded with a much stronger voice than he spoke with me with just a moment ago. I wondered if he was trying to keep up appearances or if his voice really was stronger after a moment of being awake.

He paused. I watched his face frown in concentration, and then relax.

"Excellent. Bring her here. I will have Sookie disinfect the living room. I'll stay in the bedroom and listen in while you question her. Sookie will read her to derive any information she can."

Eric paused once more, then answered. "Very well. Be safe. See you here in about an hour." He hung up and put his phone on the nightstand.

I glanced at the clock. It was 2:15 am. My eyes met Eric's as I turned in the bed to face him kneeling at eye level.

"How do you feel, Eric? I wanted to let you sleep but Pam wouldn't let me." I tried not to display my pout too obviously.

Eric paused, leaning back against the pillows and closing his eyes. "I'm alarmingly weak," he answered in soft tones again. He was making his voice sound stronger for Pam's sake, I deduced. "Though sleeping did help a bit, I still feel very… ill."

I put a hand very, very gingerly on the side of his stomach, curious to see if it was really just as tender as it was yesterday evening. He grimaced slightly in affirmation. I winced in sympathy and shifted my hand to his forearm instead. Detecting nausea swirling around within his state of being along with tension and weariness, I asked, tentatively, "Do you want another shot of the nausea medication? Dr. Ludwig said you could have up to two per night..."

"I suppose that would be wise," Eric said, keeping his eyes shut and not making contact with mine.

"Okay—I'll get it all ready. Just a second."

I hopped off the bed and scurried around preparing yet another nausea shot for Eric. I was hoping to get Eric to drink another vial of blood—he always seemed to be stronger after he fed, as should logically be the case, and Dr. Ludwig did say to try to get him to feed. I sat on the bed next to him with the syringe and a swab. He obediently sat up and I pushed the sleeve of his tee shirt above his shoulder and swabbed his upper arm. Eric looked away as I quickly thrust the needle in, causing him to jump a little at the impact. I swiftly pushed the medicine in and withdrew the needle. Eric absently brought his other hand up to knead the flesh of his upper arm as I disposed of the needle. I patted his thigh and gave him a small smile when he looked back to me. I knew I'd never get used to the vulnerable look in this vampire's eyes at this very moment, and I never wanted to.

"Hey, don't give me that look. You'll be just fine in a few short days, I promise. Hang in there, big guy." And with that, God help me, I placed each of my hands lightly on either side of his face and planted one right on Eric's mouth, which, after a moment, smiled, softened, and (never one to pass up an opportunity) showed that his kissing skill did not fall by the temporary wayside with his strength. My mouth opened slightly at his coaxing and his soft tongue moved in to massage mine in a sweet but controlled rhythm, just as seductive as one of his mind-blowing, tonsil-touching sessions. His large right hand grasped my hip firmly; his thumb caressed my abdomen under the hem of my shirt in a way that sent shivers running straight to my core, though the touch in itself was innocent enough. We pulled away together after a few moments and finished with a chaste peck of the lips, after which I finally got the smile I wanted from my Viking, if with a bit more fang than I'd envisioned. I beamed back, breathing hard, and stroked his cheek with one of my thumbs, a bit lightheaded from the exchange.

Dropping my hands reluctantly as he released my hip, I knew I had to get to work on getting the house ready for Pam. I cleared my throat. "I'm going to go spray everything I can with Lysol. I'll check back in about 20 minutes to see if I can bring you another blood, 'kay?"

Eric nodded silently and sank back into the pillows, closing his eyes but maintaining a satisfied smile as he raised his hands to clasp behind his head. Oh, Eric.

"Thank you for the…pep talk… dear one." Eric opened his eyes after a moment to meet mine, sustaining his pleased expression.

I smiled. "Anytime, Eric."

Eric's smile widened, showing that his fangs had apparently not completely retracted. "I'll hold you to that, you know."

I chuckled, shaking my head. "Oh, I'm sure you will." I pulled the comforter up to his chest, patted his pecs briefly, and quickly exited the room with a skip in my step to go clean and disinfect.

I brought him in another warmed vial of blood when he said he was ready 20 minutes later. We relaxed in each other's company on the bed, watching reruns of Planet Earth on the Discovery Channel while we waited for Pam and company. I noted that his color looked much better and he seemed to feel stronger after he fed. I took a brief nap and Eric enjoyed some downtime (though he may have drifted off to sleep too; I had no way of knowing) while we listened to Sigourney Weaver's calming voice give the play by play of animals eating each other. The irony of watching this particular documentary with a vampire, the personal lion to my gazelle, was not lost on me, though I let my quiet amusement lull me to sleep.

An hour and 20 minutes after Pam called, a pounding at the door cut through the silence and startled us from our doze, causing me to jump up out of bed to go answer the door. I raked my fingers through my hair to attempt to smooth the unruly waves (unfortunately unsuccessfully, I suspected) and put on a bra (always a good idea if you're as "blessed" as I am and hoped to get anything accomplished while with company). I checked to make sure Eric was up and ready to listen (he was) and ran out to go answer the door. I left the door open a crack as Eric and I discussed to help him listen in on the interrogation.

Before I just yanked the door open, I glanced through the peephole (hey, I have learned a few things in the last few years!) and saw Pam's impatient gaze looking right at me, one eyebrow raised. Of course she'd have heard me coming and knows exactly what I'm doing, I thought. I had absolutely no desire to be a vampire, mind you (I love the feel of sunshine on my skin, sans bursting into flame, way too much) but tricks like that, I could admit, were just, well, cool.

I pulled the door open.

"Pam, come on in," I greeted her, stepping back and taking in the scene. Pam had a firm hold on the upper arm of a very frightened and haggard-looking Vietnamese girl, and when the door opened Pam quickly glided in. The girl, who I'd estimate to be about 22, tried to move her feet to keep up with Pam's smooth movements but she was being partially dragged and partially lifted off the floor completely, so she wasn't having much luck. Pam didn't look particularly strong or threatening in her lavender and white track suit and her dainty girlish Alice-in-Wonderland look, matching headband and all, but you'd have to be stupid to question that she was. She strode into the living room and stood, effortlessly containing the struggling girl, waiting for me to tell her where to go.

I gave the captive in question the once-over and registered that the poor girl was an absolute mess. She was barefoot and the pajamas she was wearing were dirty and torn, her ripped shirt collar hanging off her slight frame. Her straight black hair was half pulled back, half hanging out of her hair tie at odd angles. I could only deduce from these cues that she must have been pulled violently from her bed. If I were to look past these disturbances in her appearance, however, I could see that she was actually a very nice-looking girl.

I tried really hard to control my jealousy that started to seep through me, telling myself that this girl was just a pretty meal to my sick Viking, but this thought just reminded me that this bitch was the cause of Eric's current state. I thought of her smirking, in my mind, and thinking that she'd pull something over on the sexy blonde vampire, and the protective side of me that had been ever-so-present since I was declared Eric's caretaker surfaced and my vision tinted red. Before I could contemplate the ramifications of my actions, I strode over to where Pam was holding the girl and I slapped her, hard, across the face. The girl gaped at me, shocked, and before I could do it again as I was winding up to do, Pam instantly gripped my upper arm with her other hand and whipped me around, flinging me like a rag doll away from her prisoner. I knew I'd have a Pam-shaped bruise on my arm tomorrow, but I quickly came to my senses and realized that I fully deserved it. It served as a splash of cold water to the face.

"Sookie, control yourself! I've spent enough time in the last days controlling human girls fighting to NOT need it from you," Pam scolded in a harsh tone bordering on a growl.

I growled back, though it never had the same impression coming from a human as when it came from a vampire. I just sounded like one of those feral children raised by wolves. Pam smirked at my attempted growl, though whether it was because of the pathetic quality of sound or the fact that I was a human growling to begin with, I didn't have the heart to ask.

I sighed. "You're right, Pam. Sorry," I said resignedly, shaking my head to try to clear the red haze and come back to my senses. Even in my temper-driven state, I knew to be ashamed to be grouped with the ignorant, silver-wearing fangbangers bickering over a cute vampire's attentions.

"Where?" Pam asked, looking around and releasing my arm when she felt that I had control of my mental faculties.

Knowing what she meant, I pointed to the kitchen table and put myself to rights, straightening out my clothes ruffled by the altercation. "Put her there. Eric should be able to hear us in the kitchen, right?"

As I thought of him, I reached out in the bond to make sure that he was awake and alert. The last thing I'd want to explain to Pam is that we had to re-question the girl because her poor, ill, fearless leader had fallen asleep! When he was in his daytime rest, I could feel his presence as sort of a warm humming, the bond comforting me with its company in a way that I'd only recently come to appreciate in ways I never expected when it was first formed under duress in Rhodes. Now, however, I was getting an alert signal from Eric, sparking with anxiety and enthusiasm. I'll take that as a green light, I thought, amused at the excitement I detected. I smiled and sent a wave of confidence to Eric before I could control myself. That was only downside to being connected like this before we resolve our little relationship issues; I don't have that necessary filter between what I feel and what gets projected to him, much different from just having a normal conversation with the vampire. I guess this is how humans and shifters feel when they're around me and I pick the thoughts from their brains as soon as they think them, huh?

Before I could feel self-conscious at my unnecessary communication through the bond, though, I was flooded with … affection? I had to repress the big smile that had momentarily lit up my face, as I really had to concentrate on interrogating this girl at the moment, but darn it all if it didn't give this girl a little hop in her step.

Pam studied my face suspiciously, then glanced from the bedroom door, back to me, and smiled her Cheshire cat smile. "Oh yes. He is very old and therefore has very honed skills …hearing happens to be one of them." She winked.

I blinked. Wait, what was the question again? I thought back to my inquiry and her answer and put together that Pam may have been referring to more than just Eric's hearing ability that was honed. I groaned. That Pam. Good grief, these late nights were really starting to take a toll on my ability to concentrate, I swear, I reflected, chagrined by my late uptake on that last exchange.

Pam dragged the girl by the upper arm to the kitchen table, pulled out a straight back chair with one arm, and flung her into it. Pam's two very capable hands then settled on Giang's shoulders to make sure the girl knew she wasn't going anywhere.

I sat across the table from the girl, trying to control the urge to glare at her or slap her again. As it was the girl held the cheek where I had struck her (which had turned an angry red over the last few minutes) with one hand and was eying me as I moved to sit, obviously wary of the possibility of me attacking her again.

Goddamn it, Sookie, I scolded myself. Now she'll be more difficult to read since she's afraid of you. I scowled at my own loss of self control. Now I have to make it right.

I met the girl's eyes and in a very calm tone, I spoke. "I'm sorry I slapped you. I will try to control myself better. I promise I will not strike you again. I need to ask you some questions, and to do that I must hold your arm. Will you let me do that?" I asked, working hard to keep anger out of my voice and my expression and instead to speak in dulcet tones. I was trying to make it feel like I was giving her the option to make contact rather than just having Pam secure her arm for me. A relaxed brain would be significantly easier to penetrate than one frenzied with fear.

She continued to look at me but didn't respond by putting her hand out or drawing it away, so I lowered my mental shields to see what she was thinking. I found that she was certainly broadcasting but it was regrettably not English. I was sure it was Vietnamese since this was where the girl had been living until 3 months ago, as Pam had discovered in her research earlier, but this could be a big problem if she didn't understand my questions.

"Do you speak English?" I asked calmly, forcing a smile for the frightened girl and trying my darnedest not to have it make me look even crazier.

She hesitated, nervously glancing up at Pam who had a firm hold on her, then at me. "A... a little," she said in a small voice.

"May I?" I asked as I reached for her hand. A confused expression crossed her face, but she hesitantly complied, extending her hand shyly and allowing me to grasp her arm lightly. When I touched her arm, her fear addled thoughts inundated my own brain though I still could not decipher the language. I wouldn't be of much use as a telepath in any other non-English speaking country then without significant help from a translator, I mused, momentarily distracted. Alright, first things first.

"What is your name?" I figured I'd start with the easy questions she'd be sure to understand first.

"G... Giang." She pronounced it "yaahng" through her stammering.

"Okay, Giang. I'm going to ask you some questions. Please try to relax. We won't hurt you."

Pam interrupted. "What she means is that SHE will not hurt you. If you do not comply with her questioning, WE will, I can assure you."

I scowled at Pam. This was not making my job any easier, though I did not think Giang understood my statements or Pam's response anyhow. "Pam, I don't think she speaks much English and she's thinking in what I'm assuming is Vietnamese, so whatever I'm getting from her mind I don't understand. I'll only be able to get pictures from her that will be of any use at this point. We need a way to direct her thoughts to conjure pictures to give us our information."

Pam nodded, paused and seemed to make a decision. Out of the blue, Pam turned to the girl and began to speak to her in Vietnamese.

My shock at Pam's linguistic talent, shown by my mouth hanging open intelligently, was second only to Giang's. The girl's eyes grew wide and she started to tremble and shake her head, her brain flashing through images of several different truly terrifying-looking vampires, fangs descended, leaning in to bite her. The last image, which played out for much longer than the others, shook me and I had to fight to not detach myself from Giang's arm as I gasped. The last image was of Eric, but not my Eric. It was an Eric seen through Giang's eyes, moving towards her in what must have been a back room of Fangtasia, and he was truly frightening. As the memory was seen through her eyes, the fear that Giang felt at that time made Eric's gloriously handsome face look distorted and more terrifyingly VAMPIRE than I'd ever seen him in all the time I'd known him. His pupils were dilated and his fangs were fully descended, though much bigger and sharper than I'd ever seen them. I could feel her terror as if it was my own, and it was disconcerting to be experiencing such fright when looking in my mind's eye at an image of some version of Eric. I tried to shift my focus so I could rid her brain, and thereby my brain, of the disturbing image of my Viking and temporarily conjured the image of the smile that was on my sedate vampire's face after our brief lip-lock an hour earlier.

This was a typical occurrence that I've noticed—the image that people remember of those I knew was often a little different based on how they felt about them. I remembered when the fangbanger waitress Brittany in Dallas had pictured the bouncer of The Bat's Wing, Rebar, he looked much slimmer and more muscular with more attractive facial features because she had feelings for him. When the real thing had walked in minutes later, although he was still recognizable, the difference between her mental image and Rebar himself was glaring. On a similar note, I often saw god-like images of my brother, Jason, in the minds of women in Merlotte's who had secret crushes on him. This was the opposite reaction, but alike in cause.

"I just saw several images of vampires about to feed… including Eric." I shuddered slightly. "What'd you ask her?"

Pam narrowed her eyes slightly and looked down to the girl shaking slightly under her hands. "I asked her if she was paid to allow vampires to bite her. If you saw a whole variety of vampires' images scrolling through her mind, it may mean that she is a vampire prostitute…" Pam paused to surveying me briefly. "I assure you, Sookie, Eric did not pay to bite her."

I nodded, sure Pam was speaking the truth. I have been to Fangtasia, after all, and I'm no fool (well, not usually). Why would he pay to bite someone when he had fangbangers literally throwing themselves at him on a daily basis? Even so, it was nice that Pam felt it was necessary to reiterate that fact to me.

"But… well, they didn't exactly seem like willing, happy memories… all the images were colored with, well, pretty much abject fear."

Pam shrugged, unconcerned. "Perhaps the money she makes doesn't all go to her. No matter. I will ask her who paid her the large sum of money last week."

Pam turned back to the girl, who had not actually responded to Pam's first question but was silently shaking in her pajamas, and spoke to her again, assumedly asking her intended question. After an influx of more Vietnamese internal dialogue from Giang, I saw a vision of an illegibly-signed check for $10,000 in her small hand, though no name or face was associated with the memory. There seemed to be a fuzziness in her memory regarding any identity connected with the check.

"I see the check!" I blurted out when I saw the image, "…but no readable name. Ask her who gave her the check."

Pam spoke again, though what exactly she said, I couldn't tell you. The girl once again just shook her head. Pam grabbed the girl's hair and yanked it back, forcing Giang's head back and to the side, exposing her neck, jugular vein pulsing at the ready. Pam leaned her head towards the girl and spoke in a low voice, fangs descended and a growl entering her tone. Even I felt a little shiver run up my spine at that, and I would consider Pam to be one of my good friends, so I understood the cause the terror Giang was projecting. I knew Pam wouldn't bite her since she was infected with the bacterium and Pam was nobody's fool, but Giang didn't know that, I didn't think. Suddenly a vision of Victor Madden popped in her head, plain as day, as though it had been trying to fight through some invisible restraint.

"I just saw Victor Madden! What'd you ask her?!" I shouted excitedly. Instantly I felt a surge of anger through my bond, which I had temporarily forgotten about in all the excitement that the wave actually made me gasp.

Pam growled at the implications before answering and loosened her hold on the girl's hair. She stared, unblinkingly, at her captive, then met my intent gaze. "I asked her who ordered her to be at Fangtasia last week." Pam paused and ceased movement, apparently deep in thought. I sat silently, figuring I'd just let Pam's significantly less sleep-deprived and therefore currently infinitely-sharper brain have at it.

Pam reanimated. "I am wondering why Victor didn't glamour the image of him out of her. He must have suspected that you might be used to question her if we traced her. Most of the vampires of consequence in America, let alone in Louisiana and Nevada, are aware to some degree of your ability and your connection with Eric and Area 5."

I ignored the implications of my apparent fame among the entire American vampire population temporarily to ponder Pam's thought. This question in some way fit in with a point I had been mulling over during Pam's private reverie. The extreme fear this girl felt for all of the vampires she had been with had stuck in my craw for some reason. It was unusual to find such terror in fangbangers—usually they had such rosy internal images of the vampires they had been with in one capacity or other. Why? Because vampires usually…

"Pam! I think her brain might be resistant to glamouring!" I exclaimed, excited that I was almost positive I solved that particular enigma. I continued, "She's not completely immune like me, because it took a few different questions to get around the hole in her mind that must have been put there by Victor, but his face was still there, buried deep." Pam looked at the girl questioningly, but the more I thought about it, the more it explained.

"When you and Eric and the rest of the vampires at Fangtasia feed, don't you usually glamour the fangbangers so they're not afraid when you… you know... go in for the kill, so to speak?"

Pam looked confused. "Sookie, we don't usually kill the fangbangers we feed on. That would be bad for business." She didn't seem to realize she still had hold of Giang's hair, holding her neck at a slightly awkward angle.

"Pam," I said, clearing my throat and pointing this out. She quickly let go of the girl's hair and placed it back on her shoulder. I continued. "Yeah, I know, I mean when you go to feed from them. You usually glamour them so they're not afraid, right? And sometimes so that they actually like it?"

"Well, yes. That way they don't struggle, in addition to the fact that they might come back in the future and they won't deter others from allowing us to feed from them," Pam agreed matter-of-factly. "Plus, if they're relaxed, they participate more," Pam half-smiled, apparently reminiscing. Oh, ugh. Thanks a lot, Pam. At that moment, I was exceedingly thankful that I could NOT read vamp minds further than the (super-secret) flash every once in a while.

I took a deep breath and tried to see past the mindset. They're just predators doing what they need to do to survive, Sookie. You knew this about them…intimately, I rationalized. These moments just served as little reminders that as much as vampires can LOOK human and occasionally ACT human, they are not, in reality, human.

I released a gust of breath. "Well, anyway, her memories of the vampires that fed from her were all surrounded by fear. Terror, actually. I bet she's resistant to it and Victor didn't even know," I said, looking at the girl again, who now sported a few tear tracks marking her otherwise pretty face. With this newfound idea in mind, as if I didn't have enough on my plate, I now felt absolute pity for the girl and that compounded the anger I felt at myself for striking her. How could she have gotten into this line of work? I wondered.

"Pam, ask her what her orders were for when she went to Fangtasia."

Pam nodded and spoke to the girl again. The girl looked at me, then back to Pam and responded in a much longer answer than I had expected. Pam's mouth drew in a line in distaste. She asked another few questions, getting more answers, and then turned to me, scowling.

"She said she was ordered to 'look sexy' and 'make the tall blonde vampire want her'. She was given a large sum of money, but was not told why Victor wanted HER to do it. She had only been in the country for a short amount of time, but her cousin had taken her to a vampire bar in New Orleans the previous week and set her up with another vampire. She thought that might be why. I believe her cousin was acting as her…" she paused, thinking. "'Pimp'… of sorts," Pam finished.

"Hmm. Maybe the vampire who fed from her the week before had fallen ill and Victor found out about it since he's been living in Sophie-Anne's residence in New Orleans?" I thought aloud, and then the puzzle pieces fell together. The proverbial light bulb had flashed above my head.

"Pam! I bet he heard about the sick vampire, made the sick vampire tell him enough so Victor could piece together the source of the illness, and tracked her to Alexandria. I bet he was looking for a way to weaken Eric and this solution fell right in his lap!" I beamed at Pam as I felt my heart racing in excitement at the revelation. I could feel a dull rage through the bond which confirmed that I had at least one vampire in agreement.

Not as quick to excite, Pam nodded her head. "I think you're correct, Sookie. We know for certain that Victor is behind this, though, which is the main information we need to be sure of before we contact the king with this concern, but the details will help act as… corroborating evidence," Pam said, if a bit mechanically. Could it be that Pam has developed a closet affinity for Law and Order?

Pam dragged the girl up and out of her seat by her upper arm, reached into her own pocket with the other hand, flipped open her phone with a flick of her thumb and pressed a speed dial button.

"Master. Did you hear?" She paused. I could faintly hear Eric's deep voice talking in the bedroom.

"Yes, very interesting. What shall I do with the whore?" She paused again.

"Very well. It shall be done. Rest well. Be safe—I am concerned about Victor attacking here soon." Pam's gaze flickered over to me and I believe she said this aloud as much to put me on my guard as Eric. She must know that Eric might not tell me everything that was going on. She knows her master well, apparently, I thought with slight irritation.

"No, I have told him you are away on vacation, but he eventually may check here anyhow. The wards are still in place, but there may be ways around them." She paused again.

"Alright. I must go secure the girl and go to ground. Dawn is soon." Pam flipped her phone closed after a pause and gave a small bow towards the bedroom, though Eric had no way of seeing her unless he developed X-ray vision in the last 24 hours (and I sincerely hoped he did not since I can't imagine he'd employ Superman's morality and only use it to rid the world of evil…). My gaze drifted to the clock in the kitchen. It was 4:34 am. Pam was right—she had to go quickly if she wanted to make it back.

"Sookie, we must leave. Thank you for your help. Be on your guard tomorrow."

I nodded. "What will you do with her?" I asked hesitantly, gesturing towards Giang. She knew my code was not to hurt humans found guilty by my gift, and I felt an odd sense of pity for this girl. She did not know she carried an illness and was, after all, just being used by the vampires as I often felt I was.

Pam sighed, clearly exasperated by my attitude. "Sookie, you need to get past your little moral rules. Her fate is yet to be determined." Her tone implied 'Deal with it.'

I scowled in response. "Pam, it's not a terrible thing to have morals, you know. Just promise me you won't hurt her if you can avoid it, please? She didn't know what she was doing and didn't seem to have a whole lot of choice in the matter."

Pam looked momentarily put out at the request, but then it quickly faded and a flicker of amusement crossed her face.

"What's so amusing, Pam?" I asked, irritated to be apparently left out of the joke. She beamed all the more at my irritation.

"Oh, nothing, my dear Sookie. It just gives me ENDLESS enjoyment to see a human such as yourself be the one my master falls for." Her chuckle lightened the mood and Giang looked up at her as though she thought Pam had gone nuts.

My lips had turned up in a grin at Pam's sentiment also. While I'd love to dwell on the issue of Eric falling for me and gleaning as much information as I could from Pam on said topic, I decided that now was neither the time nor the place to discuss such matters, especially while Eric was in the next room in listening distance. "Oh Pam. Get out of here so you have enough time to get to ground safely. Thalia will kill me if I keep you from taking her back to Shreveport in time."

"Sookie, it's always a pleasure. I shall be in contact tomorrow night." Pam turned and, seemingly forgetting she was toting a very human woman, walked quickly out of the room and through the open door, dragging Giang behind her by one arm like a little girl sometimes drags an oversized doll.

I shook my head and went over to the front door to shut and lock it behind them. I waltzed into the bedroom to find Eric already on his phone, a hand up indicating I should be quiet.

"Yes," he said, using his firm, commanding voice. "Sookie and Pam just questioned her. Her thoughts identified Victor to be the source of the vast sum of money, $10,000, that appeared in her bank statements at the end of last week. She confessed to Pam that Victor's instructions were to look sexy to entice the tall, blonde-haired vampire, meaning myself, of course, to feed from her. Victor then sought to force me to feed at the very moment she was groveling at my feet by drawing attention to her in a rather… public manner difficult to refuse." Eric paused again.

"Your majesty, I am not positive he wants me out of the way, but I am concerned for the safety of my cohorts in Fangtasia and for myself while I am weakened over the next few days. I have heard murmurings from other sheriffs that he has been attempting to intimidate them as well. I, of course, could have taken him out myself, but I did not want to move against you and your people, my King. I have no higher aspirations of power but I felt you may have suspected as such if I did so. I fear that he is moving to betray you to claim Louisiana for himself, but that is just speculation at this point. This is the main reason why I called tonight. I wanted you to know of possible betrayal in your ranks."

I put together that Eric was on the phone with Felipe de Castro explaining the situation with Victor Madden. He could kiss ass with the best of 'em, apparently.

After a few moments, Eric spoke again. "I find myself weakened, but am stronger every day. I will be back to my full strength 3 days at most. Thank you for your concern, my King," Eric said, his face showing a look of distaste which betrayed his true feelings.

Suddenly shock pervaded his facial expression and I could feel a nervousness permeate the bond. The feeling sparked fear in me; Eric is so rarely surprised. Shock morphed to a resigned displeasure and settled. The knot in my stomach loosened slightly.

"Yes, your majesty. I am with Miss Stackhouse. She has come to my aid in my state as I am contagious to vampires but not to humans except in the event of a blood exchange."

Irritation quickly surpassed resignation. "Yes, very amusing, my King. I am quite aware of the irony of the situation, thank you." Well now I was just plain curious since I was obviously the focus of this new branch of conversation. Hopefully Eric would share later. I crossed my arms and leaned against the dresser to wait.

Eric closed his eyes and responded again softly. "Yes, I am at her house. Your majesty, please keep this information confidential. I do not want Sookie to be in danger for her willingness to come to my aid, and I will admit, out of concern for my immortality and Sookie's mortality, I'd prefer not to have to do battle in a weakened state." Eric's eyes remained closed, exhaustion radiating from him. I desperately hoped this conversation could end soon so he could rest. I could tell his confession of weakness and dependence on a human cost Eric a piece of his pride with respect to the new king. I hoped it was worth it.

All of a sudden, Eric looked much closer to his age as I've ever seen. I moved closer and sat lightly on the bed, putting my hand on the comforter over his knee and rubbing slightly as a show of moral support.

"I thank you for your confidentiality. If there's anything I can do to help you with this matter after I am well, please contact me. Dawn, however, is approaching soon on the east coast and I must go to ground." I knew that even though Eric had told the king where he would be spending his nights, his daytime resting place is a whole different secret all together. I patted Eric's knee absently while pondering this.

"Good day, your majesty." Eric disconnected, closed his eyes once again and leaned back on the pillows, placing his phone on the nightstand without looking. He picked up my hand off his knee and held it in his own with a gentle but firm grasp.

I glanced at the clock, which now read 5:00am. The sun would be rising in about an hour.

"Eric? Can I get you the last vial of blood? It might help you to heal while you're resting if you feed before dawn?" I asked hopefully.

Eric exhaled an unnecessary breath, half opening his eyes. "Yes, Sookie. No matter that I'm not entirely thirsty—I should feed. Thank you."

I took my hand from his grasp and squeezed one of his hands gently before I ran into the kitchen. I returned with the warmed blood and handed it to him with a smile. He met my gaze and one side of his mouth twitched upwards in response to my smile. I guess that's all I could hope for. When I'm sick, I don't feel cheerful either, and I could tell he was both weak and concerned through our connection. I sat beside him in my own downtime while Eric finished his meal and when he was done, I held my hand out for the glass and he handed it to me. I took it and the other glasses that had built up around the room into the kitchen, quickly filling them with soap and water to wash later.

I returned, locked the bedroom door, fastened the curtains behind me, took off my bra with a sigh of relief, stuffed it in my hamper, and sat back down on the side of the bed. I had almost crawled in and passed out, but remembered Eric and I both needed to take our second dose of antibiotics. After I gulped mine down with some of the bottled water I brought in that afternoon, I prepared another syringe and turned. Eric had seen me starting to set it up so he moved himself onto his stomach and closed his eyes. He didn't even react in the slightest as I drew the blankets down and administered the shot, attesting to how tired he was. I disposed of the needle, walked around to the other side of the bed, and sluggishly crawled in, inordinately excited to be getting into bed for the night. I was really and truly running on fumes at 5:15 am. Eric once more pulled me towards him and I regained my role as teddy bear which was A-okay by me. His one muscular arm curled upward across my chest and rested on my top shoulder and the other was slung down across my hip and rested on my abdomen. Though our bodies were close and the position was intimate, there was nothing sexual about it. It was nice to be able to be held by a man for more than just sex.

I stroked the top of his hand that was resting on my stomach and a question I had earlier popped back into my head.


"Yes, Sookie?" he responded softly, his breath caressing my neck, causing delicious goosebumps to spread up my arms.

"What did Felipe say was 'ironic' and 'amusing' as he put it?"

Eric huffed, embarrassment and irritation flaring across the bond. "Of course you'd pick up on that." Eric sighed then. "He so astutely pointed out that for a human girl, you have a knack of being in the position to see powerful vampires in compromising situations and coming to their aid. He is still impressed with your little car stunt that saved the two of us and your shifter boss from the cruel hands of Siegebert."

"Well that's good, right? If he's impressed he'll be more likely to try to keep me alive?" I said optimistically.

"Yes, lover. That's good, I suppose. Embarrassing for us, and especially for myself since I find myself relying on you more than I care to admit, but good for you."

There's that damn wounded pride again. I struggled a bit, but managed to turn around in his firm grasp so I could look at him. We were very close, and I had trouble keeping my feelings from turning to those of desire and lust. Eric's tired and grim expression helped.

"Eric. Please, please try to remind yourself of all the bullets you've taken for me and all the times you've saved my life, huh?" Eric diverted his gaze. I took a deep breath, because I didn't really want to go down this road yet, but I decided I'd go for it since I didn't know what tomorrow would bring.

"Eric, I don't want to hash this out now, but I have a question for you."

Eric looked down at my face cautiously. "Yes?"

"Why did you ask me to dinner Saturday night?" I held my breath to hear his answer.

Eric shifted in our embrace and focused on me with a stronger look of desire. "I was planning on…. courting you, I suppose is the phrase. I want you to be mine and only mine. No damn tiger, no Compton, no fucking shifter. Mine."

My heart leapt and tightened at the same time at his words. On the one hand, Eric wanted me. I would deal with the whole "mine" thing at another time. I mean, it was like all these vampires took a page from those sea gulls in 'Finding Nemo' fighting over food with their cries of "Mine! Mine! Mine!" I knew it was just part of their vampire culture and that if I wanted a relationship with a vampire, I'd have to deal with eventually. I cleared my throat and looked past it.

"Well, if that's true, and if we're going to have some kind of relationship, there's going to have to be a give and take. You're not always going to be the big powerful vampire, and I'm not always going to be the damsel in distress. Healthy relationships have to have balance, right?"

His jaw clenched in response.

"Well, they do. Keep that in mind. So try not to berate yourself for showing weakness to me, will you? It just will make me appreciate how strong you are 99% of the time, and it will show you that you can rely on me like I can rely on you. Like you said in the car all that time ago, we WILL have this conversation, but not when you're sick, the sun is about to rise, and I'm about to pass out. Concentrate on getting better and try not to let your pride get the better of you." His eyes met mine, but before he could respond, I brushed my lips against his and turned over, reaching to turn off the bedside light and resumed the spooning position.

"Thank you, Sookie," Eric whispered, tightening his arms around me briefly before relaxing into a casual embrace.

"You're very welcome, Eric," I said, smiling to myself and hoping my message got through that thick skull of his.

Something in me relaxed and I think that feeling was mutual. I felt a mild contentment swelling through the bond and I patted myself on the back for my eloquence in the light of the fact that it was such an obscene hour of the morning and that I was currently running only on vapors. My fingers laced with Eric's on my stomach once more and I drifted off to sleep, thinking that this seemed to be a routine that I could definitely live with.

End Note:

Awww. I always seem to end chapters with them falling asleep cuddling, but I prefer to do that rather than leave you guys off with cliffhangers!

I'll do my best to have another chapter up in less time than it took me to put together this one! Sorry in advance for any delay though… I have to go back to grad school tomorrow!

Please leave me a review! They're almost as good as improving a vulnerable Viking's mood the old-fashioned way!