Eric held Sookie close against his body for another hour as he stared into the fire. He thought back to every single conversation they’d shared. Gods help him—he wanted her, despite what he now knew about the Fae bond.
Intellectually, he understood that Sookie forming the fairy bond with him was a great honor. And part of him was just a little more awestruck by her than he’d been before.
But he didn’t like not knowing which of his feelings were his own and which had come from the Fae bond. However, during the hour he spent with Sookie in his arms, he began to understand what needed to be done. On the one hand, he intended to accept what had already passed between them. After all, he had no choice. On the other hand, he would progress forward with more wariness of the Fae bond.
Eric didn’t want to hurt Sookie more than she’d already been hurt, but he couldn’t risk losing himself to the bond—not if he was to stand a chance against Russell. But he was certain that they could find a balance—if they worked together.
It was close to 3:30 a.m. when Eric bit into his wrist to feed Sookie. This time, it did not take her long to respond to his blood, and she moaned into the wound. Her eyes opened even as the small bite on his wrist healed.
“Eric?” she asked as if waking from a dream.
“Sookie?” he gave his familiar refrain out of habit, but his tone didn’t sound quite right to either of their ears.
“Are they gone?”
“What are we going to do?” Sookie asked.
“We are going to learn how to distinguish what is real versus what is coming from the Fae bond. We are going to continue with our plan to leave this place, and eventually I will fight Russell. Your great-grandfather has left you a book that you can read in order to better understand your spark and the gifts you may develop from it. We will have to stay together from now on—it seems—but we will figure out ways to retain some independence within that constraint. The bond has made us partners, Sookie, and partners we will be until death parts us.”
“Sounds like a marriage,” she observed with a slight whimper.
“We are more than married,” Eric returned, “at least by today’s standards.”
“Because there’s no possibility of divorce,” Sookie commented somewhat sourly.
Eric nodded. “During my time, divorce wasn’t a possibility either, and arranged marriages were the norm. That is how I choose to think about what we are.”
“As having an arranged marriage?”
He nodded again in affirmation.
“And you don’t see that as a bad thing?” she asked tentatively.
“No. Arranged marriages were often very good. They were based on mutual understanding and benefit. That will be us, Sookie. We will be fine.”
Eric’s words should have soothed Sookie, but the resignation mixed with the resolution in his voice made her want to cry again.
“Do you hate me?” she asked him.
“No,” he said. “I have never hated you. And I will never hate you—or resent you, though I hate the bond that has been forced upon us. However, you are not to blame. I am the one who set all of this into motion by giving you my blood and activating your spark. Do you hate me?” he asked in return.
“No,” she answered.
“Then that is where we will start over,” he said, as he stood up and put her on her feet before bending toward her and placing a deliberate kiss on her forehead. “Why don’t we eat the meal you planned for us last night? I have already packed your things, but you will probably want to shower before you apply the concealment potion to your forehead. Octavia said that the spell covering this place will last until well into tomorrow, so after you eat and are cleaned up, you should rest for a while. I will go to my rest in the car. You can even sleep in a bit, but you should leave here around noon—so that we can be at our next destination before dark.”
Sookie couldn’t help but to notice the distance in Eric’s tone and in his demeanor, but she didn’t blame him. In fact, his somewhat aloof civility calmed her—helped her to gain control of the swirl of her own emotions.
“We can deal with this,” she said, though her voice shook a little.
“We will deal with this,” he responded. “And—to be very clear—I do not blame you for it. If anything, it is your great-grandfather’s fault for keeping you uninformed—or mine for setting things in motion.”
Sookie looked up at Eric and gave him a small smile. “Thanks for saying that.”
“I’m not just saying it,” he said as he bent down to give her another kiss on the forehead. This one was tenderer. “I mean it.”
Sookie’s eyes focused on Eric’s lips as he pulled back, but she didn’t have the courage to kiss him as she wanted to. Instead, when he took a step back, she did too.
“I will go shower and gather some things together while you prepare your food,” he said.
“Sure,” she responded, feeling the awkwardness of their interaction acutely. She was the opposite of hungry, but she knew that she needed to eat nonetheless.
As she watched Eric walking away, she decided that she needed to embrace the numbness that she felt, rather than the pain. She guessed that Eric’s blood was at least partly responsible for her feeling less upset than before. It wasn’t that she felt him controlling her with the blood. No. It was just the usual burst of energy that accompanied vampire blood. And, for now, she’d take what she could get. As she entered the kitchen, she saw that several of the dishrags and towels were bloody. “Eric’s tears,” she said almost silently to herself as she thought about the hours of suffering that Eric must have endured the night before.
Again, she felt like crying. But, again, she stopped herself. Instead, she gathered up all the bloody rags and took them to the laundry room. She rinsed them in the utility sink and then put them into the washing machine with some bleach to soak.
That chore done, she quickly got her chicken out of the refrigerator. She’d been marinating it before she’d been taken to Faerie, but it was still okay.
She took a long, calming breath and started heating water so that she could boil her potatoes; then she peeled and cut them so that they would soften quickly.
She sighed. When she was feeling down, nothing beat the comfort of Gran’s fried chicken and gravy, and Amelia had gotten all of the ingredients that Sookie would need. The telepath didn’t expect to be able to make meals with as many ingredients for the foreseeable future, so she resolved to take advantage of the stocked kitchen. After dropping in the potatoes, she made herself a nice salad and then started the chicken. The potatoes got done quickly, so she mashed them with a little milk and butter. As she added salt and pepper, she breathed a sigh of relief. Cooking was such a normal task, and it felt good to be doing it.
Yes, she thought to herself, she and Eric would get through this. They were a team now, and—though their partnership had been forced—she couldn’t think of anyone she’d rather be stuck with for life than the vampire upstairs.
The old Sookie might have tried to deny or ignore the obstacle before her, but the one who had survived the severing spell was resolved to move forward—even if it hurt.
Eric monitored Sookie’s vital signs as he showered. Now that his blood was inside of her again, he knew that he could use it to help soothe her, but there were already too many things that were artificial between them, and the thought of that caused him immense pain.
He sighed deeply and decided to allow himself five minutes to let himself mourn the loss of the love he had thought he’d found at long last.
The penetrating feeling of that emotion was still inside of him, but he shoved it into the bond where it had come from. He chastised himself for wishing that he had never learned the truth about the Fae bond. He chastised himself for wishing that the pure joy of the love he’d felt could be real. He wished that he could simply forget that feeling. Sadly, however, there were no memory charms to be found for vampires.
To avoid watching the blood from his tears going down the drain, he closed his eyes. He tried to concentrate on the feeling of the soothing hot water on his cool body. All he wanted to do was to rush downstairs and take Sookie into his arms—to tell her that none of it mattered and that he loved her—the bond be damned! All he wanted was to kiss her again and then make love to her—at long last.
But Eric refused to live inside of a lie created by the Fae bond, despite the fact that the lie would have been so wonderful to get lost inside of. He knew that no one but Sookie would ever sate him, and he resented that fact—even though he was in awe of it at the same time.
His five minutes of allotted mourning time done, he shifted his mind to try to figure out what he really felt about Sookie. He thought about their interactions before the Fae bond was formed. He had flirted with her and had enjoyed seeing her flustered and riled. She had stood up to him, her fiery spirit calling to his own. It hadn’t been “easy” between them; only the past fortnight or so had been “easy.” But the time before the bond had been forged hadn’t been bad either. Eric had been extremely attracted to Sookie, and he’d admired her courage and her innate acceptance of those different than she. He’d been so intrigued by her, in fact, that he’d tricked her into a tie and had, thereby, inadvertently set into motion all of the things that had happened since the igniting of her spark.
And she’d trusted him—intrinsically trusted him to the extent that she’d “offered” the Fae bond. She’d not known what she was doing, but that didn’t mean the trust wasn’t there. And, in the Dallas church, there had been moments of understanding between them.
No—it had been more than understanding. It had been admiration.
Eric had offered to give himself up for Godric and Sookie; however, the only one who actually needed his help to get out of that church had been Sookie. He had known that even then. He’d been willing to sacrifice himself for her, and that had been before the blood tie and before the Fae bond.
He’d respected her, and he respected few.
He’d liked her, and he liked few.
He’d trusted her to help him find his maker, and he trusted few.
And, of course, Eric knew that Sookie had chosen to walk up to that roof for Godric—and for him. And she’d decided to stay with Godric before she’d touched him. And that was important to Eric.
So curiosity, attraction, trust, care, and maybe even the beginning of something more between them were the true emotions Eric could accept as belonging to them. Somehow, that thought bolstered him; it was—at least—something to build on.
No. It was a lot to build on.
He and Sookie would just have to build slowly. He’d been trying to convey his “hope” and his pragmatism when he compared what they had to an arranged marriage. He could, after all, speak from experience about them. With shared values and motivations, a couple could come to love very deeply, and—though that love might not be as “romantic” as other forms—it was often more enduring than the fleeting passions of the heart.
Yes—the Fae bond was a set-back for Sookie and him, but there was much to build on nonetheless.
Somewhat mechanically, Eric finished his shower, dried off, and dressed. Then he gathered his dirty clothing and soiled towel. After that, he quickly moved Sookie’s sweater from his bag to hers. He also returned her lip gloss to her purse and hid the letter he had written in his duffel bag. He thought about burning it as Niall had burned the other one, but he couldn’t do that. He needed a reminder of how overriding his emotions would become if he let the Fae bond control him. He needed to be careful to keep reign of the feelings within him so that he could concentrate on what most needed to be done: planning Russell’s demise.
Sookie was his partner—his helpmeet. That could not be helped now. However, she could be those things with him thinking rationally!
Eric decided to keep Sookie’s IDs that he’d taken. He didn’t want to have to repack her entire bag, and he could always return them later. It was also practical to keep some of them in his bag—just in case her bag and/or purse were ever left behind for any reason.
He quickly texted Brady to inform him that he would need to steal the feeds from the convenient stores again that day, but that he could forget about the hotel. Now that Sookie had had his blood, she was no longer suffering any physical ill-effects from the severing spell. And she’d almost healed physically from her ordeal in Faerie—though he could feel that she was a little tired. Eric figured that it was the Fae bond that had actually needed to heal when she got back, and he had a feeling that his blood in her would complete its healing sooner rather than later.
By the time Eric had packed up his laptop and taken his bags downstairs, Brady had texted him back to confirm that he could hijack the video feeds the next day. Eric slipped quietly through the kitchen, where Sookie was mashing potatoes, and put his duffel bag and laptop in the car. He also took a moment to ready Sookie’s Bluetooth communication equipment. He’d made a point to wear his Thor’s Hammer pin. He could now track Sookie with his blood, but she would need the pin if he was separated from her. If they completed a vampire bond as well, she might gain the capability to track him over short distances, but it was still good to have a back-up. And not even magic could hide a GPS signal.
Eric grabbed a plastic garbage bag for his dirty laundry and threw that into the car as well. There would be washing machines at all of the safe houses, so there was no need to worry about washing his clothing that night. It was too close to dawn for that anyway. By the time he got back inside, he saw that Sookie was placing her plate at the table she’d set the day before. She’d grabbed the goblet she’d taken out for him and was warming his blood already. He knew that it would not taste that good to him—especially not after he’d taken Sookie’s blood earlier.
However, he was determined to share the meal with Sookie. He had no doubt that his reaction to finding out about the Fae bond had hurt her. Plus, he was not blind to his own hypocrisy—though his self-awareness didn’t sate his anger.
He’d never doubted that vampires—as the “superior race”—had the right to control humans with their blood, even though it was not a practice in which he’d participated until recently. He’d never particularly supported the idea of taking control of another, and he’d lost respect for “Renfield”-creating vampires, but he had placed his blood into Lafayette and Hadley in order to gain an advantage over them. He’d also tricked Sookie into taking his blood because he was so intrigued by her—because he wanted to try to limit any control Bill had over her. Indeed, though Eric had never wanted to take control of Sookie, he couldn’t deny that he wanted his blood to influence her in some things. So—yes—he was alert to his hypocrisy in hating the Fae bond so much because it had taken control away from him. And he could certainly now better empathize with how Sookie had felt when she’d feared that the vampire blood in her was controlling her.
Moreover, he truly did believe that they’d both been the victims of the Fae bond—that they were in the situation together. And he needed her to understand that—despite his reaction against the Fae bond—he was not reacting against her.
He glanced at the table settings. His and Sookie’s places had been set close to each other the day before, but Eric noticed that Sookie had moved them so that they were now further apart. He didn’t comment on it.
“Hey,” she said to him as she entered the room with his goblet of heated blood. “Uh—good shower?”
“Yes, thank you,” he responded, humoring her in small talk as he took a sip of the blood. He sighed. He’d been right; it did taste inferior to even the night before when he’d drunk some. And he figured that the more he took Sookie’s blood, the less he would want the blood of others. He would need to talk with her about forming a vampire bond—or at least feeding him on occasion. But that would have to be a conversation for another night.
“Your meal smells good,” Eric said after a few minutes. “That is your grandmother’s fried chicken recipe—is it not?”
Sookie nodded in affirmation. During one of their long conversations, they had talked of the human foods he remembered as well as her favorite foods.
“Her way of making gravy was the best,” Sookie said, “but this isn’t bad. I never can get it exactly like hers though.” She chuckled. “Jason always said that Gran could make the best gravy even if she had only old shoe leather and glue to work with.”
“Your brother has an odd sense of the language,” Eric remarked, taking another sip of his blood.
Sookie was about to launch into a story about Jason’s more outlandish metaphors when she stopped herself. Instead of speaking, she crammed a large bite into her mouth. Eric both saw and felt her change of demeanor.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She nodded quickly as she chewed. After she was done with her bite, she tried to smile. “It’s just that I know the bond made you interested in the stories that I told before, but—now that I think about it—they’re all kind of stupid. Or, at least, not that important. You said earlier that we should try to figure out what the bond is causing us to do versus what we would do if it was just us, and I think you’re right.”
Eric put down his blood. “Sookie, I was interested in you before the Fae bond was formed. Perhaps, that interest was multiplied by the bond, but it was not created by it. So—when you have a story you wish to share—I will be happy to listen to it,” he said evenly.
She put her fork down gently onto her plate and looked at him with shining eyes. “It’s just that it’s hard to know how to behave,” she said quietly.
“I know,” the vampire responded in a gentle tone. “I was trying to figure out my own feelings when I was upstairs—the feelings that were in me before the bond formed. And that has helped.”
“What did you figure out?” she asked curiously.
“I was attracted to you physically. I was intrigued by you and enjoyed the way you would stand up to me. And I did care about what happened to you,” he answered, ticking off the things that he had determined while he’d been in the shower. “I respected your fire; I liked you,” he added with a little smile. “What about you? Can you recall how you felt about me?” he asked.
“Well,” she said, trying to sound as matter-of-fact as he had sounded, “before I drank your blood, I thought you were handsome. I was pissed off by what you’d done to Lafayette, but I think I had already started to understand why you’d done it. I appreciated the fact that you’d respected me enough to make the deal not to kill the humans that I used my telepathy on. Bill had said a lot of negative things about you, but I sort of liked you despite those things.” She chuckled a little, “Or—at least—I wanted to like you. I thought we could be friends, maybe.”
She took a breath. “I was really touched by what you did in that church in Dallas. And—when you asked me to trust you—I did.”
“And I trusted you to help find Godric,” Eric reminded.
“So—we had trust,” Sookie observed, “and not just the innate kind Niall talked about. It was trust on a conscious level.”
Eric nodded and then leered a little. “And we can be assured that our mutual attraction is quite real.”
She chuckled. “Of course, that’s the thing you’d latch onto.”
“Yes,” he said. “Both me’s.”
She nodded, knowing he was talking about his real self and his “bonded” self.
“And we wanted to like each other—at the very least,” she added. “That means we could have been actual friends.”
“I agree,” he responded. “At least as much as I could have a friend.”
“So friends then, who—uh—trusted each other and—uh—flirted?”
“Yes,” he chuckled. “I believe that would have been the case if things had stayed as they were.”
“Good. We can do that,” Sookie said excitedly. “Friends, but maybe without the flirting for a while.” Her face turned a little red.
“I do not know if I am capable of stopping that,” he said, winking at her.
She smiled at him, as well as at the honest conversation they’d had. At least she hoped it was honest. She didn’t think that she was being influenced by the bond, but she didn’t know how to be certain of that.
They finished their meals in companionable silence, and then she got up with her dishes. “I’ll just wash these really quick and then go take my shower. Then I should try to get some sleep. I’ll set my alarm for 11:00 so that I can be out of here by noon.”
“Good. This is all good,” he said a little awkwardly.
She gave him a smile, glad that she wasn’t the only one still feeling a little unsure about their new status. Their conversation had helped, but she knew it would take time before she was truly comfortable in her own skin.
Eric followed Sookie into the kitchen where he quickly rinsed his glass; then he went into the living room to make sure that the fire he’d started earlier was properly put out. He stared at the dying embers for a moment. When he’d lain down in front of the fire with Sookie earlier that evening, he’d felt so full. She’d come back to him, and he’d told her that he loved her. And he couldn’t wait to tell her again when she was awake. He’d been fearful of starting a vampire bond with her because he didn’t want her to doubt her own feelings, but that seemed like a moot point now. Any real feelings they may have had were already being influenced by the Fae bond. Shaking off his thoughts, he quickly picked up the blankets from the floor before returning the quilt to the bedroom. He refused to allow himself to fully enjoy the inhalation of Sookie’s scent as he did so.
He heard that she was in the shower, so he quickly scanned the room to make sure he’d left nothing behind. Finding the maps and addresses to the convenient stores she could safely stop at, he took them downstairs and put them in the passenger’s seat of the car before retrieving the log and extra potion that Octavia had brought. He took the log and all but one vial of the potion to the car. He noticed on his way through to the garage that Sookie had turned on the dishwasher and was washing a load of laundry. He also noticed that none of the bloody towels he’d used the night before were still around. That meant that Sookie had seen them and had likely guessed how upset he’d been the night before. He decided not to let that bother him, however. Everything had changed since then.
He waited until he heard Sookie in the bedroom and then went upstairs. She’d freshened up her brown hair color two days before since the dye was temporary. She was towel-drying it. Their normal routine was for him to brush and then braid her hair after her shower, but he knew that would be no more.
She cleared her throat, a sound which only added to the awkwardness in the room.
“Uh—all done showering,” she said, stating the obvious. “Thanks for packing my stuff, she added as she returned her bag of toiletries to her suitcase.
“You’re welcome,” he said, seeing no need to tell her about the time he had spent carefully packing her things the night before. “Amelia brought you a few new things. I packed those first.”
“Thanks,” she said. “Uh—should I wear this?” she asked holding up the ponytail holder.
“Yes,” Eric responded. “The tie allows me to track you, but if you were concealed by magic, it might not work. The GPS would.”
“Technology and magic.”
“A good mix,” Eric said.
“Smart,” Sookie commented.
Eric held up the small vial of potion in his hand. “We will use this to conceal our scent,” he said.
She nodded. “Right. Water washes it off—right?”
“Yes,” he confirmed. “But the potion lasts for only a day or so anyway. We will conserve as we can, and will be well away from here before it runs out. I will keep some in reserve for when we come back to face Russell.”
He opened the lid. “It takes only a couple of drops,” he said as he demonstrated by putting the potion on his forehead. He put the lid back onto the vial and then handed it to her. “Keep this one in your purse in case you need to use it unexpectedly. You can put it on right before you leave the house.”
She nodded and dutifully put the potion into her purse.
“It is nearing dawn,” he said. “I will go to the car now.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed, pulling her phone out of her purse. “Are you going to be wearing the wristband?”
“Yes. And I will have the Bluetooth in. I will likely be awake for another half hour if you have questions.”
“I can take your suitcase down,” he offered.
“Sure, just let me grab my sweater,” she said, pulling out the garment that was right on top before re-zipping her bag.”
“Everything else is packed and ready. The cooler is on the counter. Be sure to take any food you wish for tomorrow. The fewer stops you have to make and stores we have to go to, the better.”
“Uh—did you remember to pack that case of TruBlood Amelia brought?”
He nodded. “Yes. The codes for the house in Houston are with the maps and your Bluetooth, which are in the passenger’s seat of the car.”
Sookie nodded. “Okay. I guess we’re ready. I’ll see you tomorrow night in Houston.”
“The Beaumont hotel is no longer an option,” Eric said. “But my blood has removed the last bit of the illness left behind by the severing spell.”
“Uh—thanks. I’m sure I’ll be able to get to Houston. It’s really not that far.”
“I will put the book Niall brought into your suitcase.”
“Sleep well, Sookie,” Eric said as he turned away.
“Uh—you too,” she said.
“I shall sleep like the dead,” he responded, throwing a smirk over his shoulder. That one gesture made her feel better than the rest of their rather stiff conversation had.
“Wait,” Sookie said. “Don’t I need to be close to my clothes and stuff so that the potion works to cover my scent on them too?”
Eric was proud of her for remembering. “The garage is actually right under this room, so if you do it here, it is close enough. Or wait until you are in the car—if you wish.”
“Okay,” she said as he turned again to walk away.
She lay down on the bed and wrapped herself into the quilt, inhaling Eric’s scent deeply.
She already missed him.
A/N: I really wanted to try to capture Eric and Sookie’s mixed feelings in the chapter. On the one hand, they have shared so much. On the other, they have to question all of their feelings to find out what’s real. At his core, I always thought that Eric was a pragmatist—though he is an expert in feelings denial. And I wanted to show Sookie’s evolution into a stronger person, ready to deal with her problems rather than trying to push them aside. But—of course—both of them are reeling because they still feel love for each other but don’t know how to trust that it’s real. I hope that I conveyed that they—at least—trust each other, even if they are no longer certain of their feelings for each other.
Anyway, enough rambling!