Tara backed off a step. Her voice trembling with both fear and anger, she said, “Oh my fucking God! Not again! Fuck!”
“Tara,” Lafayette’s voice said. “It’s okay.”
Tara watched as her cousin and Jesus stepped beside Eric. Lafayette’s hands were held up in a calming gesture.
“Tara,” Lafayette repeated, “he just wants to talks to ya, bitch―I promise.”
“Oh hell no!” Tara said again. “I don’t need this shit.”
“Tara,” Lafayette said, “please, hooker, just listen to him.”
Eric spoke in a calm, even tone, “I will leave for a while if you would like to talk to your cousin without me here, Miss Thornton. But I would very much like to speak with you as well―if you will allow it.”
Tara backed up another step.
“I do not intend you harm, Tara. And I regret the harm I did intend you in the past. But―for Sookie’s sake―I would like to speak with you now. If you do not want this, however, you can leave, or I will leave briefly.”
Tara looked at Eric Northman with both fear and curiosity. She then looked into her cousin’s begging eyes and then at Octavia.
Octavia spoke, “It is up to you, child. If you decide to speak to him, I will guarantee your safety. He has told me of your history with him. The choice is yours.”
Tara looked again at Eric. There was something different about him―something almost human in his eyes. She nodded, “Fine, but I’m not talking to him without a big piece of fucking silver in my hand.”
Eric chuckled, “I see why Sookie likes you so much, Miss Thornton.” He bowed a bit and backed off to the far end of the storeroom, taking a seat there. His blue eyes studied Tara carefully as she looked at him with suspicion.
Octavia went over to one of her shelves and picked up what looked to be a thick silver bracelet. She brought it to Tara, who was still standing in the little hallway. Feeling a bit better about the situation, Tara entered the back room and hugged Lafayette, all while keeping a wary eye trained on Eric. Then Tara sat in a chair on the opposite side of the room as Eric, the silver grasped tightly in her hands.
Octavia looked at Jesus and Lafayette, “You should go in there now and prepare. Help Amelia teach everyone the chant, and tell them that we will begin in thirty minutes.”
Lafayette looked at his cousin. “We’ll talks later, hooker―if you’s wants to.” He gave her another quick hug and then left with Jesus.
Tara turned her focus onto Eric Northman fully as Octavia sat to her side.
“What could you possibly have to say to me, vampire?” Tara asked, the hatred now clear in her voice. “Or do you just wanna tell me that your spawn is still intending to kill me?”
Eric shook his head, “I have ordered Pam not to harm you, Tara, and a vampire,” he paused and chuckled a bit, “‘spawn’ cannot disobey his or her spawn-er.”
“Then what the fuck could you have to say to me?” she asked again as Octavia sat quietly next to her.
“I wish to tell you that I am sorry,” Eric began. “And I wish to say that you were right about a great many things.”
“What?” Tara’s expression was both incredulous and skeptical.
Eric spoke in an even tone. “I remember what you said in Sookie’s house that night after I climbed out of the cubby. You reminded Sookie that I had tricked her into taking my blood, that I had locked up and tortured Lafayette, and that I had allowed Russell to bite her. You reminded her of why she had hated me before.”
“Yeah―what of it?” Tara asked crossly.
“You were right,” Eric said with a shrug. “You were right about all of it, except for one thing. Sookie didn’t―as it turned out―hate me.” He smiled a little. “You were right that she should have hated me, however.”
“Why is any of this important now?” Tara asked with bitterness in her tone.
Eric sighed, “Because I love Sookie, I would like to try to explain things. She would like to have you back in her life.”
Tara shook her head. “I can’t be around Sookie if she’s gonna be around vamps. And nothing you fuckin’ say would make me change my mind about you, you dead mother fucker!”
“Then there is no harm in listening,” Eric said with a little smirk. “If you are unconvinced, then you can go on your way with my assurances that neither Pam nor I nor any other vampire with allegiance to this state will ever harm you again.”
“Your assurances mean about as much to me as my momma’s promises that she’d never take another drink.”
“Still―will you hear me out?”
Tara crossed her arms and stared at the vampire. “Fine―but it’s for Sookie.”
“I would never think otherwise,” Eric said with a twinkle in his eyes. “First, you were right that I tricked Sookie into drinking from me the first time she did so. Did she tell you how it happened?”
Eric smiled a bit, remembering it himself. “Octavia has told me that you have borrowed many of her books involving vampires and humans. You have read about blood ties then―correct?”
Tara nodded again.
“And, through your reading, you have become convinced that Bill and I tried to control Sookie through our blood ties with her—correct?”
“Yes,” Tara said vehemently.
Eric nodded, “You were right in Bill’s case, but he is now dead and gone by my own hand, so he will never be able to harm Sookie or anyone she loves again.”
Tara looked at Eric in surprise, “You killed Bill?”
Eric nodded again. “Yes, he was obsessed with controlling a telepath and having access to fairy blood. His time had come.”
“And what about you? You got your blood into her too.”
“Yes, I did,” Eric nodded in agreement. “In your reading, Tara, did you come across information on a second kind of tie or of bonds?”
Tara nodded, “Yeah, but you’re not fucking capable of either of those―I know it.”
“I once thought the same thing, but I was wrong. With Sookie, I was—am—capable, it turns out.”
Tara shook her head, “I don’t fuckin’ believe you.”
Eric answered, “Be that as it may, it is true. I formed the second kind of tie with Sookie in Dallas. I loved her―even then.”
“Then why the fuck would you give her to Russell like you did?”
“To save her life and to entrap Russell,” Eric said as he sat forward a bit in his chair. “I took her blood without her consent, and I allowed Russell to do the same. Again, Sookie should have hated me for that, but she did not.” Eric sighed and shook his head. “She loved me too―you see. And she found a way to forgive me for taking her blood and for what I did to Lafayette. Your cousin, too, has forgiven me, and he and Jesus now work for me.”
“Fucked up,” Tara said scornfully, under her breath.
“Yes,” Eric chuckled. “It is fucked up―as you say. But in my defense concerning my past treatment of Lafayette―I will say that most vampires would have killed him outright for selling V. However, his acceptance of me now is still quite surprising to me.
“As I said―fucked up,” Tara reiterated.
Eric nodded and continued speaking, “So I did trick Sookie into taking my blood, but I was unable to control her because of the kind of tie I’d inadvertently formed with her. I did entrap your cousin, but I didn’t kill him when I might have. And I did give Sookie to Russell momentarily, but I did it to save her.”
Tara rolled her eyes.
He chuckled ruefully. “I know―even I don’t think my defense sounds very strong.”
Eric sighed. “I have been lucky in some ways―the biggest two being that I was unable to form the kind of tie I thought I wanted and that Sookie has such a forgiving heart. I may not deserve her, but I am thankful for her.”
Tara was silent for several moments as she contemplated what Eric had said.
The vampire was the one to break the silence. “Did you know that Sookie broke all her blood ties through a spell that Lafayette and Jesus did—not even a week after you left?”
“No,” Tara gasped.
“She did,” Eric confirmed, “partly―I think―because of your words to her that night in the Moon Goddess Emporium. You were right; she could have died because of vampires and because of her love for Bill and myself on that night and on other nights―more nights than I wish to remember.” Eric looked down at his feet.
Tara was looking at Eric with surprise as he continued, “I have a very good memory, Miss Thornton. You said some quite unflattering things about me the last night I saw you, but you were right that I can be brutal. I did use that man’s heart as a―What did you so charmingly call it? Oh yes―a sippy cup.” Eric chuckled a bit. “That one was funny, but true. I am ruthless with enemies. And I am sorry for Sookie’s sake that I once counted you as one. When you came at me with the stake in the Moon Goddess Emporium, I was going to bite you.”
Eric sighed, “But I had also recognized your scent from Russell’s mansion, and I knew that you had helped Sookie escape from there and then had taken her to the hospital after Bill attacked her in the van. So I was,” Eric paused, “torn about biting you. You may not believe me, but I did not intend to kill you that night.”
“What did you intend?” Tara asked sarcastically. “You were definitely coming fangs first.”
“I know,” Eric said honestly, “and I would have hurt you. Even in that moment, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do to get out of irrevocably harming you, Lafayette, and Jesus that evening. You see, when Sookie was gone to the fairy realm for that year, I’d formed a little informal truce with Lafayette and Jesus, and when they were with the witch I had been ordered to stop by Bill, I was at a bit of a loss. And―of course―Bill had told me that I could not actually kill the witch either, so I was in a fucking quandary that night! I needed to scare the witch into stopping her necromancy―and she wasn’t fucking cooperating, by the way. I also needed to break up the coven without killing anyone, and I especially needed to avoid doing any lasting harm to anyone Sookie cared for so that she wouldn’t fucking hate me―anymore than she already seemed to, that is.”
“Well―poor fuckin’ baby,” Tara piped in.
Eric chuckled and quipped, “Yes, I was.”
Tara rolled her eyes again.
Eric smirked, “Looking back, Marnie’s curse that night was the best thing that could have happened for multiple reasons. It got Sookie to look at me in a new way and to acknowledge her developing feelings for me, and it got me out of what Sookie would term a clusterfuck that night at the Moon Goddess.” Eric sat back in his chair and chuckled louder. “Fucked up all around―as you might say.”
Tara couldn’t help herself and chuckled with him a bit before policing her reaction. “None of this makes me actually believe that you’re capable of loving Sookie.”
Eric nodded, “I’ll tell you more then. After Sookie had broken her ties with Bill and me―as well as the beginning of a bond we had made while I had amnesia―she took some time to assess her feelings. I remember something else you said that last night in the Moon Goddess Emporium. You told Sookie this: ‘You have such fucking rose-colored glasses on when it comes to those undead motherfuckers. You’d better take those the fuck off right now, or you are gonna be even deader than they are!’”
Eric chuckled, “You do have a way with words, Miss Thornton―one that rivals even Pam’s―and Sookie listened seriously to your words that night. In removing the ties and bond, she did indeed take off her rose-colored glasses. And she took the time to think about whether Bill or I had been controlling her. She learned about vampire ties and bonds for herself.” Eric grinned, “And then, my amazing Sookie decided to put both Bill and myself through our paces, designing ways to make sure that we were not lying to her so that she could decide what she wanted for her life without deceptions or ulterior motives tainting it. In the end, I passed the test and Bill did not.”
“You?” Tara asked incredulously.
“Yes―unbelievably,” Eric smiled. “She realized I loved her―blood and telepathy or not. And the biggest miracle was that she loved me back.” He smiled wider and shook his head as Tara looked at him in disbelief. “I realize it is difficult to fathom how someone like her would choose someone like me, but—again—I am lucky.” He paused. “You said that you know of vampire bonds, Tara?”
“Well, as you know, Sookie is part fairy, and fairies have their own bonds. Sookie, unbeknownst to herself or to me, created such a bond between us. And that bond would not have happened if we both didn’t love one another or if there was any deception between us. The fairy bond is like the vampire bond in this way.”
Tara gasped in surprise, not knowing what to believe now.
Eric continued, “Sookie and I decided to re-bond, Tara. We exchanged blood three times and made a permanent vampire bond to go right along with the fairy bond, which was permanent after only one exchange. And then we were married in the vampire way—pledged.” He held up his ring and smiled, “You see―Sookie has marked me as hers.”
Tara studied the ring and Eric for a moment. She saw that he looked a little sad despite his smile. “Then what the fuck is wrong?” she asked perceptively. “And where is Sookie anyway?”
Eric sighed. “That is what tonight is all about, Tara. Did you know Sookie’s cousin, Hadley?”
“Sure,” Tara responded.
“Well, Hadley ran away with her child—a boy named Hunter—and Sookie and I tracked them down. Bill was also trying to get to Hadley to use her as a kind of replacement until he could get his grip and blood into Sookie again. We went to get Hadley, but there were fairies there. The fairies took both Hadley and Sookie.”
Tara watched as the look on Eric’s face became almost tortured as he went on. “Sookie knew that the fairies could not take them to their realm unless she and Hadley agreed to go, so she made a deal with the fairies. The fairies left behind the child and myself in,” he paused, “relative safety in exchange for Sookie and Hadley’s going voluntarily. They have been gone since November―about two weeks after you left.”
“Fuck,” Tara said, putting her hand over her mouth.
“Fuck indeed,” Eric said quietly. “I have been looking for ways to get to Sookie since then—to get to both of them—and tonight, Octavia is going to try to open a fairy portal for me so that I can go get them. Your paramour, Amelia, has been helping in my research into fairies. She didn’t know that you knew me or Sookie. She knew only that you didn’t like vampires, so she made sure not to mention that her employer these last eight months was one. Beyond that, she had signed a confidentiality agreement, so I assure you, there was no deception on her part.”
Tara nodded; her expression was a mixture to wariness and revelation. “And you’re gonna go there and fuckin’ get her.”
“Yes,” Eric said, “that is the plan.”
“And you actually fuckin’ apologized to me?” Tara asked.
“Yes, I did.”
“And you did that because you know Sookie wants to have a relationship with me? And you want to give her that?”
“Yes,” Eric answered simply. “I want my wife to be happy in every way that she can be. And she speaks about losing your friendship with regret.”
Tara looked closely at Eric for a full minute as the two stared silently at each other. Tara looked down at her feet and then back up at Eric. When she did, her expression was one of contrition. “What if I don’t deserve to be her friend anymore?”
Her eyes grew angry and confrontational, but Eric could tell that her anger was no longer directed at him.
“I don’t fuckin’ deserve her,” Tara said. “I didn’t even talk to her before I left; I didn’t even know that she was gone again. But I swear I didn’t quit thinkin’ about her.”
“I know,” Eric said, sitting forward.
The last thing that Eric ever expected to be doing in his long life was to be talking Tara Thornton, a person who hated him, down from the proverbial fucking cliff, but in that moment, it was Sookie’s voice he heard in his head. After Debbie Pelt had taken and almost killed Sookie, they spent several days at their cabin, refueling in each other. On their second night there, Sookie had spoken at length about Tara. Part of Eric hadn’t understood why Sookie would wish to remain friends with someone who judged her so harshly and seemed to be wrapped up only in her own self-interests, but Sookie—in her quintessential and fucking brilliant way—had set him straight. She’d told him that to really love someone meant forgiving him or her when he or she FUBARed—or ‘fucked up beyond all recognition.’
He had laughed at her expression—one which she’d heard from the mind of Terry Bellefleur.
Eric could not forget that Sookie had forgiven him every single time he’d FUBARed as he learned to accept the fact that he was in love with her. Most importantly, she’d forgiven him for biting her without her permission and for allowing Russell to do the same. Eric studied his wife’s friend. Certainly her actions had ‘bitten’ his wife, but had they harmed her any worse than his own?
Eric smiled ruefully. “I am not sure that either one of us really deserves her, but she wants us, so that is the way it should be.”
Tara looked up at him with surprise.
Eric’s voice became quiet. “Sookie told me that you used to stand up for her when other children taunted her.”
“Hell yeah!” Tara said with gumption. “They weren’t no better than her. And she always stood by me—every time my mama drank too much or I needed to leave the house for a while.”
“She told me that you were one of only four people that she felt consistent love from when she was growing up—Gran, Jason, Lafayette, and you.”
“She loved me as well,” Tara said as a tear slid down her face. “Those were the people that loved me too, and Sookie gave me more than half of them.”
“Can I ask you a question, Miss Thornton?” Eric asked.
“Did you always hate vampires?”
She shook her head. “No. I mean—I didn’t really like Bill Compton when I met him, and I was scared of Sookie gettin’ in deep with him and other vamps.”
Eric sat forward with interest. “Why didn’t you like Bill?”
“Shifty,” Tara answered simply.
Eric laughed. “I could have used you on my payroll. I just thought he was a dumbass.”
“Oh―he was that too,” Tara smirked.
“And me? What did you think of me?”
“Well—the first time I saw you, you walked into Merlotte’s to collect Bill, and you scared the mother fuck out of everyone.”
Eric laughed, “Ah—the night I was looking to confirm who burned Malcolm’s nest.” He nodded his head. “I suppose I did seem rather,” he paused, “abrupt that night. And then, of course, the next time you heard my name was probably in the context of Lafayette’s situation.”
“Despite your suspicions of vampires, you still became involved with Mott?”
Tara cringed. “He made me feel good about myself—at least for about five minutes.”
“And then he violated you?” Eric asked, his voice low.
Eric looked at her closely. “This kind of cowardly act is often associated with Vikings, but my father did not abide it, nor did I.” He sighed and looked at Tara. “You were weaker than Mott—physically?”
She rolled her eyes, “Yeah—he was a fuckin’ vampire.”
“Was?” Eric asked with a smirk.
Tara’s countenance turned to momentary panic, but seeing Eric’s expression, she nodded. “Yes—was.”
Eric nodded. “Then, it was you who were the stronger one in the end.”
Tara took in Eric with narrowed eyes. “I’m glad I ended him. And after that, I wanted to end every motha fuckin’ vampire I came across.”
Eric returned her scrutinous look. “You are aware of the existence of Weres?”
Eric sighed. “A thousand years ago, my family and my village were overrun by a group of Weres who were controlled by a vampire―Russell Edgington. After I was turned and I learned more about Weres—about the men who could become beasts―I hated them all. I could think only of the acts of some of them—those who tore out the throats of my family.” He paused. “I spent more than three hundred years hating an entire race of beings.”
Something about Eric’s words took hold of Tara. “What happened?”
Eric smiled a half-smile. “Eventually—I grew the fuck up.”
Eric joined her. “It can be very difficult to change, Miss Thornton. And I can be stubborn, I’m afraid.”
Tara looked over at him. “Then you and Sookie are quite a pair. She can be more stubborn than anyone I know.”
Eric’s look turned wistful. “Yes―especially concerning those whom she loves.”
Tara nodded as another tear drifted from her eye. “Yes, especially those.”
The two were quiet for a few moments.
Eric finally spoke, “Tonight when you arrived, I immediately recognized your scent.” He sighed. “The longer I live, Miss Thornton, the longer I think that fate is a twisty―and yes, fucked up―thing. The last time you saw me, I was trying to destroy a witch, and now another one is trying to help me get to Sookie. Fate also allowed me to connect with Sookie―in every way I think is possible to connect with another being―right before it decided to fucking separate us. However, it did put her into my path to begin with. So my attitude about fate right now is understandably,” he paused, “complicated.”
Eric continued, “Perhaps fate―in its fucked up way―put you into my path tonight so that I could tell you now that I am sorry―both for almost biting you that night and for what other vampires have done to you in the past. Perhaps, it was so that I could assure you that I love and cherish your friend or so that I could tell you that one of Sookie’s biggest regrets is no longer having you in her life. Or maybe fate just likes to toy with the both of us, Miss Thornton. I don’t fucking know.”
Tara scrutinized the vampire in front of her. He looked tired. He looked like a man who really did love her friend, and he looked like someone who was ready to go to hell and back to try to get her.
“Fate does like fuckin’ with me,” Tara agreed. “I thought that I wouldn’t believe one motha fuckin’ word out of your mouth, but I do. I believe all of them.”
“Fate can be a bitch,” Eric smirked.
Tara got up, “I’m keepin’ this on me.” She held up the silver.
“I would expect nothing else,” Eric smirked.
Tara stopped in the doorway. “I still don’t like you.”
Eric chuckled. “I am not particularly fond of you either, Miss Thornton.”
She smirked back at him. “You are married to one of the best people I have ever known and the best friend I have ever had. You can call me Tara.” With that, she turned and went to join the circle.
Eric smiled at Octavia, “That went a lot better than I thought it would.”
Octavia laughed, “Well―it helped that you weren’t threatening to bite the poor girl, Northman.” The witch’s face grew serious. “Are you ready? There is only an hour until dawn now.”
Eric nodded, “It will be enough time to tell. Either it will work and I will go to the fairy realm, or it won’t.” He picked up his sword, which he’d concealed before speaking to Tara. He strapped it to his back.
Octavia handed Eric the cooler Lafayette and Jesus had brought, “Sorry, I don’t have anything to warm that much blood with. I have only a small microwave.”
Eric took the cooler from her, “It will be fine.” He laughed a bit to himself as he remembered how he’d finally had to confess to Pam that he had been involved in funding the development of synthetic human blood for vampires. She’d not spoken to him for three days. Then she had given him a list of complaints about the taste and texture of TruBlood to pass along to the scientists responsible for it. She’d also given him an ultimatum to fix it.
Now―in his hands―he held the first-ever synthetic fairy blood. As he picked up the three liter container, he prayed two things. First, he prayed that it would not get him drunk. Sookie’s blood never had―unless he counted those strange shared day/night dreams they’d had after beginning the bond each time. But Claudine’s blood had definitely gotten him drunk. But he knew that TruBlood did not give him the kind of rush that human blood used to give him, and he hoped that principle held to synthetic fairy blood too.
Second, he hoped that it would be enough. He’d guessed that Bill must have taken one and a half to two liters of blood from Sookie that day in the van, based upon the trauma that her body had been in according to Lafayette’s, Jason’s and Alcide’s descriptions. He figured that he’d take three liters of the synthetic blood since—like TruBlood—it was not likely to be as potent as real blood.
Eric unscrewed the lid, closed his eyes, and then drank down the whole bottle. There was little taste to it, but his body accepted it as it always had TruBlood. He felt a little surge―but he was not drunk as he’d been after draining Claudine. He sighed with relief and looked at Octavia, “I am ready.”
Octavia led him out into the main room of her store. The witches were already sitting in the circle, and all of them looked up to take in the vampire who strode in next to their leader. There were some audible gasps, including from Tara, as she took in Eric with his sword. She gripped Lafayette’s hand tightly so that she could stop herself from running out. In her other hand, she gripped the silver just as tightly.
Octavia spoke, “Today, I need your help to send this vampire to another world so that he can find the woman he loves. I will need pure energy here, so any of you who do not want to help him in his quest should go. You may leave now with no judgment from me, and remember, I will feel it if your energy is tainted with prejudice against this vampire.”
Three witches rose from the circle and said rushed apologies as they quickly left the shop.
“Good,” Octavia smiled, looking around at everyone else. “That took care of that.” She took her place in the circle and gestured for Eric to stand inside. “Good luck, Northman,” she said. And with that, she called for everyone to join hands and begin chanting.