TWENTY-THREE MINUTES UNTIL SUNSET
Eric Northman had awoken sixty minutes before, and—ever since his eyes had popped open—he’d been trying to keep himself from rattling apart.
Of course, at over a thousand years old, the vampire was well-used to waking up before sunset.
In general, Eric greatly enjoyed the forty or so minutes of late afternoon and dusk that his age afforded him—even if he could not venture outside of whatever light-tight space he’d died in. Inarguably, he was also luckier than older vampires, for holes in the earth, caves, and crypts had been mostly replaced by bedrooms with books and other amusements by the time he was old enough to enjoy more than ten minutes of what vampires called “extended time.” And, of course, the developments of various technologies had brought with them telephones, radios, televisions, computers, and the Internet.
Hell! He’d never admit as much to Pam, but he had enjoyed quite a few serial programs during his “extended time.” There had, for example, been a game show on television called The Match Game, which had—during the 1970s—been broadcast during his “extended time.” He’d often chuckled at the “star” panelists, who were undoubtedly drunk much of the time. Indeed, he’d used to believe that drunken humans could be very funny—before opening Fangtasia, that is. Now he just found that drunkenness encouraged them to be brazen idiots.
Of course, his “extended time” was not all spent following radio and then television shows that Pam would have ridiculed him for (if she knew about them). On the contrary, when he was masquerading as a human, Eric had made it a point to initiate as many phone calls to “other humans” as he could before sunset. Though stuck inside, he could also use his “free” time to work or to plan, and—though he cared deeply for Pam—he liked having some time when his blood was at “peace.” Indeed, except for the “distant” presence of his three blood connections (because Appius and Karin were too far away from him to pick up their emotions and Pam was still dead for the day), he was “on his own” when he awoke. In fact, Eric sometimes wondered if the opportunity for “alone time” was one of the main reasons why most older vampires enjoyed needing less sleep than their children. Simply put, being “alone” was a luxury of sorts for anyone with a blood connection.
In addition to age increasing Eric’s “extended time” year by year, a good storm could afford the thousand-plus-year-old even more time awake before the sun officially set. However, waking up eighty-three minutes before that time was quite abnormal—even for him.
He had felt, for lack of a better word, “uncomfortable”—another anomaly—when he had woken up.
Despite (or perhaps because of) this discomfort, he had taken an extra moment to gauge his immediate surroundings.
Weres patrolled the property, and there were four humans in the mansion—all grouped in what was likely the kitchen. He could hear only one other vampire moving around, likely Russell (since he was quite a bit older than Eric); however, like him, the king would be confined to his light-tight space.
Still disconcerted—despite ascertaining no immediate threats—Eric had quickly freed himself from Bernard’s “snuggly” grip. As Leif, Eric had needed to pretend to be attracted to Bernard in order to secure clothing and the car for Sookie, but he hadn’t had to like it.
In fact—even if he had been going through a man phase (which he wasn’t)—Bernard wouldn’t have been Eric’s type; he was simply too hairy. Indeed, the Viking had experienced very few “man phases” during his years. In fact, he could count them on one hand—on three fingers.
Of course, the time he’d been required to spend with his maker was a forced phase that he liked to note with his middle finger.
In addition to teaching Eric how to be an effective (if reluctant) lover for another man, Appius had also taught him that avoiding most human feelings was necessary for a vampire.
Acceptable feelings included anger, indifference, and amusement.
Rage wasn’t allowed because it made one sloppy.
Fear wasn’t allowed because it made one erratic.
Caring wasn’t allowed because it made one vulnerable.
Love certainly wasn’t allowed because it made one a fool.
Eric had been a good student, learning to keep his emotions at an even keel—rarely allowing them to skew too positively or too negatively in any direction.
On the rare occasions he had—as a youngling—allowed his emotions to be “carried away,” he’d suffered his maker’s “training regimens.” Thus, it was safe to say that he’d perfected the art of living as numb as he had to.
Even with his vampire children, the Viking had always been extremely careful. He’d turned Karin to curb the loneliness he’d felt after Appius had told him to seek his own fate. But—back then with his first vampire child—Eric had followed Appius’s training-regimen example in a very strict manner. The only thing he’d not done was to require Karin’s physical servicing of him. Indeed, he had remained physically aloof as he’d taught her all that he knew about being a successful vampire.
He had allowed himself to enjoy her company only to a certain extent and to gain fulfillment only through her training and in seeing her become more and more powerful—acceptable “feelings” on his part. But that had been the end of what he’d allowed himself to feel. And, when she had been ready to survive on her own, he’d given her independence. Indeed, he’d insisted upon it when he began to worry that Appius might try to use his child to punish him.
Pamela had been more difficult to not feel strong emotion for, and—ultimately—Eric had “failed” with her—though only after they’d moved to the New World so that distance could mask (at least to a certain extent) his affection for her. Certainly, Pam amused him. And that was fine, according to Appius’s rules.
However, there had been more to Eric’s feelings for his younger child. The Viking also cared for her profoundly, and he had “missed” her whenever she’d been away from him. Because of this, he’d been “happy” for the excuse to call her to his side when he’d needed a partner for Fangtasia.
Affection, care, longing, happiness—these were not acceptable to his maker, and too many of the feelings (especially all at once) might have drawn Appius’s attention—even from half the world away. Thus, Eric habitually focused on only his “acceptable” feelings for his younger child: pride, loyalty, and amusement.
Just in case Appius happened to “check in.”
With Sookie Stackhouse, the rules his maker had set for him had been difficult to follow.
Impossible to follow, in fact—as his self-imposed discipline slipped every time he interacted with her.
The first night he’d seen her, he’d felt as if something in him had been awakened. Perhaps that something had been “possibility.”
Indeed, Eric could truly say that he’d never felt anything like what he felt with Sookie. As a human, he’d experienced mostly the need to follow through with his duties. He’d shadowed the behavior of his father and older brother. But his days as a human had been difficult—harsh even—and he’d been made hard-hearted because of the era during which he’d grown up. Indeed, by his people, the heart, wasn’t viewed as significant beyond one thing: If it was beating, it was good.
Notions of “love” were not associated with the organ.
Nor were such notions viewed as important.
On the contrary, Eric was taught to serve those above him and to watch over those below him. After his elder brother was slain, he took over his brother’s duties, becoming heir apparent. He also became husband to his brother’s wife and father to his brother’s children. For the boys—he made sure they received what training was appropriate for them. He left the girls in Aude’s capable hands.
Not that it had mattered, but he had been pleased that he “liked” Aude; she’d been a solid woman and partner. He’d enjoyed bedding her—but not more than he’d enjoyed bedding any woman who would accept his advances. He’d felt pride when his own first child had been born, but he’d known that he could not show the boy of his loins (Leif) favor, so he’d stifled that pride by taking his eldest (his brother’s first-born) on a hunt soon after. Indeed, he’d consciously spent less time with Leif, counting on his brother’s children to oversee their younger brother—as was tradition.
When Aude had died trying to deliver their third child, Eric had not shed a tear for her. Instead, he’d gone about his duty. First, he’d tasked one of his sisters with taking over the immediate care of all his children. Then he’d seen to Aude’s (and the never-born infant’s) funeral rites. Finally, he’d conferred with his father about his next steps—his next wife.
Looking back, he knew that he had felt care for his family. But he’d been taught not to feel too strongly. Thus, the “foundation” Appius had found drunk on that lonely road—on that fateful night—had been an easy one for the Roman to build upon.
Indeed, Eric had made fun of notions of “romantic love” when they’d first come into fashion. He’d found them impractical—a fad.
Certainly, impossible for him.
Of course, the inquisitive vampire had studied “love.” He’d read the poetry that supposedly represented romantic notions at their best. He’d glamoured and questioned those who claimed to feel “true love.” At the end of his studies, he’d been convinced that “romantic love” was nothing more than “lust” combined with delusion.
It was a human affliction.
Thus, he’d certainly never expected to be “shot with cupid’s arrow.” He’d told Pam more than once that he’d rather be staked by it—than diseased by it!
But, then, Sookie Stackhouse had entered his bar in her flirty, though innocent sundress, infinitely more beautiful than the red flowers adorning her garment. The odd thing was that Eric could have named hundreds of women who were more physically attractive than Sookie. He’d bedded many of them.
But that hadn’t stopped him from immediately thinking that she was the most exquisite of them all. In fact, his and Sookie’s altogether-too-brief interaction that night had more than solidified his interest.
Of course, never having felt anything like he was feeling before, Eric had been suspicious that Sookie might be a witch. Still, he’d longed to have additional interactions with her. If killing Long Shadow to protect her had been a shock to him, wishing to care for her after her Fellowship church “visit” had been a situation he would never have imagined himself living.
But live it he had.
Not surprisingly, in that Dallas hotel, it had been almost as if he’d been watching a different vampire carefully remove the shards of glass from Sookie’s body, even as he assured the telepath that she would be well.
But it had not been a different vampire.
Indeed, it had been he who had rushed to Dallas in the first place—not because he didn’t trust Sookie to do the job that she’d promised to do in finding Farrell, but because he’d worried that she’d do it too well, risking herself.
In the end, he’d been right about that. But he shouldn’t have cared.
He also shouldn’t have felt what he did when the attack had occurred upon Stan’s nest. Sookie had yelled out a warning. At that moment, Eric should have sped away to safety, but—instead—he had used his own body to shield Sookie. He shouldn’t have done that. And he certainly shouldn’t have felt intense fear that she’d been harmed until he could confirm that she hadn’t been.
And less than a week later—never should he have placed himself into a situation involving a Maenad (at a Maenad-“sponsored” orgy no-less)! But he hadn’t hesitated—for Sookie.
He also shouldn’t have followed Sookie to Jackson. But—here he was: again, pretending to be Leif.
The night before—when he’d felt her pain through their weak blood tie—he’d wanted to raze any threat against her. But his priority had been staying with her—not avenging her injuries.
What the fuck was that all about?!
As the wolf had run after Newlin and his cronies, Eric had stayed with Sookie (once again denying his vampiric instincts to hunt) in order to ensure that Russell and his people wouldn’t “accidentally” kill her.
And it wasn’t because he’d sent her to Jackson. No—he’d just felt the need to be with her.
Felt it acutely.
Feelings: she seemed destined to find them within him—to draw out emotions that he’d never even believed in before.
He felt as if he’d been “increased” because of those feelings, but he also felt vulnerable to them.
What if the feelings strengthened? What if they continued to change him? What if they consumed him? What if Appius took notice of them—of him? And what if his notice affected her?
It was these questions that had added fear to his repertoire of new feelings.
But the most difficult question of all? What if he lost her?
It was that question that had been driving him to the point of insanity since seconds after he’d awoken that night—when he’d realized the source of his disquiet.
The source of his awaking unnaturally early.
Yes—Eric generally enjoyed waking before other vampires. He could do work in peace, surf the Internet mindlessly, or simply plan his night. Or he could watch a human television show. Lately, he’d been into MASH, for he’d been intrigued by the various ways that humans dealt with war through humor—a concept not unknown during his own time.
But the war within him at the moment had brought him to his knees—emotionally (for the past now-sixty-seven minutes)—and, for the first time, literally.
Sookie’s pain—growing more acute by the minute.
Sookie’s resolution—despite how tired she was.
Sookie’s hopelessness—despite her resolution.
It was the last of her emotions that had ultimately caused him to crumble downward.
Her pain was manageable—based upon the sensations of the injuries Sookie currently had, Eric knew that she could be easily healed. It was the realization that she anticipated and was trying to steel herself to “accept” more pain that had him most concerned. Feeling dread himself, he rose to his feet.
He gauged the upcoming night. Though the storm was hiding the sun to a certain extent, Eric knew that it was still up—that it would not set for another sixteen minutes. Based on Sookie’s distance from him, he figured that he could be to her five minutes after that.
Twenty-one minutes in total.
Of course, the Viking had called Herveaux as soon as he’d awoken. The fucking Were hadn’t fucking answered! Eric had been forced to leave a fucking message—informing the Were of Sookie’s intended plan and of the fact that her location seemed to be roughly where Herveaux had his apartment. However, save an “On my way,” that the Were had texted thirty minutes before, there had been no additional missive.
Eric had contemplated calling the human police—and would have if Sookie’s physical pain had been worse. But he was certain of neither her exact location nor her current predicament. And human authorities tended to make Supernatural situations worse.
Then Eric had spent a good deal of time cursing himself for not arranging back-up protection—or a fucking full-time guard—for the telepath!
Having paced until Russell’s fine carpet was likely rutted, Eric occupied himself for a minute or two by dressing, careful to leave none of his possessions behind. And then he began pacing again.
When he felt an increased jolt of fear from Sookie at six minutes before sunset, the Viking did something he’d never done before: he left his resting place before nightfall, counting on the storm to obscure the sun from the windows in the hall.
His instincts immediately called upon him to scurry back to known safety, but he ventured closer to the nearest windows, and there he saw the storm that he’d been hearing—the storm that was mirroring Sookie’s emotions in many ways.
The Viking vampire did not “feel” himself making a decision, though he registered that he was moving toward a side door he’d discovered in the mansion the night before.
He knew that he shouldn’t, but he opened that door and looked toward the sky.
A single break in the clouds, and he would be vulnerable to the sun.
A let-up in the storm, and he would be finally dead.
He recognized what he ought to do—turn the fuck around!
But he lifted off into the sky instead. He followed Sookie’s dread, unable to allow himself to feel it a moment longer than he absolutely had to.
He followed it because of the myriad of emotions in her.
Because of the fathomless emotions in himself.
Emotions that were only inside of him because of her.
He flew through the storm with little care that it was the only thing preventing him from being burned. He knew that he was not at his fastest because the sun was still above the clouds, but he didn’t care about that either.
He should have cared—for his own well-being.
Above all else.
He should have landed and dug into the earth to ensure that he would not be harmed by the day.
And, given Sookie Stackhouse’s effect upon him, he should have celebrated her dread—her hopelessness—her pain.
But he did none of those things. Instead, he mustered his strength to fly faster.
Sookie had “slept” with Bill only one time—in Dallas.
And she’d been napping when he’d awoken there. So she’d never experienced him “coming to life.”
Of course—without a doubt—her current situation was different than her time waking up with Bill in Dallas.
Then, Bill’s first noise had not been a feral growl.
Sookie’s first thought after he’d awoken in Dallas had not been that she was urinating on herself out of fear.
However, she did not allow her last pain-free moment to be spent feeling embarrassed that she’d lost control of her bladder. She knew enough about anatomy to know that worse things would be happening once Bill killed her.
Bill’s rattling growl seemed to last an eternity, but it likely lasted only ten seconds or so.
After that came the pain.
Bill seemed to intuit the sorest part of Sookie’s throat, for that was exactly where he bit down—hard. She couldn’t help but to scream into the gag, making the pain even worse as Bill literally began to shred the blanket that was separating her body from his.
In his efforts, Bill shred the bindings around her legs as well, so Sookie kicked for all she was worth, but that movement hurt almost worse than Bill’s bite, as her legs felt as if they were being attacked with thousands of needles.
On some level, Sookie knew that fighting would only make her blood flow into Bill’s mouth faster, but she couldn’t help but to do what she could—useless though it was.
She felt her top being ripped off and then desperate hands crushing her breasts.
She thanked God that she was beginning to feel light-headed as Bill took another long drag of her blood and then took ahold of the waistband of the borrowed sweat pants.
“Please, just let me pass out,” she prayed—pleaded—soundlessly, no longer able to make any noise other than a mixture of gurgling and choking.
Speaking of sound—time seemed to stop for a moment as Sookie heard a roar echoing from nearby. Her weary brain took the noise for thunder—thunder so close that she figured the storm had somehow entered the garage.
After that, she heard another loud booming sound, but her mind couldn’t find a comparison for it.
And then she heard the squeaking, scraping sound of peeling metal.
And—suddenly—she felt the weight of Bill being ripped from her body; she wondered if her throat was going with him.
She blinked at the fluorescent light that had suddenly entered the trunk until she found herself looking at the outraged face of Eric Northman.
But she wasn’t afraid.
On the contrary.
For the first time since she had been put in the trunk by Debbie Pelt, she knew she would live through the night.
She’d longed for him, wanted him, prayed for him.
And he’d come.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed Eric’s POV. I tried to capture his anxiety, even as he was trying to hold himself together as he waited for nightfall. I did tweak a few things last-minute, so if you see typos, don’t blame Kleannhouse. 🙂
Let me know what you think if you have a spare moment and the inclination.