Misery Loves Company
Sookie wasn’t close enough and her mood was the antithesis of what I would’ve expected. I’d never admit it aloud, but we’d talked, light conversation and nothing more until nearly dawn… when I had to leave her room for mine…
Fucking pillow talk. Me?
Nonetheless, she was tired but content, if not happy when I left her…
But the sudden horror, rage, exhaustion, fear… the brew wasn’t enjoyable… she was close enough that I could feel her moving erratically, but not close enough that I could hear where… if she were in the house like she should’ve been, the 200 year old construction would’ve given away her location…
I was trying to calm her, trying to gather some clues while I dressed, finally feeling Sookie getting closer…
When I heard the front door slam against the wall in the foyer… and clumsy, frantic feet hammer up the stairs…
Followed by frantic knocking on my bedroom door.
My mind didn’t have the chance to fully process Sookie’s state, but before I was done with ‘what the fuck?’ her grimy hands were on my chest.
“Tell me you can feel her! Tell me you can tell she’s ok! I couldn’t find her!” The only clean part of her seemed to be where her tears washed the grime from her face… Sookie was covered. Soot. Dust. Blood. She smelled… like a bomb had gone off. THAT was when my alarm really started to set in.
“Why wouldn’t she be? What’s happened?”
“Can you feel her before she rises?”
More difficult, but not impossible while she’s dead (and although it only took a moment), Sookie rattled impatiently as though I was taking my time. Even though I hadn’t felt her leave the palace, I still checked since I’d been pleasantly distracted until just before dawn. “From what I can tell, she’s still at the palace, or very nearby… now will you explain?”
“The palace was bombed today! Paulette and I were sharing a Mufalleta when we heard fire trucks… then another set… then another… we turned on the TV and it was all over the news… the back end of the building, where the service entrances are… GONE… How long have you been up? I tried to get back sooner, but the wards… I’ve been out front for a while now.”
“Pam will call as soon as she rises. What happened?”
“From what I could get, there was one big bomb… like the Oklahoma City one… in a van… The blast was so big most of the cars in the parking lot back there blew up too… I couldn’t find her… I looked and looked…”
“Try to calm down. I’d know if she were injured. Start at the beginning.”
She heaved several breaths trying to calm herself, but neither of us noticed a difference. “As soon as I saw the news I went over there. I couldn’t just… I wasn’t going to just sit around and Paulette refused to let me go alone… She thought she’d be able to keep me out of trouble.”
“How long before you proved her wrong?”
She winced, silently admitting that I was right. “About 15 minutes… cops and firefighters and paramedics and… the reporters were all over the place… I got around the back and heard one of the firefighters thinking that the fire burned itself out in the part he was coming out of… I went in.”
“Looking for Pam?” A pleasing concept… that Sookie would already feel so concerned for her. One of the many things that would be on the list of things it felt crazy to believe until there was something more tangible taking place. Especially considering that Pam had been referred to as ‘an acquired taste’ more than a few times.
“Yeah… but I could feel them, their brains… it isn’t just Pam in there…”
“Sookie… Going was hazardous. You could’ve been hurt. Information about you could’ve been leaked…”
She continued as though I hadn’t said anything. “…I found a couple of donors who were just stunned… could barely hear anything… I had them show me where the vampires rest for the day. It’s locked from the inside. There’s a couple minds in there that could be Pam, but I didn’t lay eyes on her… there was a couple of rooms that were light tight before but not now… and… you’re sure that you’d feel her, right? Either way?”
“I’m sure of it. I’m going to assume that there will be a fair amount of identification to do later.”
She nodded as she started pacing. “I counted at least 4 puddles like Long Shadow and like ten messes that looked more like a little campfire… not so many humans because I guess they go home at dawn… I met another daemon. Tell me that he can be trusted… lawyer, Mr. Cat, Catelled…”
“Mr. Cataliades is the queen’s lawyer. He’s been loyal to her for years. He’s Diantha and Gladiola’s uncle.”
She took a moment to stop and mutter ‘thank God’ before she continued to pace. “He was trapped in a smaller conference room by himself because the door was blocked. He started helping me look for people and actually kept me from getting arrested… and found someone to keep ‘rescue efforts’ from getting to all the folks that got busted last night… It took a while, but me, Mr. C and four of the employees went from room to room… there are 5 rooms we couldn’t get into, but I could feel brains…”
“Most of the rooms in the building are light proof and most of the resting places, gathering areas and such are insulated.”
She nodded, still worried and on edge. “He’s here.”
“Mr. C… He came with me to talk to you… there’s a lot going on… Paulette called her brother and they’re on their way to some place to get folks together… Once we got back outside, the reporters were recording stuff about how the church was claiming responsibility, claiming that any vampire execution was a biblical justice that was long overdue… that kind of crap…”
“That’s not much of a surprise.”
“It’s not them though! It’s Threadgill… I heard it… Two different ‘bystanders’ were thinking about how that same Jennifer woman was going to be happy with how they pulled everything off… All of this is a nightmare… Mr. C started calling all over and leaving messages for all the vampires he knew to chill out until they heard something once I told him… so that the Fellowship jackasses don’t go getting martyred before it’s their own doing…” She finally stopped pacing by crashing into me and wrapping her arms around my sides…
Even with the aftermath of a bombing on our horizon, I couldn’t ignore how much I enjoyed contact with her. “You should go shower and try to calm down… I’ll go talk to Mr. Cataliades.”
Her head only shook slightly since she’d laid it on my chest… “I want to stay with you until you hear from Pam… please. I’ll go clean up as soon as I know she’s ok… the rescue workers didn’t care about the vampires.”
“Sookie, I wouldn’t be able to hide it if I sensed anything being wrong with her. You know that, right?”
Her arms tightened around me. “I don’t even think you’d try to lie about it… It’ll just make me feel better. Please.”
Downstairs, rather, just beyond the front door that was still standing open, waited the ever unwearied and genial Mr. Cataliades. His smile shifted into a sympathetic look for Sookie as I invited him into the house with her attached to my side.
“Evening Sheriff. Seeing you again would be a pleasure under better circumstances.”
“Agreed. What needs to be done? What’s already been done?”
“It took some doing and a brush with law enforcement, but sentries have been placed at the entry to all of the rooms where your pet found resting vampires as well as the holding area. Miss Stackhouse was able to find the queen’s chambers… We’re unsure if everyone is unharmed, but the rooms in question seem to be undamaged and she’s confident that she ‘felt’… is that the term?”
“She felt vampires of the appropriate ages within the apartment. We don’t have much reason to worry about the hierarchy it seems.”
“Sookie’s already explained that she overheard thoughts about Threadgill’s involvement.”
“She did. I’m quite thankful that the queen called me last night to start drafting her contract, otherwise I might have let disbelief prevent the peace of mind her talent offers. I’ve started preparations to collect interested parties at The Abbey so that the queen can explain the goings on before her vampires begin retaliating against the wrong party. For the time being we are assuming that the individuals of interest that Miss Stackhouse discovered last night being detained might have prevented some sort of check-in or phone-tree process. Miss Stackhouse suggested that the attack could’ve been a failsafe measure. I’d like to suggest that you do your best to contact those in your area in the hopes of avoiding misguided hostilities in your district as well.”
“Certainly. Is there anything else? You said that there was a brush with law enforcement?”
He glanced at Sookie, grinning marginally wider. “In our efforts to make sure the areas containing vampires were still sound, we were separated. An officer happened on Sookie and tried to remove her. She wasn’t cooperating. Paramedics were trying to handcuff her to a gurney when I found her and they released her once I explained that she was on staff. The officer she attacked may still press charges though.”
“Charges?” She tensed against me.
“She was fanatically opposed to an officer’s attempt to breech the lock on the resting area’s door. He’s claiming that his rib is broken.”
I chuckled (even if it was inappropriate, all things considered) and couldn’t help but be proud of her. She looked up at me, cringing. “I don’t know if they’re in beds or what and the entry was getting too much light because the wall crumbled away in sections… And I didn’t hit him that hard.” She had hit him ‘that hard’. I could feel that she was minimizing her behavior as much as she was anxious about its outcome.
“The humans have been evacuated for safety reasons, I assume.”
“Except for the inmates, yes.”
“Who is available to explain to Sophie-Ann?”
“I should be hearing from her any minute. I left identical urgent messages for her and…” When his phone began chiming in his pocket, his eyes lit up and he earned a giggle from Sookie for his ‘speak of the devil’ comment as I nodded to the study to offer him some privacy.
She barely waited for the door to close behind Mr. Cataliades before she gave me a worried look. “I didn’t mean to hurt him. He grabbed me and I elbowed him to get away.”
“I’m not angry… And I doubt that you’ll need to worry about anything coming from the charges.”
“Considering your efforts, I doubt you’ll be left to answer for defending yourself… I still have a lot of questions.”
She huffed stepping away, but taking my hand and going to the kitchen. “Ask away, but I need a drink. I have the nastiest taste in my… the smell…” She shuddered opening the refrigerator.
“I’m sure.” She smelled like a crematorium.
She opened a juice bottle and swallowed most of it in one attempt. “Is your phone even on?”
“She’ll call, Sookie. Pam’s only just now rising and she’s not giving me any reason to think that she’s even aware that something’s happened.”
She huffed and leaned against the counter. “Alright… start the questions then. She’s killing me.”
“You mentioned Paulette and her brother. What are they doing?”
“Porter’s a witch too… Mr. C was telling me that he was calling a meeting, but mentioned that he was concerned about security when Paulette caught up to me… She volunteered to take her brother to that place, the Abbey, to ward it… Mr. C was worried until I told him that she had to carry me over her wards here so that I could leave.”
“She carried you?” The two of them were practically the same size.
She snorted. “I’m sure it was quite a sight, but she gave me a piggy back ride and it still hurt to get across. She’s no joke.”
“My only complaint about her is that she won’t move to Shreveport.”
Sookie raised an eyebrow. “You need a witch and a telepath? Greedy.”
“That’s akin to asking if I need clothes and a car… they serve different functions, yes?”
She nodded her agreement after she finished the last of her juice and went to get another. “You got me there.”
“Right. Is anything being done about the two whose thoughts you heard? The ones involved in the bombing?”
“Not at the moment, but they’re screwed. I boosted their wallets. Mr. C has them.”
“You assaulted a police officer and pick-pocketed?”
“Don’t forget that I… what’s it called when you cover up something?”
“Obstruction of justice?”
“Yeah, that… and I’m gonna ignore how quickly that came to you… When I felt all the sleaze balls in the basement, I convinced the cops that there were more vampires down there so that nobody would have to figure out how to explain that.”
I smiled at her. “You don’t give yourself enough credit. That really was a brilliant maneuver.”
“Pam?” She was more preoccupied with Pam’s state than I was… granted, I did have the benefit of feeling that Pam was fine other than being irritated. She was just as likely to be irked at a cowlick from resting as the bombing though.
“That’s it. She could be standing too close to someone with an affinity for vinegar. She could be noticing that she needs to paint her nails. It’s Pam, Sookie. She’ll call.”
“Why don’t you call?”
“Because she’s likely to be getting information… and because she’ll call.”
“She’s still there though?”
“Yes. Pam is still at the palace and is only annoyed. To make a finer point, she’s in no physical discomfort. Is one of the vampires in the queen’s apartment young?”
“No. God only knows where Hadley is, but one of the humans mentioned that she hadn’t been there last night.”
“Who from the church is claiming responsibility?”
“No one in particular. It’s anonymous… And the worst part is those dumbasses are out front with signs about how vampires brought it on themselves… It makes me want to tell vampires to follow them home and make sure the last words they hear is ‘Darwin Was Right’.”
I laughed (and was too tempted) at the idea. “Sookie, you’re becoming quite the skeptic.”
“Says the guy who’s lived a dozen lifetimes to the girl who’s been seeing the ugly truth since birth… And was raised by a woman who believed that the glass is always full.”
“Your Gran disparaged Disney princesses, but still had a ‘half-full’ perspective on life?”
“I didn’t say ‘half-full’. I said full… People tend to take the air in the other half for granted.” Unfuckingbelievable…
I couldn’t help myself… “I really do think I would’ve liked her.”
She grinned, staring at her juice bottle dolefully before she pushed herself away from the counter as though she’d decided to not wallow… not that she had been. “Of course you would’ve. Everybody did… She was everyone’s friend until they gave her a reason to stop.” The concept had carried through the generations apparently.
“So I’m told…” Before I ended up floundering through a conversation about her brother in an effort to further distract her from asking about Pam, my phone started ringing… prematurely. I didn’t like having to tell Sookie that it wasn’t Pam. The disappointed look in her eyes made answering Ginger’s call all the more distasteful.
“What do you need, Ginger?”
“Um… uhhhhh… we kinda have a problem, sir.”
“Have you finally become aware of your retardation and need to adjust your hairstyle to accommodate your new helmet?” The joke was designed to lighten Sookie’s mood, but it was completely wasted.
“Then what is the problem?”
“The parking lot is full, sir. Protesters with bibles and crosses.” Lucky me. A parking lot full of the wrong kind of mental illnesses.
“Have you called the police?”
“There was already a squad car here when I got here. They aren’t doing anything though.”
“Get the call sheet from my office and take it home to let the staff know that Fangtasia is closed until further notice and they’ll be paid for the time they were scheduled.”
“What about the customers?”
“They’ll keep driving. Just make sure that you turn on all of the security cameras and lock everything.”
“Thank you, Master.” Mongoloid.
Since Sookie was laughing (albeit slightly) when I set my phone down, I asked her why…
“Just ‘cause you get a lil green when she calls you ‘Master’… Um… just a suggestion- and only if you have call waiting… maybe you could call the Pack Master and get him to send a couple guys out to the bar.”
“How are you thinking that would help?”
She shrugged. “Well, the Church isn’t denying the credit here. They could get ‘brave’ at home. Security cameras can’t get everything… subtle things like…” The misguided bravery that I hadn’t considered was already enough to pay attention to Sookie’s advice… but the idea that Arkansas could continue their tactics and the blame would be questionable had solidified Sookie’s inspired idea before my phone interrupted her.
That time, it was Pam.
Sookie didn’t bother to veil how eager she was. By the time I had my phone to my ear, she was leaning against my side to hear the conversation.
“It took long enough for you to call me.”
“You’re worrying about me.”
“We both were. Sookie has been beside herself.”
“I’m on my way back to the house now. There’s a gathering tonight.”
“How do you know? I was bombed and you’re still the first to know!”
“Sookie told me.”
“She’s psychic now too?”
“We’ll explain when you arrive. I need for you to send a text to your little list.”
“Consider it done. Getting into a cab now.”
Sookie’s smile couldn’t have been wider as she hugged me, not giving me the chance to put my phone away… Her mood had lifted so much I wouldn’t have guessed that she’d been sifting through vampire stained rubble for a bulk of her day.
Mr. Cataliades cleared his throat politely from the entryway, irritating me only because it inspired Sookie to move away. “Sheriff, I’ve been asked to return to the palace to explain more fully.”
“I’m sure. What time is the meeting tonight?”
“11. The other sheriffs are en route already. Majesty asked me to inform you that she expects to see Miss Stackhouse this evening. She intended for her exposure to be more understated, but without Miss Stackhouse’s statement…”
“Of course. We’ll have her with us. Thank you.”
He raised an eyebrow in Sookie’s direction… after shaking her hand and describing their meeting as ‘advantageous and enlightening’ he showed himself out…
Once the door closed behind him, I chuckled, “Enlightening, advantageous and repulsive.”
She shrugged and started to wander away. “I’ll go clean up… I really did just want to hear from Pam.”
“I’m right behind you. I’m almost as repugnant as you are now.”
“You’d better find another trail of bread crumbs to follow.”
“I owe you a shower lesson, anyway.”
She giggled, not looking back. “Nice try.”
“How did you manage to get so disgusting? If you weren’t there when it happened, you shouldn’t have gotten so much filth on you.”
“I wouldn’t have, but… I figured that… You wouldn’t have known for sure, right? I mean… Other than Pam being there this morning when the sun came up? You’d have to assume…”
“You’re covered in vampire residue again because you were looking for a way to identify them?”
“Yeah… It’s not like vampires leave much of anything to help.”
“How did the searching go?”
She breathed out a heavy breath, seemingly indifferent that I’d followed her to her bathroom door while we’d talked. “The guys were easy. Wallets… but Mr. C has a pocket full of jewelry…”
That would explain some of her panic… “You found jewelry like what Pam had been wearing. Pearls, yes?”
She turned around wearing a hesitant look. “Don’t make fun. With everything that’s been going on, I’m starting to think I’m a jinx or something. After today, I’ve officially lost count of how many people have died because of me.” Tragically understandable. Mistaken, but it was a reasonable conclusion for her to reach since she wasn’t acquainted enough to enjoy the ‘shit happens’ philosophy of supernatural events.
“I wasn’t making fun. I wouldn’t… not about that.”
“Are you mad that I left during the day or something? You’re just… you’re kinda staring at me.”
“I’m not angry either. Concerned that you were in the open and unprotected, but not angry.”
She raised an eyebrow as though she was waiting for me to continue, feeling annoyed and suspicious she finally shrugged as she slowly put the bathroom door between us.
Rather than contemplate the subject of the bombing since we’d be spending most of the night up to our assholes dealing with it… or the foreign feeling that I couldn’t place that might actually be fascination… I amused myself while Sookie showered by inspecting her clothing options…
When she opened the bathroom door, she was startled to see that I was waiting for her.
“Look at what I found.” I held up a white lace bra and panties set from her suitcase.
She gasped, grabbing for my handful. “What do you think you’re doing!?”
“Hoping that your towel falls off.”
She reached again, but not before she tightened her hold on the towel. “You know what I mean!”
“Not exactly… But I really am hoping that your towel slips.”
She tried to hide how close she was to laughing by grabbing my shoulder to pull my arm to her… It didn’t work… It only put her body against me. “Eric, I’m pretty sure that was a panty raid.”
“I’m pretty sure that a panty raid results in missing panties… you know exactly where they are.”
She reached again and all but bounced her body off of mine. “Yeah! They’re being held hostage.”
“I’m hardly holding them hostage.”
She huffed out a wry laugh and put her hands on her hips. “You might not have made your demands yet, but you want something.”
She rolled her eyes. “I don’t know… my towel…”
“Deal.” That was too easy.
Her eyes practically bulged. “That wasn’t an offer… I didn’t… that’s not…”
“You aren’t going to renege, are you?”
“I was going to say that you…”
“Negotiating is a delicate operation. You should be more clear.”
She narrowed her eyes. “I’m not giving you my towel.”
“That’s a slippery slope, Sookie. If I can’t be sure that you’ll follow through…”
She interrupted me with a loud groan and stomped past me. I bit my tongue so that I wouldn’t laugh at her as she flung open her suitcase and started to rummage around, cutting her eyes in my direction every so often. She practically stabbed her arms through the sleeves of a short robe and once its sash was tied, Sookie wriggled the towel out from under it and tossed it at me. “There’s your towel… how’s that for ‘follow through’?”
“That was shifty of you.”
“Negotiating is a delicate operation. You should be more clear.”
She finally let herself laugh when I did. “Using my own words against me?”
She giggled, “You would so do that to me.” That wasn’t the point.
“There’s a very long list of things that I’d do to you…”
“Uh huh, I bet… Give my panties back.”
I held them out to her and waited until her hand was just about to get what she was after… and dropped them. She stared at them for a moment before she scowled and all I could do is smile.
“I’m not bending over to pick those up.”
“Then why bargain for them if you didn’t want them?”
“I do want them… but I’m not dumb enough to forget about the mirror behind the dresser.” And what a shame that was…
I bent to pick them up again. “Then I’ll keep them…”
She laughed, trying to grab them before I could. She only managed to start her argument before she stumbled, letting me pull her to me along with my lacy treasure. She did her best to seem annoyed, but had to realize that I knew better. “Let go, butthead.”
“I beg your pardon?”
She raised her eyebrow. “You heard me.”
I leaned over… putting my ear closer to her mouth. “I’m not sure that I heard you correctly.”
I immediately regretted continuing the joke. Without a bit of hesitation, she rested her cheek against mine to whisper what she’d already told me. She could’ve recited the Fellowship of the Sun’s mission statement… I’d have probably been just as ruined. All it took was feeling her breath in my ear, over my neck, moving my hair… as much as I thought I needed to ignore the urge, I let go of her underthings so that I could put my arms around her… I only managed to justify the act because she didn’t move away or even seem to be anxious to…
Everything about her reaction was encouraging… not like before… not like in the limo when she was biding her time… not like when we’d been in bed together and she seemed as though she was waiting for me to ‘misbehave’… even the way she’d hugged me earlier had been more of a comfort seeking gesture…
But the way she leaned into me, like she wanted to be touched as much as I wanted to touch her…
The way she sighed, like she found something soothing about my growing obsession in her…
The way her body only seemed to get warmer the longer it was pressed against mine…
The contact was teetering on the fine line between being enough and being the first snowflake in an avalanche until she turned her head… her nose grazed across my collarbone, just my collarbone, but it was unexpected enough that it caused a desperate ache…
It was enough.
It was enough that I didn’t notice that I’d taken an ambitious step towards the bed until I realized that Sookie had taken the same step with me, sliding her empty hand up my arm and lifting her chin…
The gap between our lips seemed to be closing by itself, when the knock on the door put a halt to what could have been…
Pam’s typically violent knocking was delivered with the amusement I would’ve expected considering what she was interrupting. “Hey there. Look at what pretty little thing I found when I got here.”
I looked over my shoulder while Sookie peeked around me to see her brother and he was less than amused.
“I wouldn’t call that a ‘unique’ ability, but I’m pretty sure there ain’t much legal ‘business’ involving taking your bra off… You don’t waste no time, do ya?”
His pending arrival had clearly slipped Sookie’s mind just as much as mine.
Worse than the sudden change of mood…
Worse than Jason Stackhouse’s obviously foul temper…
Worse than the icy impression left behind when Sookie stepped away from me…
Worse than any of it was the choking sensation in my throat that wasn’t mine… Jason’s remark had stirred a hornet’s nest of humiliation and regret for his sister. His greeting had made her feel like a whore…
And we still had the whole weekend ahead of us.