Disclaimer: Characters etc belong to Charlaine Harris. Me? No relation. Also, as some of you who have me on alert may have noticed, I've stayed into Bones-fic lately. The shrink who shows his face here borrows his name from the gent who plays the wonderful Dr. Lance sweets, one John Francis Daley. No relation to that fandom or characters claimed here either.
Note: This story was commissioned by the wonderful nycsnowbird who gave generously to the Support Stacie Auction. She asked me to examine Sookie and Eric's bonding through Eric's eyes and then she gave me free rein.
Thanks! Go to smeadows for encouragement throughout (especially at the beginning), Galla for being a wonderful beta and working out some kinks, and most of all to nyc for the inspiration, support, generosity and for teaching me what an em dash is even if I still don't use them correctly most of the time.
Where I Am
"Mr. Northman, my name is Dr. John Daley."
Daley is a prodigal, and a prodigy, and maybe a prophet.
He is not the very best in his field. Yet.
The doctor contains a multitude of feelings behind his flat affect. He's anxious about the case, eager to find the woman, annoyed about the accommodations. About the vampire sitting across the stainless steel table from him, Daley has no feelings. This Could Change Everything is not an emotion.
To your average person, Daley's goal falls far short of mind-blowing: to write the definitive text on vampire psychology. To your average person, the idea of such a text is mildly interesting. To a true expert in the field, it might just inspire awe.
The vampire is silent. Is silence. He has no reason to fill it or himself with words. Silence amplifies the shuffling evidence of the young doctor's mortality, showcasing every nervous click of his pen, inviting the creak of his chair to echo off the walls. Daley expects this and goes on, "You know the purpose of this inquiry." Daley inclines his head respectfully. Apologetically. He acknowledges that he's about to be redundant. To tell a vampire that which he already knows is boorish and insultingly human. But Daley must strike a balance between vampire etiquette and FBI procedure.
The vampire nods in return. He understands.
"You're here because a person of interest to the FBI, Sookie Stackhouse, has gone missing, and foul play is suspected. Since it is widely known that you were intimately involved with Miss Stackhouse, you are currently the FBI's primary suspect. Mr. Northman, you should be aware that the state requires little evidence to convict a vampire, especially one as old and thus skilled in self-preservation as you are, of kidnapping or murder. When you met with the agent assigned to the case, you insisted that there were mitigating circumstances, correct?"
It is not right to describe the vampire's tone as confident. He speaks as if announcing his own verdict. Not guilty.
Daley doesn't need to look down at his notes to solidify the foreign phrase in his mind. He'd memorized the file on his first read and read it through several times since. "You claim that you and Miss Stackhouse share a blood bond, and that the nature of the bond precludes your ability to harm her."
Daley does not allow his eyes to move sharply but his mind moves behind them. They are speaking of a thing that somehow nullifies part of the vampiric nature. The vampire is uneasy.
"You understand that there is no precedent for your claim?"
The vampire does not respond.
Daley lets himself relax. Marginally. There is no place for soft, friendly psychology in a vampire interrogation. But the minute relaxation might make the conversation easier. It might communicate to the vampire that Daley wants to be on his side. "You're telling us that you willingly entered into a bond, a sort of supernatural contract, with a human that makes it impossible for you to have killed her. As of now, that will not stand up in this investigation. Not unless you can explain the circumstances of the bonding to me, not unless you can explain the nature of the bond. Not unless you can convince me."
Several minutes pass before the vampire stirs, before one of the hands resting on the table top curls into a fist.
Daley waits patiently. He is young enough (twenty-four) that the few years he's spent studying vampires seem heavy with time and experience. He is young enough to feel like something of an expatriate of his own race. He is young enough that he feels as infinite as Eric Northman.
He is also smart enough to know better.
The vampire releases the fist and turns his palm open and upward, fingers rounded in repose as if they're cupping the edges of a soap bubble. "You are very eager." The next to worst thing is that he almost adds 'human.' "You've made your life a study of my kind." The worst thing is Daley's relief that he doesn't. It is the opposite of optimal for a psychologist to seek approval from a suspect.
Sometimes the vastness of what he's attempting comes crashing down on John Daley. Sometimes he's fully aware that being a mover and a shaker means taking wind sprints and getting flung-the-fuck-about.
Eric Northman speaks in weights and measures. Study is heavy with threat. Life, light and ephemeral. Daley's eyes flick to the one-way mirror. It's a window from the other side, and anyone who's seen a crime procedural knows that.
The agents behind the glass are nervous. In all likelihood, at least one is standing with a taser (less threatening than a stake, more effective than a gun) in hand, ready to turn it over to the care of the foolish boy when he wises up. Precaution #1: An intent vampire can drain a human body of blood in less than fifteen seconds. Tasers have become standard issue for all FBI personnel.
Daley looks respectfully at Eric's chest. There are no bluffs when it comes to vampires. He's not nearly stupid enough to meet Eric's eyes. "I have," he admits. "But I've never seen this."
The vampire's smile is not surprised. He's seen more empires die than he's seen blood bonds. "If I tell the tale, you can guarantee my release?"
"Yes," Daley assures him. One vampire wouldn't think twice about lying to another. Most truths didn't long enough to count for much.
"Then I will tell you," Eric Northman says, simple as that. "And you will understand." There is something in his voice that catches Daley's chin, lifts it to proudly look into the vampire's eyes.
Then he is lost.
It is as impossible to describe what it is to be vampire as it is to describe what it is to exist, to be. I am what I am. To the people of this western society, that puts me on par with gods. I've never had the least desire to speak from incendiary underbrush, but still … they're not wrong.
I know the back alleys of cities that have been lost to time and memory. I know the final confessions, the sounds of ecstasy, the taste of the deaths of countless people. I know every place my blood has ever been.
I know that this boy is more intelligent, more astute, than most humans I have encountered. And so, I have not the faintest idea why he is trusting me. Yet, he behaves differently than most humans. He is trying to understand me on my terms. Naive. Futile. But interesting.
"It's a strange thing," I say to the young psychologist, "waking up, waiting to remember that you love someone."
I'd known since I'd woken up in her house, memory-damaged, we'd been lovers. My scent was all over her. I coated her skin, wrapped the strands of her hair, clung to the backs of her teeth. I was oozing out of her pores. It was …. Well I suppose, to you, it might be as if you walked into someone's house and saw yourself in her family photographs.
He leans forward, already enthralled. I work best off balance.
The boy nods. I am not using my glamor to persuade him, only to be efficient. He has to understand the weight of things, of the history behind us.
It had begun so much earlier than the summit in Rhodes, but that's the only part he's asked about.
The summit was torment. With distance between us, I wanted nothing more than to be rid of the woman. It is usually easy that way between humans and vampires. Humans often fear that their lives will become irrevocably linked with our world, but often as not, we simply fade back into the dark when we are finished with them. Their lives go on in the sun. It's basic geometry. Parallel lines.
But at the summit, she was there every time I turned around, creating angles, courses of inevitable collision … and the tiger's scent was on her.
My scent had faded far beyond even vampire perception by the time of the Rhodes conference. But smelling the shifter on her … as if his scent had been laid over mine, claiming the sacred spaces I'd forgotten … it was maddening. Part of me wanted to rise up, lash out at the damp, feline stink of him.
But it wouldn't do to cause a scene. The summit was of great importance to southern vampire society. Particularly to the ruling regime of Louisiana. The hurricane, Katrina, had been devastating to our numbers, as well as our economic endeavors. My Queen was in a precarious situation. Though she was the rightful ruler of both Louisiana and Arkansas, she'd been accused of murder.
For my Queen, Sookie Stackhouse was a boon. It is nearly impossible for a human to deceive a vampire. Your hearts pump fear at the very thought; it rises and pools in your skin. Your pupils dilate with it. It is no coincidence that a lying human looks, more than ever, like prey.
We understand lies. A vampire will do anything at all to obtain power or to align himself with it. Steal, kill, lie.
But your lies confuse us.
You lie on whims. You lie because of webs of baseless loyalty, paltry affection, inexplicable shame. Gossamer. Lace. And yet, you risk our wrath. You risk your short, pale lives.
It is difficult to know when a vampire is lying. But if you know, you always know two things: the truth and the reason for the lie. The truth is the thing most opposite of what he's said; the reason is that the lie gives him an opportunity for power. But humans, there's no logic to you. You walk around in the daylight, full of your petty machinations, lying and plotting for reasons you don't even understand.
But she does. Sookie knows the lie and the why behind it. With the human and vampire worlds mixed as they are ….
"She is invaluable," the psychologist says. His mind is bare before me. Naked. It stands open like an empty vessel. I could fill it now with anything at all. He'd have accepted it gladly, even before the glamor. He is not here to convict me, but to understand what I am and then set me free.
I am wary. A thousand years old, and I'm only just beginning to think being comprehended is not the same as being imprisoned.
I nod to the young man and then his mind follows my voice to a ballroom in Rhodes. There, my eyes linger on my Queen and Andre and Sookie Stackhouse. Somehow it is always Sookie most of all. Sookie whispers something to my Queen, and there is surprise on Sophie-Anne's face. Surprise in the way she fails to react at all. And then, as if Sookie's whisper had been a command, a call to action, or a plea for help, Andre is by her side, rushing her in human sluggishness toward a door.
The door swings shut behind them, heavy and wooden. Like the lid of a coffin. The raw material of final death.
I know, immediately, that Sookie is not being taken away from danger; she is being brought into it. Because I am already moving. Because Andre is more powerful than I am. Because I intend to oppose him. She is in danger because I am going against my nature, because I am already moving, because she is being brought straight to me.
The summit has been a study in vampire politics, in manipulation, deceit, and flattery. The pieces move in complicated patterns, shifting, sliding, capturing one another. But it's a game, and I know the rules. All along, I've known the next move of any given person in a room. Except for now. Except for me.
She's changed the game. She's changed the rules. She's made me a wild card.
I am reduced to action without thought. I am my own failsafe, moving toward her, moving before I've realized it. Moving. Moving.
Andre fills my vision, wrist dripping ancient blood as he holds it out to Sookie, and I freeze like a human staring down the barrel of a gun. Behind the wiles of vampire politics, the feints and baits, our actions are very simple. If you can't fight it or feed from it, it must be submitted to, mollified until a better opportunity arises.
It makes no sense at all for me to face down impossible odds. I have all the time in the world. Time to wait for favorable circumstances. Time to wait for the planets to align.
Sookie's eyes are fierce and desperate. My blood pumps furiously through her vessels, every drop passing through the circuit twice in a single minute. Her instincts rise up in me but here, now, instinct is wrong. If we run, we will be caught. If we fight, we will lose.
But her eyes are begging. Her blood is pumping.
I have all the time in the world.
But this is her world. And it is about to end. He will have her in a way that Bill never did. In a way that Quinn never can. He will not love her, he will colonize her. He will re-create her in the image of death. He'll make her the one thing she never wanted to be and convince her she's better that way.
And he will not care. He will not care that she bore a maenad's mark or took a stake for a vampire. He will not care that flower arrangements make her blush or that she can fire a shotgun. He will not care that when she could have had anything, what she really wanted was a driveway. He will not care that the last thing she wants is immortality.
And those things should matter. Sookie should matter. Because she does. Matter.
The planets are not in alignment. I do not know the next move. Until I speak, I do not even know the move is mine. "Andre. Why are you doing this?" I am not myself. I already know this answer.
"Andre, let me offer a suggestion." Something is wrong. I am not myself now. I am not a vampire. Were I to let the situation progress, I would be free of her. Andre's blood would drown out my own, owning her like the scent of damp, feline fur. It would hardly matter that she was his, because I would be my own again.
"She must be kept happy, or she won't cooperate anymore."
I am explaining to Andre that Sookie and I had exchanged blood in the past, been lovers. I am reminding him of my oath to the Queen of Louisiana, offering to wear this chain to the human world.
And so he is suspicious. He wonders what power I seek and how the girl is a step toward it. He doesn't understand that, for the moment, I am not, cannot be, a vampire. Because I do not want power. I want her.
Andre is consenting, asking if she's responded to my call, if I've tasted that power. "Yes, she heels nicely," I lie.
Sookie is not a liar, but she ducks her head and lets the lie stand. She is too terrified for truth.
Andre demands the exchange take place here and now.
There is a taste in my mouth. It is not quite the same as victory.
It does not escape my notice that I am still wearing marriage vestments. That the air should be heavy with symbolism and meaning. But the robe only punctuates that which is missing. The planets are not aligned. The air is heavy with fear.
Not all of it is hers.
"Sookie," I say. And in my voice is something I did not expect. Hope. Hope that she will understand that it was not supposed to be this way, but that this way might still be best.
Hope. My brow furrows with it, bends around the foreign feeling. I do not hope. I plan.
"Eric," she says and it has already begun.
Her head rolls to the side and I feel the motion of it in my legs that step forward, in my arms that raise the cloak. "Eric, no sex," she says absurdly in a vestigial voice, a last remnant of who she was before.
Her arms hold me as my fangs hold her. She gasps with pain, and my own arms stroke her back, reassuring her. This is right, I want to tell her. There is always pain. You must be torn open before you can be stitched back together.
The vessel in her neck pulses strongly and blood fills my mouth. Already it is different. Already I know, I am not taking; she is giving.
I am anxious to complete the exchange, and when my wrist proves inconvenient, she opens my shirt. I cut myself without hesitation. It is my turn to give.
It is the knife from the ceremony that I use to break my skin. Were Andre to see that, it would put him further at ease. Though the true bond will be one of magic, we will be bound by vampire law as well. Only for one hundred years. Only for the rest of her life.
I think, fleetingly, this is the best I can do for her but she deserves better than this. She deserves better than a hallway, better than a wedding she doesn't even know about. At least the knife lends a certain air of ceremony. At least the wedding saves her life.
Her lips slide over my skin, warm, and pull at the wound. My blood knows her. It flows into her slowly, but still, I do not have time to prepare.
I feel as if I am expanding, finally, for the first time, inhabiting every inch of my skin. There is exultation in my ears, a humming, high pitch of ecstasy. We are, she and I, in this moment, what we are meant to be. Sufficient to one another. We are, neither of us, predator nor prey, neither of us parasitic. We are life growing from life. We are abundance, beauty, divinity. We are ….
The sun bursts behind my eyes.
We are something new.
Sookie is speaking, saying something to Andre. I cannot hear a word of it, until the end. I am still too full of her. "Eric, thank you for making that as pleasant for me as you could."
There isn't much in the way of gratitude in her voice. She is too young yet to recognize miracles.
"Oh, no problem." I am leaning against a wall. It takes me a moment to realize she's left. It seems like she might be just a step away.
The tiger is in the hallway, I notice, when I can smell something besides her. I shake my head, forcing myself back into their world which is no longer ours. Quinn, I suspect, is here to make a point. I wonder when he arrived.
"You will explain yourself, Northman," he says heatedly, standing close, looming large. "You will explain yourself and what you have done to my woman. And then you'll answer to me."
The smell of cat grows stronger, and a pattern is showing itself on the shifter's skin. His meaning is clear, and I don't back down from a fight. But I have somewhere to be.
"Love to," I say, turning my back on him. "But I just don't have the time."
There is somewhere I want to be. Somewhere. I don't know … I can't name it.
My feet are moving. I want to be somewhere. I am already moving when I realize I don't know … I want to be somewhere. I want to be where she is.
Daley blinks and licks his lips. He feels dry, drained. He feels cut off from … something. He clears his throat. He feels very young.
"You are free to go," he says.
The vampire nods. There is no disbelief on his face. It is as it should be.
Daley remains seated, only nodding once to the agents behind the glass. He sits feeling very young, feeling very grateful.
He came here today hoping to hear something amazing. He did not come here expecting to touch perfection. So he just sits, feeling very young. Because he is. Very young. But he's old enough to know when he's gotten a glimpse of the face of God.
Later he tells the FBI that the vampire could not have harmed, let alone killed, Sookie Stackhouse. He assures then that the nature of the bond precludes it.
He does not tell them that there is a very simple way to find her:
He does not tell them that where the woman is, the vampire will surely be.