Let Love In
By Terri Botta
Disclaimer: I don't own the Southern Vampires. Sole copyright belongs to Charlaine Harris. I'm poor so don't sue.
Rating: M for later chapters.
Timeframe: Post-From Dead to Worse
Summary: Eric decides that it's time for him and Sookie to come to an understanding.
A/N: UPDATE: 1/28/2009 – I added some Halloween-related stuff to Chapter One.
Also, there are now three LLI side stories: Best Laid Plans, Kodak Moment, and the first 2 chapters Life and Death in New Orleans. Please see my profile for a link to all my stories.
Let Love In
Sookie wasn't surprised to see Eric leaning against her car when she walked out into the employee parking lot of Merlotte's Bar. About half an hour before the end of her shift, her dismal mood had eased up, despite the fact that the crowd at the bar had just begun to thin after the post-game NFL show on ESPN, so she knew he was near. Sam had installed a new large, high-def, flat screen TV, and now Merlotte's was the place to go for football in Bon Temps. On Halloween, no less. Yippee.
She loved the extra tips, but hated the rowdy crowds of drunken football fans. It was much harder to keep her shields up and stay out of people's thoughts when she was being constantly bombarded with sex, beer, and football crazed male minds. By the end of the night, she was always exhausted, both mentally and physically. Tonight the game had gone into overtime and had run way late. Add to that the Halloween candy and orange popcorn getting tossed at the TV, and she'd had a whopping good time.
'I'm getting too old for this,' she thought wearily, yanking off the simple cat-ear headband and makeshift tail. Hey, the costume was cheap, easy, and didn't interfere with her job. She'd even put on a bit of makeup to give herself "cat eyes," blackened the end of her nose and drew a set of whiskers on her cheeks, but she'd washed it all off at the end of her shift.
Eric was dressed in a fine set of black pants and a bright white collared shirt with a dark red jewel at his throat. She guessed that the outfit had been part of whatever costume he'd worn for Fangtasia's annual Halloween bash. Whatever he'd been, it must have looked amazing on him, but then she'd never known him not to dress to impress when he had to be on display. Hell, he'd even looked fabulous wearing nothing but a carefully placed robe and a smile.
She wasn't unhappy to see Eric, but she certainly wasn't looking forward to what his being there waiting for her represented. She took a deep breath, shored up what little energy she had left, and marched over to him, hoping to get whatever it was over and done with so she could go home and go to bed. Eric smiled at her – a soft smile, not his usual leer, which should have rang all of her warning bells – and pushed off her car to meet her halfway. She was opening her mouth to say something when he folded her into his arms without a word and held her close.
'Oh…' she thought, shocked by the unexpected embrace. 'This is… different.'
His arms tightened, and she heard him sniffing her hair. A satisfied rumble echoed across their blood-bond, and she relaxed, allowing herself to feel comfort in his arms. It was so easy to sink into her feelings. She was so tired and worn out, and she'd taken a lot of hits emotionally wise recently, if not physically. His hug wasn't warm because he was always cool, but it did make her feel cherished and safe.
God, she hated that. Damn blood-bond. Damn fairy blood. Damn herself for getting involved with vampires and shifters and Weres, and making her life a crazy rollercoaster ride of danger and fear.
She shook off the warm-fuzzies and stepped back. He let her go, but she could tell it was with some reluctance. He'd been enjoying the closeness as much as she was.
"What was that all about?" she asked, craning her neck up to look Eric in the eyes.
"Pam tells me I am not being..." He paused, looking for a word. "sensitive enough to your needs."
She chuckled and gave him a smile. "Has she been reading Dear Abby again?"
Somehow the thought of a centuries-old vampire getting advice from the agony column just cracked her up.
"Some, but now she's gone on to watching some balding, television psychologist who calls himself Dr. Phil. She's been taping his shows."
Sookie burst out laughing and shook her head. "Tell me you're joking."
He smiled back, the soft one that made her insides twist because they reminded her too much of the Eric she had known when he couldn't remember who he was.
"I'm not. She swears by him. She said I wasn't giving enough of myself emotionally to you, so when I felt your weariness I thought a hug might help. How'd I do?"
He gave her a pleased look and stood up a little straighter, which only made her have to crane her already sore neck even more. Eric listening to advice from Dr. Phil seemed absurd until she realized that vampires often didn't understand proper human interactions, and the "mainstreaming" ones needed a little help fitting in. Still, she had to give him points for trying.
"You did fine. I feel loads better," she lied, sort-of. She did feel better, somewhat. "Not that I'm unhappy to see you, but what are you doing here? I figured Fangtasia would be in full Halloween swing tonight. I did get the invite, by the way, but I'd already agreed to work so…"
He waved a hand dismissively. "My staff is perfectly capable of wrapping up the party without me and cleaning up the mess. We had quite a crowd tonight." He sighed, frowning. "I really am starting to hate special events. They're such a bother half the time."
She smiled. "I know what you mean. Tonight we had Halloween and football. It was such a great combination."
He smirked. "Don't lie. It doesn't become you."
She chuckled, feeling the tightness in her chest ease up some. She liked it when they were like this, quiet and casual, but she knew there had to be a reason why he was there, and it was best to get that out in the open as soon as possible.
"So… to what do I owe this pleasure?"
She half expected him to pounce on the word, and that had been her goal. His expression, and the feelings coming across the bond, was way too serious for her comfort, and she'd hoped to distract him with his libido. What she would do if her ploy worked too well… She hadn't thought that far ahead. Her body, however, was already voicing its opinion, but then it had always been extremely fond of Eric. She stomped on it as quickly as she could and waited for Eric to leer at her.
He didn't. Instead, he surprised her by stepping back. Oh, she saw the glint in his eye, and watched him lick his bottom lip, but that was all the reaction she got from him. Her body reacted to seeing the pink tongue flicking out, and she had to do some very furious stomping before she jumped on him. He had to be feeling it over the bond, but he gave no indication that he did. He was confusing her utterly.
"Felipe de Castro has returned to Nevada. His agent, Sandy, has gone with him," the vampire said, leaning against her car again. "Victor has been installed in New Orleans to look after the king's interests there."
She nodded, reading the unspoken undercurrents in his words. "I'm sure you're happy about that, about not being overseen anymore."
He gave a little shrug. "Or not overseen quite so closely. Yes, I am… much more at ease."
She understood. Eric had been playing a careful maneuvering game with the new King of Louisiana and his entourage. Having played the mine-ridden fields herself, she knew how taxing all the little details and nuances could be.
He grunted softly, an offhand noise that said it was neither good nor bad, and she once again admired him for his pragmatism. "And what of your issues with the Jackson Weres? I have heard nothing about Herveaux other than he is settling in as packleader," he asked.
"I haven't heard anything from Alcide that says otherwise," she answered, wondering what he was getting at.
"And your brother? Any new developments in the situation with him?"
She clenched her fists and set her shoulders, the pain lancing through her suddenly. She knew Eric felt the stab because his eyes widened a little and his calm demeanor faltered for a moment.
"I'm still not speaking to Jason."
He nodded as if she had confirmed something he had already known. "I am… sorry to hear that."
"Are you really?" she countered, an edge of irritation to her voice.
"Yes, actually, I am. He is important to you, therefore he is important to me."
"More Dr. Phil?" she pressed.
"Somewhat, but more my… memory of how much you were worried about him when he was missing."
His admission took her back and she looked away. They were entering into some very sensitive territory, and her discomfort was growing. "You still haven't told me why you're here. If all you'd wanted to do was catch up, you could have just picked up a phone," she snapped.
He gave her a measuring look that told her that she wasn't fooling anyone. "I wanted to see you. I wanted to speak with you face to face."
His sudden moments of bold-faced honesty never ceased to amaze her, and she stared at him in stunned silence.
"The point to all of this… catching up as you call it, is to confirm that now is a relatively quiet time. The new king has gone home, and I am no longer under intense scrutiny. The Weres and the shifters seem to be at peace, or at least there are no wars brewing, and things are as settled as they get." He caught and held her with his eyes, taking a step towards her again. "Now is the time for us to have our… conversation before any new calamities or disasters strike." He loomed over her, and her heart started pounding. "We must come to our understanding, my lover."
She gulped, trying to quell the shivers of both fear and desire. "Eric…"
"Sookie," he replied, the word slipping from his mouth like a caress.
She focused on how his tongue pressed against his bottom lip, how her name sounded when he said it in that tone of voice. She leaned forward and felt his lust buffeting against her own as he moved even closer. It had been so long since someone had touched her, especially someone as skilled and attentive as Eric had been.
The memory of how they had been when he was cursed, of what they had shared during those few days – so much more than sex. The closeness, the affection… The loss of those things cooled her ardor, and she stepped back, placing a hand on his chest, his perfectly sculpted, muscular chest.
"Eric… I'm too tired to do this with you tonight," she managed to say.
"I know." He didn't seem upset or surprised. He looked away, his eyes focusing on the back door of the bar, his mouth drawing down into a frown. "You're always tired after you work nights. This job is no good for you."
She snorted and glared at him. "I have to work," she insisted. "I have bills to pay."
"Of course. I would never suggest otherwise," he answered reasonably.
"So what are you suggesting?" she questioned, eyeing him with suspicion.
"That now would be a very good time for you to come away with me."
It was the second time that night that he'd shocked her speechless. "You're serious," she finally stammered after several tense moments.
He nodded. "While things are quiet, we should go."
"You want me to go away with you? For how long?" She was incredulous, almost appalled by his suggestion.
"Just a few days." He held up a hand to stop her before she got started. "Before you start arguing, I know loss of wages is an issue. I intend to supplement your income to make up for the hours you would have to take off."
"You'd pay me to go away with you?" she blurted, her pride wounded.
"If it will allow you to say yes, then yes, I would." He moved close to her again, closing the distance she'd put between them and stepping into her personal space. "Sookie, our bond is strong. We must come to an understanding. I have waited for the time to be right. I have been more than patient, but we must settle this between us and soon."
"There's nothing to settle. I don't belong to you," she argued. "And our bond will fade over time so there's no need for this drama."
He pinned her with his eyes, and she felt the tumult of emotions careening across the bond. It hadn't faded. It was still as strong as it had been on the day she had taken his blood for the third time in Rhodes. He was angry and frustrated, but underneath all of that was pain. She was rejecting him and it hurt him. She felt his pain keenly as if it were her own.
'We're bound a little too tightly to suit me, Sookie,' he'd said on the day she'd found the soda can bomb in the Pyramid of Gizeh hotel, but then later had somewhat retracted the statement when he'd told her that he liked being bound to her. 'I like being like this. You'll like it too.'
And she had liked it, as much as she feared it. The bond was what had allowed Eric to find her when Debbie Pelt's parents had had her and Quinn abducted. It was what had allowed her to know when Eric and the King of Nevada were captured by Seigbert and about to be killed. It was what brought her calm and joy and allowed Eric to share his strength with her. She'd found comfort in it, and knew he'd found comfort as well.
"It's not going to fade is it? Because I've had your blood three times," she stated, almost surprised by her own revelation.
"Technically you've had it four times. You bit me on the night the maenad attacked. I had my hand over your mouth so you wouldn't scream," he answered.
"But it's not going to fade," she pushed, already knowing the answer. If it was going to fade, it would have started to by now.
"No. You've had too much of my blood now."
She winced. Even though he had only confirmed what she already knew, it still sounded so clinical coming from him. "Did you do that on purpose?"
"It wasn't something I had planned. Andre forced my hand. If he hadn't insisted on binding you to him, I would not have given you my blood that last time."
His voice was calm and even, and she knew he wasn't lying.
"You did it to spare me from Andre."
"You know I did."
"Did you know this would happen?"
His simple answer set her back again. He'd known what giving her his blood in Rhodes would do, but he'd done it anyway so she wouldn't have to drink from Andre. Considering the circumstances, she could not hold what he'd done against him. She knew, both mentally and emotionally, that he'd been acting in her best interests. And he was right. She much preferred being bound to Eric. She didn't know what she would have done if Andre had not accepted Eric's compromise.
"What would you have done if you hadn't been able to stop him?"
He looked away and she could tell that he was struggling with his answer. The feelings coming across the bond were ones she associated with indecision and reluctance, and she wondered what was going on in his head.
"I would have had no choice but to let him bind you. But then I would have done everything in my power to break the tie. You have no idea how relieved I was when he did not survive the bombing in Rhodes. We were both very lucky," he finally replied in a soft voice, as if he was afraid to admit his treason out loud lest someone be watching them.
"You would have tried to kill him?"
"Yes." He looked at her again, his eyes intense, silently demanding that she not look away because what he was about to tell her was very serious and very important. "Once he'd had you, he would never have let you go. You were too valuable to him and the queen. He would have forced his blood upon you until the bond was permanent, and then he would have made you do his bidding. He would not have been a kind master."
The thought of Andre being her master made her shudder and thank Quinn once again for killing Andre in Rhodes when the vampire was too injured to fight back. It had been a cowardly kill, but she was grateful for Quinn's action every day of her life. To now hear that Eric would have killed Andre for forcing her to drink his blood was unsettling to say the least. To kill Andre Eric would have had to risk his own life, and she knew for a fact that Eric valued that life above all others. Or did he? She couldn't think about that now so she went for sarcasm.
"As if he could have forced me to do anything. You can't even make me heel nicely," she sneered, throwing his words to Andre back at him.
Eric tossed his head impatiently. "It is true that my glamour does not seem to work on you, but you have never heeled because I have never asked it of you. Rest assured, my lover, if I had called you, you would have come."
"Oh really?" she scoffed, crossing her arms over her breasts.
"I learned early on that you valued your freedom very much. I have always given you a choice. Sometimes you have defied me, but it has been because I let you defy me. I did not want to abuse our bond in a way that I knew you would hate and come to despise me for it," Eric explained. "I have called you but one time, and you answered quickly."
That shocked her, then she got angry. "When?" she demanded.
"The night Sigebert captured me and the new king right here in this parking lot."
She blinked. "Oh."
He'd called because he was about to die, and she had been the only one close enough to save him. All of her anger rushed out of her and she felt herself flagging. She was so tired. Too tired to deal with pushy vampires, blood-bond or no blood-bond.
"And you have called me, Dear One. When the parents of that bitch Debbie Pelt had you kidnapped. I heard you calling quite clearly: find me, find me, find me. And I did, didn't I? I found you." He brought his face close to hers and she held her breath. "I will always find you."
She swallowed hard and dropped her eyes, unable to stand the blue stare he was giving her, and the feelings that look was stirring inside of her. He'd said he'd remembered everything. Did he mean everything? And if he did, how did he feel about all of it? Dreading that he didn't feel the same now was one of the biggest reasons she'd been avoiding the conversation he seemed so hell-bent on having.
He was right though. Their bond was strong, and they did need to reach an understanding because they were going to be bound for as long as they both were alive.
She gasped, understanding now why so many people wanted to kill Eric. Quinn had expressed a desire to kill Eric outright. Niall had offered to do it for her if it was what she wanted. Sam, she knew, would not be sorry to see Eric dead for good either. None of them seemed to realize that the very thought of Eric dying was like stabbing herself with the stake they used to kill him.
No matter what she felt or how confused she was or how annoying the Viking could be, she did not want him dead. And she did like him. She'd liked him a lot. Then she'd missed him when he'd regained his memory, and missed him even more when she feared those lost memories had destroyed what relationship she and the real-Eric had shared. He seemed to be getting over that, especially since the bombing in Rhodes, and definitely since he'd remembered the time he'd been cursed. Maybe now really was the time to clear the air between them.
She sighed and let the fight drain out of her. "Alright. What did you have in mind?"
Now it was Eric's turn to look a little stunned. Obviously, he'd been expecting more resistance from her. She let herself feel smug for a few moments while he recovered.
"Sunday through Wednesday. I'll have you back by dawn on Thursday morning," he finally said.
"This Sunday?" she repeated, blinking. So soon? That was only six days away.
"Where will we go?"
"I can't tell you that yet. Somewhere safe where we will be away from… distractions. You will have to trust me."
He seemed confident, and she knew he'd never take her anywhere where he thought she would be in danger.
"All right. I'll talk to Sam and tell him I need some time off."
"I've already spoken with your shifter boss. He's agreed to allow you to go with me if it was what you wanted," he informed with a little smugness of his own.
Typical Eric. She sighed again. "I guess I could be angry about that, but I'm too tired to argue the point."
She found herself in his arms again, wrapped in his comfort and solid strength.
"I know, Dear One. You are as weary as I am. You need this break as much as I do. Thank you for agreeing to accompany me," she heard him whisper. There was a loving inflection to Dear One that made her insides flutter.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she muttered into his pects.
She took a deep breath, inhaling his scent and letting the contentment from the bond seep into her weary bones. It felt so good to be held by someone who appreciated and valued her. Her body began tapping her on the shoulder, telling her that she really wasn't all that tired, and wouldn't it be nice if she and Eric continued their conversation at home, preferably in the bedroom? She had to admit that the idea sounded good, and she was about to let her body have its way – hey after all she'd just agreed to go with him to an undisclosed location for 4 days, and she just knew what was going to happen then so why bother resisting her urges now? – when she felt Eric lift her chin and claim a gentle, but oddly chaste, kiss.
The lack of passion in the kiss surprised her because she could sense his own rising lust in the bond, and she could certainly feel his interest through his jeans, but rather than move closer, he actually took a little step away and placed his hands on her shoulders.
"I'll come for you shortly after sunset on Sunday, my lover. Pack warm. We're heading north."
"O-okay," she stuttered, pulling herself out of her own lust and quelling the feeling of disappointment she was experiencing.
He gave her a tender smile, and another kiss – this one on the forehead – and then he was gone. She looked at the empty place where he had just been, blinking and wondering why they weren't headed for her house right now, despite the fact that Amelia and Octavia were still living there. After a moment, she sighed and turned to go back into the bar to tell Sam she was leaving on Sunday