Know Thyself

It was just past dark.

I was standing in front of my fire enjoying the warmth; I had just added another log and I took a moment to watch the flames. I heard the familiar and comforting pops and crackles as the embers sparked and danced. It was almost the end of the year and the recent temperatures had been unusually cold. There had been chatter at Merlottes the night before that we were probably going to get some snow. A few of the old-timers had talked of aching knees and backs and hands - apparently those maladies were better predictors than the weather channel. Most people in Bon Temps weren't too excited about the prospect of snow.

I felt a smile curve on my lips.

I knew at least one person who would be thrilled if the white flakes arrived.

My smile faded.

That person...vampire, I corrected myself...had been incognito for months. At least to me. Eric Northman, large and in-charge head honcho of Area Five, owner of Fangtasia and a big pain in my butt most of the time had fallen off the face of the earth as far as I was concerned. Oh, he was still around, doing whatever it is he does over in Shreveport. I saw ads for Fangtasia in the newspapers and his second-in-command, Pam, had checked in with me a few times via phone. I knew their Vampire bar business was booming and things were starting to get back to normal (normal for them, which is still a far stretch from my definition of normal) since the take-over of the state by the Nevada vamps. But despite his assurances that he would call me when his work allowed, Eric had not made so much as made a whisper in my direction. And that was two and half months ago. Head-rolling Vampire boss or not, no one is that busy. I hated to admit it, but his silence kind of irked me. And it irked me that I was irked about it. I needed to think about something else.

I glanced at the clock. It was nearly 7:00. Most nights I would be slinging drinks and making small-talk with the patrons at Merlottes at this hour, but tonight I was free. And alone. It felt odd in a way, it had been so long since I had had the house all to myself. What to do....what to do....

I went into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of sweet tea. I headed back to the warmth of the fire, sat the glass on an end table and plopped down heavily on the comfy sofa. I grabbed up my latest mystery book, curled my legs up underneath me and settled in for a relaxing evening of doing absolutely nothing. I smiled to myself. Maybe in a little while I would take a bubble bath and re-paint my toe nails. I was way overdue for some 'me time'. As I started to read I felt myself begin to relax from the inside out and a feeling of joy began to spread in my chest. I felt happy and safe and warm.

The knock on my door was so sudden and unexpected that I jumped.

I pushed myself up with a little sigh; I laid the book open on the couch to save my place. I should have known something would happen to disrupt my quiet evening. I wondered if maybe Bill had decided to pop over for a visit, as he sometimes did in the evenings. Jason maybe? But that seemed unlikely considering we really weren't on speaking terms. Well, I thought to myself, whoever it was would just have to keep on trucking down the road. My plans for the evening did not include company and as much as I hated to be rude I had things to do; chapters to read, nails to paint and tea to drink. My night was gloriously full.

I peeped through the peephole (go figure) to see who was coming to call on me. I felt my eyes go wide and I took an involuntary step back, my mouth falling open in a most unbecoming fashion as I registered the identity of my guest.


I rolled my eyes at the ceiling. I should have known I wasn't getting the warm fuzzies just from the fire and solitude. I hadn't seen Eric in so long I had forgotten how he affected me. No, no, no....I chastised myself. I couldn't let myself think like that; it wasn't Eric that affected me so profoundly. It was the blood bond we shared.

I took a deep breath and opened the door. Eric was standing there in all his glory. His tall, gorgeous, striking, blond glory. With a tight T-Shirt that stretched over his broad chest and powerful arms. And jeans that fit just as nicely. An expensive looking dark jacket, open so I could see the shirt, completed the ensemble. And his, had they always been that blue?

Okay...maybe it wasn't just the blood tie thing that affected me.

"Sookie," he said, his deep voice familiar and comforting despite the months I hadn't heard it.

"Eric," I responded hesitantly. What was he doing here? "This is a surprise."

"May I come in?"

He said that like I had a choice. Nice touch.

I nodded and moved aside to let him pass. He stepped by me as he entered, very close, and I noticed with some wariness that he smelled absolutely wonderful. When he was in the light I saw that his hair was braided in an intricate fashion, in a way I had admired once before. He was pushing all the right buttons with me and I wondered if he was doing it on purpose. I suspected strongly he was, since Eric rarely - if ever - did anything by chance.

He gazed down at me with those intense blue eyes. I was suddenly and acutely aware that he and I were alone. All alone. In my house. Alone. And did I mention we were alone?

The situation was a little uncomfortable. The last time Eric and I had been alone in this house things had happened. A lot of things. Multiple times. Then he lost his memory of that time. Then his memory came back. Ta da! He told me we were going to have a talk about that - about our time together, now that he could remember it. But that was months ago. Could that be the reason for his unexpected visit? Did he somehow know I was off work tonight and that my roomies were off having fun elsewhere? I searched his face for a clue but found nothing useful. His expression was unreadable. I tasted the atmosphere tentatively, trying to get a read on his emotions via our bond. Nada. And he hadn't spoken a word yet since he walked through the door. That in itself was telling. Eric was nothing if not direct. When he had something to say he said it, generally without preamble.

I felt my shoulders relax in resignation. Yep. This was it. Big Talk time. Leave it to Eric to pick the time and place without letting me know. A little warning would have been nice. Though I had gone over possible conversational scenarios at least a hundred times I still felt nervous as hell; scared even. And that bothered me more than I wanted to admit. After all, what was there to be nervous about? What happened happened...and it was wonderful and perfect. But it was over. And the beautiful, memory impaired Eric I had been with was long gone. Or at least securely buried. No amount of talking was going to change any of it.

The silence dragged on for a bit until I realized I was still standing there with one hand on the still-open door. Idiot! I turned slowly, shutting the door purposefully. I took my time, hoping he would say something.

He was looking at me when I turned back around. I shifted uncomfortably.

"Would you like something to drink?" I asked him, falling into my southern hospitality routine easily. I always kept blood on hand right alongside coffee, bottled water and soda.

"No, thank you," he said after a moment. The way he was staring at me I felt very.....stared at.

"So what brings you out here anyway?" I asked, moving past him towards the fire. I busied my hands by grabbing the old poker and prodding a few logs, causing the flames to rouse a bit.

Eric came to stand right behind me. I could feel his presence. It was comforting, and a little frightening. It had been quite some time since our last blood exchange and I thought for sure this thing we had, this bond, would go away. Or at least weaken. But it was as strong as ever. Maybe even stronger, but since it had been so long since we had seen each other I couldn't be sure.

"I brought something for you," Eric said softly, reaching into an inside pocket of his jacket. He handed me a white envelope with the Fangtasia logo in the return address spot.

Well, whatever I was expecting, this wasn't it. I felt a little embarrassed at my assumptions. Maybe Eric was here on business, not for other, much more personal reasons. But some part of my brain registered a pang of sadness when I contemplated that. I shook off the feelings as a took the envelope from his hand. I flipped it over; it wasn't sealed, the back flap was just tucked in. I looked up at Eric with curiosity.

"What's this?"

"Your payment for services in Rhodes."

I felt my eyes go wide. I looked down at the envelope, then back up at Eric. He nodded with a ghost of a smile. I pulled open the flap and couldn't keep back a sharp intake of breath as I looked at the check. It was more money than I made at Merlottes in six months. It was money I had well earned, but I had written it off when the Queen, Sophie Ann, had died and the King of Nevada had taken over the state. I noted the the signature on the check; Felipe De Castro it said. So I'd been paid in full by the the handsome King himself. Nice.

"Eric," I started to say something but then just shook my head. My brain was spinning. It's not every day a barmaid in Bon Temps is presented with this much money.

"I am sorry it took so long to get to you," Eric said.

"I didn't think I'd get it at all, to be honest. Not after..." I let my voice trail off, not sure if the subject of the take-over was a sore spot. But Eric just smiled.

"When a takeover of a Kingdom occurs it is much like a business venture. The new regime gets the territory and all the income and personnel that go with it. They also assume the debts."

I couldn't help but grin.

"Tell the King I said thanks," I said as sat the envelope up on the mantle above the fireplace, leaning it against some knick-knacks. "I appreciate you coming all the way out here to bring it to me. I know you're probably real busy in Shereveport." My voice sounded just a tad accusing I thought. I hadn't intended that, but the truth was, I was a little hurt that Eric hadn't called me since the night he and Pam brought news of the new King's offer of protection.

Eric paused, then nodded. "It has been quite busy, yes. But the King and Sandy finally departed two nights ago so I was able to make time to deliver this to you personally."

"No more being 'overseen'?" I asked him, trying to very hard to lighten my voice lest any more unintended emotion seep through.

"Not as much."

I started to say something else but then Eric took a step towards me. He reached over and placed his hands on my arms and moved in very close. I looked up into his face. It felt much like he was going to bend over and kiss my cheek, as he had done several times in the past before departing. Again, I felt the sudden tug of pain in my heart. I realized with some irritation that I didn't want him to leave yet.

As it turned out, he didn't either. Instead of kissing my cheek, he bent down and gently touched my lips with his own. It was a delicate kiss, gentle, but the effect on my body was instant. I shuddered involuntarily and felt a surge of want. It was ridiculous that such a small contact could arouse such feelings inside me. But, I reasoned with myself, it had been quite a while since I had enjoyed male company and I'm a flesh and blood woman with desires and needs. And Eric was gorgeous. And I liked him. Plus that darned blood bond wasn't helping matters.

Eric stepped back, moving his hands down my arms to take both my hands in his. I felt a curious need to say something to fill up the silence, but I kept my mouth shut. After all, Eric had come to me. I figured it was his turn to think of something to say, if he wanted to.

And he wanted to.

"I am very sorry I have not contacted you before tonight. These past weeks have been a crucial time for us. For me, and for those under my charge. I had to - what is the phrase? 'Keep my head in the game' to secure our position."

I nodded. I got that. Vamp business wasn't like human business. In my world, when one company takes over another, workers might have to worry about losing their jobs and pensions. With vamps, they have to worry about losing body parts. And Eric had a lot of lives to account for. Vamps and humans both that worked for him and depended on him to keep them safe. It was a daunting task I imagine. One I didn't envy. But Eric was apparently very good at what he did - whatever that was. Good enough that he was the only Sheriff in Louisiana the new regime hadn't decided to kill straight out. His abilities saved him - and all those that worked under him. I might very well be included in that. Lord knows Eric saved me directly more than once.

I felt a little light blink on in my head as I realized the very things about Eric that had always warned me to keep him at a safe distance were the very things that made him such a hot ticket in the Vamp world. As if I needed another reminder of just how different we were.

I noticed that Eric was gazing into the fire now. There was something in his face I couldn't get a read on. I felt a sudden urge to reach over and put my arms around him and I had no idea where that was coming from.

Things were feeling a little wierd. Okay, a lot wierd. Here we were, an ancient Viking vampire and a Telepathic Barmaid, alone together in a house where we had sexed up every room, taking turns staring into a fire and not talking. My patience level was starting to get low. Maybe Eric had centuries ahead of him to wait for the perfect time and the correct words, but I sure didn't. I took a deep breath and exhaled.

"Do you need to get back to Fangtasia?" I asked, pleased with myself at my calm delivery of the question.

To my suprise, Eric answered immediately.

"Yes, I do need to get back. There is still much work to do and I cannot allow myself to become complacent just because the King has left. Victor is still here to keep watch over the Kingdom. And me. He is capable but I do not trust him. And he certainly does not trust me. Not yet. I need to keep well ahead of him."

I nodded and started towards the door, intending to walk him out. An arm around my waist stopped me. I froze as Eric came to stand behind me, his right arm pulling me against him, my back to his chest, and his left hand wound into my hair. Uh oh. I felt my breathing quicken at the proximity, at the closeness. I felt Eric lean down, felt his lips brush my skin. He spoke into my ear quietly, though there was no one else around to hear him.

"Just because I need to get back does not mean I am going."

His voice was smooth and warm, like hot butter. I could feel the vibrations in his chest as he spoke all the way into my bones. He kissed my neck just below my ear, sending a chill down my spine. I could feel his smile against my skin and he trailed a few more feather light kisses down my neck.

Ok, that just about did it for me. I shut my eyes for a few seconds, trying to steel my resolve. I tried to remember why it was I was annoyed at Eric. Oh, right - he had been avoiding me for months, he had promised to call me when he could and he never did, he was a master manipulator Vampire boss. train of thought came to a sudden stop when I felt his tongue dart into my ear very lightly. Oh, who cares!

My self-righteous indignation melted into something more akin to self-serving lust. I was close to surrendering, so close. I felt beautiful at that moment. Beautiful and wanted and needed. I leaned my head back against Eric's broad shoulder, closing my eyes and just enjoying the moment. Then I remembered the moment wasn't real. All these emotions were by-products of some kind of spell, whatever magic was held in our so-called blood bond. As real as it felt, I knew deep down it wasn't. The way a few too many beers sometimes made weak men feel tough and invincible, this blood thing made me feel close to Eric in a way that was wonderfully blissful. I wondered if he was under the same spell. I wondered when the buzz was going to wear off. And it would, right? And when it did and I was seeing clearly again, I knew I would have major regrets for anything stupid I did while I was drunk with this bond.

With effort, I opened my eyes and pulled away from Eric. He kept me pinned against him for a few seconds longer, like he was making sure I was serious in my attempt to move away, then he let me go slowly. I turned to face him.

"Eric," I began to say before he interrupted me.

"Why do you always pull back from me, Sookie?"

He looked quite serious. He took one step forward and I took one back. He stopped.

"I remember a time you didn't mind so much." He wasn't smiling but his eyebrows raised slightly. Yep, definately felt the Big Talk coming on.

I shook my head. "That was almost a year ago, Eric. And it was...different then. You were different."

"Tell me how I was different, my lover."

Oh hell, why did he have to call me that? Just hearing the words made my temperature rise.

"You know very well what I'm talking about. You got your memory back now. Isn't it obvious?" I was not going to stand here and give Eric a scene by scene analysis of all the things he said and did while he was cursed that were contrary to his normal personality. Eric was undeterred.

"You took care of me. It was quite late. You were very tired. But yet you took me into your home and cared for me. You cleaned my wounds, dressed me and allowed me to lay by your side while you slept."

I rolled my eyes. So, this was about me now. I thought we were talking about him. Way to deflect the conversation, Eric. I was beginning to feel handled.

"Yes, Eric, I did all those things for you. What's your point?"

"Why would you do that for me?"

"Well, I am in your retinue, remember. Maybe I thought I had to." There. I was proud of that one.

He actually had the audacity to smile.

"No," he said simply.

"No?" I was getting a little irritated. If he had something to say, he needed to just say it.

"If you have something to say, Eric, just get on with it." There we go. Thoughts into action. Hear me roar.

Eric glanced around for just a moment, then walked over and sat on my couch. He leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees. He looked up at me.

"Do you still have feelings for me, Sookie?"

Well, sure. Annoyance, lust, fear, friendship, affection. Not always at the same time and not always in that order.

"Do we really have to talk about this?" I asked him, averting my eyes.

"I think we do." His tone was gentle, but I knew there was no way he was going to give up. I searched through the conflicting thoughts racing in my head trying to get a grip on myself. I had been dreading this talk, but also impatient for it. It upset me that I there was a part of me that was hopeful...but for what, exactly?

Eric raised an eyebrow, waiting. Did I have feelings for him, that was the question, right?

That sincerely threw me a bit when I really thought about it. Eric - the cursed Eric - and I had voiced our affection for each other. I felt my face redden as I recalled the events that took place after those declarations. We never admitted love, thank heavens, but something close to it. As I stood there looking at him, I knew I couldn't deny that even now, yes, I did have feelings for the big Viking with the bigger ego. Eric was amusing, he made me laugh and he was an incredible lover. He was a decent guy as far as vampires go. He could even dance. But with the blood bond thing constantly humming in the background, I wasn't sure how much I could really trust what I was feeling when I was around him.

"Eric, I don't know."

Honesty is good, right?

His expression changed. He looked....well, I would have said he looked disappointed if it was anyone else. But with vampires it was hard to be sure.

"I think you do know, lover."

"Oh, so now you're going to tell me how I feel?" I knew I sounded defensive, but I didn't care. Eric was always tossing out little predictions as though he was a gypsy with a crystal ball.; telling strangers I was his 'future lover' (ok, that one did end up being right) telling Quinn I would be his, telling me I would enjoy the blood tie. He said it like it was already set in stone, like I had no say in those events at all. I wasn't about to be one of those women that let a man drag her around by the ear, blindly clinging to him like a lifeline just because he was handsome or had a good job or a nice car. Women that felt downright honored just to have a man's approval. I saw enough of that in this town.

"Here's the deal, Eric," I took a breath, feeling a rush of honesty bubbling up. "I do like you." Most of the time, I added silently. "Like I already told you, those nights that you spent here were a lot of fun. You were very sweet to me, and you weren't prancing around like you were God's gift to the world. You weren't always on the phone scheming and plotting with 'your people'," I raised up my fingers when I said that, making little quotations. "You just wanted to talk, and laugh and, you know, have sex with me. We were in a little bubble of an alternate reality and it was nice to escape the real world for a while. But that's gone." I felt some pain as I said the words. I hoped fervently that I wouldn't start crying, as I sometimes did when I was angry or confused.

Eric looked at me for a long moment, then stood up and moved close to me. He took my hand and I let him pull me to the couch. We sat down together. I pressed myself into the soft cushions and shut my eyes, trying to calm down. I was mad at myself for getting so worked up while Eric seemed completely calm. It wasn't fair.

"My feelings for you are not gone, my lover," Eric spoke quietly, sitting partially turned toward me on the couch. I looked at him, quite stunned, and saw his eyes were glowing like blue gems, warm and intense. I looked down, not sure what to say. I saw he was holding both my hands in his, something I hadn't even noticed before. Eric continued speaking, but I kept my eyes on our hands. "I had forgotten what it was like to feel such happiness. To have someone care for me unconditionally, as you did. You asked nothing of me. You gave yourself over to me willingly. You didn't pull back from me, you weren't afraid of me. I would like very much to feel that happiness again."

I raised my eyes to meet his. I could almost feel the truth in his words. He wanted me, and I had a powerful desire to give him what he wanted. I felt myself drawn to him like a magnet. I felt the whirlwind of negative thoughts and emotions slipping away like sand through fingers. It felt so good to be here with Eric, to have him close to me. I saw him shift position slightly and he leaned toward me for a kiss. My heart rate rose in anticipation. Our lips touched, gently at first then stronger. He lifted his hands to place them on my neck, his mouth working in earnest. I felt myself drifting away at his touch. It was perfect. Nothing in the world could ever be as natural as being in Eric's arms...


The realization of what was happening hit like a lightening bolt. I pulled back as much as could with Eric's strong hands holding me. He knew I was trying to disengage from him and he whispered 'No," into my mouth and kissed me even harder, his right hand moving down my side, brushing my breast slightly on the way down. I was hanging on to sanity by a thread. It would have been so easy to yield to my desires; too easy. I wanted to, wanted it more than anything else in the world. That's why I knew I had to stop.

I pushed as hard as I could against his chest and finally got a reaction. He broke off the kiss but only moved his face inches away, looking into my eyes. His fangs were fully extended and I was pretty sure other parts were, too. I shut my eyes against the thought. I couldn't let myself think about that.

"Sookie, " he began what I assumed would be a protest and I cut him off.

"This isn't real, Eric," I blurted out without thinking. I pushed as far away as I could from him, giving myself a few more precious inches of space. I shook my head but he didn't move.

"It feels quite real, my lover" he said with a very Eric-esque grin. I could almost taste his need in the air. I was doing my best to look anywhere but at his face, afraid my will would crumble. "I want you. I want every part of you. I want you to trust me and talk to me the way you did when I stayed here with you. I want to..." he stopped, waiting until he caught my eyes again before continuing. "I want to love you."

Okay, didn't see that one coming! I was now more certain than ever that it wasn't just me who was in a very large, very confusing emotional pickle. Eric Northman does not declare intentions of love to human women. He might seduce them, feed from them, even like some of them, but no way would he consider loving them. It was arrogance or blind stupidity to entertain the idea that I was different from any other woman he had known in the past thousand years. I was done deluding myself, and I figured it was time Eric was, too.

I wriggled away from him and stood up and crossed the room to stand by the fire. I turned to him. He hadn't moved.

"Did you ever stop and think that maybe all the happiness you say you felt had nothing to do with me?"

His brows closed together. "No."

He liked that word a lot it seemed. I sighed.

"Eric, you spend all your time being the boss. I know you said you liked it, but you also said it was nice to have some time to yourself without being surrounded by people always wanting things from you. When you were cursed, you were free from all of it. All that vampire political stuff had disappeared for you. Maybe that's where the real happiness came from. It was kind of you were on a vacation that was long overdue. The fact I happened to be there wasn't the most important thing."

"Is that what you think?" he asked, his voice almost amused.

"Yes, I do." I'd had a lot of time to think about the events and as much as I sometimes enjoyed fantasizing that Eric really did love me and really did want to stay with me forever, I knew it was just that - a fantasy.

Eric looked thoughtful, not an expression I was used to seeing from him.

"Perhaps you're right. I admit that there are times I grow weary of the realities of my existence." He sat back on the couch and shrugged. "But the fatal flaw in your theory is that I am here, right now. And I know what I feel for you has nothing to do with my needing a vacation."

How weird was this? Always in control Eric the viking was calmly spilling his emotional guts while I was jumping up and down and pacing the room like a scared rabbit.

"Why do you have to fight me so hard, Sookie?" he asked.

"Fight you? I'm not fighting you," I answered immediately, a little taken aback. Was that what I was doing? I wasn't sure.

"Do you not enjoy being with me?"

The big elephant in the room just made it's presence known.

"Yes, Eric, I do enjoy being with you. That's the problem!"

"Excuse me?"

I put my hands over my eyes and let out a little growl.

"I hate the way I feel around you! It drives me crazy! I feel warm, and safe and beautiful, and I can always feel where you are. It's not normal. It's not natural. I keep hoping it will fade or wear off, but it hasn't."

"And it won't," Eric said simply, leaning forward. He looked concerned. "Many women would welcome the feelings you described."

"I am not 'many women'. You ask me how I feel about you and I tell you I don't know because I don't! I can't know how I really feel. And you can't know how you feel about me, either!"

"I can, and I do," Eric stated emphatically.

"Well, if that's true then I guess this blood bond thing only works one way." I sounded exactly like I felt. Despondent.

"You know that's not the case. I feel much the same when we are together. Not exactly, of course, but similar. With the exception of occasional bomb scares, I enjoy our tie very much. I wish you would, too."

This much honesty from Eric was almost frightening. I didn't know what to make of it. But that wasn't the real issue. The problem was he wasn't understanding what I was trying to tell him. Maybe he was content to live in a non-reality but I wasn't.

"Look, this is the thing; I am sick to death of being jerked around. First, there was Bill who was apparently ordered to dump me and go running off to Lorena." Saying her name still caused me pain. "He was ordered. And he did it," I snapped my fingers, "just like that. That isn't how people in my world treat each other. It isn't right. But for you - your whole life is one big mess of Kings and Queens," I waved my hand at him, "and Sheriffs. Everyone is used to either being ordered around or giving orders or both." I was pacing the floor now, and I new I was starting cross the line between explanation and rant but I just didn't care. "That isn't how relationships are supposed to work. Not for me, anyway. Ever since I met Bill, I have been pushed into things I wanted no part of. And the kicker to the whole mess, to everything, is that it started on false pretenses. Bill was ordered to find me and seduce me. For political gain! Since that moment I have been manipulated and lied to and coerced in one way or another more times than I can count. God gave me free will for a reason. I hate seeing it being taken away piece by piece. And now I'm being pulled around again because of this blood tie. It's not fair!"

Well, there. I said it. And if I sounded like a petulant two year old I guess I just didn't care.

I risked a glance at Eric. He was looking at me intently. "Is that what you think is happening here? You think I'm forcing you to do something through our bond?"

"No, I don't think that," I answered slowly, choosing my words carefully. "Not exactly. You aren't doing anything deliberate," Jesus Christ Shepherd of Judea, I hoped not. I couldn't take another blow like that. "But the blood bond makes me feel things that aren't there. Who knows? Maybe I really would care for you even if we hadn't exchanged blood so many times; maybe I would still feel warm and safe and all. But I don't know. As long as this blood tie is here I can't be sure if what I'm feeling is real. And that scares me. I'm surprised it doesn't scare you, too. You like to be in control of things, and this tie is kinda like a curse, like an illusion."

"Sookie my lover, I think you are overestimating the power our bond has on us."

"I think you're underestimating it."

We stared at one another for a long moment. The silence went on long enough that I felt like I should say something but, honestly, I was just plain talked out.

It was Eric that finally broke the silence.

"Am I correct in understanding that you won't acknowledge any feeling you may or may not have for me so long as we are bonded?"

I thought about that quite seriously. Was that what I was saying? Blood bond or not, I had always had a fondness for Eric, and that fondness had grown into deep affection after our nights together. I remembered how it had hurt me when our relationship had changed in the months after the curse was lifted before he regained his memory. I had, quite simply, missed my friend. And what if the bond was always there? Was I really prepared to say that I would never admit affection or love for Eric? No, I knew I wasn't ready to say that.

"I do care for you, Eric," I said softly. "I don't know how much is due to the bond, but it is something I won't deny."

"That is a start," he smiled.

To be continued