Disclaimer: All recognizable nouns (that goes for persons, places, and things) belong to Charlaine Harris, her publishers etc. I am borrowing for entertainment purposes only. Anyone you don't recognize is mine. Or, I suppose unrecognizable characters might be Mrs. Harris's as well and I've just written them poorly. That's for you to decide.

Summary: A story that began as an attempt to solve the puzzle of why Eric didn't come to the rescue in Dead and Gone. Here you'll find some action and adventure, a bit of romance, a whole slew of intrigues, and maybe a smattering of humor. From the audience, this story asks for rapt attention, from the characters this story asks, "Would you rather eat from the tree of knowledge or remain a child in the garden forever?"

Characters: Ensemble

Pairing: Eric/Sookie

Rating: Varies, PG-13-M

Spoliers: Books 1-9

Note: Many betas have made spectacular cameo performances throughout this story. Thanks to everyone who has played sounding board, cheerleader, and reader throughout. Special thanks, in that arena to Meads, may tireless cheerleader and promoter. Immense gratitude goes to nycsnowbird who took it upon herself to edit the entirety of this monster post-mortem. Any mistakes in content you find are still mine, any mistakes in grammar probably indicate a chapter I haven't gotten around to replacing yet. Thanks for stopping by, enjoy the read.

I Have Gone Out

Chapter 1

Eric and Pam were seated in a booth at Merlotte's. That, right there, was enough to make it an interesting night. I couldn't think of a single thing that might have brought the Shreveport vampires to my little corner of Bon Temps, at least not when they'd failed to approach me with some clandestine enterprise. But at the moment, I was far more worried about the fact that we had a packed house and my two pale patrons were taking up a four-top.

"Sookie, you got any openings over there?" Emma Asli called. She could see very well that my tables were all accounted for but I couldn't be too upset. Emma had worked few enough shifts that she was still thoroughly "the new girl" and tonight was as busy as I'd ever seen it. I wouldn't be too surprised if the people waiting were giving her grief too since they knew she was green and, on the whole, thoroughly less creepy than I.

Still, I didn't bother shaking my head and Emma didn't ask again.

Sam, my boss, was behind the bar mixing drinks as coolly as if he were right in the middle of the two o'clock slump instead of a sizable portion of the town's population that seemed to have developed a powerful thirst all at once. He had called Terry Bellefleur in to help though and I could count on one hand the number of times Merlotte's had sported two bartenders at once.

Besides Emma, Jillian Boucher, newly a mother and newly a high school drop-out, was working the late shift and Holly had come back in for a double to help out. The extra waitress on the floor was two parts miracle but one part mayhem. We'd double filled orders more than once, with the sections being hastily rearranged to accommodate a fourth pair of hands.

The press of so many thoughts on my mental shields was like flood waters swirling outside an earthen levy. But, thankfully, my own personal levy had grown stronger over the past few years thanks to a little practice and a few (metaphorical) sandbags of vampire blood. The sort of collective buzz of "wow, busy night" only served to propel me around the dining room and distract me enough to keep most of the nastier thoughts to a minimum.

I'd just successfully delivered a tray of a round dozen mugs of draft (thanks again to the vampire blood for that piece of strength and balance) when a surge of amused annoyance overtook me. I was confused for a moment, wondering if the bustle of the evening snuck up on me or if it was already that time of the month again. But then, understanding, my head snapped around to take in the big, blonde source of my sudden PMS.

It seemed Emma Asli had figured out that the patrons of Merlotte's, mostly friends, family, and co-workers, who weren't used to waiting for a seat, wouldn't object too strongly to being seated together if it meant they'd get served. She'd finagled the greater part of the loitering customers in her section into already occupied booths or tacked them on to corners of tables. So it was due to this rather singular circumstance that my brother, Jason, and his buddy, Hoyt, had been packed into a booth with Eric and Pam.

I could feel Eric's mood shift in the direction of amusement. This was not necessarily a good thing.

The timer on the microwave dinged as I was filling two mugs with the summer draft. Emma quickly removed the caps from the two bottles of TrueBlood. "I can get those," I said, having already planned to run interference of the possibly volatile situation that was my brother and my … whatever Eric was, sharing breathing space. The danger was not at all diffused by the fact that Eric didn't breathe.

Emma passed me the bottles by the necks and said, "Corner booth," as if I had several vamp tables to choose from, before rushing off at Antoine's call of "order up." I trayed the bottled blood and the beers and headed grimly for the booth. In the few steps from the bar, some of Eric's joie de vivre had dropped right into my belly through the strange bond we shared. When I met the motley foursome, my stock smile was almost genuine. "Summer ale," I said, sliding the mugs to Jason and Hoyt. Jason broke his glare at the vampires just long enough to turn it on me.

I forged ahead, having learned long ago to ignore my brother, thoughts and significant looks included. "O positive," I announced, distributing the blood to Pam and Eric, both of whom looked a tad drawn. "I think we've got one AB neg left if that's more to your liking."

Pam's face remained indifferent. Eric's gaze slid over me, declaring very clearly which flavor he'd prefer. I hadn't quite finished chiding myself for the heat that dropped distinctly below my belly when my subconscious decided to offer its help (though, who it was helping was unclear, it certainly wasn't me). In my mind's eye, Eric stood on an open plain, a gleaming silver axe-head buried in his collar-bone.

"Please tell the dark one that this arrangement is less than satisfactory," Pam said, her dry voice cutting through the remembered nightmare. The dark one. That would be Emma who was not exactly Merlotte's first black waitress but only because she was not exactly black.

Pam's eyes were fixed on Jason who had begun to growl in his head as well as his chest. Once she'd found my beautiful brother … intriguing, but now, it seemed, his status as a Were had turned her opinion. She said, "We would have preferred a window seat."

Hoyt laughed nervously, proof that he was smarter than I gave him credit for. Pam was sniffing the open bottle of blood, her expression nothing short of voracious. "So what brings you all to Bon Temps?" If nothing else, Hoyt had been raised with proper manners.

Which could be said for Jason as well, though they didn't seem to have stuck. "Probably looking to pull my sister into one mess or another," Jason said, answering for the vampires who probably wouldn't have answered anyway. My brother, often the object of misplaced blame, had no problem laying it thick on others. Though I'd explained as much as I could about the events of the fairy war a few months back, Jason, it seemed still blamed the vamps in my life for my sorry state following it.

I turned from the table, sending up an honest-to-goodness prayer that everyone would keep his fangs or claws to himself tonight.

I was delivering fish platters (which would soon get very popular among the Catholics on account of Lent) to a women's quilting circle from the local Baptist church when Hoyt Fortenberry called my name. Hoyt was a big guy, he'd played football with Jason in high school and might have gone on to play in college if only he'd managed to pull off the minimum SAT scores to fulfill an athletic scholarship. Hoyt's football career might have ended over ten years ago but it was his Friday night game voice that he called my name with now.

I spun on my heels to face the corner booth. Hoyt was standing, or trying to anyway, trapped as he was between the wall and Jason. I couldn't see the vampires from my vantage point. I set the platters down (haphazardly, I must admit) in front of the ladies. One of them remarked about the absence of condiments. Whether the complaint had been made aloud or not I couldn't be sure since I was moving at full force to that corner booth, ready to take a wooden spoon to the lot of them just as Gran would have done.

Jason's face, as it often was, was blank. But there was a firm set to his features and I could hear his snarled thoughts sort of willing indifference.

Eric was utterly fascinated.

If I'd had a moment to think, it might have troubled me that I noticed this a split second before I noticed Pam. Pam was covered in blood.

Even as I slid to a stop on the less than clean floor, Pam wretched, bringing up what had to be her second or third gush of blood. The vampire coughed and gagged. Dead she might be, but in that moment Pam, with bubbles of red bursting between her teeth, looked for all the world like a woman hemorrhaging.

Pam breathed through the end of her heave, blowing out a final spray of blood and spittle. She'd remained sitting straight through the ordeal, as if she had been too stunned to lean over and vomit properly.

I watched the synthetic blood that had been Pam's meal seep into her yellow sweater and wondered if it had gone bad. But there was something wrong, far more wrong than a blood-covered vampire occupying one of my tables. Pam had gagged on the blood.

I stared in revulsion.

Eric stared in fascination.

Pam was breathing.