Disclaimer: I do not own any of Charlaine Harris' characters or ideas.

CHAPTER 1

How did I get here? What happened to cause me to see everyone I've ever cared about die? Why am I here now, holding the love of my life's skull together? The blood, so much blood, is running through my fingers while I try to tell myself that if I just hold him, he will recover. I know there is no longer breathing; there is no longer a heartbeat. There is just blood, so much blood, outside of him. Then, in an instant, Eric is here pulling me away from him, urging me to let go. He is telling me we need to leave. But I just want to stay here, with his body, willing him back to life. What brought me here?

One Year Ago

As I slowly opened my eyes, blinking my lids to the constant beat of the beep… beep… beeps of the machines around me, I didn't need anyone to tell me where I was. Oh no, I've been here plenty of times and always for the same reason. The place was a hospital and the reason was spelled V-A-M-P-I-R-E-S. I would find it funny that I was under their formal protection and yet they are the ones causing me injury. I say would because I'm in way too much pain to laugh. So this time, I was once again lending my services to Shreveport's premiere vampire bar, Fangtasia, and its owners, Pam and Eric. This most recent injury involved me using my special talent to judge the truthfulness of some Were bodyguards Eric was hiring to guard the bar during daylight hours (it seems the Fellowship has been getting a bit more brazen, attacking vampire owned businesses). While shifter minds are harder to read, it didn't take much for me to get that these two were not looking to protect Fangtasia. It also didn't take much for them to realize I was about to tattle on them, and for me to be knocked across the room in one swift move. So here I am in a hospital, again, with two broken ribs and recovering from a concussion. I was a little miffed to see that Eric was not waiting obsessively by my side to recover. Then again, maybe I didn't need to deal with that.

I hadn't seen nor heard of Eric in the 2 months following the takeover until he called me for employment purposes. This means we hadn't had The Talk. After this most recent occurrence, I didn't know if I even ever wanted to. I was beginning to think that I sincerely wanted out of all these vampire politics. In fact, I—

"Hello Ms. Stackhouse, glad to see you with us." The young male doctor said as he smiled at me (the young, male, cute doctor that is). "I'm Alex Barton, and I'm your nurse. Ms. Stackhouse, I've been looking at your records and I'm noticing that prior to a few years ago you seemed to be as healthy as a horse. But recently you can't seem to stay out of hospitals. Have you gotten yourself into something? We have a lot of resources here, people you can talk to, to help you."

I cut him off, "Mr. Barton, really, I appreciate the concern but I just seem to be going through some bad luck. I must have broken a mirror or something. Really, there is no one that I need to see." I tried to give him my best smile, despite my sore face. I laughed a bit internally at his mention of my prior good health. I had used that same phrase on that fateful evening a few years back to one Bill Compton.

"Well," Alex smiled, and damn he could smile, "just let me know if you change your mind. And please, call me Alex." His face was suspicious; it didn't look like he believed me. I dropped my mental barriers and tried to catch a whiff of what was truly on his mind. I was shocked by what I discovered; I heard nothing. Nada. This wasn't the standard void of a vampire mind. Instead, it was like his brain was a solid metal ball. It was solid, steadfast, and impenetrable. Before I could investigate further though, Alex was gone with a kind reminder he'd return later.

I relaxed back into my bed and felt calmness and peace wash over me. Maybe the next bout of morphine had kicked in. Or maybe…

"Hello Lover," Eric said as he strode into my hospital room. "Security has gotten tighter in these hospitals; it took some maneuvering on my part to get in here. I should have ridden with you in the ambulance, I know, but I had to deal with those Weres." He smiled that very Eric smile and slid onto a corner of my bed. "Sookie, I'm sorry you always get injured when you are around us, but luckily I have the perfect cure." He was suggesting his blood, but I wasn't having any of that.

"Look Eric, I appreciate the offer. But first and foremost, if I have some sudden amazing recovery, this hospital is going to be even more suspicious of me than they already are. Second, I'm not exactly looking to strengthen this bizarre blood bond, whatever it is, at the moment."

For a moment, a brief moment, Eric looked confused? Irritated? Sad? But his facial features immediately returned to their cold, standard emotionless vampire state. "Very well Sookie, I suppose you made one valid point. As for our bond, we will be having a discussion on that, and so much more, very soon." His mouth was only centimeters from my face, I felt myself blush all over, but I kept control of myself. I gave him a little push.

"Eric, please. I'm tired. Can you just leave me be?" He didn't respond, which hurt a little, as he stalked out the door.

A moment later Alex returned. "Ms. Stackhouse, I'm here to fill you in on your condition."

"Please," I gave a sore smile, "call me Sookie."

"Ok Sookie," when he smiled his dimples were adorable, "You have a broken 10th rib and a fractured 7th. We are giving you some pain medicine, but it is also important that you get plenty of rest. Physical strain is completely out of the question." I opened my mouth to comment, but he just kept going. "Now, I know you work as a waitress, but you really can't return to that until after at least two weeks." I assume my face looked angry, because he continued, "Please, don't be angry with that. I really should have said 3 weeks, but you seem to be healing pretty quickly. You are stronger than you look." I looked down, embarrassed. Maybe just a bit too much vampire blood, I thought to myself. "You don't happen to have some miracle drug do you?" Alex laughed, his green eyes sparkled. Clearly that was a rhetorical question on his part, and I hoped he didn't see my face cringe when I at first thought otherwise.

"Ok, now that all that dreariness is done. You can be discharged as soon as you'd like. Do you have anyone to pick you up?"

"Well, I have a roommate but she is out of town for the weekend. I'm sure I could just catch a taxi."

Alex pondered that for a moment. I tried reaching out to his mind again, but found myself once again knocking at a solid steal ball.

"You know," he started, "my shift ends in 15 minutes. I could give you a ride home. If you don't think that is too forward." Alex winked.

"Mr. Barton, isn't it easier to just ask a lady for her number?" I laughed.

Alex chuckled, "Call me Alex, but yes, perhaps I could have your number too." After a few more moments of banter, I relented. Why not let the cute male nurse drive me home? Alex insisted I ride in the wheelchair to his car, and really, when on that much painkillers, it's pretty hard to argue. I didn't argue either when he helped me into his car, which was a nice modern silver sedan.

The ride home was filled with surprisingly not awkward small talk. He, like me, lost his parents at a young age. He decided to become a nurse, rather than a doctor, because he enjoyed spending more personal time with patients and also enjoyed having more normal hours. We talked about my waitressing job at Merlotte's and he promised to come in for dinner sometime. "I think I should visit your place of business, since such a visit should be infinitely more pleasurable than any reason you should end up in mine again," he laughed, dimples flashing, eyes sparkling. Despite the pain in my lungs, I laughed more than I thought I would. By the time I heard the crunch of gravel as we pulled up my driveway, I was quite exhausted.

"Can I just sleep in your car?" I murmured, trying to build up the stamina to stand.

"I think you would awaken in more pain than you are in now," Alex chuckled as he opened the door. "Here, I will help you get inside."

"That won't be necessary. I can just carry her in," came an icy voice from the shadows. Alex jumped a little and I merely sighed exasperatedly.

"Alex, this is Bill Compton. Bill, this is Alex Barton. He was my nurse and kind enough to bring me home." I was already uncomfortable; Bill was just standing there with his bitter stare.

"Do you make it a habit of bringing drugged, semi-unconscious female patients to their homes in the middle of the night, Mr. Barton?" I gasped at Bill's audacity, but not so much in surprise.

Alex just let out his cool, light chuckle, "Only when they are this attractive." He looked down at me, I guess judging my comfort with the situation. "I see you are in good hands Sookie, I will let Bill help you if that's what you would like." I nodded in agreement and Bill began to carry me to the house when Alex called out from beside his car, "Oh Sookie, I never did get your number." Bill stiffened. I called it out to him and he entered it into his phone. Saying his goodbyes, he got into his car and drove off. Bill was a gentleman, of course, and put me into bed. He might have pestered me with questions, but I fell asleep immediately and I assume he left.

For the next two days I mostly laid on the couch, taking my medicine every 4 hours and enjoying blissful, dreamless sleep. Amelia and Octavia came home on the third day of my recovery.

"Sookie! What is wrong? Are you hurt? Why did you not call me?" Amelia scrambled over to me.

"It is ok… a little rib fracture. It's nothing a prescription of Percocet can't fix. How was your little convention??" I mumbled. Octavia continued on to her bedroom, wishing me hello and to feel better.

"Oh, there is really nothing interesting to report on. You however, tell me how this happened to you!" I filled her in on everything I could think of: the incident with the Weres at Fangtasia, my dismissal of Eric at the hospital, Alex giving me a ride home, and Bill meeting me here.

"Gosh, where does he get off treating you like this? You are human, breakable! Does he not understand that? I'm telling you, if I see Eric anytime soon, I will give him a piece of my mind!" Amelia seemed genuinely pissed. I quietly scoffed at the image of little Amelia telling off the massive Viking. "And he still hasn't even discussed with you his regained memories? What a pig." Amelia shook her head and made a wiping motion with her hand, "but enough of that. Tell me about this cute nurse-man. What does he look like?"

"Well," I giggled a little, "he is average height, nice clean brown hair that he was wearing in a purposefully messy way. He had beautiful green eyes that just really sparkled when he chuckled. And the dimples. He had the cutest dimples that went with that chuckle." When I stopped my description, Amelia was just staring at me.

"Sounds like you like the guy Sook; and he sounds like a cutie. Did you read his mind?"

"Actually, that is the bizarre thing. I couldn't. His mind was solid, and hard. I couldn't see or hear anything in it."

"Oh," Amelia gasped, "I wonder what he is. Here I was thinking you were falling for just some normal human guy." She winked at me and went off, saying she was going to make me some soup. I hadn't really thought about that. I just assumed he was human too. I didn't think about him being something else. My mood was doused a bit as I pondered what he was, demon, boogey-man, something I'd never heard of… and with that I fell back into Percocet-induced sleep.

The next day, I realized I had been on the couch for 4 straight days. No shower, no real food, just daytime TV and junk food. With as much determination as I could muster, I steeled myself to the plan of a shower. Despite the struggle of washing my hair with hurt ribs, I came out feeling quite a bit better. Amelia came giggling into my room holding the phone in her hand, letting me know Nurse McCutey was calling for me. I held the phone to my ear, and answered.

"Sookie, I hope you forgive me for how long it took me to call," Alex began, "but it has been very busy at the hospital and I also didn't want to distract you from rest."

"Oh, gosh Alex, I've had nothing but rest for the past 4 days. I don't think I've done so little with my time in all my life."

Alex chuckled through the phone, and I couldn't help but smile as I pictured his dimples, "Well I am actually glad to hear that. Tomorrow I have a day off and I was wondering if maybe you would like to go on a lunch date. I was thinking a picnic. It is supposed to be beautiful tomorrow."

A day date! Imagine the thought. Sookie Stackhouse, seeing a male in mid-day and him not bursting into flames. I agreed almost a little too emphatically. Alex promised to pick me up tomorrow at noon and I found myself quite excited.

The rest of the day I tried to "take it easy" while cleaning up the mess I had made in the living room. Amelia did most of the work, bless her heart. When we finished, Trey came over and he and Amelia cooked dinner for us all.

While at the dinner table, enjoying the meal, Octavia spoke up, "So, Sookie, did your vampire friends find out who sent the Weres or what they wanted?"

"I really don't know Octavia," I was annoyed with her line of questioning already. "I really haven't spoken to any of them since the incident. Why do you ask?"

"I just think," Octavia cleared her throat, "that they might be coming after you… Sometimes I just worry that you put yourself, and all of us, in danger with your continued interaction with the vamps."

"Octavia!" Amelia scolded, but I cut her off.

"Listen here Octavia. I don't try to put myself or anyone in danger. If I had a way to extricate myself from providing mind-reading services to the vamps, I would certainly do that. Additionally, if my home is so dangerous, YOU don't have to stay here!" I said as steadily as I could. The disdain was clearly evident in my tone. Octavia made a hmph sound and excused herself from the table. A few awkward moments of silence followed.

"I'm really sorry about that Sookie. You know, some people just don't like vampires. It's not your fault. Besides, Octavia is getting her FEMA check very soon and will be no doubt moving out in no time," Amelia apologized. I merely nodded.

"Yea Sookie," Trey said, one of his few comments of the night, "don't let her get you down. Besides, Amelia here has some strong wards on this house." He gave her leg a squeeze and smiled. "And I would certainly let you know if I smelled anything amiss."

My mood was elevating, glad to know I had good friends. Amelia and Trey made me sit on the couch while they did dishes. When I was just about to learn why Brangelina was fighting on E! News, my doorbell rang.

Opening the door I found myself staring into the beautiful strong chest of Eric. I stood aside, letting him enter. He elegantly maneuvered his large frame through the entrance and sat on the couch. He seemed to soak in the surroundings and made a grimace at my television program selection. I turned off the TV and sat across from him on a chair, meeting his gaze.

"I'm glad to see you are doing better, Lover." His voice caressed me like silk and I tried to look away to hide my blush. Damn you blood bond! "I just came to let you know the Weres were taken care of," his smile turning dangerous, "and to pay you." He handed me a check. It was a check for an obscene amount of money.

"Eric I--"

He cut me off with a wave of his hand, "Sookie please, the check is from Felipe, for your services rendered to the vampire community of Louisiana under Queen Sophie Ann. Included is a small bonus for saving his life." I couldn't help but smile; I suddenly felt much better about taking off two weeks of work for recovery. "I'm sorry I couldn't check on you sooner," he shrugged his massive shoulders, "things are just so busy right now."

"Oh, no I totally understand Eric," I began to stand, intending to lead him out the door, "vampire takeover, you head honcho, I know I know. But I really need some sleep so if you wouldn't mind." I made a shooing motion with my hands.

"Sookie, Sookie, Sookie," with each statement of my name he took a step in, closing the distance between us. He took my shoulders in his strong cool hands. I couldn't help but feel the warmth run through me at our closeness. He apparently noticed too because that slow, sexy smile crept across his lips. "I know you are injured, Lover, but I can be very gentle." He leaned in closer.

"Now listen mister," I pushed him away as much as I could, which wasn't much. "I don't know what is between us currently. But there will certainly be none of that! I said I need rest, and that is what I need. You can't ignore me for months, hire me and get me injured, then show up a few days later expecting sex! I said it's time to go, so that means go. Or do you want your invitation rescinded?"

Eric looked somewhere between amused and angry. "Fine, I will go Sookie. Just remember, that there are dangerous people I am dealing with right now. That is why I haven't been able to see you much. I am trying to keep you safe," he sighed, "but I will go. For now. Goodnight Sookie." And with that, he was gone. Vampire speed always makes for dramatic exits. I tried to shake the feelings he aroused in me and settled into bed for the night.

Alex was at my door promptly at noon the next day, dressed in a nice shirt and jeans, his green eyes sparkling, and his dimples showing with his smile. He had a bouquet of flowers to boot. This guy definitely gets points in my book. I was wearing simple, but modest, summer dress.

"Sookie, you look breathtaking," Alex said handing me the flowers when I opened the door, "I hope you are still feeling up to a picnic."

"Oh I certainly am! Let me just put these in a vase and we can be on our way." And on our way we were. It really was a beautiful day, and Alex picked a beautiful spot in the local park for our picnic. He smoothed out a blanket and carried over the basket of food.

"I'm not chef," he laughed, "so I made us some ham sandwiches, potato salad, some fruit, and juice boxes."

"Juice boxes?"

"Yea," again his adorable chuckle, "those are from the hospital cafeteria. I have 4 different flavors, so I figured one of them has to be what you'd like."

I chose the fruit punch and he took grape. The picnic went great. The food was delicious and we chatted and laughed. We lay on our backs and pointed out shapes in the clouds. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect time. I find myself so at ease around this relative stranger. It just makes no sense. Then I remembered: what was he? Perhaps this would ruin our date, but some things just need to be taken care of from the beginning. If he was dangerous, I should know right? Then again, if he was dangerous I doubt he'd just come out and tell me. Oh well, here goes nothing.

"Alex, I need to ask you something. Well, first I guess I should tell you something." He looked concerned, but nodded for me to continue. "I know this seems ridiculous, and I don't usually tell people this, but I feel so comfortable around you…" He reached out and put his hand on mine, showing me he wasn't scared. "Well, I can read minds." There I said it. I stopped and met his eyes, he didn't look shocked. That shocked me. "Do… do you believe me?" I asked.

"Yea, Sookie, I do. There are a lot of weird things in this world, a lot of things I'll probably never know or understand. But I've learned to stop questioning. I believe you because I have some similar experiences. My mother was a psychic. She was a true psychic, and very talented. People were always using her for her gift. However, in the end, she got in too deep with untrustworthy people and it cost her and my father their lives."

"Oh, I… I'm sorry. So, you mean… you are human?" Now that question shocked him. "What I mean is I can't read your mind, at all. It is like you have it sealed in a protective casing or something." I sat, looking at him, patiently.

"Well, as far as I know I'm human, heh, not that I knew there were a lot of other options. Maybe somehow it's related to my mother's mental abilities." He flashed me that dimpled smile, and that was good enough for me. Way laid back on the grass and stared at the clouds some more, letting the information we'd both shared sink in.

"Well Sookie, I better get you home. Maybe we can have another date soon? Perhaps we'll do dinner and a movie." Alex smiled and helped me up. He loaded the blanket and basket into the car and took me home.