“It’s exhilarating to be alive in a time of awakening consciousness; it can also be confusing, disorienting, and painful.”—Adrienne Rich
“Broth and then a bath?” he asked.
She nodded. “Fine. But I’m gonna wear a bra and panties, and you’re gonna wear what you have on.”
“Fine,” he said with a devilish grin.
“What?” she asked.
“You might need help getting into and out of your makeshift bikini, little one.”
“I think I can manage that much,” she said, not being able to prevent her own grin from forming.
“What a pity—for me,” he returned.
After a moment, they both chuckled as they remembered him saying just those words to her the night of their first meeting.
[Four days—and nights—later]
Sookie’s new routine had become familiar to her during the previous four days and nights. The only difference was that she felt a little better after each night—and day—that she spent with Eric.
The lone setback she’d experienced had come when she’d told Eric that he could go to his day-sleep away from her—in the safe room he had in the small basement of the house. She’d made that particular mistake two days before. Eric had seemed rather reluctant to separate, given the fact that she still had a fever, but she’d insisted.
Yep—she could admit that she was a stubborn fool at times.
However, she’d been starting to feel a little too “dependent” upon him—maybe even too comfortable with him. And one thing that she didn’t want to do was to lose herself in another person again—even one she knew was honorable. And she did know that now. Eric could be rakish and violent, but there was an undeniable honor about him. And she was done trying—and failing—to deny that he was a good man, even if he tried to deny it.
However, she’d still mulishly tried to deny her own need for him.
Her little “experiment” had been a disaster. Midday, her fever had spiked again. Amelia had been so concerned that she’d called Octavia, who’d come to the house seemingly just to lecture Sookie and to instruct her to move as close as possible to the locked door behind which Eric was “dead” for the day. Octavia had seemed unwilling or unable to offer any other help, so Sookie had wrapped up in the quilt from her and Eric’s bed and had let Amelia and Octavia basically carry her to the small basement. She’d passed out next to the door to Eric’s secure bedroom.
Thankfully, he’d not been upset because of the setback. Of course, that hadn’t stopped her from being upset with herself; however, she’d learned her lesson.
Having Eric close? Good.
Being stubbornly independent? Not so good.
Neither Eric nor she had brought up the prospect of sleeping separately again, and Sookie knew that neither of them would—at least not until Octavia gave her a clean bill of health.
Of course, she and Eric didn’t stay joined at the hip during all of their waking hours, but they did stay close. Eric had brought a small desk into the bedroom so that he could work on various things related to the locations where they would be staying once they left Slidell. They had discussed the possibility of just staying in the Slidell house, but Octavia had thrown a wrench into that idea by telling them that concealment spells could not be maintained in one location indefinitely. According to the elder witch, the house would “become immune” to the spell after a while—whatever the heck that meant.
In the end, she and Eric had both accepted the fact that they would have to leave their little haven—though Eric wanted to wait until the day before the concealment spell was due to wear off, even if Sookie had adequately recovered before then.
As Eric had worked on their escape route and on lining up more assets to help them deal with Russell, Sookie had been coming to terms with the things that had been governing her decisions and the direction of her life for so long. And that had started with her facing the fact that most—if not all—of her feelings for Bill had been “manufactured” by his blood inside of her. However, despite that realization, Sookie also had to acknowledge that Bill would always remain her first love, so she’d let herself grieve the loss of that relationship. She’d come to liken it to the first “loves” of many of the people with whom she’d come into contact.
Her telepathy had given Sookie insight into the bittersweet feelings so frequently left behind by first loves. There was often regret involved with a first love. Women—and men too—would sometimes wonder what “might have been.” Others would ask a very different question when thinking about their first “loves”: “What was I thinking?”
Sookie had realized that she, too, had mixed feelings about Bill, and the word, “bittersweet,” definitely worked to describe those feelings—though she’d found that the “bitter” definitely outweighed the “sweet” in her particular case.
She’d also come to see that it wasn’t wrong for her to look back on the feelings she’d once had for Bill with a sense of nostalgia. Moreover, most people had had a relationship where the person they’d thought they were falling in love with didn’t turn out to be “as advertised.” Her situation with Bill was no different in some ways. She’d become quickly infatuated with the man Bill had presented to her—the alluring Southern gentleman who could charm her grandmother and give her a “rest” from reading people’s thoughts. Yes—Sookie could “regret” losing that man without wanting the “real” Bill back. In fact, she’d come to hate the “real” Bill—as much as she was capable of hating anyone.
In fact, in her mind, the “real” Bill now sat right next to her uncle.
Bill had tricked her, lied to her, and manipulated her—showing her a false persona that was utterly different from his real nature. Again, this was not so different from what other people experienced with their first loves.
Additionally, however, Bill had scared her countless times, let Malcolm and his nest-mates paw her, nearly drained her, used his blood to influence her to give her virginity to him, cheated on her with Lorena, etc. And Sookie was no longer wearing blinders or rose-colored glasses! She could now clearly see Bill for what he was. He hadn’t raped her in Alcide’s truck, but he had raped her. His blood was akin to a date-rape drug in her mind. And he’d done a lot more too; he’d sent her woven dreams that had taken her will away from her. And if that wasn’t a kind of rape, she didn’t know what was!
Yes—she now saw Bill for the monster he was; oh—she didn’t doubt that he hated himself for being that monster, but any self-loathing Bill had didn’t change the facts.
Strangely, Sookie’s realization about Bill wasn’t the best outcome of his blood being out of her. The best outcome was that Bill’s blood could no longer keep her from “acting” on the truth and from getting the fuck over him! She smiled a little as she realized that she was over him. She could look back and think of “her Bill” with the proper perspective and without sorrow.
Here were the truths about her “relationship” with Bill. First, it had been quite short-lived. Second, despite the way she’d tried to idealize it at the time, not even a day of it had been friction-free! She and Bill had argued a lot, and she’d cried more during their time together than she ever had before. Third, Bill had presented a false persona that she’d become infatuated with “too” quickly due to her inexperience and—frankly—her desperation to be loved. Fourth, Bill had turned out to be abusive—just like Arlene’s first love, Carl Billings.
Sookie had “heard” about Carl more than once—from Arlene’s head. Carl had hit her for the first time about a month after they’d gotten together. Sookie had been proud of her friend, for Arlene had kicked Carl to the curb after his first violent act. Arlene had not allowed herself to be taken in by his pleas or his empty promises—even though breaking things off with him had also broken her heart.
Sookie liked to think that she, too, would have kicked her abusive boyfriend—in this case, Bill—to the curb if she’d been able to. Thanks to something Eric had told her, she knew that she couldn’t blame herself for all of her actions when she’d been “high” on Bill’s blood—but she didn’t want to forget them either. She’d keep them as a cautionary tale.
Sookie sighed. Her greatest quandary now was figuring out what to do about Eric. Part of her wanted to give into her growing attraction for him, but she knew that getting involved with anyone—especially someone who seemed reticent to admit that he even had the capability to love beyond his maker and child—wouldn’t be a good idea.
And—selfishly—she didn’t want to screw up what was quickly becoming the most important friendship of her life.
Plus, she wasn’t entirely sure that she was ready for a new romantic relationship. If her experience with Octavia before the severing spell had taught her anything, it was that she had a lot of unresolved pain and fear to work through. The odd thing—the best thing—was that Eric seemed to want her to do just that.
And he was helping her to do it too!
When she’d needed to talk through one of her fears, she had found him to be a willing listener. More often, however, she’d wanted to remain quiet and to contemplate why and how she’d ended up where she had. There were a lot of reasons—a lot of little moments she could look back to.
“What’s your first memory?” she asked, looking up from the mystery novel she’d hardly read a page from all night. She was still resting in bed for the most part, but she was able to walk into the bathroom on her own now.
Eric turned to face her from his position at the desk.
“As a vampire or a human?” he asked.
“Human,” she said after thinking for a moment, “for now.”
“I have two,” he informed, turning his chair completely around so that he could face her. He was used to her questions by now, and, surprisingly, he found that he enjoyed responding to them.
“I’m not sure which came first,” he clarified.
“Then tell me both?” she requested.
He nodded. “I have one where I am running through a field of wildflowers with other boys. We are all trying to be the first to a lookout point in order to see the ships returning. I wanted to see if my father’s flag was flying on his ship. If it was, I knew that I could run home and tell my mother that he was alive and had come home.”
“And you saw it—his flag?” Sookie asked.
“Were you the fastest? Did you win the race to the lookout point?”
Eric shook his head. “No. I was beaten by an older child named Randulfr. I remember making a promise to myself that I would beat him the next time.”
“And did you?” she asked with a smile.
“No,” he chuckled. “He was ten or so, while I less than half that age.” He got a twinkle in his eyes. “It was two more years before I outran him.”
“Did he stay your rival?”
Eric nodded. “Yes. In sport and with women—he would try to outdo me.”
“And did he?”
“Not after I finally outran him,” he smirked. “He sometimes came close to beating me. However, neither he nor anyone else could best me after I’d had my first taste of victory.”
Sookie chuckled. “Well—in the ego department, I’m sure you’ve never had much competition.”
He winked. “None at all.”
“And Randulfr? What happened to him?”
Eric sighed, which was a sound that Sookie had begun to hear more and more from him during their time together. “He was my friend—what you would term a best friend. By lucky chance, he and some others were on a hunt when Russell and his wolves attacked. When I became ruler, I made Randulfr my lieutenant, my right hand.”
“That sounds like you,” she smiled.
“What do you mean?”
“Picking someone who pushed you—who competed with you—to be your right hand.”
Eric got a faraway look on his face. “Randulfr is in my last memory from my human life too. When I was mortally wounded in battle, he and another of my men, Vermundr, helped me from the battle field. I was dying, yet they refused to leave me.” His expression fell. “They paid for that choice with their lives.”
“How?” she asked quietly.
“Godric killed them both before he gave me the choice of joining them or joining him.”
“Oh,” she said, the sadness clear in her eyes.
“They were both good men—brave fighters. I like to think that they are in Valhalla, still awaiting my arrival.”
“I hope so,” she said sincerely. After a moment, she asked, “Were you ever mad at Godric?”
“For killing Randulfr and Vermundr?”
She nodded. “Yes—that. And for turning you.”
“I never regretted my decision to become a vampire,” Eric replied honestly. “But I did regret Randulfr and Vermundr meeting their ends—though I didn’t blame Godric for it.” He sighed. “I know that sounds paradoxical, but it was difficult for me—especially at first—to question anything Godric did. But—when I think about the night when I was turned now—I do hate the fact that he killed my friends. They had opted to stay with me until the Valkyries came to take me—instead of fleeing and ensuring their own safety.”
“They were loyal to you,” Sookie observed.
“Yes. To a fault,” he returned. “Randulfr had two children and a wife whom he truly loved. And Vermundr was due to become a father for the first time in the spring. I know that I am not to blame for their deaths, but . . . .” His voice trailed off.
“You still feel guilt for them anyway?” she asked.
“To a certain extent. Yes,” he responded.
They were silent for a moment.
“What’s your other early memory?” she asked, returning them to their initial topic.
Eric smiled a little. “It’s not really a single memory. My mother would always have me crush herbs and flowers that she would use for medicines or to flavor food. I remember her singing as she watched over my work to make sure that I didn’t slip away to play with the other children.”
“You sing sometimes,” Sookie said with a small smile of her own.
“So I’ve been told. Much of the time, it’s unconscious. Pam used to tease me mercilessly when I did it around her—until I commanded that she drop it,” he winked.
“Why would she tease you?” Sookie asked. “I like it when you sing. You have a nice voice.”
“Pam is—well . . . .” Eric shrugged.
“She’s Pam,” Sookie finished.
“Yep,” Eric grinned. “She doesn’t like to recall her humanity; in fact, she is confused that I have held onto my first language and other traditions from my human people. I have nothing tangible from my time as a human. My father’s sword was left behind after Godric turned me, and—of course—my clothing from that time was ruined with blood. I had only my father’s lessons and my mother’s stories and songs, so I kept those things.”
“That’s nice,” Sookie said sincerely.
“So—what is your first memory?” Eric asked as he got up and brought Sookie a glass of water. She accepted it gratefully and patted the bed next to her.
“It’s not a good one—not like yours. I like your stories though. They tell me that you were always—well—you!” She smiled. “I can see you as a boy—running around and trying to dodge your chores.”
“So—will you dodge my question if I ask it again, or will you tell me?” he asked, a mixture of curiosity and concern in his eyes.
“I’ll tell you,” she said somewhat hesitantly as she bit her lip. She took a long drink of water.
“Only if you wish to,” he responded.
She handed him the water to return to the nightstand.
“I want to tell you, but can I have that first?” she asked, pointing to his hand.
He smiled a little and took her hand into his. “Better?”
She nodded and took a deep breath. “I think that the memory occurred when I was about three, but it’s hard to know for sure. It’s not even my memory really. It’s a memory of someone else’s memory.”
Eric’s eyebrow arched in curiosity. “Whose?”
“My mother’s,” Sookie said with a little shrug, though her expression was anything but light-hearted. “I had done something wrong. I can’t remember what exactly, but I think that I had said one of her thoughts out loud in front of Daddy. It made them fight, and Daddy left the house for a while. I remember that I picked up my doll and took it to the corner of the living room so that I didn’t have to see Mommy looking so sad because of me. I hid behind this old recliner that nobody ever sat in. And that’s when I saw the memory in her head.”
A tear fell from her eye without either of them acknowledging it.
“What did she remember?” Eric asked softly, squeezing her now-shaking hand.
Sookie closed her eyes. “Mom was remembering taking care of Jason when he was a little baby. She was remembering how happy she and Daddy had been after he was born. In the memory, Daddy and she were talking about having another child. Daddy wasn’t so sure about doing it, but she was trying to talk him into it. There was so much love in her for Jason that it came seeping through her memory so strong!” Sookie stopped for a moment as Eric moved one of his large thumbs to brush away another tear before it streamed down Sookie’s face.
“Mom was thinking about how she regretted the choice she’d made in that memory. She was thinking about how she regretted having me. Things had been so perfect for her and Daddy with just Jason, and she blamed herself for pushing Daddy into having another kid, especially since I came out so,” she paused, “wrong.”
“She was the wrong one, Sookie,” Eric said, squeezing her hand again.
“Maybe not?” Sookie half-stated and half-asked. “I mean—I know she was wrong in a lot of ways. But I could also hear from her thoughts that she felt guilty for the things she was thinking. She hated herself for having those thoughts; maybe that was part of the problem. She also tried really hard to love me. She tried every day. Maybe she was wrong for not tellin’ Daddy how miserable she was—how guilty she felt. Eventually, she started to drink a whole lot, and things in their marriage got even worse.”
She squeezed his hand as he thumbed another tear from her cheek.
“I know that I’m not to blame for their marriage trouble or their deaths, but . . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“You still feel guilt for them anyway?” he asked, echoing her words from earlier.
“Yes—to a certain extent,” she responded, echoing his words too.
He nodded in acknowledgment. “I wish your first memory was a good one,” he said quietly.
“Me too,” Sookie said honestly. “I wish I could remember more good ones altogether. Today, while you were asleep, I was trying to remember ten—just ten—truly good memories, but it was difficult.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because even when the things happening were good—like a birthday party or my graduation—I still had to remember the thoughts that came along with them.”
“But you did remember ten—ten good memories?” he asked.
“Almost. I got to seven.”
“It’s okay,” she assured. “I like the seven I came up with. Most were of simple things—things that others wouldn’t think of as significant.”
“Tell me one?” he requested.
She smiled. “Ironically, it is a memory of something that would kill you.”
“Sunbathing,” she responded.
He chuckled. “Yep—that would not be a good memory in my book. But—still—I’d like to hear about it—especially if it involves you in a bikini, preferably a skimpy one,” he said caddishly.
She rolled her eyes.
“Or perhaps—if I’m truly lucky—you sunbathed nude?” he queried, his eyebrows waggling.
She shook her head. “Sorry—you’re not that lucky.”
“For you,” she finished.
They both laughed for a moment.
“So?” he asked. “Tell me.”
“Fine, but no more comments from the peanut gallery.”
He lifted his hand—the one still holding hers—and made a crossing motion over his heart. “I promise to be good. Cross my heart and hope to continue to be dead.”
She rolled her eyes again, but began her story nonetheless. “It’s my memory of the first time that I really went all out with my sunbathing. I think I was around thirteen—maybe fourteen.” She chuckled. “I made a whole production of it. I saved a good book just for the occasion. I loaded my favorite CD into the little player Gran had gotten for me the Christmas before.” She giggled. “I used some money I’d earned from a bake sale to get a swimsuit that was on sale at Walmart! I’ll never forget it! It was mostly white, but there were little green butterflies all over it.”
Eric smiled sincerely. “You always did strike me as a child of the sun.”
“Yep,” she continued happily. “Eventually, I even bought myself a special lounge chair for my sunbathing.” She laughed a little. “And I’d lie out for hours. Gran never minded, though I preferred waitin’ till she was off running errands or meeting with friends. That way, I could just be all alone with the sun.”
Eric nodded, but inside he felt a sadness that was difficult for him to deal with. He’d experienced pressure from his father to become king, but he’d always felt love from him too. He couldn’t imagine what it would have been like to hear others’ thoughts about him.
“I like now too,” Sookie said, pulling Eric from his musing.
“Yeah. It’s weird, but talking to you about things has become one of my favorite memories—even though I still feel sick.”
He smirked. “I have been told that I’m an excellent conversationalist—though Pam has often suggested that I am adept at making her nauseated with my words as well.”
Sookie giggled. “Well there’s that. But—seriously—I get to guess what you’re thinking, which is fun for a change. Plus, there’s the fact that I know for sure that there are some things that you are not thinking about.”
“And what are the things I’m not thinking?” he asked with curiosity in his tone.
“Well—you’re not tryin’ to keep your thoughts from me. You aren’t worryin’ about me finding out about things I shouldn’t know about. You’re not wondering how you ended up with such an abnormal sister—or friend.” Sookie shook her head a little. She shrugged. “In fact, I don’t think you’re thinking about my telepathy at all when we talk to each other.” She sounded almost awestruck. “I mean—I know it’s a big part of the reason why you wanted me with you, but when we talk—when we talk as friends—I really believe that it’s just Eric and Sookie talking. It’s not the vampire and the telepath. It’s just us; it’s nice. Sort of like a vacation.”
Eric studied Sookie closely for a moment. With just a few words, she’d managed to explain why he was so drawn to her. She offered him something he’d had no idea he even needed: a vacation from the performance he had to give every day in order to maintain his position—and hold onto his life.
“Just Eric and Sookie,” he agreed with a squeeze of her hand. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead gently before pulling away. She allowed such things with no complaint, but the Viking was always careful not to push their physical contact too far.
“I like this vacation too,” he confessed.
She looked skeptical. “What? Taking care of a sick human when all you wanna be doin’ in getting’ the heck away from the ancient vampire that killed your family and wants your head on a platter?”
Eric shrugged. “Much better than my last vacation,” he returned with a smirk.
“Where’d you go—purgatory?”
“No,” he answered with a wink. “A vampire summit in Tulsa.”
She snorted out a laugh. “What was wrong with Tulsa?”
“Nothing,” he responded. “It’s just that the queen of Oklahoma wants my bod.”
She snorted even louder. “What?”
“That is the correct human expression—no?” he asked.
She laughed. “Maybe in the 80s.”
He chuckled. “I am a man of many times,” he said with fake gravitas.
She rolled her eyes. “So what’s wrong with the queen of Oklahoma?”
Eric shrugged. “She’s beautiful and ruthless.”
“Sounds like your kind of lady.”
He chuckled. “She’s also got a sense of entitlement even bigger than my ego.”
“That’s hard to imagine.”
It was his turn to roll his eyes. He went on. “She’s also snooty. Plus, she has a voice that makes me want to go on a killing spree. I swear—if I had to hear her in the throes of passion, I might just stake myself.”
“Most importantly,” Eric said seriously, “it’s difficult to let one’s guard down at something like a summit. Everyone has his or her own agenda.”
“But you let your guard down with me?”
“More than I should—especially since I intend to let you live,” Eric confessed.
Concern flashed into Sookie’s eyes, but Eric quickly dismissed it with a light kiss to her hand.
“You are unique, Sookie Stackhouse. You cannot be glamoured, so I trust you to keep my secrets and my weaknesses to yourself. Of course, you could be tortured for information about me; however, I have learned something about you that makes me unconcerned about you spilling my secrets—even if you were tortured.”
“When it comes to those you care about, you are too stubborn to break.” He shook his head a little. “I once thought that everyone could be broken, but now I know that you could not be.”
“What if I did break under torture?” she asked worriedly. “I wouldn’t want you to be hurt because of me.”
Eric sighed. “And I would want you to break to preserve yourself, but I know that you would not. And even if you did, this is worth it,” he said motioning back and forth between them. “I hate the way you cause me to have feelings. I hate the way that I care about you more than myself at times. You will probably be the death of me, but you are worth it, little one,” he added as he pushed a few errant strands of her brown hair behind her ear.
Sookie’s eyes let loose two thick tears. “I think that speech of yours is going right to the top of my memories list. It’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”
“You are worth so much more than you think, Sookie Stackhouse. I hope that you live long enough to know that for yourself. And I hope I live long enough to see it.”
“Me too,” she said quietly.
“Which part are you agreeing with? Me living long enough—or you?” he asked with sudden mischief in his tone.
She chuckled. She loved how he could draw a laugh out of her at the oddest of times.
“Jackass,” she mumbled even as he flashed her a grin.
A/N: I was so glad to get mostly positive feedback about the time that Sookie and Eric are taking to “heal.” If it were me, I would have “jumped” Eric long before this, but they both need this time. I hope that none of you are mad at Sookie for thinking about Bill with some nostalgia, even as she recognizes that she “hates” the “real” him. I actually think that a lot of people have mixed feelings about their “first” relationships. I’m one of those people that asks, “What was I thinking?”, even though a part of me will always have a soft spot for my first “love” (or what I thought was love). I wanted to show Sookie really trying to work through her feelings regarding Bill, etc., so that she can move on “properly.” And Eric has grief concerning Godric to work through too.
Some of you were interested in seeing who was playing Duncan. Just like in Come Back to Me, Richard Armitage will play him; however, he’s going to serve a much different role in this story. Here’s his character banner, courtesy of Sephrenia–who thought he should have some scruff. Yummy.