“Love is a better teacher than duty.”—Albert Einstein
Eric watched Sookie sleeping. Amelia would soon be arriving, but she no longer stayed in the bedroom watching over Sookie. In fact, once Sookie rose for the day, she would make her way downstairs and hang out with the witch for a while. Eric knew that they always had a meal together and had come to enjoy each other’s company.
Sookie was still slightly ill, but she said she felt mostly “normal”—just a little achy as if she were getting over a bad case of the flu. She had a low-grade fever at times, but Octavia had said that it was no longer crucial that he and Sookie stay near each other at all times anymore. Still, the witch said it would be best if they continued to rest together, so they did.
The Viking brushed a brown strand away from Sookie’s face and marveled at the way the woman in front of him continued to affect him; in fact, more and more each night, she was affecting him. It was September 18, almost nine days since the severing spell had been performed, and he knew that he and Sookie would have to be leaving the Slidell house soon.
But a part of him wanted to stay right where he was—indefinitely.
Octavia had told him that the concealment spell around the home would hold for four more nights, and Eric planned to leave with one of those nights to spare. The safest thing would be for Sookie to drive them out of Louisiana during the day time—if she were well enough. Eric planned for them to spend their first official night “on the lam” outside of Houston, which would be a drive of just under six hours. Beaumont, Texas was another option; though not as good, it was just over four hours from their current location. Eric wanted to stay in only the places he’d bought for the express purpose of serving as stops along his “escape route.” He knew that all of them had light-tight spaces. However, in Beaumont, Sookie would have to secure them a motel room, and motels often had surveillance systems. Even if she paid with cash, she might be captured by a camera’s image. And he had not yet trained her on how to avoid being seen by the technology of the time. He planned to begin that training soon, however.
He sighed. A six-hour trip would mean at least one stop for Sookie so that she could see to her human needs. The car would have enough gasoline to make the trip. He knew that he’d have to give Sookie a crash course in camera avoidance. And he’d begin training her more carefully once they were in Texas.
He brushed another chocolate-colored strand of hair away from her face.
For at least the thousandth time, Eric shook his head at his own actions. He’d never shared his resting place with a human. But not only had he done that with Sookie, but he’d also allowed Amelia into the room—albeit she was glamoured heavily and was ready with a spell if anyone threatened Sookie or him during the day.
Still, it was very unlike him to die for the day in a place where others could have contact with his body.
Then there was the fact that he was doing all this without having fucked Sookie! Hell—they’d not even shared a proper kiss! And the only blood he’d had from her was what he’d cleaned from the wound she’d gotten on her foot the day the Bill had sent the woven dream—when the highway patrolman had made her exit the car without shoes on.
And Eric wanted to fuck the woman sleeping so peacefully next to him! He wanted to fuck her from the moment he awoke at night to the moment he fell dead for the day. He wanted to give her one orgasm after the next and cause her to scream his name until she no longer had voice. He wanted to taste her cum and her blood. He could imagine no better meal, and he wanted to savor it again and again and again.
He had fantasized about countless scenarios during the past nine nights. Every flat or curved surface in the house had entered into his imagination. And he had a vivid fucking imagination. And he could fly.
On the other hand, even while he was semi-hard at all times, he was enjoying what Sookie and he were doing: just being together. He wondered if the experience was what humans might call “becoming enamored with another.” Eric wasn’t sure. He had chosen his human wife, Aude, because she was the person his father had favored before his death. There had been no love between Eric and Aude, though she was a likeable enough woman. She had born him three healthy children, two boys and a girl. And she had been with child when he’d left her the last time before he was mortally wounded and then turned by Godric.
Yes—he had been pleased by Aude, but he’d not loved her. Then again, things were very different during his human time. Romanticized ideals of love had not been born yet, and marriages were arranged among his people. He had not been expected by Aude—or anyone else—to be a faithful husband, and he knew of only a few couples among his people who would fit into today’s standard of a love match. He had envied those people to a certain extent, but had not been tempted to become one of them. Aude had been sedate to his touches—dutiful, but a bit cold. So he had fucked any of the thralls who interested him. He’d even had a child with one of them, but that was not an unusual happenstance either. His own father had given him a half-sister and a half-brother by two different women, but the children had both died during their childhoods. Eric’s mother had mourned them both.
Once Eric was a vampire, Godric had taught him that any affection for a human was a dangerous thing that had to be mastered immediately. Therefore, when Eric had felt a stirring for Pam, he’d turned her—thus setting up a hierarchy between them. He’d quickly lost interest in having a sexual relationship with her—just as she’d lost interest in him. The same had eventually happened between Godric and himself.
Of course, there had remained a kind of love between them—at least on his part—but it had been familial devotion above anything else. A child always had devotion for his or her maker—no matter the quality of that maker. Eric was certain that Bill had shed tears for Lorena, though she was unimaginably horrid. Their bond would have allowed for nothing less. But Godric had been a much more demonstrative maker than the norm—at least until the last years of his life. And Eric also held more than common affection for his own child.
But what he felt for Sookie was different—not beyond what he felt for his maker or his child. Just different.
It was difficult to give words to the compellation he felt when he thought of Sookie.
His affection for her came from a different place—a place he’d not known existed. Was it a new place—one that she’d crafted inside of him? Or was it a place that had been waiting inside of him for a thousand years—waiting just for her? Was it his soul? His heart? His gut? He couldn’t tell.
It seemed to be coming from everywhere.
The bigger question was this: why was he allowing it?
He had no answers. All that he knew was that the stress and desperation he’d felt before he’d simply let himself “feel” was now gone. He was calm and could sense himself feeding off of Sookie’s steady confidence in him. And he could sense her feeding off of his belief in her as well. She had been battered from the severing spell—more mentally than physically.
It was odd, but he found their ability to “feed” each other through friendship to be more nourishing than any blood he had ever drunk. And blood was everything to a vampire.
Or, at least, that was what he had thought before.
Sookie had changed that in him.
He pondered the word “asset”—for she was certainly that to him. The word had come to English from Old French. It entered the English language when the Normans invaded the tenacious people of the island to their west. Vikings, too, had invaded Britain, though Eric had not set foot on its shores as a human. Many thought that America was the first nation of so-called “mutts,” but Eric knew better. The Brits had seemingly taken a piece from all of the countries that had tried to invade and conquer them. The English language proved that. And the colonists who came to the Americas had joined with those of other nations to become even bigger “mutts,” especially in places like Louisiana. Perhaps that mixture of bloodlines—which seemed to spark such a doggedness of will—was what Eric enjoyed in both Pam and Sookie.
Sookie’s supernatural qualities and blood made her even more “mixed”—and even more intriguing to the Viking. Eric closed his eyes and inhaled her scent deeply.
He had begun to tell her what he knew of her fairy lineage over and over during the previous week. He should have told her. And now it had come to the point that he knew she would be hurt because he’d kept it from her. At first, she’d been too weak from the severing spell. Then, he’d wanted to wait to see if Niall Brigant would get back to him. Then, his own selfishness had kicked in; he’d wanted to continue enjoying his ‘vacation’ without introducing any kind of strife. Or, perhaps, he’d kept silent so that he wouldn’t disturb her content.
He did not know. All he knew was that as soon as Sookie was told that she was part Fae, she would know that her blood was even more alluring than she’d thought. And then the progress she’d been making to understand and squelch her self-doubt would be in jeopardy. She would believe that onlyher blood—and the appeal of it—had drawn others to her. She would believe that only her blood had drawn him.
He had told her that blood was everything many times before—but now he was afraid that she would believe it.
So he’d kept the knowledge of her fairy blood from her. And—in so doing—he’d lied by omission. And he didn’t have any idea what to do about that.
He brushed another errant brown curl from her forehead.
“Eric,” she said groggily.
“Yes, little one?” he asked.
“Tell me something about your life? Something I don’t already know?” she asked, her eyes opening slightly.
He lay down in bed next to her, facing her as she lay on her side. It was odd, but in less than two weeks, they had developed so many habits together. Her waking before he went to his sleep—as if she wanted to send him off to it—was just one of them.
“You asked earlier about my first memory as a vampire,” he reminded.
“Hunger,” she said. “You told me about it.”
“Would you like to hear about the first lesson Godric ever taught me? It is actually my first memory as a vampire that was not dictated by my need for blood.”
She woke up a bit more. “Yes. Tell me.”
In her sleepy state, she reached out to take his hand; as he always did, he moved so that they were lying even closer. They both enjoyed the connection.
“The first lesson Godric taught me was about the sun,” Eric said.
Sookie smiled as she nuzzled into his chest. “That doesn’t surprise me. If you’re out during the day, it’ll kill you. Or—uh—kill you again.”
“It is not the day that can kill me, little one; it is the sun you love so much. A vampire can fight the day, and with age, that ability grows.”
“Like you fought it for me the other day?” Sookie asked, waking up a bit more.
“Yes,” the Viking answered as he stroked her hair. “But—even for you—I could not fight the sun for long. Its light burns even the oldest of vampires.”
Sookie nodded. She had seen the evidence of that—with both Bill, who had come out into the daylight when she was trying to escape from Rene, and Godric. She’d always wondered why they had burned so differently.
“Eric?” she began.
“Sookie?” he responded cheekily. That was his standard response when she asked only his name as a question. She smiled at the fact that she knew this exchange so well.
“Did you know that Bill ran out into the sun when Rene Lenier tried to kill me? He almost burned up in the sun that day.” She shook her head. “Every bit of his exposed skin was burned and blackened.”
Eric sighed. “No—I did not know that. But it sounds like the kind of idiotic thing he would do.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, slightly affronted.
“I do not object to him trying to save you from danger, Sookie, but I do object to how he tried.”
“Did he—at least—call the police before he came outside?” Eric asked a little testily.
“No,” Sookie answered.
Eric shook his head. “Then his actions were even more foolhardy.”
“Why do you think he did it? Why did he risk himself to come to me?” she asked.
“I do not pretend to be an expert on Bill Compton.”
“Do you think he loves me?” Sookie asked. She’d asked him that question before, and the answer was always the same.
“I think that he believes he loves you, but his actions do not speak of love.”
“What do they speak of?” she asked. She’d never been able to ask that of him before.
Eric seemed to reply almost reluctantly. “Many things. They speak of obsession. They speak of blood addiction. They speak of Compton’s desire to keep you protected as an asset of the queen. But mostly, I believe that they reflect his desire to want to love—to want to be like a human again. Bill has never been able to fully accept that he is vampire.”
“Lorena didn’t give him a choice like Godric gave you,” she stated, though her tone made it obvious that she was not defending Bill. “From what he told me—which wasn’t much—Lorena forced him to do some awful things.”
“Yes,” Eric nodded. “Lorena and Bill were well known for the bloodbaths that they left in their wake before the Authority punished them.” He scoffed. “They didn’t even try to cover their tracks, and their actions threatened us all. When they finally went too far and the Authority decided to intervene, Bill was placed under silver for a time; I am not sure how long. But he was let off easy because he’d been following the lead of his maker. Lorena was forced to give up the thing that was most important to her.”
“Bill?” Sookie asked perceptively.
“Yes,” Eric responded. “She was required to release him so that he no longer had to follow her commands.”
“So—when he started having sex with her again?” she asked.
“He made the choice,” Eric responded.
Sookie nodded and sighed. “Did Godric ever release you?”
“No,” Eric responded. “Several hundred years ago, he gave me the choice of whether I wanted it, but there was no need. When he ordered me from the rooftop in Dallas, I rethought that decision.”
She tightened her hold on him. “He died in only seconds in a flash of blue fire. Why was that so different from what happened with Bill?” she asked quietly.
“A vampire has the ability to heal himself—as you know. When in the sun, a vampire has a choice: to fight against the sun or to give into it. Bill was telling the magic in his body to heal him, so it would have taken him longer to burn in the sun. On the other hand, Godric prevented his magic from protecting him, so he,” his voiced lowered a little, “would have died quickly.”
The two were quiet for several minutes.
Finally Eric broke the silence with a sigh. “I cannot judge Bill too harshly for coming to you when the sun was still out. Barely a week ago, I left my coffin a minute before the sun was officially down so that I could handle the highway patrolman, but I knew I would be able to heal quickly to override any damage the waning sunlight did to me. Bill’s act tells me that he does try to love you—but it is a selfish love. I cannot think of anything he could have done to help you that day. Given his relatively young age, he was likely incapacitated before he even got to you.”
“Yes,” Sookie admitted. “But what do you mean by selfishly?”
“Bill’s actions could very well have put you into even more danger and had little to no upside. At the time—if you had seen him—you would have made yourself more vulnerable in order to protect him. It is your way.”
She sighed. “You’re right.”
“There were only two possibilities when he went into the sun that day. He would make himself a martyr or prove himself a hero in your eyes.” Eric shook his head disapprovingly. “I have come to believe that Bill wouldn’t mind either of those fates. Had he died, he would have earned your undying devotion because he’d sacrificed himself for you. From his perspective, that sacrifice would have redeemed him from all the wrong he’d done. However, since he lived, he earned your unrelenting gratitude, even though he did nothing except expose himself foolishly to the sun. And he—of course—cast himself as the savior again, even though you saved yourself.”
“What would you have done—if you had been at Bill’s house? If I’d had your blood then?” Sookie asked, feeling her body tense up a bit as she did.
“I could only speculate,” he answered enigmatically.
“Then speculate,” she half-requested and half-ordered.
Eric sighed. “Upon being forced from sleep, I would have called the human police in your town. I would have also called the shifter and a Were–a lone wolf–who lives near Bon Temps. All could have come to your aid.”
“Sam was already there,” Sookie reported.
“Good,” Eric returned. “After that, I would have looked for a very thick covering, and if I had found something that could temporarily protect my body from the sun, I would have come to you.”
She gasped in surprise. “How is that foolish for Bill, but not for you?”
He shrugged. “It would have been foolish. But I would not have come without thought. Rene attacked you in the graveyard—right?” he asked.
“I am old and powerful, and, in flight, I have great speed. I would have been somewhat sluggish because of the day—so not as fast or as strong as usual. Still, I would have launched into the mother fucker who was attaching you like a missile—without preamble or my usual propensity for ‘playing’ with my food.” He chuckled at his own play on words.
“Jackass,” she muttered fondly, as she flicked his chest with her forefinger.
“I am talking about coming to your rescue during the daytime, and you abuse me,” he said with mock hurt.
He could almost hear her eyes rolling. “Eric, I know that you are old and strong and all, but how do you know you wouldn’t have just ended up burning like Bill did? Sam and I had to bury him because he was too weak to help himself.”
He sighed. “In truth, I would have risked it only if I was certain of my survival. And I would not have left my resting place if I could not cover myself adequately. Without protection from the sun, I would have been as useless as Bill—and a liability to you within a minute. And I estimate that it would have taken 1.4 to 2.1 minutes to subdue your attacker and then get myself to safety.”
“How can you know that timeframe?” Sookie asked.
“Distance from Bill’s home to the furthest reaches of the cemetery, plus distance to the several safe places I could have gone to escape the sun,” he answered simply.
She looked up at him in question. “Safe places?”
“Yes,” he said. “I have been to Bill’s home and to yours. I have also been to the cemetery in between them. And I would have never rested in the area without having several options. I make a point of determining several places within range of my original resting place where I could quickly hide from the sun if necessary. Remember Godric’s first lesson to me?”
Sookie nodded. “But where is there to hide out there?”
“There are two stone crypts in that graveyard that are sufficiently light-tight; I have already shored up with mud the cracks that would have let light through. Though simple, it is actually a quite effective technique. My human people did something similar. The sun bakes the mud, and the cracks are no more the next night.”
“When did you do that?”
Eric sighed. “You likely don’t want to know.”
“I think I do.” She tilted her head up to look him in the eyes.
“I have spent the day near your home on three different occasions―beginning the day Bill was taken. I scoped out the area and prepared several resting places a few nights before that.”
“Why?” Sookie asked, even though she intuited that she wouldn’t like Eric’s answer.
He responded somewhat hesitantly. “In truth, you were very right to come to me with accusations about Bill’s disappearance. I was planning to take him, and I didn’t intend to leave you unprotected at night.”
Sookie pushed away from the Viking and sat up a little. “What the fuck, Eric?”
He sat up as well. “I would not have done it while you were with Bill, but I had sent someone to abduct him and bring him to me the same night he actually disappeared. Bill had learned that I was selling the V for the queen, and I intended to hold him under silver until we had sold the last of it.”
Sookie gasped and moved away from him a little more.
“I will not apologize for this,” Eric said forcefully.
There had been similar moments of discord between the two of them during the last days, especially as Sookie had gotten stronger and Eric had begun telling her more of the vampire world—and his place in it. She’d been especially pissed off when she learned that Eric had suspected Longshadow before she came to Fangtasia to interview his staff. And she’d been enraged that he had “paused” in killing his thieving business partner so that Bill would have to take the fall for Longshadow’s death.
She was shaking her head. “Of course you won’t apologize! But how could you? You had to have realized how upset I would have been. I mean—you saw how upset I was!”
“I did,” Eric said. “But I was not planning to keep Bill for long, and I would have arranged for him to write you a letter, giving you a plausible excuse for his absence and advising you to let me watch over you.”
“You would have manipulated me—again!” she said, the hurt clear in her voice.
“Yes,” he admitted. “It is true that I would have used the opportunity to try to turn your affections from Bill to me, but I would not have used your blood to do it!” He was angry at the very thought of that.
“And I’m supposed to just trust your word on that?” she asked.
“You are!” he responded loudly, looking at her intensely. “And you do!”
She shook her head, but her eyes relented. Sookie knew that Eric was an opportunist, but she had also recognized the fact that he’d not used his blood against her as Bill had. Eric had more than proven himself in that regard.
“You’re right,” she said quietly. “But it still would have been underhanded of you.”
He ran his hand through his hair. “Yes—though I prefer the term ‘opportunistic.’ And, in my defense, there were other—more pressing—reasons why I wanted to hold him than my continued quest to seduce you.”
She couldn’t help but to chuckle a little. “So—tell me?”
“Bill was acting like a loose-cannon at that time. Left and right, he had challenged my authority.”
“Many things—suspicious things.”
“Like?” she asked.
He sighed. “Bill should have checked in with me the first night he was in Area 5, for one thing. Yet he waited until he escorted you to Fangtasia. Then there were the Rattrays.”
Sookie cringed at the mention of them. Now that the evidence pointed clearly to the notion that Bill had used them to hurt her, their names brought up even more negative feelings in her than before. “What about them?”
“I had heard rumors of drainers in the area. Chow was my investigator at the time, and he was following several leads. He discovered that a large transaction of V had been conducted, and he traced it from the buyers to the Rattrays. Imagine his surprise when he discovered that they had been killed by a freak tornado on a cloudless night. And imagine my surprise when I went to the site and discovered Bill’s scent there. Bill should have informed me if he’d found and eliminated drainers. But obviously, he was covering up his interactions with them—and you.”
Sookie could only nod.
“Then there were the murders in Bon Temps. Bill should have been the one to inform me about them—long before you came to Fangtasia for the first time. He should have checked in with me and then called me well before you became targeted, especially since a vampire was suspected by the police and the victims had been involved with vampires. Moreover, since you were his human, he could have requested that I assign guards for you―before you became Rene’s main target—but he did not. Then there was the Maenad situation, which Bill never gave me a report on. I had already begun to suspect that his presence in Area 5 was not for the reasons he had professed, and I became even more suspicious of him when I saw him at the queen’s estate. In truth, I suspected him of spying on me for Sophie-Anne; he wouldn’t have been the first spy that she’d tried to put into my area. However, it turned out that he was in Bon Temps for you.”
“Wait. Back up,” Sookie gasped. “What do you mean he could have had me protected? Do you mean like—before Gran was murdered?”
Eric nodded. “He was already calling you his, so yes.” He sighed. “It is clear that he wanted to keep you off my radar as much as possible. Otherwise, he would have contacted me. As sheriff, it was one of my duties to protect assets, as well as the humans belonging to the vampires in my area. If Bill had suspected you of being in real danger from the serial killer, he should have requested my aid, and I would have been duty-bound to give it.”
“He asked Sam to help watch over me,” Sookie said. “But that was after Gran had died—when Bill had to go to the tribunal.”
Eric sighed again. It seemed as if he’d been doing that a lot during their minefield-laden conversation. “I did not know then about your grandmother’s death, nor had it been publicized that it was connected to the other girls’ murders. Bill should have informed me about that too.”
Sookie let Eric’s words sink in.
“Did you have people watching over me—after I came to Fangtasia to tell you that Bill was missing?”
Eric nodded. “Yes. I already had them arranged since I’d been planning to temporarily imprison Bill myself.”
Sookie gave him a little glare, but he carried on. “A Were named Tray Dawson was watching over you during the daytime. He told me how bravely you chased away the Jackson Were that came for you, but he was nearby and would have taken a shot at the Were if need be. At night, I ordered a vampire named Indira to watch over you when I wasn’t there. But I came as soon as I could each night and then stayed the day in the crypts.”
Sookie shook her head. “I should be mad at you for bein’ high-handed like that.”
Eric shrugged. “You have been angry at me for less—and for more,” he smirked.
She lay back down, feeling a little drained from their heated discussion. He joined her and was glad when she moved so that she was resting her head against his chest again.
“I still can’t believe you would have risked coming out in the sun to save me.”
Eric chuckled. “Godric would not have been pleased to know of it. After all—as I said earlier—the necessity of staying out of the sun was his first lesson to me.”
“Thanks,” she said.
“Don’t paint me too much the hero, little one. As I said, I would not have come if I truly thought I would die. I would have made a calculated risk—with the math working in my favor. Oh—it would have been traumatic, and I would have been out of commission for a day or so—healing—but I would have done it.”
“You would have risked your life because you cared for me,” Sookie said, still obviously a little dumbfounded.
“No,” he corrected her dispassionately, even as he recommenced stroking her hair. “I would have come to your aid with a clear and quick agenda in mind. I would have let no emotional response get in my way.”
“Like Bill did?” she asked.
The vampire could tell that her tone registered hurt. “It is not that I would not feel an emotional response for you—especially now,” he said honestly. “It is just that I wouldn’t let myself feel it until later—not until all was done,” he said. “In a fight, emotions only get in the way of survival.”
She nodded into his chest and let out a big yawn.
“We should sleep, little one.”
She nodded again and exhaled deeply as if relaxing every inch of her body against his. It was not long before Eric heard her even, steady breathing. Amelia had come in sometime during their discussion, but she had stayed downstairs. Eric kissed Sookie on the forehead tenderly and then fell into his own day-rest.