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Summary: During the Nevada takeover Eric suddenly regains his lost memories. How, exactly, did that happen?
Note: 'L'esprit de l'escalier' means 'the spirit of the staircase.' It refers to all the things you think to say, heartfelt sentiments, witty retorts, and poignant reflections, only after you've left the room. There will be two, maybe three parts to this.
L'esprit de l'escalier
The man who entered the all night diner was not what Eric had expected. He hadn't thought to meet someone so finely formed. If it had been gods that built him, he was lucky not to have been offered back to them as a due sacrifice of terrible beauty. If it was science, systematic descent with modification, then the billions of drafts that had gone before him, bowing and screwing like marionettes in Charles Darwin's ballet, were well spent.
But it wasn't the shocking aesthetics of the man that Eric hadn't expected. It was the man.
He surveyed the diner quickly, dark eyes flitting from one chrome-bright surface to another. A few of the other tables in the overly polished establishment were occupied by customers slid low on greasy benches, red-rimmed eyes fixated on mugs of coffee that had been stale before it was brewed, or picked, or grown. Even with his utter lack of interest in human eating habits, Eric could tell that many of the customers probably lived on diets as liquid as his own and just as intoxicating.
The man, the Walker, approached Eric's table without hesitation, sliding into the booth opposite the vampire with the grace of a being who has long known that if the body can't be controlled then the rest of the world is certainly out of the question. "Flesh? What an unexpected choice."
The Walker shrugged, nonchalant. "I couldn't order food if I appeared in the spirit. Unless one of the waitresses happened to be a sensitive." That idea seemed to amuse him. One of the creatures in question made her way over to the booth. She was a woman whose skirt showed purpled veins from a past pregnancy. The features of her face were wet and syrupy, threatening as she nodded along to the Walker's order, to slip right off. "That one had enough trouble as is."
"I am not dangerous to you while you are in the spirit," Eric pointed out. He should have scented weakness, should have sniffed apprehension. But the Walker only smelled of human and of old. He smelled of the world as it had looked before maps and of the rain that had fallen on trees that were seedlings when Christ died.
"Nor I, you. At least, while you're awake." The Walker sipped water from a glass frosted softly with the leavings of dirty rinse water.
Eric didn't miss his meaning. That the Walker, frail and human as he was, considered himself dangerous to a vampire while in the flesh meant that he was either an idiot or he was telling the truth. The end result was the same for Eric either way.
Eric also hadn't missed the look of recognition that sat behind the Walker's eyes, bowing them with suspicion like the warning pressure from a hidden tumor.
"You have misplaced some memories."
That was certainly one way of looking at it. "Misplaced them in a witch's spell, yes."
"What was lost? How long?"
"About a week." A week and a woman. Two women really, but the dead one counted for much less.
"Do you know what happened during that time?"
Eric studied the man's expression. He would have preferred a cunning smirk to blank guilelessness. But the Walker's face was still. Fickle pupils did not dilate to spill into dark irises, mutinous veins did not throb under dark skin or flutter errantly at a temple. "Yes."
The Walker grinned. "An honest vampire?"
"When it suits me."
"There! You did it again!" The Walker laughed outright, an unwelcome sound in this place of pale, watered-down living. "I've known a lot of honest men, Eric Northman, and most of them are dead. But then, you are too, so it's fitting I suppose."
"Jack Smith," he said with an easy nod. "Though if you've heard of me it will be as Jack Walker." There was a hard glint in the man's eye. Or Genocide Jack. Or Jack the UnMaker. Though, these names were only his when his back was turned.
Now Eric knew two things about him. He wondered what the score was.
He'd sent soft inquiries shivering down the web that was his network of associates and underlings. The set of whispered responses pooled into instructions. After several phone calls, a few bribes, and one absolutely necessary carrier pigeon, Eric had expected to have a meeting with a Walker. Just not the Walker. He said as much to Jack.
"We are not so many or so powerful as we once were." There are always golden ages and they are always in the past. "And I haven't met another in a few centuries who would work with a vampire. So you get me." Eric knew from Jacks grin that he was supposed to consider himself lucky.
He considered himself interested. "Excellent."
"What is it you're so keen to remember, Eric?" The Walker rolled his name around his tongue, testing it against the backs of teeth so stainless they'd never make a decent metaphor.
"A war, a murder, and a woman."
The waitress returned with a bottle of blood and a plate of food that all seemed to be various shades of tan punctuated with a spot or two of yellow. "How did you manage to stay alive all these centuries?" Jack unwrapped a bundle of silverware and fastidiously spread a paper napkin across one knee, creating a mocking illusion of class.
If the Walker was going to make the mistake of assuming Eric was honest on general principle, he didn't feel any need to correct the error. "You will see the memories anyway. Correct?"
"If I succeed." Humans didn't wear their hearts on their sleeves as the deliciously absurd expression suggested. They wore them in the muscles around the eyes, in the twists of mouths, in the sets of jaws.
Jack's face was not dressed for doubt..
"Payment." No words minced or wasted.
Jack paused to eat and to think. He chewed and swallowed, seemingly unconcerned with what he was putting into his body. Perhaps that was a consequence of spending so much time outside of it. "A murder, a war, and a woman. All in one week." He chewed and swallowed. "You've killed many, inevitably, in the centuries you've lived. And a week long war that I've never heard of can't have been so epic that you feel a great need to have trophy memories. So I'm going to assume it's the woman that's the crux of the issue." He drained the glass of water and added in a carefully flat voice, "A human woman."
Eric didn't respond since no question had been asked. He didn't even bother to hope that the Walker would misunderstand how odd the circumstances were. The unMaker had walked across every nation of the world and Walked across countless souls. That a vampire might go to any great lengths for the sake of a human woman must be something like the scent of blood on the wind.
Jack seemed to be weighing the question of payment against a forkful of egg yolk. "A favor," he said. "Repaid in kind."
"I will do this for you. I will Walk into you while you sleep and free these memories the witch trapped. I will give you back the murder, the war, and the woman. I will do this thing you could not have done yourself. I will alter your life, for good or ill, as you request. And, one day, you will do the same for me."
The Walker extended his hand in a deliberately human gesture of commitment.
A favor. Not something to be traded lightly like ones and zeroes in a bank account. He thought of Sookie, the lover he didn't know if he had loved.
He'd spent a lot of women trying to forget that he couldn't remember her.
At first, he'd thought it was the missing days that weighed around his neck like a lodestone, taunting him with the heaviness of singularity. For a short while he even felt something like remorse for the lifetimes' worth of memories he'd stolen from humans with a glamorous smile and a glamorous will. He felt something like sympathy for the array of lobotomized morons who couldn't manage to begin a tomorrow since they were missing the starting point of a yesterday.
The hole in his memory was anything but. It was two minutes stitched together with impeccable finesse, glossed together so deftly with gossamer thread, that he wouldn't have known the patterns didn't match up if someone hadn't pointed it out. If it hadn't been for the setting, a business meeting to an age-stained bedroom, if it hadn't been for incongruous points in space, he wouldn't have recognized the incongruous points in time.
His memory was a thing of neurons and magic. A reel of film a thousand years in the making. It was a masterpiece, honest, unedited, complete... but for one tiny blip, one cigarette burn that could be blinked over and missed. But did the blink miss a beige shot of a cinderblock hallway or did it miss the moment a point of matter exploded into a universe? Was it nothing or something? Something or everything?
And what about her?
When Sookie had asked him for a favor, he knew the Fates had apologized. Those three relentless ladies who'd spun, woven, cut too soon, and then spun frayed ends to hide the mistake had delivered up Mickey as penitence for the wrong they'd done him. He would get back what was his for the price of a disobedient vampire.
Learning what he had done should have been enough. The what should have supplied the why. But Eric was not in the habit of lying to himself. He had not a clue who he had been under the centuries of cunning that had become indistinguishable from instinct.
The idea that he'd spent time as someone he didn't know ate away at him. The fact that he'd spent it with her, that he'd offered to remain ignorant and powerless to stay with her....
He'd wasted weeks thinking the problem over in his head. When the weeks turned to months it was more correct to call it 'obsessing.' His mind was both things. The unstoppable force and the immovable object.
Pam had grown amused when he stopped showing any particular interest in the parade of flesh that passed eagerly before him at Fangtasia. In truth, he felt a troubling aversion to the myriad women who sought his company. Honey and charcoal and burnt cedar they were, rounded and smooth and sanguine. But his hand raised to banish them all with a flick of his fingers. It was as if his body wanted to retain her memory since his mind had failed utterly to do so.
Pam chuckled in the corner and he turned his hand, inverting his desires to beckon them closer instead, virgin, wife, whore, maiden, mother, crone, one and all. In his own way he was being faithful to his willful little telepath. She'd expect nothing less of him and she did so love to be right.
Pam had grown concerned when he stepped back from vampire plots and intrigues. When he stopped seeking advantages, she stopped laughing. When he stopped seeking secrets, she stopped smiling.
He read every spell in Hallow's library. He arranged conversations with witches, conversations of the pleasant and the not so pleasant kinds.
Pam consulted an advice columnist.
Eric looked for a Walker.
Now he'd found one.
Eric took Jack Walker's hand, clasping fingers that were strong and oh-so-breakable. "Agreed."