A lot of questions spilled over into my conscious thoughts—questions about blood and bonds. But I found myself wanting to ask Eric a different kind of question first.
Maybe I was stalling. Or maybe I was trying to cut to the heart of the matter.
“Why do you love me?” I asked.
His lips turned upward. “An hour wouldn’t be enough to adequately explain all my reasons.”
I rolled my eyes. “Summarize,” I ordered.
He contemplated for a moment. “From the first, I liked that you challenged me, though I have—since then—sometimes resented that you seem to challenge only me at times.” He shrugged. “What I feel for you—what I’ve always felt—is as complicated as anything I’ve ever known, even when I was a human. From the first night that I saw you—dressed so inappropriately for visiting a vampire bar—you pulled at each and every feeling I’d tried to withhold for a thousand years. And I was powerless against your tugging. I could list your attributes: your beauty, your bravery, your loyalty, your cleverness, your ethics. Your smile,” he added with a soft smile of his own. “Have you ever heard of a Persian poet named Rumi?”
I shook my head. “No.”
“He was an Islamic scholar. After making me, Appius decided we would travel to the Middle East where I would be,” he paused, “better appreciated for the differences in my looks and height.” His expression clouded for a moment as he thought about Appius, but he went on. “The Persian Empire was vast, and the vampire courts there were difficult places to be, but, eventually, I gained enough freedom to explore the human world around me. Persia was vibrant with color and scholarship, and I was eager to learn.”
He smiled, his face taking on a look of pleasure and nostalgia—almost innocence. “I especially remember the music—instruments the likes of which I’d never heard or imagined. I met Rumi in what humans now call Afghanistan, which was—then—a part of the Persian Empire. He was well-known even during his lifetime and told me the most profound thing I’ve ever heard about love.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Rumi said, ‘However much I might try to expound or explain Love, when I come to Love itself, I am ashamed of my explanations. Love alone can explain the mysteries of love and lovers.'”
Eric shrugged. “At least, that’s the best translation I can offer.”
“But what does it mean?” I asked with a frown.
“It means that I could never answer your question well enough,” Eric said, squeezing my hand. “No words would be adequate no matter what language I chose to speak in,” he added softly.
I bit my lower lip, never expecting such a heart-felt explanation from him. And I felt love literally engulfing me like a warm hug.
“Are those your feelings?” I asked him.
“It’s not your turn to ask a question,” he whispered. “But, yes,” he offered nonetheless. “You are feeling my emotions spilling over.”
With my free hand I wiped away an errant tear. “Your turn,” I whispered.
“Why didn’t you call me last night? To tell me about Sandra Pelt?” he asked.
Immediately, I tensed.
“Please,” he urged. “Please tell me why it had to be Bill Compton who informed me. Please tell me why I had to experience him gloating over the fact that he clearly had more knowledge about my—” he paused, “about you—than I did.”
I felt immediately defensive. “Isn’t he your spy when it comes to me anyway?”
“Only when you don’t tell me things—like the fact that Ms. Pelt broke out of jail,” he challenged.
“Well—I don’t appreciate your using Bill like that,” I said sullenly.
“And I despise the fact that—whenever he does offer me information—he implies that you find me inadequate!” Eric balked, ripping his hand from mine. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to stomach the fact that you trust Bill Compton more than me? Even after all he’s done to you?”
“But I don’t trust him more than you!” I denied, shaking my head.
“Oh? Then why not call me last night? Why not tell me that you were potentially in danger?”
“When am I not in danger?” I asked wryly.
“Never!” he said with frustration. “And that’s why I need to know about everything that threatens you!”
“Why? So that you can micromanage my life and put a bunch of restrictions on me?” I asked with fury.
“No!” he yelled, though his anger was immediately spent and his shoulders slumped as if in defeat. “I just want to protect you. I don’t want you to be harmed as you were before. I never want to fail you again!” he said passionately. “But how can I do anything to make sure you are safe when you won’t let me in?”
I sighed, but didn’t know how to respond.
“So, again,” he asked, “why didn’t you tell me about Sandra Pelt?”
I shut my eyes tightly and took several deep breaths, forcing myself not to answer with questions of my own or accusations. “Several reasons,” I whispered.
“Tell me—please. Is it because you have more faith in Bill—after I failed you with the fairies? Do you love him more than you love me?”
“No!” I exclaimed, opening my eyes and grasping for his hand again. “Why would you think those things?”
“Bill,” Eric said softly. “Every time he calls to tell me something that I wish you would have told me, his very tone implies that you prefer him.”
He looked vulnerable in that moment, and my heart lurched as if it were trying to beat for him.
“What am I to think if you do not tell me of such dangers in your life? Even if you do not see yourself as my wife—am I not your,” he paused, “boyfriend? Am I not a part of your life too?”
“Yes,” I said, suddenly feeling ashamed of myself. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you would look at the situation that way. I didn’t want to worry you. I was tired last night and didn’t want you to . . . .” I stopped midsentence.
“What, Sookie? You didn’t want me to do what?”
“Come rushing over and make me feel better,” I sighed with resignation. “Plus, I figured you’d have more important things to do.”
“More important? What could be more important than protecting you?” he asked incredulously.
“It wouldn’t be the first time I wasn’t your first priority,” I muttered before I could stop myself. I immediately felt his pain at my words, and then I felt nothing as he seemed to shut off his feelings from the bond.
Again, he pulled his hand from mine. However, this time, he stood up and turned around so that his back was facing me.
His body was literally shaking, and I heard his fangs click down.
“Ask your next question, Sookie,” he said. “Or go.”
“Eric, I didn’t mean to imply that you’ve . . . .” Sookie’s sentence stalled in the awkward air between us.
“That I have failed you before,” I returned. “But I have—failed you. And you clearly believe that this failure is because you are not my main priority.”
“Am I?” she asked stiffly. “Am I your main priority?”
“Is that your question?” I asked.
“Yes,” she spit out. “It is!”
I moved over to the other side of the room and sat on the couch, forcing Sookie to turn around in her chair if she wanted to look at me.
“When I wake up every night, you are the first thing I think of. But you are right. I have failed you. When I felt your fear and then your pain when the fairies kidnapped and brutalized you, I fought against the silver that Victor had chained me to the wall with. But I was too weak to free myself.” I paused as I recalled the urgency of Sookie’s “pull” on me that horrible night. “I will always remember how you looked in Ludwig’s hospital bed—so broken, yet still alive. I was so grateful and so proud that you were still you.”
“Eric,” she whispered as a tear fell down her cheek.
“And then my maker came,” I went on, “and I knew that—any minute—Appius could order me to hurt you. And I was afraid. He ordered that I try to help Alexei—and that I make that help my top priority.” I closed my eyes tightly. “So—yes—you are right in your charges concerning me. You have not always been my highest priority—though I have always tried to make you such. I simply haven’t had the choice at times.”
We were silent for a moment.
“What’s your next question?” she asked.
“Why does the idea of living with me fill you with so much distaste?” I asked.
She frowned, and I could feel her defensiveness rising again; however, she seemed to push back her initial impulse to fight with me—or to run.
“I don’t want people to view me as a kept woman,” she said.
“But I want to keep you—to be with you every night,” I said. “Aren’t the words ‘to have and to hold’ included in contemporary human vows? That is what I want,” I added.
“But we aren’t married—not really,” she sighed.
“I think of you as my wife,” I expressed. “You are the woman I love. I want to have a life with you, but any time I hint at your living with me, you flinch—as if living with me in a home we shared would be unimaginable.”
“You once said that you were asking because it was what other women had wanted from you in the past,” she reminded.
“Yes. But you are the first woman I ever brought into my home—and certainly the only one I’ve even asked to share it with me!” I felt my frustration rising, but tried to calm myself—to see things through the filter of her experiences. “Perhaps I didn’t explain myself well enough, but I wanted you with me because I desired to make sure that you were safe.”
“That was another thing,” she sighed. “I worried that you were asking only because of protection—not for love.”
“But I wanted both things!” I said insistently. “I still want both things. I want to build a life with you because I love you. And I want to protect you!”
“Well—you could live with me,” she challenged.
“Just ask,” I said immediately. “I would accept—though I would have to figure out a more secure place to rest during the days with the fairies being there.”
“They are my family,” Sookie said confidently. “You can trust them.”
“No,” I responded, having to try hard not to scoff. “I don’t trust them. At best, they are using you for a home and to augment their energy. But it seems clear to me that Claude has ulterior motives I’ve not yet ascertained. And, as for Dermot, I believe he simply wants you for his own mate. But—make no mistake—either one of them would be happy to stake me in my day-rest.”
She frowned. “I don’t believe that. Claude is just lonely with Claudine and Claudette gone. And Dermot has no one but Claude and me.”
I shook my head. “You are too quick to trust anyone but me, Sookie. Claude could very well blame you for Claudine’s death—just as you blame yourself. You have a strong Fae spark, made stronger by vampire blood. He could simply be taking energy from you—only to later use it against you. And any supernatural—or human—has the potential for violence when he or she wants to possess someone.”
“But Dermot doesn’t want to possess me,” she insisted.
I sighed with frustration, knowing that Sookie’s fairy kin would actually have to do something directly against her before she believed me. “Let us get back on topic, shall we?” I asked, instead of pushing the issue about the fairies. “Why do you not want to share a home with me?”
“I didn’t think you were serious when you asked me,” she confessed. “And—also—I need to feel independent. To stand on my own two feet.”
“I would never curb your independence, Sookie,” I offered. “By being your full-time mate, I would encourage whatever you needed.”
We were silent for a moment—clearly at a temporary impasse.
But at least she wasn’t getting up to leave.
“Why didn’t you tell me about the pledging thing before it happened?” she asked.
“You would have denied me. Actually—you would have likely thrown the dagger into my face—or back,” I said truthfully. “And the situation had to be handled quickly. I had intel that Victor planned to go after you and claim you for Felipe on the very night that I asked you to come to Fangtasia and bring me the dagger. Our pledging made them both reassess the situation. It’s slowed them down.”
“You said once that you didn’t want Felipe and Victor to know how much I meant to you. Why pledge with me if that were the case?” she asked.
“Because, my strategy to show indifference failed,” I said simply. “I tried to manipulate them into thinking you were neither that important to me nor that potentially helpful to them. But I should have known that the damage had been done as soon as you rescued the king and me from Sigebert. Still, I figured that being ‘less’ of a target would be preferable to you, so I tried staying away—feigning unconcern toward you—until I knew that the plan was doomed.”
She sighed. “I really wish you would tell me about this kind of thing. You act as if I can’t think sometimes—as if I can’t see reason! Had you kept me in the loop, I would have decided to pledge with you on my own.”
“Only because it was the lesser of two evils,” I said bitterly, reminding her of Rhodes.
“I don’t see you as an evil!” she insisted. “Now unless you are being a secretive, high-handed, patronizing idiot!”
I sighed. “I am sorry, Sookie,” I said sincerely. “Sometimes I make assumptions about what you will do—based upon the past.”
“Well—you should really think about everything, Eric—not just the times when I seem to do dumb stuff,” she huffed. “After all, didn’t I bond with you when Andre was threatening to make me bond with him? I didn’t fight with you then because I trusted that you were acting for the best. I would have realized that you were acting in our best interests again—with the pledging—if you had given me the chance to.”
“I will try to keep you in the loop from now on,” I said, “if that is what you want after tonight.”
I sighed. “It is. And it’s your turn—for another question.”
“Speaking of the bond, why is it that you haven’t asked me about it yet? About how it works?” Eric asked.
I immediately tensed.
“I’m scared of the answers,” I responded honestly.
“It’s really not that scary,” he said with a tiny smirk. For some reason, that smirk comforted me; it made me feel less afraid.
“Okay—will you tell me about it then?” I asked.
“Until tonight, I thought that bonds were permanent, but your witch friend seems to have found a way to remove them.” He sighed.
“Is the bond controlling my feelings?” I asked.
“Not to the extent that you fear,” he responded.
“What do you mean?”
“It cannot create deeper feelings within you. However, it does allow me to try to influence your state of being.”
“What do you mean?” I asked again. Maybe I was dense, but I wasn’t quite seeing the difference between “feelings” and “state of being.”
Eric was thoughtful for a moment. “I mean that—if you feel love for me—then it is real. If you care for me—it is real. If you are attracted to me—it is real. Anything that you are feeling when I am dead for the day is coming from you—and only you. Tell me—do you love me when the sun is up?” he asked somewhat worriedly.
“Yes. I have doubts about the bond and what it can do, but I do feel love for you,” I said.
He seemed to sigh with relief. “In your own sentence is the proof you need that I cannot influence your deeper feelings. If I could, would I not be trying to dispel your doubts about the bond itself?”
I contemplated for a moment. Eric was making a good point. If, indeed, he had control over my emotions, it made sense that he would have attempted to put to a stop my doubts about the bond. But I’d never felt anything like that from him.
“What did you mean by influencing my ‘state of being?'” I finally asked.
“This,” he said, as I felt a warm wave of comfort engulf me. “Do you still love me?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
“Do you still doubt the bond as much as you did before?”
Again, I nodded in the affirmative.
The warm wave was replaced by a feeling that could only be described as “carefulness.”
“I would send something like this if I wanted you to be cautious in a situation,” Eric said before taking the feeling away.
After that, he sent me a myriad of feelings. There was love and hope and then worry.
“These are my current feelings,” he said. “Can you separate them from your own?”
“Yes,” I nodded.
“Are my feelings affecting your feelings?” he asked.
He looked surprised. “How?”
“The love I feel from you is making me happy. Your worry is similar to mine, so I feel less alone. And your hope is making me feel guilty,” I whispered.
“Why guilty?” he asked, even as I felt his worry becoming more alive—more like anxiety.
“I feel guilty because I didn’t have that kind of hope when I walked in here tonight. And that’s unfair to you. I should have always had that hope for us. I’m sorry.”
Immediately, Eric’s anxiety disappeared and was replaced by pleasure. And I was pleased about that, too, but I could feel the difference between his pleasure and my own.
Eric went on with his explanation. “A bond is truly an equaling device between a vampire and a human. I can feel you, and you can feel me. I can—as I’ve shown you—send you an impulse to affect your immediate state. And—with practice—you could do the same to me. I could locate you almost anywhere, but—again—if you practiced, you could find me almost anywhere, too. The only area where there is usually inequality within a bond is that the vampire can use his or her inherent magic to block much of what can come through—at least as far as emotions are concerned. But that takes practice, and I admit that I’m not that good at blocking for sustained periods of time when I am close to you.” He shrugged. “Oh course, with you, the rules are different, for you can block your emotions from me—probably even better than I can keep mine from you at this time.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Your shields. You are used to making those, and I imagine they are similar to the barriers you construct to stifle your feelings,” he explained.
“Do I construct those barriers a lot?” I asked.
“When things become difficult, you tend to,” he paused, “shut down.”
I sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“It is a defense mechanism,” Eric said with understanding. “And you have experienced a lifetime of needing that kind of thing. I do not blame you for needing it with me, too—though I hope to one day change that. If I have the opportunity.”
I stood up from my chair and joined him on the couch. I reached for his hand. “I’m sorry I misjudged you, Eric. But it did feel as if you were trying to influence my feelings a lot of the time.”
I sighed when he took my proffered hand.
“That is because our bond is strong, Sookie. And you bring out many feelings in me. You were experiencing those, but—if you think about it—I believe that you will find that feeling my emotions hasn’t created new feelings within you, though there could have been some side effects from my emotions.”
“Side effects?” I asked.
“Yes,” he sighed. “For example, feeling your uncertainty—your dislike—of the bond has made me feel more anxious about your feelings for me. And that could have, in turn, made you more anxious. But don’t humans influence each other’s feelings in such ways?”
“How do you mean?” I asked.
Suddenly I couldn’t feel Eric’s emotions anymore.
“I am blocking my feelings,” he said.
“I know,” I responded confirming the obvious.
“Sookie, I love you. I love you more than any other person I have ever met—in this time or in any other.”
I smiled through a falling tear.
“I am happier with you in my presence than I have ever been,” he added.
I smiled a little wider and then wider still as he let his feelings be known to me again through our bond; along with love, I felt intense sincerity and devotion.
“Did your happiness increase because of my words or because you felt my feelings?” he asked.
“Both,” I sighed.
“Did I make you feel happier?” he asked.
“Yes and no,” I said after a moment of contemplation. “I liked hearing what you said. I liked feeling what you felt. But the happiness came from me.”
Suddenly, I felt anger from him.
“What’s that?” I asked pensively.
“Are you feeling angry?” he asked instead.
“No—but I’m wondering why you are!” I exclaimed.
He smirked and his anger was replaced by amusement.
“Are you amused now?” he asked.
“No! I want to know what you are up to,” I huffed with frustration.
“A test,” he said with satisfaction.
“What do you mean?” I asked with more frustration.
“I thought of Victor and let my anger flow for a moment, but it didn’t create that emotion in you. Your reaction amused me, but you were certainly not amused.”
“So—in other words, you can’t affect my emotions with your own unless you say something sweet,” I chuckled, squeezing his hand.
“Apparently,” he grinned.
“Why so happy now?” I asked with a grin of my own.
“Because—you are finally coming to understand what a bond can do and what it cannot,” he said.
I rolled my eyes. “Fine. Fine.”
“I have attempted to push emotions upon you only four times,” he said out of the blue.
“When?” I asked.
“You tell me,” he smirked.
A/N: Hello all! I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Yep. A little communication really goes a long way with these two! There’s still more to be said, but progress!
Sorry I’m still not able to post chapters for my other WIP stories (Earned and From the Inside Out). I’ve been doing lots of reading, instead of writing—most of it work-related. Having brand new courses to teach, I had to do extra prep work, and classes begin on Monday. Actually, planning and preparing for classes are my favorite things about teaching. Who else gets to read good books to prepare for work? And sometimes I find amazing stuff! I’m teaching a modern autobiography/biography course and one of the selected texts is the biography about Pele, the soccer star. It was a really interesting book, and I don’t even follow soccer. Anyway, I’ve been drafting the next section of From the Inside Out, so I will hopefully be prepared to share the next chapter next week. Fingers crossed.