“Do you know why I have a mate, child? Do you know why you never will?”
Octavia didn’t give Sookie the opportunity to answer; instead she responded to her own question. “I have a mate because I was found worthy of love.”
“I’m not,” Sookie stated, sinking even lower onto her knees.
“No. You are not worthy,” Octavia confirmed cruelly. “You are free to go if you wish, vampire,” Octavia said harshly, as she looked in Eric’s direction. “You should flee from dis child before ’tis too late for you. Dis one will get you killed! And she is not worth it!”
“No,” Eric said quietly. “I will not go.”
“Dis child before you deserves neither your affection nor your care, vampire! And—to help her—you must surely have both! If you do not, den leave dee circle and let her slip into dee death she deserves! Once she is gone, her ability to cause others pain will go away with her. Her brother will live his life happily, knowing dat dee person responsible for his grandmother’s death and his mother’s alcoholism is no more. Lafayette will not get killed by being near her. Tara will not be troubled by other vampires, who only wish to harm her. Sam will no longer be encumbered by a woman who rejected him in order to take up with vampires. Arlene will find comfort dat the person who killed her beloved and exposed his sins to dee world has finally been punished. Bill will no longer have to act as if she is tolerable. Her grandmother’s and her mother’s souls will be able to rest in peace. All would be better off without her!”
By this time, Sookie’s body was wracked with sobs as if each of Octavia’s words had cut her.
“But know dis, vampire,” Octavia continued more loudly. “If you care for dis woman only as an asset—if you feel no true affection for her―den she is already dead. And so too shall you be—if you stay in dee circle.”
At those words, Sookie finally pulled her eyes from Octavia and looked at Eric. He was not looking back at her. His eyes were locked with the witch’s, as if he, too, had become trapped by her black orbs.
“You should go, Eric,” Sookie said tiredly—dejectedly. “You should go before you die because of me. You don’t care about me—not really. Go before you’re hurt—like everyone else. Just go.”
“I’m staying,” Eric mumbled stubbornly even though he didn’t move his eyes to Sookie’s.
“You’ll die if you stay,” Sookie said desperately as she placed her hand lightly onto his. “I’m sorry I failed you. I just can’t be,” she paused as a sob broke through, “worthy of your care—or anyone’s.”
“Stop!” Eric yelled, finally yanking his eyes from Octavia’s stare and looking at her. His fierce blue eyes held neither pity nor fear. “I am in no danger of dying here, Sookie.”
“But she said . . . .”
Eric interrupted Sookie as he raised his hand to her cheek and thumbed away her tears. “What did I say to you at the hospital—when you woke up after taking my blood?”
“You told me you were sorry,” she responded.
“I thought I didn’t apologize,” he smirked a little.
“But you did—to me.”
“What did I have to be sorry for, Sookie?”
“For what you said at Russell’s.”
“What words did I say that could have spurred me to make the first apology I have given to anyone in more than a thousand years, little one?”
“You said you didn’t care about me,” she whispered. “That I meant nothing to you.”
“Do you know why I was sorry about saying those things?”
“Because they were lies,” he said as he gently cupped her face with his large hands.
“You,” she hiccupped, “actually care about what happens to me?”
“Because I’m your asset?”
“Yes—but there’s more.”
“Because you wanna have sex with me and drink my blood.”
He chuckled and tucked some of her newly brown hair behind her ears. “Yes—definitely—but there’s more.”
“What else could there be, Eric?” Sookie asked almost desperately—as if his next words to her would surely determine her fate.
“You intrigue me. You stood up to me and showed no fear as you negotiated for Lafayette’s release.” He smiled. “You even slapped me.”
She let out a half-sob, half-chuckle. “You deserved it. You were being a . . . .”
He interrupted her. “I was being a jackass?”
“You stayed with Godric when I could not, Sookie Stackhouse,” Eric said, his voice more sincere than she had ever heard it before. “In the church, you chose to trust me when I hadn’t yet earned it. And—you were right about what you said the night before last: I did put myself between you and that bomb, even though I knew it could mean my end. I just could not let it mean your end.”
“Eric,” she gasped as he thumbed away a new tear trailing down her cheek.
“I have cared for few people during my un-dead life,” the Viking stated matter-of-factly.
“But you care for me?” Sookie asked with hope in her voice.
“Yes. I would grieve your death.”
“Dat is good enough,” Octavia said from outside the circle. Her voice was now kind, but Sookie did not want to look at her again, so she kept her eyes fixed on Eric’s.
“Amelia, bring me dee ash,” Octavia ordered her apprentice.
Sookie heard footsteps.
“Child, I need you to look at me now,” Octavia said gently.
Sookie shook her head in fear. “No,” she whimpered. “I can’t.”
“It is okay,” Eric said, taking her hand firmly in his. “I have you now. I won’t let go this time.”
Sookie looked at their linked hands and then turned her eyes slowly toward Octavia.
“I had to find dee vampire blood within you and understand dee reasons why it was there in order to take it from you, child,” the witch said. “Dee other vampire used his dream to control your fear. I had to find dat fear within you—to know where his blood would try to hide from me.”
“Hide?” Sookie asked, her voice shaky.
“Yes,” Octavia responded. “‘Tis believed among witches dat a vampire must willingly let go of his or her blood in a human in order for a severing to work.”
“But Bill wouldn’t do that,” Sookie said with trepidation.
“No,” Octavia said kindly. “He would not. But I have recently learned another way—a way dat does not require the vampire’s permission. However, ’tis harder.”
“Harder?” Sookie squeaked out.
“Yes. If not ordered to give up, dee vampire blood will fight. It will hide within dee darkest places of dee human host. I am sorry, child, but I had to learn dose places—map dem—so dat I can track dee vampire blood dat tries to flee my magic.”
“So—uh—we can do the spell now?” Sookie asked timidly.
“The spell began almost an hour ago,” Octavia responded, gesturing toward Amelia.
Sookie glanced at the younger witch and saw that her mouth was moving. Amelia gave Sookie a wave but continued her silent chanting.
“One must be torn down before one can be freed,” Octavia said sagely.
“But why did you have to,” Sookie paused, “do it that way? I would have told you what you needed to know.”
“I still would not have known where to look,” Octavia said. “If it refuses to leave you freely, dee vampire blood will act like a virus in you, child. During the spell, it will seek to burrow into your emotions—to hurt you as much as it can. From what Eric has communicated to me about Bill Compton, I believe dat his blood will seek to hide where you are most vulnerable. It will try to use your greatest fears and self-doubts against you.”
“And Eric’s blood?”
Octavia shrugged. “Dee Viking has a great deal of blood in your body, but he has agreed to allow it to burn away without a fight. And now dat I know where to seek Compton’s blood, I will be able to weed him out,” she said kindly.
“So you’ve done this before?” Sookie asked.
Octavia shook her head. “No. But I witnessed my own mentor conducting a similar spell many years ago.”
“Yes. There wasn’t as much blood to deal with, and there were not two vampires involved, but dee vampire in dat case was not in agreement with dee severing.” Octavia paused. “So ’twas similar.”
Sookie took a shaky breath.
“You can still stop dee spell, child,” Octavia said. “I will not be offended if you do. But once I begin dee next part, ’twill be too late to stop it.”
Sookie felt Eric squeeze her hand in support. This time, she squeezed back. “I don’t want to stop,” she said, trying to sound braver than she felt.
The witch smiled. “You are much greater dan your fears, child—so much greater and stronger dan you probably know.”
Sookie felt Eric squeezing her hand again. And, again, she squeezed back.
“You have friends here,” Octavia assured, looking toward Eric meaningfully. “And I will use all of my power and skill to aid you.”
“Thank you,” Sookie said.
“Come closer to me, child, but do not step from dee circle,” the elder witch instructed.
Sookie nodded again and moved to the edge of the circle; Eric moved along with her. Octavia rubbed some of the ash onto Sookie’s forehead and cheeks before doing the same to Eric.
“You should lie down,” Octavia said. “The next part will begin the physical pain.”
When Sookie turned back to face Eric, she gasped. “You’re bleeding!” she exclaimed as she saw a narrow trail of blood coming from his ear.
“I know,” Eric said casually. “It is only the bleeds.” He looked at Sookie. “Blood will eventually fall from my nose too—maybe even my eyes—but you must not worry. It is merely an effect of the daytime on me.”
“Does it hurt?”
“No,” he responded. “Just a little uncomfortable.”
Sookie bit her lower lip but nodded before using her free hand to secure the fabric of her cloak in order to keep the garment from opening. Carefully, she lay down onto her side, grateful that Eric lay down facing her so that she would not have to drop his hand.
As soon as they had lain down, Octavia began chanting out loud, and Amelia’s silent chanting became audible as well. It seemed as if they were speaking in Latin.
“Do you really believe the things that Octavia was saying about you before, Sookie?” Eric asked quietly as they looked into each other’s eyes and waited for whatever pain was about to come to them.
“When she was talking—yes,” Sookie confessed. She sighed. “I guess a part of me does believe those things. I know you think of my telepathy as an asset, Eric, but it’s done little but hurt me during my life, and because of it—because of me—a lot of other people have been hurt too. I may not have meant for that to happen, but it has.”
The vampire nodded and appeared to be about to say something else, but then pain contorted his face. At the same moment, Sookie felt a strong pressure in her stomach, though it wasn’t exactly pain. Involuntarily, she reached out with her free hand and placed her palm over Eric’s unmoving heart.
“What’s happening to him?” Sookie yelled toward Octavia. The witch did not answer, however. She simply gave Sookie a knowing look and continued her chanting.
“Eric,” Sookie said, trying to ignore the pressure in her own body and to keep her focus on him.
“It is fine,” Eric grimaced. “The spell is seeking out vampire blood, and mine is the easiest to find, so it is being burned away first.”
Sookie squeezed his hand. “What can I do?”
“Blood,” Eric said.
Immediately Sookie raised her wrist to his mouth.
He chuckled, though the sound rattled with his pain. “The TrueBlood, Sookie.”
“Oh,” she said, shaking her head. She looked next to the blanket they were lying on and grabbed the nearest bottle of TrueBlood.
“I’ll need you to hold it,” Eric requested. “I would likely crush the bottle if it were in my hand.”
“But you’re holding my hand,” Sookie said with a little fear in her voice.
“Yes, and not squeezing it is difficult enough,” he said.
Immediately, Sookie tried to take her hand away. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know!”
He kept hold of it. “No!” he said almost desperately. “Your touch is,” he paused, “comforting.”
“Okay,” Sookie said, holding the already-opened bottle to his mouth. He drank a little before shaking his head so that she would take it away.
“That’s enough for now,” he panted as another strained looked came upon his face.
Sookie had felt helpless as the mighty Viking vampire had experienced one wave after another of discomfort. After what must have been a couple of hours, Eric had consumed all of the TrueBlood, but his pain showed no signs of abating. Sookie was still experiencing pressure in her body—more like cramping than pain—but all of her concern was with Eric as he continued to suffer.
“You must let go of my hand now,” Eric said in a strained voice. “I am sorry, but I fear that I will not be able to stop myself from crushing it soon.”
Sookie nodded and removed her hand from Eric’s. Immediately, the vampire seemed to be in sheer agony, and his body began to convulse.
“Eric!” Sookie yelled as tears welled up into her eyes.
“Do you care for dee vampire as he cares for you?” Octavia’s voice asked her.
Sookie looked over her shoulder and saw that both witches were still chanting.
“You are not used to people tinking tings at you,” Octavia remarked inside of Sookie’s head. “How odd dat dey do not.”
Sookie looked at Octavia with uncertainty in her eyes.
“Do you care for Eric?” the witch asked again, still thinking her words at the telepath.
“He has trusted you just as much as you have trusted him today, child.”
“What can I do?” Sookie asked pleadingly.
“Touch,” Octavia said. “It is dee touch of a trusted one dat allows the human going through dee pain of a severing to keep hold of his or her sanity. Eric is stronger dan a mere human, and more dan two thirds of his blood is already gone from your body. He will survive dee pain, but you could sooth him with your touch. Dee choice is yours, child.”
Sookie immediately brought her hand to Eric’s cheek, and his body stilled a little. “Like this?” she asked over her shoulder.
“That will help, but the more of your flesh is on his flesh, the faster dee blood will burn and dee less pain he will have to experience. Dat is why you have dee cloak,” Octavia answered with a twinkle in her eye. “You may touch as much or as little of him as you like.”
“Shit,” Sookie muttered under her breath as she immediately began moving closer to Eric, trying to figure out how to touch as much of him as possible—while still keeping a shred of her modesty intact.
“Do not worry about dee vampire’s modesty,” Octavia’s voice told her. There was sarcasm in her tone even as she spoke into Sookie’s mind. “He has none.”
Ignoring Octavia’s teasing, Sookie took a deep breath and untied Eric’s cloak. The vampire’s eyes stayed closed, and he continued to be lost in his pain as she rearranged his cloak so that it covered only from his waist to his thighs. Making sure his eyes were still closed, she untied her own cloak and pulled it over the two of them as if it were a blanket. She pulled herself toward him so that her lady bits were on the other side of his bunched up cloak and then burrowed the rest of her bare body into his: her legs against his legs, her chest against his ribs, her cheek over his heart. She pulled one of his arms so that it rested around her waist and then placed both of her own arms around him, hugging him as tightly as possible.
Eric’s pain seemed to ease immediately, though it did not go away completely.
After a few moments of recovery from the worst of his agony, Eric spoke in a strained voice. “Are those your breasts against me, or am I dreaming?”
Sookie sighed, a little in relief and a little in exasperation. “Don’t push your luck, Northman,” she teased. “Octavia said that the more we were touchin’, the less pain you’d feel.”
Eric let out a pained chuckle. “Yet there is a cloak still between us. We could be closer, Sookie,” he whispered half-suggestively and half-tenderly.
“Shush,” she chastised. “You’re ruining this for me.”
“Ruining what?” he asked, his voice still strained.
“For once, I’m the stronger one—the one in control,” she laughed a little.
“Can I at least see what I am feeling?” he asked, his head tilting down a bit. Her own upturned head blocked his view.
“Not unless you wanna go back to the two of us not touchin’,” she warned.
“You’re no fun, Sookie,” Eric complained even as he nuzzled his face into her hair.
“Eric?” she said after a while. “Thanks.”
“For what?” he groaned a little. Sookie couldn’t tell if it was from arousal or pain. It sounded like both.
“For staying with me. For taking away the pain of your blood leaving mine.”
Sookie felt something press against her head, as if Eric had kissed her hair, though she couldn’t be sure. “When the pain comes at you, little one,” he said, his voice muffled, “it will come hard and fast. You may hold to me as tightly as you need,” he said ominously. “I will not break.”
“Will it start soon?” she asked.
“My blood in you is waning,” Eric responded, “but I intend to leave some of it in place so that I can use it to monitor Bill’s. As soon as I conceal my blood from the spell, it will go for Bill’s, which has hidden itself. It is then that Octavia’s spell will begin to find it. And it is then that the pain will come to you.”
“I’m scared, Eric.”
“It is not wrong to be scared, little one. The pain is great.”
“Thanks,” she said a little sarcastically.
“You are strong enough,” he said sincerely.
“I’m glad you think so,” Sookie whispered, even as the pressure within her began to burn a little. “Eric?” she said uncertainly.
“I won’t let you go, Sookie,” he said, his lips suddenly next to her ear.
“Oh God!” Sookie exclaimed as the first real pain hit her. Her fingernails ripped into Eric’s flesh.
“I always knew you were blood-thirsty, Sookie,” Eric said, his own voice having returned to almost normal.
“Sorry,” she said.
“It’s okay,” he assured. “Tear into me all you want. This is your opportunity to get back at me for all the dastardly deeds I’ve ever done to you.”
She looked up at him, her eyes seeking his. “I’m sorry I ever believed you were dastardly,” she said sincerely. “You’re not.”
“Not today,” he responded, his voice thick with an emotion that neither one of them could have named.
“Eric, I hurt!” Sookie said in a distressed tone as another wave of pain hit her.
“I know. Just hold on, Sookie,” he said. “Hold on to me.”
Getting Eric to talk about his feelings is still like pulling “fangs.” But he’s getting there. And our silly, modest Sookie. I’m sure that most of you—like me—would shed those cloaks even before being told it would “help” the situation. But, alas, Sookie is still trying to maintain some modesty. Wonder how long it will last . . . .