AN: Still on track from my last State of the Story Update, thank goodness!

"You wouldn't believe my day," I found myself saying. "I can deal with a lot and you've always said that. Guess you're right, but don't think I'll be saying that all of the time!" I slid down in the bed, facing him. "Oh, and tell your neighbor to back off. She doesn't seem to get the message you're a taken man, buster. Although you probably love the attention." I reached out and put my palm over the hand flat by the pillow by his face. "I wish I knew how you'd react to everything else, though. I think we're good but I just wish I knew—I mean, I know how you'd react if I—if I had a better expiration rate." I smiled wistfully and squeezed his flat hand. "But what about kids? How would you feel about that? Is this some kind of game of Niall's? Some kind of test?" Niall did have some bizarre ideas of helpful presents, after all. "What if—what if I did want them? Even to adopt? I never thought of it before, but maybe we should talk about it sometime. We never did do any conventional dating talk, I guess. Hard to fit around everything else!" I sighed and gave him another little squeeze. "So maybe we should have that talk, although how we could do it, I wouldn't know. I just wish I knew where you stood on these things. How would you do with a baby, Eric? Would you want a child?" I leaned forward a little, lifting his hand to plant a little kiss on it. I eased back to the sheets, glancing back—

—To see blue eyes open and looking right at me.

"What's this about a child, Sookie?"

~tststststs~

I knew perfectly well Eric occasionally woke up during the day; I'd seen him do so before, and I'd had the proof in text messages and voicemails. But it's one thing to know it happened, and another thing to see a man you assume to be fully unconscious snap to alert right before you.

So, yes, I shrieked, and scrambled backward quite embarrassingly. It would have been worse, too—I nearly threw myself off the bed—if Eric hadn't caught me by the waist and pulled me back.

In one easy move, he rolled me beneath him. My near-disaster didn't phase him. "A child?" He frowned. "Is this about your cousin? Is he not with his father?" Eric's memory, drawn from our long conversations, served him well. It also served me well, too, because he mistook my inability to speak for distress. Which in a way it was, but not for the reasons he thought. His hand came up to my face, thumb brushing my cheek. "Relax, lover. If your small cousin needs assistance, he will have it. What is the problem? If you want him with you, I will call my lawyer and it will be done."

My hands slid down Eric's back and rested at his hips. I bit my lip, but there was no playful flirting. "Um—no, I don't need to get him right now," I said, figuring I'd better speak up before Hunter's poor father found Pam on his doorstep. "I was just wondering—I mean, what if—if I—" I worried my lip some more, wondering how to handle this.

"If you need to take him, I will help you. I have said this." He frowned at me again.

I had a hard time verbalizing what Niall said to me, but I could at least use Eric's train of thought to feel out my vampire's mind. "But—would it cause a problem?" I rolled my fingers over his back, the waistband of his boxers. "With—um—us?"

"No." Eric looked downright offended, and I squeezed him a little in apology.

"I mean—what if—what if he'd take up a lot of time—he has schoolwork—or a doctor's appointment—or if he has to go to t-ball, would I go alone," I stumbled, casting about for all Arlene's kids did. Eric just cocked his head at me, looking mildly confused.

"I do know what this 't-ball' is, but I will have no issue with the other requirements."

"But I—what if I didn't want to do this by myself? Would you help us?"

Eric blinked and I couldn't say I blamed him. Then his eyes blazed at me and he stopped our conversation for a solid five minutes of kissing.

(Eric could be really good at making his point when he wanted to do so.)

When we came up for air, he pushed back on his hands. "The answer to your question is that your kin is mine and would be treated as such." The wet tracks sliding down into my hairline troubled him, because he added recklessly, "Yes, I will go to this t-ball with you, if it pleases you."

"Or what if—wouldn't he be a target, a way to get back at you?" That part at least he understood; his eyes glittered dangerously.

"You need not worry about that, lover." His grin was downright triumphant, fangs flashing. "I will soon have even more security for me and mine."

I sought his eyes by instinct. "You wouldn't mind—a family?"

"I have already said—." Eric's words stopped and his face slammed shut like a vault door, the muscles beneath my hands locking down as well. His body lifted slightly from me, his face drawn back. I knew that expression well—it was the I Am One Minute from Fleeing Mysteriously and Leaving You in a State of Emotional Uproar, Because I Am Upset look. "This problem is not your cousin. I see. It is your desire." His jaw was fully out, his body vibrating, almost hostile. "You would lea—"

"No!" I grabbed him to keep him with me. I wasn't exactly thinking about it, but maybe my hands knew Eric better than the rest of me did, because they had slid under his waistband and locked on a part he surely wouldn't want to yank out of my hands. Eric's eyebrows went up, but at least I could see the cracks in the mask of his face. "No, I want you, Eric. Just you. You know that." Now I could see the sparkle in his eye slowly emerging. "I just—I just heard things and started worrying, that's all. But not—not about you. You're staying put, buddy," I added, giving him a little rub to emphasize my point.

His hips shifted beneath my hands, his lips curving up again. His eyebrow still read skeptical, though. "Is that so?"

"Yep."

We traded smiles before his mouth was on me again, a little growl reverberating in the chest against mine. He pulled up again as I tapped him for an oxygen break, rolling us slightly to the left. "Lover, put your worries to rest. If you wish your cousin—or any other—I will make it so. Do you want this?"

"Not right now," I whispered, looking down at his chest. "I don't know if I will, either. Ever. I just—don't know, if that's…me, or not." I touched the scar on his nipple. "And I was just—well, worrying…"

"Sookie," he said, in that tone that snapped my eyes to his. "In this, I will do what you wish. Whenever, whatever you decide."

"Thank you," I mumbled.

"Thank you sex is very nice, I have heard." Your Regularly Scheduled Eric was back in session, apparently, as he leaned over me with one hand, and with the other, jerked down his boxers. He didn't even bother to fully remove them—just shoved them out of the way of the important parts. "Let's continue you what you started."

I laughed and apparently that was all Eric needed to start his kissing blitzkrieg. Unfortunately for him, though, despite my adrenaline, I was not ready for his plan of action just then. All else said, it was daytime, and at any moment, Eric could fall back asleep—and that really meant at any moment.

I was not going to be squashed under Eric in a delicate position, or end up in the awful moral dilemma of molesting him in his sleep, either. (Despite his assurances that he'd not mind in the slightest if I carried on without him.)

I finally just convinced him to roll over, as I peeled the boxers off him. I let my mouth go to his navel, dipping my tongue in there, while I started in on the throbbing skin I held curved and rigid against my palm.

Eric growled something in appreciation, regarding me with simmering eyes as his hips began to bounce a bit against the mattress.

His exclamation was hoarse when I brought my mouth to him. Very early on in our bedroom experiences, he'd asked me to "kiss him" and I hadn't known what he'd meant until he guided my head there.

I was a lot better nowadays, if the rough "Fuck!" I heard was anything to go by. I gripped him firmly, not too hard to hurt him, and let myself love him. I opened to let my tongue flatten against him, to draw it slowly about, finding salt and sweetness alike. I felt the sheet twist beneath us as he shoved against it; I heard the thud of his phone falling to the floor somewhere over the heated exclamations he hissed. His skin was burning, hips rolling; I hoped my mouth felt just as hot, bringing him into me. My mouth, my tongue, my teeth, my hands—they all worked and worshipped the pulsing sign of his desire for me. Our eyes held each other as his body reached to me. I doubted we had much time left before he had to go, so I hurried my efforts, one hand going down to stroke and play with him as the other kept time like my lips and throat. And when I heard, dimly, Eric's roar over a rush within me, the eyes above me opening wide and rolling up just as his hands tensed and released in my hair, I knew I had achieved my goal.

~tststststs~

Not long after our exertions, Eric's eyes slid closed, leaving me alone in the room.

Sure, alone with a smile like Scarlett O'Hara had after that night with Rhett.

(I was pretty sure I'd have that exact same smile tomorrow morning, if Eric had any say in it.)

I had more than a little energy—and, okay, sure, a chip on my shoulder.

"I'll have Reduce a Viking to Ecstasy for $100, Alex," I mumbled to myself as I wiped down the coffee table. (Maybe Mr. Trebeck would have appreciated my joke—Jeopardy was very pro-vampire in its questions nowadays, although they had to have separate vamp shows just for fairness. It's a bit hard to beat someone in knowledge of the War of 1812 if he'd been there, after all.)

I hummed, smirked again to myself, and giggled. I was actually doing a whole cleaning tour of the house, not just the living room. Sure, as Eric kept telling me, he had "people" to do it. (And I do believe he meant people, but not in the paid employee way.) But I wanted to wait for my sweetie to wake up that night, so I figured I'd just put my energy to good use. I figured even Eric, who probably never cleaned anything in his undead existence (except maybe his sword or his Corvette), would appreciate it. Who didn't like coming home to a shiny-clean house, after all? So I started in the kitchen, unloading the dishwasher from the last time I was there. (I could hardly blame Eric for forgetting about them—not only hadn't he put them in the dishwasher, but he didn't need them for himself, so why would he think about it? Unless the flashing light on the dishwasher confounded him, but then I had a feeling he'd just yank the plug out of the socket.

That's certainly what he did with his bedside clock, I knew. He claimed its red LED display annoyed him in his sleep, but given he was, well, dead, I had my doubts. Plus it was always so terribly annoying to him just on the nights I stayed over—but always plugged in whenever I first arrived at his house.

And Sam wondered why I never got to work on time!)

Thinking about the clock got me heading up to Sleeping Beauty's bed. We'd been pretty careful, so at least the sheets were tidy, if rumpled, I thought, watching him. (Okay, I may have watched him while stroking his chest a little, but who wouldn't?) We did have other sheets in his hamper, and I could see that some clothing items had made a heroic but vain effort to land in the hamper. That meant it was laundry time.

That job sorted (literally), I strolled around the house looking for more victims for my dust rag. I went up and down the second floor, opening windows and dusting them thoroughly. Clearly, whoever had been drafted to clean up the place had not met Gran's standards of dusting, as there was a gross amount on the blinds. I paused to give the glass a good washing and let the sun shine in while I tackled any remaining dust. I stopped in the above-ground guest bedrooms, one being a generic plain blue theme, and other done with a rose border. (This guest bedroom was very much not generic. It had a scrolling white "P" on the door, as if the white vanity, floor-length mirror, and princess phone didn't give away its intended occupant.) Eric had told me he had a couple of cubbies below-ground, too, but I wasn't going down there on my own.

I turned into Eric's office instead. I headed into his lair, careful not to bump any of his paperwork or his collectible critters. (I did wipe down his signed poster with that handsome dark-haired guy from The Lord of the Rings, and the little figure of that Gollum fellow. He was Pam's favorite, I knew, even though she couldn't care less about the story itself. As she had told anyone who would listen that the ugly little guy apparently resembled some vampire queen the Fangtasia crew knew.)

Eric's computer let me access a radio station, so I did more than whistle while I worked—I danced! And because I was in a silly mood, I cranked it up, started to sing along, and got my boogie on. I kept the music on while I shimmied out into the hallway and began to wipe down the photos framed there. I had a feeling they were all Pam's handiwork, as they included a number of formal portrait photos of the two of them. There was Eric in a suit to kill, hair slicked back, while Pam reclined in a glamorous red dress like you'd see at the Oscars. Then there was Eric sitting on the stage at Fangtasia, while Pam, hip cocked, perched at his side. Then a shot where they looked like superheroes in leather, standing back to back—and so on.

I also noticed a few solo shots of Eric in the hallway, too—naturally, he'd want to see himself, right? I rolled my eyes wiping down images previously used in his calendar, until I came across one that—

"Oh, Jesus Christ, shepherd of Judaea," I breathed.

It was apparently a newer photo and from the looks of it, wasn't taken by a professional photographer. Nonetheless, the image certainly captured the main attraction—Eric bent over his Corvette, quite without clothes. The set-up really illuminated one of his best features (in addition to his smile, of course.) You could almost see the little dimple—I tossed a frantic glance towards the bedroom door; after all, he'd said I could do what I wanted when he was asleep—

"Get it together, Stackhouse!" You can molest him when he's awake. It's not like he's going to object anyway, I told myself sternly.

"You are a bad, bad man," I told the framed version of my honey. If he could wake up, he'd probably be delighted I came across his little "surprise."

The music kept on, so I shrugged and decided to get back into it. I was working it as best I could, given I was shifting about and trying to get all of the corners of the frames at the same time I danced. (Really, Pam and I were going to have a talk about these intricate frames—they made good dusting almost impossible.) I was into the beat enough that I tossed down the Pledge and the spare paper towels to really let loose. I bopped along to the music, agreeing with the male singer that was I was, indeed, a "good girl," when I felt arms encircle me, a mouth by my ear, purring, "You know you want it."

Eric was either picking up on my mood or he was just in the same state of mind, because he didn't stop me when I pulled him tighter, still singing the next verse. I could feel his joy, like a pulse—but I guess he had never risen to an impromptu dance session before. I just heard Eric laughing in my ear, before he picked up the tune again.

Who knew cleaning could be so much fun?

"The way you grab me," he murmured in a voice I typically heard when we were much, much closer, and okay, maybe my hands were grabbing in a way to doubt that "good girl" status. (He'd apparently tossed on his jeans, I found, as my fingers curved against denim-wrapped muscle.)

"Mmmm….my night is starting off well," I heard him say, before he rejoined me in our little karaoke attempt. Well, he had no choice—I'm not one to give up a chance to dance, after all!

I bumped back into him with my hips and flipped back about to face him. "But you're an animal," I serenaded him. "It's in your nature!" It was, as he gave a good nip at my fingers as they brushed his face. Giggling, I let him spin me around a couple of times, both of us still laughing, still (somewhat) singing, before he stopped us. I slid across his body to the ground, but I didn't feel like parting us. Drawing my fingers in his belt-loops, I stepped back and attempted (seductively, I hoped) to pull him towards me. But as I set my heel down, well—I tripped. Probably not seductively, sadly.

Gran was right about always picking up your trash. The Pledge knocked over, my heel landed on part of the towel roll—and down I went.

Well, almost. A laughing Eric reached to catch me, and he would have, too, but for my flailing legs.

One of which caught his calf and caused him to stumble, and suddenly, we were both going down.

But my life didn't end up being flattened under Eric's bodyweight. (Pleasant as that was in normal situations.) Eric caught my head with one hand while with the other, he held himself from the ground, from slamming into me.

And that would have been surely fine, but for one thing. Blue eyes widened, were all I could see—because there was a reflection in them, a reflection of the window, curtains up, in the room across from us. A window letting light in.

It was day, not even close to night, and Eric and I had just fallen directly into sunlight.

~tststststs~

If I could have, I would admired the way the sunlight made Eric's loose hair glow. I would have sighed over how his face, caught in mid-laughter, showed him as eager for life, as vibrant to exist, as he surely was a thousand-odd years ago. I would have melted to see the sky in his blue eyes, beaming down at me. I would have marveled at his fangs, which he had displayed so happily to me. I would have loved to see the tightness in the bare, heavily sculpted arm that held me, vulnerable and strong both.

But I couldn't, because I'd started to scream, and Eric, for one of the few times in his life genuinely shocked, blinked at me slowly before acting.

And then he did—he'd flung us both in his bedroom, slamming shut the light-tight door.

I stood gasping by the bed, watching Eric pace a little by his side. He finally sat down on it, but he didn't get in.

I found my voice. "Were you hurt? Do you need blood?" I moved to pat him down, to look at his bare skin again. Tears started before I could stop myself. "Oh, no, Eric, this is my fault, I was cleaning—" I frantically touched by his ear—he wasn't even having the bleeds.

"I don't feel tired." Eric's voice was toneless.

"What?" I looked at us in the mirror opposite—me, kneeling behind him, hands on shoulders, Eric staring ahead, or into something I couldn't see.

"I have no idea what the fuck is going on, Sookie." His eyes were now back to mine, and I shivered inside. "I should be dead."

My hands gripped his shoulders so hard he'd have fingernail marks in them. "And thank the Good Lord you aren't!"

"That is not what I meant." He took my hands, slid them across his chest to allow me to embrace him. Again, he sought my eyes. "I should be dead to the world, lover. I have risen in the day, but not like today. Not to have energy enough for you and to leave the room—Sookie, I did not even feel the Call." This was not something mystical, I knew, but a very real compulsion. I could forget what time it was, like just now, but a vampire couldn't. Every vampire, for self-preservation's sake, had an instinctive sense of the sun. Even when Eric woke up during the day, he knew it was daylight and not to leave his bed. He also, by simple urge, wanted to stay in bed and to head back to unconsciousness. That's why you never heard of any vamps oversleeping when nightfall came, or for that matter, sleep-walking and getting themselves killed in the process. Or even vamps having a problem flying into a different time zone. It was all no matter—they all knew the Call. To ignore it required age, power, and incredible willpower—even Eric could only fight it to stay up with me in short bursts, and the biggest expense of his energy that I'd witnessed was this afternoon, in bed. Heck, even when a hotel was about to explode beneath us, Eric had had to fight it just to get us to safety, and he'd barely made it. His own survival, Pam's, mine—it took everything he had to override instinct.

To be able to do that—to totally ignore the Call—to be oblivious to it—that was terrifyingly dangerous.

"What do we do? Get a lock on your door?"

He shook his head slightly. "It would not be necessary. I can feel that." His eyes, clouded over, cleared again as he looked at me. "I have never experienced this, Sookie. To wake at all during the day—I thought it a benefit of age. We do not need much blood, after all, at my age; I thought perhaps rest could be the same. But to be so alert—and to leave my resting site—" His face told me he was thinking about what had happened when he'd left his "resting site" or bedroom, or whatever he called it—he'd been exposed to bright sun, and there wasn't a mark on him, that I could see. He flashed his fangs at both of us in the mirror, as if to reassure us both that he, a vampire, had just seen the sun.

He stared at my worried reflection for a lengthy moment. "These changes—I do not understand them." Out came the jaw I knew so well. "I will have to speak with Ludwig." The jaw came out further. Eric no more enjoyed doctor's visits than I did.

I stared at us, Eric seated in his jeans, myself kneeling on the bed behind him. His confusion recalled to me another night when he was barefoot and only wearing jeans.

I rubbed his shoulders, hoping it would do what a warm foot bath once did. "What would make you change now? I know it's not something you ate—" Since he only had True Blood and my blood, I knew it couldn't be any kind of a reaction to food. Heck, I hadn't even had one of my cookies, let alone anything exotic.

Exotic. Cookies.

Claude's words began to race through me:

Maybe your bonding button's broken or something, if you're starting to go off around people who aren't going to take you to the ground.

I'd been to ground with Eric—if you meant being with him. Not long ago, I'd spent a night making love to Eric in my yard.

Like I said, it's not a formal ceremony. You just get carried away, it feels right, you only stop 'cause your dick's about to fall off or you have to.

We'd only stopped when the sun came up.

Anyway, you start seeing the big benefits of the gift-exchange after the bonding—the exchange starts developing faster. Essentially, your bonding finds a way to give your man something he wants.

Eric had been more and more alert in the day, and twice now, he'd seen the sun…

It's something he wants, it's magic, fuck if I know. I know it doesn't change his essence, though, or that would fuck up the whole bonding.

I swallowed hard. A guilty vulture sat on my shoulder, getting ready to tear me to pieces. "Eric…if you had a wish now, you wouldn't wish not to be a vampire, would you?" I bit my lip, thoughts bouncing around my head like pinballs. Eric had always loved being a vampire; he'd tried to convince me of vampdom's superior qualities more than once, in case I wanted to be turned. (I had told him V-8 was enough for me, thank you.) Unless he'd had some unwise fleeting thought, I couldn't imagine he'd ever wish for, or for a second be happy with, losing his vampiredom.

I'd known it since I first saw the cheeky license plate on his Corvette, bragging that he was a BLDSKR. He loved life too much to leave it.

My meditations were cut short by the "harrumph" beneath me. In the mirror, Eric gave me an eyebrow. "Go back to having to wait between fucks?"

I hiccupped a laugh. The vulture took flight, thank goodness. Still, I frowned, rubbed his shoulders, let my chin come to rest on my head. So, chalk off that suspicion-

The muscles under his hands moved, shrugged. I turned to lean my cheek against his hair. "My existence pleases me." I tightened my arms around him. It pleased me, too. "So I would not wish that." I sighed again and let Claude's suggestions leave my mind. It was just idle commentary, anyway—he was hardly a fortune-teller.

But then Eric's shoulders moved beneath my palms again, and I looked up into the mirror, at his eyes. "I would wish only more time with you."

"Oh, shit!"

~tststststs~

We were beyond my usual exclamations. Eric whipped around, mercifully not knocking his head into my chin as he did so, and suddenly, I was pinned beneath him. "What is it?"

I bit my lip, but there was no avoiding this one. "I—look, I'm sorry—you know I wouldn't force you—"

"What is it?" One of his hands held mine, above my head, locked against the bed; the other captured my jaw urgently.

"I think I….married you?" There was no helping the Crazy Sookie smile on my face now. Eric drew back slightly, a mixture of stunned, confused, and irritated. "Not like in the human way—I think in the fairy way. They said it was bonding?"

Eric's eyes had started to light up again, like fresh blood was in the air. "Who? Tell me."

So I did, stumbling over what Claude had said, my own suspicions about our "activities." It was a highly censored version— I really didn't think now was the right time to bring up everything "else"—but it got the point across.

If Eric disagreed with my theory, he didn't say so. "So this is why I scented the fae over you." I knew the turn of his mouth, could see the tips of fangs emerging in excitement. I put a plaintive hand against his bare chest.

"Well, I had to ask him about what Niall said—about this, I mean—"

"Niall? You have seen him?" For a moment I was taken aback, before I realized what had happened. He should've smelled Claude and Niall alike, but I guessed Niall had been repressing his scent again. He could do that—it allowed him to go where he liked and deal with what he liked.

Eric plainly didn't care about the logic of fairy scent. I looked up into his expression, which was positively electric. "What did he say?"

"Of you? Nothing about this—but—oh, crud, something about the immortals changing." Eric's fangs were in full force now, but he didn't move. I hurried on. "And he, ahh, asked about you, about us, I mean—but he didn't say anything bad—just that he approved, or something like that—" Eric wasn't moving during my confession, but I could feel the sparks under his skin. Something was bubbling up inside him—what, I wasn't sure. "Look, um….they said it's a bonding, but it doesn't mean anything," I added desperately. "Like your knife. It's just…a symbol. It isn't legal in the human world." I smiled, full-blown Crazy Sookie again. "So we're as free as ever. You can keep up with being Bachelor of the Year, no need to worry."

He was looking into me, but he had appeared to stop listening. "Oh, yes, my knife." Eric's voice was low, his lips drawn tight over his fangs, and his eyes did not leave me. "My lovely liar."

Maybe a few tears were sliding into my hairline then. His thumb swept them away, but he didn't break our gaze. "Look, if you don't want this, Claude said something about it being breakable—I'll just ask him." I closed my eyes to avoid his. I wasn't a girl to hold a man against his wishes, and Eric had no more asked for a closer tie than I had—he'd be upset—who wouldn't?—my cursed genes at work again—

"Don't you fucking dare." Eric's growl was so deep in his chest that the skin beneath my hands trembled. My heart was flying like Eric himself did, either from his mood, or mine, I couldn't say—but all I could sense was elation. Before I could react further, his mouth, open and hot, had seized mine, his tongue sliding in for a victorious caress. I grabbed at him as he shifted back, then in again, as if our kiss was his greatest addiction. The full weight of his emotions hit me, a tidal wave of joy that pulled me to him. I should have known; danger was Eric's favorite aphrodisiac, but this seemed—more. It felt like those familiar bubbles coming up and tumbling over the edge once more, but it was Eric's elation feeding mine. But I could think no further, as I gasped against his invading lips. I mewled against the possessive twist of his mouth against mine, his lips pulling back so he could nip mine before uniting us again.

I was dizzy by the time he tore his mouth away, but not too overwhelmed to mistake his words. Eric reared above me, golden hair framing his face, baring his fangs fully at me. No matter the hour, there was no doubt of his vampirism now. "You have made me a daywalker, my lover? You think to claim me, Sookie Stackhouse? Claim me before your kind?"

"Just the fairies," I managed, but Eric apparently wasn't in the mood for exceptions.

He lowered his head and we were at eye level again. "Then I will fucking claim you," he promised, before ripping my pants away.

~tststststs~

"You are not sore?" I heard Eric's voice above my hair, as I lay against him, both of our bodies bare.

He had managed to be rough and sweet, in that way of his. I couldn't bring myself to stop either of us, no matter if the sun stole him away from me—instead, I'd shoved his pants down as he simply hissed my name, and somehow needing it as much as he had, I cried out for him just to take me.

And he had, shoving into me in a way that made me feel only that I was meant for this, the sharpness a burn that meant we were afire together. I bore down on him, to savor his invasion. At my ear, I heard him hiss. "What do you do to me, woman?" he grunted through a tight jaw. For long minutes, our eyes held, the room still but for my pants, his growls, the sound of flesh in contact. And then he'd pulled away, leaving me in a cold agony before he spun me to my knees and—God, yes—he was behind me, ablaze, filling me like the most wonderful secret, again. I felt his hands clamp on my hips as I shoved back for more of him, and I looked up to see us in the well-lit mirrors—Eric, fully naked, fully male, reaching over my back, pulling me into him with one hand as he tore away my shirt and bra with the other.

"Look at us, lover," he hissed, pausing to draw me up, his hand now rough against my breast. The mirror hid none of us from me, not even if I wanted to look away. His hand turned below, bringing me faster to where his hips were already leading me. "I claim us." I met his eyes in the mirror, as his tongue slid by my ear, as wet and burning fingers teased me from below.

"Eric." I was helpless; I was in agony; I was moving against his hips and hand, thighs quivering wantonly, unable not to watch his conquest.

His mouth, male, wet, and sharp, turned torturously to my neck, and I knew what I wanted, a completion I wanted just as much as to feel his hands slamming me back against his hips, pistoning his claim. "I fucking claim us."

I cried my agreement, gasped a word. "Eric—"

"Yes?" he growled into my skin. Between his hand and hips, I was caught, and did not want to flee.

"Bite!"

And he did.

~tststststs~

So I curled into him, naked, exhausted, and we lay in silence. He had healed my neck wounds immediately after he drank, after we both came down from our bliss. He held me, nerves snapping like a low fire's embers, as I vibrated against him, and I could feel his finger tips glide gently around my waist.

"Do you want my blood?" His voice was thick as if he'd scratched it in that final triumphant roar.

"Not now." Scarlett's famous smile? Oh, yes, he'd put it there, although a few hours earlier than I'd predicted. I sighed, stretched a leg, but couldn't bring it to myself to regret the twinge there, bringing back echoes of our loving. Idly fingers stroked the hair at the top of his chest. Now I could feel him all the way through again, as his emotions were settling down, just like the rest of him.

He was happy.

"Name a gift. Name anything. Name the moon and I will get it for you." He'd slid down so fast I probably got some kind of skin burn from it, but all I noticed were his blue eyes a nose-breadth from mine. They were wide and willing, like a child clapping his hands before a pile of Christmas presents.

"I only want this one." I put out my hand to his hip and groped a bit. He shifted forward to help me with my exploration.

His laughter met his eyes. "You make me a very happy vampire, my Sookie."

~tststststs~

Despite Eric's efforts, I hadn't agreed to sex again. I was still a bit sore, and while I reveled in the feeling of his body merging with mine (my O-jars were apparently coming in bulk purchase), I didn't want to be trapped under his body if he went back under—no matter if he claimed he wasn't feeling the Call at all.

So instead, we cuddled and, yes, kissed. (What? If he'd fallen asleep, I would have been able to disengage from that, at least.) We whispered sweet nothings, as we'd done so long ago and so often since, and we meant it. And finally, Eric spoke a bit of the situation at hand.

Eric was all for testing out my theory, that we'd bonded and this was giving him new power in the day. I refused to let him leave the bedroom. (He was disappointed when I did not offer enticements.) Until we knew—well. Some risks were not acceptable.

Normally, Eric's not one to take being forbidden anything too well (neither am I, I admit), but I used my tactical advantages (tears, boobs) and he'd promised not to go anywhere.

So we stayed in the bed, talking, and even watching TV. (I refused to go get dressed for fear he'd try to sneak out of the room again.) We'd hammered out a few rules—we weren't going to talk to anybody about this yet. Eric would monitor his activity in the day and we'd just…see how things went. Maybe go to Dr. Ludwig for a final consultation, although Eric wasn't too keen about that. Instead of thinking about check-ups, he was thinking about what he would do, if he suddenly gained time in the day. Eric was personally quite anxious to see what he could do when the sun was up, as apparently inspecting the quality of my sunbathing had been on his to-do list for some time. (I made a mental note to check the strings of my bikinis whenever I went out to sunbathe next.) Meanwhile, I was anxious about what this would mean for Eric's overall safety, but Eric pointed out to me that it was hardly like anyone could do anything to him—nobody could "take" this ability from him (if he indeed had it) or compel anyone (including me) to give it elsewhere. If anybody even knew, that is—if he just kept it quiet, low-key, most Supes wouldn't even believe the rumors they heard. And if this was a fae bond, then—

"Your people will protect us, as mine protect you." He shrugged. "It will not be necessary, of course. But I would have allies at all times. To protect you, my lover," he added, tucking a lock behind my ear.

(Eric needing protection for himself was a touchy subject, so I didn't push it. He still strongly disliked any implication he'd been helpless during his period of amnesia.)

~tststststs~

I was tied up and munching on an apple by the time a showered (damn) and dressed (double damn) Eric joined me in the kitchen. It was dusk now, thankfully, so it was safe.

Safe from the sun, that is. Eric ignored my "Hello, handsome," and simply planted a whopper of a kiss on me.

"Mmmmm, my lover." Our foreheads touched, his smile unwavering. "What an interesting day it has been."

"I'll say." I squeezed his hips. And, okay, a little bit more, too.

What can I say? That Charmin was meant to be squeezed.

He smirked outright at me, delighted. "It is not every day a beautiful woman takes me as hers."

"Poor woman doesn't know what trouble she's in for."

He laughed softly and smiled. "Doesn't she? Some other woman has designs on me, my lover?"

Many did, I had no doubt about that, but I wasn't going to say that to him. It wasn't like he didn't know what he did to the poor ladies on the street when he went to "grab the newspaper" without his shirt on. "Pity her."

I saw his fangs now. "And what would you do, dear one?" Eric's fingers tugged my ponytail. "What if some other seeks to take what you claim?"

"Kill the bitch," I said promptly, and his roar of laughter shook the room.

"I knew you were a warrior, my Sookie." He nipped my nose in that lighting-fast way he did—too quick for me to jerk away, just slow enough for me to feel the lightest pinch of his teeth. "You always did appreciate necessity."

"This is still not getting you off the hook for that knife stunt." His grin let me know he thought just that.

"Hmph. And this isn't necessity, anyway. Well, this is just…out of our control." His expression asked me the difference between the two; I ignored it. "And it's just a bond. For now. No reason to go pick out china, buster."

"Mmmm," was all I got in response, as he'd started to let his hands go roving. I tilted my head back, let his mouth take a leisurely tour there, as I swayed against him—

"Jesus Fucking Christ, Eric!"

I gave a little shriek but Pam, our uninvited guest, ignored me. If I tried to shy away, just out of modesty's sake (really, some things are private), my effort was blocked by Eric. His hands were still at my hip and the back of my head, holding me firmly but unthinkingly.

"Why aren't you dressed?" We both looked at Eric. He looked mighty fine to me, in his dark shirt and slacks. Or was it supposed to be his leather night at Fangtasia? Pam wasn't wearing that kind of thing, anyway—she looked downright elegant, with her hair twisted up, and a ladylike pink suit on. Jackie Kennedy would've liked it a bunch; I made a note to tell Pam that, when she was less obviously irritated.

"Didn't you get the message? It's tonight." She looked urgently at Eric.

He patted his pockets and frowned. "There was a message? I must have left my phone upstairs." He had, actually—I vaguely remembered it falling off the bed during our encounter, but I wasn't sure what to say about that in front of Pam.

Not that she was paying me any mind. When Eric ordere her to report, she added, "The paperwork came this afternoon. Bobby finally did something fucking right and let me know." She waved to the living room. "The bar's ready, I saw it. The papers are ready on your desk. I brought a new suit. Of course, I brought a few options, too—"

Eric interrupted her. "It's agreed? Already?" The question hung in there light Ben Franklin's key on the string. Even I held my breath, feeling the tension coming from the body next to me. Whatever this was, Eric wanted.

Pam's fangy smile flashed like lighting and before she could respond, she was letting out a little shriek herself, as Eric had picked her up, spun her around exuberantly, and put a little kiss on her forehead. (She rolled her eyes.)

"If you have ruined my fucking hair—"

He ignored her, because now I was the recipient of a lighting hug-and-kiss. (Unlike Pam, I got a dip, too, and my kiss was an open one on the mouth. Eric's tongue had the same sense of propriety as the rest of him, let's just say that.)

Pam apparently wasn't in the mood to watch, as she swatted at Eric. "Get ready! Who knows when the fuck he will—when we will sign! Go!"

"What's going on?" I managed, as Eric let me up for air.

As if my presence had just registered, Pam looked at me in horror. "What the fuck is she doing here?" I didn't miss Pam and Eric's eyes having a whole conversation apart from me right there.

"Um, is there a problem?"

Eric had apparently reclaimed his sense of self-control. He shot Pam a Look and then, before I could process that, I received the full wattage of his most charming smile. "No problem at all, my lover. I just need to head in for some paperwork—you know how it is."

"Just paperwork?" He wasn't the only one who could lift an eyebrow.

"Just paperwork with some dignitaries. You cannot be there, unfortunately, for this. It would not be wise." He lifted my hand to his mouth in a little kiss. I was a little torn—normally, Eric didn't give a rat's patooty who thought what about me being in the bar. Heck, he'd been fully aware, so long ago when the pirate vampire had been after me, how everyone was speculating that I was a special favorite of his—and he continued right on with his blatant efforts at hitting on me in public. But then again, sometimes even Eric didn't want to invite trouble, and Lord knows there were people who had a problem with me. Even if I knew Eric was always on my team, as I was his, sometimes there just didn't need to be problem.

"I will come to you as soon as I can," he murmured lowly, promisingly, as if Pam weren't standing there right next to us. Surely she could see the smoke fogging up the windows around here?

"If you get your ass in gear, you can come as often as you'd like," Pam grumbled. (I chose to think that she meant the verb of motion, and not anything else. From the sparkle in Pam's eyes, though, I had my doubts.)

Eric straightened and set his shoulders. "Very well. Get the car ready," he told Pam, and then brushed a kiss against my cheek. "You may stay here or take your car. I will be with you soon."

He was almost out of the room when I impulsively blew a kiss at him. "Love you!"

He turned back to look over his shoulder, golden hair swirling across naughty blue eyes. "Of course you do," Eric said. And he winked, and was gone.

~tststststs~

The house seemed too quiet after my vampires left, so I decided to get busy. I could go home, but, I figured, I'd need to sleep soon—I had never taken a break today (quite the opposite), and if Eric wanted to talk after he got back—well, it just made sense to save driving time. Driving his car, to be sure, no matter how tricky he was with pronouns.

So I took the opportunity to smuggle Eric's sheets off to the washer. I briefly considered just stacking fresh linens on his bed, to see if he'd actually make it himself, but I gave up and wrangled the big mattress myself.

(Jason had relied on this technique against me all through high school. For being Jason, he knew quite well how to get what he wanted.)

And then I decided to enjoy Eric's backyard, with the help of the wine Eric had stocked for me. (It amused him to see us drinking red liquid out of matching goblets. I eyeballed the glittery edge of my glass and figured it must have been a Pam Pinterest project.)

And then, a glass or two in—or, okay, three-admittedly, I was a bit bored. And curious, too, because what could be going on at Fangtasia? I considered texting Eric but I knew he'd be in touch if he could—no use nagging him. And I didn't want to be a clingy type, anyway.

And of course, I considered, for a fleeting second, just driving myself there. But besides the problem of the wine I'd just had, even if I got a ride from somebody, visiting the bar would be downright rude, as well as controlling. I wouldn't want Eric stalking me at my work all the time, either.

Even if my work hardly had a lot of drama. (Unless you counted Tara trying to convince Sam that a public showing of that male stripper movie would make a lot of money for Merlotte's. Sam had not been thrilled.)

My mind slid to other options. I couldn't help but think of Amelia—whatever she and Pam had together at the least consisted of a lot of talking. So maybe she knew something? But I dismissed that thought—if the story was that juicy, I'd know first, not Amelia. Besides, we all knew Amelia was hardly the keeper of state secrets. I had to fight to keep my shields up around her, because her thoughts were so clear. Like the time a few weeks ago when I'd caught her sneaking out of my room. She'd said she was looking for shoes, but that was ridiculous; my flats and sneakers hardly would tempt Amelia away from her army of stilettos. She'd been in my jewelry box, and in her mind, I caught a vision of Pam before I stopped myself. If Pam was planning another necklace drop-off, I didn't want to know in advance.

I sighed and sipped a little of the red wine. Across the fence line, I could feel the presence of Foxy—from the familiar sounds I heard, she was struggling with some laundry she'd hung to dry. She was also, I could sense, "struggling" just a bit too much, in the hopes that a very tall man might feel obligated to offer to assist her.

I really, really needed to introduce her to Pam.

That made me think again about whatever was going down at Fangtasia. (And it made me refill my wine glass, because trouble at Fangtasia always merited a drink.)

I could call Sam, but I had a feeling he wasn't up for "girl talk." Claude was a.) working and b.) an ass, so he was out. Claudine was lovely, but she just wasn't grounded enough for what I needed. She'd probably just advise me to tap my heels together, or blow bubbles, or something.

So I grabbed my phone and dialed Tara.

"What's up, girl?" She was at home, I gathered, as I could hear one of her favorite shows playing.

"Mmmm, got a minute or sixty?"

"Oh, shit, what have you done now?"

"Nothing!"

"Yeah, you give Sam that shit, too, and he doesn't believe it, either. You think I would?"

"Mmm, yeah." The wine had not done my eloquence (Word of the Day—go, me!) levels any favors.

Fortunately for me, Tara was willing to listen while I caught her up on my anxieties. I left out the small stuff—death (or not), baby (or not), bonding (quite probably), and daywalking (all signs point to yes)—but I managed to convey the gist: Something was up.

Tara caught on, kind of. Maybe my gist hadn't quite been conveyed after all. Why do they say in wine is truth, anyway? Especially if you can't think when you've had a few? It's hardly truth if you can't communicate properly, after all—

"What, you mean to tell me he's having some throw-down and you're invited?"

I jerked back to our conversation. "Um, it's business, not personal, and not a party." Although he was supposedly going to wear some fabulous new suit, I remembered, frowning. How important were these people coming to visit him? I'd met vampire royalty before, after all. I don't think Pam ran out to buy Eric new clothes for that. Why do it now?

"Yeah, yeah, bull shit. Something's going down, Sook. You sure he isn't cheating?"

"No! He is definitely not going off to cheat." And he definitely should be a little tired on that front, I wanted to say, but I wasn't letting Tara know about that.

Tara knew me pretty well. "You already fucked him tonight, didn't you. Why, Sookie Stackhouse, you hussy." She snickered. "I'm so proud of you. Even if I would have cut off his balls myself if he'd screwed you over."

"Thanks," I responded dryly, taking another sip of the wine. "I'm sure he'd appreciate it, too."

"He should. You're too good for him and he better know that." Tara hadn't been a fan of vamps ever since she'd had that awful Franklin as a "boyfriend." (In reality, he was less a boyfriend than an abusive son of a bitch who truly deserved whatever his angry maker dished out, but that's hard to say quickly. That may not be charitable, but the Lord made us Stackhouses loyal, and that meant not turning a blind eye to folks hurting our friends.)

Still, despite her dislike of the fanged set, Tara knew that Eric had helped to get Franklin sent away. (Even though she wasn't entirely appreciative of his efforts at the time. Nor was I, since he'd used that as leverage to make me tell him about his memory gap, when he lived with me, under amnesia's grip. He still asked me to tell him those stories again, even though he knew full well now what had happened. His questions left his motives pretty suspect: "I am not sure I remember, Sookie. How exactly did you react to the sight of my naked body? Perhaps you should demonstrate and it will fill any remaining gaps in my memory.")

"Yeah, well, I love him," I whimpered, a little sadly, since the wine made a good boyfriend just about then. Good enough that I kept drinking it. "And I don't know how he's doing." He'd even shut off his side of the bond, I could tell. Although he left awfully happy, who knew how he was now? "Oh, God, I'm a crazy girlfriend, aren't I? I'm one of those delusional stalkers! I'm Bill!"

"Fuck that!" Tara, not embracing the tender affections of wine, was not in the mood to wallow.

"I wish I knew—I know! You could go to Fangtasia for me!" This seemed really brilliant at the time, I promise.

Then again, that wine seemed awfully brilliant, too.

"What? What the fuck?"

"Yes!"

"No!"

"You owe me! You made us do that stupid dance to that eighties song, just because your mom still had it on tape." We both cringed over that. Sure, we'd been the scandal of elementary school, and Eric had absolutely appreciated our dance as adults, but really? Pat Benetar?

"It was my mom's tape and you liked it," Tara muttered sullenly. I heard something jingle and then her voice changed. "Fine, fuck it, I'm doing this. But if I get caught, this is your idea."

~tststststs~

Tara and Eric shared certain driving habits—although Tara, without glamouring skills, had more tickets to show for it—so I got a call back in very short order. I could hear loud music, but it wasn't the usual techno—instead, I just heard some kind of happy orchestral music. It sounded a bit like Gran's classical music records. It definitely did not sound like Fangtasia.

"Fuck it, I made it here." Her voice lowered. "Sook, it is fucking creepy here." Her voice got quieter still. "I think we better text. Gimme a second." I had just heard an incredibly perky waitress ask Tara for her order when the line went dead. I stared expectantly at my hand before the device vibrated.

"I think they killed the fangbangers!"

"What?" I typed back, as fast as I could. (That pesky correcting feature kept getting in my way, so it took a few attempts.)

"I know! They're not really here, just a few people who seem kinda normal. And everybody's got clothes on!" Okay, that was a bit odd. Fangtasia's vampires were frequently barely dressed and the fangbangers kept hoping their own nakedness would win over one of the resident vamps. All in all, you'd be more likely to see my church congregation in the buff than everyone decently covered at Fangtasia.

In a second, the phone buzzed in my hand; Tara had snuck a photo. It was grainy, but got the point across—the table across from Merlotte's looked like it had an ordinary group of adults, not trashy tourists or floozy fangbangers.

"I'm telling you, this is fucking weird. I don't even see any vamps except fucking Bill." (I tried to be charitable and not agree with Tara's assessment.) "He hasn't seen me yet."

Well, that-all was weird, too. All of the Area 5 vamps were required to put in face time at Fangtasia; you could be sure there would be, at minimum, five always present for your gawking pleasure. Just one was odd, and to have Bill? He was the least popular Fangtasia vampire among the fangbanger set, because he: 1.) avoided the bar like it was made of silver; 2.) rarely wore anything that fulfilled their notions of vampdom (meaning: near-naked); 3.) wouldn't flirt with them; 4.) would start gushing on about everything he'd ever seen in the past as if they cared about history, and, 5.) the worst of all, he always looked horrified when they asked to be bitten. (For all the same reasons, he was a big hit among the elderly tourists, but there weren't that many of them.)

"Just a few waitresses here. Mindy's here and working, but she's not in uniform. Just Fangtasia T-shirt and jeans."

That, too, was bizarre. Fangtasia had a pretty clear policy about staff outfits. While they ranged in revealing qualities (and I couldn't point too many fingers with Sam's short-shorts), they were all trashy and all consistently "branded." ("I have attended a Women's Empowerment Workshop on Branding Your Business. Our brand is whore. They need to dress like it," Pam had told me, when I asked why the staff didn't have less skanky wear—or at least something that didn't look like they really needed a bath. "If I have to have fucking leather crushing my tits all night, they need to suffer, too. Although with their taste level, it might be an improvement," she sniffed.)

"What's going on?" I frantically texted Tara. It had been a minute since she'd responded, and I'd just refilled my wine glass.

(Investigating was hard work.)

"Dunno. They even cleaned up the gift shop shit. It's just shirts, hats, and coffee mugs. I don't even see the stupid FB logo." That would mean the clumsy fangbanger line, "Once you go fang, that's all you'll want to bang."

(It didn't fit on any bumper stickers, that's for sure.)

The phone buzzed in my hand again. "No calendars. :((("

"You are not sneaking a peek at my boyfriend's butt! I thought you didn't like him, anyway!"

"I've got eyes! Nothing to use them here for, anyway. Hey, they even took down some of the gross wall shit."

"?"

"All that crap they keep on the walls—some of it is gone. Like the vampire dude biting and riding the naked blond chick poster. It was over the bar."

"And how do you remember that?" Tara hadn't been to Fangtasia nearly as much time as I had, and even I couldn't remember all the kitchy and sometimes obscene stuff they piled on the walls.

"Because the vamp's hair had changed by the time the second time I came. Someone made him a blond, hahaha. I was going to ask you if that meant anything."

Well, I really didn't have anything to say to that, but I could hardly be held to blame for all the practical jokes at Fangtasia, or all of its tacky crap. "Just that one?"

"I'm telling you, the only shit still here is pretty tame. It's like they cleaned it up for a visit from a priest or the President or Oprah or something."

"So you think it's some kind of front?"

"Yeah, I saw enough of this shit. This is what my mom would pull whenever social workers were coming over—clean up, dress nice, try to be respectable. Yeah, they're putting on a show for somebody." Tara was really good at texting, so the words kept flying onto my screen. "It has to be somebody they want to impress. You're sure Oprah's not a vamp?"

"Positive." Oprah had a lot of vamp fans, like Pam, who would have killed to turn her, but so far that had not been part of Oprah's new shows.

"FML! Your asshole's walking this way." A second or two came, and then the phone in my hand rang. "Your damn ex jus saw me and freaked out a little. He thought you were here. I think it's about to hit the fan."

"Okay, then get out now! We can recon ….?" I (or the wine) was getting too into this detective stuff.

"Sure, I'm out—shit."

Now I heard another voice enter the phone, first from a distance, and then right up close, like she'd plucked the phone out of Tara's hands. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

Pam always was the warmest greeter.

"Why, how-dee-doo to you, too, Pam. Seems I'm talking on the phone. You?"

"About to fucking rip someone's head off. We do not have time for this, Sookie."

"You don't have to be nasty," I sniffled a little, clutching my glass. "I'm not there. Tara is."

"You are both shit spies," she said succinctly. "And you need to get the fuck away from here, both of you."

"So what's going on?" I heard Tara ask, more than a little belligerently.

"What's going on, fairy princess," Pam hissed into the phone—I had half a mind to point out it wasn't me who sassed her, but Pam hardly cared about hat. "What's going on is that my master—I am about to get something I have wanted for a very, very long time, and I am not going to be let any stupid shit derail this. So stay where you are, get naked, and wait for my master, because if all goes well, he is going to fuck you senseless tonight."

"Oh, he already did that," I heard Tara cheerfully supply.

And then the phone went dead.

~tststststs~

Reprimanded and more than a little embarrassed, I headed off to bed. (Not to wait for Eric, but just because the wine had made me even more tired than I already was.) My phone beeped in my hand to let me know Tara's final message, that she was heading home, and to find one message from Bill: "HPE AIL IS WELL." (I might've been tipsy, but I definitely wasn't drunk enough to answer that one, nope.)

So that's how I fell asleep, curled in Eric's blanket, listening to the soft rain that had begun outside. The rain felt like a relief of sorts, as if some cloud had broken and a tension I wasn't aware of had slid away. I drifted off on nonsensical, but cheery, thoughts—Gran had always said that after a good rain came lots of sun, so maybe something good was coming…

I woke only to feel the pressure of the mattress give as a body slid in beside me. I rolled to look over my shoulder in the darkness, to find only a familiar silhouette looking down on me.

"G'meeting?" I mumbled. In a world where I wasn't sleep-and-wine addled, that might have been "good meeting." This wasn't that world.

Eric smiled and I could feel the throb between us before he spoke. "Perfect." He slid deeper into the bed, tugging me into him. "You are tired, Sookie. Sleep now."

I tried in vain to make my eyes open. "Not gonna have sex? Pam said you'd wanna." I tugged at him, eyes already closing. The wine and the comfort of my honey were doing a number on me, if not the number I'd expected.

"Not tonight, seductress." I knew he was smiling, even without looking at him. His mouth came to my temple, then brushed my lips. "Sleep, lover."

I tugged his arm across my waist, yawned, and snuggled deeper into his embrace. "I love making love with you," I sighed into my pillow. The weight of fatigue was drawing me under, and I started to let go…

I felt that smile again, pressed with his face into my shoulder. "We will never stop."

~tststststs~

AN again: I'm working on the next chapter. It's supposed to be the last, but I've said that a few times now, right? And as always, I thank you for your comments! And I hope you all get a Scarlett smile courtesy of a Viking in your life. :K