Hi all! I had WRITING time today! This chapter comes to you un-beta’d yet. Jess has it – but I need to post before the work-week starts. Sorry for any typos – I own all the mistakes.
OH – and many of you had questions about Amelia being glamoured – and that Sookie would hear it. The mystery for that isn’t revealed until the next chapter.
Anything special tonight?
Yes, a touch of:
Oh – and I’m bringing back one of our old faves – for a particular character we all love to hate:
Chapter 24 – Investigation
min modiga man – my brave one
Eric, Sookie and Amelia left the palace to meet with Eliane, Thalia, and Patuk at Eric’s New Orleans home. Eric knew Sookie needed to decompress but they didn’t have the time. She put on a brave face when he told her they had to change quickly so they could fly to Shreveport with time to start the investigation. When he’d left her in the master bedroom, she was grumpy so he was quite surprised to hear her burst out in laughter a few moments later. Eliane had a smirk on his face when he looked at her across the table. “You’ll have to go see.”
When he entered the bedroom, she turned and showed off the cause of her laughter. “Eliane thought I might need this tonight.”
Eric chuckled. “She’s a keeper.”
They finished quickly at Eric’s and boarded the plane. Eric was prepared for Sookie’s breakdown; moving them directly to the back room of the plane for privacy. What she did surprised him. “I know you think I’m going to meltdown and part of me wants to – I can promise you. Right now though? I don’t feel like we can afford it. I want to get this search and rescue mission done, return to Alaska and then deal with my feelings.”
“I’m not going to pretend to be the expert here. We have the flight to do whatever you want.”
“I want to cuddle with you while we take off then we join with everyone and plan.”
“That sounds like a plan.” Eric tried to lighten the mood. “Can I ah . . . play with your nipples while we cuddle?”
It worked; he earned a chuckle and a light smack on his arm for being ‘naughty’. She might have called him naughty, but he did get to play with more than her nipples for the beginning of the flight.
After they landed, they drove to the Compton estate for clues. Sookie was amazed at how Eric had planned every move via text and his phone. Even though Sookie knew that Eric was slowly transitioning Bobby out of their lives, he’d followed through on every order so far. Hopefully, when they arrived at Compton’s, all the materials Amelia had requested would be there. Eric turned to Alcide; he’d met them at the plane. “So you think we’ll still be able to do this?”
“I’ve dated a witch before Eric; I took the necessary precautions when we sniffed for clues at Compton’s house.” He turned to the witch in the back of the car. “Amelia should be able to conduct her ectoplasmic reconstruction.”
Sookie interrupted. “Now that we have a moment while we drive, can someone explain this reconstruction?”
Amelia turned to her. “If Eric’s dayman found the supplies I need, I’ll use two other witches.” She stopped midsentence to confirm with Eric. “They’re meeting us at the house, right?” Eric nodded and she turned back to Sookie to continue. “OK, the other witches and I will work a spell and we’ll see events that already happened at Compton’s house. Since we don’t know the exact time of the incident, we’ll probably need to look at several hours of activity, but I can speed it up.”
Sookie’s eyes widened as she asked, “Like fast forward?” Amelia nodded. “Wow, that’s cool.” She focused on Eric. “Eric, have you ever seen this before?”
“I have. Everything looks watery.”
They arrived at the house and Eric was immediately frustrated with Amelia. Instead of getting down to business, she was socializing with the two witches Bobby had hired. They – he and Thalia specifically – had limited time before the sun rose. “Witch! Get started.” He glared at her. ”We need this done quickly so we can get back to plane and take off for Mississippi before sunrise.”
The witches got the message clearly and within moments they were already chanting their spell. The first attempt didn’t work and they needed to stop and change locations. Amelia offered an explanation. ”This happens. Likely this location is where Alcide’s trackers walked to sniff the area. He explained to me that they only walked in one area and I guess we hit it.”
Eric looked to Alcide and he quickly explained. ”She’s right. They were ordered to make only one pass up at the house and we should be fine if they move. It should be coincidence that they selected the exact location of their tracking.” Alcide prayed he was correct. He had warned his trackers, but since he didn’t come with them to the house when they did the investigation, he couldn’t be sure at the moment. Eric could sense the wolf’s nervousness but let it go. If the witches couldn’t work the spell after they moved, then he would have words with Alcide.
To everyone’s relief, the spell worked in the new location and Sookie stood and watched the area, it was empty except for a wavy frame in space. The witches explained they were speeding things up since they hadn’t seen anything of interest yet. After about ten minutes of viewing, they all watched as a car pulled into the viewing area and Lorena got out. Since the spell was only projecting images of Lorena and Bill (per the materials they gathered and used in the preparations), as soon as Lorena shut the car door and walked away, the car disappeared. It was explained to her that objects not permanently part of the scene would need to be connected to the people called in the spell to appear. Though she’d been told, it was still amazing to see the car dissappear like that. Bill came out with Lorena a few minutes later. They couldn’t hear any voices, but Bill was clearly unhappy and arguing with her, until she struck him and Sookie gasped as she saw his head nearly spin all the way around from the blow. The civil war vet was pushed into the suddenly re-appearing car by his maker and she followed.
As they watched the car leave the viewing area, Eric noted the license plate number. Honestly, the reconstruction had only proven his theory that Lorena was involved, so the license number was the only new information they gathered. He turned to the two hired witches. ”Clean the area as you were instructed. We need to leave.”
Eliane stepped up to Eric. ”I’ll be sure it’s all handled. You guys get going.” Sookie hugged her friend and the travelers left.
Eric started instructing Sookie on their next steps as they drove back to the plane. “Lover, Alcide has secured hotel rooms for us to stay in Mississippi.”
She turned to the back seat to look at the wolf. “Are you staying with us or your condo?”
“With you guys. It’s safest.”
“Ok. And you’re helping with transport and such at the airport, right?”
Alcide nodded. “I have a vehicle large enough for the coffins waiting for us when we land. Don’t worry Sookie.”
Eric continued. “Thalia and I will rise at about 6:00 PM, so you’ll have a few hours after you land to drive to Richland and get ready for the night. Alcide will take you and Amelia shopping. Buy anything you need.” As he started to hand her a credit card, he used the moment they had been stopped at a red light to lean over and kiss her behind the ear and whisper. “Buy something pretty that you can wear for me.”
With a full blush, she pushed the credit card away. “I have my own cards silly.”
He chose to ignore her comments about spending her own money but still scowled at her for a moment while he took the card back. “The airport is East of Jackson and it’s short drive to Richland.” His face softened as he asked, “You’re sure you’re OK to fly during the day without me?” They’d lose time, but if she really didn’t think she could do it, he’d wait and fly with her at night.
“I’m sure. I mean, this will be hard for me. We haven’t been apart for a long time. Even when you’re dead, I can still curl up with you. I can’t do that when you’re in a coffin.” She took his hands. “I know you can feel my nervousness, but that’s not going to stop me. I’ll have Alcide, Amelia and Patuk. You be sure to give me a good kiss before you get in that coffin mister, and I’ll be fine.”
“That’s min modiga man and you’ll get a very good kiss from me.”
A few hours later, the private plane landed and the coffins were transferred easily. When they were in the car driving, Sookie turned to Alcide. “We’re dropping the coffins somewhere first?”
Alcide nodded, “I’ve arranged for security at the hotel garage. I knew you wouldn’t be happy driving around with them Sookie.”
“Thanks. What do we do after that?”
“We’re getting you and Amelia the clothes and other items you need while we’re here then I have a treat planned.”
Sookie’s face lit up. “You know Alcide, I could use a treat. I won’t even peak in your head to see what it is.”
Alcide smiled in return. “Good.”
They arrived at the local mall, ate brunch and bought so many bags of clothing that Alcide needed to make several trips to the SUV. Though she enjoyed the shopping, Sookie felt twinges of queasiness and even some panic during the day. Once they were headed back to the hotel, Sookie started to relax and she realized it was the bond. Eric may have been dead in his coffin, but she still ached for him. He’d explained this to her, of course, but feeling it took her by surprise.
When they entered the suite Alcide had booked, two women were standing there with a cart that was full of beauty salon items. Alcide walked to one of the woman and hugged her. Sookie’s tone and one word asked the question fully. “Alcide?”
“This is my sister Janice and her head stylist Doreen. Janice owns a beauty salon. I asked them to come out and give you guys the works. You can even watch whatever sappy movie you want on OnDemand while they take care of you. I’ll bring the coffins up then I’ll stay out of here while you’re having your fun.”
“That’s perfect. Let’s get to it!”
For the next two hours, Amelia and Sookie were pampered; after Alcide delivered the coffins and ran from the room. He didn’t want to be part of the hair and nail party. He returned as they were getting the final touches on their hair dos for the evening. “You both look great.” He gestured to a woman standing behind him. “Amelia, this is Maria Starr. She’s from my Shreveport pack and will be your escort to get into Club Dead.”
Sookie interrupted by whispering to Amelia, “She’s also Alcide’s girlfriend, so don’t get any ideas.”
Alcide smiled at Sookie for giving the not so subtle warning. He had a tough time convincing Maria to pose as Amelia’s date. Not that Maria had any issues with lesbians; she wasn’t going to be comfortable faking a date with anyone. “I’ve filled her in on the details she needs.”
Amelia smiled at her date for the evening and moved to shake her hand. Sookie was about to speak when she shuddered suddenly. “Excuse me, Eric is up.”
She ran to her and Eric’s bedroom in the suite and smirked at him. “I felt you wake up sweetie, I was going to greet Amelia’s escort and come in.”
He’d left the coffin and started stalking her. “You were taking too long getting here.” Before she could respond, he leaned down to kiss her. His hands started to touch her everywhere but she stopped him when he got close to her neck. “Alcide’s sister Janice spent a lot of time on this hair. Don’t mess it up Northman.”
“It is gorgeous. I can still smell my blood in you; did Amelia not give you the tonic to remove my scent?”
“Not yet. My hair was finished only moments before you called to me.”
“Ok, let’s get dressed then take care of the tonic and our final plans for the night.”
Sookie had purchased a pretty but modest dress for Club Dead, the Were bar they were visiting in the hopes of having Sookie hear something about Bill Compton. Though she’d fallen in love with a red lace dress, she didn’t want to call unnecessary attention to herself, so she picked a dark blue V-neck and A-line dress. The dress minimized her cleavage and came to the top of her knees. She wanted the Were’s to think about vampires, specifically Bill, not her boobs.
They headed to the common room and handled all the details and plans for the night. Sookie and Amelia left with their fake dates for the bar leaving Eric to pace in the hotel suite. He was planning to wait for Sookie to call him through the bond or an hour – whichever came first – to fly to the bar. While Eric liked Alcide, Sookie knew Eric wouldn’t be able to handle watching Sookie and Alcide act like a couple as part of their cover. He grumbled about being left behind but he knew Sookie was right. At least this way, Sookie would have a full hour of time to investigate.
Alcide stopped at the bar after they entered the club. “Would anyone like a drink?”
Sookie answered first. “Oh, I want to get on the dance floor first; then I’ll be thirsty.”
Maria smirked at her boyfriend. “I heard that clearly Alcide, take the lady for a spin.”
“Gladly.” He put his hand out to take her shawl. “May I?” She nodded and he took it and draped it across a chair at an empty table.
They danced for two songs when Alcide stopped dead on the dance floor. Sookie was confused until she tuned into Alcide’s head. Quickly, her head whipped around to see a woman glaring at Alcide. Sookie knew this was Alcide’s ex-girlfriend and Were lynx, Debbie Pelt. For Debbie’s benefit, Sookie decided to play up the fake relationship and she snuggled into his side. “Baby, what’s wrong?”
Alcide caught on right away. “Nothing’s wrong darling. Would you like that drink?”
She smiled widely. “Sure, then we get back onto the dance floor?”
For show, Alcide kissed her cheek. “Anything you want sweetness.”
Moving closer to the couple, Debbie screeched, “Aren’t you going to introduce me?!”
As a safety measure, they’d selected an alias for Sookie. “Sasha, this is Debbie, Debbie, Sasha. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re headed to the bar.” He turned quickly and guided Sookie to the bar.
Alcide ordered their drinks and kept quiet while Sookie sipped hers. She’d told him before that she would be listening as much as possible. Sookie couldn’t wait to share what she’d learned. Debbie’s arrival had been a good thing in two ways. First, for her mission, she already knew Debbie was connected to a ‘captured vampire’ somehow, she needed to learn more. Second, she wanted to share what she’d heard with Alcide. While they were on the island, Alcide had told her the story about Debbie and the difficult relationship they’d had. In short, Alcide knew Debbie was bad news but for a while he couldn’t resist her. She ended things and at the time, he was heartbroken. Now he was happy with Maria and had no love for his ex. She was sure Alcide would be pleased to hear how jealous Debbie was that he had a date.
She noticed the Were lynx head to the ladies room and told Alcide she’d be back in a moment. She needed to see what else she could uncover about the ‘captured vampire’. Sookie quickly did her business so she could chat with Debbie at the sinks. Her timing worked. “Sorry about Alcide’s abrupt introduction; he’s grumpy tonight. I think it’s cause there’s a large group of vampires here tonight.”
Debbie took a moment to eye Sookie up and down before responding. “Sasha, right?” Sookie nodded, acknowledging her fake name. “I can tell you ain’t good enough for Alcide, so don’t bother getting cozy with him.”
Luckily, the vampire comment had nudged Debbie’s thoughts to Vampires and she heard quite a tidbit of information before the woman had opened her mouth. She planned her response to the Were lynx to include the engagement. “I beg your pardon?” Sookie looked down. “I see an engagement ring on that finger. Who are you to tell me anything? I know you used to date Alcide, but you’ve moved on and so has he. ‘Course he didn’t tell me you were engaged.” The last comment was another prompt on her thoughts. She got what she needed and turned to leave.
Debbie grabbed Sookie’s arm to hold her back. “Where do you think you’re going, bitch?!”
Sookie glared at her arm. “Back to my date.” She paused and turned her focus to Debbie’s eyes. “Release me now.”
Instead of releasing Sookie, Debbie twisted Sookie’s arm. “You will leave Alcide if you know what’s good for you.”
Sookie didn’t show fear or flinch at the woman’s actions. “You’re making a mistake. That’s going to leave finger marks. Alcide will see it.”
Before Sookie registered the movement, Debbie opened a stall door and slammed it on Sookie’s arm. “Now it’s a bruise from your own clumsiness.”
Deciding she didn’t want to see what else Debbie could do to her in a ladies room, Sookie turned and left. Her arm was throbbing and it was getting too difficult to play it cool in front of Debbie. “Let’s go.” She announced when she reached Alcide and quickly draped the shawl over her arm.
As soon as they got outside the building she called Eric. He didn’t answer so she guessed he was already in the air. Alcide was confused and barely waited for Sookie to finish leaving her voice-mail. “Sookie, what’s going on?”
“Eric’s on his way.” She moved him to his truck and started getting in. “It’s gonna be bad.”
“Why?” Now that they were in the truck with the doors shut, she pulled away the shawl. “HOLY FUCK!” He leaned in closer. “Eric’s gonna kill me.”
“He won’t. It happened in the ladies room.” She made a shooing motion with her hands. “Start driving, he’ll find me. I want to be as far away from here as possible.”
“Fine.” He muttered under his breath. “Driving to my own death. Fuck.”
“Relax, I won’t let anything happen.” They only drove for five minutes before Eric landed in front of them while they were at a stop sign. “I’m getting out.” Before Eric could rip the door off, Sookie was out of the truck with her hands up. “I’m fine.” Her words were spoken immediately to calm him down.
“You are not fine. Let me see your arm.” He was next to her and checking out her arm instantly. “Who did this?”
“Debbie Pelt. In the ladies room. I went in to nudge her thoughts. I got what I needed.”
“Good, because I’m going to kill her.”
“No. We’re going back to the hotel and talking about what I heard.” She turned back to Alcide. “Can you call Maria and Amelia? Have them meet us in thirty minutes?” He nodded. “Thanks. I’m taking air Eric.” She knew Eric would need the extra time to calm Eric down so they could have a productive meeting.
Eric took to the air as soon as her words were spoken. After landing, he ran through the hotel to their suite. A bloody wrist was in front of her before she could adjust to being naked on his lap so quickly. The dress and underwear were casualties of Eric’s growing bloodlust. She could feel him teetering on the edge of control and knowing as soon as she started taking in his blood, he’d lose it she ignored the wrist and leaned back into him and spread her legs over his. He growled but complied when she took his hands and placed one on a breast and the other between her legs. While the events of the evening had him ready to fuck, she wasn’t and she knew Eric would regret it if he hurt her. Eric caught on quickly and focused his energy on getting her wet and ready. Luckily, it didn’t take long and Sookie lifted herself to take Eric inside her. This time, when he presented his wrist she sucked on it without hesitation. He fed deeply from her as well and as usual, the combined feeding had them coming together.
If Sookie thought they were done though, she was mistaken. Eric hadn’t been kidding when he said he wanted to kill Debbie Pelt. One fuck wasn’t going to take care of the bloodlust. Before she could catch her breath, he flipped her onto the bed, said “again”, and took her hard enough to have the bed move across the floor. Sookie had been told about bloodlust but never experienced it. To say she liked it was an understatement. Eric’s intense and possessive gaze was thrilling on its own without the continued pounding she was getting. Being called ‘mine’ over and over again only added to his craze and she decided to hold on, enjoying as many orgasms as she could, until he worked through it.
At one point, Eric heard the others return to the hotel suite, but he wasn’t finished. Alcide would know enough about what was going on to understand. A moment later, the door closed and the voices were gone so Eric focused on his lover. They exchanged two more times and both came several more times before he finally collapsed on her. After a moment, he sat up and checked her arm, her hips (where his hands had been holding tight), and much to her embarrassment, he checked her lady bits for any injury. Though she’d been slapping him and saying she was fine, he didn’t relent until he was satisfied that his bloodlust hadn’t hurt her.
Once cleaned-up and dressed, they entered the common area of the suite to find a note. “Oh my God. They were here and heard . . .”
“Everything Lover. They heard us and left.”
“I’ll never be able to look at them in the face again.”
He chuckled at her. “Sookie, it’s not like they would be surprised to discover we have sex.”
Her hands went flying to slap him for the chuckle. “Knowing and hearing are two very different things.”
“Maria and Alcide are both Were. I guarantee they go at it in wolf form when they shift and the pack would be in the area.”
“Just call Alcide so I can share what I learned and then hide under my covers.”
When everyone gathered, Sookie took the floor. “Well, I first heard something about a captured vamp in Pelt’s thoughts, but once she saw me with Alcide, jealousy took over. I knew I had to push her. When she went to the bathroom, I knew it was my chance. . . .”
“And you should have gotten Maria’s attention to go in with you.”
“Eric. . .”
“Sookie, that’s why she went, you know this.”
“We’ll discuss it later?”
Oh Eric knew they would discuss it later. He needed her to realize the serious mistake she’d made. Honestly, a bruised arm was nothing compared to what a pissed off Were could do to her. “Yes, later.”
“So in the bathroom, I prompted her thoughts. Turns out, she does know about a captured vamp and it is Bill. Well, the captor is Lorena so I’m assuming it’s Bill. I couldn’t detect if the capture was staged or not from her head. What I did discover is that her fiancé, Charles Clausen, is Lorena’s head Were.” When she saw Amelia’s confused expressions, she paused. “The Vampires in Mississippi have Were teams that work for them. I don’t know much more than that. Apparently, that’s how Russell runs things so smoothly in this state.” She stopped to take a drink of the water Eric had given her. “Anyway, Charles knows all the details of the capture and he’ll be at Club Dead tomorrow night. It’s the official Engagement party and announcement for him and Debbie.”
“Your gift is really handy.” Amelia offered in almost a reverent voice.
“It has its uses, but it’s been more of a curse most of my life.”
Amelia took a breath to talk more, but Eric cut her off. “So our plan is to return to Club Dead tomorrow night?” He received nods of acceptance from the group and he focused on the witch. “Amelia, Sookie will need more tonic. She took my blood tonight. I don’t smell it now, but I guess your tonic will wear off?”
“Nope. It’s good for three days. I can give her more if you want, but then her scent won’t return for six days.”
“NO!” Eric was firm. He already hated that he couldn’t smell his blood in Sookie. “If you’re sure, I don’t want her to take it.”
“I’m sure. Octavia and I have used the tonic before.”
“So let’s plan for tomorrow night.” Sookie spoke. “Eric, you won’t be able to get into Club Dead. No vamps for the Were party.”
“I don’t like that.”
“Hang on, there’s more. Since the Weres will all be there, Lorena will have less guards on Bill. I got some thoughts about that from Debbie. I say we plan to get Bill out tomorrow.” She pointed to Eric and Thalia. “I mean, the two of you are pretty old. I know Russell’s at a council meeting, so even if he was involved, he won’t be there. Are there any other vampires as old as you in Mississippi?”
Thalia answered. “There are only a few in the world so we should be fine.”
“Good. I’ll find out what I need to know then we’ll go get Bill.”
Before Eric could even reject that idea, Thalia spoke. “I don’t think so.” She was shaking her head ‘no’. “At most we’ll have Alcide in the van with us to have the coffin ready for Compton and drive us away.”
“But. . .” Sookie tried.
Eric was more firm. “NO! End of discussion.” Knowing he wanted more alone time with Sookie he made a request of Thalia. “Can you take everyone downstairs to the bar for a short while?”
“Yes Eric. Do you want us to order something for Sookie and return with it later?”
“No, we’ll call for room service.”
He shut the door behind them and turned to Sookie. “Eric, I can’t get a read on your emotions.”
“That’s because I’m struggling with them right now.” He sighed, a very human thing to do and moved to sit with her on the sofa. “Do you need something to eat?”
“You have me too nervous to eat. I know you were pissed when you mentioned about Maria going to the restroom with me. I don’t know what else is going on in that head of yours.”
“Sookie, we’re going to be working for the council if all goes well with my contract. That’s going to mean guards for you. Full-time, permanent, guards. I have to know that you won’t make a decision to leave your guard in the future.”
“Eric, it was the ladies room.”
“This is what I mean. You aren’t saying it was a mistake or you’re not used to having someone with you. You’re defying me. You’re blatantly telling me you’d do it again.”
“Defying you? You aren’t the boss of me.”
He groaned. The conversation was not going to be pleasant. “Technically you know that you do, in fact belong to me. On paper for your contracts and by blood. You . . .”
Sookie was feeling cornered again and she interrupted him before he could go on. “You’ve never made me feel owned Master. Until this moment I’ve only felt loved.”
“You are loved. You didn’t let me finish.” She huffed and crossed her arms under her chest but remained quiet. “I said technically I own you. I’m asking you to understand the need for your guard out of respect and love, not ownership.” He took her hands. “Look, there may be times you and Barry go off to gather intelligence during the day. I need to know that I won’t be in a panic and forcing myself to stay awake so I can keep a bead on you while you’re away from me during daylight.”
She finally understood and backed down. “I’m sorry. I get it now. I don’t like it but I get it. I promise to work with my guards as needed.”
“Thank you.” He leaned in for a kiss. “Sookie, I’ve never felt you so afraid of me before. What did you think was going to happen?”
“Eric, when you started in on the ‘you own me’ comments, I envisioned my cousin and the treatment she got from her ‘loving master’.”
He was shocked. “Sookie, you don’t think I’d ever?” He shook his head. “I mean, we play games like that sometimes, but I would never hurt you like that. I don’t consider you to be a pet. You’re my bonded. I wanted to have a discussion with you that ensured you knew how I felt. Forced compliance is not part of our relationship.”
“Part of me knew that but you had everyone leave and since you didn’t care if they heard us have sex, I didn’t think you’d care about them hearing a discussion. That combined with my ownership had my head spiraling.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t want you to ever fear me.” He pulled her to his lap. “Which reminds me to ask. Did my bloodlust scare you?”
“You didn’t feel fear did you?”
“No, but I was pre-occupied.”
“I liked it. Except for your post-sex exam of my private parts. That, I could do without happening again.”
“You don’t want to play doctor with me?”
“No Eric, we’ll stick with playing Scrabble, thank you very much.” She jumped up suddenly. “That reminds me. I have a present for you. Well us.”
“Ummm, can you order me dinner? I’ll go grab the present from my bags.”
“Yeah, I need a burger tonight.”
Sookie returned as Eric was hanging up the phone. She held out the bag for him As soon as the contents were out he was laughing. I love it. There’s one for each of us?”
She was laughing at his reaction. “I thought it only fair that we both get one.”
“I agree. We’re both champions. Unfortunately, I asked them to rush your food, so we don’t have time for a quick game.”
“Certainly.” He moved to the bedroom. “In fact, I’ll go prepare the game board.”
“Is that code for turning down the sheets or preparing for a bath?”
A/N: Reminder/Warning – I may not be posting next weekend – but I’m not abandoning the story. I need to catch up in my writing.