The flight from Jackson to Shreveport would be a short one, and though Sookie knew that there was plenty she and Eric needed to say to each other, she was happy that the first ten minutes or so that they spent in the air were silent ones—at least between the two of them—though Eric had needed to communicate with “the tower” several times.
Meanwhile, she’d managed to finish her sandwich and had been sipping at her Dr. Pepper.
“I like boats,” she stated randomly, breaking the silence. “I mean—compared to planes.”
Eric chuckled at her seemingly arbitrary choice of subjects. “Though planes have their benefits, I prefer boats too.”
“Of course,” Sookie smiled back. “You were a Viking. You would have traveled by—uh—long-boats? Right?”
“Our word for them is more closely translated to ‘dragon ships,'” Eric winked, “but—yes—you are correct.”
“Dragon?” she asked with interest.
He nodded. “There were generally figures—like dragons—carved at either end of our ships. These carvings were thought to frighten away the monsters we believed lived in the seas.” He shrugged. “They were,” he paused, “frighteningly beautiful.”
“The dragons or sea monsters?”
He chuckled. “Both.”
“Frighteningly beautiful? Like vampires,” she observed.
He laughed a little louder. Sookie was beginning to see just how much Eric Northman laughed—how it came naturally to him.
In certain company.
“Yes. I suppose that is an apt analogy—though some vampires have little beauty. But all vampires that I’ve ever known do have the capacity to be frightening—at least to humans,” Eric added.
Sookie thought for a moment. Most of the vampires she’d met were quite beautiful—or at least striking-looking. But that didn’t mean they all had interior beauty; in fact, some seemed downright ugly on the inside. (Malcolm and his brood came to mind.) However, she could imagine herself being frightened by any of them. Indeed, though she was perfectly comfortable with him right then, even Eric had scared her a time or two.
“What scares you?” she asked, returning to the question she’d asked him at Alcide’s apartment.
“Not much,” he sighed. “But the things that I fear are profound to me.”
“Will you tell me?” she asked.
Eric nodded almost imperceptibly, but took several moments before he responded. “Loss is a thing that vampires learn to accept early on. We lose our human lives—our human families. Indeed, we soon learn that all finite things will be lost—that even those who are supposedly immortal can be destroyed. My maker,” he paused, “tried to teach me to never care about anything—so that I would never register loss. But he failed—in many ways—with me. Or, perhaps, I failed him.”
“You fear loss?” she asked.
“What are you afraid to lose?” she asked with baited breath.
“Very little. Fortune is easy enough to gain. Knowledge too. I fear the loss of,” he paused, “people—certain people.”
“Who?” she asked, her voice sounding strained and small.
“Pam and my other child, Karin,” he started.
“You have another child?” she asked with some surprise.
He nodded. “I was relatively young and lonely when I made Karin—selfish too. I taught her—as best as I could—but she has preferred to be on her own since I felt she was ready to leave my side. I did better fostering a good relationship with Pam, for I was a better vampire—more healed—by the time I chose her to be my child.”
Sookie found herself surprised that Eric Northman would admit to any kind of deficiency or ailment. She couldn’t help but to feel honored that he would do that in her presence.
Or—maybe he already had been doing that. Maybe the few times they’d been alone had already told her all that she needed to know about Eric’s willingness to open himself to her. Indeed, from the moment they’d stared at each other through a hospital window to the moment they were now sharing, Eric had been “himself” with her, though he was clearly reluctant to be that self with others.
“I fear letting down the vampires who count on me,” Eric continued softly. “Many have sworn their fealty to me; I am beholden to them.”
“I very much doubt you let many down,” she returned just as softly.
He nodded slightly, but kept his eyes pointed through the front window of the plane. “And I fear losing you,” he admitted.
“And you don’t like having feelings?” she asked in a whisper.
He shook his head. “No. I do not. I worry that my maker might feel them too—that he might come and,” he paused, “toy with those feelings—with those about whom I feel.”
“He was bad?” she asked.
“Is bad,” the vampire corrected. “Appius taught me much about fighting and survival. But his lessons were learned at a steep price—to my body, my control, my choice,” he finished at a volume Sookie could barely hear.
Sookie sat silently for several moments as she analyzed Eric’s words and the subtext of them. He’d lost the three things she most feared losing if she were ever made a vampire, yet he still seemed so strong—even in his vulnerability. She found herself yearning to share her own darknesses with him, wondering if the creature of the night sitting next to her was—ironically—the very individual who could best teach her how to shine a light upon her fears.
“Bill didn’t rape me tonight. But he would have,” she practically whimpered. “I know it.” She paused. “I had an uncle who would have done the same—when I was real young—if I hadn’t heard his plans from his head and told Gran. As it was, he did some things to me—things that still give me nightmares sometimes. Things that make it difficult for me to be around men—to trust them. Bill was the first, and he . . . . Well—I don’t think I made a good choice trusting him.”
Eric growled low, but Sookie knew that the fearsome noise was not aimed at her. “This other man—your uncle—is there any reason at all that you still need to fear him?”
“No,” Sookie responded. “In fact, Bill killed him. And—even before that—I wasn’t afraid of him. But I still,” she paused, “remember how powerless I felt.”
“You are not powerless anymore,” Eric averred.
“I was,” the telepath corrected. “In that trunk, I was.”
Eric looked at her pointedly. “How many hours were you in there, Sookie? Ten? Lesser things have rattled people to insanity—yet you are here and still whole.”
She shook her head. “How do you know my sanity wasn’t rattled? It feels like it was.”
“I felt you—what you were feeling—for a while before I could leave Russell’s mansion,” the vampire said quietly. “You were scared, but you were strong too.”
“I didn’t feel strong,” Sookie admitted.
“Are there not many kinds of strength?” Eric asked.
“Survival is a kind of strength,” the vampire stated after they’d been silent for a few moments.
“You’re a survivor,” Sookie observed.
He nodded. “I am, and I recognize others like me,” he added, glancing pointedly at her.
She took a deep breath. “I’m still here.”
“You are,” the vampire smiled softly before his expression became severe again. “I am glad that your uncle is not. At least, Bill did one thing right,” Eric uttered, his voice steel.
Sookie shrugged. “I don’t know. Bill killed my uncle on my behalf, but I now carry guilt for that monster’s death.”
“You cannot believe that he didn’t deserve punishment!” Eric responded incredulously.
“Oh—I believe he did. Part of me wishes that Gran wouldn’t have chased him away with the shotgun. Part of me wishes that she’d asked Sheriff Bud to arrest him. We found out later that he’d hurt my cousin Hadley too.”
In the grips of her recollection, Sookie did not notice that Eric’s countenance changed slightly with the mention of the unusual name: Hadley.
“Who knows who else he might have gotten to?” the telepath continued as she crumpled the empty soda can in her hand and then put the trash back into the bag. “By the time I was grown, Uncle Bartlett was in a wheelchair. Despite that, I still worried about other people—other little girls he might come into contact with.” She sighed. “It always seemed like a mistake not to tell, and I thought about having him arrested when I was eighteen. But Gran’s thoughts were so clear on the matter. In some ways, she was old school—maybe too old school sometimes. She thought it best not to air dirty laundry where people could see it.”
“You carried guilt for him remaining free—didn’t you?” Eric asked perceptively.
Sookie nodded. “Yes. Gran didn’t mean for me to suffer in that way though. And her conscience was clear because she told Sheriff Dearborn about things and figured he’d make sure Bartlett didn’t do it again.”
“But you still worried,” the vampire observed.
“Yeah. Gran didn’t want me to have to relive things in a courtroom, but keeping everything a secret is what made me ashamed of it all.” She shook her head as if to shake herself from her gloomy thoughts. “After Gran sent her brother away, I didn’t mention it again because she didn’t even want to think about it. So I tried not to think about it either, but I did sometimes. And—whenever I did—I wondered why Bartlett’s sins coming to light would have been such a bad thing.”
Sookie paused for a moment. “I understood later on when I realized how certain people look at the victims of crimes negatively—either pitying them or sometimes even blaming them. I know Gran was trying to protect me. But that kind of thinking will never disappear until good people have the chance to think differently.”
“Do you believe people are capable of that?”
“I know it,” Sookie smiled softly—though a little sadly. “And you’ll prove it.”
“How?” he asked curiously.
“Tell me—how would’ve people in your human time dealt with someone like my uncle?”
Eric growled. “Anyone abusing a child in that way would have been publicly beaten and killed—and then buried without honor.”
“And the child?” she asked.
“He or she would have been viewed as innocent,” Eric returned.
“From what I’ve read about history, humans evolve and devolve in cycles,” the telepath mused. “Right now, a lot of people are taught to cover up situations like the one I faced as a child—to not think about the ugly side of life. But I think things will change again.”
“You have much faith in humanity,” Eric observed.
Sookie shrugged. “For every horrible, ugly thought I’ve endured, I’ve heard at least one kind or loving one. And—even if they are wary of me—most people I know are pretty decent overall.”
“More good than bad?” Eric asked.
“Most of them—except for people like Uncle Bartlett.”
Eric took one hand from the “steering wheel” of the plane and offered it to her in a sign of silent support.
She accepted it. “Would you kill him? My uncle? If he were still alive?”
“The truth?” the vampire asked.
“I would,” Eric admitted, keeping his eyes forward. “I know what it is like to be,” he paused, “victimized—powerless.”
“You would have wanted to kill him for us both?” Sookie asked, though it was clear she already knew the answer.
“Even as I want to kill Bill right now,” he sighed. “For the both of us.”
“But you didn’t; you haven’t,” she reminded.
“Not yet, but do not think that the desire has left my mind. I will be looking for an excuse,” he conveyed honestly.
“But not one that makes me his inadvertent killer?” she asked.
“No—not one that does that,” he assured. “But—make no mistake—I will protect you from him and kill him if he tries to directly harm you. Meanwhile, I will be hoping that he fucks up in another way.”
Sookie chuckled darkly and shook her head. “That shouldn’t make me laugh.”
“It wouldn’t have,” he paused, “yesterday.”
“I know,” she whispered.
Again, there were several moments of silence between them.
Again, Sookie broke that silence.
“I’m afraid of being alone—not having someone to share my life with; I always have been.”
“You need not be alone again,” Eric returned quietly, squeezing her hand a little.
Sookie acknowledged his assurance with a squeeze of her own.
“I’m afraid of losing my brother, Jason. And my friends—Sam, Tara, and Arlene.” She laughed ruefully. “Of course, I know that Jason doesn’t think about me much—unless he’s at Merlotte’s and wants a free pitcher of beer or is craving home-cookin’, but that’s probably pretty normal for brothers. And Sam’s thoughts about me aren’t always—uh—comfortable.”
“How so?” Eric asked with an edge to his tone.
Sookie shrugged. “He didn’t like me bein’ with Bill. Sometimes, he seemed to have an interest in me, but he never acted on it until Bill was already around. Needless to say, Sam doesn’t have many nice things to say about vampires. And Arlene is more of a fair-weather friend than anything else, but I still don’t wanna lose them.”
“Fair-weather?” he asked.
“She’s there for me only when it’s easy or convenient for her,” Sookie smirked. “She’s the kind that asks for favors—expecting a ‘yes’—but she begrudges me when I ask her in return.”
“I take the friends I can get though,” Sookie went on. “They’ve been few and far between because the people that remember me as a kid have just cause to think I’m crazy, scary, or both.”
“How so?” Eric asked.
“Before I had shields, I got confused between spoken words and thoughts—like all the time! So I would answer people’s thoughts or sometimes spill their secrets in public. Sometimes,” she went on in a haunted-sounding voice, “there would be so many sounds that I couldn’t help but to cry or yell out or cover my ears, trying to keep them all out. Places like church and school were the hardest to be in, so I often broke down in them—until I was about thirteen and started learnin’ to form shields. But Gran couldn’t keep me at home because she had to get a part-time job at the grocery store to help take care of Jason and me. She didn’t quit it until Jase got a job, moved out, and took over all the expenses for my parents’ old house.”
Sookie sighed deeply. “No matter how many years I’ve had decent control over my telepathy, though, it’s the crazy-looking little girl weeping with her hands over her ears that most people ‘see’ when they think of me. Heck—Sam and Arlene are both transplants to Bon Temps. Arlene and I didn’t meet until we were both waitresses at Merlotte’s, which didn’t open until Sam moved to town when I was eighteen. By the time I applied for a job with him, I had solid shields. He and Arlene know what I can do, but they’ve never had to see me when I don’t have any control.” She shook her head. “Jason’s always had to tolerate me because I was his sister. So Tara is the only one who chose to be my friend before I got my shields.”
“Tara was the girl at Club Dead?” Eric asked. “The one you danced with?”
Sookie nodded and smiled. “We’ve been friends since we were seven; sometimes—when Mrs. Thornton was holding down a job—she and Tara had cable, and we’d dance along with MTV.”
Eric scoffed. “Music Television. Pamela subjected me to a countdown of the best videos by 80s hair bands when we were lying low in a safehouse a few years ago.”
Sookie chuckled and then glanced sideways as him, a smirk evident on her lips. “Given that pink Lycra outfit you had available, I would have bet you enjoyed that kind of music.”
The vampire chuckled. “In moderation, almost anything is tolerable.”
Sookie’s cheeks flushed red.
“What?” Eric asked with confusion. “Why are you feeling both embarrassed and lustful?”
Sookie practically buried her face into her available hand.
“Tell me or I’ll crash the plane?” Eric grinned wickedly.
The telepath gasped and then rolled her eyes as she realized he was joking. “Fine. I was just thinking that there was nothing about that Lycra that said ‘moderation.'”
Eric laughed out loud.
Just then, the radio crackled and the vampire took his hand from hers while he had a brief exchange with the tower attendant in the Shreveport area. The communication allowed Sookie the time to get her emotions—and her body color—back under control.
It also gave her the opportunity to think about just how comforting Eric’s touch had been. She didn’t have too long to miss the comfort, however, as he retook her hand gently as soon as he was done speaking on the radio.
“Is Franklin, the vampire Tara was with, a good guy?” she asked, recommencing their conversation.
“Franklin is,” Eric paused, “civilized, but he likely won’t keep your friend for long. I’ve never known him to be with a human woman for more than a few weeks, but—while he’s with her—he’ll dote upon her.”
“He won’t hurt her—uh—physically when he’s done with her—will he?”
Eric shook his head. “No, but he is known to pass his humans along to other vampires—even glamouring them to accept the change of ownership.”
“That’s horrible!” Sookie gasped squeezing his hand in her irritation. She didn’t let go of it, however.
“I disagree with that kind of practice as well—though I have certainly glamoured humans to complete daytime tasks or to forget that I had bitten them. But glamouring them to the point that they have no choices left . . . .” His voice trailed off.
“Eric—uh—Tara likes Franklin. I heard her thoughts about that. She’s having fun with him and isn’t the kind to initiate a break up unless there are real problems. Um—she’s no saint, but I don’t want her to be traded like that.”
“Say no more. Franklin owes one of my casinos a bit of money. I will forgive the debt if he ensures that your friend is not bartered when he tires of her,” the vampire set her mind at rest. “She will be glamoured to believe that any break-up was amicable and will be sent on her way in peace.”
“Thank you,” Sookie said with relief. “Does that—uh—happen a lot? Vampires getting tired of humans?” she asked reluctantly.
Eric nodded. “Yes. Often. Vampires eventually get tired of most everything—and everyone—given time. There are exceptions, but they are rare.”
“I think Bill was tired of me by the end of our time together,” she admitted. “Even before his maker called him, he’d lost interest—at least in talking.” She sighed and shook her head. “I wasn’t happy, but I lied to myself. And,” she paused, “I didn’t want to be alone. Maybe I was just weak.”
“You are not weak,” Eric said matter-of-factly.
The two were silent for almost a full minute, though their hands continued to touch, his thumb brushing her palm soothingly.
“Will you kill Debbie?” she asked. “I promised Alcide I’d try to stop you.”
Eric sighed, his mixed feelings on the subject apparent. “Do you believe that she will come after you again?”
“Yes,” Sookie admitted. “I think Debbie had a lot of crazy in her already—before she got hooked on various drugs. According to Alcide’s thoughts, she went from alcohol, to weed, to meth—though she’s had periods when she’s been clean. Now that she’s found V, however, it’s as if she can’t prevent herself from havin’ emotional fixations: her obsession with Alcide bein’ an example. And now, she has her hatred of me to focus on too. She’s a lit fuse lookin’ for something to blow up.”
“In that case—yes—I believe I should kill her; I won’t risk your safety.”
“Eric, I don’t want her dyin’ because of me.”
“She’d be dying for her own actions,” he said forcefully. “But,” his voice softened, “knowing how you hate the thought of even someone like Debbie Pelt being slain on your behalf—I will offer you a compromise.”
“Compromise? What compromise?”
A/N: Hi all! I hope you enjoyed this beginning to the airplane ride home. Remember that we are moving away from the book narrative now. This Eric is also giving into his “feelings” more than the book Eric because he had to withstand the ordeal of the trunk in his own way as he was forced to wait to go for her.
Several of you asked about Bubba. Don’t worry. Earlier in the story, Debbie was thinking about how she planned to tell people about Bubba to gain favor. Of course, Eric and Sookie don’t know that, so they will be make sure that he’s okay too. In the books, Sookie is hurt much more severely, so I’m assuming the triage for that would have taken longer. I tried to “time” their Bubba realization around the same time it might have happened in the book. Anyway, no need to worry about Bubba. Plus, he’ll be back in the story soon. 🙂
As always, thanks to Kleannhouse and Sephrenia!