Disclaimer: See part 1
Note: I can honestly say I've never had more difficulty writing anything. Ever. I know I said in the last part that we would switch back to Eric's perspective. It didn't really write itself that way so we're hopscotching. Also, we're going present tense. Apologies to all my English teachers. Apologies, also, if this comes off less as a style and more as a fever chart. Also, I didn't write 'the end' but, in case your wondering, this is in fact the end.
The grains of sand shift and slip and slide into place. They trickle relentlessly through his fingers. Bare feet bleeding slides over road maps around a love-made quilt through a piggy-back forest. They pile up, the foundations of the skyline of yesterday, implacably growing skyscrapers flirting with a fault line. Shiver. Shiver. Drop an inch. Settle into the self. Settle around a shotgun shell.
Things can change in an evening. In a moment.
Bricks and beams fall from the lacy holes in the sky. Poorly cut denim upon curdled cream magic upon sun-worshipped skin all skating around the oil-spill black of a bloodied floor. Over all hangs the hint of roots running deep and that barely there smell like the lingering scent of a fairy, newly gone out of the world.
Tumble, stumble, slide. Witches, Weres, and women. A Halloween dream on January nights.
When the last grain falls there is no seam to stitch. Nowhere to rip or hold. The memories have not shrunk like grafted skin. They've joined together like drops of water. A reflecting pool, throwing back the starry sky so that heaven is laid out at his feet.
He tests his broken memory and finds it is, has always been, whole. He stuns himself against its solidity. When he comes to, his head is in his hands and she is on the air. His voice is the first thing to find its way back to the present. "Being here on your bed, smelling your scent, Sookie... I remember everything."
The vampire is old. Jack waits until the sun is thoroughly risen over the world to be sure that Eric is thoroughly dead to it.
A sleeping vampire is an open book. It is the easiest thing in the world for Jack to write himself into the pages. Jack amuses himself thinking that the Walk into the vampire's soul should be accompanied by torrents of blood and ash, the landscape should be sown with salt, and the soundtrack should be pipe organed in. Instead, it is like walking into spring.
He Walks along the stepping-stone spine of Eric's spirit. Like dissolving into like. The tug of the soul is great, even from far off. Pulled forward, his feet dig furrows in the ground, cleaving the dust of stars and memories.
The soul of the vampire is a fearsome thing to behold.
The word old is worthless. Bright is irrelevant. But Jack recognizes it, has seen it before, and that might have something to do with everything.
In his own oldest memories, a woman who is his reflection tries to teach Jack the language of souls. But the words are so fine that they slip through the atoms of him, only a handful chancing to glance against a quark or two and stick.
He calls up the few words that remain with him- that remain with the world. To the soul he whispers greeting. He whispers comfort. He whispers a phrase with no meaning except that it is a question.
The soul smiles at the oddity of a chance meeting with a wandering spirit and and invites him to observe its stars.
"Your queen is dead, Viking." Victor's voice is just light enough to keep the sentence from sounding entirely like the last words in a televised serial drama before a commercial break. Despite the lightness of tone, Victor's diction is carefully selected for gravity. It is an ill-concealed attempt to conjure absent depth and rise primal loyalty.
Humans and vampires, both, always seem fascinated by his background. Viking, they call him. Your queen is dead, Viking. As if the anachronism lends greater impact. He wonders what Victor knows about who his people were. Does he know that every captain was a king on his own ship and visiting chieftains were only so many extra sailors?
The scene progresses down the path of destiny, shutting doors as it passes, until it channels itself into the path of a bloodless coup d'etat. "Why am I alive, of all the sheriffs?"
Victor lists his qualifications. Eric is being traded like a star athlete. Only, his life is up for grabs in the contract negotiation. His life and the lives of the others. He believes those are called 'signing bonuses.'
They are sitting in Sookie's living room discussing the end of an era. The humans are tense. Victor's gentility competes with their heartbeats. Tip of the hat versus tribal drums. Their spiking blood pressures are a thrumming thrilling baseline.
When Eric smashes Sookie's phone, she clamps down on panic, squashing it between anger and hatred. Her jaw sets and wildness leaks from the whites of her eyes, leaving far too much blue. She will live through this surely- if only she can orchestrate a perfect breakdown of the fight or flight response.
But Bill still threatens and promises and offers to die. "Can you say the same?"
Eric looks past Victor to the fireplace. His mind answers for him, quietly offering up a newly-old memory. Sookie by the fire, ruddy-skinned in the heat, looking at him like he's the only other person in the world.
Bill can kill and die for whomever he likes. He is a free agent.
For Eric there is Fangtasia. There are the vampires under his protection. There is Pam. There is Sookie.
Things can change in a moment.
Eric's going to be sure to make it out alive.
The words of memory fall easily from Jack's lips and the youngest-oldest memories present themselves for inspection, falling like morning stars from the not-quite-sky. These memories are shy and light-sensitive. They don't visit the too-bright soul often, perhaps only when it is, as now, shrouded in dreams.
Jack peers into their depths and sees something perfectly ordinary in every way. He sees the sound of shared heartbeats and the taste of milk yet to come. He floats in an inside sea. When the tide goes out there is confusion. Sounds take on their ordinary sharpness. The world goes from dark to light, a perfectly ordinary labor, a perfectly ordinary tribute to the creation of the world. Yes, Eric's birth is perfectly ordinary in every way. Except that it happened.
The young memories pull each other along before Jack by hooked pinky fingers. They parade before him in perfect formation, showing no unexpected gaps in the line, singing his life in shrill-remembered voices.
Eric watches the world stay the same through changing eyes. It grows with him, a thing to be wrestled like an always older brother.
When the brother dies, wrestled down by another, the world survives. Eric takes his brother's wife. The world steps into his brother's shoes.
He arrives, like the calvary over the hill, swinging into action, maybe turning the tide. He makes quick work of the house, checking all the doors and windows, too distracted to notice that no inch of the house feels at all like a place he's never been before.
"I'm going to get my shotgun."
Practical as a sound wave, inevitable as cause and effect, her words send a ripple through him, stimulating muscles and movement like an electrical impulse. The end result is this: He reaches into the closet and retrieves the gun.
He meets her eyes and finds that she didn't expect lightning to follow thunder or an apple to feel gravity. She's gotten used to the broken order of things.
The fear in her eyes is the first itch of healing.
The memory is colored with the many shades of pain, all of them dark. So dark that for a moment Jack thinks he has found his goal. The tear in the sequence.
His human memories were like beads on the string of time. They were epic moments crystalized with all the repetitive poetry of day-to-day living fitted formlessly into the spaces between.
Fangs draw deeply. They suck hard at the shape of him, removing the parameters. Breath. Warmth. Death.
The life afterwards is un-life. The memories after are mundanely perfect. They hold whole lifetimes in prefect recollection. They recall people and places that the world has forgotten like an eidetic mind's memory of movie credits.
The present catches up with him and shakes him, threatening to snap his neck. Three sheriff's called, three voice mails reached. Sophie Anne LeClerq's personal number is not in his phone's memory, only his. After he makes the call, he'll have to destroy the phone.
After four rings, the queen's voice mail greets him with nothing but a repetition of the number he dialed. Perhaps he won't have to buy a new phone after all.
Eric's mind races ahead, plucking possible aggressors out of the the long line up of dangerous creatures in his memory. In modern warfare, an army's first move is to cut off the enemy's ability to communicate. But his kind cannot afford to take their fights into the mainstream sight of modernity. They are the subjects of kingdoms inside an empire that has never loved kings.
A felled cell phone tower is much more noticeable than a handful of dead undead. So the attackers were working by the old methods. Instead of striking at communications, they struck down the communicators.
Instinct and logic conspire. Go to ground.
But he's been drudging the sinkhole spot of a missing past and the enemy will be a step ahead. When the quarry goes to ground, leave no ground to go to.
He calls his child and as they speak of countermeasures. He is secure in the knowledge that he can be in two places at once. He totals his worldly assets. Fangtasia is a fortress without walls or a moat. It has Pam. It will have to be enough.
As to the other.... If he goes to ground, his enemies will raze Fangtasia to flush him out. He can't see why they'd regard her any differently. They'll wait for her in the night, lurking in the shadows of her life. This time no one will be there to take the bullet.
Eric's old life clings to him for a time like the skin of a snake shed too soon. Jack watches it catch on familiar debris. The mast of a ship. His wife's quick smile. The weight of his son in his arms. It tears at him. All the worse because it is tearing loose and he can finally see what he is underneath.
He despises the new hunger that rides his body. It's not the tooth-grinding void of an empty belly that seems to burst as bubbles of pressure in the ears. Instead it is fullness, fullness of pain that can be only be drown in a bellyful of scarlet.
Jack Walks behind Eric, quick-stepping through time and space. Eric and Occella visit every country on the map. They visit places and thirst after people who have yet to fall under the hard rule of pen and ink. Appius distracts Eric with newness. The Roman lets his child lose himself in flesh and blood and conquest. Then he pulls him back so he can find himself unchanged.
Jack looks on an Eric slick with someone else's blood and someone else's sweat. Someone else's by-products of being alive. That is not for Eric anymore. He will not drip evidence of his vitality out on the world. Vigor will not drain from him like sap from a gauged tree. When he died, he was in the high summer of his life. The summer will last lifetimes. He will never see autumn.
Eric laps up the blood to discover a better version of himself. He laughs at what he had been hiding all along.
Eric contemplates flavors of betrayal. Surely an unfilled promise is less bitter than a stake to the heart. The past few hours have been an exercise in futility. At least he slept through them. He thinks about finding Jack Walker and sewing him up as a scarecrow, the memory of which will live in the minds of his enemies longer than the Walker traversed the Earth.
Jack has failed to change Eric's life but Eric will keep his promise to change Jack's.
In the meantime, Eric has other promises to keep. He reads the time from an electronic display since the thick-paned glass has frosted over the stars. It is another fine night after another wasted day. That a past he cannot remember has a hold on him cannot matter now. He has calls to make.
Jack watches the centuries of Eric's life pass.
Though the vampire's tastes tend toward adventure, slaughter and sex, he is not barbaric in his pursuits. He had been a man who had never relinquished a child's wholeheartedly foolish commitment to living. Death hadn't be able to change that. His life refuses to round out. It won't follow an elliptical path to an inevitable end. It never flickers like candle flame. When he burns through the fuel of one where-when there is always more to follow.
The Walker watches for a snag, a glitch in the procession of wars and women. A meet-cute for the history books. He pages through memories of gore and girls. He flips so fast he almost misses her. She begins before he notices. Before either of them notice.
Eric has an insatiable appetite for the unfamiliar. The mild interest that colors his first memories of Sookie Stackhouse is an unremarkable, muddled color on the palette of his life like a confused mix between an attractive woman and a new food group.
Jack watches her collect adjectives. Useful. Stubborn. Desirable. Frustrating. Naïve. Brave. Foolish. Confident... Jack half expects her to turn about and spit in the vampire's eyes just so he'll stop describing her.
Except that would be rude.
Jack watches him want her. He always wants them. He may be best at pride but lust is his sin of choice. He likes to convince them that they want to give him what they don't want him to have. Her attraction is in the things he can take from her. Her rare modesty and far rarer loyalty. Her poverty. Her innocence. He doesn't want to meditate on her being, he doesn't want to feel anything for her. He wants to shatter her and he wants her to want him to do it.
The memories slip and flow under Jack's voice.
Sookie offers only the Other Things to Eric. She bargains with her time and her telepathy, holding the gifts out on flat palms, hoping he will take them without touching her.
When change comes about, Eric is vexed that is not the one to cause it. She trusts Eric a little more only because she loves Bill a little less. Eric is amused by his own annoyance. If he has grown invested, the fault must lie with her.
Eric enters a window and sees her with a Were. The Were is like her, hot-blooded and burnt brown from the sun. He witnesses their easy exchanges of troubled glances and loud whispers. He imagines them moving in concert, moving a body, through a drudged up memory of daylight.
The memory is tinged, ever so faintly, with envy.
Jack wonders what it is about Sookie and the Were that gives Eric pause. Is this the inevitable moment when he realizes she has a whole other life that has nothing to do with him? Does he see that her lips part differently, smile just as easily, with someone else? Does he see that she, around him, is what he makes her? Is this the first time he wants her to be free?
But this is not the hour in which things change.
Jack watches a stake slide into Sookie's side, brutally cleaving not-yet-dead flesh. Her blood on the floor pulls at Eric so strongly that Jack almost expects the memory to rewrite itself so that he might lap up the erotically pooling life. When Eric catches her eye, he can see that she expects him to do it. It. He will drain her dry on the club floor or leave her behind to be torn to shreds.
Two roads diverge in a bloody wood.
Instead Eric defies her, he becomes someone she doesn't expect. He carries her from the club. He holds her close in all her gory glory. When it is time to remove the stake, she will concede only to give him only the smallest fraction of her pain. Red-gripped half- moon fingernail marks.
She screams and screams and then looks into his eyes. The world shrinks down the wrong end of a telescope, collapsing into a tiny seed of what they were ready to explode into are. In that moment, that single point of potential, things teeter on the edge of change. Like so many things, what they might be is born in the stench of blood and pain.
He sees things he never saw before. Simple things. He sees that her hair is the color of corn and curls at the ends. He sees that her hands are strong enough to mark him. He sees that she has things he cannot take. Perhaps most importantly, he sees that she sees too. She sees that trusting him more has nothing to do with loving Bill a little less. She knows that she can no longer offer pieces of herself on flattened palms because what they were has grown small now and he'll accept nothing less than all of her.
There are no new adjectives to add but everything is different. The history of their two races second guesses itself. The rules for what they can be to each other become unclear. The new knowledge burns into them cleanly, settling, a stake-shaped hole in who they thought they were.
Things can change in a moment. But that doesn't mean they change forever.
She sleeps. When she wakes the instant is long passed. The instant that did not equal infinity.
Jack watches them carry on as before. They desire and despise. They rescue Bill who is loved a little less. They drive through a convenience store hold up and two fools with silver nets. They laugh. The stake-shaped hole heals. He carries on. So does she.
When Jack finds the mistake it only because he has learned the rhythm of Eric's life well enough to miss the single, dropped beat. The spell left no footprints, it caused no ripples, its reflection is nowhere to be seen in all the mirrors of memory. Jack talks apart two fused memories, two tiny moments had been told they were twins. That they look nothing alike has escaped their attention.
With the feel of the jagged edges of the not-twins memories as his guide, Jack seeks what is left of the spell. He finds it cast adrift from the soul like a discarded satellite, crumpled and shining like a battered paper crane. He speaks to the memories trapped inside, standing forlornly on a bridge to nowhere. The milling wasps of memory hear him and sting, tearing the crumpled crane, helping it to evolve from clumsily folded paper to delicately chewed lace.
He makes their acquaintance as they trickle forth, orphaned memories of a thousand-year old mind. He tells them of a barely-there snag. He wonders if they'll sting open a stake-shaped hole.
He has little to tell Pam when he calls except that everything is as it was. The world is the same one he closed his eyes upon. He is still in it.
The memories fall into place messily. They fall between the curved lines of a parentheses. Jack wonders if this is what Eric was really looking for. Things do not begin inside parentheses.
The sun sets. Eric wakes. The Walker is gone.