Dead Until Dark Chapter 8

TO GETHER AGAIN, MY doubts at least temporarily drenched by the fear I'd felt when I'd thought I might have lost him, Bill and I settled into an uneasy routine.

If I worked nights, I would go over to Bill's house when I finished, and usually I spent the rest of the night there. If I worked days, Bill would come to my house after sunset, and we would watch TV, or go to the movies, or play Scrabble. I had to have every third night off, or Bill had to refrain from biting those nights;otherwise I began to feel weak and draggy. And there was the danger, if Bill fed on me too much ... I kept chugging vitamins and iron until Bill complained about the flavor. Then I cut back on the iron.

When I slept at night, Bill would go do other stuff. Sometimes he read, sometimes he wandered the night;sometimes he'd go out and do my yard work under the illumination of the security lights.

If he ever took blood from anyone else, he kept it secret, and he did it far from Bon Temps, which was what I had asked.

I say this routine was uneasy because it seemed to me that we were waiting. The burning of the Monroe nest had enraged Bill and (I think) frightened him. To be so powerful when awake and so helpless when asleep had to be galling.

Both of us were wondering if public feeling against vampires would abate now that the worst troublemakers in the area were dead.

Though Bill didn't say anything directly, I knew from the course our conversation took from time to time that he was worried about my safety with the murderer of Dawn, Maudette, and my grandmother still at large.

If the men of Bon Temps and the surrounding towns thought burning out the Monroe vampires would set their minds at ease about the murders, they were wrong. Autopsy reports from the three victims finally proved they had their full complement of blood when they were killed. Furthermore, the bite marks on Maudette and Dawn had not only looked old, they were proved to be old. The cause of their deaths was strangulation. Maudette and Dawn had had se* before they'd died. And afterward.

Arlene and Charlsie and I were cautious about things like going out into the parking lot by ourselves, making sure our homes were still locked tight before we entered them, trying to notice what cars were around us as we drove. But it's hard to keep careful that way, a real strain on the nerves, and I am sure we all lapsed back into our sloppy ways. Maybe it was more excusable for Arlene and Charlsie, since they lived with other people, unlike the first two victims;Arlene with her kids (and Rene Lenier, off and on), and Charlsie with her husband, Ralph.

I was the only one who lived alone.

Jason came into the bar almost every night, and he made a point of talking to me every time. I realized he was trying to heal whatever breach lay between us, and I responded as much as I could. But Jason was drinking more, too, and his bed had as many occupants as a public toilet, though he seemed to have real feelings for Liz Barrett. We worked cautiously together on settling the business of Gran's estate and Uncle Bartlett's, though he had more to do with that than I. Uncle Bartlett had left Jason everything but my legacy.

Jason told me one night when he'd had an extra beer that he'd been back to the police station twice more, and it was driving him crazy. He'd talked to Sid Matt Lancaster, finally, and Sid Matt had advised Jason not to go to the police station any more unless Sid Matt went with him.

’’How come they keep hauling you in?’’ I asked Jason. ’’There must be something you haven't told me. Andy Bellefleur hasn't kept after anybody else, and I know Dawn and Maudette both weren't too picky about who came home with them.’’

Jason looked mortified. I'd never seen my beautiful older brother look as embarrassed.

’’Movies,’’ he mumbled.

I bent closer to be sure I'd heard him right. ’’Movies?’’ I said, incredulously.

’’Shhh,’’ he hissed, looking guilty as hell. ’’We made movies.’’

I guess I was just as embarrassed as Jason. Sisters and brothers don't need to know everything about each other. ’’And you gave them a copy,’’ I said tentatively, trying to figure out just how dumb Jason had been.

He looked off in another direction, his hazy blue eyes romantically shiny with tears.

’’Moron,’’ I said. ’’Even allowing for the fact that you couldn't know how this was gonna come to public light, what's gonna happen when you decide to get married? What if one of your ex-flames mails a copy of your little tango to your bride-to-be?’’

’’Thanks for kicking me when I'm down, Sis.’’

I took a deep breath. ’’Okay, okay. You've quit making these little videos, right?’’

He nodded emphatically. I didn't believe him.

’’And you told Sid Matt all about it, right?’’

He nodded less firmly.

’’And you think that's why Andy is on your case so much?’’

’’Yeah,’’ Jason said morosely.

’’So, if they test your semen and it isn't a match for what was inside Maudette and Dawn, you're clear.’’ By now, I was as shifty-faced as my brother. We had never talked about semen samples before.

’’That's what Sid Matt says. I just don't trust that stuff.’’

My brother didn't trust the most reliable scientific evidence that could be presented in a court. ’’You think Andy's going to fake the results?’’

’’No, Andy's okay. He's just doing his job. I just don't know about that DNA stuff.’’

’’Moron,’’ I said, and turned away to get another pitcher of beer for four guys from Ruston, college students on a big night out in the boonies. I could only hope Sid Matt Lancaster was good at persuasion.

I spoke to Jason once more before he left Merlotte's. ’’Can you help me?’’ he asked, turning up to me a face I hardly recognized. I was standing by his table, and his date for the night had gone to the ladies'room.

My brother had never asked me for help before.

’’How?’’

’’Can't you just read the minds of the men who come in here and find out if one of them did it?’’

’’That's not as easy as it sounds, Jason,’’ I said slowly, thinking as I went along. ’’For one thing, the man would have to be thinking of his crime while he sat here, at the exact moment I listened in. For another thing, I can't always read clear thoughts. Some people, it's just like listening to a radio, I can hear every little thing. Other people, I just get a mass of feelings, not spelled out;it's like hearing someone talk in their sleep, see? You can hear they're talking, you can tell if they're upset or happy, but you can't hear the exact words. And then other times, I can hear a thought, but I can't trace it to its source if the room is crowded.’’

Jason was staring at me. It was the first time we had talked openly about my disability.

’’How do you stop from going crazy?’’ he asked, shaking his head in amazement.

I was about to try to explain putting up my guard, but Liz Barrett returned to the table, newly lipsticked and fluffed. I watched Jason resume his woman-hunting persona like shrugging on a heavy coat, and I regretted not getting to talk to him more when he was by himself.

That night, as the staff got ready to leave, Arlene asked me if I could baby-sit for her the next evening. It would be an off-day for both of us, and she wanted to go to Shreveport with Rene to see a movie and go out to eat.

’’Sure!’’ I said. ’’I haven't kept the kids in a while.’’

Suddenly Arlene's face froze. She half-turned to me, opened her mouth, thought the better of speaking, then thought again. ’’Will ... ah ... will Bill be there?’’

’’Yes, we'd planned on watching a movie. I was going to stop by the video rental place, tomorrow morning. But I'll get something for the kids to watch instead.’’ Abruptly, I caught her meaning. ’’Whoa. You mean you don't want to leave the kids with me if Bill's gonna be there?’’ I could feel my eyes narrow to slits and my voice drop down to its angry register.

’’Sookie,’’ she began helplessly, ’’honey, I love you. But you can't understand, you're not a mother. I can't leave my kids with a vampire. I just can't.’’

’’No matter that I'm there, and I love your kids, too? No matter that Bill would never in a million years harm a child.’’ I slung my purse over my shoulder and stalked out the back door, leaving Arlene standing there looking torn. By golly, she ought to be upset!

I was a little calmer by the time I turned onto the road to go home, but I was still riled up. I was worried about Jason, miffed at Arlene, and almost permanently frosted at Sam, who was pretending these days that I was a mere acquaintance. I debated whether to just go home rather than going to Bill's;decided that was a good idea.

It was a measure of how much he worried about me that Bill was at my house about fifteen minutes after I should have been at his.

’’You didn't come, you didn't call,’’ he said quietly when I answered the door.

’’I'm in a temper,’’ I said. ’’A bad one.’’

Wisely he kept his distance.

’’I apologize for making you worry,’’ I said after a moment. ’’I won't do that again.’’ I strode away from him, toward the kitchen. He followed behind, or at least I presumed he did. Bill was so quiet you never knew until you looked.

He leaned against the door frame as I stood in the middle of the kitchen floor, wondering why I'd come in the room, feeling a rising tide of anger. I was getting pissed off all over again. I really wanted to throw something, damage something. This was not the way I'd been brought up, to give way to destructive impulses like that. I contained it, screwing my eyes shut, clenching my fists.

’’I'm gonna dig a hole,’’ I said, and I marched out the back door. I opened the door to the tool shed, removed the shovel, and stomped to the back of the yard. There was a patch back there where nothing ever grew, I don't know why. I sunk the shovel in, pushed it with my foot, came up with a hunk of soil. I kept on going. The pile of dirt grew as the hole deepened.

’’I have excellent arm and shoulder muscles,’’ I said, resting against the shovel and panting.

Bill was sitting in a lawn chair watching. He didn't say anything.

I resumed digging.

Finally, I had a really nice hole.

’’Were you going to bury anything?’’ Bill asked, when he could tell I was done.

’’No.’’ I looked down at the cavity in the ground. ’’I'm going to plant a tree.’’

’’What kind?’’

’’A live oak,’’ I said off the top of my head.

’’Where can you get one?’’

’’At the Garden Center. I'll go sometime this week.’’

’’They take a long time to grow.’’

’’What difference would that make to you?’’ I snapped. I put the shovel up in the shed, then leaned against it, suddenly exhausted.

Bill made as if to pick me up.

’’I am a grown woman,’’ I snarled. ’’I can walk into the house on my own.’’

’’Have I done something to you?’’ Bill asked. There was very little loving in his voice, and I was brought up short. I had indulged myself enough.

’’I apologize,’’ I said. ’’Again.’’

’’What has made you so angry?’’

I just couldn't tell him about Arlene.

’’What do you do when you get mad, Bill?’’

’’I tear up a tree,’’ he said. ’’Sometimes I hurt someone.’’

Digging a hole didn't seem so bad. It had been sort of constructive. But I was still wired - it was just more of a subdued buzz than a high-frequency whine. I cast around restlessly for something to affect.

Bill seemed adept at reading the symptoms. ’’Make love,’’ he suggested. ’’Make love with me.’’

’’I'm not in the right mood for love.’’

’’Let me try to persuade you.’’

It turned out he could.

At least it wore off the excess energy of anger, but I still had a residue of sadness that se* couldn't cure. Arlene had hurt my feelings. I stared into space while Bill braided my hair, a pastime that he apparently found soothing.

Every now and then I felt like I was Bill's doll.

’’Jason was in the bar tonight,’’ I said.

’’What did he want?’’

Bill was too clever by far, sometimes, at reading people.

’’He appealed to my mind-reading powers. He wanted me to scan the minds of the men who came into the bar until I found out who the murderer was.’’

’’Except for a few dozen flaws, that's not a bad idea.’’

’’You think?’’

’’Both your brother and I will be regarded with less suspicion if the murderer is in jail. And you'll be safe.’’

’’That's true, but I don't know how to go about it. It would be hard, and painful, and boring, to wade through all that stuff trying to find a little bit of information, a flash of thought.’’

’’Not any more painful or hard than being suspected of murder. You're just accustomed to keeping your gift locked up.’’

’’Do you think so?’’ I began to turn to look at his face, but he held me still so he could finish braiding. I'd never seen keeping out of people's minds as selfish, but in this case I supposed it was. I would have to invade a lot of privacy. ’’A detective,’’ I murmured, trying to see myself in a better light than just nosey.

’’Sookie,’’ Bill said, and something in his voice made me take notice. ’’Eric has told me to bring you to Shreveport again.’’

It took me a second to remember who Eric was. ’’Oh, the big Viking vampire?’’

’’The very old vampire,’’ Bill said precisely.

’’You mean, he ordered you to bring me there?’’ I didn't like the sound of this at all. I'd been sitting on the side of the bed, Bill behind me, and now I turned to look in his face. This time he didn't stop me. I stared at Bill, seeing something in his face that I'd never seen before. ’’You have to do this,’’ I said, appalled. I could not imagine someone giving Bill an order. ’’But honey, I don't want to go see Eric.’’

I could see that made no difference.

’’What is he, the Godfather of vampires?’’ I asked, angry and incredulous. ’’Did he give you an offer you couldn't refuse?’’

’’He is older than me. More to the point, he is stronger.’’

’’Nobody's stronger than you,’’ I said stoutly.

’’I wish you were right.’’

’’So is he the head of Vampire Region Ten, or something?’’

’’Yes. Something like that.’’

Bill was always closemouthed about how vampires controlled their own affairs. That had been fine with me, until now.

’’What does he want? What will happen if I don't go?’’

Bill just sidestepped the first question. ’’He'll send someone - several someones - to get you.’’

’’Other vampires.’’

’’Yes.’’ Bill's eyes were opaque, shining with his difference, brown and rich.

I tried to think this through. I wasn't used to being ordered around. I wasn't used to no choices at all. It took my thick skull several minutes to evaluate the situation.

’’So, you'd feel obliged to fight them?’’

’’Of course. You are mine.’’

There was that ’’mine’’ again. It seemed he really meant it. I sure felt like whining, but I knew it wouldn't do any good.

’’I guess I have to go,’’ I said, trying not to sound bitter. ’’This is just plain old blackmail.’’

’’Sookie, vampires aren't like humans. Eric is using the best means to achieve his goal, which is getting you to Shreveport. He didn't have to spell all this out;I understood it.’’

’’Well, I understand it now, but I hate it. I'm between a rock and hard place! What does he want me for, anyway?’’ An obvious answer popped right into my mind, and I looked at Bill, horrified. ’’Oh, no, I won't do that!’’

’’He won't have se* with you or bite you, not without killing me.’’ Bill's glowing face lost all vestiges of familiarity and became utterly alien.

’’And he knows that,’’ I said tentatively, ’’so there must be another reason he wants me in Shreveport.’’

’’Yes,’’ Bill agreed, ’’but I don't know what it is.’’

’’Well, if it doesn't have to do with my physical charms, or the unusual quality of my blood, it must have to do with my ... little quirk.’’

’’Your gift.’’

’’Right,’’ I said, sarcasm dripping from my voice. ’’My precious gift.’’ All the anger I thought I'd eased off my shoulders came back to sit like a four-hundred-pound gorilla. And I was scared to death. I wondered how Bill felt. I was even scared to ask that.

’’When?’’ I asked instead.

’’Tomorrow night.’’

’’I guess this is the downside of nontraditional dating.’’ I stared over Bill's shoulder at the pattern of the wallpaper my grandmother had chosen ten years ago. I promised myself that if I got through this, I would repaper.

’’I love you.’’ His voice was just a whisper.

This wasn't Bill's fault. ’’I love you, too,’’ I said. I had to stop myself from begging, Please don't let the bad vampire hurt me, please don't let the vampire rape me. If I was between a rock and a hard place, Bill was doubly so. I couldn't even begin to estimate the self-control he was employing. Unless he really was calm? Could a vampire face pain and this form of helplessness without some inner turmoil?

I searched his face, the familiar clear lines and white matte complexion, the dark arches of his brows and proud line of his nose. I observed that Bill's fangs were only slightly extended, and rage and lust ran them full out.

’’Tonight,’’ he said. ’’Sookie...’’ His hands began urging me to lie beside him.

’’What?’’

’’Tonight, I think, you should drink from me.’’

I made a face. ’’Ick! Don't you need all your strength for tomorrow night? I'm not hurt.’’

’’How have you felt since you drank from me? Since I put my blood inside you?’’

I mulled it over. ’’Good,’’ I admitted.

’’Have you been sick?’’

’’No, but then I almost never am.’’

’’Have you had more energy?’’

’’When you weren't taking it back!’’ I said tartly, but I could feel my lips curve up in a little smile.

’’Have you been stronger?’’

’’I - yes, I guess I have.’’ I realized for the first time how extraordinary it was that I'd carried in a new chair, by myself, the week before.

’’Has it been easier to control your power?’’

’’Yes, I did notice that.’’ I'd written it off to increased relaxation.

’’If you drink from me tonight, tomorrow night you will have more resources.’’

’’But you'll be weaker.’’

’’If you don't take much, I'll recoup during the day when I sleep. And I may have to find someone else to drink from tomorrow night before we go.’’

My face filled with hurt. Suspecting he was doing it and knowing were sure two different things.

’’Sookie, this is for us. No se* with anyone else, I promise you.’’

’’You really think all this is necessary.’’

’’Maybe necessary. At least helpful. And we need all the help we can get.’’

’’Oh, all right. How do we do this?’’ I had only the haziest recollection of the night of the beating, and I was glad of it.

He looked at me quizzically. I had the impression he was amused. ’’Aren't you excited, Sookie?’’

’’At drinking blood from you? Excuse me, that's not my turn-on.’’

He shook his head, as if that was beyond his understanding. ’’I forget,’’ he said simply. ’’I forget how it is to be otherwise. Would you prefer neck, wrist, groin?’’

’’Not groin,’’ I said hastily. ’’I don't know, Bill. Yuck. Whichever.’’

’’Neck,’’ he said. ’’Lie on top of me, Sookie.’’

’’That's like se*.’’

’’It's the easiest way.’’

So I straddled him and gently let myself down. This felt very peculiar. This was a position we used for lovemaking and nothing else.

’’Bite, Sookie,’’ he whispered.

’’I can't do that!’’ I protested.

’’Bite, or I'll have to use a knife.’’

’’My teeth aren't sharp like yours.’’

’’They're sharp enough.’’

’’I'll hurt you.’’

He laughed silently. I could feel his chest moving beneath me.

’’Damn.’’ I breathed, and steeling myself, I bit his neck. I did a good job because there was no sense prolonging this. I tasted the metallic blood in my mouth. Bill groaned softly, and his hands brushed my back and continued down. His fingers found me.

I gave a gasp of shock.

’’Drink,’’ he said raggedly, and I sucked hard. He groaned, louder, deeper, and I felt him pressing against me. A little ripple of madness went through me, and I attached myself to him like a barnacle, and he entered me, began moving, his hands now gripping my hip bones. I drank and saw visions, visions all with a background of darkness, of white things coming up from the ground and going hunting, the thrill of the run through the woods, the prey panting ahead and the excitement of its fear;pursuit, legs pumping, hearing the thrumming of blood through the veins of the pursued...

Bill made a noise deep in his chest and convulsed inside me. I raised my head from his neck, and a wave of dark delight carried me out to sea.

This was pretty exotic stuff for a telepathic barmaid from northern Louisiana.


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