“Shit!” Sookie cursed. “Appius made Renfield!”
“Yes—though that was not actually his name. Appius’s disdain for humans—his feeling of superiority over them—was the perfect fuel for his belief that he could do anything he wanted to a human.” He shook his head in judgment. “Bond-making—I believe—is a sacred act. But—as with almost everything else—my maker managed to have a warped vision of it. You see—in bonding—a vampire is meant to share a part of himself or herself with a human. And that magic allows the human to understand the vampire in the same way that a blood tie enables a vampire to have a window into the human’s emotions. A bond also allows the human to find his or her vampire, just as the vampire can find a human through a tie.”
“So the human can feel the vampire? I would be able to feel what you’re feeling?” Sookie asked.
Eric nodded. “Yes. A vampire can muffle a bond to a certain extent—like you are able to build your shields, I’d imagine.” His eyes softened. “However, I have come to believe that a vampire is able to show his bonded the intensity of his devotion only if he resists the urge to stifle a bond.”
“How do you mean?” she asked quietly.
“You know that vampires are uneasy with feelings, but you are only beginning to understand why that is so. Though vampires are immortal and our bodies are constant, our feelings are ever-moving and could make us vulnerable. Even if my own maker had not attempted to,” he paused and looked away for a moment, “beat all that I felt from me, I believe I would have tried to stifle my emotions to a certain extent. All vampires do.”
Sookie squeezed one of his hands, even as he disentangled the other from her grasp and brushed away a tear she’d cried for him.
“I hate your maker,” she said softly. “I’ve never hated anyone I haven’t met before, but I hate him.”
Eric brushed away another of her tears. “I would hate anyone who hurt you as well, Dear One. However, despite his teaching, I do not view bonds as Appius does. He has bonded several times during his time on this planet—and always with the intention of controlling the human to the point that the human became insane—debilitated—no better than an animal.” Eric paused for a moment. “Vampires have known for a while that their blood can cause addiction in a human—if it is taken from a vampire’s body and allowed to age.”
“V,” Sookie observed.
“Yes,” Eric confirmed. “When drunk directly from a vampire, the blood creates a sense of euphoria—to be sure—but it is not the same as V. Not as corrupted,” he added with disdain.
“And Appius figured this out?” she asked.
Eric shrugged. “Perhaps, he was not the first to do so. I cannot know for sure. But—by the time he made me—he’d had more than one Renfield. He used a combination of his fresh and his rotting blood to form bonds with them. And their addiction distorted all that was meant to be good about a vampire-human bond.” The Viking scoffed. “Of course, Appius never believed that a vampire and a human should bond for affection or mutual benefit. He adamantly believes that humans are so far beneath vampires that true bonds are unnatural.”
“And he taught you that lesson,” she whispered.
“He tried,” Eric relayed. “And I will admit that—for a long time—I believed what my maker trained me to believe.”
“What changed your belief?” she asked curiously.
“Distance. Once away from Appius, I saw a very different kind of vampire-human bond than the version I witnessed my maker utilizing. In fact, I learned new ways of doing many things from vampires I ultimately admired much more than Appius. Still, I would never have imagined that I would actually desire a true bond—until you.”
“You want to bond with me?” she asked incredulously.
He retook her second hand and gazed deeply into her eyes. “I believe I do. But—ultimately—I also believe that whether or not to bond is a decision you and I must make together—if the time comes when we wish to make it.”
“Because it’s permanent?” she asked.
“Yes. And also because I want to ensure that it is something we both want very much. A true bond is,” he paused, “as close to marriage as a vampire gets and is often accompanied by a pledging.”
“Pledging?” she asked.
“Pledgings were originally created to be public declarations of bondings. A pledging between two vampires would indicate their commitment to stay partners and mates for a minimum of one hundred years. Such a practice is rare and was once done solely between true vampire mates; indeed, these pledgings usually lasted much longer than a century. In the last several hundreds of years, however, most vampire pledgings that I am aware of have had more to do with politics than affection and are not accompanied by a permanent blood bond between the vampires—only a temporary, though annually renewed, blood tie. For a vampire and a non-vampire being, a pledging was meant to be a sign of the non-vampire’s rise into a permanent and even respected status in the vampire world; it was an introduction into that world,” Eric explained. “The non-vampire would present the vampire with a knife—a symbol that the non-vampire understood the importance of the taking and the giving of blood.”
“Do a lot of vampires and humans bond and pledge?” Sookie asked.
“No,” Eric responded. “Before the Great Revelation, it was extremely risky to tell any human of our existence, and such trust would have been a necessary prerequisite for a bond and pledge. Thus, few vampires allowed themselves to develop any true affection for humans, nor did we tend to settle down in any one place for too long, which made relationship-forming even more difficult.”
Sookie nodded in understanding. “It does sound like it would’ve been difficult.”
The vampire looked at the telepath with sincerity. “Dear One, I would not wish to bond with you unless we also pledged. If you,” he paused, “truly become mine, I will have others view you with the respect a pledged mate is afforded. I will not have you seen as a pet,” he added fervently. “A pledging will also allow everyone to know that you are mine by choice—as I am yours by choice. Such a ceremony would be sacred to me.”
“Wow!” Sookie exclaimed softly—her tone one of awe. “Okay. So—I should view bonding like it’s getting married to you?” she said softly, hesitantly.
“Even more permanent than marriage—as it is currently known to humans,” Eric answered just as softly. “There is no divorcing from a bond or a pledge. There would be no lessening of our blood connection over time. A bond would mean we have committed our lives to one another for as long as we are both in existence. Of course, if the laws ever change, I would have no issues with marrying you in the human tradition too, if you would wish such a thing,” he added.
“Wow!” she repeated. “I—uh—wow! You would?”
He shrugged. “As I said, I view a pledging as a sacred ceremony—and a bond as a sacred oath. I won’t lie—to me, a human marriage would be a lesser commitment, though I would have you contented, and I am certain that I would enjoy the festivities.” He smiled a little. “I always appreciated such occasions when I was a human, though I understand wedding celebrations have changed a lot. Your brother would likely not expect livestock or gold in exchange for your hand, for instance.”
Sookie chuckled. “Likely not—but with Jason, one never knows.”
Eric laughed with her for a moment before touching her cheek tenderly. “I know my mind, Sookie. It is only fair that you are aware of my certainty. I would marry, bond, and pledge with you tomorrow. That is how certain I am about us. However, none of those three things would be more important to me than our night-to-night existence together. That is the part that would be the most difficult—especially given how stubborn we can both be.”
They both chuckled at that, even though Sookie was also fighting tears because of the happiness his words were stirring within her.
“But ultimately,” the vampire continued, “those nights with you—whatever they bring—will be the most rewarding and special to me. I have never wanted to spend my nights with someone to the extent that I wish to spend them with you.”
“Wow!” she exclaimed again. “Eric, I . . . . Really, I . . . . But it’s all such a big step, and we haven’t even . . . ,” she started.
He hushed her with a gentle kiss—barely a whisper of touch.
Still, even that small touch sent a bolt of electricity through them both.
“You are right that our relationship has not yet begun formally. But—even as you suggested earlier—I feel that what is between us is well on its way to blossoming. However, I do not want to rush you into anything. On the contrary, I want for us to enjoy some time that is not fraught with extreme drama. We deserve some calm in order to better understand ourselves and what we are together,” he stated firmly. “It is then that we can fully and truly contemplate these larger and permanent topics. It is then that we will be able to reach conclusions that contain no doubts or hesitations.”
Sookie nodded and sighed in relief—and agreement. “You’re right. But it’s only right that you know that I already feel so much for you. I was so scared of admitting those feelings when I talked to Aphra today,” she finished almost shyly.
“You need not be scared,” the vampire said softly, pushing a strand of hair over her ear.
“I know that—now,” the telepath whispered. “I think I’ve realized that—no matter what happens with us as a couple—we’ll be okay.” She smiled. “I was freaked out because I already feel,” she paused, “love for you as a friend, but—uh—even stronger because, in some ways—because I can talk to you and because you accept me—you’re the best friend I’ve ever had.” She bit her lip nervously, gauging his reaction to her declaration.
Eric smiled at her. “I enjoy being your friend very much, Dear One. However,” he added with a glint in his eyes, “I do not wish to be trapped in the friend zone with the shifter.”
Sookie chuckled heartily. “Don’t worry! There’s absolutely no chance of that happening!”
“Good. Then I say that you and I should simply enjoy spending time with one another for the time being. Just you and me—with no meetings with Bill or other issues hanging over our heads.”
“I like the sound of that; I just hope that drama doesn’t come looking for us,” Sookie commented.
Eric smirked. “It likely will—you know.”
She smacked his arm playfully. “Don’t jinx us.”
He smiled along with her for a moment before his expression became more serious. “Through drama and calm, we will find a way to get to know each other as we should.”
“What happens if we do get together, but don’t decide to bond, Eric?”
The vampire contemplated for a moment. “We’ll have the relationship we choose, Dear One,” he answered sincerely.
“But you cannot even drink from me,” she frowned. “If you do, we could form a bond accidentally—if you ever needed to give me your blood again.”
His smirk came back in full force. “The magic that has linked us because of our mutual exchanges is already fading. I estimate it will take only thirty-seven days more before I could begin taking your blood—if you are of a mind to feed me by then,” he added suggestively. After that, I’ll only ask that you take a bit of my blood every once in a while—but only enough to keep a slight tie in place. Perhaps a drop or two on special occasions?” His tone practically oozed with sex as Sookie blushed, certain that he intended these takings on her part to happen during sex.
“Why would I keep taking your blood?” she asked. “Oh—wait. So that you can keep tabs on my location,” she answered for herself. “Yeah—you’re right. I’ll want that extra security.”
Eric smiled at her, grateful that she did not question his motives for wanting to keep a bit of his blood in her as a precaution—and even more grateful that she didn’t need him to even explain his reasoning to her. She knew that reasoning already because she was coming to know him.
Ever since she’d looked at him with such faith, hope, and trust as he’d pulled her from the trunk—Eric had been more and more certain that it was his destiny to be with Sookie—to bond with her and pledge with her. Yet he knew her well enough not to rush her—and, more importantly, not to let her rush herself. She’d rushed into a relationship with Bill and now doubted whether any of it was real. The Viking, of course, was nothing like Bill. Also, their relationship would not be based on a foundation of lies. But he was determined that the foundation it was built upon would be sturdy—so that it would last the test of time.
All time—if possible.
“So—what shall we do tonight?” he asked her. “It is full dark now.”
“Don’t you need to go to Fangtasia? I mean—our date isn’t until tomorrow night.”
“I had thought to stay here with you—to be your friend tonight,” he said before leaning forward to place a gentle kiss on her lips.
She exhaled deeply. “Friends don’t kiss like this.”
“We do,” he smirked, his eyebrows waggling.
“Well—could we look over the business plan together and maybe talk about training? And then I’ll want to go to bed early tonight—well earlier than last night. I’m not tired right now, but I’m sure that dealing with Bill last night, working today, and seeing Aphra will all catch up to me.”
“That sounds good. I’ll fulfill my role as BFF, and we can make progress on getting your business up and running. And I can still get to Fangtasia in plenty of time to see to the books so that Pam won’t give me any shit.”
Sookie chuckled, even as she rose from the bed. “It’s our business. And you sayin’ ‘BFF’ is just all kinds of funny. Plus, won’t Pam give you shit anyway—for not sittin’ on your throne?”
Eric shook his head. “She knows I am done putting myself on display. I’ve asked her to find another piece or two of eye candy.”
“What?” Sookie asked incredulously. “You’re not gonna sit on your throne anymore?”
Eric shook his head. “No. As I suggested the other night, I have lost interest in enthralling the vermin, and I have no need to use Fangtasia as a,” he paused, “menu.”
Sookie shook her head. “I know you think of the fangbangers like that, but hearing you say that makes me feel a little sorry for them.”
“Whatever for?” Eric asked.
“They really have no idea what y’all think of them,” the telepath responded, reaching out to take Eric’s hand in order to lead him into the living room. “They truly believe that the vampires want them. Hardly any of them even ponder for a moment the idea that they are McPeople to you.”
“I know,” Eric said with some disdain. “I might even pity them if most of them didn’t come back for more night after night.”
Sookie sat down on the couch after turning on the Christmas tree lights. She grabbed the folder that contained her business plan as Eric sat at the other end of the couch. He gestured toward the fireplace. “Do you ever use that—the fireplace?” he asked.
Sookie frowned for a moment.
“Why are you suddenly sad?” Eric asked with concern.
“Just Gran,” Sookie sighed. “She’d always get onto Jason around Thanksgiving to cut some wood.”
“Will your brother not do the chore for you now?” Eric asked.
“Oh—he would if I’d asked him to. Honestly, with everything going on, I haven’t thought of it.”
“May I cut you some? Once you are sleeping tonight? It won’t take long, and I have not performed such a task for another in a very long time,” he said, getting a faraway look in his eyes. “It would be nice to light a fire tomorrow—for our date,” he added.
“Yeah—really nice,” she agreed with a smile.
“So—what questions did you have for me?” he asked, gesturing toward the papers in her lap.
She looked at him with determination. “The first one is really not about the paperwork. It’s about my training. Eric, I’m ready to start learning everything I need to know to be successful in your world.” She shook her head. “Our world.”
“Good,” the vampire said with a bit of pride in his tone. “Well—you already know something of kings and queens. Are you up for a crash course in the overall vampire power structure?”
She took a deep breath. “Yeah. I’m ready.”
A/N: Well—I hope you enjoyed part two of their conversation. There’s more to come! Oh—and, of course, Eric and Sookie are too stubborn to consider this a date, so their first date will be coming as well, but not before they spend the night having their “non-date” discussion. I want the actual date to be a lot less about business.
Anyway, let me know what you think if you have the time and the inclination.