A/N: Please indulge me while I answer a “guest” comment from fanfiction.net. I am responding only because others may have similar questions, and since I’m not posting a chapter every day, all of the inferences/clues in the story might be difficult to discern. Remember—if you post as a guest, I cannot respond to you. Here’s the review/comment: “I don’t get why he [Eric] has to marry who his father wants him too [sic]. He could just walk away unless he can kill his father off or get control of the business.”
Through the story, there have been hints about why Eric is trapped in his current life. Let me sum up and then elaborate upon the clues I planted. Many of you have already inferred a lot of this, but I hope to make things clearer for all.
- First, many children of abuse form a kind of codependent relationship with the abuser. The truth is that Eric loves his father, even though Appius doesn’t deserve it. And—at least before he meets Sookie—he wants nothing more than to be loved by Appius. He wants his father’s respect and approval. But—beyond that—Eric has been “programmed” from the time he was five (that’s 26 years!) to believe himself unworthy of love. He has been programmed to fear what Appius can do to him—what he can take away from him. A few more details about Eric’s past will be revealed as we go. But let me tell you a hard truth; abused children often crave their parents’ love and acceptance, even when their parents are cruel. I speak from some experience. I suffered mental abuse from my father. He died of cancer when I was still in my teens, and even though I turned 40 today (happy birthday to me), I still “hear his voice in my head,” I still cry at my memories, I still have nightmares of being told that I am “good for nothing,” and I wish he was still alive so that I could “try” with him. And what Appius did to Eric—how he isolated him—is a lot worse than what my father did to me. To make the connection to the books, think of Appius in this story as Eric’s abusive “maker” (though the abuse was not sexual). Remember that Appius in the books is a master manipulator, who tries to control Eric a thousand years into his life—AND SUCCEEDS with the Freyda thing. The bond between a child/parent (whether it is vampire or human; fictional or real) can be amazing, or it can be extremely damaging. But it is influential in almost every case.
- On the issue of why Eric doesn’t “kill” Appius: well—first of all—this is an all human story. And MOST people don’t go around killing others, even if those others are awful people. (Thank God—enough of my students think I am awful every time I return essays so that I would be long gone!) I know that a lot of you hate Appius and want him to be done away with, but humans (unless they too are sick and cruel) don’t kill or torture others. Now—I’m not saying that Eric won’t come to a moment where he will defend someone he loves, but can you really see this Eric initiating someone’s death—to defend himself? I just don’t. This is an Eric who doesn’t think he’s worth it. Moreover, even when he starts to believe that he IS worth it, would this Eric be capable of murder? Or asking another to murder? I don’t think so. That’s not the way I’m writing him in this world.
- I have mentioned—more than once—a contract between Eric and Appius, which will force him to marry a particular kind of woman. The contract also does other things that are yet to be revealed. Oftentimes, contracts have major penalties for the people that break them. This one does, though you’ll find out what those are when Sookie does. You will have to be patient for that knowledge. Think blackmail.
- An important clue was revealed in the last chapter. Excerpt: “There’s a,” he paused, “contract between us, and if I break it, a lot of people will be hurt. I’m trapped,” he finished, his voice breaking around the final word. So this means that—among other things—other people will be hurt if he breaks the contract. Imagine the people that Eric cares about the most: Would a man like Appius target them and blackmail Eric into signing a contract? Yes. Would a man like Appius manipulate Eric by making threats against the people Eric cares for? Uh—hell yes! Why else would Eric be so scared of Appius learning about Sookie?
There will be a lot more details coming about the contract, the mental manipulation, and the blackmail by Appius, but I hope the above gives you all (and especially my “guest” reader) some insight. Meanwhile, if you want a story where it is easy for Eric to get away from Appius’s influence or where he changes personalities on a dime and just kills his father, then you’re going to have to look elsewhere. This Eric could no sooner kill Appius than Sookie could kill Michelle or I could have killed my father.
Should abusers—mental/emotional abusers AND physical abusers AND sexual abusers—be punishable by the law? Yes. I think so. Does that always happen? No. And mental abuse is extremely difficult to prove or punish. Should abusers be “killed?” Personally, I’m not a believer in the death penalty, though I think that people who beat, sexually abuse, and/or mentally murder their children should be locked up very tightly forever—preferably in a dark hole somewhere where they can fester in their own misery. I have heard of cases where a child of extreme abuse kills a parent, and I cannot say that I blame people who kill to defend themselves. But I also cannot imagine the damage done to the child when he/she is forced into such a traumatic “solution.”
Again, I hope this answers the initial question. And remember to sign in before reviewing—or at least include your name so that I can PM you if signing in is a pain.
Now—let’s get to the story! Enjoy!
Chapter 21: The One in the Mirror
“It’s okay, Sookie,” Eric said with a little smile. “You don’t have to give yourself a deadline to decide. We have too many of those already. You’re worth waiting for—even if I never,” he paused, “have you.”
“You have me,” she whispered, “already.”
“And you have me,” he returned.
“I’ll try to have an answer for the both of us by next Sunday,” she said.
He nodded, the intensity in his eyes growing as he looked at her lips. “Can I give you a goodnight kiss, Sookie?”
“No!” she cried out loudly.
“It’s okay,” he responded quickly and quietly, lowering his eyes. Sookie could see the disappointment in them. “I understand. I’ll just go.”
“No,” she said again, this time in a softer tone, even as she put her free hand on his leg in order to make sure he didn’t get up. “What I mean is that I don’t want you to leave.”
“But I figured that since we’re not going to,” he glanced down at the bed and continued almost shyly, “have sex yet, you’d want me to—uh—go. I figured you’d want some time alone to think about—um—everything.”
Sookie blushed a crimson red when she, too, glanced at the bed. “I don’t need to be alone to think. Would you stay?” Sookie asked hopefully. “We could talk for a while, or we could just—uh—never mind,” she stopped abruptly and shook her head.
“Or we could what, Sookie?” Eric asked gently.
She looked back into his eyes, her own orbs wide and searching. “I was going to say that we could,” she paused, “sleep, but you have an early morning, and I’m sure you need to get home.”
“No,” he said immediately and loudly.
She jumped a little, startled by his sudden vehemence and volume.
Eric lowered his voice and chuckled nervously at his own reaction. “I want to stay with you, Sookie,” he said intently, his eyes telling her just how much. “The trip to Manhattan will take the same amount of time whether I go now or early in the morning. I’d like to stay and talk—or sleep.” He took a deep breath. “I’d very much like to sleep here—with you.”
She swallowed hard as she took in the contradictions in Eric’s always expressive eyes. They were intense and passionate, but they were also soft and gentle. His hand—still holding hers—was a similar enigma. He had a way of holding onto her tightly, yet tenderly. His skin against hers was somehow both electric and soothing. She couldn’t help but to wonder if every interaction she would have with Eric Northman would be full of such contradictions.
“I don’t want to toy with you, Eric,” Sookie said reservedly. “And I’m afraid that I’m sending you mixed signals here.”
“You’re not,” he assured.
“It’s not that I don’t want to—uh—be intimate with you,” she said almost pleadingly.
“I know,” he responded. “And I want to be intimate with you too, but there is more than one kind of intimacy, and I want them all with you.”
She gasped a little at his fervor.
Eric continued, “I understand that you need to take some time to decide what you want to do about us before we have sex.” He sighed. “You’re right about sex changing things; I fear that it will make it harder to let go,” he said softly as he caressed her cheek. “I’m just glad that you’re not sending me away right now.”
“I don’t want to send you away.”
He smiled. “Thank you, Sookie. Thank you for even considering all this.”
She sighed and leaned into his touch. “I’m thankful to you too.”
Disbelief and awe flickered into Eric’s eyes at her words.
“But I don’t want to give you the wrong idea, Eric,” she said, her voice still conveying concern. “I don’t want to lead you on.”
“You’re not. We both need sleep—right?” he asked reasonably.
“And if I go home alone, my head will be swimming with you, and I’ll toss and turn all night.”
She smiled and pinkened again. “I wouldn’t be able to sleep either.”
“So this is the most practical choice,” he said, smiling back at her.
She nodded again.
“So—uh,” Eric said, once more looking a little unsure of himself, “how do we do this? I’ve never actually slept with anyone before.”
“Really?” she asked, a confused look on her face.
“Sex does not need sleep,” he said gently, the tiniest of smirks framing his lips.
“Oh—of course,” she stammered. “Uh—well—I usually put on pajamas, climb into bed, and then read for a while—um—until I can fall asleep.”
He smiled. “Sounds good.”
“Um—do you—uh—have something you can sleep in? Boxers maybe? Bill slept in those once when he—uh—forgot his pajamas.”
Eric immediately bristled with jealousy. He knew he had no right to feel that way, but he did nonetheless.
“I’m wearing boxer-briefs,” he informed. “Is that okay? I could sleep in my jeans if it’s not. I can sleep in all this—if you want,” he said gesturing to the clothing he was wearing.
“No. Boxer-briefs are fine,” Sookie said, her voice high-pitching and sputtering a little.
Sookie reluctantly pulled her hand from his and stood up before grabbing a nightgown and her bathroom bag from her dresser.
“I—uh—use the bathroom right across the hall. I’ll be right back, and then you can go.”
Once in the bathroom, she completed her evening ritual on autopilot, even as her mind teemed with thoughts.
For one thing, she couldn’t believe that Eric Northman was in her bedroom! She couldn’t believe that she’d just spent the whole day with him. And that day had—undoubtedly—been the best of her life! Even the hardest part of it—finding out that any relationship she had with Eric would come with an expiration date—hadn’t ruined what she’d experienced with him that day. She shivered a little as she looked in the mirror.
Along with disbelief, she felt nervous at the thought that she was going to be sharing a bed with the beautiful man waiting for her. Somehow, she knew that he wouldn’t make any unwelcome—or welcome—sexual advances toward her, despite his reputation. However, she couldn’t quite figure out why she felt so safe with him; she’d certainly never experienced the same level of comfort and trust with anyone else—not even with Bill whom she’d been with for the better part of a year.
Sookie’s mind was questioning a million things regarding Eric. Why did being with him feel so good and so natural? How did she seem to know him in some fundamental way that transcended the information she had about him? How was it possible that he felt the same way, despite the fact that they’d spent so little time together?
Amazingly, what she didn’t question was his sincerity or the truth of his words. After all, how could she question a connection that she felt from the inside out?
Sookie took a deep breath and noticed that her reflection was smiling back at her. She smiled a little wider. Despite her nerves and her disbelief, the main feeling ricocheting through her was undeniable: happiness.
She gathered up her dirty clothing and other personal items—except for her toothpaste, which she left behind for Eric’s use. She made sure a clean towel was next to the sink, and then she walked quietly through the house to Amelia’s bathroom. Given the fact that her housemate often entertained “guests,” Sookie hoped that Amelia might have an unopened toothbrush.
Sookie’s smile stayed in place when she thought about how she now felt comfortable enough around Amelia to “borrow” things from her. Although something simple like a toothbrush was easily replaceable, Sookie would have been reticent to take one in the past—even just a couple of months before. Sookie opened the top drawer in Amelia’s vanity and found several packaged toothbrushes. She grabbed one and then double-checked that the front door was locked on her way back to her bedroom.
The sight she saw there made her mouth water.
Eric’s bare back was to her, and his muscles rippled just under the surface of his skin like gentle waves over smooth rocks. She heard the zip of his jeans and forced herself to say something before she turned into even more of a voyeur.
“I found a new toothbrush that you can have,” she said.
As Eric turned around Sookie gasped a little. If Eric’s back was perfect, then his chest was something that odes should have been written about. It was broad and perfectly formed. The muscles that controlled his graceful movements were well-defined, but they were not too large. His torso was long, and it tapered to abs that created a “six-pack” that was obvious, without being too severe. A prominent “V” shape of muscles and smooth flesh drew her eyes toward his unfastened jeans, but she wouldn’t allow her gaze to roam lower. She was already blushing as she raked her eyes upward until they rested on his.
She’d expected to see a little arrogance in his beautiful blue orbs—or at least recognition that she’d been gawking at him—but he seemed just as affected by her body as she was by his.
“You’re beautiful,” he whispered, removing the distance that had separated them with two long strides.
How his jeans stayed up was anyone’s guess. And how her eyes kept from straying to the trail of light hair leading downward to his dark gray underwear, which was peeking through his unzipped jeans, was a miracle in and of itself. Her skin heated and tingled at the thought.
Her blush grew deeper as he put his hand on her cheek and tilted her face up a little. All of her life, she had hated being exposed to scrutiny, but under Eric’s gaze, she didn’t feel apprehension or fear.
She felt only one thing: cherished.
As Eric waited for Sookie to come back to the bedroom, he was barely able to stay in control of his hormones. In fact, ever since they’d arrived at her house and sat on her bed—a bed that he very badly wanted to test for any squeaks—he’d been having difficulty keeping his libido in check.
But he’d managed to reign himself in. Despite the cravings of his body, he knew that it wasn’t the right time to have sex with Sookie. Clearly, she wasn’t a person who would be okay with having a one night stand, especially not with someone she truly cared about. And—miraculously—Eric knew that Sookie cared for him. Thus, no matter how much his body yearned for hers, he was determined to give her all the time she needed in order to make up her mind about him and about the limited things he could offer her.
He ached to give her so much more; he ached to give her the world.
But all that he could give was what he had. And he vowed to give her everything he had, leaving nothing behind for himself. He knew that when he was forced to break both of their hearts, he would become a shell again. He recognized that the hole inside of him would be back—and larger. But he couldn’t stop himself from craving a little happiness—4.8 percent of a life.
Eric sighed. He knew he was being extremely selfish. He knew that nothing he was offering was fair to Sookie. He knew it wasn’t enough.
He buried his face into his hands for a minute and contemplated leaving, getting away from Sookie before they became even more entangled with each other. He wasn’t naïve; he realized that leaving wouldn’t help to protect his own heart. Whether she was out of his life in three years or three minutes, he recognized that he’d be empty without her. But he figured that it might be less painful for her if he left before they truly got started.
But again he found himself to be selfish—too selfish to go.
Instead, he rose to his feet and looked at the bed. There was a nightstand on either side of it, and from the stack of books on the nightstand closest to the door, Eric could tell which side of the bed Sookie slept on. He walked over to the other side and put his cell phone, wallet, and keys on “his” nightstand. He smiled a little as he saw the items there, looking as if they belonged. He sat down on the bed once more and removed his shoes and socks. He looked around, wondering where he should put them.
Eric saw the open closet door and got up with his shoes and socks in hand. He found an open spot on the closet floor next to Sookie’s few pairs of shoes, and he placed his own footwear there. Again, he smiled as he took in how his things looked next to hers.
Almost on automatic pilot, Eric moved so that he was in front of Sookie’s dresser. He took off his T-shirt. Seeing how tidy everything was in Sookie’s room, he folded the garment and placed it on top of the dresser before unbuttoning and unzipping his jeans.
“I found a new toothbrush that you can have,” Sookie’s soft voice said from behind him.
Eric turned toward that voice like a moth to a flame. And once he saw Sookie in her white nightgown, all thoughts except for those of his yearning for her left his brain. Beyond his command, one part of his anatomy in particular took notice of her curves, and Eric could feel the pressure of that part against his unfastened jeans.
Eric had seen women in lingerie many times, wearing small pieces of lace and silk that left very little—or nothing—to the imagination. By contrast, Sookie’s white cotton nightgown was downright conservative. The garment had thin straps which led to a modest neckline; only a hint of her smooth cleavage swelled above the fabric, but that hint was more than enough to tantalize him. The bodice of the nightgown both concealed and embraced Sookie’s breasts, and Eric almost growled in passion as he realized that there was no way she could be wearing a bra. The nightgown gathered at a high waste and then the fabric fell in an easy way before ending several inches below Sookie’s knees.
Lifting his eyes to her face, Eric couldn’t stop his sharp intake of breath. Without doubt, he knew that Sookie’s sweet face was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. She didn’t wear much make-up, but now that her face had been scrubbed, he could see several freckles he’d not noticed before. Her cheeks were a natural pink, contrasting with the faint tan of her complexion. And her eyelashes, though not blond, were lighter than they were with mascara.
He would have said that she looked “innocent” or “pure”—like an angel—but she was so goddamned sexy in that moment that those were the last words that entered his mind.
She was blushing as their eyes locked, and in that moment he knew that she’d been checking him out just as much as he’d been checking her out. Generally, he would have made a snide comment if he caught a woman ogling him so blatantly, but that would have been hypocritical, giving his own study of Sookie’s body in her nightgown. Plus, she had once again left him almost speechless. Almost.
“You’re beautiful,” he managed to say as he found himself in front of her and caressing her ruddy cheek. He couldn’t remember crossing the room to get to her. Hell—he wasn’t even sure he remembered his own name in that moment. But he committed her face and the softness of her skin to his memory. Those things—those precious things—he would never forget.
“You’re beautiful,” he said again. “So beautiful.”
She smiled at him, her eyes showing her acceptance of the compliment.
He smiled back and took the toothbrush she was holding out for him. “Thanks,” he said, using that word to convey his gratitude for much more than the toothbrush. He bent down and gave her the slightest of kisses on her golden hair. Anything else and he may not have been able to stop himself for worshipping every inch of her lovely body.
Eric crossed the hall and went into the bathroom. His dick was pushing uncomfortably against his unfastened jeans, but at least the strong denim had kept his erection from being too obvious.
“Down boy. Not tonight,” Eric whispered to his aching member as he relieved the pressure it was under by pushing his jeans over his hips. He sighed with relief as his dick was now encumbered only by his soft underwear. Knowing that he’d need to take his time in order for his swollen member to “settle down,” he turned his attention to getting ready for bed.
After folding his jeans and putting them onto the counter next to the sink, he splashed some water on his face—and then a little more. He was nervous and excited by the prospect of sleeping with Sookie. But—at the same time—he felt guilty.
Again, Eric contemplated leaving, running shoeless and shirtless into the night. But that would be running away from his heart’s desire. And he just didn’t have the strength to do that—not anymore.
Instead, he opened the toothbrush Sookie had given him and brushed his teeth. Then he sat on the edge of the tub and waited for his erection to go down enough for him to use the bathroom. It took him ten minutes of reciting memorized poetry in his head before his dick finally cooperated.
While washing his hands, he looked in the mirror. The man he saw there looked unfamiliar. He looked younger than he had that morning. He looked lighter. His shoulders were relaxed. He had a small smile on his lips. He looked happy.
Eric had never seen the man before.
A/N: I hope that you enjoyed this chapter. Thanks for all the comments and reviews I got for the last one!