Dr. Ludwig was off at some sort of inter-dimensional conference and couldn’t be reached. I left a message with her service that it was extremely important she contact me first thing when she returned. I was fully prepared to deal with the snark I knew I’d be getting from her whenever she arrived. In the meantime, we treated Nerissa as if she did have silver poisoning.
A bed was set up in Fangtasia’s basement for her so her progress could be monitored. As was expected, Kaydee was more than willing to donate her blood to her nestmate, and I began to suspect Kaydee saw Nerissa as more than just a friend. Since it was none of my business, I didn’t ask. Besides, I had more important things to worry about than whether or not Kaydee and Nerissa were more than friends.
We started by testing Nerissa to see if she could call Kevin. She confessed she felt no bond to anyone, and any attempts on her part to summon him were fruitless. With the Nerissa situation as under control as it was going to get, I headed for Bon Temps. Sookie had left without so much as a word to me the night before.
After she discovered the journal, she brought down my phone and the towel as I’d requested. She handed the phone to me, the towel to Nerissa and wished the ailing vampire a speedy recovery before giving me an icy stare and stomping up the stairs to go home. I wanted to chase after her but I knew a cooling off period was necessary. Trying to talk to Sookie when she was infuriated would be a waste of my time and a fast way to get myself slapped.
So I let her go. When I finally got upstairs, I looked at the page I had left the journal open to, and understood her anger. The entry noted we had just finished making love, and I had told her I would share everything with her. It was a promise I meant, at the time, since I never make promises I don’t intend to keep. However, it was obvious that even if Sookie had tried to talk herself out of believing it, there was a part of her that wanted it to be true.
I didn’t bother calling, I simply showed up at her house. I knocked at the front door, thinking it would be rude to just let myself in. I saw a fire glowing in her fireplace and heard the light footsteps of her coming to let me in. The door opened to reveal a very puffy faced woman. I could smell her tears as easily as her sorrow, which suddenly flooded me.
“What are you doing here, Eric?” she wiped at her face. She was wrapped in a hideous blanket that was way past its prime.
“We need to talk. I know you found my journal.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she tried to close the door in my face, but I slipped into the house before she could. “You know I can just withdraw your invitation.”
“Yes, I know, but withdrawing my invitation won’t make me go away, Sookie. What happened between us won’t disappear because you refuse to talk to me face to face.”
“It wasn’t real, Eric. You weren’t you and I-”
“You took care of me. In spite of all the things I’ve said or done to hurt you, anger you, or terrify you, you took care of me. If what I wrote in that journal is true, you gave me a piece of your heart, and I know that couldn’t have been easy for you.”
Sookie turned away and said, “It was easier than it should have been. If it had been you, it wouldn’t have been so easy.”
“So tell me what was different, Sookie.” I closed the front door, and followed her to the living room.
She sat on the floor in front of the fireplace with her blanket wrapped around her. Based on the description in the journal, I had to assume it was the same one she’d wrapped around me when she found me on the side of the road. She drew her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on them, her arms hugging them close.
“Everything,” she whispered and stared into the flames that illuminated her skin so beautifully. “You were gentle, kind, patient, receptive, open, curious, childish, confused, scared…”
“Weak,” I added, and her head turned toward mine.
“No, Eric, you weren’t weak. That’s the funny thing. If there was one thing that didn’t change, it was your strength. You didn’t know who you were, but you retained the same fierce loyalty you always had. You could still see what was worth protecting, and you did it without me even having to ask. You took a bullet to save my life. Again. I don’t know how I can ever repay you for that.”
“You don’t have to.”
“But I feel like I do,” she sniffled as tears rolled down her cheeks.
I sat down beside her and mimicked her pose as best I could. “That’s because, for all of your denial, you and I are very similar creatures, Sookie. We go about it in very different ways, but we both have a tendency to get what we want, one way or another.”
“Yeah, and I’ve gotten a lot of things lately that I never asked for, and I paid some pretty steep prices.”
There was a moment of silence that passed. I thought of all the experiences she’d had since becoming part of the vampire world. It was a lot for a human, especially one so young and inexperienced, to take in. She’d been required to play a very specific role in our world, and there wasn’t much of a choice given to her in any of it.
“Do you regret the deal we made in the beginning?” I asked her.
She thought for a moment before saying, “I don’t. I do wish I would have been more informed before making it.”
“I wish I would have had a better understanding of what vampire blood would do to me. I would have liked to know more about the politics, and what was expected of me. I didn’t exactly go into this blind, but there’s a lot I don’t know. And now… now you’ve done enough damage to make me wonder if I can ever really trust you to tell me the truth.”
“I can’t undo what has been done, Sookie.”
“I know you can’t, and if we’re both honest, we know you’re not sorry for any of it. You had your reasons for doing what you did. Maybe you were right to go about it like that, but it doesn’t make it any easier to feel safe.”
“You don’t feel safe with me?”
“I don’t know what I feel for you, Eric,” she sighed, and put her head down again.
“A few days ago it was something like love.”
“You weren’t you then.”
“You could have kept me. My journal tells me I suggested it. We could have stayed together. We would have been happy.”
“No, Eric, we wouldn’t. You might have been happy, but I would always know you weren’t really living your life. I would know I was living with a version of you that only existed because some psycho conjured it up. You know the crazy part about all of this? I actually missed you.” Her confession surprised me.
“You missed me?”
“You were counting on me to know the right thing to do at every turn, and I was terrified of screwing up. I want to make this clear to you: I don’t think you’re a bad guy. You’ve done things that make me so mad I could spit, and you’ve hurt my feelings a time or two, but I know if you didn’t care about me, even just a little bit, I’d be dead already. You could break me with the flick of your wrist, but you don’t. I don’t let myself wonder why that is, but I’m sure it’s not as simple as you wanting to fuck me.” She stared in my direction.
“It’s quite tragic that I finally did, and I can’t remember a moment of it.” I smiled at her, and she rolled her eyes.
“It wasn’t just sex, Eric,” her voice was soft, and there was sadness in her blood. “I like to think it was two people in need of comfort and something to be sure of, and all we had was each other.”
“That’s the way it sounded to me, too,” I agreed with her. “Sookie, I can’t exactly be the person I was while I was cursed, but whatever it was we had then, we can have now. There just have to be a few adjustments made.”
She snorted and asked, “Are you asking me to be your pet, Eric?”
I stared hard at her. “No, I’m not, and for the record, I would never ask that of you.”
“So you mean we would be equals? When you trot me out in front of your vampire friends, I would have the same rights and privileges as you?”
I sighed and stretched out on my back. “Unfortunately, no, that wouldn’t be possible. But before you interrupt, let me explain this to you. I don’t know what Bill told you, but I’m guessing it wasn’t as much as he should have. There is a certain level of obedience a human is expected to display when in presence of other vampires. However, that doesn’t mean it’s what a vampire requires when they are alone with their human. I wouldn’t expect that from you, Sookie. It would be an affront to the person you are, and in spite of my complaints about it from time to time, I do rather enjoy how opinionated you are.”
“So our relationship, if we were to have one, would be a lie?”
“No,” I nearly called her ‘lover,’ but caught myself at the last moment. “What I’m saying is, it’s all a matter of perspective. My opinion of you isn’t based on your status as a human. What the other vampires think of you is no consequence to me. What will matter is how your behavior reflects on me. It’s all about illusions, Sookie. As long as they think I control you, that’s all that matters. What happens when we’re alone is none of their concern.”
“But that’s my whole point, Eric. I don’t know if I’m okay with other people thinking I let you decide everything for me. My Gran didn’t raise me to be seen and not heard. She raised me to stand up for myself, work hard and be independent. And don’t think I don’t know you’d spoil me rotten if I let you.”
“What’s wrong with that? I have the means to make sure you get everything you ever wanted. I can appreciate wanting to work for what you have. It took me centuries to get where I am. I’m merely offering you a shortcut.”
“And if I don’t want it, can you accept it? I know you work hard, Eric. You wouldn’t be where you are without it. I also happen to you know you’re pragmatic and quite an opportunist, so I’m sure those things factor in somewhere, but I know you work hard, too. I couldn’t let you stay here because it would have made you less than you are. As much as I cared for that version of you, it wasn’t real. Believe me, it was a nasty shock to my system when I realized I like you better this way. You know who you are. You don’t need me filling in the gaps or telling you how to be. You’re just you. You might drive me crazy sometimes, but I get as good as I give in that area.
“The real question here is: am I good enough for you? Right here, right now, just the way I am, am I good enough? When you look at me, are you okay with the possibility I might never be anything more than a waitress in some backwater town?”
“You’re already more than that, Sookie. You sell yourself short.”
“I’m not talking about being a telepath,” she shook her head.
“But it’s part of who you are. Asking you to ignore your ability would be like you ignoring the fact that I’m a vampire. You can’t ask me to ignore your ability, then use it as a reason why we shouldn’t be in a relationship. You can’t have it both ways.”
Sookie sighed, dropped the blanket, and went to the kitchen. I heard her microwave open and close, then she poured a drink. The timer went off and a few seconds later she returned with a glass of tea for herself and a bottle of blood for me. She handed it over before sitting on her sofa.
“Why were you crying when I got here this evening?” I asked her.
“Sad movie,” she said a little too quickly.
“I can feel your blood, Sookie. I know you’re not being truthful with me.”
She didn’t want to tell me her reasons. I felt her walls starting to go back up, and I didn’t want that. We had been so close to getting somewhere. She was talking to me and telling me things that mattered. I didn’t want to undo all of the work we’d done.
“It’s personal, Eric. Can we just leave it at that?”
“Yes,” I nodded my agreement, which caught her off guard.
“Just like that, you’ll drop it?”
“I can’t force you to tell me if you don’t want to. Besides, if one of your problems is being able to trust me, then that’s something that needs work.”
“It’s not just that, Eric,” she sighed and leaned back on the couch.
I moved so I was on my knees in front of her. I grabbed the glass from her hands and set it on the end table and looked into her eyes before I began to speak. “I have made mistakes where you are concerned, Sookie. You are unlike anyone I have ever met. As I’ve said, I can’t change the things that have already happened. There’s no going back. You said that you missed me when I wasn’t myself, and that you’ve realized you prefer this version of me. I’m offering myself to you. I’m sure we will fight, and I’m sure there will be times when we’ll hate each other. But I also know, even if I can’t remember it, that you made me happy. It took me more than a thousand years to find you. I want a chance to make good on the promises I made. Will you give me that chance, Sookie?”
She was overwhelmed, not that I blamed her in the slightest. There was a part of me that was extremely uncomfortable with the level of emotion in the air. Yet, when it came to Sookie, it was unavoidable. For whatever reason, it seemed everything kept coming back to her. That had to mean something.
“Okay,” she finally whispered.
“Yes?” I tried not to let my smile get too big.
“There are conditions to this, Eric.”
“Of course. I will be happy to hear your terms.” I squeezed her hands.
“When we’re alone, none of that vampire shit applies.” I did enjoy how blunt she could be when she wanted to. “There’ll be none of that nonsense about you being a vampire, and therefore superior to me. If this is for real, then we have to be equal. I won’t be your property and I won’t let you take over my life. I have a job and I intend to keep it. If you need me to read for you, all you have to do is ask.”
“I can do that. Can you accept that when we aren’t alone, the rules must change?” If she couldn’t, this wasn’t going to work.
“I don’t like it. I think it’s a stupid custom and I think it disrespects me greatly. However, as long as it will keep you in a better position, I can try.”
“Very good. Are those all of your terms?”
“No,” she shook her head and leaned forward. “If you’re with me, I’m it. No feeding on, or having sex with anyone else and the same goes for me. I won’t take the blood of any other vampire, and I won’t sleep with anyone but you either, supernatural or human.”
“Are you sure you can do that, Eric? I know how you are. I know your reputation. I’ve already been cheated on once and I won’t go through it again.”
“I can do it,” I smirked at her. “As a matter of fact, I haven’t been with anyone since you, and the only blood I’ve had is synthetic. If we were bonded, you would know I was telling the truth. As it is, you can ask Pam.”
“You haven’t had human blood since you had mine?” Sookie clearly didn’t believe I was being truthful.
“That’s correct. At first it was because I was disoriented and didn’t want some silly fangbanger hanging on me and asking stupid questions about where I’d been. Then I read the journal and I realized I had an opportunity to get something I have wanted for a while now.”
“And you thought I would be impressed with this?” Sookie lifted her eyebrows.
“Yes,” I nodded, seeing no point in lying. “I wanted to demonstrate various points. First, that I am more than capable of controlling myself. I’m not an animal, Sookie. Second, I can be faithful to one woman. I did so when I was married as a human, which was uncommon for the men of my time. It was more common for a man to take a wife and have bed slaves.”
“Bed slaves?” Sookie’s eyes widened.
“It was a practice I didn’t indulge in. My sense of loyalty and duty is something that has carried over from my human life.”
“Well good because there will be no bed slaves.” Sookie shook her head in disbelief.
I leaned in closer to her so my lips were very close to ear. “Does that mean you won’t be my bed slave, Sookie?”
She shoved me away but not before shivering just a little. “Equals, buddy,” she jabbed my chest.
“We’ll own each other,” I winked at her.
She narrowed her eyes at me and took a deep breath. “Don’t make me regret this, Eric.”
I was all out of words for the moment. I put my hand on her face and her breath caught slightly. Her eyes closed and I took that as my cue to kiss her. I brushed my lips against hers to gauge her reaction. When her lips followed mine, I made a second pass at her. We sat that way for a while, letting our lips do the talking in a different way.
When we pulled apart, I stroked her cheek and asked, “Will you tell me why you were so sad when I arrived?”
Sookie leaned forward and picked up a folded piece of paper and handed it to me. I unfolded the page and immediately recognized what it was. It was the letter I’d referenced in the last entry of my journal. I read the words written in my own hand, then read them a second and third time.
I was about to open my mouth to apologize to her when my phone buzzed in my pocket. I wanted to ignore it but with everything that had been happening, I figured it was wise not to. It was Pam calling. Sookie took her letter back and set it on the coffee table again.
“What is it, Pam?” I asked when I answered the call.
“We have a problem, Eric. Another vampire was dumped outside the bar.” Pam told me.