“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”—A. A. Milne
I saw her working hard to steel herself, to be strong—for me. She even managed to muster a smile. Again, for me. But I felt her sorrow, just as I felt my own.
The bond could not lie.
At least until it was gone.
Sookie would be losing a husband—a helpmeet. I found that I could remember my human days, just not my vampire life. My human memories seemed clear. A thousand years before, I’d seen the expression that was now on her face; it was the one that wives would give to their wounded husbands when they were brought back—near-death—to my human village. If they didn’t die in battle, it was amazing how long the men would cling to life. They would almost always make it home. Once there, the wives always managed to smile at them, to comfort them, and to hold them as they passed into the halls of the dead.
Only after their deaths would the wives disappear into the woods for a while. I now knew that they did that so that they could break down. As strong and as brave as any woman in my human time—or any other time I knew about—Sookie was holding herself together.
“We have pictures, Eric,” she tried to comfort, “pictures of our wedding—pictures of our life. And I’ll carry our memories—always. Once Ocella is gone, I’ll give them all to you,” she swore.
“But I will be gone,” I returned. From the way they stung, I could tell that my eyes were rimming with red tears. I felt as if I were facing a battle that would most certainly kill me. I had a choice: to fall on my own sword or to let my enemy torture me and harm the one I loved the most.
The choice was made. I would fall on my sword—though not fighting Ocella went against my instincts. However, there was nothing to be done for it. Pam had told us of the horrors my maker had perpetrated against the other “me” in the past; in fact, I could tell that she’d held back. Still, I would gladly suffer them if I could return to my wife at the end of them. But then Pam had said the two things that had made that impossible: first, Ocella could—as my maker—command me to harm Sookie; second, he could simply demand her for himself.
Not. Going. To. Happen.
I would rather meet the fucking sun!
So—yes—I would fall on my sword.
“I will be gone,” I said again, though my previous words still seemed to be echoing in the room.
“No. You’re a part of the other Eric,” Sookie said, likely trying to convince us both. “I know it. Just a lost part. He might remember eventually. Octavia is going to do whatever she can to make that happen. And then you will come back to me.”
I didn’t want to point out the fact that we didn’t know this witch—Octavia. I didn’t want to point out the fact that I didn’t trust her. I had cause not to trust witches, after all. But I wouldn’t take away the hope that Sookie would have to carry for the both of us once I was gone.
“I will not have the memories of our life, Sookie. I will be lost to you. Our marriage. Us. We will be no more,” I said sadly, feeling blood slip from my eyes.
“We’ll both be safe though—at least safer from Ocella. You’ll be making me safe,” she said, knowing those words would comfort me.
And they did.
I knew that no additional conversation would change what was to be, so I picked my wife up into my arms and carried her to our bed.
There, we made love for the last time.
And then we held each other, waiting for our fate.
Octavia Fant was a beautiful black woman of about seventy years old. And, from her accent, I could tell that she was Bayou born and bred.
Power emanated from her in waves, and she “took charge” as soon as she arrived at my and Eric’s home.
Soon to be just my house again.
Octavia took one look at Eric and me and cursed under her breath, mumbling something about it being harder to break a bond when it was based upon love.
Then, she sent Bill and Pam off to get several ingredients she would need for her spell.
With Eric and me following, she walked to the hearth of the home and nodded her head before closing her eyes. “There is magic here already,” she said enigmatically. “It has agreed to help me in my efforts.”
She turned around to face Eric and me. Her eyes were kind, but I could tell that she wasn’t the kind of woman who would give false hope. Or pull punches.
For what felt like the millionth time on a night that had begun so happily, my stomach dropped.
“Pam gave me Hallow’s spell book only a month ago, and to undo a spell as complicated as the one you have fallen under,” she said, looking up at Eric, “I would have to know all of the intricacies of her magic. I have learned the logic and the creativity woven into her simpler spells, but it would take me years to truly understand the nuances of her most complex curses.”
“What are you saying?” Eric asked.
“I cannot undo what Hallow has done to you,” she said pityingly, but then she smiled a little. “But like the third fairy in the “Sleeping Beauty” tome, I can mitigate the curse. Hallow’s curse is that the man you are right now will be destroyed fully—annihilated so completely that he will be like broken glass in your mind. After the curse comes to full fruition, those shards will slowly cut away at the rest of you—forever harming you as you are compelled to touch them. Compelled to try to remember what you long for so much. And—yes—you will feel them; you will understand them as the agents of your pain—but you will be able to do nothing to stop yourself from trying to piece them together. But that will be impossible. And you will believe with complete certainty that each shard—each pain—is being caused by Sookie. You will likely feel that hurting her or killing her will stop your own pain, but it will make it worse. You will eventually lose yourself and likely meet the sun—if you aren’t killed before then.
I gasped, hearing the spell described in such a horrible way.
“I believe that the only loophole in Hallow’s spell is you,” Octavia continued, looking at Eric pointedly. “This you. Hallow never could have imagined that your life would become so full and vibrant. She intended to shatter you and set the true curse upon the other you within a week of the initial spell. But she was unable to do so.”
She closed her eyes and smiled. “Yes—you are a fully formed person now—with dreams and hopes and love. Those things are tangible, and I believe I can use magic to insulate them—insulate you—from Hallow’s curse. I am hoping that my magic will ensure that you don’t shatter once Hallow’s spell is completed.
“Will the other me be able to remember this me?” Eric asked.
“Like I told your progeny, I do not know. My magic will do what it can, but to protect you, I will have to hide you in a sense—send you to the deepest recesses of a vast vampire mind which has been collecting memories for a thousand years. The memory of this you could remain trapped.”
“But as long as he’s not destroyed,” I asked hopefully, “the curse won’t rip him apart?”
“It will still do damage,” Octavia said seriously. “He will still feel longing for a life that he cannot quite touch, and he will know that you are at the center of that life. He will be frustrated by not remembering; his feelings will seem foreign—wrong. You see, that Eric will not remember forming those feelings.”
“So he won’t trust them,” I sighed.
“Certainly not at first,” Octavia acknowledged. “Plus, I will literally be locking a part of Eric away from himself. He will miss that part even if he doesn’t understand what is missing.”
I gripped my Eric’s hand tighter, wondering how the “old” Eric would change once he lost the things that made up my husband.
Seeing my worry, Octavia tried to allay my fears. “That Eric will still be the man he was before; his personality won’t change completely,” she assured.
“But it will be altered?” Eric asked.
Octavia nodded. “Yes. Do you know anything about the drugs humans take for depression?”
Both Eric and I shook our heads. “No,” he said.
“They work—in a way—to hinder our strongest reactions, both good and bad. The people on them still feel. They can still be happy and sad—but just not as happy. Just not as sad,” she explained. “And many people dislike this sensation, for they sense that their reactions are not quite,” she paused, “right.”
She smiled gently. “But with time—who knows? And maybe you will eventually float to the surface of his mind,” the witch told my husband. “If something unlocks you, then he will feel complete again. I cannot tell you how the knowledge of this life will affect him, however,” she added closing her eyes.
Eric pulled me closer to his side and then looked down at me. “I will remember loving you, and I will return to this home—to this hearth. I swear it,” he vowed with certainty.
I clung to him as he embraced me as if our very lives depended upon our touch.
After a few moments, Octavia spoke. “The things that Pam and Bill are getting for me will put you to sleep, Sookie. Otherwise, the breaking of the bond would be very painful because there is much love between you two—much connection. I’m afraid you would not survive the pain.”
“Good,” Eric said firmly. “It is good that Sookie will not have to feel the pain of it.”
“But what about Eric?” I asked. “Can’t you wait for him to die for the day?”
Octavia shook her head. “No. I will need him awake so that I can use my magic to insulate him before I finish Hallow’s curse.”
Just then, Pam and Bill arrived with their supplies. Bubba was in tow.
“Hi, Mister Eric. Miss Sookie,” Bubba said politely. If he would have had a cap, he would have tipped it.
Octavia looked at Bill and then Pam. “Take those things into the kitchen.” The two complied without argument.
She turned softer eyes toward Bubba. “We met once.”
The vampire smiled and nodded. “I remember. My maker couldn’t figure out why I was sick. And you were the one that told him that I’d do better with animal blood to drink. And I’ve felt just fine ever since then—just as long as I don’t drink too much human blood or the new TrueBlood.”
The witch smiled. “Do you have a place to stay for the day?”
Bubba looked a little confused and then shrugged.
“You will stay with me, Bubba,” Bill said as he and Pam came back into the living room.
Octavia nodded. “Come here at first dark tomorrow and exchange blood with Sookie.”
“You don’t mind—do you?” I had the presence of mind to ask Bubba.
“Not at all!” Bubba said quickly and kindly. “I can protect you better this way—you know. I hope you don’t mind if I just take a sip of your blood though—and I’ll have to leave to find a cat right after. Bad taste and all.”
I chuckled a little, though I certainly felt no mirth. “Thank you, Bubba,” I said, reaching out to pat his arm.
Octavia looked at me and then at Eric. “I will need fifteen minutes to construct Sookie’s tonic. Then we must get started. You should go to your light-tight room.”
She didn’t say that we should also say our goodbyes.
She didn’t need to.
“Promise me you’ll open our business—your business now?” I asked her. Knowing that she would have means without having to be tied to the shifter made me feel marginally better. I didn’t know Sam Merlotte well enough to hate him, and I knew my bonded wife too well to expend any jealousy where he was concerned. But I didn’t like how his thoughts made Sookie feel. And I didn’t like the thought of her continued work in a place where she was not appreciated—where she could not shine and flourish.
“Without you to do the heavy lifting?” she asked me, trying to joke a little, despite the fact that she was shaking like a leaf.
“Alcide knows people, and you’ll have funds.”
“No, Eric,” she reminded softly, “I won’t.”
I knew that she’d always lived month-to-month, paycheck-to-paycheck, with ends sometimes not quite meeting. With my work, I had helped to alleviate her burdens. And we had lived simply, so even though I’d been working only a month, we’d already saved a little money. But I had promised to care for her for her whole life. I had vowed this to both her and to her family. And I aimed to fulfill that promise.
“Pam set up an account a month ago—for us,” I said. “But it was the money of the other me, so I didn’t want to use it.”
“Eric, I don’t . . . .”
I interrupted. “No, Sookie. On this I will be firm. I know you are modern. And I, too, wanted to do things on our own—together—without using what the other Eric had. But I made vows to you. If I had died in war during my human days, my family would have stepped in to make sure you had all you needed.”
“Eric . . . ,” she started again.
Again, I interrupted. “I will have Pam take my name off the account. There is enough money in it for you to begin the company and to get out of waitressing. I know it hurts you to keep that job. I know of the headaches you get from working evening shifts. Please agree with this.”
She was still shaking her head, so I kept going.
“Or—don’t open the company. Do something else with the money,” I begged. “Pam told me that the other me is very wealthy, so he won’t miss the money. Please. Do this for me—for yourself. For us. Do anything you wish with the money. Even if it’s just keeping your day shifts or not having to worry again about how to make ends meet. Use it that way. Promise me!” I insisted. “It’s the only consolation I will have as I,” I paused, “disappear.”
“You won’t disappear,” Sookie insisted, trying to sound confident. “Octavia said that you’ll still be inside of him and that he might remember. Either way, you won’t be gone!” she cried.
“All the more reason to use the account,” I said gently. “Anyway,” I added, thumbing away tears that were now flowing freely from her eyes. “Aren’t wives supposed to obey husbands?”
“No,” she said, her lip quivering. “We are supposed to cherish them. But I agree to use the account—for you.”
“Thank you,” I said, feeling relief. “I’m sorry I am leaving you. I’m sorry that this curse is affecting you as much as it is affecting me. I’m sorry that my maker is endangering you as he is me.”
“Never be sorry!” she said fiercely. “You gave me my best life, Eric,” she choked out, “my heart’s desire. No matter what, it’s what I chose. It’s what I choose.”
I nodded. I could hear the witch beginning to climb the stairs. She was walking slowly. Sookie sensed her coming too, and her blue eyes filled with love and despair.
“No more night shifts at Merlotte’s. It hurts you,” I insisted.
She nodded in agreement.
“Take those classes you were talking about. The ones you can do on the computer.”
“I will,” she promised.
My emotions settled.
“I am glad I have lived this life,” I said. “I will never regret it, even if I cannot remember it. Promise me you’ll remember our life when I cannot.”
“I will,” she swore, “and as soon as Appius is gone, I’ll tell you everything. And I’ll give you all the pictures.”
“And this,” I said, taking off my wedding ring. “Keep this safe for me.”