Listening to Eric had been enlightening—and a little scary. He thought everything ahead to a point further away in time than I would likely be alive.
And he seemed willing to die for me—after a respectable lifespan on my part, that is.
Why did the idea of his death bother me so much—when I was perfectly fine with passing away when I reached old age?
Probably because the world would be a little less bright if he weren’t in it. Some people just made the world better; he was one of them.
I sighed, feeling the weight of his life on my shoulders. I guess it was only fair; he was now carrying mine.
But the damned Viking was taller—and heavier!
Eric had said so many things—things that made me want to slap him at times.
And then other times, I’d wanted to kiss him.
“I want to renegotiate,” I said after the clock had finally reached the time that Eric and I had agreed upon.
He lifted a brow but didn’t speak. He was already doing as he’d agreed.
“I have heard what you had to say, and I want to speak now—uninterrupted—but if I have questions, I want to be able to ask them, and I want you to tell me the truth.” I shook my head. “I know. I know. I can tell if you are lying, but you are good at crafting your words so that you tell people the truth without telling them the truth.”
He gasped in feigned innocence.
“Don’t pretend you aren’t!” I admonished when his eyebrow rose as if to second the notion that he wouldn’t mislead a fly. I knew better. “Do you agree to answer my questions or not?”
He smirked, but nodded his agreement.
“And when I have heard enough from you, you will shut up,” I added with a smirk of my own. “Right?”
“During your allotted time—yes,” he qualified.
“And no responding to non-questions!”
He nodded in affirmation, giving me that innocent look again.
I took a breath. “In that case, let me begin with this. You are a high-handed vampire!”
He seemed to half shrug and half nod in agreement.
“And I just want to kick you—a lot of the time!”
He smirked again—as if proud of himself. Damned vampire.
“But I can live with your highhanded, assaholic ways as long as you promise to be highhanded only when you must be. And an asshole as infrequently as possible!”
His smirk grew and I felt genuine amusement from him in the bond. Feeling him was odd. I could definitely tell what were his emotions and what were mine—and having insight into him without having to hear all of his thoughts was probably a good thing, given my track-record with men. However, knowing how he felt was going to take some getting used to.
“And, with me, I want you to promise that you won’t be highhanded unless one or both of us is in danger. Otherwise, I want to be consulted. Do you agree? Yes or no.”
“Yes, I promise,” he said sincerely.
“Good.” I sighed. Having that assurance, though, I knew that I would have to continue “dealing” with him and our situation, and my nervousness grew. I glanced at the door, thinking about running. But I didn’t; I put on my big girl panties, as Gran used to say, and I spoke to Eric from my heart, which had—miraculously—reappeared in my chest as he’d been speaking.
“I did you wrong after Hallow’s curse was lifted,” I confessed. “Men aren’t the only ones who can be idiots—you know? I was hurting and mourning and scared and insecure. Insecure most of all. After all, you are beautiful,” I said gesturing toward him, “and I’m just me.”
He seemed to want to speak—badly—but I shook my head. “That wasn’t a question, Northman!” I went on, “Even when I was with Bill, so many people’s thoughts told me that I wasn’t worthy of him. And with you? Well those thoughts come at me tenfold!”
“Still not a question,” I admonished. “Anyway, here’s the deal. I need a little healing time. The Quinn thing is fresh, and I am not one to jump into a new relationship before the old one is cold in its grave.” I gestured toward him. “No offense.”
“Honestly, Quinn and I weren’t awesome together. I felt even more neglected by him than I did by you at times.”
He looked like he wanted to speak again.
I gave him a warning glare. “Anyway, here’s the deal. I like your wooing idea. I think that we need to woo each other for a while. It’s backwards. I get it. But I like you, and I have decided that—for once in my life—I’m going to be optimistic. I am willing to bet on us—to bet that my Eric is inside of you. That he is a part of you—as you said. After all, how could he not be? For a long time I was too scared to want that because I didn’t know if you wanted me.” I sniffled to keep a tear from falling. “But now I do know. Those things that you said to me?” I paused. “I believe them because of this bond that we have. I could feel that they were true—are true!”
He nodded as if to confirm that they were.
“Anyway, I think that you are him—just more. That more scares me to no end, but I want the chance to know the more, nonetheless. And it looks like the bond is going to make us do that one way or another.” I took a deep breath. “I’ll try not to fight against that.”
He smiled sincerely.
I liked that smile—very much.
“I will learn vampire protocol for you, and when needed, I’ll follow it for you.”
He smiled wider.
“In turn, you need to learn human protocol, and when vampires aren’t around, I want you to make an attempt to fit in. Oh—and don’t kill Bill!”
Eric growled. Of course! Sometimes he was quite predictable—at least, to me. Truth be told, I kind of liked that I sort of knew how Sheriff Eric ticked.
“In fact, when Bill’s around and other vampires aren’t—like when it’s a social gathering, if I ever decide to invite him to one of those again—I want you to . . . .” I paused. “Well—you don’t have to be nice to him; I know you don’t like him. Just don’t,” I threw my hands up, “growl and stuff. Okay?”
“Agreed,” he said gruffly, though he obviously wasn’t that happy about it.
“Okay. And since you are compromising, I will too.” I took a deep breath. “I’ll go ahead and okay the security measures I’m sure that you will insist upon for my house—as long as they don’t interfere with my life too much. But I am vetoing the new car that I know you will want to get for me.”
He looked surprised at my words, but then smirked as if a plan were already churning in his supple brain.
“And no mysterious tornadoes killing my car either!” I said demandingly.
Again, his expression turned innocent, though I felt pure mischief in our bond.
I sighed loudly as I glanced at the clock to check my time. I had plenty left.
“Okay. I’m gonna change the topic a little and ask you another question. And I need you to not be offended by it. I just need to know. Can the bond be broken?”
Immediately he stiffened a little.
“Not by any means I know of,” he answered, and he was being truthful. “I’ve heard rumors that witches can break bonds, so you should ask your friend, Amelia Broadway. However, you should think before acting,” he cautioned. “If the bond is broken, my blood will not be identifiable in you. And that means that you will be fair game to anyone who wants to claim you.”
“I don’t mean to raise undo fear in you,” he continued. “But you do need to be afraid if you are unclaimed, and that is the truth of the matter.”
“Should I be afraid of you?” I asked challengingly.
“No,” he answered immediately, honestly. “Plus—if nothing else—I would hope that you see me as the lesser of evils,” he added somewhat forlornly, the confident vampire from before all but gone.
I felt guilty. Just earlier that same night, I’d judged Eric as the lesser of evils—when comparing him to Andre.
“You aren’t an evil,” I said contritely. “If I’m being honest, most of the negative ideas I’ve had about you were planted by Bill. And because of my own misconceptions. Yes—I thought of you as a man-whore, but my idea of that is tainted by my own brother.” I shook my head. “He leads women on—telling them whatever they want to hear, lying to them—in order to get them into bed. You’re—at least—honest about the fact that you don’t want them.” I tilted my head. “You said that you were faithful to Colleen before. Could you really be faithful to me, Eric? Could you be satisfied with just me?”
“Yes,” he said quickly, “and when it comes to you, the word ‘just’ does not apply.”
“What if you’re wrong? What if we don’t work out? What if we try a relationship, and it doesn’t work?”
“Then we’ll figure that out together, but I will protect you from other supernaturals no matter what. That is my vow,” he said seriously.
“No more long separations. No more not talking to each other. And I expect you to remind me of that when I get stubborn, too. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” he smirked.
“You said you wouldn’t try to control me and that any heeling I had to do in public would be necessary.” I cringed. “I’ll accept that, and I trust your discretion in that.”
He nodded his thanks.
I took one of my minutes to really think about things in silence. Eric—though he was a stubborn, high-handed vampire—had honor. And he’d come through for me more than once. After Hallow’s curse had been lifted, we’d hurt each other because the witch had stolen precious things from us, and we’d both been hurt by that theft. However—looking back at our entire relationship—I knew that we’d been in so much pain because we’d already begun to love each other.
Even before Hallow had come into the picture.
The vampire staring at me intently was the one who had saved me from Longshadow.
He was the one who had hovered outside of my hospital room after Rene had hurt me.
He was the one who’d arranged for my healing after the Maenad attack.
He was the one who’d picked shards of glass from my skin and said kind words to me after my ordeal in the Fellowship church.
He was the one who had stayed by my side after I’d been staked.
He was the one who had been exactly what I’d needed after Bill had raped me.
He was the one who had given me a new driveway before he’d been cursed.
And a new coat after that curse was over.
He’d noticed things—things about me—that no one else had ever bothered to see.
He didn’t try to hide the ugliness of the world from me. He somehow knew that I’d seen enough of it already to be able to handle myself.
He’d made sure I found out about Bill’s duplicity and the queen’s interest in me.
He’d saved me—and Quinn—from Debbie Pelt’s kin.
He’d been watchful enough over me to save me from Andre, whom I had no doubt would have tried to make me his Sookie-field.
He was the one who had asked to take a bomb from my hands—not to show up his rival, but because he was physically stronger and truly wanted to save me.
I gasped in realization.
Eric Northman, a thousand-year-old Viking turned vampire, was the one.
The one that I was meant to go through my life with. The one that I wanted to see the world with. The one I wanted with me when I was old and gray—unless he convinced me otherwise.
The “him” without the memories belonged in the fairytale world, but the Eric before me belonged to my world. And—though I had resisted it—I knew in that moment that I belonged in his world too.
“I don’t need much more of my time,” I said, swallowing hard. “I have only one more question to ask—one more question I’m ready to ask.”
He nodded, his eyes literally shining. He knew which question I meant.
“Stay?” I practically whimpered. “Stay with me? Be with me?” I knew that he would also understand that I needed him to be patient with me—that it might be a while before we could be intimate—as in the sex part. Still, I wanted him near me again. I wanted him home.
If nothing else, I knew that I would sleep best if I had his hand to hold.
I could see in Eric’s eyes immediately that he understood—understood it all.
He nodded and then he gave his answer.
I felt a single warm tear traveling down my cheek, cooling as it went.
“You were right earlier,” he said softly. “Your home will need better security if we are to stay there together.”
“Okay,” I choked out, trying to keep more tears from falling, though I had a feeling that it was a futile effort.
“And your car needs to be bomb-proofed.”
“Bomb-proofed?” I asked skeptically, even as I realized that he was trying to get a rise out of me in order to put a stopper to my tears. “You’re making that up.”
“Absolutely not,” he said evenly, though his eyes glinted with mischief.
“You’re lying,” I said confidently.
“I’m simply giving you a way to give that piece of shit up—and still save face.”
“I won’t be a kept woman,” I said insistently.
“But I will find a way to keep you nonetheless,” he replied confidently. “And I will find a way to ensure that you keep me as well,” he added, obviously in an attempt to head off my ire.
I wanted to rant and rave at him. I wanted to call him highhanded.
But I also wanted for him to be right.
I smiled at him. The vampire still sitting on the chair across the room didn’t want to take things from me. He wanted to give me things. He didn’t want to degrade me. He wanted to uplift me.
“Thank you,” I said, trying to use the bond to convey my sincerity. He gasped and then smiled.
I was catching on to this bond thing.
A/N: Well that is the end of this SHORT! I want to re-thank switbo, who made the request for this story. I enjoyed revisiting this part of the books! I hope you enjoyed reading it!
Also, thanks to the wonderful Kleannhouse for the beta work and Sephrenia, for the story art.
And of course, many thanks to all of you for all the reviews, favorites, and follows.
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