Eric seemed pensive. He was lying on his back and I was draped over him, enjoying the sensation of his soft fingers running down my arm and his cool arm holding me tight against him. He wasn’t humming like the night before; he was looking straight up at the ceiling.
“What are you thinking?” I asked, surprising myself. I don’t think I had ever asked that question of anybody.
Eric looked down with a frown. “I’m thinking we should exchange blood again, start taking steps to make the bond complete so I can keep you safe. Even the Queen has to respect a blood bond.”
“Do you think Bill is a spy for the Queen of Louisiana?” I asked. For a sleepy person I wasn’t half bad coming up with stuff.
“For her or somebody else. Either way I think it’s better if you let me retrofit your house with a space for either Pam or me to stay during the day, so that there are no gaps in time when you are not safe.” Eric’s voice was deep and grave.
“Can I ask you something first? Before I say yes or no?”
“Of course, and this time I will answer.”
I gathered my courage. It was the question in every girl’s mind when they first started a relationship, and none of them ever asked. Believe me, I knew because I’d “heard” it over and over. But this was getting complicated and scary, and for me to make decisions, I needed to know. “What am I to you?”
“What are you to me?” he repeated the question. He hadn’t expected it.
“Yes. Explain, please, because as far as I know vampires don’t end up marrying humans, so I’m not sure what your intentions are, and I don’t have a father that will ask them of you,” I said, sitting up now and covering myself with a sheet.
Eric’s eyes went wide, and then softened. He sat up too but didn’t make an attempt to touch me. He just wanted to look me in the eye. “You are unlike any human I’ve ever met, Sookie. Or maybe that’s not accurate.” He was struggling with his thoughts. I could see it in his eyes. “You are very much like the women of my time, strong and honorable, but set within this time. You’ve read about us, you know what I mean.”
I frowned then I hit my forehead with the palm of my hand. “You saw the Viking books.”
“I saw the Viking books,” he admitted. “See? You feel the same way about me.”
“And what way is that, Eric?” I asked. Surely he wasn’t going to say it. Right?
He said it. “You love me,” his face told me he was stating the obvious.
Color me mad. “Eric, I don’t think…”
“I love you too,” Eric said and closed the gap between us, holding me tight.
I took a deep breath to calm myself down so we could have this conversation like adults instead of teenagers, and all I got was a big whiff of Viking in my nostrils… which did nothing, by the way, to help me clear my thoughts.
“Eric, please let me go so we can talk,” I muttered from where my face was pressed to his chest.
“Tell me you don’t love me,” he said, not letting go at all.
“I can’t do that,” I said, being honest.
He let me go, but only to hold on to my shoulders. His face was open and full of wonder, and I felt it. I felt the pang within my own heart which told me that I felt stronger towards him than I’d been thinking. He could hurt me so easily now.
“Tell me you love me,” he breathed out.
I looked down at my hands resting on my lap and swallowed hard. “I can’t do that either,” I said, feeling a lump form in my throat. I was lying and I knew it.
Rather than doing what I expected him to do (which was to get mad at my indecision) he smoothed my hair and let me sulk. “Can I say it then? Can I tell you that I love you until you believe it?”
“I don’t think I’ll ever believe it. How many others have you loved?” I asked, still looking down.
“One other and you know why I love her.”
“You could have anybody,” I mumbled, giving myself reasons why he couldn’t possibly love me. Lil’ ol’ freaky me.
“I don’t want anybody. I want you, from the first night I met you and you tried to keep me safe.” He lifted my face. “Can you understand that I don’t want anybody to take you away from me?”
I nodded a little. If I let myself believe his words, I could understand perfectly. More than that: if I was honest with myself I knew I felt the same way about him. I didn’t want anybody to take him away from me. The thought of it was almost physically painful. How had that happened? When did I fall in love?
“You can do what you need to do to my house, Eric. I think I’ll feel better anyway, until…” I stopped talking, because the rest of the sentence was until I bond with you so no one can take me away, and I just couldn’t say it aloud, not yet.
“Alright, my lover. I will go make some phone calls. Can you be without me for a few minutes?” he asked, getting up. He wasn’t going to waste any time at all now that I’d made up my mind.
“I think I can manage,” I said.
I took the opportunity to use the bathroom. He’d even left a brand new toothbrush and toothpaste next to the sink. Alright, brownie points for the vampire who understood I had human needs. For all I knew he’d had Pam get everything and leave it here.
I stole Eric’s undershirt, because I was feeling weird about walking around naked, and picked up the rest of our clothes from the bathroom floor. My dress, shoes and underwear I could leave on a slipper chair in the bedroom. I wasn’t sure what to do with his clothes, so I put them in the hamper. He’d worn boxer shorts the past two nights, but inside the hamper I saw a pair of briefs. Interesting. I didn’t know men switched back and forth like that.
I snuggled back under the soft sheets, and was about to fall asleep when I felt the bed indent behind me. Eric molded his body to mine, holding me tight and draping a leg over mine. I felt safe. This could be easy if I allowed myself to let go of the fear of pain. I threaded my fingers into his and brought his hand up to my lips, to kiss the palm.
“Did I wake you?” he asked, nuzzling my neck.
“I wasn’t asleep yet,” I mumbled because I had both our hands tucked under my chin.
“I wrote down the information for the people who are coming to your house tomorrow and I left it on the counter in the kitchen, next to your purse. There’s also a set of keys to this house for you to keep.”
I grabbed my phone to put on the alarm; otherwise I’d never get out of there. When that was taken care of I turned within his embrace, lying on my back with him draped over me. Eric pulled the covers and tucked them tighter around us, which was nice of him. He was cool but my body warmed his the longer we touched. I suspected that was why he liked to snuggle, and I was learning to like it too.
He started humming the song from the night before. I felt like the Twilight girl, with my very own vampire singing me to sleep. “What song do you sing?”
“Something very old. I wasn’t allowed to sing it in my time, but I think it’s safe now.”
I tried to remember what I had read about Vikings. “A song about a woman?”
“Yes,” was all he said.
I closed my eyes and he continued humming.
When my alarm went off I couldn’t move. Between the sheets tucked super vampire tight, and the super vampire himself still draped over me, I had a struggle ahead. Eventually I made it out. It was amazing how really, truly, dead Eric became during the day. I tucked the sheets around him again, and fixed his hair, giving him a kiss he’d never know about.
The upstairs had an extra door that could be locked, that led downstairs. I locked it and joined the world of the living. The house was bright downstairs, since the drawn curtains still let sunlight in. I made me some coffee and a quick omelet. I was starving, and wouldn’t be able to make it all the way home without feeling like fainting. Besides, it would please Eric to see I’d eaten. Not that I was eating to please him.
I checked and locked every door I found that I thought ought to be locked, ending with the kitchen door that led to the garage. It felt odd to leave, and odder that the two cars in the garage seemed to belong there. Together.
Pam was right. I was turning into a sap.
At home my new kitty had made my bed, her bed. I found her all snuggled into a fuzzy blanket I had at the foot of my bed. I changed out of my Fangtasia dress and put something more normal to wait for the workmen who were supposed to arrive within the hour.
I checked my messages on the house phone and found one from Lafayette (“You better come visit soon, girlfriend. Don’t make me come over there.”), and one that Alcee Beck had left earlier that morning. I had to listen to it twice.
“Miss Stackhouse, this is Alcee Beck, detective for the Bon Temps Sheriff’s Office,” I rolled my eyes. We were a small town. I’d known who he was ever since he’d joined the force when I was ten years old and Gran had spoken about it with Mrs. F. He’d been the first black officer on the force. “I’m calling to tell you that Rene Lenier will be tried in November for several murders, as well as your attempted murder, and the assault on Mr. Northman. The district attorney also felt it was warranted to charge Rene with manslaughter for the death of your grandmother.” My heart twisted and my vision blurred. I didn’t want vengeance, but it looked like that was exactly what I was about to get. “The D.A. will call you to tell you when to report for your deposition.”
Deposition? I was a witness. They would probably call Eric too.
Thinking about Eric made me think of vampires in general and one vampire in particular. I remembered to do something I should have done a long time ago. “I hereby rescind Bill Compton’s invitation to my house,” I said out loud. I hope it worked as easy as that.
Tina ate her breakfast then decided to play outside when I opened the door for the workers who arrived at ten. The foreman, Mr. Herveaux, walked through the house with me. He was definitely “other,” but nice. He still had thick muscle from working for many years with his hands, and his salt and pepper hair was lush, making him look handsome, even though he must have been close to sixty.
“I believe this would be the best place, Miss Stackhouse,” he said. He’d knelt and had peeked into the closet of my old bedroom. He’d done the same thing in my bedroom, but I had too many personal things in it to remove, namely shoes, things that I needed to use every day in other words. He’d checked the walls to find any hidden spaces, but found none. The upstairs wasn’t feasible either. They would have had to gut it and start over, and Eric wanted this done today. So the spare bedroom downstairs it was.
I hate to see other people working and stay idle myself, so I worked while Mr. Herveaux’s men worked. He’d brought his son, a mountain of a man, about as tall as Eric but thicker. He was also “other,” and he was in charge of going back and forth from the men outside (who were not allowed to set foot inside my house), and his father who was measuring, fitting, hammering and so on. In the end, the only two people who knew of the new hideout were Mr. Herveaux and his son. By the time they were done, all my curtains were clean and the floors behind every piece of furniture had been vacuumed by me.
“I can’t help but notice this is not your usual type of work, Mr. Herveaux,” I said, pointing at his work truck. It said Herveaux & Son, Surveyors, not Carpenters.
“We make exceptions for Mr. Northman. He’s a good customer,” said Mr. Herveaux, giving me a handsome super white smile. I wondered if he bleached his teeth, but then noticed that his son’s teeth were just as white. It must have been hereditary.
They all left well before sunset, which gave me a chance to take a shower and a nap before I had to get ready for work.
I woke up from my nap with my ringing cell phone. Eric.
“Hmmm,” I managed to say, throwing myself back on the bed like a true drama queen. I’d never make a good vampire.
“I’m on my way to get you. Are you alright?” he asked, almost frantic.
“Eric, you woke me up, would you calm down? Is it even past sunset yet?” I asked, trying to look outside. It was dark, but not fully.
“There are advantages to being as old as I am. I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Do not go outside. Did you rescind Compton’s invitation?”
“Already done,” Boss, I added mentally.
“Good. Get ready,” and “click.”
“Aaargh!” I yelled to no one at all, not even to Tina because she hadn’t come back inside the house by the time I fell asleep. I wasn’t stupid enough to open the door to go look for her before Eric got there. That’s how the girls get killed in horror movies.
I got ready and put fresh food in Tina’s bowl. Hopefully I’d be able to find her before we left for Fangtasia. If not, she’d be in a heap of trouble. I was making myself a sandwich when the doorbell rang. I ran to get it, since I was on the other side of the house. I’d have to tell Eric to come through the back door. Oh, whatever. I’d just give him a key.
The mind behind the front door was a blank, but, lacking a peephole, I had to ask who it was anyway.
“It is me,” Eric said in a very deep voice that made the door shake.
I opened the door. “Who is ‘me’?” I smiled.
He had me in his arms in a blink, claiming my mouth and thrusting his tongue as deep as it would go, searching for mine. I relaxed against him, lacing my hands behind his neck.
I’d lost my breath, and was about to lose consciousness when he pulled away to let me breathe again. “My whole house smelled like you,” he said, his fangs out, his eyes almost black.
“I’m sorry,” I choked out, panting.
He chuckled, which actually looked bizarre, what with his fangs out. “I’m not. I loved it. The only part I did not enjoy was not having you beside me when I awoke.”
“Well, I had to be here. Mr. Herveaux made your cubby hole, and it looks pretty good if you ask me, but you better check it out now before you use it,” I said, taking his hand and leading him, for once.
I showed him the arrangement inside the closet of the spare bedroom. He got in the little space and held out a hand to me. I stepped in and lay beside him, finding the space was actually bigger than I thought.
“I have some spare blankets and pillows,” I offered.
“You’re good to me, Sookie. Now come, before Pam has our asses for being late.” He got up and I followed.
“Can you help me find my cat? She went out to play earlier and hasn’t returned,” I said, about to grab my purse.
Eric blinked. “I didn’t know you had a cat.”
“She adopted me. I had Sam check her to make sure she was a real cat before I let her in the house,” I said, anticipating that he would have asked.
“I’ll help you. Sookie?” Eric stopped walking. I looked up waiting for the rest of his question. “What part of the house has Bill been in?”
I had to think about it briefly. “Only the living room. I doubt Gran ever showed him to the kitchen.”
“That’s what I thought,” he said, sticking his nose up in the air and opening his mouth, like a cat scenting the air for bugs.
I followed his progress as he went upstairs, which was a little hotter than the rest of the house since it was closed off and the early October days were still warm.
“What is up here?” Eric asked.
“I use it for storage only.”
“Why would Bill be up here?” he muttered to himself. He continued following his nose and stopped in front of a particular box.
“What kind of papers do you keep in here?” he asked. His keen sense of smell told him what was in the box, because the outside wasn’t marked at all.
“I think those are photographs and newspapers from when Jason and I were little. I have my birth certificate elsewhere, but Jason’s might be in there,” I answered, as Eric opened the box.
The first few photographs were taken before my parents died. I must have been six, definitely past kindergarten.
“Bill went through these,” Eric said.
I burst. “What the fucking hell?! Why was he touching my stuff? God damn it!” I slammed my foot down and started pacing.
“Calm down Sookie. He didn’t take anything and you can trust me that he won’t be able to do it again. You were cute,” Eric said, showing me a picture.
My face must have lost all color. My hands started feeling clammy and I thought I would throw up. Actually, yes, I was going to throw up, so I ran downstairs to the first bathroom and heaved into the toilet. There had been nothing in my stomach to throw up, so I knew I hadn’t gotten sick from something I ate, but from something I saw.
Eric was holding my hair. I knew he was talking, but I couldn’t make sense of the words yet. I felt as vulnerable as I’d been at six years old, when the photo was taken. I sagged on the floor with my head on Eric’s lap. I didn’t remember that picture, but I remembered the day as if it had been just five minutes ago. I’d tried to block it. All these years I knew what had happened but I’d never felt it, like I just had looking at that photograph. Even seeing Uncle Bartlett, old and decrepit, hadn’t brought back the memory.
“Sookie? Are you alright, my love? Can you tell me what’s wrong?” I finally heard Eric.
Call me naïve, or maybe inordinately stupid, but I just don’t think one should keep secrets from the people that love you. Particularly when they hold one’s hair while one’s trying to throw up.
“I remembered the day that picture was taken,” I explained. “It was a shock to see the picture. I thought I had gotten rid of all those memories.”
“Is that the day your parents died?” Eric asked in a soft voice.
“No. They died more than a year after that. That was the day I died,” I said in a very small voice.
“Explain,” his voice wasn’t soft. It was confused. Eric didn’t like to be confused.
“The man in the picture, Gran’s brother, that was the day he first touched me,” my voice was shaking along with my body.
“He touched you?” Eric couldn’t understand. It wasn’t jiving with his view of how things ought to be.
“Sexually,” I choked out.
There was silence. His voice got hot. “He touched you! You were just a little girl!”
I nodded, feeling the tears stinging my eyes. I couldn’t speak anymore. I tucked my legs against my body, to see if it would help with the shakes. Eric picked me up, just like that, and put me in my bed. He sat next to me, smoothing my hair, not knowing what to do for me.
“Tell me what to do, Sookie. How do I make it better?” he asked in a monotone, very Pam-ish. He was stressed.
“There’s nothing to do,” I took a deep breath, to see if it would help with the crying. It didn’t. “It was a long time ago. I just have to put it away again.”
I sat up and managed to go to the bathroom. Eric was about to follow but I gave him a pleading look to just let me be alone for a few minutes. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, reapplied all my makeup, checked that my dress was in order, and re-emerged looking mostly normal. My eyes were still a little red, but that would go away in a few more minutes.
“Let me grab my sandwich from the kitchen. Do you mind if I eat on our way to work?” I asked, leaving my bedroom.
“Sookie,” he called from my bedroom, with that familiar warning in his voice.
I matched his tone. “Eric, you cannot make this better. I wish you could, but unless you have a degree in psychiatry that I don’t know about, you’re just gonna have to let it go.” I breathed… “Or stop seeing me so you don’t have to think about it.”
I started to walk away again but he reached me at vampire speed, turning me around. He was mad, but was also trying to watch his strength. His hold on me was very gentle. “Are you out of your mind? What part of the fact that I love you has been lost on you? This isn’t easy for me, Sookie, to tell you this. Do you think it doesn’t hurt me when I feel you’re rejecting me? I want to know what it will take to make you feel better, and all I need is an answer.”
I hadn’t blinked the whole time, my eyes getting wider by the second. I’d been behaving like a petulant teenager, pretending I didn’t need any help. “Going to work will help me take my mind off things,” I answered finally.
“Good. Then finish making your food and you can eat it on the way. But you’re with me, so if you want to take your time you can do that too,” he turned me around and guided me to the kitchen, where my half made sandwich was waiting for me.
I ate in my kitchen, digging in my junk drawer for an extra set of keys to the house. I handed them to Eric.
“Back door, front door,” I said, pointing at a newer looking one for the back door, and an older one for the front door.
He took them and added them to his own set of keys. “The keys to Rapunzel’s tower,” he said, trying to lighten the mood.
On our way out the door, we found Tina sitting right in front of it, probably hungry. “Silly girl. It’s past your curfew, young lady,” I said and snuggled her, earning myself a loud purr. I set her back inside and locked the door. Eventually she’d learn it was more comfortable inside and she’d never want to go back out.
“Now you smell of cat,” Eric said while he was making his way down my driveway.
“Oh, well. She’s a baby and needs love,” I shrugged not really giving a hoot.
“I didn’t mean it in a bad way. They have a sort of musky scent. It’s a cat scent.”
We rode in silence for a little while. It wasn’t awkward, since we were both lost in our own thoughts. I, however, didn’t have to be lost within them. The answers I was seeking could be easily sought.
“If we do the blood bond, I’d be bound to you, right?” I asked, nervous.
“Yes, you would. I’d be bound to you too.”
“Which means what, exactly?”
He turned to me briefly. I couldn’t read his expression in the dim light of the road. “It means you’d feel me like I feel you. It means we would put each other above anyone and anything. In vampire circles you’d be considered my other half, someone worthy of as much respect as me. It would also mean that Queen Sophie-Anne would let you stay by my side instead of use you as she wishes. If ever she needed your services, she could not have you without me along to protect you.”
“My services?” I repeated.
“Reading others minds. The Queen wants to use you in her dealings with humans. I can’t allow it Sookie, even if I have to force you,” his voice was getting hot again.
“You don’t have to force me, that am why I’m asking questions,” I said, keeping my cool. It had the intended effect of disarming him. When I’m good, I’m really good. Chalk it up to years of experience dealing with drunken people. Irate people were nothing compared to drunken fools.
Eric breathed deeply and nodded, calming down.
“Would we be married?” I asked.
“Yes and no. In the human world you wouldn’t be Mrs. Northman, but in my world we’d be more than husband and wife. I’ve seen a few blood bonds during my existence, and they’ve been very powerful couples.”
“What about when I grow old?” I asked. Eric would be forever thirty, forever beautiful.
“My blood would keep you young for many years, unless you decided to join me,” he said gravely.
My breath caught. I didn’t know how to feel about that. Immortality… how boring. “Let’s just say for now that’s a no,” I said.
“I respect your decision, Sookie,” he said no more about changing me. That’s not what he wanted. He wanted me, the way I was.
The realization hit me like a sack of potatoes. Unfortunately we were approaching Fangtasia, and this conversation would have to wait.
Eric parked in his usual owner’s spot, turned off the car, but didn’t make any effort to get out. I turned to him, wondering what was up.
“I guess I’ll put it to you in terms that belong in your world,” he said, turning to look at me too, piercing through me with his glacial blues. “If I could marry you, I would, but human laws say we can’t. I can offer you something better: all of me physically tied to you in a bond of love and respect. I can offer you protection from those who would use you. You may not believe that I love you, but I do, and if there’s anything I can do to prove it to you beyond doubt, please tell me and I will do it.”
He put his hand to my chest, over my heart and my heaving chest. I was having a hard time catching my breath. I didn’t want him to have to prove anything to me. I wanted to feel the conviction in my gut.
“I ask one thing,” I said.
“I want Pam to stay with me tonight, if she’s willing.”
“Done,” he said, and kissed me.