“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.”—Jacques Yves Cousteau
Sookie smiled. “Well—what if I could be your vaccine?”
Eric shook his head. “I don’t know how that would be possible, Sookie. And I wouldn’t want to risk your life to find out.”
Sookie scoffed. “If we’re ever gonna be together, you’re gonna have to learn that I get to be in charge of my own decisions—not you, Mr. Highhanded.”
“I won’t allow you to make a decision that could hurt you,” he growled.
“And what if I’d be hurt much worse if I didn’t try to help you?”
“Sookie . . . ,” he started.
“No, Eric! You need to listen to me now. I’ve lost almost everyone I’ve ever loved. But losing you would be,” she paused, “too much.”
“Sookie,” he whispered.
“I’ve also risked my life for almost everyone I’ve ever cared about. Hell—tonight I risked my life for Arlene. And—yes—she’s been my friend for years, but she’s not the person I’m in love with!” she yelled.
“What makes you think I could allow you to endanger yourself for me—when you’re the person I’m in love with?” Eric asked abrasively.
Sookie smiled a little at his confession of love, but then glared at him. “Mr. Highhanded strikes again—huh?”
“The truth is that we don’t know what exposure to Hep-V might do to you!” he reiterated—loudly.
“Well—I say we find out,” she returned at the same volume.
“Dammit, Eric! You’re the most stubborn being I’ve ever met!”
“I guess you’ve never looked in the mirror then,” he returned sharply.
Sookie took a deep breath so that she wouldn’t respond in anger.
“Eric,” she sighed, her tone softening, “what you and I did in the cubby—when we took each other’s blood—it wasn’t like the exchanges I’ve made with Bill. Was it?”
“No,” the vampire responded, his own frustration deflating. “We started a bond. What you had—and have—with Bill is called a blood tie.”
“A bond?” she asked. “How’s that different from a tie?”
Eric looked reluctant to speak for a moment.
“Please, Eric,” she said, “tell me how it’s different.”
“A bond forges a connection based on mutuality—equality. Two become one—quite literally. The vampire is the one with the power in a tie; he or she has the ability to feel the emotions of the human, to track the human, and even to use the blood to affect the human’s feelings to a certain extent. In a fully completed bond, some of the vampire’s magic actually transfers to the human, binding with the human’s blood. One effect of this is that the human will age more slowly. But the human also has some of the same abilities as the vampire: to feel and affect the emotions of his or her bonded and to track him or her. To the supernatural world, a bonding is sacred, like the sacrament of marriage—only there’s no such thing as divorce. However, it takes three exchanges of the type we made in the cubby for a bond to become permanent,” he informed, gauging Sookie’s face carefully for her reaction.
“A marriage,” she stated with surprise.
“Yes—in the supernatural world, we would be considered the equivalent of what humans call ‘engaged’ because we’ve made only one exchange.”
Sookie looked confused. “By exchange, do you mean that both people need to take the blood at the same time?”
“Yes—at roughly the same time. As Godric taught me, the taste of the blood must be on the tongues of both for an exchange to occur.”
“But I’ve had a blood exchange with Bill; he licked my wounds right after giving me his blood the night that the Rattrays beat me up. Why didn’t we form a bond?”
Eric didn’t answer for a moment as anger swelled in him at the thought of Sookie being beaten at Bill’s behest. When he’d calmed, he responded to her question, “As you know, a vampire is enlivened by both blood and magic. It is the magic that forges a bond, for—like any other blood cell—a vampire’s blood cell will eventually die within a human. But the magic remains; it is what makes us immortal. Thus, even if a vampire were deprived of blood for years, he or she could stay alive. In fact, a common punishment for a vampire is a year in a coffin without blood. The vampire emerges from such a sentence a shell of his or her former self, and healing takes a very long time, but the magic won’t let the vampire die.”
Sookie cringed, even as Eric went on, “Probably as a kind of evolutionary failsafe to ensure that vampires cannot be forced into making a bond, we are ‘questioned’ by our magic when we make an exchange.”
“Questioned?” Sookie asked.
“Yes. Something similar happens when a vampire makes a child. I’ve experienced that phenomenon twice now. The blood of the human is taken, and then the blood of the vampire is given. When it is, there’s a probing by the magic, and the vampire must—in essence—give permission for the forming of a bond with a child. If the vampire wavers in the giving of that magic to his or her potential child, something will go wrong in the turning. This is also why the vampire tends to stay with his or her progeny until the turning is complete—to foster the magic and the bond.”
Eric paused for a moment. “In the cubby—when you took my blood—I had no memory of what Godric had taught me about bonds or ties. However, as I drank from you, my instincts pulled me to you; I wanted to be ‘one’ with you with every fiber of my being. And then—as you drank from my hand—my magic probed me. I felt it ‘ask’ me to confirm that I wanted to be ‘one’ with you—and, of course, I permitted the bonding.”
Sookie blushed a little at the memory of taking Eric’s blood.
“So—um—Bill would have needed to tell his magic to bond with me?” Sookie asked for clarification.
Eric nodded. “And—at least in the beginning—he wouldn’t have wanted that bond.”
“How can I be sure?” she asked quietly. “How can I be sure that Bill and I didn’t from a bond?”
“Easy,” Eric responded. “After we bonded, we were literally transported into a shared fantasy the likes of which I’ve never heard of before.”
“I always wondered about that. I mean—did I get high off of your blood? And did you get high off of mine—uh—because I’m part fairy?”
“No,” Eric responded. “I didn’t take enough of your blood for that. The magic of a bonding always results in a kind of euphoria between a human and a vampire. So what happened after our exchange happens—to a certain extent—to all who bond, though I believe that your inherent Fae magic amplified the experience for us.”
“So—uh—since Bill and I never had a similar experience, I can be certain we never bonded.”
Sookie and Eric were silent for a moment.
“So—you and I are engaged—huh?” she asked with a little smile that might have been called mischievous.
Eric chuckled. “Yes—in a manner of speaking. But don’t worry. Since we had only one exchange, only a faint connection remains between us.” His tone sobered, “And when I’m gone, you won’t feel a thing.”
“What if I want to feel more?” she asked. “What if I want to feel everything?”
He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. I can’t allow you to risk yourself like that,” he added firmly, his tone brooking no argument.
“Eric Northman,” she said, trying to keep her frustration from taking over again, “I won’t have you dictating my life.”
He went to speak, but she stopped him with an unexpected kiss.
“Sookie,” he whispered against her lips. “Please—I can’t risk you.”
“And I can’t lose you,” she responded, even as she used her good hand to pull him closer, pressing her body into his.
As his hands moved to her face and her hair, tenderly caressing her, their kiss deepened, and he pulled her against him until she was straddling his legs and he was leaning against the wall for support. When Sookie had to catch her breath, they both leaned forward until their foreheads were resting together.
“Eric,” she said quietly, “I healed you before—when Marnie had you. There’s something in me that heals—at least when it comes to you.”
He leaned back a little and looked at her in question.
“Think about it. Every time I’ve shot someone with my light, I’ve hurt them,” she reminded, “except for one time.”
“Me,” he whispered. “When I was possessed by the witch.”
“Yes. You,” she affirmed.
“Maybe you didn’t intend me harm,” he posited.
“You were going to kill Bill,” she said quietly. “And I was aiming to hurt you, Eric—to stop you.”
The vampire lifted an eyebrow almost playfully. “You were trying to hurt me?”
“Sorry,” Sookie said with a shrug. “It was instinct. But the point is that my light didn’t hurt you.”
“No—it healed me and made me immune to Marnie’s magic,” Eric said with realization.
“Exactly! Eric—if I’m right, you won’t infect me with Hep-V—at least not how you think. The connection we made in the cubby—I think it changes the rules for us.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“My light,” Sookie responded. “I think that—since we’re bonded—it can heal you.”
“Or you might be able to heal anyone with it,” he reasoned, “if that were your intention.”
“No,” Sookie explained, “I asked my great-grandfather, who’s a full-blooded fairy, by the way. He made it clear to me that my magic should have hurt you. Of course, he didn’t know about our bond because I didn’t know about it when we spoke.”
“So you want to shoot me with your light to try to heal me?” Eric asked.
“Maybe,” Sookie mused. “Maybe—eventually. But first I want to try to heal you with my blood.”
“Because Hep-V is a virus,” he observed.
“Yes—I think you would need my blood to fight it off since the virus is attached to your blood—and not to the magic in you.”
“It might work,” Eric mused. “But I wouldn’t have to infect you. I could simply drink your blood from a cup. I needn’t bite you and infect you!” he said firmly.
“No,” Sookie contradicted, “I don’t think it would work like that. I think I would need to take your blood first. If your infected blood were in me, I think that my magic would heal it—creating a vaccine of sorts. Then you could take my blood and, therefore, get the vaccine too. You’d heal from the inside out!”
“But you’d be infected,” Eric reminded.
“Not if I’m right about my blood creating a vaccine for you once your blood is inside of me.”
Eric shook his head. “No. It’s too dangerous. We will confer with Dr. Ludwig first. She can do some experiments in her lab before we try anything.”
“That’s a good idea when it comes to maybe making a vaccine for other infected vampires, Eric, but I’m not prepared to wait to try to heal you.”
“Sookie . . . ,” Eric started.
“No, Eric! You said it yourself. You’re at Stage 2 now! And I know that once your viral load reaches a certain level, there might be no way of saving you!”
“Sookie . . . ,” he started again.
“Eric, please,” she begged. “Please. To me, you’re worth the risk—any risk. I need to do this, Eric. I need you in my life to be truly happy. I know that now.”
Automatically, she lifted both of her hands to Eric’s face, cringing at the pain from the hand that had been broken.
Immediately, concern clouded Eric’s features as he gently examined her hand. He snarled. “How the fuck did you break your hand, Sookie? And why the fuck didn’t you tell me you were in pain?”
Sookie ignored his second question and answered his first. “Pam.”
“I’ll kill her!” he growled.
“Oh—no you won’t! She loves you, and she’s been there for you—more than I have! That’s for damned sure! She might be a bitch, but—right now—she’s my favorite bitch in the world because she’s the reason you’re here! Anyway,” Sookie continued, “Pam didn’t hurt me intentionally. I’m the one who slapped her—twice.”
Eric’s scowl turned into a smirk. “Well—she does have a hard head.”
“She even offered to heal me herself, but I don’t want her blood.”
“You don’t want to dream about Pamela?” he asked, his eyebrows lifting.
“Uh—gross!” Sookie exclaimed, even though she was happy that Eric’s tone had turned a little playful again. The last thing she wanted was for him to hurt his loyal vampire child because of her—even if Pam could be a Grade-A bitch.
“I wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall watching you and Pamela,” Eric teased, “but alas, I don’t have the same gifts as your friend, Merlotte.”
Sookie rolled her eyes. “Anyway—Pam and I came to a kind of understanding.”
“And what’s that?” the vampire asked.
“Simple. We both love you.”
“Love,” Eric said somewhat bitterly. “I remember a time when you told me that you loved me—right before you told me that you also loved Bill. And you’ve already told me that you loved the wolf.” He shook his head. “Sookie, I can’t go back to the way it was before—never knowing if I was the one you really wanted. I won’t share you,” he said firmly. “And I couldn’t stand having to feel your divided affections.”
She sighed as she climbed off of his lap. “I need to explain things, but will you promise to hear me out—to really listen to what I’m about to say and not close yourself off like you’ve done before?”
Somewhat reluctantly, Eric nodded in agreement.
Sookie took a deep breath. “When I was real little and watched fairytale movies, I thought that people only ever fell in love one time and that it stuck. Of course, it wasn’t long before I realized I wasn’t like the princesses in those stories. After all, I would have heard the prince, and—no matter how great he was—his stray thoughts would have killed any romance in our story. It’s ironic, but I’m a fairy who doesn’t believe in fairy tales anymore. But I still believe in love. And I feel it for you and Alcide and Bill.”
“Keep listening,” Sookie ordered.
“Do I look like I’m going anywhere?” he returned stiffly.
She shook her head. “No.” She reached out to take his hand with her unbroken one, happy to find that he didn’t resist her touch.
“The girl who still wanted to believe in fairy tales fell in love with Bill. And a part of me will always love him—just like I told you months ago.”
Sookie shook her head in warning when it seemed as if Eric was going to speak.
“Just wait and hear me out—okay?”
He sighed, but didn’t move.
“Just because Bill was a bastard to me a lot of the time doesn’t mean that my feelings for him weren’t,” she paused, “felt.” She sighed heavily. “For a long time, I believed that all of my feelings had been caused by the vampire blood in me—first Bill’s and then yours. But I know better now. I know that I liked the feeling of falling in love with Bill and being in love with someone.” She paused. “Eric, Pam told me about Sylvie. Did you love her?”
Eric looked angry for a moment, but he still responded. “Yes—at least, I thought so,” he confessed.
“Do you still love her?”
He sighed. “I still feel affection when I think about her—and sorrow over losing her as I did. And for not being able to save her, I have many regrets.” He paused for a moment. “Like you, I, too, enjoyed the feeling of being in love with someone.”
Sookie nodded. “That’s how I feel about Bill. I did fall in love with him—in the naïve sort of way that anyone might fall in love for the first time. And I don’t believe love just dies, Eric. But I’m not in love with Bill, and I never was. Otherwise, I’d still feel that too. When I think about Bill, I get nostalgic and I feel real affection for him. But I could never be with him again—not romantically.”
“Why not?” Eric asked.
She answered quickly. “I could never be in love with someone I didn’t trust. And, with Bill, I find myself,” she paused, “always holding back. I know now that’s my gut letting me know that something’s wrong with Bill and me being together. And it’s not even the stuff he did to me when he first met me—including letting the Rattrays beat me within an inch of my life—though that’s unforgiveable. No—it’s how he looks at me like I’m his salvation, as if being with me would help him to find his humanity or something.” She sighed. “Bill—whether he realizes it or not—wants me to fill the place of his human wife, Caroline.”
“And you aren’t prepared to be a place-filler,” Eric commented.
“No,” Sookie responded. “I could never be her; thus, I could never make him happy unless I sacrificed who I was. And I won’t do that.”
“But you seemed prepared to sacrifice to make the wolf happy,” Eric observed.
“Alcide’s death is so fresh,” Sookie responded as a tear fell from her eye. “And—as I told you, I did love him. But less than twenty-four hours ago, I was confiding in Bill that I knew Alcide loved me more than I loved him. I told Bill that hearing Alcide’s thoughts made me feel guilty. I wanted—so badly—to be what Alcide needed. And I wanted for him to be what I needed. And, for a while, it seemed to be working. But hearing Alcide’s thoughts was getting easier and easier, and the relatively ‘normal’ life I’d found with him started to feel like a job—as I struggled to keep my shields up all the time.”
“Yet you would have stayed with him?” Eric asked. “Married him? Had a litter of children with him?”
“I don’t know,” Sookie responded honestly. “The truth is that I didn’t want to be alone. And Alcide was a good man. And—frankly—you were nowhere to be found, not that I blamed you for going, not after I rescinded your invitation from the home you’d just given me.”
“I understood why you did that,” Eric said quietly.
“I know. And—that right there should have clued me into the fact that you were the best man for me—that you understood me better than anyone else ever could. Better even than I understood myself. But—by the time I realized my mistake—I figured that the ship had sailed on anything we might have had.”
“Why did you think that?”
“Nora,” Sookie said in a whisper. “I could tell that you loved her.”
“Yes. She was my sister and,” he paused, “my lover too—even after you and I were together.”
“Yeah. Bill let that slip a few months ago—accidentally.”
“Oh course,” Eric intoned.
Sookie shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. Yeah—it hurt when I found out, but it’s not like I gave you a reason to be faithful to me. I’d told you that we were through.”
Eric sighed. “After our time together was over, I felt raw,” he confessed. “And Nora was familiar. She and I had been lovers many times throughout the years, but—truth be known—we could never stay together for very long. Our personalities were not complementary, though there were many things about her I admired. She and I grieved for Godric together. And—not being able to save her made me feel as if I’d failed him.” He paused. “I felt the same way after I failed my human family. You are right. I did love Nora—very deeply—but I never wanted to spend my life with her. I never wanted to give her everything of me, and I never wanted everything from her.”
Sookie closed her eyes, taking in his words. “You once tried to give me everything.”
“I know,” Eric said softly.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t ready to give you the same in return.”
The two were silent for a moment.
“So you confided in Bill about your love-life?” Eric asked with a little smirk, effectively lightening their somber mood.
Sookie nodded. “I think that’s when I realized that I could trust Bill enough to be my friend, but no more than that.”
“A girlfriend to gossip with?” Eric chuckled.
Sookie smirked. “Something like that. But I doubt we’ll be paintin’ each other’s toenails anytime soon. In fact, he was up in a tree when he and I were talking about Alcide.”
“How very,” Eric paused, “Twilight of him.”
Sookie snorted out a chuckle, but then her face turned serious. “Eric, I need you to understand that the love I feel for you is different from the love I feel for Alcide or Bill.”
“I understand—now,” he said, taking Sookie once more into his arms.
She sighed with relief against his chest. “Then—you know that I won’t let you go. That I can’t. I need to try to help you, Eric,” she said pleadingly, her eyes bright with emotion and unshed tears. “Please, Eric, give me your blood. Heal my hand so that I can try to heal you.”
“And if it doesn’t work? If you get sick too?” he asked.
“I’m ready to live with either of those possibilities, Eric. But I’m not willing to give up without a fight. Please, love me enough to fight alongside me,” she pleaded.
Eric closed his eyes. “I love you enough to do anything for you, Sookie Stackhouse. You know that.”
She smiled a little. “I’m very glad to hear that, Eric Northman.”