Eric flew to Lafayette’s, although he was not planning to actually see Sookie. He landed in the woods about two hundred yards away from the home. “Dawson,” he said to the Were he had keeping an eye on Sookie that day, “anything to report?”
Tray Dawson had smelled Northman coming, so he was not surprised by the vampire’s abrupt landing. “Nope, been real quiet here. The brother came a little under an hour ago. The nurse went to work this morning and returned in the afternoon. Other than that, there’s been no activity.”
Eric took in the mountain of a Were in front of him. Tray Dawson was one of the few people that Eric trusted with his daytime security when he had to travel and couldn’t stay in a secure location.
The Were asked, “Will you need me here tomorrow?”
“No,” Eric said. “The man I’ve hired to be Sookie’s usual day guard will be starting then. However, I appreciate your willingness to come on such short notice today.”
Tray shrugged, “You can owe me one. Anyway, I didn’t have any pressing orders at the shop.”
“Motorcycles losing their popularity?” Eric asked with a good-natured smirk.
“Nope, I just do too good of a job. Not a lot of return customers.”
Eric laughed, “It is true, Dawson. You are too competent.”
“How’s your old Harley?”
“The ‘69 Shovelhead or the ‘80 Sturgis?”
“Still running smoothly, thanks to you.”
“You ever start wearin’ a helmet?” Tray joked.
Eric laughed again, “I’ll start wearing one of those when you start driving a Volvo.”
Tray nodded, “I’m sure those two things will happen on about the same day.”
Eric said thoughtfully, “You should try to be the new Were packmaster, Dawson. As you know, Marcus Bozeman is dead.”
“You know I’m independent,” Tray said.
“Yes,” Eric returned, “but you are only that way because the pack had deteriorated so much under Bozeman’s leadership. Your father was an honorable and strong pack leader; many would welcome another leader of the same ilk.”
Tray snorted, “Careful, Northman, you’ll make me go all misty-eyed here.”
“We wouldn’t want that.”
Just then, Eric turned his head in the direction of the road. A few seconds later, Tray also went on alert. As soon as Eric smelled Bill, he turned to Tray. “You may go for the day. I will call you should I need your services again.”
Tray shook his head. “I’ll stay.”
Eric looked at the Were with appreciation. “I’m afraid it is the king; there is not much you could do. I’ll monitor the situation from here.”
Tray nodded and walked further into the woods.
It took all the willpower Eric possessed not to fly immediately to Sookie’s side. He didn’t trust Bill, but he had to trust in Sookie. He began to pace, turning the large envelope that he held in his hands over and over. He kept this action up for the next fifteen minutes until he heard the car returning down the driveway.
A few minutes after Bill left, Eric couldn’t take it anymore. He’d keep his distance, but he had to make sure that Sookie was okay. Anyway, he reasoned, he still needed to drop the envelope off with Lafayette or Jesus. “Yes,” he said to himself, “I’ll just talk to one of the witches, make sure Sookie is safe, and then hand off this envelope.”
He was met with Sookie’s beautiful form, sleeping lightly, as he landed silently on the porch. He took her in and inhaled deeply.
Immediately, from both the lingering smell of Compton on the porch and the roses sitting on the table, he knew that Sookie had spoken to him. He inhaled once more to see whether Bill’s blood had mixed with hers, but he found her scent to be comprised purely of herself, something that he had never experienced until the night before. He now realized that he’d always smelled her scent mixed with Compton’s, even from the first moment he’d met her. Her scent now was even more amazing to him. It reminded him of the mornings after the rains had come when he used to play in the saturated fields near his father’s crops.
Eric stayed at the edge of the porch, afraid to approach Sookie, not wanting to scare her or awaken her with his presence. His dead heart lurched; one part of him wished that he could stop the fears that Sookie brought out in him, fears unlike any he had experienced in his more than one thousand years until that morning in Dallas when Godric had decided to leave him. Eric’s heart lurched again as he thought about his maker and his losses in the last couple of years.
First, he’d lost Godric. He’d actually taken up with Yvetta to try to curb that pain, even though it was another blonde from whom he had truly wished to seek comfort. Then, the Russell debacle hadn’t satisfied him in any meaningful way; he realized then that his millennium of searching for revenge had been all but wasted. However, Eric knew that the most pain he had ever felt had come the night that Sookie had disappeared to the fairy realm. At first, he had tried to hide his pain by searching relentlessly and threatening whomever he could. Then, he’d finally settled into waiting; something had told him that she would return. He’d bought her home as soon as it went on the market and had thrown himself into its repair, much to the chagrin of Pam.
He’d painstakingly gone through the items damaged by the Maenad. He remembered especially the night when he’d discovered a picture of Sookie and an older woman, obviously the woman she called Gran. He’d been in a room that seemed to belong to Sookie’s Gran, one that had contained lovely hand-crafted furniture. The damage to that room had been the most extensive in the house, and Eric posited that Sookie had simply closed the room off, perhaps too overwhelmed or saddened to deal with it in the midst of Bill’s disappearance and the Were threat.
He had found the picture under the old, damaged bed. The picture frame had been smashed, but Eric had been drawn to the two smiling female faces. Sookie looked a few years younger than she was now. She was dressed only in jeans and a red tank top, her hair pulled into a pony tail. The two stood out in the sun, and Sookie’s smile shone brighter than the light in her hair. Sookie’s grandmother, who Eric had learned was named Adele, had her arm around her granddaughter affectionately. The gesture told Eric that she had been devoted to Sookie; the twinkle in Adele’s eyes told him that she had been just as fiery as Sookie. Eric had taken special care of Adele’s old room following his find, thinking that Sookie might eventually want to move into the matriarch’s room when she returned.
That night, he had taken the photo and had arranged for many copies to be made. Since then, a copy had sat next to his daytime sleeping spot in all of his homes, and another was in his desk at Fangtasia. It was this photo that he’d eventually focused on as he’d waited for nightfall the previous day; it had helped him have the strength to cling to their bond.
In the last year, he’d felt comforted by the picture of Sookie and Adele Stackhouse and had even, unbeknownst to anyone else, begun taking flowers to Adele’s grave beginning on the one-year anniversary of her death. He initially went because he felt that it was what Sookie would have done. He took Adele white daisies, a flower that he’d guessed had been her favorite based on some of the broken knickknacks in the older woman’s room.
He’d also taken a lot of time to personally repair the bed and other furniture in the room, appreciating the strength of the original wood maker. He wondered if the craftsman had been an ancestor of Sookie’s as he’d sanded, mended, and refinished the wood. He’d found much comfort in drawing upon the woodworking skills he’d learned as a boy and young man.
More than anything else, including his ultimate defeat of Russell, those days repairing Adele’s furniture had healed him of wounds that had been opened for more than one thousand years. Truth be told, he had found himself taking flowers to Adele’s grave more and more often over the months. Inexplicably, he also found himself talking to her lifeless, decomposing body, buried six feet into the ground, as if she were a lifeline to him. He told her about all the repairs he’d made to the home she’d loved; he told her everything that he wished for Sookie and himself; he told her everything he had wanted to be telling Sookie. He felt more connected to Sookie there too; it had, after all, been the place where he’d tracked her scent to the night of her disappearance.
More and more, he’d found himself leaving Fangtasia at closing time and traveling to Sookie’s home in the six months since he’d owned it. He hired people during the day to repair much of the structural damage and replace many of the items in the house, always painstakingly choosing things that would fit in with the feel of Sookie’s home, but Adele’s room was his special project, and he saw to almost everything in there personally.
Even so, no one could ever accuse him of being naïve, and he had known that when Sookie returned, she would resent his owning her home and his changing it, even if it was ultimately all for her. He knew especially that she would hate the fact that he’d put a resting place for himself into the home, but as he found himself there more and more frequently after his bar and sheriff duties were completed, he felt that he needed to be able to stay the day, to be close to Sookie’s fading scent within the house. It was only there that he was able to smell her at all anymore.
He’d moved a few of his books to the light tight room that Sookie had later labeled his cubby. Often, especially on Mondays, the one night when Fangtasia was closed, he would spend the majority of his time at Sookie’s home, though he never thought of the house as his. Once he had completed the repairs to Adele’s room, he spent his time fixing or replacing other things he would notice, especially other handmade furnishings, like the hutch and buffet in the dining room.
Then he had cleaned the old fireplace in Adele’s room and replaced some mortar to make it sound again. It had obviously not seen a fire in years. After it was ready, he had spent another evening cutting wood and stacking it in neat piles outside of Sookie’s home, wondering if she’d be back before the winter to use it, wondering if he’d ever be able to build them a fire to share together.
After he had finished these tasks, he would often build fires in Adele’s room at night. He’d sit in an old chair in the corner of the room, and using techniques he’d learned over a thousand years before, he painstakingly carved a piece of soft cedar wood into a small pendant with an “E” and “S” entwined.
He had worked on the pendant for several weeks until the letters were perfectly formed and ornate. He had even used human speed so that he could really enjoy the work―savor it. Sometimes, he’d set the pendant aside to read or simply enjoy the smell of the old house. When he closed his eyes, he could always imagine Sookie, young and full of life, enjoying time with Adele. Eric didn’t miss the irony that his visualizations of Sookie never included him in them anymore.
Finally done with the pendant, he’d put it on a leather cord necklace. He wrapped it in a lace handkerchief and placed it into Adele’s old bedside table, which he’d also repaired.
Eric thought about the annoying song that insisted that, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” This sentiment had been around long before the mediocre song, but he’d never understood it until he sat in Sookie’s home waiting for her all those months.
It was only happenstance that had prevented him from being at her home the day that she returned from the fairy realm. He’d been contacted by one of the Ancient Pythoness’s guards that night and had been called to a meeting. The A.P., as he affectionately liked to refer to his maker’s maker, had wanted to warn him of yet another threat from Compton, who had continued to act behind the scenes to try to eliminate him as sheriff. Luckily, Eric had powerful friends, none more powerful than the A.P. And he also knew his value to the AVL, who had made him a spokesperson for the mainstream cause, ironically enough. Eric’s PSA’s often drew record hits on the Internet.
Eric had found it strange that the A.P. had been close by and had called him to see her in person, something she very rarely did, especially for a matter that was ill-conceived on Bill’s behalf and would never have worked anyway. And she’d kept him just long enough to ensure he’d not be able to return to Sookie’s and would have to seek shelter in another of his safe houses that morning. He remembered the twinkle in the A.P.’s eyes in the hours before dawn and knew now that her keeping him there had been by design. The ancient oracle of Delphi had obviously used her skill of reading the future to keep him from being in Sookie’s house when she returned; just why she did it, he was yet to fathom.
He’d felt Sookie’s return from one of his Shreveport safe houses, and he’d longed to go to her right then, but it was day time. As soon as the sun had set, he’d taken off in flight, only to be stopped by Compton. Ironically, despite her return, Eric felt farther away from Sookie than he had in the previous six months. She’d looked at him with cold, suspicious eyes that night instead of the eyes he’d come to know from the picture, the warm, light-filled eyes that he wished fervently would shine for him.
Eric was a bit ashamed that he’d been unable to show Sookie the real effect she’d had on him in the first few days after she’d returned―before the witch cursed him. As much as he hated to admit it, seeing Bill there first had made him defensive―jealous even, and the next night, he’d tried to win Sookie with promises of protection rather than affection. He rationalized that she would never believe his sincerity anyway, so he’d tried to appeal to her practical side, fairy Sookie. Truth be told, he appreciated both sides of Sookie’s personality and how they intermingled seamlessly together. He’d been spending the last year trying to reconcile the thousand-year-old killer with the person who wanted nothing more than to earn someone’s love. As Pam could probably attest, there had been growing pains to him developing this new side of his own personality.
Ironically, it had taken a complete erasure of his thousand years of experience as a vampire to leave him unencumbered enough to finally accept his human side and admit out loud that he loved Sookie. Even more importantly, she’d been able to love that other Eric back, to accept him.
He watched on as she peacefully slept and was reminded of the nights they’d spent together when he’d listened to her heart beating, its echo filling his own dead body. He was reminded especially of the night when he’d asked her if she would still love him once he got his memories back. That Eric had no idea of the changes he’d already been making in order to be a more acceptable mate for Sookie. Sookie―mostly because of Eric’s reversion to his arrogant persona the night he’d made her his offer of protection―also had no way of knowing the lengths that Eric had and would go to in order to prove himself worthy of her affection.
Sookie had admitted that she was uncertain about whether she would still want him after he got his memory back; all she could offer was that she wanted to still feel as she did then, and that had been enough to give him hope at the time. Now, her words just made him apprehensive.
They’d made love for the first time that night, first in the woods and then in almost every room of her home. His body had burned for her as it had never done for another. But later, she had told him that she would have never let the “old” Eric into her bed.
Now as he looked at her, he felt uncertain in a way that he hadn’t felt since he experienced the loss of his parents as a human. The vampire in him wanted to run away or drain her―he could admit this―but he was well past this stage of self-preservation with Sookie Stackhouse. He’d learned to prioritize the feelings of another above his own, according to his child’s muse, Dear Abby.
Now, all he could do was hope that Sookie would accept him, all of him―the restored him. Given her previous statements and her desire to remove his blood from her body, he felt that the odds were long against him, but he’d faced tough odds before and was determined to face his fate with Sookie, whatever it may be. But one thing was nonnegotiable for Eric―he would do what it took to keep her safe.
She might choose Bill―or even the Were or the shifter―but until he felt that she was protected adequately, he was committed to seeing to her safety even though he foresaw trouble from his little spit-fire. He chuckled lightly, thinking of the varied reactions Sookie could have once he told her that he’d hired both daytime and nighttime guards for her.
As he thumbed the envelope in his hands, he was glad that he’d told her in a letter.
A/N: Please don’t take offense that I called the Cinderella song, “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone),” mediocre. I actually kind of like the song. It reminds me of my youth.
A/N 2: FYI, this is the actor I would cast as Tray. Other cast members can be found HERE.