Not much in the way of plot development, but hopefully ya'll don't mind. I swear next chapter, stuff actually happens. Felt like these two needed a bit more recovery time...and a few more complications 0:)

It was dank and cool in the cellar and smelled like warm earth. I'd panicked earlier when the sky had turned from black to violet, afraid to be separated from Eric so soon. But my fears were unfounded. Once it was clear that dawn was inevitable, he simply wrapped my naked body in a blanket and shamelessly carried me outside and around the side of the house and into the cellar. Once we were locked in below ground, it was impossible to tell what time of day it was.

It had been a long night for both of us, for many reasons, and we were both ready to drop. But not alone. Before he died for the day, Eric pulled together a few old trunks and boxes that had been stored down there. After some digging, I found an old quilt buried in an ancient suitcase that was still in good shape, so I spread it on top of the makeshift bed. Eric smirked a little and tried to tell me that it wasn't necessary, but I ignored him. I even found a pillow for him to use.

With the "bed" made, Eric sat down and beckoned for me to join him. I went over, allowing myself to be pulled onto his lap and then worn like a blanket. He laid back on the pillow and held me to his chest, our legs entangled while I reached down and pulled a real blanket over both of us. A few seconds later, each of us was unconscious, safe and peaceful for the entire day.

There were no nightmares or interruptions, just rest and calm.

Despite my exhaustion, I still woke up before Eric, just before sunset. The entrance to the cellar was on the western side of the house, and the thin warped wood of the cellar door was creating its own kind of magic. Soft, orange light cast a strange glow on the space, and the ever-present cloud of dust and thick air picked up the light. It must have been dilute enough to not have an effect on Eric, but somehow still cast him in a golden halo.

Curse or no, he was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.

The jagged edge of his jaw line was softened by a layer of velvet stubble that begged to be stroked. His skin was porcelain and radiant, wrapped perfectly around contours of bone and muscle. His hair had lost all of its structure and framed his face like it was done intentionally. In that moment, he was more boy than man—a seriously twisted version of Peter Pan. One that flew, fought, and drank blood to stay young.

Gradually, the ghostly light faded away, signaling the departure of the day. I placed my chin in the center of his chest, excited for him to come back to life. I wanted to watch it to happen, be the first thing he saw when he opened his eyes.

It wasn't a slow process. One minute, I was lying on top of a dead body, the next his eyes were open and he was ready to go. My blood had done its job.

"Good morning to you." I smiled up at him.

His eyes went right to the two small scabs on my neck. "Have you been awake long?"

"Not really."

Two strong hands came around my waist and pulled me up to eye level, where I proceeded to tuck my head into the hollow between his neck and shoulder. Once I was settled, his arms came around me like a shawl.

"How are you feeling?"

I closed my eyes and enjoyed the sensation of his fingers brushing through my hair. "Fine. A little sluggish, but nothing too bad."

Eric frowned. "I shouldn't have fed from you last night."

"Well you did," I said annoyed that he was still upset about that. "No use whining about something you can't change."

But he wasn't going to be swayed. "It won't happen again."

"I liked it," I argued. "I like taking care of you."

Eric didn't respond, and I didn't push the issue any more. Instead, we were both quiet, neither of us compelled to leave the cellar or even get off the less-than-comfortable bed.

I drew invisible patterns on his chest and shoulders, fascinated by the sensation of his skin against my fingertips. Cool and soft—a thin layer of ilk wrapped around steel and cold strength. He was capable of so much destruction, but right now, in his arms, he was nothing but gentle.

"Did Sophie-Anne treat you well?"

I rolled over a little and rested my chin on his chest so I could see his face. "I guess, yeah. As well as I could be."

He was silent for a moment, rolling my words over in his mind, and then gripped my chin, pulling my face to his. He kissed me deeply, engulfing me. It wasn't until after he pulled away that I realized he'd rolled us over and was now nestled comfortably between my legs.

"That won't happen again, either. I will not allow us to be separated."

I tried, but I couldn't find the comfort in his words. He'd promised the exact same thing on our way to New Orleans, promised to keep me safe and with him, and we'd been ripped apart as easily as rented fabric, leaving me exposed to Bill for far too long. The memory of what happened in that study brought bile crawling up my throat.

"What is it?" Eric asked. "Something's wrong."

"It's nothing." I turned my face away from his, but he quickly brought it back with two fingers.

"Tell me."

The tears were unexpected and just as unwelcome. I tried closing my eyes, but that only made Bill's furious expression as he pushed me up against the mantle clearer, more defined, more real.

"Why are you upset?" Eric asked. There was a tinge of panic in his voice, yet the tears that slipped through the quiet brush of his fingers were caught by his tongue and lips instead.

I was overwhelmed, unable to deal with the fear or uncertainty any more. It was too much. Lately it seemed like every time I left my house—or anywhere I felt safe, for that matter—I wouldn't return for days and always much worse for wear. I was losing myself, disappearing. Already, I didn't recognize myself from a month ago. How long until I lost everything that made me who I was? How long until I forgot Gran and everything she represented?

"I'm scared," I finally choked out.

"Of what?"

"Of everything!" Those two words broke the dam and released a flood. "Of the queen, Lempo, of having no control in my life, of Bill—all of it! My life has changed too much. I have no idea who I am any more."

Eric listened without interruption and tried to comfort me with another kiss, but my heart wasn't in it.

"Most of all," I said when he pulled away, "I'm scared of you. You terrify me more than anything else." The honesty in my confession his me just as hard as it hit Eric. I wasn't aware of how afraid I was of his power over me until I'd actually heard the words.

Eric froze then sat up, taking with him the blanket and its warmth. I was suddenly and completely exposed before him. The cool air coaxed goosebumps from my flesh and made me shiver. I tried to pull my arms and legs into myself, uncomfortable with being so naked and raw before Eric removed the blanket from his shoulders to wrap it around mine. He looked at me.

"I scare you?"

I nodded, pulling the blanket tighter around me, afraid that if I spoke again, I'd end up producing yet another revelation my subconscious wanted me to acknowledge.

Eric stood and came in front of me, kneeling at my feet. "You have nothing to fear from me. You know this. I won't hurt you, and I'd sooner kill Pam than allow us to be separated again."

"Don't say that." My voice had picked up a definite edge. "Last time you said that, I didn't see you for a month. You have no idea what's going to happen to us."

"Sophie-Anne is appeased for now. We have no more enemies. There's nothing to keep us apart."

"Bill," I whispered.

"What about him?" His large hand had started to stroke my thigh, growing a little heavier with each pass. My lips parted, and the anxiety started to drain out of me.

I shook my head, forcing myself to keep focused. "I think he's more dangerous than you realize."

Eric smirked and leaned up to kiss me again. It was short, but devastating, especially when that smirk became a hundred-watt smile. "I'm not worried about Bill."

But the expression on my face must have said more than I realized because that smile quickly fell away, and his amusement became a quiet rage. I could see the storms swirling in his eyes. "What'd he do?"

I couldn't say it, didn't know how to form the words. It wasn't the first time I'd been assaulted or had a man force himself on me—working in a red-neck bar, you got some experience with those kinds of things. But it was the first time the perpetrator had been someone I used to car about. The betrayal still throbbed in my chest like an extra heartbeat.

I could tell the thought of me and Bill was making Eric a little crazy. His eyes were now as sharp as lasers, and his muscles were tense. "Did he hurt you?"

I shrugged, trying to convince myself as much as Eric that it wasn't such a big deal. It didn't work. I couldn't look at him, afraid of his reaction. "He tried."

He snarled and I flinched. Then he began to pace the room like a hungry lion, his fangs hanging low over his lip. It continued for some time. He would cross the length of the cellar in three strides turn around, our eyes would meet for a second, and then he'd cross the room again. There was murder in his eyes—a special kind of darkness—and whenever he looked at me, it became darker still.

Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. "Eric, stop. You're driving me crazy."

He only growled and started to pace harder, if that were possible. Sighing, I pulled the blanket around me and stood up. The room spun slightly—a side effect of the blood loss—but I managed to hold onto my vision. Once I was sure I wasn't going to pass out, I stepped in front of Eric's path.

He stopped when he reached me, though I could see he wasn't any calmer. I reached up and grabbed his face with both hands, forcing him to look at me. "It's over. I'm fine. You need to calm down."

"He needs to pay."

"I'm not arguing, but you need to cut out this murderous rampage shit. It's only going to get us into more trouble. We'll deal with Bill, but we're going to do it the right way."

He stared at me for several seconds, and I made sure not to look away, letting him see that I wasn't broken or willing to give up. Not yet.

"I didn't mean to frighten you." The fist on his right side relaxed into an open palm and caressed the side of my face. I held it there, comforted by the smooth skin, but I didn't say anything else, unsure if there was anything left to say.

"You don't trust me." It wasn't a question.

"It's not that I don't trust you," I said. "I don't trust us. This. Whatever it is." I gestured between us with my free hand. "It's not right. We're too dependent on each other. I can't keep living like this."

An expression fluttered across Eric's face—one I couldn't pin down. But he didn't look any happier when I was done speaking. So I kept going.

"Back in New Orleans I thought I was going to lose my mind. Every day you weren't there just made it a little worse—"

"It wasn't easy for me, either," Eric interrupted.

"It felt like my world was shrinking. There was this tightness in my chest—"

"—Like any minute my heart would stop beating."

We spoke the same words at the same time.

I looked at him again, wondering how on earth he knew what it was like to have a heartbeat, but the expression on his face said it all. He was the only one who knew what the past month had been like for me. He knew exactly what it was like because he had been subjected to the same kind of torture.

The blanket slipped off my back and onto the floor, but I didn't care. I reached for Eric, who didn't hesitate to pull me into his chest. My head tilted back as far as it would go and I yanked his face down to mine. The instant our mouths met, a deep heat flooded through my body all the way to my toes.

His tongue swirled around mine, and his arms pulled me ever closer. Sparks flew from my skin every time he touched me, each one a kiss of electricity. Eric didn't fight me as I pulled him to the floor and then climbed into his lap as fast as I could.

My hips gyrated against his arousal with a mind of their own, desperate to feel his own friction deep inside.

"Please," I whispered into his mouth.

He blew a cool, sweet breath on my face then laid me back on the dirt floor. My heart rate tripled when I saw the flash in his eyes. The breaking point had finally been reached.

I was flat on my back once again, with Eric kneeling between my legs. His hands were on either side of my face, buried in the loose dirt. When his lips met mine yet again, I felt like I was levitating off the floor. As his mouth moved down to explore the rest of my body, the only sounds that registered were my moans and his growls of pleasure. Each place he touched brought forth a different noise from each of us, almost like we were writing a song. Then, once he reached the apex of my thighs, he showed me all the satisfaction I was craving and then some.

It was hours and about five orgasms between us before we finally came up for air.

I gasped, incapable of making any noise at all, as the tentacles of the latest—and greatestO-moment slid out of my veins like hot grease. My entire body was humming, still dangerously close to that edge.

Eric chuckled, then rolled over me, so close our lips were almost touched. "You have no idea how much I missed seeing you in the throes of passion, lover."

All I could do was squeak as his hand ghosted down my side then over my belly, his touch instigating another stampede of muscle spasms. Aftershocks kept sweeping through me, and my breath trembled in my chest. My entire body was still heaving, unable to remove itself from the brink of pleasure no matter how many times it washed over me.

"You're going to make me scream," I said, my voice heavy with lust and hunger.

His hands moved lower still. "Do it," he growled. "Scream for me."

When his fingers plunged deep into my center, I did just that. And then the world promptly went black.


The first thing I saw when I woke up was Eric's eyes, mere inches above mine. They flashed between emotions of relief, concern, and anger.

"Are you alright?"

"Mmm," I smiled when I remembered exactly what had caused me to lose consciousness. "Other than the fact that all my bones are now made of Jell-O, you bet."

But Eric wasn't smiling. "You were right to be afraid of me. Look how easily I lose control."

"Are you being serious right now?" I propped my head up on my hand, only just then realizing that we were no longer in the cellar, but inside my bedroom, in my bed, instead. Boy, I really must have been out cold for him to move me so far without waking me up.

When Eric still didn't respond, I continued. "Believe me, I'm pretty sure lots of girls would pay whole boatloads of money to be fucked unconscious, and we didn't even—" I slapped a hand over my mouth as soon as I realized what I was saying, turning as red as a ripe apple.

That managed to persuade a smile from his face, and I watched as the concern in his eyes quickly turned to mischief. "Oh, Sookie, don't you worry." His voice was a dangerous purr, and so full of promise. "When I do fuck you, you'll be wide awake and screaming with pleasure the entire time."

I shivered and bit my lip, not trusting myself to speak again. Even lying down, I was still wobbly.

"Now," he said, rolling onto his side, an arm wrapped around me and his body pressed tightly to mine. "You will tell me exactly what happened with Bill."

"Can't we just drop it?" I wasn't exactly thrilled to relive that particular memory when things were so perfect right now. "We know he's evil. Why do you need the details?"

"What's that phrase you humans are so fond of?" He thought for a moment. "Ah, yes. Because the devil is in those details." He smiled, pleased with himself for being so hip on human clichés.

"It has to be right now?"

"Yes. If you are so concerned about him, then he must be destroyed as soon as possible."

I sighed then rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling, no idea where to begin. He swept up my hand with his own and laced our fingers together.

"Tell me." His lips caressed our knotted extremities.

Knowing that he wouldn't let it go, I gave in and told him what happened in Sophie-Anne's study, leaving nothing out. Eric remained silent throughout my speech, though I could see it wasn't easy for him to do so. His lips grew thinner, and the line between his brows became deeper the longer I went on. I told him how Bill had claimed to still love me, and that everything he was doing was to protect me. About how his entire demeanor had changed after he locked me in the room with him, how he had forced himself on me, threatened me, claimed to have powerful allies. I even told him how Bill had taunted me with the fact that Eric would never have cared about my fate if he weren't so deeply involved himself. Nothing was held back.

Eric's entire body was rigid by the time I was done. "What he said about me not having a choice to protect you is a lie."

I wanted to roll my eyes. Everything I'd just laid before him, and that was how he chose to start off. We had bigger issues to deal with. "I know . . . "

"Sookie," he squeezed my hand, caressing it with his thumb. "I swear it. Even if we weren't cursed, I would have come for you."

My heart lurched upon seeing the softness in his eyes. So I changed the subject. "Bill has access to the demon realm."

Eric blinked—his version of the "surprised" reaction.

"Sophie-Ann told me. That was how he got to me so fast after I'd escaped. I think demons are those allies he was talking about. He was probably behind the whole Lempo thing, too, though I suspect I wasn't supposed to end up bonded to you." I half-chuckled at that, not sure how else to react. The thought of being stuck like this with Bill was too horrifying even to consider.

"I hadn't considered that." Eric rolled onto his back. "But you're probably right."

His jaw clenched and his cheeks hollowed out. I could actually see the tension in his face. "If he has access to the demon realm, it will take some time to figure out how to get to him. We need to go through different channels."

"He's planning something, Eric. I can feel it."

"Of course he is," he said, gathering me into his arms. My cheek and palm each rested flat on his chest. "We'd be fools not to think so."

"So what are we going to do?"

"Nothing for now," he said after a moment of contemplation. "It's his move. All we can do is be prepared."

Well that was a plan I had no trouble hating. Gran didn't raise me to be the kind of person to sit and wait for things to happen—not under any circumstances. I was proactive, damn it. Eric must have sensed my distaste because he was smiling when I looked up at him.

"I will keep you safe," he said—again. I swear, it was getting harder and harder not to slap him in the face every time I heard that line. "I don't intend to let you out of my arms—let alone my sight. We'll spend one more day here and then return to Fangtasia tomorrow night to start making preparations."

As if to prove his point, Eric's arms tightened around me, and his body curled around mine. It felt too good for words, and I lost the will to argue with him.

After that, we fell into another easy silence for several minutes, each of us tracing the other's various patterns of freckles and contours. But just because we were quiet and in bed together did not mean that my mind was done racing around like a crazy person. Something had been bugging me ever since I returned, ever since Eric reappeared back in my life.

"Now what are you thinking about?"

I took a deep breath, treading carefully. "It's just . . . with Bill having all these connections to the demons—shouldn't we be trying to get rid of this bond?"

Eric became like a statue: stony and silent. But I pressed on.

"It feels like it's just another thing for him to use against us . . ." I searched for holes in my reasoning, but couldn't find any. As far as I could tell, there was no good reason for us to remain bonded any longer. So I couldn't understand why Eric looked like I'd just told him I wanted to join a convent the second all this was over. He should have wanted out of this mess even more than me.

After a heavy silence, he finally said, "You want to be free of me?"

"No! It's not that," I said. "I just . . . I want my life back."

Eric was still a blank, and all I could do was wait for his reaction.

"Did you not just say that Bill had planned to bond you to himself?"

I shrugged. "I assumed he did, but I don't know for sure—"

"He must have had a reason to want that kind of connection with you. Some powerful old magic, perhaps. We can use that to our advantage. Besides, removing our bond, even if we knew how, would leave you open for him to bind to you." Eric's gaze pierced mine, as my brain struggled to keep up with his logic. At first glance, it seemed sound, but there was something below its surface, something frantic.

"Fine," I said. "But then you promise that as soon as this is over with, we figure out how to put things back to normal?"

"I'll make sure things are as they should be."

". . . Which is each of us, back in our respective worlds," I added. I'd had enough experience by now to know vampire rhetoric when I heard it.

Eric hesitated, and then in his next breath confirmed my fears. "You should be with me."

I said nothing for a minute, just sat there, frozen. Then, as much as it killed me to do so, I unwound my fingers from his and sat up in the bed. A large part of me wanted to do exactly what Eric was proposing and just stay with him. Forever. But that had to have been the cursed part of me . . . right? I was so confused. I had no idea which feelings belonged to me and which were being forced into my heart. Unable to handle the chaos in my head, I ran away, slipping into my robe and leaving the room.

My feet brought me straight to the kitchen Eric had built for me. Figured.

It had been a while since I'd last eaten, but I wasn't hungry. I opened the refrigerator more out of curiosity than anything else, and was surprised to see it overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables—emerald lettuce, carrots, peppers, berries. Any piece of produce you could think of was crammed in there somewhere. Eric must have had it stocked for my arrival back home.

I knew it the second he entered the room because the tightness in my chest relaxed like it did whenever he was nearby.

"Here," he said, reaching from behind into the fridge and pulling out a strawberry. My heart pounded as he held the blood-red bud to my lips, my mind racing as it tried to figure out what he was doing. He was patient, holding the berry to my lips while he waited for me to let it in. Slowly, I opened my mouth, bit down, and sucked the sweet juices into my mouth, maintaining eye contact the entire time.

Eric's eyes darkened as some of the juice escaped and dribbled down my chin. I didn't even see his hand move before it swept the drip off my face and into his mouth.

"Now try this."

He lifted the cover of the breadbox on the granite counter next to the fridge, and the aroma of fresh baked bread drifted into the room. Also in the box was a jar of fresh honey. My mouth watered instantly. I watched, suddenly starving, as he tore off a piece of the bread and dipped it into the honey far enough to coat his fingertips with the sticky, sweet goo.

This time there was no hesitation before allowing the food into my mouth. I even made sure to clean his fingers of the honey, smiling when his fangs appeared as I swept my tongue over and around his thumb.

But he made no move other than continuing to fed me various foods from around the kitchen for another half hour, living vicariously through each bite and swallow. I'd reached my limit after several pieces of bread followed by some celery, apples, and even hot peppers. After I'd finished with the pepper, he reached for the freshly cut pineapple, but I shook my head.

"I couldn't eat another bite."

"You are satisfied?" he asked. I nodded. "Then we are even."

"What are you talking about?"

"You fed me last night. Tonight was my turn to feed you." Before I realized what was happening, Eric had clasped my waist and lifted me onto the counter, putting us almost at eye level. His hands moved from my waist to the sides of my face, forcing me to look into his eyes. My legs parted without being told to, allowing Eric to move between them.

"You see? I can take care of you, too."

". . . I can take care of myself."

"No. You're just used to looking after yourself. But you don't have to. Not anymore."

I reached up and clasped his wrist, gently stroking his forearm. "Eric, this is exactly what I'm afraid of. You can't spend all your time watching over me, just like I can't give up everything to be with you. It doesn't work."

"Why not?"

"Because it takes over everything else. How are you supposed to act as Sheriff and take care of all the other vampires if we can't even get out of bed?"

"We'll make it work. You'll come to Fangtasia and stay with me."

I shook my head and fought the army of tears surging against my eyes. ". . . It's too much. You're asking too much."

"I'll be with you," Eric said, dipping his head closer to mine. "You'll never be alone again."

I pictured what my life was like before, without Gran, without my family. Jason had all but disappeared from my life, and even Tara had distanced herself. All I'd had was Bill, and what a great guy he turned out to be. I was alone—unless, of course, I counted Sam. But he was my boss, and had already sacrificed so much to help me. It wasn't fair to him.

Now here was Eric, promising me the world. He was right; if I stayed under the curse with him, I probably wouldn't have to worry about anything ever again. Except losing him. At some point I would have to become a vampire. Dying and sending Eric off into an eternity of insanity was far too selfish.

"We're stronger when we're together," he said, sensing my weakening resolve. "Can't you feel it?"

"It's an illusion, Eric. All anyone has to do is threaten one of us and we're done. Don't you remember anything about what happened with Sophie-Anne?"

He didn't reply, choosing to mash his lips against my own, convincing me with actions rather than words. I couldn't stop my arms from going around him and pulling him even closer to me.

"Stay with me," he whispered after we broke apart. "I won't be without you again."

It was everything I wanted and everything I shouldn't have. I could have a life—and death—beside someone who wanted to be with me forever. Before now, I'd always said no, always put someone else and their happiness in front of me. But I was sick of it. Sick of denying myself happiness because of a couple what-ifs. Maybe it was finally my turn. Maybe we could make it work.

It took awhile, yes, but Eric eventually managed to get me back from the queen. We would adapt. Eric hadn't survived a thousand years for no reason. He knew how to change and grow along with the rest of the world. Who's to say that we couldn't do the same, only this time, together? We were both strong, resourceful intelligent; if anyone were to succeed living with this curse, it would be us.

Eric had proven himself to me again and again. He'd come for me in the Fellowship Church, saved me from Lempo, and figured out how to rescue me from Sophie-Anne. Like it or not, he was the most constant thing in my life right now. Why shouldn't I trust him?

"Okay," I said, pressing my forehead to his. "We'll make it work."

Next up, we get some actual plot development! We get reacquainted with some Pam and Sam, and the Queen returns for an encore performance.

Your thoughts on this chapter and Sookie's *ahem* less than responsible decision are ever so much appreciated