To my amazement, I actually slept dreamlessly and peacefully after Eric departed. I chalked it up to being back at home, in my own bed, but a little piece of me wondered if perhaps I was becoming accustomed to the seemingly endless disasters that had become an unwelcome fixture in my life lately.
I really hoped not.
I glanced at the clock when I rose, and saw it was mid-afternoon. I showered and dressed in something of a daze, like my body was on auto-pilot, while my thoughts were turned to Eric. The soreness I had hoped to retain had faded away, but it didn't matter; I remembered every touch, every word we had spoken the night before.
I replayed it all, the good and the bad, over and over in my head. It was a way to keep myself from thinking too hard on the situation with my Great-Grandfather, a situation Eric seemed confident he would resolve. Exactly how he would accomplish this was another thing I didn't want to think on too hard.
I walked to the kitchen, grabbed a can of soda and drank it down quickly, realizing for the first time I was absolutely parched. While I tossed together a quick lunch, I started making a mental list of things I needed to do. I had to call Amelia and check in on her, I needed to call Sam and find out if I still had a job after all the time I had taken off. I also needed to take that big check from Felipe' De Castro to the bank, and that was a thought that made me grin with anticipation. After what happened in Nevada, I hoped the King hadn't decided to place a stop payment on it!
I was just taking my first bite when a loud, repetitive pounding began, shaking the entire house, and scaring me half to death. I froze, my heart rate flying, and I instinctively jumped up from my chair as a sudden adrenaline rush pumped through me, almost making me light-headed. Someone was outside, I realized. Someone was outside my house and they were...hammering? After my shock subsided I was able to place the noise. I walked toward the back door, my mind fully open, and I heard a trail of consciousness in a voice I recognized immediately.
I ran the last distance to the door and flung it open in shock. I didn't even bother to slip on shoes before I bolted down the porch steps and into the driveway. I turned my gaze upward, to a figure perched atop a ladder that was leaned against my house.
"Lucas!" I cried, and the red-haired teenager smiled down at me.
"Hey!" he said, his smile becoming broader when he saw the stunned look I was no doubt wearing. "I didn't wake you up did I?"
I blinked a few times, then shook me head. "No, I was up but...what are you doing here?"
"Fixing this piece of your gutter," he said, and he turned back and started hammering again, each strike resonating sharply in the cool air. I waved my hand to get his attention, and moved closer to the ladder.
"Lucas!" I screamed, and he stopped his work and looked back down at me. "I mean, what are you doing here, in Bon Temps?"
"Oh!" he said cheerfully, and started stepping down the ladder, jumping the last few feet. "Didn't Eric tell you? I work for Bill now."
My eyes went wide, and I huffed out a little laugh.
"You work for Bill?" I repeated.
"Yep! He was impressed with the research I did, and I guess he's going to be expanding his computer business and he needed a daytime guy." Lucas smiled proudly. "That's me!"
"Wow," I said slowly.
"Eric negotiated it all with Russell."
"Negotiated what?" I asked suspiciously.
"My transfer. I guess I'm pretty valuable, since Bill said Eric paid a lot to get Russell to release me."
My mouth fell open, and I stared at Lucas in utter shock as the pieces began to fall into place. Clearly, this was the favor Bill had decided to demand of Eric. Lucas seemed okay with his being bartered off, and I knew this was the way vampires tended to treat humans, but it still made me feel a little sick to my stomach.
"Are you okay with this?" I asked slowly. "I mean, you know you don't have to work for Bill if you don't want to, right? People can't be bought and sold like property..."
Lucas just laughed. "Yeah, it sounds pretty bad, doesn't it, when you say it that way. But I'm cool with it. Russell is a good guy, he asked me if it was okay before he gave me to Eric. And Bill seems like a decent guy. Do you know he recycles?"
I shook my head and breathed a sigh of relief, feeling better about this strange turn of events. I could hear in Lucas' mind that he was beyond thrilled to be working for Bill.
"Okay, so why are you over here fixing my house?" I asked, raising my eyebrows.
"Well, Bill told me part of my job would be to help you out during the day if you needed anything, and when I came by earlier to drop off your car, you didn't answer the door and I noticed the gutters..."
"Whoa!" I said, and held up a hand. "What do you mean you were dropping off my car?"
Lucas frowned, and pointed to the shiny blue Mazda parked next to my old car.
"That's yours," he said. "Eric bought it from Russell, and Bill drove it back from Jackson last night. He told me to bring it over here to you."
"Eric bought me a car?" I said, my voice flat.
Lucas looked a little uncomfortable at my reaction, and he shifted his feet.
"I guess he didn't tell you about that, either, huh?"
"No, he didn't," I almost hissed. Eric had made a few cracks about my old car, sure, and buying a better one had crossed my mind, but the independent woman in me was infuriated at having Eric decide what I needed without asking me. Again.
"It's a really nice car," Lucas said, clearly trying to lighten my mood. "It's not new, but it's only a few years old. There's a CD player, and the mileage is pretty low. Bill said it drove great."
Lucas paused and reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys and offered them to me. I almost slapped his hand away, but I reminded myself that this wasn't Lucas' fault. I also reminded myself that some women might be thrilled with having a guy buy them a new car. Or at least a gently used car. I wondered what was wrong with me that I couldn't seem to just take the gift with a smile and be appreciative.
But I didn't need to burden poor Lucas with my inner cave-woman rage, so I took the keys and did my best to smile.
"Thanks for bringing it over," I said. "Have you had lunch? I was just sitting down to eat when I heard you out here. I can make you a sandwich?"
Lucas grinned hugely. "That would be great! Bill doesn't have any food over there, and I don't know where the nearest grocery might be."
"Come on in," I said, already heading for the door.
I fixed Lucas up a plate of food, and while we ate I filled him in on all the happenings in Bon Temps. I tried to keep it general; location of the stores, banks, restaurants, but a few times I crossed the line into gossip. It was an easy conversation, a simple give-and-take between two people that had very little in common besides their association, by choice or chance, with certain vampires. And Lucas had such a kind mind it didn't even bother me much that he was such a loud broadcaster.
"So did Yasuka come back with you and Bill?" I asked during a lull in the conversation. I already knew she had, Lucas had been thinking about her off and on, but I was really curious what the plan was going to be in regards to the young vampire. And it wasn't like Eric had offered up any information, I mused to myself.
"Yeah, she's at Bill's. They both had to squeeze into this little room under the floor."
And Lucas was pretty jealous about that, I found out. I had to really focus so I wouldn't giggle at his typical teenage reaction. I knew he had nothing to worry about with Bill. Vampires didn't get involved with other vampires, at least that was the way I understood it, and going after young Yasuka would be abhorrent to Bill's code of conduct.
"So what's going to happen to her," I asked, taking a bit of my sandwich to cover any reaction my face might be betraying. "Is she staying with Bill, too?"
Lucas looked away for a moment, and I thought a saw a flash of sadness on his face. "I don't think so. Maybe for a while, I guess. But Bill said she belonged to Eric, so she might be going to someplace called Fangtasia."
"That's Eric's bar," I explained.
"Bill said it would better for her to be trained by a female vampire; he mentioned someone named Pam? Especially since the vamp that made her was a real...well, he wasn't nice to her."
"No," I stated, "He wasn't."
I knew Bill had a point, but I had a hard time picturing little Yasuka working at that tourist bar. I had an even harder time picturing any of the female vampires there as being the motherly type. I smiled a bit, picturing Pam explaining the vampire equivalent of the birds and the bees to the girl.
Lucas' thoughts had turned dark and sullen, and I tried to shake him out of his mood by asking him what sort of work he'd be doing for Bill. He did perk up some then, and he rattled off a pretty comprehensive list of duties Bill had apparently discussed with him during their drive back from Mississippi.
"Oh!" Lucas said excitedly. "Bill is going to send me to college!"
I leaned forward, smiling. "Really? To the one near Shreveport?"
Lucas shrugged. "I guess so, if that's the closest one. I'll only be able to take one or two classes each semester, since Bill will need me. But check this out, I get to stay at Bill's place, he's going to pay me a regular salary and he's going to pay for my school!"
"That's fantastic!" I said, and I could hear the jubilant thoughts streaming through Lucas' head. He had never thought much of himself, and he had never even entertained the idea that he would be able to go to college. He was over the moon, and I found I was almost just as happy as he was. It was always nice when good things happened to good people, and it was even nicer to see a kid with Lucas' rocky background catch a break.
"And he told me when I finished school," Lucas continued, "that he would turn me."
I almost chocked on the drink of tea I was swallowing, and I coughed and felt my eyes start to water.
"Are you okay?" Lucas asked, and I stared at him in shock and waved my hand to let him know I was fine. It took me a few moments to be able to speak, and when I did I know I sounded horrified.
"Did you say Bill was going to turn you? He's going to make you a vampire?"
Lucas frowned, clearly upset at my reaction. "Yeah. We talked about it some on the way back. I told him it was what I really wanted, and he gave me this long speech about how being a vampire isn't as glamorous as the television and movies make it seem, and how it was a big decision..."
"And he's absolutely right!" I exclaimed, leaning forward. "I can't believe he said he would kill you!"
"Well, I told him I wanted it," Lucas said, and for the first time since I'd met him, his voice became harsh. "I told him he didn't even have to pay me to work for him if he'd just turn me. But he said he wouldn't do it until I was twenty five and completed school."
"Oh my God," I breathed, and I felt like the life had been knocked right out of me.
"He said he wanted me to be at least twenty five, because that's when the reasoning center of the brain has fully developed. He wanted to make sure it was what I really wanted, since there is no going back." Lucas paused, and averted his eyes. "I guess there's always the possibility I'll change my mind. I have to wait six years."
"Six years is nothing compared to eternity," I said, trying hard to bite back my revulsion and reminding myself that I had no right to push my views on others, and even less right to assume or expect others should agree with me.
Even without telepathy, it was easy to see that Lucas had tossed in the last part about maybe changing his mind to appease me. He had no intention of changing his mind, I knew. I tried to find a way to make the situation okay in my head, and the best I could come up with was that if Lucas was dead set on becoming a vampire, he would eventually find someone to turn him. It was better if he stayed with Bill and went to school. And Bill would be a good maker.
We sat in a bit of an uncomfortable silence after that, until I asked Lucas if he'd like to take a ride over to the Walmart and pick up a few things. They had added in a small grocery section a few years back, I told him, and it would give me a chance to try out my new car,I added with a small smile.
He agreed, not much to my surprise. Teenage boys seemed to be virtual black holes for food, and from the way Lucas had eaten the lunch I'd prepared he'd proven no different. Besides, Bill didn't really like to shop, especially for human food, so I would be doing him a favor. Heaven knows I owed him some big ones!
The drive to Walmart was chatty, I pointed out various places, and Lucas seemed to be trying to memorize the roads and streets and landmarks. I reluctantly admitted to myself that the Mazda did drive really well, and it was far nicer and in much better condition than the one I had bought from Tara.
I briefly considered that I would undoubtedly be driving to Shreveport more often now, and this car was better equipped to handle those extra miles. I didn't doubt at all that Eric had considered that little fact when he decided to buy it. I smiled and shook my head, wondering how I ever managed to fall in love with a vampire like the Viking. He always seemed to be thinking and acting at least two steps ahead of me; ahead of everyone. It was fascinating, and infuriating, but I vowed that somehow, some way, I would catch up with him. And when I did, he might rue the day he ever tied his life to mine!
Once at the Walmart, Lucas and I became a shopping force to be reckoned with. He hit the menswear section to get some inexpensive business casual type of clothes Bill told him he would need, and while he was occupied with that, I hit the grocery section and loaded up a cart with healthy dietary staples.
We met up after about half an hour, and Lucas tossed in a few more items he said he 'needed' - which turned out to be bags of chips and pizza rolls and other things I was fairly certain would make Bill's stomach turn. I figured he was just going to have to deal with it. We also picked up a couple cases of TrueBlood, which created a quite a little mental stir at the check-out counter, as we ended up right in front of a fellow with a white and yellow Fellowship of the Sun tee-shirt. I nearly stuck my tongue out at him when I heard his thoughts. Nearly.
I was surprised when Lucas pulled out a fairly sizable stack of bills to pay; I had been prepared to cover him if he was short. He glanced at me, saw my expression, and smiled.
"I never had anything to spend my money on in Mississippi," he shrugged. "And Bill said he'd pay me back for the clothes, even though I told him he didn't have to."
"You and Bill seem to have already worked a lot of things out," I ventured as we loaded the bags into the trunk of the car.
"It was a long drive," Lucas said, then he laughed. "We had a lot of time to talk about things. Out of curiosity, does the guy ever smile?"
I giggled as I unlocked the doors and slid into the car. "Yes, he smiles. He can be really funny, too, but he's also very private. And when it comes to his work, he's very serious."
"I noticed that," Lucas said and he clicked his seat-belt.
"Did he tell you that he and I dated for a while?" I asked.
I felt Lucas' surprise even before he answered.
"Way," I said, still grinning. If Lucas was going to be around Bill and I, he was bound to find out or figure it out eventually. I thought it was best to just get it out of the way now. Plus I thought if Lucas knew Bill had dated a human, he might feel a little more comfortable around him. Some vamps still viewed humans with disdain - thinly veiled, most of the time. I wanted Lucas to know Bill wasn't one of those, in case he had any doubt.
"And now you're with Eric," Lucas mused. "And he's Bill's boss, right?"
"Eric is Sheriff of Area Five, and Bill lives in Area Five," I explained carefully, tossing Lucas a pointed glance.
"Sorry," he said, looking away. "Sore subject?"
I sighed. "Not particularly. We all get along, sort of, most of the time. But it's not like we're all three going to go out dancing together, either, you know?"
"I get it," Lucas said. "I won't mention anything."
"That might be best," I said. "I only told you about my past relationship with Bill to let you know a little more about him. I wouldn't have dated him if he wasn't a good man. And he'll be a good boss, but he plays things pretty close to the vest. He might be hard to get to know. And he might seem a little cold at first. He's really organized," I continued, thinking of things that might help Lucas adjust to his new situation. "He appreciates good manners, and he can be real old-fashioned about some things."
Lucas laughed then, and I looked at him. "Yeah, when we got home, he was really clear about how Yasuka wasn't allowed in my room. Ever."
"Right," I said. "You can probably expect some more of that."
"Thanks," he said. "I appreciate your giving me a heads-up."
"No problem," I said, and then we were pulling into Bill's driveway.
We took the bags inside, and I loaded up the refrigerator while Lucas went to take care of his new clothes. I stood by the window when I was done, and crossed my arms over my chest as I watched the sun, which was just starting to descend. I couldn't help but smile, knowing my vampire would soon be waking. Just thinking about him filled me with a longing that was almost uncomfortable. It wasn't really a sexual longing, just an intense desire to be near him.
I considered that this was the first time he and I had been apart since I told him I loved him, since I found out about the significance of the knife and our one-way covenant. I wondered if our blood bond was stronger now, if that was the pull I was feeling. I closed my eyes, and tried to trace the sensation, tried to figure out where it was coming from. It felt like butterflies in my stomach, stirring me from the inside out, making it hard to think about anything else. I lost myself in the feeling, and I didn't know how long I just stood there in front of that window, but when I finally opened my eyes again, the sun was lost.
"Sookie," I heard Bill say from behind me, and I jumped.
"I didn't mean to startle you," he said as I turned to face him.
"It's okay," I said. "I was spacing out, I guess."
"You were connecting with Eric," he replied.
I looked away and felt my face turn red.
"It's natural," Bill said, and he came closer to me, his eyes boring into me. "I've never had a blood bond, but I understand they can be quite powerful. Especially when the vampire has an emotional investment in the bond."
I nodded, very little, then cleared my throat and tried to change the very uncomfortable subject. I pointed to the empty bags on the table.
"I drove Lucas out to Walmart. We stocked up the refrigerator, and got a few cases of True Blood for you and Yasuka."
"Thank you," Bill replied, still looking at me with that intense, dark gaze of his.
"So I guess you decided to expand your business after all," I said, smiling even though every fiber in my being was wanting to go hop in my new car and drive to Shreveport.
"Yes," Bill replied. "I considered the conversation we had in the car, when you and Pam were trying to convince me to hire an assistant. Lucas will be quite capable, I believe. He's very bright and eager to learn."
I snorted. "Okay, first of all, I was the only saying you needed to hire someone to help. Pam was telling you to create one. And speaking of that, I heard about the deal you made with Lucas."
"You disapprove," Bill stated without emotion.
"You know I do," I replied. "And I thought you said you weren't ready for that, anyway."
"I have six years to prepare," Bill said. "It's a unique relationship, a maker and a child. I find myself becoming intrigued by the idea as the years pass. It's an enormous responsibility, but I understand that being a maker can be very rewarding."
"Well, as long as it's all about you," I muttered and Bill's face clamped down.
"It's not like the boy won't have a choice, Sookie. I'm making him wait until he is of age to make a rational and informed decision. He'll be going to school, he'll be working; he will be around both humans and vampires. The final choice will be his, not mine. I would never turn a human against their will. You know this."
"Yes," I replied softly, feeling more than a little chastised. "I do know. I'm sure you'll be a good maker, if that's what happens."
"Oh! That reminds me, are you really planning to send Yasuka to Fangtasia?" I asked incredulously.
"That's up to Eric. He took her in, plus they shared the same sire."
"Is that a big deal?" I asked.
"Since their maker has gone to final death, Eric is under a certain obligation to see to her care since she is so young."
"So, he's like an older brother?"
Bill smiled. "Something like that. But even without that tie, she would still owe fealty to Eric, since he is Sheriff."
It sounded like the whole thing made complete sense to him, and I actually found it kind of a sweet in a way, that older vamps were expected to take care of the younger ones. I turned back to the window, feeling the fluttering in my stomach starting to crank up a notch, and I took a deep breath to steady myself.
"What is it like?" Bill asked, coming to stand beside me. I looked over at him curiously. "The blood bond. What does it feel like?"
"Is it that obvious?" I asked, and I half smiled. Bill didn't respond, just waited silently.
"It's hard to describe," I said softly after a moment. "I can tell when he's nearby. And I'm always just...aware of him."
"Is it distracting?" Bill asked, seeming truly curious.
"Not really," I answered, trying to find the words to describe the sensation. "It's almost like...wearing the same ring every day. It doesn't bother me, and I don't really notice it, but I know it's there. Does that make sense?"
Bill nodded and I paused for moment to gather my thoughts.
"I can also pick up on his emotions, and sometimes I can't even tell which ones are mine and which ones are his, but that seems to be getting clearer." I continued to stare out the window into the darkness, feeling the gentle pull inside me that was Eric. "And when I'm with him, or talk to him, I feel happy. Absurdly happy, and safe, and warm. And when we're apart..." I trailed off, realizing what I had told Bill was possibly more than he wanted to hear.
"You miss him terribly," Bill finished the sentence softly for me, and I looked over at him and nodded.
"Do you truly have a covenant with him, Sookie?"
I opened my mouth to answer, then closed it again and looked down at my feet. I felt afraid to answer, not that I didn't trust Bill with the truth, but because I didn't want him to think badly of Eric for binding himself to me without getting the same in return. I had a feeling other vampires would frown on that, perhaps view it as a weakness.
"I thought it might have been an elaborate ruse Eric had concocted," Bill prompted.
I smiled to myself. It was more elaborate than Bill knew, and more confusing. I held my silence, trying to find a way to answer.
"It's best that Eric and I have a covenant," I said, choosing my words carefully and once again tip-toeing the fine line between truth and lies.
"I understand," Bill said, but I knew he truly didn't. I wondered how in the world I was going to be able to live like this, dodging questions and avoiding conversations. I wondered if I would ever be free to just be myself.
"I have to go," I said suddenly, shaking my head to clear away the heavy thoughts that were threatening to overtake me.
I headed for the door, and Bill intercepted me.
"Would you like me to see you home?" he asked, and my immediate response was to say no, but then I considered the situation with Niall. Not that I thought Bill had much of a chance at stopping my Great-Grandfather if he decided to come snatch me and take to Fae town, but maybe Niall would think twice if I wasn't alone. Or maybe I was fooling myself.
"I drove," I said, and smiled, embarrassed.
"Give me one minute," Bill replied, and he was gone in a flash. I heard him talking in another room a moment later, letting Yasuka and Lucas know he would be gone for a short while, then he was back. He paused right as I opened the door and called back.
"And remember what I said, you two. There will be no feeding in this house! There is plenty of synthetic blood in the refrigerator."
I placed my hand over my mouth, and hurried out the door before bursting into laughter.
"It's not funny, Sookie," Bill told me as he opened the car door for me. "I don't know how long Yasuka will be here, but while she is I will not allow her to endanger anyone. She's still very young, her control is questionable."
Bill started down the driveway and made the little turn toward my house.
"And you think simply telling two teenagers not to do something will be effective?" I asked him with some amusement.
Bill jerked his head toward me and I cocked an eyebrow at him. He growled a little under his breath and stepped on the accelerator.
He pulled up in front of my house a few minutes later, and I remembered my manners and invited him inside to have a blood. He looked at me, then looked back across the cemetery toward his house, then back at me. I took his arm and started hauling him to the porch.
"Relax. I'm sure they're fine, daddy."
Bill didn't look at all convinced, but he followed me into the house and took a seat on my sofa while I heated up a blood for him in the microwave. I shook it to distribute the heat, then came back to the living room and handed it to him before taking a seat beside him.
"Claudine was here today, I assume?" he asked after taking a drink, and my eyes went wide.
"No, I haven't seen Claudine since before Fangtasia was attacked. Why would you say that?"
"This room smells of Fae," he said, and his eyes narrowed.
I sucked in a breath, and before I knew what I was doing I was on my feet and looking around fearfully.
"There's no one here now," Bill told me, standing very close and placing a cool hand on my shoulder to calm me. "The scent is several hours old."
Several hours! I sat back down heavily in the chair, my heart racing. Had Niall come for me earlier when I was out with Lucas? Or had that handsome Cyril decided to pop in for that chat he wanted? Either way, it was definitely not a good thing that a Fae had decided to pop into my home, uninvited, right? I wondered briefly if Amelia had a spell that could ward the house against fairies.
"I have to call Eric," I said absently, and I headed toward my bedroom to get my cell phone. I flipped on the light, grabbed up my cell phone and flipped it open to see that I had five missed calls and the message symbol was flashing on the screen.
"Sookie, is something wrong?" Bill asked. He had followed me into the bedroom, and was now standing by my shoulder. I glanced at him and saw his fangs were down; clearly he was picking up on my anxiousness and was also perhaps expecting trouble.
"Nothing is wrong," I murmured as I scrolled through the call log on my phone to see whose calls I had missed. "Except that my Great-Grandfather is trying to marry me off to some pure blooded fairy so I can make little Fae babies."
I had missed a call from Amelia, two from Eric and three from a number I didn't recognize. I cursed myself for not having my phone on me and I was just about to dial the numbers to retrieve my messages when I noticed Bill had gone completely still. I glanced at him.
"Does Eric know about this?" he asked me and I rubbed a hand over my eyes in exasperation.
"Yes, he knows. He said he'd take care of it."
"How?" Bill demanded, and that was the fifty thousand dollar question.
"I have no idea," I said, and I sat down on my bed and started listening to my messages. Bill started to say something else but I held up a finger, asking him to hold on.
The first message was from Amelia, she was just checking in, but before I could listen to the whole thing my house phone began to ring. I tossed my cell onto the bed and hurried into the kitchen and snatched up the wall phone.
"I'm on my way," Eric said without preamble, and just hearing his voice made me smile and my chest swell with affection. "Why didn't you answer your cell phone?"
"I forgot to bring it with me," I said and there was an extended silence on the other end.
"Where did you go?"
"I'll explain later. Look, there was a fairy in my house today while I was gone."
"How do you know?"
"Bill can smell him. Or her. He said the scent was only a few hours old."
Silence ensued on the other end of the line for several long moments. I glanced at Bill and saw he was wearing an amused expression. I mouthed the word 'what' at him and right then Eric answered my question.
"Why is Compton in your house?" he asked, and his voice was low and rumbling.
I restrained myself from taking the phone and bashing it against the wall a few times in frustration. Was it possible he could put his vampire territorial crap on the back burner for one night?
"Sookie!" he demanded.
I guessed not.
"I invited him in after he brought me home!" I said, and I noticed Bill had turned away from me. I glared at his back. He was laughing; I just knew it.
"I'll be there in five minutes," Eric said. "We'll talk then."
"Well, okay," I said in a snip. But it didn't matter; he had already hung up on me. I slammed the phone down with a growl.
Bill looked at me again, and his face was expressionless but his eyes were still dancing with delight.
"You enjoyed that, didn't you?" I accused.
I expected him to say more, but he didn't. I noticed he was holding a now-empty bottle of True Blood and I asked him if he wanted a refill.
"No, thank you. I'll stay with you until Eric arrives, then I'll need to be getting back home."
"Yeah," I teased, "the kids have been alone for a long time. Wonder what they found to do while you were here? I'm sure they're just playing Wii, or watching a movie..."
"Sookie," Bill said in a warning tone, and I smiled innocently.
Right then I heard the sound of tires on gravel, and my heart leapt in my chest and I couldn't contain the smile or the rush of happiness that washed over me when I felt Eric. I went to the door and opened it, and in a flash my vampire was inside, looking beautiful with his trademark jeans and dark shirt. He was wearing his hair loose tonight, and it trickled down his back and shoulders, contrasting wildly with his black leather jacket.
He eyed me, then turned his gaze to Bill, who was already making his way to the door.
"Eric," Bill said with a tiny smile as he passed by him.
"Bill," Eric replied, and the way he said it was like the name left a bad taste in his mouth.
"Glad we all know one another," I muttered. Men.
"Sookie, thank you...for everything," Bill said, the hard-to-miss implications in the words and tone clearly meant as a taunt. Eric bared his fangs, but Bill - wisely - made his departure at vampire speed.
I shut the door and locked it, then turned to Eric who was still fuming silently.
"Knock it off," I said, and I wrapped my arms around Eric's waist and lay my head on his chest. It took him a minute, but then he put his arms around me, too; I then lifted my face to his for some soft, gentle kisses, but Eric pulled away and stood up straight.
"This is twice now I've smelled his scent on you," he told me, his eyes hard and his grip on my waist a little too tight.
I almost said something smart, but then considered that Eric was possibly feeling a little protective, maybe even insecure, what with Niall trying to hook me up with a Fairy and all. I wiggled up against him and ran my hands up his back and smiled. "I know a way we can get rid of that scent," I said with as much seduction in my voice as I could muster.
Eric stepped back and placed one hand under my chin, lifting my face and looking at me with hard eyes.
"If I can smell another vampire on you, others can as well."
I frowned up at him and sighed. "Eric..."
"I won't be made a fool of," he said, and his voice left no room for debate.
"What would you like me to do?" I questioned, feeling a little hurt. "There is nothing going on between me and Bill. He touched me one time, just for a second, when I got scared about the fairy smell. It's no big deal."
"It is a very big deal for me," Eric said. "You are mine. I am Sheriff. Certain behaviors will not be tolerated. I'll have words with Bill."
I shook my head. "He's my neighbor. He's also my friend and I don't want him acting the way Rasul acted the night he was over here."
"With fear," I clarified. "I didn't like that."
"You would like it far less if I was forced to punish Bill or Rasul for an honor violation," Eric said, raising his eyebrows.
"Excuse me? You would punish Bill for touching me? Even if it was innocent?"
Eric didn't answer, he just looked at me for a long time. His stillness was a little disconcerting, and I shifted a little as I wondered what was going on behind those ice blue eyes. I felt my mood start to plummet in the silence. I had been wanting to see him so much, and now that he was here, we were arguing. And worse, we were arguing - yet again - over a difference in opinion that lay in the great rift between human and vampire life.
Just as I felt like I was going to tear up, Eric came to me and pulled me into his arms. I felt the tension fizzle away, his cool embrace acting as a pressure release valve for my negativity.
"I've upset you," he said, and I nodded my head against his chest. He was feeling conflicted, I could sense it clear as day. He was a little angry and a tad confused, probably at how best to proceed. I smiled a little, appreciating his hesitation. It meant he was taking me seriously; he was taking my feelings seriously. That was relationship progress, right?
He held me away after a moment, and then sat down in the big recliner and pulled me into his lap. I rested my head on his shoulder and breathed him in, feeling content just to be with him.
"Felipe' de Castro sent word that he would be coming to Louisiana at the end of the month," Eric said after a few minutes. "I briefed him on the status of Fangtasia. We think the rebuilding will be complete by then. Pam is working on publicity now, and the King would like to be here for the Grand Re-Opening."
"That's great," I said with a grin. Not necessarily the part about the King coming, but I knew Eric would be happy to have his bar up and running again.
"You will need to be there, too," Eric said, and I looked into his face.
"Sure, I'll come if you want me to. Let me know the date and I'll see if I can get off work that night..."
"You'll be off work," Eric said, sounding pretty certain. "If there's a problem, I'll speak to the shifter myself."
"Not a good idea," I said. "You aren't exactly on Sam's list of favorite people these days."
"I wasn't aware I ever was," Eric said ruefully, then he turned serious. "The King will expect to see you. As my..." Eric hesitated as though he were searching for words. "He believes us to have a covenant. The night of the Fangtasia opening, you will be at my side."
I lay my head back down on Eric's shoulder and nuzzled him a little.
"I understand," I said softly. "I'll be there. I promise."
"And you cannot wear the scent of another vampire when you arrive, lover," Eric said. "There can be no more of these so-called innocent incidents."
"What do you mean 'so-called'?" I asked, my voice rising. "What are you trying to accuse me of?"
"I'm accusing you of nothing. I'm warning you that if Felipe' or one of his crew catches the trace of another vampire on my..." he hesitated again, and I sighed.
"On your wife," I finished for him. "It's okay, you can say it. As long as we both know we're just playing dress-up here."
He nodded. "On my wife, it will be assumed it is not there by accident. Or by innocence."
"They'll assume I was running around on you, is that what you're saying?" I asked.
"They will assume that I have not been doing my job as Sheriff if another vampire thinks he can lay hands on what belongs to me. If Felipe' was here right now, and he smelled Compton on you, I would have no choice but to punish Bill severely for his actions."
"Even when you know nothing happened between us?" I asked, astounded. "You would do what? Kick his ass for comforting me? To save face? Do you have any idea how insane that sounds?"
"Lover, vampires do not touch one another very often, you know this. We don't shake hands, we don't hug or kiss in greeting. And we rarely come into physical contact with a human unless we're feeding."
"Or having sex? Or tossing them across the bar?" I asked with a smirk.
"Or that, yes. This is very important, Sookie. I'm asking you to be more prudent in your actions. Will you agree to this?"
"I'll...try," I said weakly, trying hard to wrap my head around yet another foreign vampire custom. "I don't want anyone getting hurt on account of me."
"Excellent," Eric said, and I felt a bubble of satisfaction drift through the bond.
"What was that?" I demanded, sitting up. "Happy because you won this one?"
Eric raised his brows. "Pleased that we seemed to have resolved this small matter without your striking me."
I buried my face back into his shoulder, embarrassed at the reminder of my emotional and physical outburst from the night before.
"Speaking of last night," I began hesitantly, almost unsure that I wanted to delve into this conversation. "Did you come up with any ideas about...the thing with Niall?"
"As a matter of fact I did," Eric said, and I could hear the smile in his voice and the rumble in his chest as he spoke. "I'm surprised it took you this long to ask."
It actually surprised me, too, since the issue had been in the fore of my mind since last night. But Eric had started in on me the minute he walked in the door, basically using me as a vampire scratch-and-sniff toy.
"You side-tracked me," I said defensively.
"Pam called one of Niall's Fae last night," Eric said, and this piqued my curiosity and I tilted my head to look at him. "She relayed a message for me to Niall, letting him know I possibly had an alternate and more, shall we say, lucrative proposal for him. And Niall left word through one of my staff today that he would be willing to meet with me."
"So your people called his people..." I giggled.
"Yes," he said, clearly not seeing why I was amused. I shook my head and he continued on.
"One of the terms I set was that neither he, nor any of his Fae, would attempt to contact you until he and I spoke privately."
"Really?" I asked, feeling skeptical. "He agreed to that?"
Eric's lips curved up a little. "He did, after adding in his own condition."
"That I not turn you, which would of course render you useless to him."
"Render me useless," I said softly. "That's just great. Glad I mean so much to him."
We sat in silence for a minute or so while I let this turn of event settle in. Eric stroked my back, I wanted to think it was in a comforting way, but he didn't speak. I didn't blame him; after all, what can you say to a person that just found out their greatest value was in their ability to reproduce?
"Thank you," I said after a bit and I kissed Eric on the cheek. I was still feeling the sting of hurt, but on the bright side I felt as though an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It was liberating, so much so that even though I knew I should press Eric on the details of his alternate proposal, I decided I simply didn't care. He had, at the very least, bought me some time; time that I didn't have to worry about being taken away into another realm. I was learning to take what I could get these days.
"So I really don't have to worry about Niall coming for me?" I asked.
"As I told you," he stated firmly, "when a Fae gives their word, they keep it."
"Hmmph. So I guess the fairy that was in my house today wasn't Niall, then," I mused softly.
"It's important we find out," Eric said, sounding a little upset. "Though I'm certain Niall passed on the orders for his Fae to stay clear of you, there is nothing that says one of them might decide to disobey him."
The way he said one of them, made it pretty obvious he was referring to Cyril. I smiled a little.
"Maybe it was just Claudine," I shrugged.
Even if Niall had agreed to keep his people away from me, for now, I doubted that would apply to Claudine, since she was my guardian. I thought back to the first time I had met my gorgeous Fae cousin, when she had woken me up when I fell asleep at the wheel of my car...
"Oh!" I exclaimed, suddenly remembering that Eric and I had a little something else we needed to dicuss. Eric looked at me curiously while I disengaged from him and walked across the room to get the keys to the new car keys out of my purse.
"What's this all about?" I demanded, shaking the keys, causing them to jingle loudly.
Eric grinned broadly. "You needed a new car, Bill needed a way home from Mississippi. I'm sorry if it's not to your liking, it's the best Russell had to spare. We can trade it in if you would like something different."
My mouth dropped open and I threw the keys at Eric. He caught them easily in one hand.
"I don't need a new car," I stated and I crossed my arms over my chest. "And I'm not going to have you going out and buying me expensive things. I'm not with you for your money."
"I know that," he said with a smirk. "You're with me for the sex."
"Hardly," I retorted, then shrugged. "Though the sex is definitely in the top ten reasons..."
"Really?" he asked, looking intrigued. Then he was up and hauling me into his arms and walking me backwards to the wall.
"Just the top ten?" he asked, and he pressed heavily against me, moving a little.
"Maybe the top five," I amended, and he smiled down at me in a fangy way and held the keys up, dangling them in the air about six inches above my head.
"You do need a new car, lover," he said, smiling. "Allow me to help you. Allow me to care for you."
"I don't want to be a kept woman," I said, but the look in Eric's eye and the intensity of the feelings flowing through out bond was chipping away at my conviction.
"You are my woman," Eric said, his eyes glowing. "I won't be having you go without things you need. And I won't be having you seen driving to the Fangtasia opening in..."
"Don't you dare say it," I warned him, cutting him off. "Don't you dare say this about your image, Sheriff!"
Eric hesitated for a moment. "It's not about my image," he said, and he was anything but convincing.
I cocked my head at him. "Are you lying?"
"Right," I stated, biting off the word. "So what's next? Are you going to dress me up in clothes that cost thousands of dollars and shower me with jewels? Maybe give me a platinum card?"
Eric stood back a bit and look at me dubiously. "You would want these things?"
I sighed, exasperated. "No! Of course I don't!"
"I thought not," he said, smiling, and he took my hand and placed the keys in my open palm and closed it. "Accept my gift, lover," he said gently. "It's the first I've given you since you agreed to be my woman, that hardly makes you kept."
I was opening my mouth to protest but then Eric leaned down and placed a finger on my lips, silencing me.
"You work after dark," he continued, "and I do not enjoy the thought of you driving alone so late in a questionable vehicle." He stepped in very close, leaned down and started to kiss and nuzzle my neck. "Who knows what sort of shady characters you might encounter running down the road some night..."
I felt his smile against my skin and I felt the wind in my indignation fizzling away. I understood full well that I was being stubborn, and if I was being honest with myself I would have to admit that having a low mileage, newer car would be a nice change and one less thing to worry about. I released a long breath and looked down and the keys in my hand.
"Alright," I said, pushing on his shoulders so he would look at me directly. "I'll take the car. But the next time you decide I need something, will you at least ask me about it before you just go out and buy it?"
"It's important to you?"
"Yes," I said, touching his cheek. "It really is. I want to have a say in my own life. Okay?"
"Very well," he said, agreeing much faster and easier than I would have guessed. I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him over and over, feeling warmth spreading throughout my entire body. At some point, Eric picked me up and I encircled my legs around his waist, which made things a little easier, considering the differences in our height.
"Are you going to stay with me tonight?" I asked, when my lips were finally free for a few seconds.
"Mmmmm," he answered, which really wasn't an answer but sent chills up my spine because he was using his tongue on my ear while he said it.
"Why don't you come back to Shreveport with me?" he asked after a moment, and he looked into my eyes. "Come to my home. Stay there with me."
I tried and failed to hide my surprise at his request. Eric had never spoken of his home, or even where he lived; he'd certainly never invited me there before. For all I knew, he had some underground batcave somewhere. And as much as I was curious, as much I would have loved to go home with Eric, I knew it was impossible. At least tonight.
"I can't," I said, and I hoped he saw the regret in my eyes. "I have to call Sam in the morning. And Amelia. I've missed so much work..."
"Give the shifter your notice."
"Excuse me?" I said, my eyes growing wide. "I'm not quitting my job, Eric."
"I'll provide for you," he said, and he started kissing my neck again. I felt his fangs graze my skin.
"Didn't we just have this conversation?" I said, and I tried to sound firm though inside my heart was fluttering around. He had offered me this before, in a way, and I had turned him down because I knew it really wasn't Eric offering. But this time it was, and it was hard not to feel flattered.
"You don't wish to lose your independence," he whispered into my skin.
"Exactly," I agreed gently, and I held his head so I could look him in the face. "I do appreciate your offer. It's very sweet, but I'm not ready to quit my job and have you carry me off into the sunset. Okay?"
He didn't reply, just gave me a little knowing smile that didn't do a thing to convince me this was the last I'd be hearing on the subject. I wiggled out of his arms, suddenly feeling thirsty.
"Do you want a blood?" I asked, feeling a bit rude for not having offered before. "I need a little something myself."
"Thank you," he said, and he followed me into the kitchen and watched while I pulled a True Blood out of the refrigerator for him.
"You surprise me," Eric said suddenly, and I glanced over at him while I popped the bottle into the microwave.
He smiled and leaned against the counter and crossed his arms over his chest. "You haven't asked anything else about the situation with Niall."
I shrugged, surprised at this sudden change in the conversation.
"Usually you would be demanding answers, insisting that I explain my actions." He continued and looked at me speculatively. "You aren't curious as to what I'm offering him?"
"I am," I said slowly, knowing that Eric's was quite right. "I guess I should be asking you what you're up to..." I trailed off, trying to figure out in my own head why I was content to leave Eric to his own devices all of a sudden.
"And why aren't you?" Eric pressed. I could feel something stirring in the bond, something akin to hope.
I considered that silently for a few moments. It wasn't like there was a whole lot I could really do with this mess. Eric had admitted to me in the past he wasn't well versed in Fae politics, but I figured he had to at least know more that I did; I knew precious little about my Great-Grandfather and how he and his kind thought and acted. And Eric, being a vampire Sheriff, was certainly in a more powerful position than I was to negotiate with Niall.
The microwave beeped and I handed the bottle of blood to Eric.
"You told me to trust you, right?" I asked him, though it wasn't really a question. "So I'm trusting you. Don't get used to it, though," I added with a smile.
Just then the blood bond practically exploded with pride and happiness emanating from Eric, so powerful it actually sent a shiver up my spine. He had me in his arms in a heartbeat, looking down into my face with eyes dancing.
"You're allowing me to care for you," he said. "Finally."
"I'm not so sure that's such a good thing," I said, not really getting why this was such a big deal to him. "This is my problem, after all, not yours."
"It takes a very strong person to relinquish responsibility to another; to trust someone else with their very life."
"Really?" I asked, sounding dubious. "To be honest I feel a little like a coward for letting you take care of this for me."
"You're one of the strongest women I have ever met," Eric stated. "Never believe yourself to be a coward."
"Okay," I amended. "Maybe that wasn't the right word. I guess I just feel weak, like I don't have the juice to do anything. I know you have...well, you have ways of getting what you want. So I'll let you do what you need to do. I know you'll get me out of this if you can."
"I will, yes," Eric agreed, and he picked up the blood and took a long drink, licking his lips afterward.
"You have given me your trust freely," Eric mused, smiling. But then after a moment, his face turned serious. "And I willingly accept it, along with the responsibility that comes with it."
He paused then, and looked at me with one of those slightly eerie vampire fixed stares. I stared right back, pondering his words, and trying to decipher the meaning behind them. What responsibility?
I noticed that Eric was still motionless, and there was a current of hesitation laced with resolve streaming through the bond, and I new it wasn't coming from my end. Eric was trying to make a decision, I decided.
"You want to tell me something, don't you?" I asked him, though I was already sure of the answer.
His cheek twitched a little, but other than that he showed no response.
"You do," I said, pleased by his reaction. I was on to something here, and with a supreme effort I tried to pinpoint the other emotions I was picking up from him. "You're...worried about my reaction, aren't you?"
My voice was rising a little with excitement - not because Eric apparently had something important he wanted to tell me, but because for the first time I felt as though he and I were on somewhat equal footing in regards to the blood bond. I was reading him, the same way he always seemed to be able to read me. And I bit my tongue to keep from laughing out loud when another emotion hit me.
"You don't like this, do you?" I said, grinning. "You enjoy having the upper hand..." I trailed off when I saw Eric's face turn hard, and then I couldn't stop the laughter from rolling over me.
"Oh, my God!" I said, almost tearing up. "You hate this!"
Eric just glared at me while I got my giggles under control. I wondered if this was how he felt all the time around me. Since I had stopped fighting the bond, I had been getting better at internalizing the emotions I felt through it, and sorting through them, but this was the first time I had managed to take the next step and really decipher with some accuracy what Eric was thinking. It wasn't like telepathy, since I couldn't hear words, but it might be almost as good with a little practice.
Eric still hadn't spoken, and I put my arms around his neck and smiled up at him.
"You wanted to have a blood bond," I reminded him. "You wanted to tie yourself to me for, what was it? One hundred years? Having a change of heart, are we?"
He clearly wasn't in the mood to play with me, so I released my grip on him and shook my head. I stepped back and opened up the refrigerator and took out a can of soda and popped it open.
"Ok, so what are you wanting to tell me?" I asked him after I took a drink.
Eric still looked serious, and it was starting to make me a little nervous. This wasn't just about my newfound ability to read him via the bond, there was something else going on here.
"I wasn't going to make you aware of the offer I am planning to make Niall to get him to release you from your obligation to him," Eric stated. "It may not agree with your human values, and I didn't want to upset you."
"Okay," I said slowly. Definitely feeling nervous now.
"But you told me you want to have a say in your own life..."
"That's right," I said cautiously, wondering where this was leading.
"And I don't wish to betray the trust you've given me," he went one, and it seemed like he was choosing his words with care. "In this matter, you may consider my methods to be distasteful. I risk your anger by revealing my offer. But if I keep it from you, you may view it as a lie of omission."
I considered that the last lie of omission dealt with that ceremonial knife, and that was pretty darn big! I placed the soda can on the counter and braced myself. This must be the responsibility thing Eric mentioned earlier. I had a sinking feeling I was about to get more than I bargained for when I told Eric I wanted him to be honest with me.
I remembered what I once told Bill, that I would rather be given a hard truth than an easy lie. Did I really mean that? Well, here was the chance to find out. I reminded myself, too, that this was a very big step for Eric, who had spent the better part of a millennia doing exactly what he wanted without the need or desire to discuss it with anyone else. I was about to get a very rare sneak peek at the inner workings of vampire maneuvering. I shuddered.
"Alright," I said, almost cringing inside. "Let's hear it. What are you planning to offer Niall?"
Eric stepped closer to me.
"Another of his line he clearly isn't aware of, or he would have already made a move to obtain him. A male heir that appears to hold the same essential spark as you. One that can give him the descendants he desires; more than you would be able to provide."
"Who?" I breathed, staring wide-eyed at Eric.
"Your cousin," he said softly.