“You’re an assassin too?” Sookie asked as if it were the most banal question in the world.
“No debt collecting mostly. I make sure the perps bleed dry till they pay up,” she said with a menacing smile.
Sookie wondered if she spoke figuratively or literally. Probably a bit of both she concluded and truthfully she didn’t want to know more. The rest of the evening was filled with as mundane of conversations that could be expected between an assassin, an underworld debt collector and a human lie detector.
Chapter 5 – Shades
“How can you live without curtains?” Sookie complained in her half sleeping state whilst desperately trying to escape the sun’s penetrating rays flooding the south-eastern facing room.
“Stop whining,” Eric grumbled back at her, as he too was far from fully awake. “There are curtains in the living room.”
She simply dug herself further under the covers in response. They had ended up in the same bed together after some heated words the night prior. Eric had gallantly offered to take the sofa whilst she were to take the bed. One look at the sofa and his lengthy frame made her quickly dismiss the suggestion as she announced she would be taking the sofa.
Eric had not taken well to this. Concerned, for he was well aware she was not getting the required hours of sleep, he had pitched a fit and stubbornly refused to move.
After an unsuccessful attempt to remove his giant body that was barricading her intended resting place and tossing out a vertically challenged slur, or two, she had changed tactics.
She asked him a nonsensical question about the bedside light that he needed to be in the room for to answer. He expected her to use the distraction to dart back into the living room and claim the now highly prized sofa. He wasn’t worried and indulged her request, he’d lift her in an instant and drop her onto the bed unceremoniously. She’d surprised him by pushing him onto the bed straddling his upper body and telling him to stay put as she plonked herself down next to him and pulled the covers over them both.
She was actually quite happy with their new sleeping arrangements. Being in such close quarters forced her to forego her nightly wallowing and focus on actually sleeping. She woke up far better rested than she had in a long time. Eric was pleased too; despite the gallantry he knew that the sofa would fuck up his back beyond repair plus she smelled like peaches. It was somehow nice.
He lifted the cover in an effort to get her to enjoy the morning sunshine, which resulted in them both trapped under the covers staring each other down after a minor screeching fest.
“Hey,” she finally offered as a white flag.
“This is awkward,” she stated after the silence lasted too long between them.
“Agreed. Let’s get breakfast.”
With that they departed from the bed and moved onto the kitchen whilst carefully avoiding looking each other in the eye till they got there.
They had settled in a twisted version of domesticity as Sookie served up dinner in the early evening. Sookie had felt like a caged animal all day scrubbing down every surface in the apartment twice as Eric was doing whatever assassins do during the day. She didn’t like the situation at all. She had been taking thorough stock of how her life had derailed with the entrance of Connor Thompson or rather Bill Compton. She was still trying to adjust to the true identity of the man she had loved. No matter how sparkling clean Eric’s apartment was now, it failed to remove the filth Bill had inflicted on her away. She had considered a third round of cleaning but knowing it had done nothing for her in the shower she had thrown herself into cooking an elaborate meal instead.
Looking back upon the path that she had travelled, she saw the manipulation for what it was now. He preyed on her affections and bound her to him with his hot and cold behaviour. She had wanted to please him and so Sookie had often found herself disregarding the more obstinate parts of her personality. She understood that at some point the game had lost its purpose and he had genuinely come to care for her. She didn’t dignify calling it love anymore. She knew better now, the moment he stopped manipulating her Sookie was no longer the girl he met, she was the girl he had cultivated.
She had become a shadow of her former self. A girl who contentedly allowed her boyfriend to convince her that her friends were jealous and petty. They only liked her when she was down so they could feel better about themselves. Sookie now knew it was genuine concern for her. Bill had convinced her Sam’s innocent interest in her wellbeing was akin to sexual harassment. Her brother was only interested in robbing her of any part of their shared inheritance. It was Bill who had been robbing her blind.
She had shed quite a few tears over the fact that he had convinced her to sell her family home. A home her ancestors had built and inhabited for generations. Selling the old homestead had settled the last issues of her grandmother’s estate and severed her ties with her last remaining known kin.
Even though the eventual sum that she had received from the estate was small, it grated her immensely that she had allowed Bill to park it in his bank account. On top of everything he had been swindling her out of her finances as well.
The Sookie Stackhouse that existed before the intervention of Bill Compton would never have come to those conclusions or made those decisions that had detached her from her former life. She had clung to him like a life vest because he convinced her she needed saving. She relied on the years he had on her to make decisions for the both of them convinced it was in her and their relationship’s best interest.
She had wondered if she was not repeating the same mistakes by latching on to Eric so eagerly. Sookie had abated her doubts by the fact that they were not a romantic item. She didn’t really know what he was to her and lacking a proper term she had decided on fellow survivors. Eric was somewhat commanding in taking charge of her life. Although she was supposed to feel uncomfortable about that, his rational representation of the facts gave her arguments she couldn’t counter. He also always gave her an out.
She had wondered what Bill’s changed endgame had become. He had convinced her to come live with him but beyond that she was uncertain. In her case there was no virginity to sell off anymore, she deeply regretted gifting him that.
The moving company would have been picking up the contents of her former home today. She was certain that whatever had laid in her future with Bill Compton it would not have been pretty. Eric had confirmed to her this morning that he had flown out to Louisiana after she failed to arrive at his home as scheduled the day before yesterday. Her cell phone had been permanently out of service for two days now and the texting decoy Eric had set up was most likely detected by Bill by now.
The next couple of days would be crucial. Eric kept close taps on Bill’s movements as well as her former friends and family. Sookie wistfully hoped she’d be able to repair those lost relations when she would be able to return to her former life again. The thought of six months seemed insurmountable some times and it wasn’t a given. Eric had hinted it could be even longer than that.
Eric had informed her he and Pam needed to finish up some last business before they moved on towards Sweden. He had told Sookie about Russell’s failing health and the adjustment to his timeline on their road trip. He had left her his extensive dossier behind that day. She had read through everything thrice, bar the documents in Swedish and his side script in the same language.
Eric had been working on this stealthily for over 16 years but he was yet to find a definitive direction. It was not from his lack of investigative skills, they were excellent. The pieces just refused to come together.
“I need you to come along to a job tonight,” he told her as she was chewing down on a piece of potato. She swallowed nervously, she had adopted a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ attitude to his work life. Sookie decided she should really have added a ‘don’t see’ clause to that too.
“I’m really not that comfortable you know…” she trailed off and lowered her voice to barely a whisper, “all the killing.”
He smiled at her as if she were a child with amusement sparkling through his eyes. This only seemed to unnerve her more until he offered an explanation, “It’s one of Pam’s. She really wants to wrap this up so she can get to Greece and be with Russell and Talbot. I think it will also be a good way to test the range of your skill.”
“What do you need me to do?” she asked warily.
“The man in question is proving difficult to crack. We need some intel on him as leverage to ensure he pays his debt.”
“Explain to me how this debt collecting business works?” she asked considering her only knowledge of loan sharks and collection came from movies that always ended up with broken knees.
“People who borrow outside the legitimate realm tend to have multiple loans,” Eric explained. “Our objective is to make sure that whomever we work for is the top creditor on the list. When the debt is repaid we receive our payment.”
“No cure, no pay.”
“Yes. It’s a delicate balance we need to ensure one is able to pay his debt. Some merely hire us to ascertain just that. We can harm him only so much to gain the knowledge that will assure his compliance,” he offered in explanation of the intricacies. “Intelligence is worth far more than broken limbs in these cases.”
“What about people who can’t pay back?” she asked almost afraid to know the answer.
“Pam does her due diligence. We don’t accept any jobs that can’t be repaid. These are not low strung addicts in trouble with their bookmakers.”
Understanding the gist of it Sookie agreed to help and they soon found them pulling up to an abandoned warehouse in an industrial district. Sookie grasped at her hoodie as she felt the chill travel through her bones inside the damp steel frame building. She followed Eric through the dimly lit hallway where they met Pam waiting outside a door holding a first aid kit.
“Any medical training?” Pam asked of Sookie after the obligatory greetings had passed between them. She hardly recognised the young nineteen year old in a leather clad outfit smeared with blood, the softness always present in her hair was tightly tied to her scalp.
“Not officially but I patched up my brother plenty after some bar brawls.”
“Good,” Eric started. “Pretend to attend to his wounds whilst you extract as much information as possible.”
“Am I looking for anything specific?”
“Anything incriminating and family stuff is always good,” Pam drawled out in a bored tone. She was aware of Sookie’s ability but without a demonstration she was highly sceptical. She had agreed however as any more physical damage at this point would be counterproductive. Admittedly she was slightly peeved that such a novice would swoop in to usurp her fruitless efforts.
Eric and Pam looked upon Sookie through the two-way mirror as she carefully roused the Native American casino owner, Long Shadow, whilst tending to his wounds.
Pam was impressed soon enough, within minutes Sookie had him spilling his darkest secrets. Not everything was relevant but Eric was pleased to see how she was directing the narrative. The combination of the severity of the wounds and the stories spilling from his mouth forced Sookie to leave the room twice. Once to throw up from the repugnant smell a second time to gather her strength as she sought her balance in the cool night air. It was at this point that Eric suggested they called it a night as they had plenty to work with.
Sookie asked to indulge her one experiment and requested him to come in the room with her.
“Please stop me if necessary,” she spoke softly before they entered the interrogation suite.
“Long Shadow,” she spoke directing her gaze more forcefully as she watched his eyes oscillate till they stilled almost ominously. Never had she unleashed that on a person before and if it wasn’t for Eric’s free hand, that she clutched with a strength she was unaware of possessing, she would probably have run screaming at the sight of it. “Who in your retinue has the authorisation to move funds?”
“Ron,” he answered in a monotonous tone.
Sookie let out a small gasp at the man’s hypnotic state. It was what she had intended to test but she had not expected for it to work so well. It hadn’t taken Sookie long after that to ‘encourage’ Long Shadow to authorise Ron to make the full payment to an untraceable bank account belonging to Eric. As soon as they were out the door Sookie collapsed in Eric’s arms as her feet gave way from under her.
He brought her to sit on the threadbare couch in the makeshift office in the warehouse. She was still shivering although it wasn’t the cold that was causing the tremors running down her spine at this moment. Downing an oversized cup of takeout coffee Pam had procured she looked around the room shiftily not sure where to rest her gaze. Eric merely observed the jitterbug in front of him. Only when she threatened to hyperventilate did he intervene.
“Shit Eric,” she panted after he coaxed her to calm down a little. “I didn’t know I was capable of that”
“You did really well tonight,” he encouraged which only sent her rising fears through the roof.
“I took control of his mind,” she returned shakily as tears started gathering waiting to be shed. “He had no free will. I forced myself on him.”
He grabbed her by the chin looking her straight into the eyes.
“No,” Eric said sternly. “He brought that situation upon himself. He refused to work with Pam on a payment plan. If he had continued his resistance his fate would be far worse. The man he owed the money to would not have left him or his family unscathed. The wounds you tended to would have been like slaps on a wrist in comparison.”
“What if I have been forcing people to do whatever I want all my life?” she whispered as tears flowed down her cheeks. “I’m an awful person.”
“Do you really place confidence in that?” He cocked his eyebrow at her disbelievingly. “You think your life would be where it is because everyone catered to your every whim?”
It felt like a low blow considering the state of her life right now but somewhere she recognised he had a point but the insecurities inside her were refusing to relent.
“I don’t know Eric,” she sobbed softly. “I’m just not comfortable taking away people’s choice unknowingly.”
“Fine,” he sighed with some exasperation. “Try it on me. Force something on me unwillingly without the hypnosis.”
“What?” she stammered finding that prospect of certainty even more unnerving than the thought of it.
“Indulge me,” he smirked at her encouragingly. She detested the sight of it but she understood his intent, he was helping her once again. There was little she found she could ever offer to repay him his kindness towards her.
“Kiss me,” she asked breathlessly seeking escape desperately in the pools of his brilliantly blue eyes.
With her hypothesis disproven Eric swiftly left the room leaving a confused Sookie behind who sank to tears at his definitive rejection. Under any other circumstances he would have been happy to oblige.
Sookie stared at the woman with the chocolate brown hair in the mirror. Pam had aided her in applying it. It would rinse out within a few weeks but it couldn’t come soon enough. She missed her blonde hair it had made her feel like she ‘fit’ with Eric and Pam. To the outside world the three of them would appear like siblings but now she was the outsider again. A black sheep she thought sarcastically. Or at least a dark brown one.
She had to start packing again and she would need to buy some new things. Sookie was barely surviving the winter climate as it was, her Louisiana wardrobe would never stand up to the Arctic colds of Sweden. Eric had given her a large wad of cash, mostly in Euros, as her cut in Long Shadow’s payment. She had refused it initially, it had made her feel incredibly dirty in its participation, but after some persistence she finally accepted. She was actually quite glad to be able to possess some cash that she could call her own now.
She had loaded up Pam’s minivan, which she had generously loaned to Sookie when she departed to Greece two days ago, with her new purchases. She looked at the digital clock dreading her next stop.
Eric assured her that Dr Ludwig was discreet and would get her lab work returned within 48 hours. He had offered to come along but having to put her sexual history down on paper and relaying it to the doctor would be humiliating enough without his presence.
Despite Dr Ludwig’s lack of bedside manner the physical exam and blood draw were not as bad as she expected. To Sookie’s relief the doctor wasn’t judgemental nor did she express pity for her. She simply acknowledged it was a good decision on her part and set to work methodically.
As Sookie was shrugging out of the hospital gown and changing back into her own clothing she overheard a voice she hadn’t heard in quite some time. It was accompanied by another woman’s shrill voice that was trying to lift her spirits.
Sookie carefully peered out the door into the waiting area and the visual confirmed her audio recognition. There sat her cousin Hadley, heavily pregnant being soothed by a red headed siren that Sookie recognised as Sophie Anne Leclerq from Eric’s file on her.
Panic set in as Sookie realised she couldn’t well pounce on her cousin for her betrayal. Aside from the pregnancy she really couldn’t afford to be recognised by her. Despite the new hair Sookie didn’t dare risk exiting through the waiting area. She still had to settle her payment and a quick departure would be out of the question.
Fifteen minutes had passed and Hadley was still waiting. Sookie had overheard Sophie Anne demanding from the receptionist how long it would take before Dr Ludwig would see them. The staff informed her it would take as long as it took considering she had no appointment. This caused both Sophie Anne and Sookie to curse, be it one was not audible.
The internal service door opened as the nurse walked in surprised to still find Sookie there. When she suggested Sookie was free to leave, Sookie outright refused offering to pay extra just so she wouldn’t have to go out into the wait area.
The nurse was used to people getting bad news on their health all the time and they tended to act quite irrationally at those moments. She assumed this is what had happened to Sookie and she managed to coax her into going to the nurse lounge where she settled her down with a cup of herbal tea.
“Is there someone we can call your boyfriend or an emergency contact?” the nurse soothed hoping it was the quickest way of evicting her from the premises.
Sookie cringed as she realised officially Bill/Connor was her only emergency contact. However she did figure Eric would be of help in the situation at hand. His imposing figure was an effective method of camouflage by itself. Handing over Eric’s number she waited it out till he showed up with a soft knock on the door.
“I’m here to collect my panicked girlfriend,” he smirked at her.
“Are they still out there?”
“Who lover?” he asked playfully.
“Hadley and Sophie Anne.”
His jovial manner had changed instantly as he reassessed the situation.
“Have they seen you? Recognised you?” she shook her head no in response.
“I didn’t dare go out there once I recognised Hadley’s voice. It’s how I ended up hiding out playing the panicked patient. Here,” she handed him a stack of bills and the precise amount in cash, “settle up the bill and check if they’re still out there.”
It didn’t take long for him to return with her year’s supply of birth control pills in hand.
“Still there,” he announced stretching out his hand to her. “We’re leaving through the back door. Come along.”
She followed him through the maze of hallways before they exited out onto an alleyway where he instructed her to wait while he pulled the minivan round. It wasn’t until they had driven down a few blocks and nothing happened that she dared to breathe again.
“Do you think they saw me?”
“I don’t think so,” Eric replied. “Sophie Anne approached me but seemed otherwise preoccupied with Hadley.”
“You know Sophie Anne?” she enquired as she continued to glance into the rear-view mirrors again to assure herself no one was following them.
“We run in the same circles,” he offered in explanation. “It’s inevitable that our paths cross now and then.”
“How did you explain your presence in a women’s clinic?”
“I told her I was considering becoming a woman.”
“And she believed you?” she asked incredulously.
“No, but it stopped her asking questions.”
“Good cause you’d make an awful looking shemale,” she sniggered. “And I wouldn’t want you to have to turn to cross dressing to cover my tracks.”
“I’ll have you know I look very becoming with long hair,” he spoke with mock outrage as he flipped his imaginary long locks.
When their laughter had died down she turned serious again. “Thanks for saving me out there again Eric.”
“What kind of boyfriend would I be if I didn’t come running at your every beck and call?”
She slapped him on the arm playfully at his teasing. “Will you quit it with that boyfriend title? I had to improvise. Somehow asking the nurse to call my ‘would be assassin who didn’t kill me but then rescued me out of no obligation of his own’ really didn’t roll of the tongue that well.”
“Well when you put it like that I should really reconsider my business cards. Eric Northman: assassin extraordinaire and fantastical boyfriend.”
She couldn’t help but laugh at his antics even if they were at her expense. She shook her head admonishingly. “The way you carry on with that boyfriend title, it’s like you’ve never been allowed to wear it,” she giggled and a snort may have escaped from her nostrils.
He simply remained silent at the inadvertent truth she had found in that statement.
Sookie was staring at the plain white ceiling above her as sleep was continuing to evade her. If she had to guess Hadley was about 8 months pregnant. Which meant she had probably just discovered her condition when she informed Bill Compton about her naïve virginal cousin. It bothered her that Hadley had traded Sookie’s life off to pay for her own maternity leave.
After Eric’s exposure of her cousin’s betrayal she had assumed Hadley had pimped her out for drug money. In the years that Hadley was an active part of Sookie’s life she had witnessed her cousin’s downward spiral that was substance abuse. She had mourned for her cousin, for one thing was clear, the drugs had eviscerated the person she once knew. Everyone assumed she was dead after extensive searches into her whereabouts came up empty.
The brief glimpse she had of her was unsettling. She seemed healthy, glowing even. Her figure and face had filled out again which wasn’t related solely to her pregnancy. Sookie almost didn’t dare think that she was in a better place before the conception and she had sold her out stone cold sober.
“Stop fretting,” a voice carried through the relative darkness. Eric had yet to invest in curtains much to her annoyance.
“Am I keeping you up? I’ll leave,” Sookie spoke as she moved the covers to get out of their shared bed.
“No stay,” he said sleepily as he pulled her body towards him locking her between his arms.
She moved her body so she was facing his chest, her head resting on his bicep, to keep some distance between them.
“Your cousin?” he asked his eyes still closed.
“Yeah,” she acknowledged with a small yawn.
“She’s a cunt. Go to sleep.”
“Eric!” she gasped.
“Something, something, spade. Sleep.” She chuckled at his failure to grasp or memorise common English expressions.
Aware she still wasn’t sleeping, he softly sang her a Swedish lullaby that his mormor* used to sing to him. Somewhere in the back of his mind he hoped that the many thousands of goodnights he was wishing upon her would be spent by his side.
As Sookie finally succumbed to sleep she couldn’t help but wonder if she shouldn’t be more concerned at the comfort she found in the arms of a killer.
A/N: * mormor = maternal grandmother. The lullaby Eric sings to Sookie is Jag Vet en Dejlig Rosa (I Know a Rose So Fair). YouTube has some very nice renditions of it, Robyn’s is the most famous one. Lyrics in English and Swedish below.
Jag Vet en Dejlig Rosa
Jag vet en dejlig rosa och vit som liljeblad
När jag på henne tänker så görs mitt hjärta glad
Dess stämma ger en hjärtans tröst
Lik näktergalens blida röst
Så fager och så ljuv
Som solen fagert skiner är hon som purpur klar
Gud låt dig aldrig sörja men alltid vara glad
Må de få komma samman
Med hjärtans fröjd och gamman
Som längta till varann
Var dag går solen neder och dagelig uppgår
När kommer dagen blider att jag dig skåda får
I hågen är du jämt mig när
Farväl, farväl min hjärtans kär
I know a rose so fair
I know a rose so fair and white as lily petals
When I think of her my heart is filled with joy
Her voice brings solace to my heart
Like the soft sound of the nightingale
So gracious and so sweet
Like the sun shine gracefully she is as bright as purple
God, may you never grieve but always be happy
May they come together
With joy and rejoicing in their hearts
Those who miss each other
Each day the sun goes down and every day it rises
When will that blessed day arrive that I can lay my eyes on you
In my heart you are always close to me
Farewell, farewell, my heart’s beloved
Many thousand times good night