I walked in the cemetery, my heart heavy and sad. Ever so faintly, I could see the lights at the Compton house shining through the leaves. I missed Bill. I missed talking to him and telling him all the things that concerned me. Sometimes, I think he was only pretending to listen, but he did a darned good job of making me feel special. He had been my best friend, someone I could always turn to, and now I was sure I had no one in my life I could say that about.

The full moon was in and out of high, puffy clouds. I wondered where Jason was tonight and who he was hunting with. I shook my head, determined not to cry, but my sadness was only matched by my loneliness. Bill had once told me I was ruined for humans. No human man would want me after I had been with vampires. He had wanted to hurt me and he had, bad. But he was also right. Even if a man had wanted me, I would not have wanted him—not after the excitement of being with a vampire, of not having to keep my guard up all the time lest I hear devastating thoughts, like I'd heard at Merlotte's tonight.

I tilted my head back to bathe my face in the moonlight, willing myself to be calm, to quiet my head, to believe that there would be a tomorrow that I could greet with happiness. But I could not shake the feeling that my life now was just marking time. Time to grow old alone. Despair welled up through me like a hurricane threatening to knock me over and drag me under, and I was ready to go down with it.

I turned to start home to my empty house and my empty bed and slammed into Bill Compton.

I don't think I made a noise out loud, but my heart jumped up in my throat and the hair rose on the back of my neck. Bill put a hand under my elbow to steady me, even as I hissed at him, "Dammit, Bill, you know I hate it when you do that!"

"Sookie, I am sorry," he said, and he truly looked it. His face seemed careworn, if that's possible for a vampire, and his voice was low with concern. "I could feel you. I could feel your sadness. It was so big I had to come to you. What is wrong?"

I wanted to collapse against him, to sink against that gorgeous body that used to be mine, before… before he betrayed my love and confessed that betrayal to me only under duress from Eric, the vampire who was his boss and elder. But I held myself up as tall as my exhaustion would allow and stared into his deep, remarkably dark eyes.

"Bill, you have a knack for showing up whenever I need someone. But the someone I need is never you."

Bill rocked back from my words like they'd struck him in the face. I had meant them to hurt him. He had hurt me and I would never be the same. He had been my first love in every way, and after tonight's ordeal, I knew he would be my only true love ever. But had his love ever been true?

" My Sookie, "said Bill, so quietly I wasn't sure he had spoken.

"I am not YOUR Sookie," I blazed. "Apparently I never was."

In less than the blink of an eye, Bill was right up against me, the anger and something stronger I could not quite place rolling off him like lava. I was frightened, but so angry it didn't matter. Tonight I needed him and he had taken that possibility away from me forever. I glared at him, my enraged breath heaving in my chest, my fists clenched and ready to strike.

"Oh no, not this again," Bill said and in his voice was an indefinable sorrow and a great tiredness. "You never let me explain."

"Bill, I have told you and told you, there is nothing to explain. Everything about us was a lie. I almost died for you, rather than try to live without you. And now living without you is all that I can do."

If I had whipped him with a lash across his beautiful, chiseled face, he could not have looked more stunned. He stepped back, and ducked his head, but in the moonlight I could see the anger, grief, and fatigue fight across his features. From feet away, I could feel the sadness radiating off him to match and swallow my own. He opened his mouth and my hand shot up and out in a "STOP" gesture. I didn't think I could stand to hear his wonderful voice, that voice that made love to me with every word he spoke, reminding me of how alone I was. He paced away from me and back, studied my face and paced away again.

"Sookie, you have to let me speak." Bill seemed agitated, not his usual calm, collected self. I couldn't imagine what had gotten him so riled up. (Surely that privilege was mine?) And then he told me.

"Once and for all time, you need to hear me. Then I will never bother you again.

"All this time apart from you has been my Hell. I have burned in the sun a thousand days; I have died a thousand deaths. Every time I saw you, knowing you hated me for what I'd done to you, was like a stake thrust through my heart. But I couldn't stay away. Any sight of you, any word from you, even in hate, is like blood to me.

"If I could have chosen, I would have chosen you. If I'd been given a choice, my only choice would be you. You are the only love of my life. There has never been another, and if I survive to be a thousand, there will be no other but you."

"I can't believe you are telling me this! You expect me to believe you love me and you never loved your wife?"

"Yes, " he said simply. "Times were different then. Most people did not marry for love. I cared for her—she was the mother of my children. But I am dead to that life. I am not the human who married her. I have not been for a long time. I barely remember it."

I tucked my face into my chest, avoiding the pain of what I was about to ask, "And Lorena?"

Bill made a course noise of exasperation. "I know others have explained this to you. Lorena was my maker. I had to obey her. And yes, she fascinated me—I won't lie to you about that. But I never loved her. She betrayed me as surely as she did you. I am glad she is dead."

I could feel his eyes boring into mine, willing me to believe him. To my shock, I found I was ready to accept what he said. I had never allowed myself to consider what Bill had felt, that he had no choice but to obey her call and that he had done the only thing he could do to protect me: he left me and went to her, hoping she would leave me alone. Even when she tortured him, he had not revealed my name or my whereabouts. Just the idea of what he had been through softened my heart.

"Oh Bill, " I started, but he interrupted me. "Don't pity me. I did what I was compelled to do. I am a vampire."

If vampires have souls, I could see Bill's glowing in the depths of his dark eyes, eyes that were swimming in tears. It was only the second time I had seen him cry. As his tears spilled down his face, I felt the hard shell that had Bill-proofed my heart crack with an almost audible sound. I couldn't help myself: I stretched up to lick away his tears.

"Sookie," his voice was a ragged gasp, "don't. I can't bear it. I won't be able to stop myself, even if you tell me to."

"I won't tell you to," I said. He looked at me then, a look so molten, I felt it between my legs. My whole body rose to that look, and I lifted my mouth to his and sighed against his soft, cool lips, "I've missed you."

Bill's mouth was hungry on mine and I felt his fangs run out against my tongue. I couldn't catch my breath for wanting him—years of wanting him and pretending I didn't erupted inside me like a tidal wave. He loved me. He always had and he always would. My imprisoned heart felt like it would fly from my chest.

Bill pulled back from me with a suddenness that made me gasp and buried his face in my hair. "If you are playing with me"—I felt the words more than heard them. I leaned back until I could look in his eyes. "Bill, I have never been more serious about anything in my whole life. I have never stopped loving you. I have never stopped wanting you. I have only been so angry with you, so hurt by you, because you matter to me so much."

The old Bill, the hurt Bill, said, "What about Quinn? What about Sam? Eric?"

I put my hands on either side of his face. "I thought you were gone. I thought I was nothing to you. But I wanted to feel those feelings you taught me, that you made happen in me. Except I couldn't find any of those feelings, not with them. Only you can make me feel that way. Only you can make me feel safe and cherished and happy. Only you can fuck me until I'm exhausted and still make me want you more."

At that, his eyes blazed with their curious dark heat, until he was too close for me to see them. He covered my mouth with his. His hands slid under the front of my jeans. I moaned into him and heard the fabric tear, felt the warm night air on my skin as he tossed the denim away like so much tissue paper. Without my even realizing it, he was on his knees in front of me, looking up my body. I looked down at him and watched him look at me like a man starved for food. Bill ran his hands up my flat stomach and under my shirt. I could feel him shivering with desire. I wanted him so badly I ached. Very slowly, like I didn't want to scare a skittish panther, I lifted a leg up and over his shoulder, propping my thigh against his hard, muscular neck. I heard him inhale deeply, smelling my essence. I sank my fingers in his thick brown hair, pulling him to me. As I felt his tongue flick out, I shuddered with longing, with memories of him flooding back. Nothing had changed—as his fingers slipped inside me, as I rocked forward to offer him more of myself, it felt like no time had passed since I had last been with him. I could feel myself riding the crest of a wave of love and grateful lust, and pushed against his avid, probing tongue. I cried out with happy surprise, "I don't think I can stand up any longer," and he was on his feet, enfolding me and laying me back on the grass. With the undetectable speed of a vampire, he was above me, holding himself up on his gorgeous arms.

I smiled up at him and began working loose his jeans. "These have to come off," I said. "Now." He smiled back at me, that confident smile I had missed so much, that smile that told me his pleasure was in my pleasure.

He kneeled up to unbuckle his belt and unzip his jeans. As he shucked them off, the moon broke from behind a cloud and I looked up at my vampire, his glow rivaling the moon for loveliness, his proud masculinity white and hard and trembling with desire. I reached up and circled him with my fingers and delighted when Bill made a very human sound. "Your fingers are hot," he said, sinking down on top of me, his long cool length pressed along mine. I slipped my legs around his waist and helped him glide into me.

At first, he moved in and out of me so slowly I could barely feel the motion; his sculpted face was pure concentration, his lips parted—he was breathing for me because he knew I found it reassuring. He had forgotten nothing. His eyes opened and gazed down into mine.

"Am I dreaming this?" he asked and sounded astonished.

"It doesn't feel like a dream, " I whispered back.

"No, " said my vampire, "I have had this dream so many times, but it never felt like this. This is absolutely you. I love the way you smell. I love your heat. I can't wait to taste you and I thought I never would again." Bill's eyes were so dark and deep I almost couldn't hold his gaze. "I want to pour myself into you. I want to be a part of you. I want you to be a part of me. I never want to be without you ever again."

"I don't think that's possible, " I replied, even as I loved what he had said.

But Bill pushed into me so hard I squeaked, and put his face inches from mine. "Oh there is a way," he said, showing me his gleaming fangs. "I could bring you over."

In my surprise and fright and white-hot desire, I bucked under him and he growled in his throat, beginning to move in earnest. He used long strokes, almost pulling out of me at the peak and driving deep inside me on the return, pressing himself into me so hard each time he made me moan. I had always loved the way he fucked me, and I always would. I wanted him now and I wanted him forever. He began to shake with his approaching release and his growling moved deep into his chest.

"Then do it," I said with no sound, and I felt him leap inside me as he came. I tightened myself around his still hard shaft, flung my arms around him and pulled him into me with my legs as though I'd never let him escape from me. He turned his head to study my face, his delight in me mingling visibly with disbelief.

"Sweetheart, are you quite sure?" Bill's pale face shone in the moonlight, his dark hair falling over his beautiful eyes.

"Bill, if you don't do this now, my courage will vanish and we may be lost to each other forever."

Fire leapt in Bill's eyes, but still he hesitated. "I have never done this before. You are my first. I don't know how good at it I will be."

"You, " I almost laughed, "are a virgin?

He nodded silently.

"Bill, to quote you: you could get more skilled, but you will never be any better. You are wonderful."

And with that, I turned my neck to his cool, deadly mouth, and gave up my life to my love.