Eric’s eyes opened at sunset and the distinct smell of sunshine and sweetness hung in the air. Sookie. His head turned to find her asleep on the other side of the bed. Her back was to him and she was curled into a little ball. Her hair was braided and there were goose bumps on her skin. Eric moved at vampire speed to cover her with the half of the comforter that he had been lying on so as not to wake her. She looked peaceful lying there, and he could only imagine how tired she must have been.
He’d meant every word of what he’d said to her in the kitchen before going to rest. Eric was genuinely impressed with how Sookie was handling herself. Considering all of the changes that had taken place in the last seventy-two hours she was taking it all pretty well in stride. She’d had her moments of doubt, and it was obvious she’d become overwhelmed a time or two, but generally she was holding it together much better than he expected her to. Of course, that also worried him because he had expected her to be a bit more unpredictable than she had been.
Sookie had a temper on her—a fire- and he hadn’t seen very much of it. He didn’t know if that was because she was too overloaded with everything going on around her, or if it was because she was attempting to approach each problem in a more mature, level-headed manner. Whatever the reason, he was concerned that at some point the calmer, more serene demeanor she’d been presenting was going to shatter. If that was going to happen it was more than likely to occur at the worst possible time. He resolved to check in with her when she woke, but he couldn’t let her sleep for too much longer; they had places to go.
Eric got out of bed and went to the bathroom to start the shower. The floor was still wet inside the stall so he knew Sookie had showered. What amazed him was when he looked in the mirror to see that the blood was gone from his face and ears, meaning Sookie had cleaned him up at some point while he was dead for the day. A black washcloth was still damp and hanging over the faucet. He could smell traces of his blood still clinging to it.
Since Eric didn’t care one lick about Sookie seeing him naked, and in fact actually hoped she would wake up while he was still in the shower, he stripped off his clothes and entered the stall. He took his time washing up, glancing over at the bed every few minutes to see if Sookie was awake. She had moved a little and pulled the blanket a little tighter around herself. Eric resolved to have her back at the penthouse as early as possible. While they were gone he intended to air out the apartment since the smell of Were was hanging in the air.
That was the downside of central air conditioning—smells traveled.
At least Alcide had shown up. It would be a shame to go back on the deal that had been made almost two years prior. Thankfully it hadn’t come to that. Eric finished washing up and stepped out of the shower stall. He took his time drying himself off, and then went to the walk-in closet that was big enough to be a small bedroom. In fact, if he needed to, he could probably squeeze a twin size bed in there and still have room left over for everything else he stored in there.
Eric grabbed a pair of black jeans and a black tank top, and dressed quickly. As much as he didn’t want to wake Sookie up he really couldn’t wait much longer, and he wasn’t sure how much time she was going to need to adjust to being awake before she was fully alert again. He padded from the closet to the bedroom, and gently shook her awake. Sookie’s eyes fluttered open, and she startled a bit when she realized he was standing over her.
“Shit, what time is it? I only meant to take a little power nap,” she rolled onto her back and rubbed her eyes.
“I’ve been awake for about a half hour, so I would say it’s just before seven,” he said.
“Damn,” Sookie muttered. “I’ve been asleep for almost two hours.”
“Is that all the sleep you’ve gotten today?” Eric asked with concern.
Sookie had slept for maybe two hours the night before out on the couch. He had assumed she might get some rest during the day, but he had anticipated it would be more than two hours’ worth. She was going to need to keep her strength up in the coming weeks and that meant getting plenty of rest and eating well. Not being able to feel when she was becoming overwhelmed either by hunger, emotions or exhaustion was troubling to him. He wasn’t quite convinced yet that Sookie knew how to set limits for herself, and that was something she needed to work on in his opinion.
“No, I slept for a few hours this morning after you went to bed,” Sookie said, and he felt a little relieved. She sat up slowly and leaned against the padded headboard that was mounted to the wall. “I talked to my brother. I didn’t tell him everything, but enough that he would understand how important it is he doesn’t blow this off. He said he’ll be home all night. I turned my cell off and told him not to call that number anymore.”
“Good thinking,” Eric smiled at her. “While we’re at Fangtasia we’ll order you a new phone.”
“Eric, I can take care of that myself,” Sookie said. “You already paid for the puppy last night. I can’t let you buy my phone, too.”
“Sookie, look around you,” Eric gestured to the space surrounding them. “This is just one piece of real estate that I own, and it’s not even just this apartment. I own property all over the world and run several successful businesses. In my very, very long life I have amassed more wealth than I can ever hope to spend. Buying you a puppy and a phone aren’t going to break my bank.”
“That’s great for you, Eric, but that’s not how I work. My Gran raised me to be independent and take care of myself. I appreciate what you’re doin’ to help me but-” Sookie started, but was cut off before she could get too much of a lather worked up.
“If you were in my position, and you were able to do things like that for your friends and people you cared about, would you not enjoy doing them?” Eric countered her argument. “This isn’t about robbing you of your independence, Sookie. I’m not asking for anything in return; I’m doing it because I can, and because I enjoy it.”
Her eyes narrowed and locked on his. He could see that fire in her eyes that he had been so concerned about just a few minutes before, and it was good to know that it hadn’t been extinguished.
“You know I’m right,” Eric said smugly when Sookie was the first to break eye contact.
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” she said petulantly.
“Can I expect you to be a brat every time I make a point you don’t like?” Eric asked her in a teasing manner.
“Can I expect you to always act like a know-it-all?” Sookie fired back.
Eric just smiled at her, which seemed to be answer enough because Sookie rolled her eyes in response.
“There is something else we need to discuss before we leave for the evening,” Eric told her, and hoped she would react in a calmer, more rational way than he was anticipating but what he was about to suggest might very well reignite the fire that had been missing. “I told you there are certain security measures that need to be put into place if you want to keep yourself from being taken by the queen. Making you’re a safer place for you to stay and getting you a guard were just the first steps, but there is a failsafe way to keep the queen from getting her hands on you.”
“What is it?” Sookie asked, and he could tell by her expression she was wondering why he hadn’t mentioned it sooner.
“This will be your decision to make, Sookie. I won’t force it on you, and if you decide that you don’t want it I will accept it,” Eric looked into her eyes as he spoke.
“Okay,” she said quietly.
“When we talked about blood bonds I told you what the effects were for humans and vampires within the bond. What I didn’t tell you was what a blood bond would tell other vampires. When a human takes a vampire’s blood, it changes the human’s scent to reflect the blood of the vampire in them. It effectively marks the human as the property of another vampire, as far as other vampires are concerned. It prevents other vampires from feeding on, or initiating a sexual relationship with the human without its bonded’s consent. I could claim you as mine in the capacity of a pet, but doing so would allow the queen to order me to hand you over to her. A blood bond, however, is not something that can be interfered with by anyone, whether it’s a queen, the Magister or the Authority itself. Blood bonds are sacred among my kind.
“As I told you before they are designed to be permanent. We both know that the bond can be severed thanks to the spell that Lafayette and Jesus worked the other night but I can tell you, Sookie, that if you choose to go this route, severing the bond will be extremely painful. You saw what it did to me and I am no stranger to pain. I am making this your decision because it will change your life as much as it will mine if you decide this is what you want,” Eric told her.
“Why would you do this for me, Eric?” Sookie asked him, and he had been prepared for that question. “I can’t believe it’s just because you want to help me. If I’m the only human you’ve given your blood to then I have to believe that a blood bond would be just as big of a deal for you as it would be for me. I understand that I’m not the average human, but that can’t be the only reason you’re going out of your way to help me.”
“The easy answer is that you are a fascinating creature, Sookie Stackhouse, and you make my life more interesting—that isn’t a task many breathers can accomplish these days,” Eric told her, but that was obviously not going to be enough to satisfy her curiosity. “The more complicated answer is that I have spent more than a thousand years living selfishly. My offer to bond myself to you isn’t about a search for redemption, or trying to atone for past sins. I was rebellious as a human, and in my selfishness I lost the only people in the world I cared about, but I didn’t realize just how much I cared for them until they lay dead all around me.
“I was apathetic, lazy, immature and irresponsible. I saw no reason to fall in line and accept the fate I was to be handed as the eldest son of a chieftain, but that didn’t mean I didn’t pay attention to the things my father taught me. When he, along with the rest of my family, was murdered I stepped into his place and assumed the role he had groomed me to play, which I suppose was karma’s way of getting me back for my arrogance and disrespect. I became a warrior and fought more battles than I ever dreamed I would. I found a new purpose in life, and I lived for the rush of fighting and war; it became everything to me.
“And then one day I somehow got careless. I don’t even know how it happened but I found myself on the sharp end of another man’s sword. I would have died had Godric not come along and jumped on top of my funeral pyre to offer me the one thing no one else could—life. I have always loved being alive, and as I was lying there waiting for Valkyries to take me on to Valhalla I decided I wasn’t ready to go just yet. Godric turned me that night and I never looked back. I have never regretted the decision to become a vampire because it is what has allowed me to go on living for the last thousand years.
“But the Godric I met the night I was turned was a very different vampire than the one you met in the basement of that church in Dallas. One of the first lessons that Godric taught me after I was turned was that emotional attachments to humans would be a mistake. Human lives are so temporary. The average human, if they take good care of themselves, will make it into their seventies, maybe their eighties before they expire. For a vampire my age that is nothing. Godric taught me that humans were for two purposes only, and I’m sure you can figure out what those purposes are.
“I see humans night after night, begging and pleading for a chance at immortality, but they don’t have the slightest idea what it takes to survive for as long as I have and it was even more difficult for Godric. Things changed for him and I after the Second World War ended. He began to close himself off from me, which was why I needed your help in finding him in Dallas. I could no longer feel his presence, and as his only living child I was his only hope in locating him. What I didn’t anticipate was that Godric had willfully gone with the Fellowship. I didn’t know that he was ready to meet the True Death.
“Godric could have single-handedly killed every human in that church in a matter of seconds, but he didn’t; he spared them all. Something in him had changed, and he was no longer the Maker I had known for so many centuries. In his last days he had renewed his sense of humanity, and before his death he allowed me into the bond we had shared for so long. There were feelings inside him that I had never felt before, things that the Maker I knew weren’t capable of feeling.
“I expected him to feel despair, regret, depression… something that would clearly explain why he had chosen to meet the True Death. Instead what I found was calm, serenity, acceptance and happiness. Godric was ready to die, but I wasn’t ready to let him go. I wasn’t ready to lose his life in my veins, that strength and wisdom I had come to rely on. I will never be able to find the words to describe what I lost when Godric died any better than I will be able to express all that he gave me the night he came along and offered me life.
“I’m telling you all of this because if you choose to bond yourself to me, I want you to understand two very important things: first, that I will protect what is mine at all costs because it is what my Maker taught me to do, and second, maybe more importantly, when I am near you I feel the same feelings that Godric felt in his final days. What began as simple curiosity and attraction has grown into something much deeper, something I hadn’t expected, nor have I ever experienced in my life. This offer is a selfish one, Sookie. You would be doing me the favor, and not the other way around, but I leave the decision to you.”
Eric was surprised to feel a weight lift from his shoulders by saying all the things he did. He’d heard the phrase that confession was good for the soul, but he never quite understood how it could be a good thing until that moment. Sookie’s eyes had filled with tears right around the time he mentioned the slaughter of his family, and began to spill when he talked of the night he was turned. Her tears had continued to roll steadily down her cheeks as he talked about his relationship with Godric, and the things he had learned from his Maker.
The decision he was asking her to make was a big one, and one he wanted her to take her time considering. He wanted her to consider all the pros and cons of being blood bonded to a vampire before making her choice.
“My offer doesn’t have a time limit on it, Sookie,” he reached out and gently wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I want you to take the time to really think this through before making a decision. You don’t have to tell me now.”
She nodded, sniffled and stilled his hand while it was still on her cheek.
“Thank you for trusting me with that information, Eric,” she said with deep sincerity in her eyes. “I will think about it.”
Her answer wasn’t a no and that was all he could hope for at that moment. With Sookie, one never knew what to expect.