“We’ll do something special when it’s been three months since our first kiss,” she offered in consolation. “I’ll open it then.”
“No,” he encouraged. “I want you to have it now. It’s important.”
“Ok,” she said, feeling the weight of it. “That doesn’t mean you get to buy me another gift though,” she warned before opening it and looked at the bracelet inside. It was a string of small silver plated circles with small diamonds in the middle. When she pulled it closer for inspection she recognised the writing on the circles, they were nine bullet case heads. Apparently he was as sentimental as she when it came to jewellery, and she fondled the dented bullet he carried as a necklace underneath his shirt since she gave it to him in recognition.
“It’s beautiful. Thank you,” she said when she turned it over on itself where she noted each case head was numbered from two till ten. “What do these numbers mean?”
“This is the second bullet I didn’t fire at you,” he said while pointing at the number. “The third and so on. I had ten bullets loaded in my magazine.”
“Eric,” she sobbed with tears of joy, unable to exert another word.
“I know I can never make up for the first bullet but I wanted to show you I’m not like Russell. I take my precautions and I load more bullets than necessary,” he continued to explain even though she already understood the implication and started pecking every bare patch of skin as he tried to continue his explanation. “Fate didn’t burden me with something. It gave me a choice. I chose you.”
Her barrage of kisses stopped momentarily when she looked him in the eye with his last words, brushing his cheek softly with her fingertips if only to assure herself this was the reality she was living and not the one she had escaped into while living the horror Bill had described. Sookie smiled in return to his cautious look as he seemed to hold his breath.
“As I chose you.”
Adonia and three newly hired goons interrupted their tender moment. A glaring eye let them know the old matriarch was less than pleased to witness the intimacy between them, muttering about profusely in Greek where Sookie could only understand the word ‘Talbot’ spoken in between, making her hazard a guess it had to do with those elusive golden-haired grandchildren again.
“I should probably finish with Bill on my own,” she informed gathering her strength once more.
“Sure?” he questioned with an elevation of a single brow.
“Yeah,” Sookie whispered. “It’ll be good to be done with him once and for all.”
“Call for me if you need anything,” Eric agreed while kissing her forehead gently. She smiled in thanks for his support before he traced the welcome sight with the pad of his thumb. “Knock him dead,” he grinned before she emitted a snort with a shake of her head, her fingers lingering in his before reluctantly letting go when their bodies could no longer sustain the stretch of space between them.
Sookie had been quite surprised that Bill had remained in the same catatonic state as she left him, but found him responsive regardless to the hypnosis. He tried to speak but she willed him to silence.
“No,” she spoke sternly. “You don’t get to talk to me anymore, you don’t get to call me a whore when you decided to make me one, robbing me of all choice.”
She sat opposite him, the protest visible in the strain of his physical body, as if they were sitting down for a leisurely chat.
“I made a choice to help Eric, we chose to help each other, ” Sookie said with a small smile. “I probably should thank you, but I won’t, for your actions sent him to my door. He turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Eric told me a truth you wouldn’t share with me. He tells me the truth no matter what, even if it’s an ugly one. I respect him as he respects me, it’s something I’ll never be able to say of our past.” Her eyes narrowed with the command she then imposed, calming his body into that same form of stasis. “It’s how you’ll think of me, the woman you lost to death. The woman you lost with your dishonesty and it got her killed. That guilt is yours, Bill Compton, not mine, nor Russell who pulled the trigger or the people that surround him. You lost me and a part of yourself. You thought you could recover something on this wayward trip, somehow stalking a killer and a flicker hope would bring you closer to me, but all you found was emptiness.”
She regarded the glass of water that sat on the table between them and considering the men that had stood outside to take them away, she held it up to him, encouraging him to drink it down. “You know what the sad thing is, Bill?” she whispered while he gulped it down with a hungry parch. “You coming here did restore something inside of me. I don’t think I’ll ever forget what you’ve done to me and countless others, Bill, and I’ll do everything in my power to stop it from ever happening again, but you don’t scare me anymore and that’s worth a lot to me, more than the innocence you stole from me or the money of mine you took as your own. Maybe someday I’ll be able to forgive you for what you did, but now I’m just thankful I have one less nightmare to deal with. Goodbye Bill, forget all about me, and when you do think of me, remember the guilt; that’s the only thing of mine that was ever truly yours.”
The glass stood empty of moisture while a few tears escaped the corners of her eyes. The narrative she had prepared with Eric re-establishing a completely new memory of his trip was forced into his mind, memories of stalking an ailing Russell in search of his mother’s lost ring.
The red light on the camera was switched off before she took the camera and its stand under her arm. She moved into the darkness of the room, out of sight, and released the hold of his mind with a final command. “Forget about me, I was never here.”
Eric stood patiently waiting on the other side of the door, taking her into his arms without a word, he repeated the instructions he and Adonia had come to before leaving the olive grove. Adonia’s goons would escort Bill with the overnight ferry to Athens where Lorena would be informed of a much-needed pick up by him and wouldn’t be let out of sight till he was firmly strapped into his airplane seat.
They drove back with Adonia who proved to be a back seat driver in a car too, which for once they were both thankful for, allowing Sookie to gather her thoughts while his hand held hers across the console of the car, only letting go now and then to switch gears. Eric had planned to go to their safe haven when they were done but Adonia’s presence had forced them straight home, where upon their arrival they were greeted by a great contingent of Talbot’s family cooking up a storm and all incessantly wanted to know everything about Sookie. A triumphant grin and a harsh squeeze of her cheek let Sookie know the old woman was changing tactics in her matchmaking by simply introducing Sookie as her son’s future wife.
It wasn’t until after dinner that the two were able to slip away under the guise of an ‘evening stroll.’ They were pretty certain their room at the mansion was bugged as a simple sweep had detected activity and they had simply left it in place, pretending to be unaware and leaving private conversations for elsewhere. What exactly Russell hoped to achieve was a mystery to them both, but Sookie had assumed the man simply lacked entertainment and unfortunately they were it. Eric did execute an extensive sweep whenever they entered the apartment out of precaution just in case. By the time he finished his round Sookie was already half asleep on the hard and uncomfortable couch. He sat besides her, gently nudging her awake.
“Sorry, Eric. My session with Bill really took it out of me today,” she whispered. Another infectious yawn escaped her mouth as the back of her hand quickly covered it.
“I’m sorry you had to go through that again, min älskling,” he offered soothingly. “We can talk of this tomorrow if you prefer.”
She shook her head in answer. “Let’s do this now. Who knows when we escape from Talbot’s big Greek family again? Besides I want us to talk about it before we call Uncle Des.”
“Compton’s on a boat with two big Greek men for the next twelve hours. If I notice you need to sleep, promise you’ll listen to me,” he said.
“Yes, master,” she grumbled reluctantly.
“I’m warming to that pet name. Let me hear it again,” he announced with great glee.
“Nuh uh buddy. Keep that up and I’ll leave the choice up to Raven.”
He paled a little at the thought before switching over to business mode wanting her safe and warm in bed as soon as possible. “How much do you want to tell your uncle?”
“What will happen to Hadley if we tell him the full extent of Bill and Sophie Anne’s plotting?” Sookie asked while she absently fondled her new bracelet.
“Sophie Anne is his goddaughter so she won’t get the full brunt of his wrath. Hadley will be lumped in with her. I doubt any harm will come to them, a cold shoulder at best. Sophie Anne will be in your uncle’s debt, I assume.”
“And Bill?” she asked.
“He’s already on Cataliades’ shitlist, that’s not going to change much.”
Sookie sat quietly contemplating that before he asked if she was too tired again.
“No,” she replied. “I am going to teach you the meaning of two birds and one stone.”
“Please let it be something to do with rock hard,” he deadpanned well aware of the expression.
“I’m too tired to admonish you for your pervy behaviour right now,” she huffed half-heartedly. “I think we make a proposal for Sophie Anne to pay off her debt, and get Bill and Lorena the justice they deserve.”
Eric relayed their plan to the demon lawyer after reaching him on one of his many numbers. Cataliades’ was pleased with it although he would need some time to check the extent of his own client’s involvement in Lorena’s operations before the plan could be put into full execution. Sookie had fallen asleep halfway through their conversation as Eric discussed the final details with the clearly impressed lawyer.
She stirred when Eric had tried to carefully remove her from his lap to fetch her a blanket.
“Was I out for long?”
“No,” Eric replied while he stayed put stroking her hair.
“Why wouldn’t she just ask me?” Sookie asked sleepily.
“Ask what, älskling?”
“The use of my ability. Why go in such a roundabout way?” she supplied.
“Do you remember your state after Long Shadow?” he asked.
She furrowed her brows a little at the memory. “Yeah. What does that have to do with Sophie Anne?”
“How would you have felt if I had forced you to do that?”
“I doubt I would have been very helpful. I certainly wouldn’t have exerted my will like that.”
“There’s your answer. Sophie Anne needed you dependant so you would be eager to please. Loyalty is earned, not bought,” he explained. “She’s pretty smart, but was terribly lazy by choosing Compton and not even bothering to change his standard MO.”
She let it sink in, and counted her blessings for things turning out the way they did. “You know I was only eager to please you cause I thought I was gonna get a kiss out of it.” It was hard to miss the mischievous smirk that moved along with that statement.
“Is that so?” he spoke huskily with a cocked eyebrow, feigning an innocence that was hard to associate with him.
“Poor me. Being so callously rejected,” she mock-aggrieved with an exaggerated pout in an effort to bring levity to that previously painful memory.
“Allow me to make up for your suffering,” he offered while bending over to reach her lips, an incessant alarm, however, coming from his pocket stopped him as it assaulted their ears.
“Pam,” he growled with annoyance in identification of the caller and installer of the aggravating noise emitting from his phone. After relaying the emergency that justified the amount of noise caused and a reluctant sigh, he replied, “We’ll be right there.”
“Something wrong with Russell?” she asked with sudden worry.
“No. Aunt Jill just arrived.”
“And that’s an emergency, why?” she asked with a hint of annoyance.
“Because it’s Aunt Jill.”
“Is she some crazy assassin, too?” Sookie queried, having become exasperated with the limited information.
“No it’s worse. She’s a soccer mom,” he answered with a shiver running down his spine.
Seeing that Aunt Jill had put the Fear of God in four lethal assassins, Sookie had assumed the worst. In reality, Jill was an overbearing, take-charge type with a Southern personality that reminded Sookie of her grandmother. She wasn’t afraid to knock anyone down a peg or two that got in her way, killing them with kindness. The emergency that had the entire house in uproar, however, seemed to hinge on the fact that Russell had neglected to inform his sister of the severity of his illness.
When Eric and Sookie had arrived back at the mansion, they were greeted with the heavily Southern accents warring back and forth, fighting as only siblings could. Talbot and Pam were standing outside the door trembling, unsure what to do. They worried for Russell’s health, but were far too fearful of Jill’s wrath to interrupt.
When Pam’s eyes latched onto Eric’s she released a sigh of relief. “Eric, Thank God you’re here! Go in there, you’re her favourite!”
“No way! I value my life as it is. Besides, you’re her favourite!”
“I’m not her favourite, you are!” she retorted petulantly, arms crossed defensively and rendering her immobile from the carefully chosen spot that allowed her a quick exit. The bickering continued back and forth between both sets of siblings on either side of the door till Talbot shushed Eric and Pam, fearing an outright pandemonium.
“Will one of you, please, just go in there?” Talbot pleaded.
“Why does she have y’all so scared as a sinners in a cyclone?” Sookie asked, slipping into her local tongue with the familiar sounds of it, causing all eyes to instantly land on her. Their gazes briefly lifted to latch on to each other in agreement before boring down on the apparent solution in front of them with bouncy blonde hair.
“Sookie,” Talbot said sweetly. “Why don’t you go introduce yourself? You seem to speak…”
“Southern,” Pam supplied as Talbot was failing to grasp a politically-correct term.
“Yes, Sookie, go ‘Bless your heart’ her,” Eric spoke with a little too much excitement.
“You seriously want me to go in there alone? To break that up?” Sookie exclaimed disbelievingly.
“Yes!” all three supplied in sync and shared agreement.
“Fine!” she huffed knowing sleep would continue to evade her if the volume of their argument didn’t die down soon. “But you’re coming with me mister,” she said while poking Eric’s chest. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down at the thought of it before swallowing the threatening bile that rose and giving a reluctant nod.
Sookie disappeared to the kitchen to get some drinks so she had some sort of excuse to enter the room. As her Gran had always said, props were a Southern woman’s best friends.
“Eric, what is this ‘Bless your heart’ business?” Talbot asked with confusion.
“It’s how Southern women tell you politely to fuck off,” Eric deduced from Sookie’s explanation days before.
“That’s ridiculous! You must have misunderstood, Eric,” Pam said disbelievingly.
“Try it on Aunt Jill,” he dared her as Sookie walked in with a tray full of drinks.
“Oh, Sookie you brought us some drinks. Bless your heart,” Pam gritted out with a Southern drawl while her eyes glanced sideways to Eric disbelievingly.
“You’re going to have to practice your delivery for that to work on Jill,” Sookie replied unaffected, reaching for the door.
“Seriously? I could have been telling that woman to fuck off all these years without her griping me on ‘improper language’ for a young lady like myself,” Pam exclaimed while moving her fingers to express the air quotes that signified there was nothing improper about her favourite curse words. “You are so training me tomorrow.”
“Sure,” Sookie responded moving her gaze to Eric, communicating he open the door for her. “Let’s get this over with.”
They had to knock on the door three separate times before the noise died down and Russell told them to enter. The sick man looked more relieved than she had ever seen him with their sighting.
“Jill, allow me to introduce you to Sookie Stackhouse. She’s Eric’s belle,” Russell explained while Sookie sat down the tray of drinks.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am,” Sookie said as she offered her hand to the petite brunette in a Chanel suit with hair the size of Texas. Sookie wondered how she managed that so fresh off a plane, but soon fell into the usual niceties instead.
Jill Edgington-Evans took her hand in greeting as her own Southern graces kicked in at the sight of company. After the obligatory exchanges, Sookie managed to manoeuvre Jill out of the room and into a bedroom of her own. Pam and Talbot were happily trailing along with Jill’s extensive amount of luggage with how smooth Sookie was navigating the situation.
Russell mouthed a profound ‘thank you’ when Jill’s back was turned and gestured for Eric to remain behind.
“Oh, the irony, my dear boy. A gay man dying on the isle of Lesbos, and we’re stuck in a house full of women.”
“Talbot’s not a woman,” Eric supplied.
“He might as well be,” Russell sighed. “Thank Ms. Stackhouse for me.”
“Of course,” he answered before he too made to take his leave. The call of his name, however, held him a moment longer at the door.
“And thank you, too,” Russell spoke sincerely. “You don’t have to be here, but you are, and that means more to me than you’ll ever know.”
Eric couldn’t think to do anything but nod and whisper him a good night’s rest, knowing it had been becoming harder for him to achieve that as the disease continued to eat away at his once-unending energy.
It didn’t surprise Sookie that Adonia and Jill had bonded within moments of meeting each other and were soon ruling the roost in shared dominion without uttering a word of the same language. Thalia and her set scowl carried the same dislike for Jill as Sookie. This strangely pleased Sookie as it seemed Thalia’s dislike of her was an indiscriminate one that had little to do with her and more with Thalia herself.
The Edgington siblings had set aside their differences soon enough and the increased volumes in the house now mostly belonged to Talbot’s giant family that continued to pop in unannounced. Sookie finally understood why two people had such a giant house as it was filled to the brim now, and she constantly was underfoot somewhere.
The only moment of peace Sookie had been experiencing the past week was when she collapsed into Eric’s arms for a few hours of rest at night. She ran herself ragged as Jill’s gopher and answering to Talbot’s family and their countless questions who, unlike Adonia, managed to converse with her in English perfectly well. When she asked Eric how he managed to avoid the inquisition from the Angelis clan, he had simply shrugged and said, “I’m Swedish, they leave me alone.”
In truth, Eric wasn’t too happy with all the attention Sookie was getting and tried desperately to steal her away to their secret apartment whenever they could afford it. He quickly found out that to Sookie, being rude seemed a larger sin than any other and facets of Jill’s feared personality had come out with her, so instead he left her to her Southern hospitality, catering to everyone’s needs aside from her own.
It was Jill who finally managed to force her out of the house, sending her to a day spa with Pam after Eric had dropped a subtle hint. Pam was, incidentally, still failing to pick up the nuances of the ‘Bless your heart’ delivery, much to Jill’s amusement. Sookie had given up by now, but Russell had taken to training her with limited success by his bedside.
It was blissfully quiet when they returned and Pam quickly left Sookie behind to greet Russell. After she was unable to find Eric in the house, Sookie looked in on them.
“Sookie, join us,” Pam said excitedly. “I can practice with the both of you.”
Sookie sat beside Pam after finding herself smiling automatically to his boyish grin at the sight of her. Pam, meanwhile, tried relentlessly to get the delivery right. The only time she appeared successful was with the delivery of a cloyingly, sweet version that expressed ‘you’re an idiot’. She found that one useless as she mastered that particular line in a multitude of languages with ease and saw little need to change it up.
“Don’t worry, Raven, we’ll make a Southern Belle out of you yet,” Sookie encouraged with a snicker.
“I think I’m going to stick with ‘Bless your FUCKING heart’,” Pam huffed to the loud cackle of Russell.
“I have to say the two of you look especially radiant today,” Russell noted. Pam simply looked pleased to confirm something she already knew.
“That’s very kind of you to say, Russell, Bless your heart,” Sookie demonstrated with a demure sweetness to Pam who just looked confused.
“Is there a Google translate for this?” Pam asked with a sarcasm that was hard to miss and seemed to creep in heavier with her own inability to deliver the line as intended.
“Sookie told me very politely that my compliment was an utter falsehood,” Russell said with a discerning eyebrow. “Which, frankly, is a little disconcerting,”
In a secondary demonstration Sookie gave him an exaggerated batting of her lashes when she uttered the infamous words with a sickly sweetness while patting his shoulder like a small child, subtly expressing he must be especially dense if he believed that. Russell released a little mock gasp with the insinuation.
“Ms. Stackhouse, I am a gay man on his deathbed. If I’m not the authority for recognising beauty, then I don’t know who is.”
“Well, Bless your little pea pickin’ heart,” she returned that showered her with his laughs of delight.
Her face blank except for the hostile malcontent that radiated from her with her inability to grasp what was playing out before her, Pam grumbled, “I’m going to need to find an app for this.”
A/N: So we’re back into calmer waters again with a bit of levity along the way after Sookie found a bit of her inner strength so I hope you all enjoyed that (or at the very least Pam). Next time Sookie will start poking into Russell and well, waters can’t always remain this calm around these two… Love to hear thoughts as always 😉
Full disclosure: the last time I was in the American South I was still in the single digits so the nuances of ‘Bless your heart’ come from internet research, so apologies if I have gotten some of it wrong and I know there are plenty of friendly folks in the South that truly say it out of the kindness of their heart.
MsBuffy my editor extraordinaire made this all pretty, so much thanks to her again.