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TrueDestiny

Updated: Nov 1, 2020

A "TrueBlood" fanfiction piece that begins at the end of S3 and has its own ending...



***WARNING: This story contains explicit material.***

Prologue: Fairy World

SOOKIE SAT ON A STONE BENCH in the distant fairy dreamland she had come to inhabit. She was thinking of nothing in particular; just watching the other fairy folk laugh and dance, when she noticed Claudine approaching. She sat down next to Sookie as she always did, but her normal cheerfulness was subdued and quiet.

Claudine took one of Sookie's hands between her own two tiny ones, and said: “Sookie, I'm sorry to say that I have bad news. I have just returned from speaking with the Elders...” Then, her breath caught, and she lowered her sad blue eyes, unable to continue.

“Yes?” Sookie questioned, on pins and needles, wanting her to continue. Claudine had mentioned that she might need to be brought before the Elders before her place in the hidden fairy realm was assured. The uncharacteristic sadness in Claudine's voice unsettled Sookie. She was happy in the fairy world and did not want anything to ruin it. Claudine met Sookie's eyes and forced the next words out. “Sookie, they have decided that you must return to your human life.”

“What?” Sookie exclaimed, jumping to her feet, her eyes wide with horror. She paced back and forth in front of the stone bench, afraid that the ground might open up and swallow her if she stayed in one place. Claudine hung her head, clearly distressed by this sudden turn of events. “Why? Tell me why!” Sookie demanded in response to Claudine's silence.

Claudine's expressive, long-lashed eyes shone with tears, but her voice was all calm serenity when she answered, “Sookie, you cannot stay here because they say that you have taken in too much vampire blood. The Elders fear that it will have a corruptive influence on you and, in time, on others. Please understand that no one knows exactly how these things work. One vampire has already tried to follow you here, and they are afraid. Ultimately, they decided that the good of the many outweighs concerns for the safety of just one.”

Her words hung in the air as Sookie wrestled with them. She quit pacing and sat back down, suddenly feeling sick and woozy. Claudine placed her hand on Sookie’s shoulder in a reassuring way, and Sookie tried to focus her thoughts on her surroundings. Every stone, tree, and rock glowed with a soft radiance; emanating a tangible sense of safety and security. Sookie grasped the stone bench, trying to center herself, focusing on how it emitted its own faint glow, humming quiet, unmoved and unmovable, completely exempt from tragedy.

Sookie groped inwardly for a coherent response. “I don’t understand. I would never hurt anyone. Can’t you talk to them again? Make them understand?” She pleaded, her voice near to breaking. She could see the other fairies in the distance: laughing, dancing, and completely oblivious to her sudden crisis. Once again, Sookie was on the outside looking in, and the cruel irony was not lost on her.

Claudine thought about telling her the whole truth then; how it might have been different if Sookie was full-fairy instead of, as one of the Elders had put it, ‘a reckless, ill-starred half-breed who unwittingly broke their principal law by getting involved with vampires.’ But Claudine loved Sookie and could not bear to see her suffer more than necessary.

“This is my fault, Sookie. Try not to blame them. The Elders remember when we tried to co-exist with vampires. It was our Great Folly and, if we had not hidden ourselves, there would be none of us left. I knew when I brought you here that it was possible you would have to go back.” Claudine shook her head and avoided Sookie’s gaze as she continued, “That night when you pleaded for help at your grandmother’s grave, I could not ignore your grief. I only wanted to protect you, if even just for a little while.”

“But it’s not safe for me there! You said so yourself. What will become of me?” Sookie stammered. The answer didn’t really matter, regardless of her desire to pretend otherwise, deep down she knew that Claudine had handed her a death sentence.

Suddenly, Claudine grabbed Sookie’s shoulders in her small, strong hands and said, “Sookie, remember always that you are loved. You are one of us. Promise me that you will remember that… no matter what happens.” Sookie avoided meeting Claudine’s intense gaze, as if doing so would buy her more time to put off the inevitable. Instead, she let her eyes wander over her surroundings; trying to memorize every detail and gather every warm memory before it was all gone forever. “I promise,” Sookie whispered quietly, but it was a lie. A lie spoken for Claudine’s benefit; in reality, she had never felt more bereft and abandoned, and she knew that is what would stick.

Tears welled up in Claudine’s eyes and spilled down her rosy cheeks, but to her credit, her calm composure never broke despite the ragged sobs that caught in her throat, making it hard for her to breathe. She pulled Sookie to her with surprising strength and held her close in a desperate, final embrace.

Then, without another word, Claudine released Sookie and smiled sadly. She turned and walked away to join the others, leaving Sookie alone. As her fairy kin faded from view, vanishing like so many ghosts into the ether, Sookie allowed her grief to overtake her. As she laid down to cry out her desolation, she could no longer hear the stone’s gentle song. It was just a stone again; cold, dark, and unforgiving.

Chapter 1: Bon Temps

SOOKIE WATCHED THE SKY bring new life to the dark and empty graveyard as the sun rose in the east. The damp chill of morning brought her numb mind slowly back to reality. One world had been traded for another, and there was no going back. Her only choice was to move forward. Robotically, she lifted herself off the bench with quaking hands, and took a few hesitant steps toward home. Sookie felt empty, soulless, dead inside, and she questioned whether there was any point in continuing on. In that moment, her life seemed more like a bad joke than a meaningful pursuit.

The familiar sight of Gran’s headstone brought her back to herself for a moment and, as she passed by, she knelt and kissed her palm and laid her hand upon the chill, wet earth. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she sat silently contemplating how much she missed her grandmother. After some time passed, her muscles began to cramp and ache, reminding her that it was time to move on. She rose as if pulled up by invisible strings and her feet, one in front of the other, found the familiar path back home.

But the home she remembered was not the same one that awaited her. The house had fallen into a state of such complete disrepair that it was only a husk, a hollow remnant of the place she had loved so much. Empty liquor bottles and other garbage were strewn about the yard; the dead-eyed windows were boarded with wooden X’s; and police tape clung loosely, sagging and broken in places, to the porch and front door.

“Ohmigod! What happened here?” Sookie whispered quietly, but the rustling of the trees as a slight breeze moved them was the only answer. As Sookie walked up the steps, she saw a black high heel lying forgotten on the porch. Who could forget their shoe and never return for it? she wondered absently, doubting that the owner of the shoe would have any sort of Cinderella story to tell. The air was heavy and still: full of cast-off memories, ill-fated decisions, and lost chances.

On the front door, a notice had been posted:

NOTICE:

This property has been condemned

by order of the Renard Parish Sheriff’s

Department. All trespassers will be

prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Eyes struck unseeing read the notice. Just another irredeemable loss; Sookie felt the weight of it all, knowing that she had been the one to invite tragedy in, and offer it a drink. I’m so sorry, she thought, over and over; but it was nothing more than a silent, unanswered prayer for absolution. Sookie knew that she would never forgive herself; even if everything could be forgiven by those she loved, she would never feel worthy of it.

Sookie pushed the door open and it scraped against the broken glass that littered the threshold. As she stepped inside, carefully trying to avoid the shards of glass in the dim light, her senses were newly assailed by the mixed smells of old vomit and urine. She raised her hand to cover her nose and mouth as she gagged and swallowed hard against the bile that rose in her throat. There was hardly an inch of space that had not been touched by filth or violence: smashed furniture, shattered collectibles, and obscene words, WHORE, VAMPER SLUT, WITCH, spelled out in fluorescent-colored graffiti on the walls met her sorrowful gaze. How could anyone do such a thing? she wondered. Her grandmother had been a pillar of the community and she had also always tried to do right by the town.

It was hard to accept that her family home had been destroyed not by a few rogue individuals, but by many people who meant to leave no part of her family’s legacy intact. She checked drawers and cabinets for valuables, hoping that something would be left, but anything of value had long since been stolen. There’s nothing left, Sookie’s unbelieving mind went over the words again and again, trying to force some level of acceptance as she climbed the stairs to her room.

The room looked more or less the same as she had left it, she noted with a dubious sense of relief. Apparently, no one had thought it necessary to try and visit further ruin upon a room that was already trashed after her bloody battle with Debbie. Her brown eyes lingered a moment on the dressing table with its smashed mirror. Seven years bad luck. A chill ran down her spine as she tried not to think of what more could befall her. Instead, she lay down upon the bed, pulled the comforter over her head, and fell into an exhausted sleep.

Sookie tossed and turned in her sleep, haunted by images of running hard, lungs burning, bare feet cut and bleeding, through the dark woods at night. She knew that she could not keep the pace forever and that eventually she would be run to earth, captured, devoured alive. The howling of the wolves followed her relentlessly, never getting any closer or farther away.

Her limbs were getting heavy and she stumbled, falling heavily, slashing a long tear through the blue cotton of her dress, as the incessant howling engulfed all her senses. A sharp terror, deep and instinctual, passed over her as she struggled to lift herself off the ground with dirty, torn hands. But she could not move, her body was unresponsive, as if bound by an invisible rope. The howling got louder; the wolves were closing in. Then, from somewhere deep within, came a voice strong enough to penetrate her fear, “Wake up! Wake up now!”

Suddenly, Sookie awoke, bolting upright in bed and gasping for breath. It took a moment for reality to seep in and calm her. Listening hard for the sounds of danger, she heard nothing but silence punctuated by the sounds of the woods. For a moment, she allowed herself to feel safe, like she had when she was growing up, falling back amongst the blankets, wondering what Gran would cook for breakfast, and looking forward to another warm day of nothing special. But the fading light outside was that of another day ending, not beginning.

Sookie rolled over onto her stomach and put her hands over her eyes, trying to shut out reality. She pulled her knees to her chest and cradled herself, aching for comfort, yearning for strong arms to hold her, and a soothing voice to tell her that it would all be OK. Even though he had betrayed her trust, Sookie knew that she wanted Bill. Suddenly, she felt an intense sorrow for having banished him from her home.

She knew she wanted to apologize, to forget the past, and start over fresh. Will he forgive me? Will he protect me again? She had no idea, but she knew she had to try. Bill promised he would always love me, her mind insisted. That one thought gave her the will to crawl out from under the covers and leave the protective confines of the bed. Her desire to see him propelled her as she made her way out of the room, and through the shattered wreckage of her childhood home.

On her way out the front door, she noticed what looked like a playing card lying forgotten under an empty beer bottle. She stooped down to move the bottle aside and pick up the card. Turning it over, she immediately recognized that it was a tarot card, and a chill ran up her back as she took in the image. It was the Ten of Swords; a disturbing and gory image of a man lying on a stone altar, ten daggers driven into his chest, arms, and legs. His face was obscured, but she could almost almost hear a groan of agony in the sudden gust of wind that came and blew the card free from her loose grip.

Sookie watched the wind gently whip the card about until it disappeared over the side of the porch. Spooky! she thought, frowning, and another unsettling chill swept over her, causing her to shiver in the hot, humid air. Glad to be rid of the offensive image, she wiped her hands on her dress, and continued on her way. She did not pause to shut the door, or even cast a single look back.

A storm threatened in the steel gray skies as Sookie walked the familiar path through the cemetery. Thunder rolled ominously in the darkening skies as the storm advanced, and she picked up speed until she was running as fast as she could to the old Compton estate. Little rocks jabbed at the bottoms of her bare feet as every leafy branch or hanging limb she passed seemed to stretch out like long-fingered hands, catching and snagging on her dress, leaving small, painful scratches on her skin. But she did not care about anything but getting to Bill. In her haste, she almost did not notice the FOR SALE sign staked in the overgrown yard.

“Bill! Bill!” Sookie shouted as she burst through the front door. The last rays of twilight faded to black as she stood in the foyer, waiting, but only silence met her. Shocked and uncertain, she began to explore the house, calling his name, but to no avail. The house was bare, and it looked as if it had been hastily cleaned at some point, although a new, even layer of dust had accumulated in the intervening span of time. Sookie shivered as she realized that the house was vacant, and probably had been for a while.

Slowly, she patrolled the house, looking for clues to unlock this new mystery. There was no furniture left, upstairs or down. Even the old portraits had been removed. Sookie could see their outlines on the walls where the wallpaper had faded around them. She had little doubt that Nancy, the owner of the local antiques store, Now and Then, had been eager to help collect and sell all of Bill’s things.

All that was left were the light fixtures and the large blue rug that occupied the entranceway. Sookie was surprised that the rug had not been gathered for a price; but, upon further inspection, she saw that it was smeared with old blood and had been so thoroughly trampled by dusty, booted feet that there could be no hope of removing the grime from the weave.

Wandering back into the living room, she inspected the damage to the walls and ceiling. It looks like someone swung a piano around trying to knock the house down from the inside. Sookie smiled at the absurdity of the thought and the mental image that accompanied it, but she felt sure that the gaping holes in the walls and the missing plaster from the ceiling were clues to knowing what had happened to Bill. Where could he be? She knew that the house had been Bill’s since before the Civil War and that he would never willingly give it up.

“Why hasn’t he come for me?” she wondered aloud, trying to quell the rising panic that threatened to shake her sanity apart. Maybe there was a fight between Bill and some other vampire, but she didn’t want to think too much about what that might mean. “Bill! BILL!” Sookie called with a renewed sense of urgency. She raced through the house looking for something, anything, to unlock this new mystery. Confused and despairing thoughts beat at her hastily erected wall of denial as each empty room and closet seemed to confirm her worst fears.

As she was upstairs inspecting Bill’s empty sleeping hole, squatting down low to duck her head inside, she heard a familiar voice bellow her name from below. “Erik?” she exclaimed, astonished. The floor cover slipped through her fingers to slam home with a loud bang. Jumping to her feet, she ran in the direction of the voice, and almost collided with Erik on the stairs. Before she had time to think or question, he swept her off her feet, holding her close to his body, which was sinewy and cold as stone. “Sookie, I thought I had lost you! Where have you been?” His voice was ragged, unbelieving, as he clutched her to him so tightly, she had trouble catching her breath.

In that moment, all thoughts of Bill were forgotten. She drank in the sight and the feel of Erik, blissfully content within the safety of his embrace, as he carried her down the stairs to the landing. Nothing had changed with him; he was still clad in unrelieved black and moved with the sleek, smooth grace of a great cat. Erik gazed at her as if she were a mirage that might disappear if he looked away. He set her back down, still holding her near, his hand open on the small of her back. All the doubts, fears, and anger she had felt were gone. She knew that she was loved, and that she would be protected. There was hope after all.

Erik lifted her chin with his index finger and kissed her, deeply and passionately, as he buried his hands in her hair. Sookie responded hungrily and flung her arms around his neck. She felt her knees threaten to give way beneath her, but she didn't care, nothing else mattered in that moment. Erik crushed her to him, and she could feel the hard muscles of his body through the thin fabric of her dress. Her hands ran up and down his back, his arms, grabbing handfuls of the soft cotton of his shirt, nearly drunk of the pleasure of the moment. It was then that she felt his fangs unsheathe and lightly scrape her lower lip.

As he broke from kissing her mouth, she remembered his question, and wanted to answer, but she was dizzy from the soft feel of his lips moving down her neck, the sharp, hard points of his fangs ready to pierce her flesh. She melted against him, arching her back and lengthening her neck, ready and willing to succumb to whatever came next.

But then she opened her eyes, saw the old, faded wallpaper, felt the rough pile of the dirty carpet under her feet, and it all came rushing back. What am I doing? This is wrong. Not here. Not in Bill’s house, she thought, pushing back against him with her small hands. His arms loosened around her, his hands resting lightly on her hips, as he looked at her quizzically. “What’s wrong?” he asked, frowning his disappointment, his eyes the cold color of a winter ocean, all whitecaps and wind.

“Where’s Bill?” Sookie asked quietly, her eyes lowered. It wasn’t really the question she wanted to ask because she was not at all sure that she was ready to hear the answer. But it was the only coherent thought that occurred to her in her scrambled state. Later, she could tell him about where she’d been and the heartache she felt at the thought of her lost fairy world. Then, she could find the right words, or maybe she’d get lucky and he would forget all about it.

Erik’s arms fell to his sides and his frown deepened; he would have to wait longer than he wanted. “Sookie, Bill is dead,” he replied, calmly, evenly. “Dead! What do you mean he’s dead?” she exclaimed as the blood drained from her face, leaving her ashen and pale. Competing waves of anger and grief seemed ready to tear her apart. She balled up her fists and struck out at what was closest. “You bastard! You killed him! I know you did! " The words came out in hiccups and sobs as she futilely pummeled his chest.

He took the beating, allowing her an outlet for her misplaced fury, her strikes fazing him little more than mosquito bites. “I hate you,” she cried, collapsing against him, her body racked with quaking sobs. It was not just Bill, she knew, but once the tears came, they would not stop until she had spent them all. Erik was patient, he had no idea where she’d been or why she was back, but he had no intention of letting her go again. He ran his fingers through the smooth waves of her golden hair and lovingly down her back. “I did not kill him, Sookie. He challenged the Queen and she killed him,” he murmured softly, his lips brushing her cheek as he spoke. The last thing he wanted was for this reunion to be sullied with bad memories of his old enemy.

Tears fell down her cheeks, but her sobs had begun to subside. Her body was flushed and intoxicatingly warm under his hands. In that moment, he was grateful that his heart no longer beat, so he would not have to endure it breaking anew. “You know, Sookie, you’ve been gone for so long. I know all of this has come as a shock and you are hurting, but it’s been done for a long time.” She looked at him suspiciously, not sure that she liked what she was hearing, but she was listening. “None of this matters anymore. Let’s just get out of here. We can go anywhere you want, and I promise, in time, you’ll forget all these bad memories.” Erik wished he could glamour her; life would be so much easier if he didn’t have to reason his way through everything with her. “How long have I been gone?” she asked. It was the only thing she could think to say in response.

Erik was stunned; it had not occurred to him that she would not know. But before he could answer, another, terrifyingly familiar voice chimed in, “About six months, give or take.” In unison, they turned towards the sound to see Russell Edgington standing in the open doorway. “Surprise!” he said as a broad, ironic grin broke over his face. Their mouths fell open; it could not be, but yet he was there. The last time Sookie had seen Russell, he more closely resembled a piece of charcoal than a king.

Now he stood casually in the doorway of Bill’s former home, calmly watching them, elegantly attired in a dark charcoal pinstripe suit and a violet shirt he kept open at the collar, his large manicured hands hidden by dark leather gloves. No scars of any kind were visible to betray the torment he had endured at Erik’s hands. The air seemed heavy, leaden, like trying to breathe underwater. Time lay dormant in the liminal span between the crossroads and the next path taken.

Then, Russell broke the silence, looking pointedly at Erik. “Hand over the girl and I promise to give you a quick, merciful end,” he said in a voice that was all cold steel. “Fuck you! I’ll die before I give her to you” Erik responded, baring his fangs. He pushed Sookie away from him so hard that she stumbled, falling to her hands and knees on the trampled, musty blue rug. In the span of a heartbeat, Russell secured Erik by wrapping a silver chain around his neck.

The flurry of motion was over before Sookie had a chance to lift her head and see Erik rush at Russell. It was brave, but suicidal; Erik did not land a single blow before he was on his knees, powerless, as the chain burned into his neck, sending tiny wisps of smoke into the still air around him. “Let him go, you monster,” Sookie shouted, terrified, not knowing what else to do. Russell pulled Erik across the short distance from the door to the staircase and lashed the chains around the newel post.

Erik groaned against his bonds, struggling mightily, but only succeeded in cutting the burns deeper and grating the old paint from the hard wood. Blood ran in thin lines from his nose, ears, and icy blue eyes. He looked to Sookie like he had been slashed by a madman and, for a moment, she wondered if she hadn’t fallen into a scene from some awful horror movie. Wake up! she screamed inwardly, but it didn’t matter. She knew she would never forget the way Russell stood above his captured foe; proud, triumphant. The scene was a visceral image burned into her memory, not some surreal nightmare she would awake from to find safety. Without Erik, she would have no one and that scared her worst of all.

“Not going to happen,” Russell purred in his smoky Southern drawl, “I’ve waited too long for this moment. Neither of you is going to escape me again, I promise you,” he said it with a wink that made her insides quake like someone had just walked over her grave. “I killed you. Why aren’t you dead?” Erik croaked, his eyes burning with hatred. Russell fixed his attention back on Erik and stepped down to the landing. “You certainly had your chance to kill me, but you blew it didn’t you? You thought it would be more fun to torture me and hope I died in that concrete cell, you fucking fool. In all honesty, to successfully kill me, you would have to be a much more methodical and meticulous creature, not so angry, hotheaded, and impetuous. Not that it will matter much longer for you, but when taking on such a large challenge, it is important to make sure all the loose ends are tied up or else, well, you pretty much end up just like you are.” Russell smiled big again; in victory, he was the picture of wicked glee. “How did you do it?” Erik knew he was going to die, but before he did, he wanted to hear exactly how it was that he had had the world in his hands and lost it.

Despite the close heat, cold sweat dampened Sookie’s hairline, covering her skin in a fine sheen, and the air around her was heady with the dank smell of fear. She sat unmoving, transfixed, the dirty rug leaving gray-brown smudges on her strong, tan legs. She had no choice but to watch in horror as her fate was decided. Russell thought for a moment before answering, deciding how much to share. “It really wasn’t all that difficult. You didn’t kill my only progeny when you staked Talbot, just my favorite one.”

Mentioning Talbot’s name clouded his features with remembered grief. The broad smile changed to a pensive frown and his foot shot out to catch Erik in the ribs with a hard, sharp kick. Erik coughed, groaning in agony as he sagged further back against his bonds. “Anyway, perhaps you were wondering how I found you and Sookie. It was child’s play really. In fact, it is a bit amazing to me that a vampire as old as you had no idea that he was being watched for so long. You didn’t know, did you? Maybe something inside you wanted to be caught. I’ve seen it before,” he said, chuckling.

Erik’s hands shot out from where they rested at his sides, trying to reach for Russell’s throat, but his grasp fell short by mere inches. Russell took a quick step back, momentarily surprised. In a flash of movement, he grabbed Erik’s wrists in his gloved hand and secured them with silver handcuffs. The handcuffs steamed, burning his wrists raw, as Erik moaned, sad and defeated, in the wake of additional torment.

“I thought those might end up coming in handy,” Russell quipped. “Anyway, I believe you have something of mine…” He reached his hand below the collar of Erik’s shirt and grabbed hold of a finely worked gold chain. Swiftly, he yanked the chain hard and Erik felt the delicate metal break from around his neck. As Russell held it up, Sookie could see a single long fang dangling from betwixt the ends of the broken chain. That must be the fang Erik took off of him at Fangtasia, Sookie thought, marveling at how distant the memory seemed.

Russell deposited the chain in the pocket of his suit jacket, and he knelt down on the warped, dusty hardwoods, leaving Sookie in possession of the carpet. She was acutely aware of him as he watched her, the devious cast of his eyes telegraphing an unknown, wicked intent. He seemed unhurried, calm, as if he did not want to scare her any more than she already was. “Why are you here?” she asked, her voice shaky. She was not entirely sure that she wanted to hear the answer. He regarded her as a cat regards a mouse, enjoying the fact that she was cornered and terrified. “I’m here for you, sweetheart. I have big plans in mind. Why else?” his words were honeyed, measured, patient.

“I will never be yours. And I will never help you with your fucking plans!” she hissed through gritted teeth. Russell’s attention had momentarily shifted back to Erik, who had renewed his futile struggles against the bonds that held him. The sharp movements only caused the silver to dig deeper into his flesh. But to Erik, it was better to try and fight then to sit back quietly, resigned to the latest hand fate had dealt him. Seeming satisfied that the chains would hold, Russell shrugged, “Willing or unwilling, it makes no difference to me, but things will go easier for you if you cooperate.” He winked at her then, smiling just like the scoundrel he was; happy to get away with whatever he could.

Sookie thought her head might explode. How could he say something so utterly vile and offensive in such an offhand way? Fear was replaced with anger, and anger, not having any useful outlet, made her say something stupid. As she parted her chapped, pink lips to speak, she knew it was a mistake, but the impulse would not be denied. “I will die! If you harm Erik or lay a finger on me, I swear I will kill myself. You and your plans can go straight back to whatever hell you came from!”

Russell fidgeted and shifted his weight to the other knee; he was growing tired of this game. “Don’t trifle with me, Miss Stackhouse. I’m not in the mood for it. So, let me make myself perfectly clear: if you take such an action to deprive me of what I want then, I swear to you, I will make it my mission to hunt down and kill everyone you have ever known or cared about. Bon Temps will become my exclusive hunting ground. Do you understand?” He articulated the last few words slowly, as if he were talking to a dim, willful child.

Sookie hated the way he talked to her. Of course, I understand. I’m not stupid, she thought. But she held her tongue, and nodded slowly, refusing to meet his eyes. Rocking back on her heels, she folded her legs to her chest and hung her head. She looked absently at her dirty hands, gray with dirt and dust. The front of her dress was likewise streaked with grime. It was as if the old Compton house, filthy from neglect and disuse in the wake of bloody misfortune, had left its mark on her.

“You’re mad!” Erik croaked in a pained voice, raw and hoarse. But Russell was through listening to him. “Maybe,” he replied, his attention focused solely on Sookie. In that moment, Erik hung his head, utterly defeated. He had blinded himself, been reckless at a crucial time, and now he was powerless to stop the scene about to unfold before him. It was his final punishment, he realized one last hellish torment before it was all over.

Russell reached out and wrapped his hand around Sookie's ankle, intending to pull her closer to him. His touch awoke some primal instinct within her, slamming her dazed mind back into reality. All of a sudden, the nightmare was no longer playing out before her like some twisted, surreal movie. She kicked his forearm hard with her other foot and Russell, surprised more than hurt, momentarily dropped his hold.

In an instant, she was on her feet and ready to run for the open doors. But she barely had time to breathe in that direction before Russell was upon her. Seizing her hands, he held them firmly against his chest with one gloved hand. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” he hissed, his grip like iron. “My wolves would rip you apart for sport. And while that might be fun to watch, I have a more important purpose for you to serve.” Sookie blanched, which dulled her normal tanned glow. Inwardly, she wondered if there ever was a more evil being created than Russell Edgington.

She stepped back as he pushed her struggling form back down to the scant pile of the aged, filthy carpet, its flower design almost imperceptible through thick layers of dust and dried blood. As first one knee hit the ground and then the other, her brown doe eyes grew wide with fear. “Dear God, no! Stop! Erik, help me!” she half-cried and half-screamed. Erik simply slumped, abject and powerless, against his bonds. He stared stonily ahead, fixated on the white double doors before him, unwilling to see Russell force Sookie to the ground, laying himself full length upon her, securing her writhing figure with the weight of his body. One hand clamped down over her mouth, the close smell of the leather bringing her near to vomiting, as he pinned her wrists to the floor above her head with the other hand.

“I told you I’d never think of anything else ever again,” he whispered into her ear before his lips trailed lower to lightly kiss her neck where the softly throbbing vein betrayed her quickened heartbeat. Her eyes opened wide in horror; the round, dark orbs ringed entirely in white and framed by long lashes. God have mercy, she prayed, bracing herself for the worst.

His body was strong, heavy, and cold as stone. Her stomach churned with fear and apprehension. She felt his fangs unsheathe and graze her tender skin like twin blades, but the bite did not come. Instead, he drew back, uncovering her mouth as he did. Sookie coughed and hiccupped, practically gagging on the fresh air. She squirmed and bucked to free herself from his looming form, but he pushed her back to the floor, his hand open on her abdomen, fingers splayed between her breasts where the soft, blue cotton of her dress pulled tight.

“Please don’t,” she wept, tears springing unbidden to her eyes, streaking parallel lines down her temples. Russell ignored her plea, having heard about all he wanted to from either one of them. He released his grip on her wrists and his hand slid down the curves of her body to grab at the hem of her dress. A deep blush showed beneath her tanned skin as he roughly pushed the skirt up her thighs and over her hips, exposing her shell-pink underwear.

His hands, though tempered by the warm friction of the leather, pressed cold and hard against her skin as he bunched the fabric in uncomfortable folds under her waist. In the next moment, Sookie felt him re-adjust his weight, pushing her legs wide apart with his knee. Time moved in achingly slow increments while her senses, heightened by fear, were agonizingly aware of every move he made, every breath that passed as he made ready to take what he wanted. And all of it in front of Erik, she thought mournfully, even if he pretends not to see.

Her mind struggled to grapple with the overwhelming feelings of humiliation and shame. She wished she could lift up out of her body, watch the scene unfold from a safe vantage, and deal with the damage later. But it was not to be; suddenly, she felt his mouth on the smooth skin of her inner thigh, wet and seductive, right before his fangs sank deep into her flesh. She cried out in pain, again renewing her futile efforts to snake away from his hold. He held her leg tightly, his fingers pressed so hard into the long, flat muscles that bruises sprang up, purple and yellow, like ugly flowers to remember an awful day. Still, he drank, deeper and deeper, holding her immobile.

I wonder if this is it? I never got the chance to tell Erik I love him. Her thoughts echoed dimly through the dark corridors of her fading consciousness. But, in that moment, she felt intensely sorry for the lost chance to live a new life, to start over, and make everything right that she had done wrong. As the sweet oblivion of unending sleep beckoned, she winced involuntarily as Russell retracted his fangs and her flesh clung slightly to the sharp points, blood pooling and spilling from the twin punctures.

Russell stood, dabbing the blood away from his mouth with a handkerchief, and he seemed entirely satisfied as he regarded Erik once more. “To the victor go the spoils,” he taunted, his hazel eyes twinkling merrily, full of new life. Even though he was close by, his voice seemed distant as if she was hearing him from the other side of a long, blind tunnel. She didn’t hear Erik respond, and her thoughts sluggishly crept toward wondering if he had. “Well, before we say goodbye, you and I have a score to settle…” Despite her best efforts to listen, Russell's words trailed off, and then everything went black.

Chapter 2: Jackson

BLIND AND FLAILING, in a darkness so deep it seemed no light could penetrate, Sookie began her new life. Sleep claimed her for many days. Sleeping and waking were almost indistinguishable states and, given the choice, she preferred to sleep. Only there did peace exist in small intervals. The faces of those she had loved and lost would appear behind her closed lashes, bringing her a small measure of comfort. Sometimes they would try to speak, but the words spilled soundlessly from their mouths. The arms extended out to hold her were only mist. And when they disappeared, suddenly and without notice, or slowly dissolving away into nothing, she knew herself to be naked and alone, clutching at ashes.

But it was preferable to lying awake for long moments, blinking her eyes in utter darkness, unable to tell, except for the movement, whether her eyes were open or closed. The rest of the time, she thrashed among the covers, running to nowhere from monsters and ruin, tossing and turning, powerless to stand and fight. The dreams were visceral and disjointed, only the themes remained stubbornly constant. She awoke gasping, breaking the surface of a blind reality to fill her lungs after a difficult and uncertain dive. Rubbing her eyes with shaking hands, she began to become aware of her surroundings.

She was sunk into a feather mattress that swallowed her every movement. The air was stale and tasted like it was gray from having been locked up and forgotten for too long. Sookie’s palms were clammy as she gathered the soft cotton sheets to herself. She felt dull, empty, and her stomach knotted and grumbled its displeasure. It was wretched; lost in the total black with the close humid air which made her want to throw up. Looking dead-eyed into nothing, Sookie tried to ignore the vile taste in the back of her throat. It didn’t seem worth it to be awake in this eerie dark and her weary body fell back into the cold comfort of sleep.

Sookie awoke again in the endless night to a hand on her shoulder, gently shaking her back to life. She bolted upright in alarm. “Ohmigod!” she exclaimed, adrenaline beating rapidly through her veins. A light was on, but it took her bewildered mind a moment to get over the initial shock of fear and panic to take in the overwhelming specter of this unknown, unexplained place. The hand that had shaken her awake belonged to a woman Sookie had never seen before. Panic once again set in, “What are you doing?” she demanded, pulling away from the stranger’s touch.

Sookie waited a few moments, but no answer came. Her vision was cloudy, and her eyes were puffy, sticky dry, and painful to blink, but she forced them to focus on her surroundings. The intruder was a young woman whom Sookie guessed was not much older than herself. She was possessed of an effortless beauty, which made Sookie feel guarded and self-conscious, especially in her exhausted and vulnerable state. No make-up; long, auburn hair pulled back in a loose ponytail; jeans and a plain, fitted white t-shirt made the stranger look like she should be wandering some random university campus rather than sitting silent, green eyes blank and staring, on a slim antique chair with needlepoint cushions next to the bed. Whoever the stranger might be, she was not the sort Sookie would have expected to see transported into her strange life, especially during this latest, mysterious turn.

Sookie was furious. “Are you deaf? Who are you? What do you want?” she demanded, fear and confusion lending a tremulous volume to her soft voice. But the woman remained as she was, still and silent, refusing to open her pink, cupid’s bow lips to speak. Sookie sniffed loudly in derision and let her weight fall heavily back against the carved mahogany headboard, accidentally whacking the back of her head against one of the panels. “Ouch! Goddammit!” she yelped, reaching a hand back to rub the sore spot under her golden mane of matted, oily hair.

It was then that Sookie realized that her dress was gone, and she lay all but naked, except for her underwear, under the white, lace-edged sheet she held tightly to her breast. She flushed with embarrassment, momentarily forgetting her frustration, and peered around, trying to see if her dress had fallen to the floorboards around the canopy bed. But the dress was gone, and the stranger still made no attempt to communicate. As her eyes scanned over the dimly lit room, Sookie noticed that they were not alone. The white double doors were open, allowing light to spill in from the outer corridor, and a man stood in the shadows, watching.

When he saw Sookie notice him, he stepped into the light. He was tall, almost as tall as Erik, and powerfully built with short-cropped dark hair, although his face was still hidden in shadow. Sookie shrank back instinctively, pulling the sheet tighter around herself, completely unsure of his intentions, but ready to try and fight if she needed to. “My name is Thomas,” he said. Sookie was relieved that he made no move to approach the bed. “I know your name. I am one of the guards assigned to protect you,” he replied tersely. “What? Why? Where am I?” Sookie asked, all in one breath, her stunned mind clamoring for answers.

“You are in Jackson. I don’t know why you are here. What I do know is that you are not allowed to leave this room. There will always be a guard outside the door, so don’t even think of trying to escape.” Sookie went ghostly pale at his words. Jackson! Of course, where else? To be Russell’s prisoner until he sacrificed her to whatever greater purpose he had alluded to before. Or maybe he would just get too hungry one night and drain her down to a wrinkled, withered husk.

In any case, it was too awful for her to continue to think about. The guard gave her a moment to digest this information before continuing on in his low, gravelly voice. “Don’t bother trying to make conversation with your maid there, like I heard you trying to do before. Her name is Elizabeth, and she has been glamoured into silence. She will bring you food from the kitchen, clean your room, and attend to your needs. There is a bathroom through there,” he indicated with a sweep of his hand.

In the gloom, Sookie could barely see the door, which was almost hidden around the side of a large, burnished mahogany armoire. “Anything else you need, and you can ring the bell. Other than that, I suggest you eat something and get your strength back. You’re going to need it.” When he was finished speaking, he turned and removed his forbidding presence from the room, resuming his post and leaving the door open, presumably so he could keep an eye on things.

Sookie picked up the small bone china bell with its swirl of red roses and it jingled merrily in her hand. The guard turned his stony gaze from the corridor wall to give her a disapproving look and she self-consciously stilled the tongue with her finger. Hearing some answers, as awful as they were, was a relief. It was a respite from the awful weight of not knowing anything.

Hungry for more, she reached out to his mind, unconcerned with whether it was right or wrong. Her need to survive, her dissatisfaction with being told the when and why of things trumped the rules about what was proper. But, as soon as she had done it, she wished she had just left well enough alone. His thoughts were snarling, vicious, a red and black dungeon of bloody endings and the slathering excitement of the hunt. He was just another werewolf; a low, common sort, who, if left to his own devices, would more gladly rend her flesh from bone than guard her.

A sharp headache tore at her, burning behind her eyes, and her famished stomach cramped, demanding food, although she felt far too full of despair to actually eat anything. A food tray rested undisturbed on the plush ottoman at the foot of the bed. Sookie stared blankly ahead, too hungry to eat, too tired to sleep. The thought that going to sleep would only result in waking up to the same nightmare was unbearable.

She wished she could be anything but what she was: a flawed vessel destined to be shattered against the rocks. Elizabeth’s gaze rested on her, soundless and without judgment, and she seemed to be waiting. Sookie didn’t want to look at her, didn’t want to hear thoughts that were all haunting chords plucked from the strings of a harp and distant, sad echoes of lost voices. Go to sleep, and it was the barest impression of a thought to cross the divide. Having nothing else to do, say or think, Sookie decided to eat later and let her eyes fall shut. The wolf was right, she would need her strength; the war was not over, it had just begun anew.

Sleep lent little comfort. Sookie tossed and turned, unknowingly binding herself in a cocoon of lace and Egyptian cotton. In her dream, she rested in a place between spans of time, where the aeons stretched out on either side of her like two separate, unfathomable seas. Her dress was heavy, sodden with a viscous black pitch and it held her to the craggy rock, its sharp planes and edges cutting into her back like honed blades. She could not move as she was held between the two blank seas. Her mind churned with confused and panicked thoughts, drowning out any quiet voice of reason that might reassure her that it was only a dream, a very bad dream.

A spectral hand appeared, or maybe it had been there all along, hidden in the mist obscuring her vision. The hand advanced towards her as she pressed herself further into the rock, its jagged planes and edges offering scant protection. She knew what the shade wanted as it stretched its long, smoky fingers to clutch at her throat. Panicked, Sookie snapped her head back, hitting a sharp point that felt like a dagger to the back of her neck.

In the distance, a great clock began to chime the hours. She could feel the vibrations reverberate through the sky, silencing the storm. One, two, three it sang, counting towards a deep and endless midnight before it stopped entirely. Then, there was only silence except for the crashing of the waves. The sea turned more dangerous, sending rolling waves that crashed over the rock, drenching her further, tearing the clothes from her body, as she tried to spit the water out before it filled her lungs.

Sookie’s eyes popped open and she barely dared to breathe in the eerie, dark silence. From far down the corridor, she could hear the sonorous bong, bong, bong of a grand old clock moving time forward through a cavernous tomb. She was shaken by her dream, unsure if it was better to be torn apart as she slept or be awake to face having her sanity taken apart piece by piece in the stale air of a sunless room. Her eyes darted around as she tried to focus, but she could not even see the hand she held in front of her face, only indistinct fireworks as the rods and cones in her eyes fired uselessly, casting about for form.

Rolling over, she reached out blindly, her fingers stretching out to feel the smooth rigidity of the mahogany nightstand. She fumbled around, knocking over a cut crystal tumbler that fell to the carpet with a heavy thud. Shit! she thought, reaching down to pick it up and grimacing at her unintentional clumsiness. She pulled herself closer to the edge to the bed. The pale hairs stood up on her arms as she reached out with both hands to grasp the bulbous base of the fragile blown-glass lamp. Turning the switch, the lamp blazed to life, illuminating the room with the dim light of its single bulb.

Sookie threw back the covers that had grown warm and musty from sweating out her nightmares. Leaning over the foot of the bed, she saw her meal still sitting untouched on the low, beige ottoman. Not caring to leave the bed, Sookie flopped onto her flat stomach, which had ceased rumbling for food and was now just a hard cramped knot, like a rock weighing down her center, and picked up the warm glass of orange juice, the pulp floating on the top congealed into a solid mass. The sweet, acidic taste burned her parched throat. There was also oatmeal with milk in a gold-rimmed china bowl, crusty and cold from being left out so long. Sookie held the bowl to her nose and decided it was just this side of sour.

She wrinkled her nose in disdain as she returned the bowl to its wooden serving tray. Eat or starve, her better nature cautioned even though she felt herself turning green at the thought. Picking up the weighty, intricately crafted gold spoon, she forced herself to eat. The food turned to ashes in her mouth, tasteless and foreign, and left a bitter aftertaste like poison. She gulped the food down, trying to focus on the fact that it was sustenance, that she still loved life enough to want to live it, and not on the fact that every bite brought her closer to throwing it all back up. Fine meal, she thought bitterly as she swallowed another bite of crunchy oatmeal mixed with rising bile.

Finally, she threw in the towel, sick at heart that her only meal had become a battle of attrition between her weary body and old, bad food. Without much care for the delicate china, she let the half-full bowl drop the several inches back to its place on the serving tray, but the spoon jumped out of the bowl and clattered loudly to the floor in protest. Sookie’s breath caught in her chest, she hadn’t meant to make a commotion, and she suddenly felt scared. An insistent voice in her head warned her to be quiet, to tread lightly.

Suddenly, the door swung open and Thomas strode into the room, looking irritated. Her first thought was to apologize for disturbing him, but then that seemed ridiculous, so she lowered her eyes and hurriedly pulled the sheet up to cover her nakedness. In the gloom, he reminded her of Alcide with his swaggering bravado and his big, muscular frame, which was accentuated by silhouette, but this wolf was more menacing, less gentle. Sookie flushed as she felt his eyes moving hot over her body, lingering in the places where the sheet clung close to her warm, clammy skin.

“Good, you’re awake. Clean up,” he barked gruffly as his attention moved to taking in the details of the room, sizing up any trouble she might have caused. “You have a visitor coming.” And that was all he said, all he seemed to deem her worthy to hear. She wondered if he came in and watched her as she slept, lifting back the sheets to fill his mind with lurid fantasies at her expense.

Probably, she decided, her thoughts turning jagged and icy. He was no Alcide, no kind of gentleman. He was probably the one who had stripped her naked in the first place, she mused unhappily. As if he sensed her dark turn of mind, Thomas turned on his heel and walked out of the room, leaving Sookie to stare dumbly after him, clutching the sheet in red-knuckled, clenched fists.

After he left, Sookie knew she had to get up and do something. Swinging her tan legs over the side of the bed, she set her feet for the first time on the floor of her elegantly appointed prison cell. A visitor? Who could he mean? she wondered as she absently rubbed her sweaty soles in the soft weave of the large, ivory hand-hooked rug, her unpolished toes tracing patterns around the petals and down the stems of the nondescript blue flowers. Did he mean Russell? she knew he would be coming back, and a cold rush of gooseflesh swept over her exposed skin.

She prayed it would not be him. She thought she might die of terror if she had to meet him again as she was: naked, vulnerable, and locked in a room that held no answers. But some deeper, wiser instinct whispered that when he did come back, there would be no warning. He was not one to deny himself the pleasure of catching his quarry unawares. In a way, the thought made her feel comforted in the moment, but it was not much different than the relief of putting off a root canal, one way or another she knew she would have to face her greatest fear.

Fuck them all, Sookie decided. She knew she would find a way out of this mess. She was not going to sleep her way to an early death in this airless space. Pulling open the drawers of a large dresser in a hushed flurry, she found that they had all been emptied or, perhaps, they had never been filled in the first place. The top drawer was lined in soft, red velvet. She laid her hand on it for a moment, it spoke of fancy parties and ladies in silk who had need of entire drawers to hold their secret troves of diamonds and emeralds. Another world; not a shameful, lonely imprisonment with no real hope of redemption. The red reminded her of a blood stain, of Bill, and how the whole mess had started in the first place.

She closed the drawer too forcefully, causing it to bang against its hinges, and Sookie tensed at the unexpected sound. It was starting to sink into her consciousness how golden silence was. Her clumsiness could at any time bring her guard striding back into the room to catch her standing enticingly naked except for a pair of pink panties, moist with sweat. She was not anxious to test the limits of a wolf; she already knew his thoughts were full of stone and cobwebs and a haze of interwoven shades of red, black and purple. She suspected that no sense of human compassion could faze what might lay behind that wall.

It was clear in her mind how it could all happen; Thomas throwing her roughly to the bed, tearing away her underwear, pushing her thighs apart with calloused hands as she screamed in protest. Who would she even scream for? Maybe Russell? But the thought made her edgy. Firstly, because there was no one else, and secondly because he might just come in and enjoy the show.

She shook her head, her thoughts becoming too dark, too fast. But, in each moment, she was becoming more aware of how precarious her situation was and how fast it could deteriorate into the kind of living hell that she had always feared in a nameless way. If such a thing came to pass, there was no reason for it to stop until she was too battered to withstand it anymore.

A wave of dizzy exhaustion hit her with sudden force, and she laid her head against the warm, smooth mahogany. She ran a finger over the swirling patterns, temporarily comforted by the solid planes. At least it felt real when everything else felt frighteningly unreal. All the drawers were empty or, she suspected, had been emptied in preparation for her arrival. Likewise, the floor-length blue velvet curtains decorating the paneled bank of windows hung loose, their intricately spun, silver cords vanished. The more she looked around, the more it became clear that nothing was left for her to use to help or harm herself.

She sighed heavily, picking up the saltshaker from the tray as she padded silently to the open door near the fireplace. The meticulous nature of this cat and mouse game both confounded and exhausted her. Shutting the door heavily, she leaned back against it, grateful to have a solid boundary between her and the not-so-private nature of her captivity.

The travertine tile was unrelievedly cold under her feet and she shivered, folding her arms tightly over her breasts. It was as if the porous surface of the tawny beige stone still held the chill memory of a frigid subterranean river, silent and inky black, long before the rough, ribald shouts of men and the violent blasts of their quarry machines had found their means of profit. It disturbed her to be moving through her life an inch at a time, continually finding a despairing similarity between her plight and any object she happened upon.

The bathroom was like an oasis, if only a small one. The same antique blue wallpaper with its swirls and tumbles of vines and flowers covered the walls as it did in the outer bedroom, except for the small inset space where a large, clawfoot bathtub lived, tempting her weary body with the soothing promise of comfort and relief. In that space, glass tile covered the walls and ceiling, the blues and grays swirled together like the confluence of two seas: one warm, one cool. Sookie pushed herself off the door to gaze into the oval mirror hung above the wash basin. The reflection that met her sad eyes was a traitor, an almost unrecognizable imposter. Gone was her effortless beauty and carefree smile.

She picked up the toothbrush and tube of toothpaste that accompanied a single bar of handmade lavender-scented soap, as well as a rosewood-handled hairbrush, which seemed to be her only toiletries. As she brushed her teeth, her mind played with the notion of any other uses for those common items. There was nothing she could think of to be done with the soap, toothpaste, or hairbrush short of throwing them at an attacker. She had to suppress a laugh from around a mouthful of bubbly fluoride froth as she imagined the look on any of her captors' faces if she launched a bar of soap at them in a futile attempt to defend herself.

The toothbrush held more promise and she pulled it from her mouth to examine it more thoughtfully. She had heard of prisoners forming makeshift shivs from simple items like toothbrushes, but she had no idea how to go about the process of making one. And even if she did manage to figure it out, she doubted it would be much of a weapon; more likely, if found, it would just result in even more trouble for her.

The girl in the mirror frowned, the corners of her lips turned down with tension and worry. Her brown eyes no longer sparked with fire and mischief, but were sunken and dull, ringed with dark circles. I look like a raccoon, she thought despairingly as she tried to run her fingers through her oily, matted hair. Her fingers caught in a tangle the size of a robin’s egg and she wished she had a pair of scissors to just cut it all off.

Frustrated, she yanked at the knot, and tears ran down her cheeks as several hairs pulled free from her scalp, leaving her holding a wad of dirty blonde hair. Looking at it, she began to realize that there was a real danger of the inner pressure boiling over. Suddenly, Sookie began to understand what it is that drives girls to cut on themselves or do other irreparable damage. It scared her; she’d always thought of herself as better than that, but with no control and no avenue for release, it was intriguing to think that there was one thing she could do to change things for herself.

Kneeling down, she laid her cheek against the cold porcelain of the clawfoot tub, bracing herself against an inner darkness that seemed ready to engulf her. She turned the hot water faucet on full blast, barely adding any cold to temper the heat, before emptying the saltshaker into the water as she dreamily watched the steam rise. Her eyes focused on the tile mosaic behind and above the tub. Small, smooth, irregular pieces of tile fitted together by some talented artisan gave the impression of a lighthouse built on a cliff above a stormy, stygian sea.

The waves churned in violent disorder, tiny pieces of white glass capped the swirling blues, lending depth and dimension under grey clouds and a yellow moon. There were no ships in the scene, as if the lighthouse and the ships occupied separate, mutually exclusive spheres. It was beautiful, but it made her sad. The longer she looked at it, the more she felt like the left-out ship, too far away to see the beacon, clinging to life amidst a murderous ocean with no real hope of ever reaching home.

Finally, the tub was filled to her satisfaction and she lifted herself off the floor, peeled off her soiled underwear, laying them on the wash basin, so she could hand scrub them later, and lowered herself into the blistering, hot bath. In moments, the scalding water turned her lobster red and she laid her head back against the cool porcelain as her body sweated the sour taste of exhaustion and fear out of her pores.

The water moved in sinuous waves, made ponderous with the weight of the salt, and Sookie pushed her arms against the sides of the tub in a futile gesture to widen her pool of circumstance. She sat for what felt like forever, her thoughts dissipating with the steam, until she finally found the will to pull herself from her dreamy trance back to reality. Emerging from the tub, lightheaded from the heat and steam, she wrapped a towel around herself, and walked back to the bed where she fell asleep on top of the covers. As she drifted off to sleep, she knew that there was nothing left for her to do, she could only wait for what came next.

Chapter 3: Caged Bird

WITHOUT WARNING, the door to Sookie’s room burst open with a shudder, awaking her from the first sound sleep she had had since her capture. Sookie bolted upright in bed, astonished by the sudden appearance of a buxom, square shouldered, handsome woman with a frenzy of red curls who stormed up to the side of the bed. Black, magpie eyes assessed Sookie with an aphotic intensity that made her squirm self-consciously. Thomas followed the woman into the room, and he stood leaning against the white, marble fireplace, a bemused expression on his face. “Who are you?” Sookie demanded.

In the dim light, she could better see the woman’s cold, pale skin and red-rimmed eyes. Another vampire!? she thought, her stomach flipping involuntarily with dismay. She remembered when she had thought vampires were exciting, but now she just wished they had never come out of the coffin. “I am Dr. Kozeta Petra, but you to call me Dr. Koze. From you I want no trouble. I am here to drain blood for Russell. Keep quiet, cooperate, and we do OK." the doctor announced in clipped tones with a foreign accent Sookie could not place.

Her big, dark eyes regarded Sookie less as a person and more like a frog about to be dissected. Sookie watched with growing apprehension as she rummaged through a heavy black leather medical bag she’d thrown down on the bedside table. Her fingers were long and slim, tipped with bright red nails the shade of freshly spilled blood. “Your arm, give to me,” the doctor demanded, holding out her hand expectantly. Sookie could see the needle and small plastic tube in Dr. Petra’s other hand. “No!” she cried, pulling her arms tightly around herself, and inching away towards the far side of the narrow bed.

Dr. Koze's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Give me arm or I tear off, teveqele. No arm won't be problem for Russell, right?" The doctor said to Thomas as if Sookie wasn’t even there. Thomas chuckled, the ugly intent in his eyes only slightly less frightening than the vampire doctor. “Well, what you decide, vogelushe?" she asked, tapping the heel of her black Loubiton pump impatiently. “Fuck you, bitch!” Sookie shouted.

The doctor smiled, wide and slow, and her eyes glinted with psychotic glee at the challenge. "What you think you to say to me, ngaterrestare?" She moved instantly and soundlessly, grabbing the needle with one hand and Sookie’s arm with the other. Sookie yelped in pain as the doctor hyperextended her arm amongst the billowy, rumpled covers. Fear and panic consumed her mind and she flailed about; her movements swallowed by the feather mattress. The towel shook loose as she struggled, but she hardly noticed as her eyes focused on the needle advancing towards her bulging veins.

Without thinking, Sookie kicked out hard, and watched the needle go flying from Dr. Koze's startled grasp. But she barely had time to flash a small grin of triumph before heavy hands seized her arms, and Thomas’s heavy body fell atop hers. His breath was hot and sour in her face, and she coughed sickly as she struggled to dislodge his weight. Her feeble attempts to free herself were all in vain and Sookie had the sense that he had been waiting for an opportunity like this to present itself. Reality faded into the background as the oppressive weight of his thoughts broke through her defenses.

In her mind’s eye, she saw him take hold of her arms and haul her body up from under him. She saw herself helpless, eyes dulled by resignation, as he turned her over and pinned her hands to the polished headboard. He bit her neck savagely, leaving the flesh red and burning as tears streamed unnoticed down her cheeks. Dirty fingernails dug into her breasts as his hands groped down her body. The awful doctor watched from the side of the bed and ran the tip of her tongue over her fangs. Above her rouged cheeks, black, dead eyes lit only by a demonic fire delighted in Sookie’s suffering, hungry for sex and blood.

In his fantasy, Thomas moved his rough hands further down the length of her body as Sookie shuddered in revulsion. “No, please God, no,” she could hear herself crying as his hands seized her thighs, pulling her legs open, so he could enter her from behind. Her cries only seemed to excite him as he grabbed a handful of her golden hair and pulled her head back. “Shut up,” he growled, “or I’ll let her have a go at you when I am done here.”

Dr. Koze's rouged lips broke open in a toothy fanged grin at the prospect. And she laughed, a cackling sound that reminded Sookie of ravens arguing over roadkill. A sickening feeling enveloped her as it dawned on her that she was no more than a pawn now. Unless something changed, her purpose in this new life could easily consist of being raped and drained, again and again, until nothing remained.

She could almost feel the mahogany grow slick under her sweaty palms as Thomas brutally thrust into her. She watched herself growing weaker under the onslaught until he finished, leaving her crumpled and devastated among the fine sheets. She pulled the cerulean comforter to her mouth to stifle the sobs wracking her body, and the blue was all she could see, all her mind would allow. A blue like spring, the color of the day where she would sprout wing, fly away, and be free.

His thoughts were like sludge in the back of her mouth, gray-brown and bitter. Snap out of it! Remember who you are, she half-heard a voice cry from the back of her mind. In the momentary silence, the voice sounded like Claudine. It was enough jolt her back to reality, and away from the rape scene that had played out in brutal and horrific detail within the twisted mind of her guard.

"Get off of me!” Sookie shouted as she spit the putrid taste back into his face. The relentlessly determined cast of his features was instantly replaced by shock, and then anger. His eyes narrowed, darkening murderously, and as cold fear overcame her senses, she knew that she had gone too far. “Cunt,” he snarled at her through clenched teeth.

In the next moment, he drew his thick, rope-veined arm back and struck her flat across the cheek. The cracking sound of the blow reverberated through her mind like a shot in a cave. Her head lolled drunkenly as pain and shock washed over her. Thomas sat back on his heels, pleased with himself and watched Sookie moan weakly, trying to curl into a ball, but finding her legs still trapped under his weight. A dazzling array of colors burst to life before her muddled gaze.

Sookie did not see the doctor remove a small clear bottle from her medicine bag and dampen a cloth with the contents. Suddenly, the doctor’s small, surprisingly strong hand clamped the cloth over her nose and mouth. The acrid fumes filled Sookie's nostrils. Her eyes opened wide for a moment as the faces before her blurred beyond recognition and reality slipped away.

Sookie tossed and turned, moaning softly, wrapping the covers tightly around her body as her mind tumbled through a deep and dreamless sleep. Only the occasional faceless specter or disembodied voice was able to break through the fog, to rouse her slightly from oblivion. But she could not understand anything that was said, and her soul continued to drift through an endless, nebulous darkness.

After several hours, Elizabeth returned, moving silently as a ghost in the dim light. She set down a new tray of food on the low ottoman, but the savory aroma of a hearty meat stew did nothing to rouse Sookie from her comatose state. Elizabeth unraveled the suffocating sheets and proceeded to strip the bed, rolling Sookie’s leaden limbs out of the way as she worked.

From the hall, Elizabeth retrieved a shallow copper basin filled with warm, lavender-scented water and a soft cloth. Mutely and blindly, Elizabeth washed the sweat and grime away from Sookie’s feverish skin. Sookie’s hands and feet quivered and jerked as she muttered unintelligible strings of syllables into the stale, close air. Elizabeth looked long at Sookie, compassion filling her deep green eyes, but the haze that filled her mind kept her emotions far and distant.

In her glamoured state, melancholy notes plucked from an imaginary harp rose in vivid hues like dulcet butterflies before disintegrating into silence. It was an effective trick to keep her ordinarily keen mind docile, focused only on what needed to be done next to fulfill her duties. Her beauty, and Russell’s unrelenting desire to possess beautiful things, had made her into a tongueless slave whose prospects for life rested in her ability to care for a prisoner far more precious to him than herself. Soon enough, Elizabeth finished her work and soundlessly exited the room, a slight frown pulling down the corners of her delicate mouth, leaving Sookie alone with only a rapidly cooling meal for comfort.

More time passed and Sookie continued to sleep like one who was already dead. But somewhere in that endless night, she felt a smooth, cool hand at her forehead, sensitive fingers running down her cheek, gentle like a whisper. It was night; she could hear the sonorous chirping of the cicadas in the trees outside her paneled windows. “Bill,” she murmured softly, her head foggy and aching from the effects of the ether. With eyes closed, she clasped his large, pale hand between her two small, tanned ones, softly kissing his fingers, intoxicated by relief and gratitude.

“It’s been so awful, Bill. You don’t know. I dreamed I was locked up and held prisoner by Russell. I tried to find you, but you were gone. Erik told me you were dead. I didn’t want to believe him. I knew you would come for me,” she babbled, smiling. “I will always come for you,” replied a low, warm voice. Sookie’s eyelids flew open in shock and, dropping his hand, she bolted upright in bed. The sudden movement made her dizzy and her head lolled drunkenly as she met Russell’s eyes.

He stood by the bed, dressed all in black, arms folded casually across his chest, as he regarded her thoughtfully. Her sweat-soaked mane of golden blonde hair hung in lank, lavender-scented ropes around her face. A large, mottled yellow and purple bruise bloomed on her swollen cheek. The carefree radiance she possessed had retreated behind dark-rimmed, sunken eyes and skin grown sallow and ruddy from a lack of sunlight and nutrition. “You should eat more, my dear,” he said, indicating the cold food with a slight nod of his head.

His words jarred her back to reality and, as his gaze drifted down to where her exposed breasts rose and fell enticingly as her breath came in short, ragged gasps, she realized that she was naked and staring. Quickly, she pulled the sheet around herself and her cheeks flamed red with embarrassment. “What do you care?” she asked. She fell back into the bed, not caring what he might answer, just so long as she could return to the relative safety of sleep.

Closing her eyes, she cursed herself, her luck, the day she was born. She covered her face with her hands, trying to hide the tears that slipped unbidden from the corners of her eyes. A small, ironic smile lit his face as he took a seat in one of chairs by the fireplace. It pleased him that she found her situation unbearable. In his opinion, it was no more than she deserved. “Don’t be like that, pumpkin. It hurts me that you think that I don’t care. Look, I even brought you a gift,” he replied.

She lifted her head, her wan cheeks moist with tears, and saw a scarlet-jacketed book on the low, cabriole-legged coffee table in front of him. “I don’t want it. All I want from you is my freedom,” she spat back at him, her voice ragged with emotion. Russell crossed one leg over the other and folded his hands over his knee, unfazed by her displeasure. A book? Why on earth would he bring me a book? she wondered, confounded. It was the last thing she would have expected, and the very randomness of the gesture further disquieted her thinking.

The cold, empty hearth behind him yawned open like the maw of some great beast. If she looked too long, she could feel a riptide open, pulling her towards a vortex of swirling blackness. She had had a glimpse of that place before, a place with no hope of redemption. He looks like the devil waiting to welcome me to hell, she thought as she took in his long-sleeved cashmere shirt and black slacks, belted neatly at the waist; his hazel eyes were intent upon her as he half-hid an impish grin behind his hand. “Put it out of your mind, sweetheart. It will never happen. I went to far too much trouble to capture you to ever let you go. You are mine now,” he said with an air of calm certainty.

Sookie’s mouth went dry as she listened to him calmly explain the nature of her doomed existence. She shivered as she became aware again of her vulnerability; dirty, naked, with only a thin layer of Egyptian cotton between her and the eyes that drank her in like she was a rare vintage of fine wine. “You are wrong. I’ll find a way to escape. I’d rather die than stay here,” she said, finding some of her old spark and fury.

“Perhaps so, but you won’t die. You will live, and I will have what I want from you,” he replied, the cold words heated only slightly by the warm cadence of his voice. Sookie blanched and suddenly she felt very small, like a figurine trapped in a music box. “You are wrong. Erik will rescue me. He loves me,” Sookie croaked. It was her last, most desperate hope. She knew it was foolish to reveal herself to him in such a way, and regret followed narrowly on the heels of her unthinking blunder.

Russell stood up and gave her a pitying look. “I hate to be the one who keeps bringing you bad news, my dear, but Erik is dead. I killed him, so I wouldn’t bother holding your breath, waiting for a rescue that is never going to come. All that is left of him now is this,” he said as he pulled a thin, gold chain from beneath his collar. A long, ivory fang hung suspended between the ends as he pulled it over his head and tossed it to the bed.

He rolled his eyes at her, exasperated by his own desire to want to appease her. “Did you honestly think I would allow him to live after everything that has happened?” He chuckled to himself, seemingly amazed at her unremitting stupidity. “There, now don’t say I never did anything for you. That happens to be one of my favorite trophies." His smug demeanor was belied only by the intensity of his gaze. Inwardly, she could feel herself shrinking away.

Sookie snatched the chain up and clasped it to her breast. “Erik!” she cried, horrified by his cruelty. She rocked herself back and forth, clutching her prize. Russell had no interest in watching her heartbreak unfold anew, but he paused briefly before leaving her alone. “Read the book, my dear. The past is gone. Try to make some peace with your new home before despair drives you mad.”

With a wry smile, he blew her a kiss before opening the door. She watched in a stunned, emotionally blank way as he disappeared down the corridor. Thomas poked his head in quickly, refusing to meet her eyes, and making her feel even less like a person.

He didn’t try to drain me. Why not? Why else would I be here? she thought, astounded. The questions bothered her, lending a further sense of unsettling uncertainty, but somewhere inside she knew that he would be back.

The shattered remains of what had stood for hope only a few minutes before weighed heavily upon her soul. Suddenly, she felt very weak. It was too much to think; too much to have to continue to breathe the stale, fetid air, in and out. She curled up among the pillows, pulling the covers over her head, laying a kiss on the fang she held to her mouth as she cried herself to sleep.

But sleep would not come, so she lay awake listening to the thoughts bounce untethered around her mind like trying to play pinball on acid. More than once, she pulled a pillow over her head trying to smother the endless procession of unformed fears and specific regrets that plagued her. But any action she took only amplified the voices and the hot, wet smell of her breath as she breathed into the close cotton brought her close to gagging.

Russell is right, there is no reason to hope, she thought, hoping in her mad state that acceptance might bring some peace, but it only reinforced her wretched anguish. Sometimes, as the hours dragged on, she caught herself wishing that he would just come back, drain her dry, and allow her to find some peace, if only in death. Her cheek hurt, and she could not bring herself to eat. Misery covered her like a blanket spun from threads of sorrow and torment.

In the gloom, there was no way to mark the passage of time. She lay in bed, gazing blankly up at the crocheted coverlet laid atop the open canopy. If she stared long enough, she could almost lose herself among the delicate swirls, imagining the time it took to form the precise loops. Sometimes, she could see her grandmother crocheting, her head bent, rocking back and forth in her chair, the long hooks clicking as her hands moved with practiced ease.

Sookie imagined that it was her grandmother who had made the coverlet, and her heart ached for all the love she had lost. It was easy to slip into the fantasy. The room was a recently renovated addition to her family home. If she listened hard enough, she could almost hear Gran and Jason’s voices cheerfully discussing the day’s events. She tried to project herself to that place, but her presence was momentary, disembodied, and held apart. It was the only small way that she could find to keep her memories of home alive.

Her stomach burned with hunger, clenching and tightening, keeping her from sleep. At one point, she convinced herself to eat, to fight back, and not be content to lay down and die. But the stew had long since grown cold, and an unappetizing thin layer of orange fat had congealed on the top. Undaunted, Sookie spooned the food into her mouth. The broth, which had smelled so tantalizing and rich, turned bitter and vile on her tongue. The hunks of meat and vegetables were rubbery, tasteless, and slid down her dry throat like lumps of coal. She could feel her body attacking itself, breaking down what was not necessary, to try and provide enough nourishment for her survival.

A searing headache ravaged her mind, blocking any feelings of remembered happiness like a wall of fire she could not cross. If only Bill had never come to Merlotte’s. If only he’d never come to Bon Temps, then none of this ever would have happened, she thought, coming back to the thought, over and over again. She could not release the idea that somehow there must have been something that she could have done differently.

But she could not bring herself to regret her love for Bill or for Erik. With them she had known the happiest, most exciting moments of her life, even in the face of the overwhelming obstacles they had faced. Where did I go wrong? The question haunted her, breaking in like an unwanted guest, falsely promising some measure of peace if she could only pinpoint the exact moment of her fall. But the answer eluded her even as she went over every detail of her adventures in her mind.

She remembered a time when her dearest wish had been relief from the constant imposition of other people’s private thoughts. Now, all alone, her dark wish granted, she could not find the strength to silence her own demons. She rolled over and a lank, oily cord of hair fell across her face. Everything around her was beginning to smell like decay. In the dank, stifling humidity, a constant sheen of sweat wet her skin causing it to gray and puff. Cleanliness had been a constantly reinforced virtue since the time she was young, but she could not summon the will to drag herself to the tub.

As much as she was revolted by the changes coming over her, she questioned the purpose in trying to reverse them. She was beginning to resent her own company, but some small voice whispered that maybe Russell would not want her anymore if she just gave herself over to corruption and melancholy. Perhaps, in time, the madness within her reasoned, the foulness would so permeate her being that even her blood might lose its decadent, sweet allure. She smiled slightly, delighted by her wicked plan to beat Russell at his own game and, closing her eyes, she found a short respite from her sadness.

...

The door to her room burst open with a rude abruptness that Sookie was coming to accept as normal. Dr. Koze strode in with an air of unchallenged purpose and pure conceit while Thomas trailed her as she rounded the bed. She was clad in a soft pink tweed pencil skirt with a slight flounce at the hem and a mother-of-pearl silk blouse that made Sookie all the more aware of her own abject state. Thomas coughed hard. “It stinks in here,” he said. Sookie flushed with embarrassment, pretending to be asleep. “Yes, it does,” Dr. Koze agreed, wrinkling her straight-lined Greek nose in disgust.

“Wake up,” Dr. Koze demanded. Sookie lay unmoving, not caring to see the doctor’s sour face or Thomas’s pitiless gaze. “I said wake up,” she repeated, dropping her black medical bag to the floor with a thud. Sookie rolled over, her half-lidded eyes crusty with old tears and barely concealed loathing. “Thomas, go. Make for her a bath while I work,” Dr. Koze instructed. Thomas nodded and dutifully disappeared into the bathroom.

Alone, Dr. Koze grabbed the edge of the sheet and pulled it away, exposing Sookie’s thin, naked frame. She regarded Sookie with her cold surgeon’s eyes; taking in her pallor; the bruise that covered half her face; the itchy, red puncture wounds on her thigh where Russell had bitten her. “What do you want?” Sookie asked despondently, not really caring to hear the answer. “What I want? Budallacke, I want you to live. Why else I here? You die and Russell blames me. Not going to happen. You feel sorry for self. You not know suffering. You no eat, I see. Keep it up. I bring in feeding tube, then you eat,” she said, indicating the cold stew and its broken lilypad of orange fat with a wave of her hand. “I can’t,” Sookie protested, “I would rather die than continue on this way.”

Sookie had never felt so pathetic and vulnerable. Her strength lay wasted in an abyss of bad memories that left her without the will to try to cover herself from the doctor’s prying eyes. Who cares what they see? There’s no one left to protect me from these monsters. The sooner they get it over with, the better, Sookie thought, her mind turning foreign and dark. She was becoming a stranger to herself, someone who she would not want to meet, someone who was lost to everything that had ever good in her life.

As if the doctor could read her thoughts from the deep frown that pulled down the corners of her mouth, she said, “Listen, what I say you. You suffer, we all suffer. You think you special? You think is free? Nothing free. Death always hunt you. You were given too much, now you cry. You no want to pay price. Too bad, is how things are. Is how things always are. Some, not lucky like you, want be vampires, want be special. But then is the thirst, wretched, never ending. You see? The past is dead. Don't ask meaning, just live." Sookie digested the words as she had been unable to digest the food she was given. She wanted to cry more, explain that she had no one else to talk to.

The doctor busied herself with her preparations while Sookie stared up at the spiral posters of her bed, the coverlet with its web of woven snowflakes. The doctor’s words left no room for her own thoughts. There was truth in them that she did not want to hear. “Give me arm. You not such good girl. You not fool me. Save tears for someone else,” Dr. Koze said, holding out her long fingered, red-taloned hand expectantly. Sookie lay unmoving, she felt drained of the will to fight, all she had left was passive resistance.

Unfazed, the doctor grabbed her bony wrist and plunged the needle into Sookie’s arm with cruel efficiency. Sookie winced at the sudden pain, biting down on her lip to keep herself from crying out. “Your life not so bad as you think,” the doctor said with a flourish of her hand, as if emptiness could be remedied with luxury, in the same way sickness was dosed with medicine. Incredulous, Sookie turned her head back to face the doctor, her sunken brown doe eyes brimming with hatred. “Not so bad, you evil bitch, not so bad! I am a prisoner. I have lost my whole family. Everyone I have ever loved is gone. Fuck you!” Sookie spat defiantly.

She did not want to hear any more about how her pain was not real, or how she did not have a right to it. The doctor smiled small, her raven eyes focused on the thin stream of blood beginning to fill the small plastic bag, its contents more precious than gold. Thomas snickered from where he leaned against the mantle, hidden by the shadows. Sookie’s cheeks flamed red, she’d forgotten all about him, but once remembered, she could feel his eyes hot and hungry on her emaciated frame.

Please God, please just let this be over, she prayed. “The Romans have saying, cupke. You live through anything. What is too much pain, you no feel, you no longer alive,” Dr. Koze huffed as she applied a cool ointment to Sookie’s bite wounds. “Shut the fuck up,” Sookie replied angrily, not at all comforted. “Watch your mouth,” Thomas’s silhouette growled menacingly.

When the bag was almost full, Dr. Koze signaled for Thomas to approach the bed. “Take her to bath,” she instructed as she slid the needle from Sookie’s arm. Sookie felt Thomas’s strong, thickly corded arms slip beneath her, gathering her to his chest. He smelled clean and warm with hints of clove and mint. In spite of herself, she nestled into the heat radiating from him. For a brief moment, she closed her eyes and pretended that he was Alcide bearing her away to safety.

Thomas carried her into the bathroom and held her for a long moment above the steaming tub. She could feel his fingers pressing into the tender flesh of her breast. Let him have his cheap thrill, she thought, disgusted with herself. Resentment and resignation dueled quietly within her as the reality that her body was no longer just her own broke over her consciousness.

Thomas smiled down at her, a broad lop-sided grin she might have found attractive in another life; that is, until he dumped her unceremoniously into the tub. Water cascaded up with the impact, soaking Thomas and creating small puddles on the cool tile. She fell, limp and heavy, a breath of life lighter than a cadaver, into the blistering water.

Sookie yelped as her tailbone hit the unforgiving base of porcelain and her skin flushed crimson. “Clean up,” Thomas demanded, his dark eyes lit with wicked delight. He flung a washcloth into the tub with her as she sputtered and floundered, trying to find her composure. Without another word, he left her, and she listened intently, trying unsuccessfully to hear the muted words that passed between him and the doctor as they exited the room.

Sookie sat unmoving for a long time, letting the heat seep in and soothe her tensions, even as a large bruise blossomed on her lower back. It was just another ugly reminder of her uncared for, humiliated state. She was grateful she could not see it, grateful that the heat, hunger, and pain blocked out the incessantly negative ramblings in her head. Time passed, the water began to cool, and Sookie finally found the motivation to do as she had been told. But it angered her, even her plan to defile her own beauty and make herself distasteful to her captors had been thwarted. With each pass of the washcloth over her long, tan limbs, she felt more complicit in her own powerlessness.

The soft sound of the door to the outer bedroom creaking against its hinges broke her tortured reverie. She listened to the muffled sounds of light footsteps, sheets being removed and replaced. Elizabeth, she thought as the mild, melancholy notes of a harp invaded and supplanted her own thoughts. Sookie did not want to see her maid, but she could not help feeling like a child hiding, silent and sullen, in the rapidly cooling water.

Soon enough, Elizabeth finished her work and Sookie’s stomach churned uncomfortably from the aromas of a fresh tray of food. When she heard the door scrape closed, Sookie rose from the tub, washed, and set to dry the underwear that she had finally retrieved and found the energy to clean. Only then did she return to her lonely bedroom.

She tiptoed to the bed, padding silently over the ivory rug, and inspected the latest offering. What the hell am I doing? It’s not like they don’t know I’m in here, she scolded herself, but she could not imagine having to confront anyone else. She looked down at the tray. Ham and eggs with a bowl of strawberries, coffee, a multivitamin tablet. Her body ached for nourishment, but she could feel her throat constricting, rebelling against the idea of eating.

She shivered, suddenly feeling very tired. Maybe I can sleep for a while, eat when I get back up, she lied to herself, knowing full well that if she could not manage to eat when the food was fresh, she would not come back to it later. As she stood alone and naked in the stillness, it occurred to her that she was being presented with a choice. In times past, it would have been a thing of small consequence, not even worth thinking about, but her choices had become few and grave in nature. Her mouth went dry realizing that she could spend all day frozen in indecision and no one would stop her.

The longer she stood, the more grotesque a proposition it seemed to become. A vision of Dr. Koze passing a small silicone tube through her nostrils, down her esophagus to her stomach came upon her then. She imagined the doctor having a discussion with Russell about how she was failing to thrive, how there was no other choice to keep her alive. Sookie felt dismal, like she was little more than ash and blood. She knelt down before the tray, knowing there really was no choice, just the freedom to decide between the lesser of two evils. It was work to eat, the food turned to cardboard on the tines of the gold fork, flat and flavorless.

Sookie could not bring herself to eat more than half her meal, but felt pleased that she had staved off the feeding tube for a little while longer. How long can this go on? she wondered dully. If someone had told her months before that eating would become a misery, a job that utterly wiped her out and made her feel ill, she would never have believed them. Now, she knelt like a supplicant before the tray; it was a symbol of her own ruin, her desire to quit life altogether.

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she rose on quaking legs to crawl back into the carved canopy bed. She pulled the comforter over her head as her thoughts drifted to how the blue reminded her of the pure color of a new morning sky. Will I ever see the sun again? she wondered as sleep came to her on silent feet, bearing the pain briefly away.

Chapter 4: Fate and the Furies

SOOKIE AWOKE FROM A FITFUL SLEEP feeling overwhelmed at the idea of spending more interminable hours in the hobgoblin of deceit and despair that was now her home. It was deathly quiet except for the low-pitched song the cicadas chirped in the towering maples outside the confines of the mansion. Night again, Sookie thought as a shiver of low dread overcame her senses.

With the night came the threat of further visits from Russell or the doctor, while the day brought only the unbearable question of how to spend her wealth of empty hours. Sookie’s rich brown eyes drifted up, taking in the roses, petals unfurled and jagged to the touch, carved into the mahogany headboard. She felt in that moment that she would give her life to wake up to another view.

As she lay motionless, bereft of purpose, she remembered a time when she had wished for silence above all things. It had seemed to her back then that in the vacuum of silence, with no one’s thoughts to contend with but her own, she would find peace, a harmony that would allow her to co-exist with others in the world. Sookie covered her eyes with her small hands, she could not bear to see anymore. Tears streamed down from her clenched eyelids, wetting her cheeks under sweaty palms, as she fought to find some light, some reason to want to go on in the face of her deep state of mourning for all she had lost.

Be careful what you wish for, she reminded herself, the bumper sticker irony doing little to assuage her grief. Even with all her gifts, she could never have imagined a world in which the only relief from the pounding of her own thoughts would be the mating song of tree crickets in a world she could no longer touch. Her only way to mark the passage from night to day and day to night was the resonating tymbals of insects who grew louder at night.

I have to do something, I’ll go crazy if I continue to just lie here and cry, she thought. She sat up and looked around. There was nothing to occupy her attention. Her meal tray had vanished in the intervening time, and her stomach growled for want of sustenance. Stretching her arms wide to release the tension in her cramped back, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and walked into the bathroom to retrieve her underwear.

Sookie was dismayed to find that her underwear was not where she had left them. She checked the rubbish bin, around the floor, under the tub, but they were gone. Damn, she thought, feeling inexplicably violated, and even more vulnerable than before. She felt panicked and her whole body shook as she raised herself up from her crouched position on the cold tile floor. They were ruined anyway, she thought, which helped to lessen the blow, but still they were all she had.

The bloodstains from when Russell had assaulted her at Bill's house had thoroughly set and stubbornly refused to be soaked out, even as she had scrubbed at them with her only bar of soap and pounded them against the base of the sink, splashing cold water on the floor. After all that, she would have thrown them out herself, in spite of the fact that she favored the delicate color and flattering cut, but they were the only clothing she possessed. She sighed loudly, knowing there was nothing to be done.

Resigned, she had to admit to herself that unless someone was in the room with her, she hardly noticed the fact that she was naked anymore. Her skin had become her clothes as if she inhabited some ancient garden rather than a well-appointed, fetid prison cell. But, on this night, she did not wish to be caught unawares again. She returned to the room and, despite the heat, which kept the chill off of her bare skin, she pulled the comforter from the bed and wrapped it around herself like a cloak.

Taking a seat in the loveseat opposite the hearth, she contemplated its solid maple frame, the Silurian blue cushions adorned with delicate needlework: tiny crosses of pink, green, and yellow making a bouquet of flowers tied with a white ribbon. She traced her fingers lightly over the pattern, remembering better days when she and Gran had gathered flowers, and worked on needlepoint together.

The empty hearth lay cold and still before her, impenetrably black in the dim light. It must be the gate to hell, she thought dramatically, feeling once again the pull of the empty, black cavern. It stood in stark contrast to the rest of the room, which was decorated like an artisanal ode to the color blue, to romance. The longer she looked, the more the walls seemed to close in around her. The wallpaper's cheerful riot of vines and flowers mocked her newly formed belief that she would never know love again.

Shivering despite the warmth, she got up, and turned the switch on the standing lamp. The additional light helped to dispel some of the gloom but did nothing to improve Sookie’s mood. What am I supposed to do now? The thought echoed unanswered in her mind. She could not stand to go back to sleep, to schlep her way through more haunted dreams. She did not think she would be able to sleep anyway; every noise, every rustle of the curtains made her wonder if Russell had returned.

The low, polished maple coffee table still held the book he had left her. Rolling her eyes at her own inability resist temptation in the face of a boredom so absolute it threatened to consume her, she picked it up. She ran her fingers lightly over the scarlet jacket, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, Volume 1. Oh, dear God, she thought. He could not even leave me something interesting, something with a story to take my mind off things? What is this? English class? Another bad joke?

She was tempted to throw it into the empty hearth, let it and anything else he brought burn. But faced with the prospect of another night of empty, endless hours, she resumed her seat and began to read. Opening the tome to a random page, she skimmed over archaic, incomprehensible lines that nonetheless played like music in her mind.

Sonnet 40

Take all my loves, my love, yea take them all; What hast thou then more than thou hadst before? No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call; All mine was thine, before thou hadst this more. Then, if for my love, thou my love receivest, I cannot blame thee, for my love thou usest; But yet be blam'd, if thou thy self deceivest By wilful taste of what thyself refusest. I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief, Although thou steal thee all my poverty: And yet, love knows it is a greater grief To bear love's wrong, than hate's known injury. Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows, Kill me with spites yet we must not be foes.

Sookie wrinkled her nose unhappily. Yeah, take all my loves, do it, thief. That much I understand, you asshole, she thought. The book was mocking her; Russell was mocking her, but she had nowhere to put her anger, nothing to do but read or stare blankly at the walls. For a moment, she allowed her mind to dwell on her lost loves, Bill, Erik, her family, and friends. All were gone as if they had never been. Sometimes, she could see their faces with an eerie clarity, but other times they were lost in the mist, unreachable no matter how hard she tried to remember.

The delicate pages whirred under her thumb, hardly more substantial than moth’s wings, as she selected another passage.

Sonnet 30

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought I summon up remembrance of things past, I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought, And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste: Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow, For precious friends hid in death's dateless night, And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe, And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight: Then can I grieve at grievances foregone, And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan, Which I new pay as if not paid before. But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, All losses are restor'd and sorrows end.

Just as the bold, black ink seemed too heavy to be held by the thin gold-edged pages, the words weighed heavy in her heart. Sookie sighed, suddenly feeling very cold inside, and pulled the comforter closer around her thin frame. She did not want this vocabulary for processing her emotions. She did not want to be the person who recognized her own ruined life in poems written centuries before.

Perhaps it was fate. Maybe there really was no other way. What if Dr. Koze is right and it is just the price I have to pay for my gifts? But it’s not fair! No one deserves this, she thought, and tears began to roll unchecked out of the corner of her eyes. What good is remembering? What good are tears? She angrily wiped her tears away with the back of her hand.

Looking around the room, desolate despite its luxury, she knew that without her memories there would be nothing left of the person she had been. But her tears did nothing to assuage the mounting wave of regret that crashed down upon her soul. Still, she could not stop crying; she cried for all she had lost, all the wrong turns down the twisting path, and most especially the awful result that she had never seen coming.

Bong, bong, announced the great clock bringing Sookie back to her precarious reality. Two in the morning, only three more hours before sunrise, the thought comforted her only briefly. For while morning eased the threat of Russell or the doctor returning, it also carried the heavy burden of hours of idle, wasted time. As she gazed at the empty white marble mantle, she wondered if she would ever look forward to anything again. She feared that the barren hours would continue to be all that lay between each terrifying episode she suffered at the hands of her captor.

With an exaggerated sigh, she returned her attention to the book. Flipping through to a new page, she read the final lines of Sonnet 29:

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

The words fell like stones. Liar! she thought, what a waste of time. She missed Erik, and ached for Bill’s protective arms to hold her close. Fuck this book. Fuck Russell. It’s all a lie. I’m not better off without them. I needed them and now they are gone. I have nothing. How can that be better? Her thoughts turned glum with frustration and she hiccupped a loud sob.

God, help me, I miss them! Suddenly, she was gripped by an intensely raw memory of how it felt, how Bill had exploded into her heart the first time she took in his blood. It had been the same way with both him and Erik. She laid her head on her tucked knees, allowing herself the comfort of indulging in the warmth of those sweetly erotic memories. To be so wanted, so desired; it was a high she knew she could never replace.

But as reality penetrated her daydreams, so did the old nagging questions, leaving her to wonder how much of their love, and their protection was ultimately devoted to her and how much towards the special quality of blood that ran through her veins. But there was no answer to that question; there never had been and there never would be. When she really thought about it, she was not sure that she really wanted to know the truth. It was better to bask in the memories and believe what made her happiest. The book lay temporarily forgotten in her lap, but as she stood, it fell to the floor. The leather-bound scarlet covers lay open on the floor like a broken-winged bird, the pages bent carelessly underneath.

Sookie could care less about damaging Russell’s book, especially since she had not wanted it in the first place. But, as the book had slipped from her lap, a small piece of paper freed itself from where it had been tucked in the binding. Reaching down, she retrieved a folded page of newspaper. As she unfolded the paper, she discovered that it was part of a page from a Bon Temps newspaper. The headline read MEMORIAL SERVICE HELD TODAY FOR MISSING GIRL. Panicked, she read on:

A memorial service for Bon Temps local,

Sookie Stackhouse, 26, will be held today

at 11 A.M. at the Bon Temps cemetery.

Ms. Stackhouse disappeared three months

ago and, after an exhaustive investigation,

the Bon Temps Sheriff's Department

issued a statement yesterday declaring

that the case has been permanently suspended.

Ms. Stackhouse, a waitress at Merlotte's Bar

and Grille, was involved with a vampire,

Bill Compton, who had recently resumed

his ancestral home in Bon Temps.

Mr. Compton is wanted by police for

questioning in connection to

Ms. Stackhouse's disappearance.

According to a source at the Sheriff's Department,

Mr. Compton also disappeared under mysterious

circumstances around the same time. A search

of Mr. Compton's property revealed evidence

of a violent struggle, and the possibility of

foul play.

Some locals speculate that Ms. Stackhouse

became a victim of vampires while

others have suggested that perhaps she

became a vampire herself. While the mystery

surrounding Ms. Stackhouse's disappearance

may never be solved, the citizens of Bon

Temps will mourn the loss of one of their

young people.

A candlelight vigil will be held

at 7 P.M. at the Bon Temps Good Faith Baptist

Church. Sookie Stackhouse is survived

by her brother, Jason Stackhouse, and

preceded in death by her grandmother,

Adele Stackhouse.

To Sookie's dismay, smiling out from its placement in the middle of the article was a newsprint reproduction of her high school graduation photo. "No!" The cry escaped her lips as the blood drained from her face. It was a breathless, strangled sound, and the newspaper article fell from her careless grasp as she covered her mouth to capture the errant sound. Don't let him hear, she prayed. Balling her hand into a tight fist to muffle her cries, she bit down hard, and screamed out her desolation with all the will and fury left to her weary soul. What came out was little more than the sound of a pinwheel whirring in the wind.

Her legs shook as she stood up, threatening to collapse underneath her like a pile of straw. On leaden feet, she plodded the few steps to the bathroom. Gazing at her reflection in the oval mirror, she could not believe the transformation that was quickly overcoming her. Despair had left her eyes dull and bloodshot, ringed in dark, exhausted circles. Her pallor was accentuated by her swollen cheek, speckled like a gruesome collage of yellow, purple, green, and brown. Likewise, her arms and legs were covered in bruises from her struggles. Her old self, her sunny vitality, were slowly vanishing in a grey fog of decay.

I might as well be dead. Everyone I have ever loved has died because of me and the way I am. Even if they are still alive, they think I am dead. Oh God, what is the point? What is the fucking point? she thought, turning away from the imposter who stared mournfully back at her from the mirror. Her heart felt heavy, its beat slowed, weighing her down like a stone lodged in her chest. She wondered where she would ever find the strength to keep it beating and, for the first time in her life, she questioned whether she wanted it to.

Sobbing, she sank to her knees under the oppressive weight of her sorrow. She clutched the fang that hung from around her neck as if it were a magic talisman that could make everything better. Erik! How could this happen? she cried inwardly, lost in the memory of how much promise her life had once held. Wrapping the comforter tightly around herself, she lay on the chill tile floor and cried out her desolation until sleep stole in, mercifully releasing her from a world of regret for a short time.

Sookie awoke to strong arms lifting her off the floor. The smells of rough-cut cedar and sweat filled her nostrils. She opened her bleary eyes, trying to blink away the dried tears, and recognized immediately the hard lines of Thomas's jaw, the grave cast of his dark eyes. In the next moment, he sat her down, the comforter overwhelmed the diminutive chair, so that Sookie was held in a down cocoon. Before her on the squat table was a new tray of food containing a bowl of chicken noodle soup and a glass of red wine. Thomas took a seat in the loveseat and watched her intently with an expectant, pitiless gaze.

"Elizabeth is ill tonight," he said, unexpectedly breaking the silence. "So?" Sookie replied petulantly. "What do I care?" Thomas smirked at her saucy retort before his face clouded over once more. "It's not a matter of whether or not you care," he answered icily, "but I have been charged with bringing you your meal, so shut up and eat." Sookie bristled at his response, but as weak as she felt, she did not want this cruel wolf to get the better of her. "Well, you've done that, so why not leave me to eat in peace?"

Thomas laughed heartily, "You'd like that, wouldn't you? I leave, and you pick at your meal or maybe flush it down the toilet. No such luck, princess, I'm going to sit here with you until every bite is finished, so you might as well get started." Sookie felt the blood drain from her face. "Better and better," she replied sarcastically, wrinkling her nose to show her displeasure. She hadn't thought that anything could make the prospect of having to eat any more unpleasant, but her new life was quickly proving to her that things could always be worse.

Freeing her arm from the blanket, she wiped at the crust of dried tears and snot on her face before she picked up the spoon and began to eat. The herbed broth was flavorless on her tongue. She struggled to chew and swallow the noodles and hunks of chicken which tasted dull and rubbery. She rolled her eyes at the effort it took for her to accomplish each bite. It was taking forever, and Thomas shifted around impatiently. "Drink the wine," he suggested. "It will make the food go down easier."

The wine went straight to her head, making her feel light-headed and drawing forth the first smile she'd flashed since her imprisonment began. Sookie finished the rest of her meal quickly. Even though she was desperately lonely, she preferred to be momentarily drunk and lonely rather than have to endure Thomas's oppressive company any longer. Thomas seemed to echo the sentiment for as soon as she finished, he wordlessly got up and walked out, leaving the tray behind. Despite her dislike for him, Sookie felt offended by his abrupt departure.

Jerk, she thought, he'd rape me given half the chance, but he cannot manage even a hint of civility or manners. She shook her head, trying to clear her mind of useless musings about werewolves and their antisocial ways. In spite of the calamitous news she had received earlier, the wine and food almost made her feel whole, but also tired. Sookie yawned in an exaggerated fashion, raising her arms high above her head, allowing the comforter to fall away, since the need for modesty was once again removed. She walked to the bed, dragging the comforter behind her, and curled up in the hopes of enjoying good dreams for once.

...

"Sookie," she heard a familiar voice call softly. For a moment, she was unsure that she had heard her name or if it was just her imagination projecting voices onto the wind that raged outside the protective confines of her room. Holding the sheet to her chest in the pitch black, she sat up. "Who's there?" she questioned the darkness, feeling apprehensive. She felt a heavy body sit down next to her; its weight displaced by the soft feather mattress. Then there was a large hand, its sensitive fingers tracing the contours of her jaw. "Sookie, don't you know me?"

"Erik?" She knew it couldn't be, but the familiar touch was too intoxicating, too intimate to be another. "Who else?" His voice was hushed, soothing, heavy with longing. The need to cover herself forgotten; she fell into his waiting arms. "I thought you were dead. Russell told me he killed you," she whispered, unbelieving. "I have always been dead," he quipped, and she imagined his wry smile as he held her tight.

"Erik," she breathed softly as his lips trailed down from her forehead to fiercely kiss her open mouth. His large hands moved feverishly down the length of her body as he clasped her hard against him. She closed her eyes and melted into the moment as his mouth drifted lower over her breasts and stomach. Sookie gave herself fully over, and she soaked in the sensation of his heavy, cold body lying atop hers.

Sookie gasped and sighed as a dizzying kaleidoscope of stars whirled before her eyes, the only light in a darkness so deep that she could not tell if her eyelids were open or shut, and she realized that she did not care. The only thing that mattered was the way his mouth felt between her legs, how his hand gripped her breast, gently squeezing her nipple between his fingers. In that moment, she did not care how release had come, she was simply grateful that it had.

Somehow, I knew it would all be OK, she thought dreamily. But her eyes were closed, for when the small lamp was suddenly flipped on, all the tiny pinpoints of light melded together into one blinding flash. It was a shock like breaking the surface of the water after a long dive. Sookie's eyes snapped open to see Russell grinning down at her. Sitting up, she gasped in alarm and pulled the sheet as high up to her neck as the fabric would allow.

For a moment, she stared at him blankly, struck dumb with shock, before finding her voice. "What do you want?" Sookie demanded, her voice dripping with venom. She was trying to hide her shock and embarrassment. Surely, he doesn’t know who and what I was dreaming about, she chided herself. But the way he smiled at her made her wonder, nonetheless.

She hated herself for being susceptible to such ridiculous and speculative thinking. Although the emotion paled in comparison to how she despised him for making her wonder about all sorts of things she would have never wasted time on in the past. Russell didn't answer immediately, but shook his head at her as if he was delighted by her foolishness. It was amazing to him that her impertinence was still unfazed in the face of her absolute powerlessness. Sookie squirmed uncomfortably in the silence, not sure what to do.

She wondered if it was close to morning, since Russell was attired in a dressing gown and tuxedo shirt he wore open at the neck with a bow tie hanging loose. His neatly pressed black dress slacks barely carried a wrinkle. Sookie speculated on where he might have spent the evening, what occasion would require such formal dress. An image came to her of a fancy party attended only by the beautiful and powerful. Elegant dresses and crystal chandeliers populated the scene in her mind. On one long table, a silver fountain flowed with blood as the vampires mixed, mingled, and drank blood from crystal champagne glasses.

"I don't know. What do you think I want, sweetheart?" his low voice was husky with what Sookie had come to know was male desire. It sickened her to know that she was the object of his hunger. She gulped down hard around the lump that had risen in her throat as her expressive chestnut eyes clouded with fear. He had taken everything from her: Erik, her family, Bon Temps. Every heart wrenching loss she had suffered could in one way or another be traced back to Russell Edgington.

"Here, take what you want and go," she stated flatly and thrust her wrist towards him. In a flash of movement so quick it blurred before her stunned eyes; Russell grabbed her outstretched wrist. He twisted her arm behind her, holding her inches from him. Sookie winced against the pain as his fingers dug into her tender flesh. "It is not for you to offer me what is already mine. Things could be a lot worse for you. If I wished it so, I could have you chained up in the slave quarters until you learned to be a little less, shall we say, disagreeable. After all, I'm sure my guards would enjoy the diversion." Sookie grimaced, unsure which was more distasteful, his words or his nearness. He held her so close that she would have been able to hear his heart beating, if he had one.

She tried to twist her wrist and break his grasp, but he held her fast. It was as if he was trying to impress upon her in action what might be lost in words. Pink shadows of newly formed bruises were beginning to show where his fingers had pressed too hard.

"Why are you doing this?" Sookie asked, her voice trembling with genuine terror. "Because it is what happens next," Russell replied as he tore the sheet from her grasp, exposing Erik's fang hanging from its slim gold chain between her breasts. His eyes roamed over her naked body as he wrapped his other arm around her. "No!" she screamed, her mind quickly giving way to hysteria in the face of this latest turn of events.

Sookie closed her eyes and poured all her remaining will and focus into summoning forth her powers. She visualized the light erupting from her free hand, knocking Russell across the room, teaching him to keep his filthy hands to himself. But, as she held it toward him, her hand lit only briefly and dimly. Russell had done his work well; held in a melancholy spell of muted twilight, she was only able to invoke a small flicker compared to the raging burst of flame she had previously brought forth. Everything stopped for a brief moment, even the air stilled, as they both absorbed the import of what had just happened.

Momentarily astounded, Russell released her, and Sookie fell back into the mattress, knocked out by the effort. Suddenly, she felt exhausted and filled with despair that her unpredictable powers had failed her. However, never being one to miss an opportunity, Russell recovered quickly and pressed his advantage. He reached out to where she lay dazed among the pillows, grabbed her hips between his two large, manicured hands, and pulled her sprawled legs over the side of the mattress.

"No! Don't do this!" Sookie cried, coming to her senses. Releasing her hips, Russell covered Erik's offending fang with his palm, his fingers pushing down against the soft skin of her bare breast, holding her immobile. The sharp point of the fang threatened to pierce her skin beneath the weight of Russell's steely, preternatural strength.

Sookie grabbed his wrist with both her hands, desperately trying to dislodge his hand as her body bucked wildly; but she knew her attempts to free herself were futile when she felt him reach between her legs, fumbling with his free hand to unfasten his belt. Helpless tears born of sheer disbelief ran down her cheeks as the back of his hand brushed against the tender, smooth flesh that hid the shrunken epicenter of her desire.

Time seemed to stop as Sookie heard as much as felt Russell's cold hand unzip his trousers. The next thing she knew, he was pressing his engorged member against the silken, wilted entrance to her narrow passage. Panicked, she released the fierce, clenched hold she had on his wrist to push with all her might against his broad shoulders. Russell, momentarily distracted from what was happening between her legs, lifted his gaze to meet hers, and simply pushed her further down into the easy give of the feather mattress. Her fingers lost their hold and her arms flailed uselessly, denied purchase by mere inches as the increased pressure caused the fang she wore to break the skin of her breast.

Inside her head, it was bedlam; fright, pain, and shame vied with each other in a cascading tumble of emotion that rendered her impotent beyond the single, strangled whimper that escaped her lips. "Do you never shut up?" Russell asked quietly, exasperation weighing heavy upon him. This was going harder than he had expected. Aghast at his cruelty, Sookie threw her arms up over her face, trying to hide the defeated tears that slid from her eyes as broken sobs tore at her throat, causing her to hyperventilate.

She hacked and coughed, unable to catch her breath as ragged convulsions shook her ravaged frame. Alarmed, Russell moved his free hand from where it had rested against her upper, inner thigh. He gently laid it against her forehead, smoothing the unkempt golden hair back from her crown. "Sshh," he whispered, trying to calm her. She sputtered, trying to get control of her breathing, trying to be strong in the face of her worst nightmare come to life.

"This doesn't have to be so awful for you, my sweet. But you are mine. There can be no question about this. Not for you or anyone else, either. Do you understand?" The sentences were uncharacteristically short and clipped, the question purely hypothetical; he was moved by her anguish, but nothing would dissuade him from the course of action he had set upon. His words fell cold upon her shuddering frame, and she again burst into racking sobs that tore at her lungs like newly sharpened knives.

She tried to curl away from him, but was unable to move other than pressing her feet flat against the back of his thighs. Sookie was barely aware when he moved his hand from her hair and wetted his fingers in his mouth. In that moment, he was merely the immoveable object that held her powerless under his weight while time crawled by in unbearably slow increments. Her pain, fear, and panic had so overcome her senses that she was only aware of him as an indistinct other, crudely defined by lines of perception and touch.

“I hate you," she cried softly. She refused to look at him, refused to have him bear witness to her red-rimmed eyes and tear-stained cheeks. With her face hidden, she could almost maintain a semblance of mental distance between herself and her torment. "I know," he replied in a voice barely louder than a whisper.

This can't be happening, she thought desperately, praying to wake from the nightmare as he stretched himself full length over her quivering form. Russell lifted her hips from the smothering embrace of the feather mattress as he thrust into her. She cried out as she felt her delicate inner flesh rend and stretch as she struggled to fully encompass him.

Sookie beat at him with hands and fists, kicking the backs of his legs with her feet, but her struggles had no effect except to heighten his excitement. "Be brave," Russell whispered. Her senses overwhelmed, Sookie sobbed brokenly into the crisp, white fabric of his shirt as she felt him begin to move rhythmically within her. Please God, save me, she prayed.

Russell captured her wrists in his hands, holding her arms above her head as he buried his face in her golden hair. She knew what came next, knew it even before she heard the soft sound of his fangs unsheathing. In the next moment, his long fangs pierced the throbbing artery in her neck. He drank deeply, groaning in pleasure. Sookie squeezed her eyes tight shut, trying to project her soul up and away, free from the feelings of shame and hurt that threatened to engulf her and never let go.

After what seemed like an eternity, she felt him shudder in release and move away from her. It was over. Sookie pulled her legs to her chest, curling up in a fetal position, as Russell casually re-adjusted his clothes. There had been no pleasure in it, it was just the cold, matter-of-fact consummation of their bond.

"Well, my dear, that was lovely," Russell commented sarcastically with a smug, self-satisfied smile as he tossed the comforter over her trembling form. "Now it is time for me to retire. Try to get some sleep, if you can." He seemed unconcerned with the sad hopelessness that hung heavy about her now, making her so very different from the fiery, vivacious pixie she had been before. Sookie was barely aware of him watching her. She was half-dead from trauma and blood loss. Her body was wracked with pain from her bruises, the burning bite on her neck, the stinging soreness between her legs.

For a moment, Russell paused to wonder if, after being deprived of so much, she would find the strength to make some peace with her grief. Or maybe she might go mad in order to escape it all. But madness would not detract from her usefulness to him. It was her choice to make, he decided. Sookie heard the soft sound of footsteps, the scraping of the door as it opened, and he was gone.

Chapter 5: Counting Flowers on the Wall

FOR DAYS AND DAYS, Sookie slept as her body negotiated the trauma it had endured. Nothing broke through the cloak of black oblivion until her dreaming self-imagined she smelled a cigar being smoked. The slight smell became a great plume of smoke that hovered above and around her. She lay listless, unafraid, as the mist formed hands that tenderly massaged the firm curves of her body.

In her sleep, she moaned slightly, the sound barely above a whisper in the empty space around her. But then the dream turned ominous, the hands sprouted nails, long and sharp, that ripped and tore at her flesh, leaving great red gashes from which her precious blood spilled out. She lay powerless, paralyzed, as the evil apparition hovered above her. Only her voice remained, and she screamed, trying to dispel the malicious mist with the sound. But all that came out were a few musical notes, variously colored, which dissolved into the grey fog and seemed to lend it further strength. It was going to kill her, she knew it, but there was nothing she could do to stop it.

Suddenly, strong hands grasped her shoulders, shaking her back to reality. "Sookie! Sookie! Wake up now. You're having a nightmare," the familiar voice shouted to her sleeping profile. Sookie's eyes flew open, her body instinctively clenching up as she burst gasping back to life. It took a moment for her eyes to focus, but as the cloudiness faded from her field of vision, she saw Thomas leaning over her, concern and pity etching his features. He was beginning to soften towards her, she could feel it, hear it in his thoughts.

It happened that way with all men, given enough time. As she studied him and the changes in his demeanor, she realized that given the choice, she knew she would prefer him to Russell. Perhaps if we were lovers, he would help me escape, she considered.

There was a pregnant pause as his hands gripped her shoulders tighter, slightly kneading the flesh under his fingers. Sookie gave him the slightest smile before, remembering himself and his duty, he released her and backed away from the bed. At the end of the day, she belonged to Russell and it was his duty to protect Russell's interests.

As Thomas retreated, Sookie became aware of Elizabeth sitting in one of the petite antique chairs that was pulled around the side of the bed. Sookie flushed with slight embarrassment, realizing that her attention had been so focused on Thomas that she had not even noticed her maid. But having noticed Elizabeth, it was hard to take her eyes away. She sat perfectly still. It struck Sookie that she looked as perfect and beautifully put together as a porcelain doll.

Elizabeth wore a high-waisted, soft-woven cotton summer dress of adriatic blue, and her feet were bound in a pair of gladiator-style sandals. She looked up then and met Sookie's eyes. Sookie again sensed the intelligence behind her veiled gaze, but looked away quickly, finding the lack of focus in her wide pupils disturbing. It was as if her soul had taken flight, leaving only an exquisite shell, although Sookie knew that was not the truth of it. Elizabeth was simply glamoured, and only sensible to the orders Russell had given her.

Thomas snapped his fingers and Elizabeth left the room and returned soon after with a large, steaming bowl containing a meat broth. Sookie dutifully ate the broth that Elizabeth spoon-fed her, mindful of Thomas keeping watch. When she finished eating, Elizabeth presented her with a glass of water; a large, white pill that Sookie decided must be another multi-vitamin; and something new: a small, round blue pill.

Valium, she thought, recognizing the distinct shade and color. She swallowed it gratefully, eager for its mellowing effect. Elizabeth then opened the drawer of the nightstand to produce a small, glass oval that fit neatly in the palm of her hand. Sookie watched with interest as she unscrewed the lid that was nearly indistinguishable from the whole to reveal a creamy, scentless ointment.

Sookie winced as Elizabeth applied the salve with gentle fingers to the throbbing bite marks on her neck. At the same time, she was glad that it was her silent maid who had been chosen to treat her. At least, for the moment, she did not have to endure the cruel touch of the brusque doctor. Soon enough, Elizabeth finished her ministrations. She and Thomas silently exited the room, leaving Sookie alone with only the dim light from the small lamp for company.

I need a bath, she decided. Throwing the covers aside, she swung her legs over the side of the bed. But when she tried to rise, her legs shook violently, unable to support her weight in her weakened condition. She held on to the bed and then to the backs of the chairs as she made her way to the bathroom on wobbly legs. When she reached the door, she fell to all fours and crawled to the tub.

Sookie blasted the hot water into the tub, scarcely tempering it with cold water, and watched dazedly as the steam rose in thick clouds. When the tub was filled, she hoisted herself with shaking arms into the blistering water, not caring that the water burned her sensitive skin, instantly turning her lobster red. A force inside her demanded ablution. The searing heat only seemed to heighten the effect, making her dizzy and momentarily forgetful of everything else. She lay in the water, her mind wandering to a place beyond thought. Then she gave in to her suspended state and allowed sleep to overtake her.

Hours passed by unnoticed as the water cooled and Sookie dreamed of wading waist deep into the white-capped, turquoise waters of the Gulf. An abandoned lighthouse, its great window shattered, stood forlorn and forgotten on the bank, maintaining a blind vigil over the empty sea. A man called her name from the beach, waving his arms, signaling her to come back to shore. She waved back to the stranger who seemed so familiar, but whose face she could not see. It was as if his features had been erased. She stood rooted to the spot, the sand congealing and holding her in place like wet concrete, too heavy to move, but she did not care. She felt sad but was oddly content to let the water hold her in a comforting embrace as a cold wind blew over the top of the waves.

Suddenly, she felt large, strong hands reach under her arms and pull her from the water. Groggily, she opened her eyes as Thomas threw her inert form over his shoulder. It was then that she felt the cold, like tiny icicles stabbing her in a thousand places over her body. "You are nothing but trouble, aren't you?" he asked as she began to shake violently. "I've heard it said," she mumbled through teeth that chattered so hard she wondered if they might all crack and fall from her mouth in little pieces.

How am I ever going to keep you alive? She heard his worried mind shout in the toneless language she had learned to recognize as thoughts not given voice. It was then, as he covered her bare bottom with one hand, grabbing a towel with the other, and carried her back into the room that she recognized the import of what had happened. She had fallen asleep and not awoken as the water turned icy cold around her.

Sookie's breath was rapid and shallow as if the air refused to properly fill her lungs. "Put me down!" she tried to scream in a voice that came out as barely more than a whisper. Her sluggish brain tried to command her hands to form fists to beat at his back, but her limbs would not cooperate. She caught an image of herself in his mind; her lips turned blue, her skin puffy, and too many shades too pale. Thomas threw her down on the bed, covered her with the towel, and began vigorously rubbing her limbs. "Don't! Stop! I'm fine!" The words fell in barely coherent form from her lips. Her skin burned cold and she protested his attempts to revive her. "You will not die on my watch," she heard him reply, although he seemed to be saying it more to convince himself than to respond to her.

"It hurts. Stop," she begged. "Just let me die." All she wanted was to sleep; to be free from the pain, the ever-present fear, the violent, uncontrollable shivering that felt like her muscles were trying to tear free from her bones. "Never!" Thomas replied in a voice raw with fear. "I will not let you die. Sookie, you have to fight!" His voice sounded far away as if he were speaking to her from across a great chasm. "I don't want to fight anymore," she whispered in a voice so quiet only his preternatural abilities allowed him to hear. Desperate, Thomas hastily pulled his shirt off and climbed into the bed next to her. Pulling the covers over them, he hugged her close to the warmth of his body.

In spite of herself, Sookie nestled against him. She drank in the intoxicating heat as his hands moved briskly over her arms, her legs, her back, trying to restore vitality to her limbs. In her mind, she saw his fears: Russell's anger at the news that she had died, the thousand possibilities for how he might take his bloody revenge. "It's not worth it," she heard herself say in a voice both distant and strange, "We are doomed." "Don't talk like that," he countered. But she knew her words had struck a chord within him, named a truth too dangerous to be spoken aloud.

As her shivers began to subside, the blood flowed more freely through her veins. Finally, she again became aware of herself more as a person and less as a disembodied spirit trapped in a frozen coil of biting agony. The minutes wore on and she became acutely aware of the hard muscles of his chest pressed to her back, his breath hot against her neck. It occurred to her that she should push him away, cover herself, and try to maintain some semblance of decency. But even though she knew it was wrong, modesty seemed a fruitless endeavor when he had only ever seen her naked or nearly so.

The tenor of his touch changed as the urgency imparted by imminent danger began to abate. His hands moved slower over her body, taking in the contours of her form, caressing her with an unhurried deliberateness. She had no will or care to fight his advances. He wrapped one powerful arm around her waist, and his other hand moved slowly up from her bent knee, over her thigh and the smooth curve of her hip to fondle her naked breast. She moaned softly, her skin sensitive to every nuance of sensation as his rough, calloused fingers clasped the soft flesh and toyed with her nipple, making her ache for more.

After the trauma of her latest mishap, her numb, overwhelmed mind was hungry for pleasure in a way she had never known before. It did not matter that his duty lay in keeping her a prisoner, that crossing the line with him was a dangerous proposition. The only thing that mattered was how the thrill of being touched consumed her, how the nerves in her skin, laid bare by the cold, were acutely raw and sensitive, ravishing her senses with a delightful intensity.

Her movements were jerky and unsound, but she grasped his hand with hers, moved it lower to the wildly aching center of her desire. I shouldn't be doing this, she could hear him thinking, even as his fingers began massaging the pulsing throb between her legs. She wished her muscles responded better, were more coordinated, as she tried to fling her leg over his two bent ones. Her leg flopped, ponderous and dormant, and she grimaced, glad that he could not see her face behind the shroud of golden locks. Surprisingly, for she would have not guessed from his normally gruff demeanor that he would be a skilled or intuitive lover, he followed her awkward cue, and reached down to her knee, pulling her leg over his.

It has been so long, Sookie thought, drunk on the roiling waves of sparking electricity that enthralled her senses. Through the rough fabric of his pants, she could feel him, hard and erect, against the small of her back.

She gasped as he slipped two fingers up inside her, curving them against her inner walls, and she instinctively bore down against the exquisite pressure. He was breathing harder against her shoulder, his breath coming rapidly with his growing excitement. She was near to climax when he removed his fingers from her inner depths. He began rubbing small circles over her tender clit, faster and faster, until her breath came short and ragged. Her mind was oblivious to everything but the movement of his fingers. Sensing that she was approaching her peak, he released his grip around her waist and held her breast. Her body quaked with an acquittal of pent-up tension so brutal she felt tears fill her eyes and spill down her cheeks.

He never kissed me, not once, she realized as he disengaged himself from her, silently retrieving his shirt from the floor, and pulled it back over his head. But she didn't care about the impersonal way he held himself aloof from her. She was happy, fulfilled, at least for the moment. She told herself, I don't need love. I don't need affection. I've had them and this is where they led me. I can live the rest of my life on my memories of how Bill and Erik loved me.

She wanted to believe it, but somewhere deep inside, something whispered that life is long and such reasoning is only convenient to the moment. As Thomas pulled the comforter back over her limp form, devastated by both pleasure and pain, she wanted to say something. Gratitude seemed silly, out of place, and since she did not love him, she stayed silent and closed her eyes until she heard the door click shut.

Sookie napped then, deep but fitful, as sweat poured out of her, soaking the sheets. She woke up when she heard Elizabeth walk in, carrying another tray of food. It was mid-afternoon, Sookie judged by the light pouring in from the outer corridor. She pretended to be asleep and listened to Elizabeth set the tray down and walk back out silently. When she judged the coast to be clear, Sookie raised her head. No Thomas, no Elizabeth, just a meal left for her to eat in relative peace. She pulled herself free from her swaddling of sodden sheets to lean over the foot of the bed. Her stomach growled loudly in anticipation of sustenance while her throat ran dry at the prospect of another meal.

The tray held cottage cheese in a medium sized china bowl with an intricately hand-painted floral design, a ham sandwich, a glass of apple juice. It was eerie to see a meal put together that was so akin to what she would have packed for a school lunch in better days. The familiarity attracted and repulsed her by equal measure, but hunger won out and she dutifully began to eat.

Sookie finished half before she gathered herself back onto the mattress, knees tucked under her as she sat, looking around the empty room. She felt pleased with her effort to sustain, to survive, in spite of it all. But as she took in the details of the room, the memories that were beginning to accumulate, a fog seemed to descend over her field of vision. Everything was being filtered through a mist of negativity that she could not shake off. Even as she tried to cling to any semblance of a happy feeling, the emotion fled from her, leaving her frowning with her mind awash in disappointment, uncertainty, and frustration.

Time to get up, she decided, hoping that moving around would help her to feel better. Wrapping herself in the comforter once more, she poured herself a glass of water from the ever-present crystal water pitcher and tumblers that were placed on a heavy gold tray on top of the dresser. Her legs still shook slightly, the leaded crystal felt unusually heavy in her hand, reminding her of how weak she still was. But she made her way around the bed to the furniture set before the fireplace.

Great, what now? she thought, realizing that she already felt tired again. Moving through the oppressive atmosphere of her prison was like walking on quicksand. It was misery that swallowed her energy and gave nothing back. Sookie saw the Shakespeare volume Russell had given her still laying ruined and forgotten on the rug.

She shifted her gaze away, there was nothing she wanted to look at, but especially not that book. Frustration was quickly becoming her constant companion, a living presence like a monster living under the bed, knocking softly at the bed frame, waking her at odd hours. Disturbed, she tore her eyes away from the bed and tried to focus her mind on something in the small room that was not already imbued with some tragic memory.

Bong, bong, bong, bong, announced the clock from the hall with its characteristic ponderous echo. Four in the afternoon, I have time before dark, she thought, keeping measure between degrees of fear and relief, boredom and anxiety. The worst was never knowing what was coming or when; it made her feel out of control, even as time rushed by in slow motion.

She wondered briefly if Thomas would return to visit her before the vampires roused, but she quickly ruled out the possibility. With the thought came some relief. Despite her loneliness, she had not begun to unravel how she felt about what happened and was not ready to face him again. A brief smile lit her face at the idea that she may have taken the first step down the road to beating Russell at his own game. I have to be careful, do things just right, she decided. However, the fact that he had not kissed her was irksome, making her shift her weight uncomfortably in the petite chair.

Unable to cope with the weight of her emotions, the way they spun about in circles, Sookie tried to focus her mind on anything else. Feeling defeated, she thought about sitting in the tub, letting the hours shamelessly slip by under the spell of fluid motion. In the water, it all would seem so distant, like it was happening to someone else. But now she felt afraid, afraid she would fall asleep again.

Making up her mind that the taint of death was not going to make the tub anything to her but what it was, she shed her blanket and walked resolutely into the bathroom. But once inside the cheerful space, she stared blankly down at the tub. Her thoughts ran untethered in the background like a radio station she was half-listening to, but could not shut off. Not today, she decided, turning away and trying to shake the feeling that things were beginning to slip through her fingers again.

Even though she had been trying to avoid looking in the mirror, the traitorous reflection being too much for her, once she caught a glimpse of herself, she could not help but gaze deeply at her changed self. "Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all?" she asked, her voice sour with irony. Not you anymore, sweetheart, the answer echoed through her mind.

I know, she thought, how could I have taken it all for granted? Without the kiss of the sun, her skin was a pale, mottled sheath for her bones. The dark circles that ringed her eyes, dull and red-rimmed from too many hours spent crying, heightened her sense that she was rapidly deteriorating. Ohmigod! I look more dead than alive, she thought, trying to rub some color back into her hollowed-out cheeks.

As she meditated on her appearance and all that had gone awry, she remembered that someone had once told her that it was bad luck to spend too much time in front of the mirror. People say a lot of things, she reminded herself, besides only idiots believe in that bullshit. Feeling satisfied that she was not going to allow herself to become a superstitious lunatic, she let her mind drift towards an abyss of half-formed, answerless questions until her reflection blurred before her eyes. All except her mouth, which was static and rigid, frozen in a firm line, carrying a heavy, joyless tension. It's all his fault, she thought, as she tore her eyes away from the mirror and the tangible specter of all the damage Russell and his wicked obsession had done.

Sookie stumbled out of the bathroom feeling far away from center, otherworldly, and she bumped into a chair before plopping down into it. Looking around the room, her eyes seemed most comforted by simply focusing on the wallpaper with its idiosyncratic variety of flowers blooming on the ends of the twining creepers that cascaded down the walls. She wished the flowers bloomed in full color and not a single muted shade of blue-gray edged with silver on an aged white background. Something about that particular shade of blue made her feel unwell, it reminded her of mold growing on bread, and the slight bluish tinge that still lingered on her fingertips.

Desperate for something to take her mind away, she concentrated on the flowers. Long ago, her grandmother had taught her about flowers and their meanings. Gran had explained how it was a lost form of poetry from a time before phones and computers. Sookie searched her memory, trying to read the writing on the wall, but the oral memories she sought remained stubbornly hidden in a swirling mist of emotion.

Frustrated, she looked longingly at the door to her room. Outside the door freedom awaited, and Thomas stood guard, making sure she did not escape. After their brief encounter, she could not help wishing he would come back in, keep her company, make love to her, hand her the key to her freedom. But the door was resolutely closed, and somehow, she knew that his loyalty was not to her; it was all just a fantasy spun from threads of aching loneliness.

Left with no other options, Sookie began counting the flowers on the wall. She started with the chrysanthemums, but the way the petals spiraled in on themselves like a nautilus made it her hard to keep her place. Forty- two, she decided, after counting several times. The petals of the anemone all seemed to run together too, furling out protectively around the flower’s dark center with its light border. Sookie decided to count it as four. Next was the five-petaled oleander, an unlucky number, fitting for such a strongly poisonous flower.

The daffodil, traditional harbinger of spring, looked melancholy in antique blue, its cheerful trumpets unhappily dull. She could almost imagine the flower bursting forth in a vibrant, brazen yellow, but sadly not in her monochromatic world. She mentally added another six to her tally. Finally, there was the amaryllis, a small, star-shaped firework of a flower. Another six, she thought, which brought her total to sixty-three. The pattern repeated over and over across the length and breadth of the room. She wasn't sure she could keep track of that many and had no real desire to do so.

Is this really all that is left to me? she thought as she felt tears welling up in her eyes, remembering how her life had once held so much promise. A cool chill of apprehension ran down her spine as she imagined herself, withered and grey, counting and counting, with nothing else to do as her life ebbed away. In her imagination, the final number had long before been reached and verified. Still, she continued on, like Psyche counting grain as penance for her sins against love.

Sookie's head hurt and she decided she did not feel like being awake anymore. She cast another longing glance at the door. Damn him, she thought, as she gave up hope of seducing him into a willingness to let her escape and flopped back on the bed. Sleep came in stops and starts, the flowers whirling around her mind, teasing her with their lost meanings. At one point, she woke fully enough to recognize the song of the cicadas chirping outside her paneled windows, reminding her that the day was gone.

Chapter 6: Possession

AFTER FALLING INTO A SLEEP untortured by a myriad of nightmares, Sookie awoke to the warm light of a fire burning in the hearth. As her bleary eyes adjusted, she saw Russell seated in the loveseat, gazing at the fire. She sat up in bed, holding the sheet protectively to her chest, and he turned when he heard the soft rustlings coming from the bed. "Oh, you're awake," he said, smiling amiably. It was as if he could not help being glad to see her.

Sookie felt a cold knot of fear form in her stomach and she trembled slightly, praying that he did not see how afraid he made her. "How long have you been there?" she asked, irritated by his sudden presence. "Not long," he answered casually before returning his gaze to the fire. Time passed in silence as Sookie watched Russell concentrate on the low flames.

Her mind spun around wondering why he had come, why he did not speak, what he had in store for her. Sookie shifted uncomfortably amongst the covers, wishing he would go and leave her in peace, but nothing happened. She started to get the idea that he was waiting for her to do or say something, give him something to respond to. Not wanting to give him the satisfaction, she fell back among the covers, feigning sleep.

The act did not work as she had planned, not only did he make no move to leave, but she lay in bed, an arm thrown over her eyes thinking of all the ways he had wronged her. "I hate you," she mumbled. She had not meant to say it out loud, but once the words were out, she realized that she did want him to hear, she wanted him to answer for his crimes. Russell pretended like he had not heard her, although Sookie did not believe that he could have missed it. Infuriated, she sat up in bed again and, clutching Erik's fang through the soft cotton sheet, she made up her mind to confront him.

"Did you hear me?" she practically yelled to his back. "I said I hate you! I have always hated you and I always will!" There, I said it, she thought, preparing herself for whatever violent, horrible action he might take.

Russell turned his head to look at her, but made no other move towards her. "Yes, I heard you. What exactly would you like for me to do about it, sweetheart? It sounds like your mind is made up," he said, unperturbed, his voice like honeyed wine. "You can let me go," she responded. Russell laughed quietly to himself, amused by her outburst, and walked the short distance to stand beside the bed. "As previously discussed, my dear, that is not going to happen. You are too important to be left to your own foolish devices out in the world. Besides, I cannot imagine denying myself the incomparable pleasure of your company." He winked, flashed her a fiendish grin, and she realized he was mocking her.

Sookie felt like murdering him with her bare hands. She had been prepared for a reaction full of volcanic fury, but she had not expected that he simply would not take her seriously. Not knowing what else to do, she plunged ahead, giving her anger and frustration complete reign over her emotions.

"You destroyed my life!" she exclaimed. Pulling her knees to her chest, she buried her face in her folded arms, not wanting him to see the bitter, helpless tears that had begun to well up in her brown eyes. Russell looked down at her, seemingly indifferent to her suffering, although his cunning eyes betrayed a greater wealth of feeling. To him, she was not just another blood bag; she was something more, something much, much more.

He took a seat on the bed near her feet and she shrank away from him, refusing to meet his eyes. "And how, pray tell, have I done that?" he asked, his voice gentle, but still tinged with sarcasm. Her head shot up. The desire to hide her grief was momentarily forgotten, and she let loose the torrent of emotion that had been building within her. "How have you done that? Really!?" she asked, incredulous. "You raped me. You've locked me up, left me alone, sent that awful doctor in to drain me. I never see the sun. I look like I'm dead. Hell, my whole family thinks I'm dead, so I guess I might as well be. Better dead than left in this awful room to watch myself rot. And it’s all your fault. I hate you. I hate you so much!" she cried, tears streaming down her face. She bit down on her bottom lip, nervous about what might come next.

Russell listened patiently to her flood of complaints, but it bored him to no end. He was much more interested in studying her pouty expression, the way the eyelet lace border of the sheet rested slightly bronzed skin. "My dear child, you set your feet upon this road long before you ever met me. You are only alive now because of me. But you do not see that your gift, as with all gifts, is in equal measure both a blessing and a curse. Have you ever stopped to consider how it would be if you had gone back and tried to resume your life in Bon Temps?"

He paused for a moment, allowing her time to reckon with his question. Sookie gaped at him, feeling equal parts confused and incredulous. What could he mean? Did he really take her for such a fool that he was now going to try and convince her that by taking everything from her he had done her some kind of favor? Her eyes narrowed suspiciously as she regarded him before she turned her gaze away, unimpressed with his tactics. Russell raised his voice slightly to further emphasize his meaning, feeling equally unimpressed by her pig-headed, haughty demeanor.

"The reign of chaos and misfortune that befell the ones closest to you before would be nothing compared to what would happen now. Especially considering that the cat is out of the bag regarding who and what you really are. I'm sorry for you, but your fantasy of a normal life was never in the cards for you. And the sooner you come to grips with that truth, the better off you will be. If you really love your family, maybe you should be glad of the relief that your absence has provided them. Perhaps now they can go about the business of their lives spared from the tragedy you inevitably trailed in your wake." He said it all in an eminently reasonable tone that left no room for argument.

Sookie covered her ears, she didn't want to hear it. Sometimes, listening to him talk reminded her of throwing back shots of Black Velvet. The sharp, heady smell of the liquor, the dark amber liquid sliding down her throat, burning all the way down, making her forget what she thought she knew. "You are wrong," she said, shaking her head. "They love me, they would never want to lose me."

"I never said that they did not love you, far from it, I'm sure. I am simply asking you to consider that perhaps the price of loving you was too high for them to bear." He moved closer and reached over to hold her chin between his fingers, lifting her eyes to meet his. "Besides, who could resist loving you? Wanting you?" His eyes filled with a tenderness Sookie found disconcerting and she flinched violently away from his touch. But he did not let go, squeezing her chin hard, his eyes darkened. "Speaking of which, I wonder, how are you getting on with that guard of yours? Thomas?" Russell released his grip and Sookie blanched. It was the last thing she had expected him to say, but despite being unnerved, she recovered quickly.

"I hate him. Where did you find such an awful brute?" She spat the words back at him as caustically as she could manage. "Uh huh," he answered in a measured tone. Clearly, he was not interested in buying what she was trying to sell. "You just hate everyone and everything this evening, don't you, darling?" he asked dryly. Then, Russell got up from the bed, and turned back towards the fireplace before he calmly picked up the carelessly discarded book of poems. He inspected the damage before smoothing out the pages and setting it back down on the love seat.

“You ought to take better care of your things, my dear. After all, if this is how you treat a gift, why would anyone ever want to bring you anything again?” he asked, clearly irking her for his amusement.

“I don’t want anything from you, so why would I bother to care about your gifts? Besides, I hated it, and I didn’t appreciate your little joke hidden in the binding, either. Asshole!” she retorted.

“Ah, so you saw that. Good. You need to understand that your old life is over. The sooner you wrap your mind around that fact, the better things will be for you,” Russell replied as he turned to approach the bed. “After all, your life here doesn’t have to be all misery. You know that, don’t you? I can be a gentle and kind master, but you must first accept, one way or the other, that you belong to me.”

“Fuck you! I will never be yours! I hate you more than I’ve ever hated anyone, and I always will!” Sookie spat back as he seated himself next to her on the soft feather mattress.

“I see. Well, you don’t know everything yet, sweetheart. The day will come when you accept the truth of my words. In fact, it may come sooner than you think. But I must warn you, my precious pet, hate will age and uglify you faster than anything else. There is no point holding on to the past; it is gone, forever gone. Bad memories and regret will fill the air around you like ash, choking the life out of the present." He paused then, allowing his words to sink in. She chanced to wonder if he would never tire of grinding up her illusions for sport, turning them into shiny dust.

"Give me your hand," he said in a voice that was used to giving orders. "No," Sookie responded flatly. She crossed her arms tightly around herself, trying to hide her hands. "I'm not asking," he stated. He was growing cross; his brow was furrowed as he gestured with his fingers for her to place her hand in his. Even as she shook her head no, her eyes cast down, he moved quickly, reaching his arms around her to gather her into his lap. The sheet fell away as she futilely struggled against him, "Stop! You've already drained me too much. There's nothing left inside me; I'll die!" she cried, desperate to get away from him.

"Quiet," he barked. Unsheathing his fangs, he pushed the sweaty mop of golden strands away from her neck. A moment later, her face contorted in pain and helpless anger as he sank his fangs into her neck. Her body went limp against him. He held her tight, relishing the feeling of having her naked and submissive in his arms. She could feel his palm against the side of her breast, his fingers pressing hard into her back, in the place where her ribs were beginning to show through her skin like the bars of a cage. Blood ran down from the twin punctures in her neck, smearing crimson down her neck, between her breasts, and leaving dark red stains on the forest green cotton polo shirt he wore.

When he sheathed his fangs, Sookie was barely conscious. She was wasted past measure, and she slumped dejectedly against his shoulder. "You killed me, you monster," she whispered into his neck. "Not even close, my dear. You are much stronger than you think," he replied. She was barely aware enough to realize that Russell had opened his wrist until he placed it against her mouth. "Drink," he commanded. His voice was soft, seductive, as his blood pumped into her mouth. "No," she gurgled weakly, trying unsuccessfully to spit it back out.

Russell clenched his fist and the blood flowed faster into her mouth, forcing her to swallow. It was a taste like sucking newly minted pennies. No, she cried inwardly, even as she grasped his wrist, drinking deeply, suddenly as desperate for escape as any devoted addict. The blood flowed down her throat to her stomach, racing like fire through her veins, and she heard his voice speaking calmly to her as she drank. He was speaking of nothing in particular. She had the impression that he was using his voice to soothe her burning misery in the same way that his free hand smoothed her unkempt tresses back from her neck in a flowing, gentle motion.

"...Did you know that you can only now see a small fraction of the stars visible in the sky a thousand years ago? It’s true in many ways, that truth reminds me of you and how you only see a tiny fraction of the role your life is destined to play. You are so consumed with fear and doubt, my love. You do not see that it is not I who has ruined you. It is I who has saved you, so that one day hence your destiny may be fulfilled."

My destiny? Sookie thought as she drank in all he would give before he pulled his wrist away. She felt his fingers drift slowly down the arch of her exposed back as his influence exploded through her system. Done is done, she realized as somewhere inside her the Tower burned, voices screamed from the peaked turrets, but she was too high, too powerless, to care. She was his, it was no longer conjecture, it was a fact. Russell laid her gently back amongst the covers. He watched as she writhed and squirmed, moaning as his blood breathed life back into her veins, consuming her with a rabid, fiery desire.

He reached his hand out to touch her, thought better of it, and walked over to the fireplace. Silently, he watched as the fire slowly died down to embers. On the bed, he could feel her burning, the blood awakening a deep well of unsatisfied passion. Sookie moaned indistinctly, an animalistic noise that almost sounded like she was calling for him. Even with his back turned, he could feel her reach out toward him. But, finding only empty space, her hands fell back, and began to move over her own body, caressing her full breasts before moving down between her legs. A part of him was tempted to relieve her elegant suffering. But he knew that anything that might involve losing control with her was a dangerous proposition.

Briefly, he wondered what Sookie would say if she knew that Queen Sophie Anne had sought sanctuary with the King of Texas while she tried to secure an annulment. How would she respond if she had any inkling about how essential her blood was to his scheme? He smiled to think of what saucy protest she might conjure if he told her how he planned to use her blood to retrieve his foolish wife and, beyond that, to assist in his carefully organized strategy to overthrow the Authority and achieve ultimate power. He shook his head sadly at the realization that however much he might delight in imagining the look on her face, it did not matter, because there was no advantage in telling her. As the rest of the embers in the fireplace died to black, he felt the full weight of his responsibilities settle on his shoulders, and he reminded himself that to rule is to be alone.

A sobbing moan from the bed interrupted his somber reverie as his drugged and incoherent pet brought herself closer to a shuddering climax. Russell sighed, knowing it was only loneliness that compelled him to want to find comfort in sharing his thoughts with someone else. Especially now that he was left with a house full of no one but servants and guards. But he had lived too long to jeopardize everything on the eve of victory. So, he looked back to the erotic scene playing out on the bed once more and smiled slightly at the knowledge that another important piece of the puzzle had just slid into place, before soundlessly leaving the room.

...

The Wheel turned gradually, Sookie's battered body healed, and time began to move with a calmer tenor. A full week passed with little disturbance. The food trays came and went; and Sookie found her appetite strangely renewed. Everything still seemed tinged with grey, but she breathed easier. Each day, Elizabeth came in to change the sheets, looking irritatingly radiant, and Sookie would make her way to the bath on legs that no longer shook.

One day, while relaxing in the tub, it occurred to Sookie that her superstitions were banished, and the only thing she really felt afraid of was closing her eyes. That is when the V-dreams came with a consistent ferocity she had not previously known. Most of the details eluded her waking mind, but the vestigial remains were all fangs, blood, and sex. Large, cold hands on her bloody skin. Russell held her close in a colossal bed that seemed to Sookie as if it had been hewn and carved out of a single, ancient tree. She recalled an ancient story of Ulysses carving such a bed for his wife, Penelope, when he returned from his long voyage home from Troy. Idly, she had wondered if it was the same one: a bed stolen from myth.

The dreams were equal parts wonderful and awful. But even though she knew it was an inevitable consequence of the blood, they left her feeling like a traitor to everything she had once believed true about herself. Sometimes she told him so, but he only laughed and told her that there was no avoiding regret, especially not for someone as special as herself.

There was much more he said about bills coming due, paying the piper, and other rubbish. She didn't want to think about. He also told her things, things she could never remember, even in part; secrets whispered softly about truths most mortals never know. She shook her head, trying to clear her mind. Her confused emotions were spun like cobwebs, circling in on themselves, inescapable. She wished for a distraction, anything to take her mind off the new constellation of thoughts and memories she did not want.

When she was confident that enough time had passed for Elizabeth to have completed her work, Sookie wrapped a big white cotton towel around herself, set the tub to drain, and ventured back into her room. The room was dim and stale, as was its habit, lit only by the small lamp on the bed stand. There was no one else in the room, which both frustrated and relieved her. She had not seen Thomas since their brief encounter. Jerk, she thought, are all men just creeps? She guessed that the answer was in the question.

On the plush beige ottoman, there sat a new meal: eggs, pancakes, ham, a glass of orange juice. At least I won't get scurvy, Sookie thought, the voice in her head carping and negative. How does he figure I am supposed to eat all that? But her stomach growled hungrily, which made her smile. In spite of herself, Sookie felt life, the sweet vitality, beginning to return after its terrible absence.

As if in answer to her many prayers, Elizabeth had left a book and a silken frock at the foot of the bed. Sookie could hardly believe her eyes. Clothing! Something else to read, she thought; momentarily forgetting her dour state of mind and grinning for the first time since her captivity began. She grabbed the soft fabric and let it unfurl before her. It was a long, pearl-colored, silk nightgown, slit high up the thigh and iced with lace.

Sookie didn't hesitate; dropping the towel, she sl