Close to Dead

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Chapter 21: Whistle a Happy Tune:

I used to like flying in an airplane. The very first time I flew was on vampire business, and here I was on vampire business once again, flying once again, and this time, I didn’t like it at all. I looked out the little plane window, at the white puffy clouds, and I tried to remember that first time. That was a simple time. I was still in love with Bill; he was still an honest, forthright person, all of the vampire politics and the supernatural shit hadn’t yet jade me … oh, and I wasn’t in love with Eric.

In other words, those were simpler, but not necessarily happier, times. I looked over at the man sitting in the seat next to me. He smiled at me. I didn’t bother to smile back. I turned back toward the window instead.

Three days ago, a part man/part fairy named Iain Donegal came to my door, told me an outlandish story of blackmail, kidnapping, murder, torture and hate, and when he was done, I felt completely numb. I no longer knew what to think or feel. I didn’t know what was real. I’m not even completely sure what I was doing on this plane. I felt as if I was in one of those little hamster wheels, spinning around and around, and I was never going to stop spinning. There was no end in sight, only more spinning.

Quinn leaned over the aisle, reached his arm across the man beside me, touched my sleeve, and said, “We’ll be there soon, Sookie. Keep your chin up.”

Yeah, right.

I nodded to him and then turned again to the window. Then I began to cry, and I didn’t know why. Maybe I was crying because I would soon see Eric. Maybe I was crying because I might not get to see him. I no longer knew. Iain Donegal was brought to my door three days ago by Bill and Pam, and he told me that he was ‘employed’ (lack of a better word) by Eric, and had been for over twenty years. He said that his half brother Larkin had forced him to be turned into a part vampire against his will, and then he ‘sold him’ to the highest bidder, which just happened to be Eric.

What did that say about Eric?

And why in the world would Iain then agree to help us? Iain said that he was helping us because he hated Larkin. He said that Larkin lied to me when he said that Hadley turned him, and was the first to discover the influence of fairy blood, vampires and daylight. He said that it was something that my own grandfather discovered over fifty years ago. He said that Larkin found out, and then forced a vampire to change Iain, to see if it were true. I couldn’t believe he would do that to his own brother.

I mean, I don’t really like my brother that much, but that’s just sick, you know? Then apparently, when he had himself turned, he no longer needed his brother, so he literally sold Iain to the Queen of Louisiana and her group. The Queen and her closest confidants, Eric included, used this poor thing for years. He said when the Queen died, along with most of her entourage, Eric gave him his freedom, but of course, it came with a hefty price tag.

Eric told Iain he would never tell the new king about Iain’s unique blood, if he agreed to continue to serve Eric whenever Eric needed him, and if he agreed to help protect me against Larkin. He apparently agreed. He told me he would have agreed to anything to gain his freedom. I asked him what Eric had on Larkin, that kept him in line for a while, and he told me he sincerely didn’t know.

He also said that Larkin hated Eric and he wasn’t sure why. He said if anyone should hate Eric, it should be him, not Larkin. I tended to agree with that statement.

I looked over at him, as he sat next to me on the plane, and he smiled at me again. He wasn’t really doing this of his own free will, he was forced to do it by Bill and Pam. He was still in shackles here in the plane, yet he continued to smile at me. He continued to try to set my mind at ease. He told me if necessary, he would give himself over to the king in exchange for Eric, and he would do that merely because of me. He didn’t even know me, but he said that we were family, and he loved me, and he would do whatever it took to protect me. He said he owed the Prince fealty, and since Niall loved me, he did, too.

Fairies were odd.

The plan was that I would go with Quinn under the guise that he was bringing me to Felipe as ordered, but it was merely to buy us time. Quinn would present Iain to the king as well, and tell him that he no longer needed Larkin, because Iain could serve the same purpose for the king, and he could do it for nothing, which translated to the fact that he wouldn’t charge some outrageous fee, as Larkin did.

When Quinn told me on the phone that Larkin was responsible for Eric’s downfall, he wasn’t kidding. Larkin went directly to the king, told him that Eric was meeting with the leaders of other states, and that they were planning a coup d'état. Now of course, all of that was true, as far as I could tell, but the king didn’t have to know that.

In the back of the plane, riding comfortably and unaware in coffins, were Bill, Pam, and the Kings of Ohio and New York. They were coming to give testimony that Larkin was lying to the king. They were going to tell Felipe that they were merely in Louisiana for pleasure, not business, and that their meeting with Eric was innocent. In the meantime, Bill told me that some big national vampire tribune was being formed to see if the King of Nevada even had the right to stake a claim in Louisiana in the first place. If this tribunal ruled that Nevada was hostile when they took Louisiana over, and in the wrong, then Eric would automatically be set free, because the King of Nevada would be overthrown and punished by this national tribunal.

If that didn’t happen, then maybe Felipe would believe the kings of two such prominent states such as Ohio and New York, even if they were lying, and then maybe Eric would go free.

Option 3 was that Felipe would take poor Iain in Eric’s place, but I didn’t see that happening, and if anyone really thought that would happen, then they were fools. I would have a better chance of setting Eric free if I gave MYSELF to Felipe, which I secretly had every intention of doing if all else failed.

No one needed to know that.

My biggest worry was that I hadn’t felt Eric since he was sentenced. Bill explained that if the coffin was silver lined, then that might block the bond. I didn’t believe it for a second. I had a terrible, sinking feeling that either Eric was already gone, or somehow, our bond was severed.

I shuddered to think of either of those possibilities.

I started to cry harder. I was embarrassed. There were several other humans in the compartment of the private plane with us, people who were in service to the other kings, and they gave me funny looks as I sat in my seat and cried like a baby. I hated them to see me cry. I hated to appear weak.

Iain reached over and held my hand. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend it was Eric’s hand on mine. For a brief second, I had myself convinced, but just for a second.

“You love him, don’t you?” Iain asked softly.

I nodded. I turned to regard him and said self-consciously, “I know that’s probably hard for you to understand, since I’m sure you don’t think kindly on him, seeing that he’s forced you into a life of servitude, but I do. I love him.”

“Northman has not been so bad to me. The Queen was never that bad to me. Don’t feel sorry for me, cousin. The only person who ever treated me badly, or betrayed me, was Larkin, and he will soon pay, I hope.” He let go of my hand, but turned slightly in his seat. “Tell me why you love Eric Northman.”

“I can’t,” I stammered.

“Ah, too many reasons to count?” he smiled kindly.

“No,” I fretted, with a slight hiccup and a laugh between tears. “I’m not entirely sure why I love him.”

He smiled at that and turned back around in his seat. “Close your eyes, cousin, and get some sleep. You’ll see your beloved soon enough.”

My beloved. Eric often called me beloved. I recall the first time he called me that. We were still in what I classify as the ‘hate’ stage of our relationship. I had already broken up with Bill, but had not yet slept with Eric. I was at work, at the bar, and he had stopped in one night, which was odd. I felt his presence before I saw him, which was odder. Now that I think about that, I realized how peculiar that was. I mean, we hadn’t yet shared blood, and my mind can’t read vampires, yet I distinctly recall that I ‘felt’ him that night, before I saw him.

The bar was slammed that night, I had a rowdy group I was waiting on at one of the larger tables, and I was just about to take them a tray full of beers when I saw him enter the front door. He smiled at me, one side of his mouth higher than the other side, he winked at me, and I remember that I almost growled, which made him laugh. I went over to the table, served the beers I was carrying, when one man at the table placed his hand on my butt. I grabbed his wrist, dropped his hand on his lap, and then I walked up to the door, where Eric still stood. He was glaring at that man, and he didn’t seem happy. Well, gee, I wasn’t that happy, either. I don’t like being groped in public.

“What are you doing here, Eric?”

His frown turned to a grin and he said, “I came to see how a little bar like this works,” He leaned against the wall, his arms crossed, and he said, “It’s very quaint in here, isn’t it? The smell of urine isn’t nearly as strong as I thought it would be, and the people aren’t quite as inbred as I thought, except perhaps for that cretin who dared to touch you in such a familiar way. Shall I break his hand for you, Sookie?”

“I can take care of myself, Eric. What do you want?” I asked, rolling my eyes.

Before he could answer, the same man at the table where I had just served the beers yelled out, “Hey, Barbie doll, get your tight little ass back over here and get me some more pretzels.”

I sighed, and said to Eric, “Hold that thought.” I started to walk away from him, but he reached out and held my upper arm. I recall that a funny feeling went through me when he touched my arm—a funny, wavering, electrical feeling. It started in my chest, settled in my stomach, and then flew down to my toes, and all he had done was to touch my arm!

“Let me take care of him, beloved. It would be my pleasure,” he insisted. He dropped my arm with ease, smirked, and then he went over to the bar, picked up a bowl of pretzels, plopped the bowl of pretzels on the table in front of the asshole, then he smiled, with his full fangs showing. Then he said, without a hint of a lisp, and still with fang, “Now, was there anything else you needed?”

The man shook his head, and cowered in his seat. Eric stood up, his full six foot five, and challenged, “Oh, and never, ever, degrade a woman by talking about her body like that. It’s unbecoming. Moreover, if you dare ever to touch her beautiful, pristine body with your dirty, grimy hands again, I will cut your hands off at the wrist, I will stuff them up your ass, and you will have to unzip your pants to wave goodbye to your friends as I suck the very life out of you. Now, have a nice night.”

He turned back to me. “Do you get breaks in this hellhole, or are you forced to work all night long like a slave?” Suddenly, he seemed angry.

I was speechless. I took his hand in mine, and I recall this like it was yesterday, because even though he vexed me to no end back then (and who are we kidding, he still does), but I recall feeling something akin to butterflies when I touched his hand that night. I remember specifically feeling happy that he took up for me, in his own weird way. I specifically remember that being the first time he called me beloved. He didn’t even really call ME beloved, he referred to me as beloved, but still, I recall it as if it were yesterday.

I dragged him out the back door of the bar, it was such a cold night, but I didn’t get my coat, and as soon as we were outside, I was freezing. I placed my arms tightly around my body and looked up at him. I felt confused. Why was he here? Why did I care that he was here? Why was I sort of ‘glad’ that he was here? I said, “Was there a real reason why you came tonight, Eric? You know I’m not with Bill anymore, right. You have no business with me anymore. I’m not getting involved in vampire stuff ever again. Just tell me what you want. Get it over with!”

He smiled at me again, one side of his mouth higher than the other, just as before, his anger from a minute ago abated, and he leaned closer, stroked my cheek slowly with his index finger. I shivered some more, and not because it was cold. Then, the same finger went to my hair, and it slowly moved my hair away from my ear. I bit my bottom lip in anticipation. He whispered in my ear, “I got what I wanted, Sookie. I got what I came for, and so did you.” I shivered one last time as he leaned away, winked again, placed his hands on my shoulders, rubbed them up and down several times, and ended with, “Warm now?” and then he walked away slowly, whistling, for goodness sakes! Whistling! He whistled a happy little tune until he was completely out of sight.

Now that I think about it, and really remember it clearly in my mind, I think he came that night because I needed him to, and merely to call me beloved. I know that sounds stupid, and implausible, but I want to remember it that way. I might only have memories from this point on, so I will take them anyway that I can get them, and interpret them anyway that I please.

I looked back over at Iain. His eyes were closed. I looked over at Quinn. He was looking right at me. He said, “Best to put on your seatbelt, Sookie. We’ll be landing soon.”

Instead of doing as he said, I turned back to the window, and took up my tears again. Then I felt Iain reach over and fasten my seatbelt. He patted my hand and said, “Very soon, you’ll see him again, Sookie. You’ll see your beloved.”

I looked at him. He was being so kind, and genuine, and unlike Larkin, I really felt I could trust him, so I smiled at him. “Yes, very soon, I’ll see my beloved.” I only wished I believed it.

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