Thanks so much for all the review/alert/favorite love! They're more awesome than the cheese Ritz Bitz sandwiches!
Death was quiet, simple, peaceful. I felt warm and safe and so blissfully disconnected. Like a bird that had just caught a good gust of air and was soaring up, up, up for no other reason that for the sheer thrill of it.
There was no pain, no stress, no worry. This must be heaven.
I was happy, thinking of nothing but the warmth in my bones and the missing tension in my chest. I had no heartbeat, but my entire being was pulsing with life. It would have been perfect were it not for the gnawing within my gut.
My stomach had started twisting in knots, just short of caving in on itself. It was an empty cavern, with echoes reverberating down to my fingernails. But I couldn't understand why. I thought that once I'd joined the ether, become one of the many, all those human needs were forgotten.
I don't know how much time had passed but the hunger continued to grow worse, spilling over into my veins and coating my bloodstream. If I didn't eat something soon, I was liable to implode.
But there was no light, let alone anything remotely edible in the sea of nothing where I was currently residing. I had no idea how long I'd been there, but it seemed like my time was coming to an end . . . again.
Along with the empty pangs came a growing sense of awareness. I was surfacing, rising quickly from the depths, and every inch I progressed, my hunger increased tenfold.
Waves of sensation began to beat at me and force my body to take shape. I became aware of my own physical presence and wasn't just a mass of molecules floating in an ocean of peace. I had a torso, arms, toes, skin, and a cavernous gut aching to be filled. A turtle that just rediscovered her shell.
Awareness continued to pour into me as well as a growing need to eat. It was all I could think about, mutating my new body into a rubber band stretched to the breaking point.
The hunger was what brought me out of death, pulling me back in reality, into life. When I opened my eyes, I was in a warm, dark place, but I had no trouble seeing. Every detail down to the grain on the hardwood floor was as clear to me as if they were lit by florescence. The room was sparse with cozy, dark, rust-colored walls and what might have been mahogany wood.
The next thing I noticed was that I was in a bed. A big one, with mountains of pillows and sheets so soft they could have been cashmere. I tried to remember how I got there, but my memories were a haze. Nothing useful there except a couple flickering lights.
Any clothes I might have been wearing were gone, replaced by a t-shirt that was more than a few sizes too big. I was struck by its smell, how safe it made me feel. I buried my face in the collar and breathed deeply. The result was familiar and strong and comforting. That smell was home.
Movement from the corner of my eye got my attention, and my head twisted in its direction, with my senses turned all the way up.
Eric. The soothing tones of his voice immediately countered the bolt of shock that struck whenever I was startled.
He came to stand in front of me. From my spot on the mattress, I was eye level with his hips as well as the steaming mug in his hand, which carried an aroma that made my stomach roar for attention.
"What is it?" I sat up slowly, a little dizzy from the hunger.
"Just drink it. We'll talk after."
I didn't have the stamina to hold out any longer and took the steaming mug from his hand, sipping carefully. The taste was familiar, not exactly pleasant, but it would do. The liquid coated my throat like maple syrup, and my stomach surged to life, greedily absorbing it into my system. Almost as soon as the cup was empty, so was my stomach.
Eric seemed to sense this and had another cup of the stuff waiting for me, which I sucked down faster than the first. And then again. And again. And one more time.
After the fifth or sixth mug, my body seemed to hum. Finally, it was sated. Every cell was vibrating with life and need, and when I looked up at Eric, my body was hijacked with that other kind of hunger.
I couldn't remember ever wanting someone so badly.
He didn't resist when I pulled his face down to mine and pressed my lips to his, teasing him with my tongue. His skin was warm and soft under my palms, which seemed odd. Before, whenever I touched him, he was cool and solid. More like a statue than a man. This time he felt . . . alive. Real. I wanted more and tugged at his shirt to let him know.
Eric didn't take long to slip out of his clothes and join me in the bed, removing my own shirt as well. As soon as he was next to me, I put my face into the crook of his neck and inhaled. The scent that invaded my body was the one from the shirt only infinitely more potent and exciting. This was where I wanted to be, where I belonged. Eric was my home.
We lost ourselves in each other, getting reacquainted with our bodies. I couldn't remember there ever being a time without him. He was my whole world. But I couldn't shake the feeling that this was a reunion, our first time together after a long separation.
We were rough and we were hard, but it wasn't nearly enough. He was holding back when I wanted him to let loose, to drive into me with everything he had and then some. I wanted him to make me bleed.
I pushed him, trying to tell him what I wanted with my body, meeting each of his thrusts with a strong one of my own. My nails clawed at his back, pulling him into me harder and deeper, but still, he wouldn't give in.
I looked up from below him, his eyes those of stormy seas. Quiet waves of regret and hope beat at me in my chest, and I was overwhelmed with the need to bite him.
So I did.
Just as the first tendrils of climax began to wind through my body, I sprang forward and latched onto his neck. Right where I knew to find the most blood.
His skin provided a slight resistance, but my teeth somehow managed to break through. The instant I felt myself immersed in his life force, felt it spill over into my mouth, I completely lost it, drawing in as much as I could.
He was sheer decadence. Pure power and strength lived inside him, and I took it into me with a hunger stronger than the one I woke with. Everything between my teeth and my toes was on fire, drawing my orgasm out impossibly long.
Eric seemed to lose himself right along with me. The instant I clamped down on his neck, he completely let go and began to pound into me just as I'd wanted. His own orgasm came quickly and loudly as he poured himself into my womb and bit down on my shoulder.
We fed each other for a few extra minutes, giving our bodies time to pull themselves back together.
I didn't notice the two growths protruding from my lips until after I'd pulled away from Eric's neck. My fingers leapt to my mouth and fingered the new additions for several seconds, looking for some way to take them off.
When I looked up at Eric, the regret in his eyes struck me across the face, and the pieces slowly began to come together.
"What did you do?"
He didn't respond right away, only pulled me closer and I clung to his warmth despite myself.
"What is the last thing you remember?" he asked finally.
"Don't play games with me right now, Eric, tell me you didn't turn me—"
He shushed me by placing two fingers against my lips, and I had to fight the urge to bite them off.
"I promise you this is not a game. Now answer the question."
Though I had no clue what memory lane had to do with the two sharp instruments in my mouth, I shoved my anger out of the way and closed my eyes, digging through my head. But it was useless. All I could remember was a vast emptiness and then . . . Eric. He was this roadblock in my memories refusing to let me pass.
"Nothing. Just you." I answered.
"Try harder," he pressed, his long arm squeezing my shoulder tighter. "What's your first memory of me?"
I wracked my mind, pushing aside all the useless information like gardening tips and recipes out of the way to get at the piece he was hinting at. How did I know Eric? When did we meet? He might as well have asked me how many stars littered the sky.
Full minutes of retrospect, and all I had to show for it was a quick flash of Eric caught in a net of all things.
"I remember finding you stuck in a net," I told him. "But what does that have to do with anything? I thought you were going—"
"Not one of my proudest moments, "he interrupted, the fingers of his left hand stroking my temple and tracing my cheekbone. "Do you remember where this was?"
Another full minute of exhaustive mental searching, and I caught an image of a small bar in the middle of the woods. Then, in the next second, I saw it on fire, the wood screaming and snapping as if it were alive, and a wave of panic crashed over me. I was remembering the fire from the inside.
"Merlotte's burned down!"
"What else?" his voice was level and his touch still comforting.
". . . I think I was inside."
I rolled onto my side to be closer to Eric. His eyes were a solid force and I clung to them for support.
He didn't respond to my epiphany, only nodded once and pressed his lips to my forehead.
My voice was as meek as a child's when I found the strength to speak again. "How did I get out?"
Eric kissed me again, his lips fervent and hungry. When he pulled back his eyes were rimmed in red and a single tear had made it halfway down his face. I licked it away, unable to let a drop of blood go to waste. Inside, I shuddered at the inevitable revelation that was barreling toward me.
"You didn't." His tone was sorrowful to match the expression on his face. "I was too late."
I'd heard the words, but it was like they wouldn't fit inside my head. I knew they were true; a part of me had known it as soon as Eric had handed me the mysterious drink. Nothing else had made sense, but I couldn't accept any of it. It went against everything I'd believed in.
"No . . ."
He grabbed my hand and pulled it to his mouth, kissing it. "Yes."
"No . . ." I repeated, pulling my hand away and sitting up and letting the bed sheets fall to my waist. I reached for the discarded t-shirt and pulled it over my head. "No no no no . . ."
"I told you never to turn me! Even if it meant I would die!" I reach over and slapped Eric as hard as I could, momentarily losing track of my anger when I realized I'd hit him hard enough for his head to hit the headboard. He rubbed the side of his face where I struck him but said nothing else.
"You had no right to make that decision for me," I continued once I came to terms with my new strength. "What am I supposed to do now? Be your little lap dog for eternity?"
Before, I had always been "in touch" with my emotions, or at the very least I'd been able to maintain some kind of rational thought, but now, they were careening out of control. I was hysterical, seething, and utterly grateful to be alive in any capacity. It was impossible to process. One minute, I had to fight the urge to break off a bedpost and impale myself on it, and the next, I wanted to throw myself on top of Eric and kiss him until I died of old age.
Eric shifted in the bed beside me, and when I turned to look at him, he was frowning.
"Why did you do this to me?" I asked, my voice deflated like a week-old helium balloon. "You knew what I said and . . . here I am."
His frown grew deeper, and I could see him starting to grow frustrated. Long hair had spilled into his face, and he brushed it aside with a quick jerk of the arm.
"What else do you remember about the night you found me in that net?"
"I'm not doing this again, Eric. If there's something I need to know, just tell me. I'm in no mood to run around with you."
"No," he shook his head. There was a quiet desperation hiding in his expression. "You need to figure this out. Stop fighting and let me in."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"What else do you remember about the night you found me?" he repeated. "Think."
"I don't know." I got up from the bed and began to pace. The memories were there, close to the surface, yet for whatever reason, I was afraid.
But Eric wouldn't let me hide. "How did you find me? How did you know where I was?"
"I don't know I just did!" I threw my arms into the air, exasperated and still pacing. But his words hit me strangely. There was an odd stirring in my chest, both familiar and epic.
Eric raised an eyebrow and waited for me to get on his page.
"I remember pulling up in my car and seeing you stuck in the net . . . you looked so sad." The stirring in my chest happened again, like a car ignition that wouldn't turn over. "Siegbert was going to kill you and I couldn't let that happen—"
Before I could respond with the staple "I don't know," the words began to reverberate in my ears then moved down to that almost-painful spot in my chest. I stopped moving and looked at Eric, but when our eyes met, the knot loosened and the levees began to break. "Oh, my God . . ."
He remained silent, but his brows were creased and his expression hopeful. His anticipation was so thick, I could taste it.
"I felt you," I whispered, placing my hand over my silent heart. "Here."
More memories and emotions of all the turbulent times Eric and I had shared began to overwhelm me. My knees buckled, and I had to put my hand flat on the wall to keep myself upright.
"Yes, lover, just as I felt you the night of the fire."
I closed my eyes and just let it all in.
When I had first risen I hadn't questioned my connection with Eric. It just was. I had none of the memories of his unwavering protection and support and affection, but I knew that he was my reference point, my anchor.
Now, he was so much more. The bond we shared had evolved. For better or worse, Eric and I were more deeply attached then I could have imagined. We were extensions of each other. What I felt between us went so much deeper than reading his thoughts or sensing his emotions; I was tasting his essence, just as he was mine.
The sensation overload was too much, and I began to slump to the floor. At some point, I was caught between Eric's arms.
"The bond . . ." I breathed, wondering how I could have ever forgotten something so powerful.
He leaned against the wall, pulling my back into his chest. "Yes, it's changed a little, hasn't it?"
Sitting on the floor with him, nothing but eternity ahead of us, my mind finally began to process what had happened. Never again would I be the simple barmaid Sookie Stackhouse. I wasn't going to tan again, or eat, or die, or celebrate another birthday. I suppose the only thing I was going to look forward to now was the Winter Solstice.
"I'm a . . . vampire." A creature of the night. Hated and reviled by pretty much all of society. All my meals from now on would consist of blood—synthetic, human, supe. It was just sustenance, fuel to face immortality.
"No," Eric said, tucking a large mass of hair behind me ear. "You're Sookie. You will always be my Sookie, and we're going to be together forever."
"I thought vampires never stayed with their maker more than a few years." The way things stood now, putting any more distance than the few millimeters between us now would be painful. Being alone in the world like this . . . I 'd end myself before I let that happen.
"Don't think like that," Eric shushed, following my train of thought. "It would be easier for me to remove my own head than to separate from you, so stop worrying about it. You will never be alone again."
"You say that now . . ." I replied, then instantly wished I'd kept my big mouth shut. Eric tensed behind me, and his hands left my hair to rest at his sides.
"Do you really think so little of our bond?"
Vampire or not, honesty is always the best policy. "I'm just trying to be realistic."
He sighed but said nothing for a few minutes. I was immersed in his feelings of frustration bordering on anger. They were like strong fingers jabbing me in my chest, trying to drive a point home. Not wanting to upset him anymore, I thought it best to keep my mouth shut and wait for him to speak.
Finally, he broke the silence.
"Did you ever wonder why our bond never faded?"
"Not really, I just figured it was the way things worked."
"It should have," he said. "Ours is the only bond I know of that lasted so long without being renewed."
He chuckled lightly, a soft rumble against my back. "I asked that question every night when I rose and felt you so strongly I would have thought you were there next to me. And now . . ."
"Maybe we're just meant to be," I said. I had no idea where the thought came from, but blaming fate, karma, whatever, seemed easier than assuming it was random. "We're stuck with each other."
Eric laughed outright at that. "If I had to be 'stuck' with anyone for eternity, lover, I'm glad it's you."
"Same here," I agreed, enjoying the way his body fit around mine. Everything from the span of his shoulders own to the length of his fingers fit me. It was like I was built from his mold.
"So why'd you do it?" I asked after another few minutes. My anger had almost completely evaporated. It seemed that my emotions were much more volatile on this side of death. I felt them strongly and passionately, but only for a short time; right now, I was feeling mighty curious.
His answer was simple, but his emotions were a mess. "You weren't ready," he said. "I felt how much you wanted to live . . . your desperation. Then I felt our bond weaken. You were trying to fight it, and I flew as fast I could, but it wasn't enough."
He stopped talking then, letting his old feelings and memories pick up the story. I saw his hard, fast approach toward the billowing column of smoke, thick enough to erase the full moon from the clear sky. I felt his pain as the flames licked at his skin while he tore through the deteriorating building, searching for my body. I smelled the charred smoke and singed flesh and saw the burns covering my unconscious body like leopard spots. My clothes were in tatters, with parts of my jeans melted in my skin. Even his acute ears hadn't been able to pick up a heartbeat.
Eric was in turmoil for less than two seconds before deciding what to do. Even if the world hadn't been crashing own around us, he would have arrived to his decision just as quickly. That's how sure he was. As gently as he could, he peeled my limp body off the floor and flew us a safe distance away through the gaping roof.
We landed somewhere in the woods. The second we touched down, he ripped a chunk out of his wrist and held it to my lips, then pulled out his cell phone and dialing quickly.
"I'm a mile south of the Shifter's bar. We're in the woods. Pick us up."
When he realized I still hadn't responded to his blood, he made his wound larger, and squeezed the sides of my mouth to make sure none of the blood was wasted.
Then his memories faded to black.
"I had no intention of turning you," he said. It was as much of an apology as I was going to get. "But you were so far gone. It got to the point where my only options were to turn you or let you go. I had to make a decision."
Only a small part of my consciousness heard his words. Most of my attention was drawn to how much blood he'd given me and how he weak he'd looked before his memories faded. "I took so much of your blood . . ."
"Yes, lover, you almost drained me. My daywalker had to be very creative to get us back here." I ignored the vague hint of pride in his voice and just curled in closer, absorbing all the new information. I couldn't help but think that I would have done the same thing were our roles reversed.
We spent the next several minutes in silence, just long enough for the hunger to creep back into my bones and spread down my limbs.
Eric stood me a minute later, pulling me up with him. "I'll get you some more blood."
This new and improved bond definitely had its perks.
I watched as he pulled several of what looked to me like wine bottles out of a mini-fridge camouflaged to look like a nightstand. Next to it was a small microwave that he used to heat the blood after pouring it into a fresh mug. Thirty-five seconds later, and I had a meal ready to go.
I looked at the drink when he handed it to me before knocking it back, trying to wrap my head around the fact that it was the last flavor I'd ever taste.
"So this is True Blood . . ."
"No," he replied, the mattress dipping when he sat down next to me. "It's actually a blend of synthetic and human blood—all donated, I promise. True Blood takes a little . . . getting used to, and I thought it might be easier for you to start with this."
I would have been revolted if the stuff wasn't so satisfying.
"You really thought this through." I tossed back my "meal," finishing it in three gulps and not minding the little dribbles that escaped down my chin. Before I could wipe them away, Eric swooped in and licked my skin clean.
"That's not all I thought about," he purred directly into my ear.
My fangs immediately stretched over my lower lip, and for the first time, my tongue snaked over the sharp points of my new anatomy. The nerve endings of which seemed to be rooted deep in my lady business; just the slight touch sent ripples down my body.
I turned my head closer to Eric's, letting his comforting scent settle over me. It didn't take long for his lips to clamp down around mine, kneading my lust.
"Mm, I like how you smell," I groaned between a pair of particularly deep kisses. His own fangs had elongated, and now that I knew how it felt, I made it my mission to give them as much attention as possible.
Eric's arms crushed me against him as he laid us down on top of the heavenly sheets, his mouth never separating from mine. "You've never smelled better, lover."
To prove his point, he ripped the t-shirt off my boy, and settled himself between my legs, inhaling and tasting every piece of skin as he moved lower. I fisted his hair and pushed his head where I wanted it.
He allowed it only because of how much he wanted to taste me there. The first time he licked at that spot between my legs, it had the effect of pressing an ice cube against a hot skillet. An explosion of sensation raced through my body like the hissing steam of melting ice.
I bucked and writhed, clinging to anything that would keep my body from falling apart on the bed. One of his arms was braced across my hips, and the fingers of his other hand pinched my aching nipple.
He was relentless, working me over and over again, with each climax feeding my energy and hunger instead of draining them.
I channeled all my strength and sanity into one movement of pulling Eric's head up to my level and flipping him onto his back, then wasted no time straddling his hips and slamming down around his tall, straining length.
We both cried out, and it took us a minute to get it together enough to move, but once we started grinding against each other, our bodies fell into a perfect rhythm. It was nothing short of a religious experience.
When he pushed up, I came down, absorbing every last glorious inch. My hands pressed against his shoulders, while his clutched my hips, adding a little extra flourish to our movements. Our eyes were locked together, and I could actually see his emotions spelled out within them.
The bond was burning with our combined heat, and the temperature continued to rise. At some point, I fell out of my body only to be caught by a pair of long, sculpted arms. He held me together as my world was annihilated in intensity and heat.
We both screamed and buried ourselves in the other's vein. Minutes later, and neither of us had recovered the ability to move.
"I love you," I whispered, still sprawled across his chest.
He said nothing, but I understood how he felt better than if he had tried to explain it to me. No more secrets. This new bond forced us to know each other better than we knew ourselves—something that would be getting at least one of us in trouble at some point.
Eventually, Eric rolled us over and settled his mouth over mine. Now that I no longer had to waste my time breathing, a single kiss lasted for hours.
When he pulled away, he kissed my nose and rested his head on the pillow next to mine. His arm and leg were both slung over my body, holding my flush against him.
For the first time I could remember, I was exactly where I wanted to be with the one person I ever really loved. Joy radiated through me like a gentle summer breeze. But that feeling trickled away the next time Eric spoke.
"There's one last thing you need to remember."
I sighed out of habit. "Why do I feel like it's not going to make our lives any easier?"
"It probably won't," he admitted. "But it's important to you."
I ran my fingers through the soft hair on his forearm before meeting his gaze. "Well, are you going to tell me, or am I going to have to figure this one out, too?"
"I'll help you remember," his hands slipped up and down my back, and even though I was vampire, the tiny hairs on my body still stood at attention.
"Why can't you just tell me?" Whining might not have been the most attractive thing in the world, but it was all I had left in my retinue of coping mechanisms. I'd been through a lot that night, and I'd already reached my limit several times.
"It won't mean anything unless you remember it on your own. New vampires only retain the qualities of their human life that they remember." He smoothed my hair down the back of my head and began to work it into a loose braid. "Now, go back to that night you remember of us outside of Merlotte's. There was someone else there. Who was it?"
While Eric continued to braid my hair, my mind drifted back to that night. I'd shown up in my car, seen Eric in a net, Siegbert threatening him, and . . . he was right; someone else was there. Someone not vampire. He was smaller than Eric, but he didn't look weak. His eyes were intelligent and vaguely familiar. He was sitting on the ground, his arms tied overhead.
For some reason, after running over Siegbert, I'd gone to free him before Eric. My fingers had been about as useful as lobster claws as I struggled to untie the thick ropes. Remembering him up close, I was hit with another wave of déjà vu.
"I know who you're talking about, but I can't . . . "
"Yes, you can. You've known him for many years. Much longer than you've known me."
Whoever he was shouldn't have been there that night. He was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, like I had been the night of the fire.
When I caught a glimpse of the small apartments standing a few feet behind Merlotte's, I knew right away that this man had lived there. As soon as I made that connection, I remembered the day I'd helped move him out of the small three-room building.
The heat had been excruciating and sweat was pouring down his face as he loaded box after box into the back of his truck. I wondered why I wasn't helping him, until I saw my stomach distended and bulbous, hiding my feet.
I was pregnant.
I had a child.
Eric's hand stilled over my back, and my own went to my stomach, remembering how round it had been and what it felt like to feel my daughter stirring below the surface. Pregnancy had been no picnic with the swelling of random body parts, the bizarre cravings, the constant fatigue paired with the inability to sleep, but I had never been more excited about something in my life.
The memories came back slowly at first, but each one seemed to resurrect three more. My water breaking, her first feeding, pushing her in the stroller back and forth across the porch to help her fall asleep, watching her learn to speak, to walk, right up until the last time I'd tucked her in. Five years of memories flooded back to me in the span of five minutes.
By the time it was over, bloody tears had begun to slip down my cheeks. Eric caught them with his thumb before they got too far. Beneath the bond I shared with Eric, was something else—someone else. I could feel her sleeping calm and peaceful in her bed.
"I can feel her," I breathed as more tears began to spill down my face.
Eric nodded, not surprised. "That's not uncommon when mother's are turned. That's why so few vampires had human children."
I closed my eyes and focused on the rhythm of my daughter's breathing.
"How . . ."
"Children are made from their mother's blood. That connection doesn't go away if the mother is turned. Makers like their progeny to not have any ties to their old life, which is why vampires with human children are so rare."
I almost drowned in the wave of panic that overtook me. "Are you going to make me give her up?"
"I would never want to cause you that kind of pain." He kissed me again and pulled me tighter against him. "We will come up with a plan tomorrow. Right now it's time for you to rest."
Dawn was upon us, and I felt exhaustion pulling at me. I closed my eyes and let it take me, all too happy to have somewhere for my mind to escape to. I let myself focus on the beating in my chest that was Lucy's heartbeat, her life force, while I waited for sunrise. Before long, I was back in that calming pool of death where I'd been a few hours before. I wasn't Sookie there. I was just dead.
Almost three months later, I found myself standing in what used to be my front yard with Eric by my side.
He'd finally agreed that I was ready to face my past now that I'd gotten better control over my impulses and my strength.
Eric had done everything he could to help me adjust to my new life. He'd shown me how to master my new speed and what to do if I were caught without shelter just before sunrise; he taught me when to glamour and when to overpower. The last thing on the list of "essential vampire skills" was feeding, and I was having none of that. Not yet, anyway.
Much to his chagrin, I was immune to his commands. I could feel his call, the pull when he ordered me to do something, but I had no trouble ignoring it. There was no compulsion to obey. The only explanation I could think of was the bond putting us on an equal playing ground so to speak.
We made this little discovery after a particularly passionate argument about learning to feed from humans, and in typical manipulative Eric fashion, he'd tried to order my obedience. Imagine his surprised when I ignored it and proceeded to give him the silent treatment for a few days. Except for the necessary conjugal release that is. I was quickly learning that vampires used sex as another kind of sustenance. It definitely helped with the mental clarity.
Eric argued that I needed to learn how to feed in case it was my only option one night. Someday, I was going to have to take real blood, and I needed to know that I could control myself enough to not kill the person. I saw the logic, and I wasn't arguing with it. But I wasn't ready to feed that way, to take my nutrition from a living, sentient person in such an intimate way . . . it meant there was no turning back. It was like my initiation into vampire society. As much as I loved Eric, I wasn't quite ready to give myself over to that. I hadn't even allowed him to register me as a vampire with the county clerk.
I had no illusions that the taste of human blood would disgust me. It was the exact opposite, actually. I craved it, thirsted for it even as I threw back bottle after bottle of True Royal. It scared me how bad I needed it. Eric tried to tell me that the hunger would only get worse, that human blood was the only thing that could sustain me, but I'd refused to listen, and then he sulked much like Lucy did whenever she was denied something.
He didn't bring up my feeding habits again after I'd started acknowledging him until I'd asked to see Lucy. As soon as the opportunity had presented itself, he swooped down on it like a hawk on a mouse, claiming that I would be a risk to Lucy unless I learned self-control. Feeding was implicit with that skill. I hated whenever he made a point I couldn't argue.
After that, I made him take me to Fangtasia every night. Most of the time I spent in his office, the buffet of intoxicating aromas too much for me to handle. I'd gradually worked my way up to spending time with Eric in his booth and even helped to screen people at the door a few times.
My fangs ran rampant pretty much the entire time I was there, but they had yet to taste human flesh. Eric finally agree that I could handle myself around Lucy when I'd managed to sit on the floor the entire night for a month without incident. It wasn't easy; every second I'd been on the verge of jumping out of my skin and ripping the throats out of every human I saw in the bar, but I didn't.
Eric had been impressed.
So now, after stuffing myself on synthetic blood to the point where my skin had almost returned to its human shade, it was time to face my family—something Eric had no experience with.
On the outside, I was calm and put together, but my emotions were wild, beating in my chest to make up for the missing heartbeat. Eric doused me in support and strength from his end of the bond, sensing my nerves as we approached the front porch.
"Whatever happens, you'll always have me."
About a month or so into my new life, I'd thought about calling Sam and letting him know what happened but decided against it. I had no idea how long it would be before I would be strong enough to see them, and I couldn't leave them wondering. Naturally, showing up unannounced was the best course of action.
Honestly, I had no idea how he was going to react. To him, I'd been dead this past month. Technically, I still was. I'd pictured his reaction as everything from devastated, to furious, to overjoyed. Would he keep me from Lucy? Would Lucy even want anything to do with me now? The only way to know for sure was to confront them head-on.
Our footsteps were almost silent despite the hollow wood steps below our feet, the only noise coming from the extra bottles of True Royal clinking softly in my messenger bag. I was still getting use to the constant stealth aspect of being undead.
A bunch of Lucy's old toys were littered across the porch, their bright plastic colors a stark contrast to the faded whitewashed wood. Each one carried its own specific memory of Lucy, reminding me that I was really there, that I was moments away from seeing her again.
I wanted to throw open the door and run up the steps into Lucy's bedroom where I could feel her sleeping, but it would have been useless to try. A force like gravity was holding me prisoner on the porch. For all the years I spent there and all the memories I made, this wasn't my home anymore.
Full minutes went by where I did nothing but face the closed door, contemplating the pros and cons of running off with my tail between my legs and trying again another night. Finally, Eric stepped forward and did what I couldn't, rapping twice on the doorframe. My ears were able to pick up the sound of shuffling, uneven steps approaching a few seconds later.
The wave of stale alcohol hit me like a tsunami before the door was even open. But that was nothing compared with the actual sight of Sam wearing a disheveled robe with at least two weeks of stubble on his face. His eyes were glassy and unfocused and there was a bottle of beer clutched in his hand.
He stared at me for a while through the screen door and I had no idea what to say. Somehow "Hello" didn't seem to cut it, so I waited for him to make the first move.
". . . Sookie?"
"Yeah . . . it's me."
I watched him look me over head to toe, wanting to go inside but unable to ask for the invitation into what used to be mine.
He rubbed his eyes and swallowed another gulp of beer, then looked me over again. The smell wafting through his pores was sickly sweet. "I thought . . . what're you . . . how . . ." He stammered on a few more seconds before settling on " But you're dead."
If I had been expecting a joyous, tearful reunion, then I would have been sorely mistaken. Luckily, I had no expectations. I was just glad he hadn't slammed the door in my face.
It was then that his gaze shifted from me to Eric, who was still standing silent at my side.
The next time he brought his attention back at me, he sniffed. "Oh."
Well, that was easy enough.
"Can we talk?"
Sam finished his beer much like I'd done with the True Royal the moment I rose for the night before he disappeared back into the house. "Yeah, come on in."
As soon as he said the words, the prison bars surrounding the house lifted and the growing pressure in my chest evaporated. Even being on the porch without an invitation had been more than uncomfortable, but that was neither here nor there at this point. I took a couple hesitant steps inside, with Eric following close behind me.
Everything in the house was exactly the same, but I couldn't remember how to connect with any of it. Most of the furniture was still Gran's hand-me-downs. The wallpaper and flooring hadn't changed. Even Sam was the same. It was me that was different, like watching your favorite movie as a kid years later when you were an adult and realizing that it wasn't quite as great as you'd remembered.
So little time had passé, and I'd already let go of so much of my old life. It scared me more than I could admit.
But Eric knew. He felt it right away. "These are just material things," he said quietly. "You're still Sookie."
I felt the urge to take a deep breath but didn't act on it. Eric was right. None of these things really mattered in the long run. My only concern should be Lucy, and my need for her was still glowing bright and heavy in my chest.
We followed Sam into the living room, which was buried in a thick film of dust and old beer cans. From where I was standing, I could see the mountain of dirty dishes piled in the sink. It looked like I was the last one to clean anything in the house, and for the first time since I'd lived there, I didn't care.
It wasn't my home anymore.
Sam sat on the couch and looked up at me and Eric. Though I could see the pulse point fluttering in his neck, I had no overwhelming urge to bite. According to Eric, shifters had never been appetizing to vampires. Now I could see it for myself that it was true.
"How's Lucy?" I asked. My voice tread carefully in case the question would be upsetting.
"About as good as you'd expect." Another drink. "Is that why you're back all of a sudden? You want to take her with you?"
I winced, kicking myself that I hadn't started with small talk. "No, of course not!"
"We buried you, Sookie. We had a funeral, a coffin. She saw you go into the ground.
"Every day she goes out to your grave and stays there until I have to drag her in for supper. She tells me it's because she's waiting for you to come back. What do you think seeing her mother like this is going to do to her?"
Sam started to blink rapidly, and the soft scent of his tears filled the room. He quickly turned his attention to Eric, his voice choked and angry.
"This is all your fault, you selfish bastard," he said. "You couldn't take her choosing me over you so you had to go and take matters into your own hands. We were happy. We were a family until you came along and put an end to that."
"It's not Eric's fault," I interrupted. Eric had accepted Sam's anger without comment and continued to linger against the wall, but I wasn't about to let him carry the blame, especially when he didn't deserve it. "He's the only reason I'm standing here right now."
"Ha. I'm sure that's what he wants you to think," he scoffed.
"I was dead when he found me, Sam," I said, crouching next to him on the couch, my hand next to his on the old cushions. "It was the only way."
Everything was silent for a few minutes until he lost the battle with his emotions and allowed the tears to fall. At some point, his fingers squeezed mine, the spatter of tears hot on my skin. We stayed that way for several minutes. His touch was scalding, both inside and out. Why hadn't I called him and let him know that I was okay?
"I'm so sorry," his back was hunched with the weight of his sobs. "If I'd just gone with you, I could've—"
"Sam, there's nothing you could have done. It was an accident, a horrible accident."
He squeezed my hand tighter, and I stroked his hair, offering what limited comfort I was able. It probably would have been easier for him if I'd never come back, but that would have meant leaving Lucy behind, and that wasn't an option. How easy it was for the cruel practicality to wind its way into my nature.
"When Andy showed up at the house that night and told me what happened, that you'd—" A particular strong, heaving breath cut him off, but I knew what he meant. "And now . . ."
I closed my eyes and waited for him to tell me I'd never have anything to do with Lucy.
"Now, we have you back. You're back and you're here. We can be a family again."
"Oh, Sam . . ." Of course, he would try to make it work, that's how he was. But this was something that couldn't be fixed. I looked for the words to tell him that things were never going to be the same, but I couldn't do it. The sadness and pain in his eyes mixed with just a touch of hope, I couldn't hurt him anymore.
"Things cannot be as they were, Shif—Sam." Eric spoke up. "Sookie still has too much to learn." He didn't mention the fact that he would kill Sam before he allowed me even to consider leaving him again, though that came through loud and clear in the bond.
Sam was quiet for a few minutes, and I could almost hear the storm brewing in his chest. I braced myself, but before the onslaught could begin, the I heard a sound equivalent to the heavens unleashing their choirs of angels.
The entire time I'd been in the house, I'd been struggling to contain myself in the living room. Every cell was screaming at me to run up the stairs and find my daughter, and now that she was actually in the room, it was too much. My self-control snapped, and I launched myself at Lucy.
But Eric was faster. He beat me across the room and pulled Lucy behind him.
"Lucy!" Sam shouted, but both she and Eric ignored him. If she recognized Eric from that night, then she didn't care that he was now pinning her against his hip. Our eyes were locked on each other, and I was forcing myself to calm down or I'd hurt her with my enthusiasm.
"Mommy!" she beamed from Eric's side, and I couldn't help but smile right back.
Once he felt that I was under control again, Eric allowed Lucy to spring from his side and into my arms, where I immediately pulled her to my chest and fell to the ground with all the grace of a three-legged turtle.
There it was. Once I had her fiery body pressed against mine, I was complete. My two other halves were here with me right now, and the emotions bouncing between everyone were overwhelming. I couldn't get enough of her smell. It was like fresh apples, rich and alive.
Looking over my shoulder, she called to Sam, "See, Daddy? I told you! I told you she wasn't gone!"
Sam just nodded, looking completely ruined from his spot on the couch.
Then she returned her attention to me, pulling back a little to take in my face. "I could feel you. I knew you wouldn't leave me."
"Never," I whispered, kissing her hair and breathing in her scent.
She tightened her arms around my neck. "You look different, mommy."
I was surprised she'd waited that long to bring it up. The first time I looked in a mirror after I'd been turned, I almost didn't recognize myself. All the growing lines and dark circles, and sagging parts had vanished. It would seem that the massive dose of vampire blood took care of the mess my uncared for body had been like a month in a luxury spa. I looked like I was twenty-eight again, and I was always going to look that way.
"That's because I am different."
She squeezed my neck even tighter and whispered, "Not to me."
I held her to me and started to laugh. Constant, unstoppable, heavy laughter was pouring out of me like water. Climbing to my feet, I started to spin us around in tight, hard circles. "I love you so so so much!"
She laughed wildly and let her feet swing out like helicopter blades. The faster I spun, the louder she laughed. Soon, we were a tornado of movement. I didn't care that I was going to make her sick. I was just so thrilled to have Lucy in my arms, I had to express it somehow.
Finally, Eric stepped in and dropped his hands on my shoulders, stopping me in my tracks. "Much better. You were making us sick."
When I turned around, Sam looked as sick as if he were the one spinning at vampiric speed. Lucy, of course, was fine, snuggling into my shoulder. I loved the soft sprinkles of her warm breath on my neck. As far as I was concerned, I was never going to let her go again.
"Are you going to stay forever now?" Lucy asked, and my undead heart broke a little. Eric and I had talked about it, and it would have been impossible for me to stay at the house. Not just because I was still young by vampire standards, but any distance between me and Eric for any length of time caused us both physical pain. His life was in Shreveport and mine was in Bon Temps. We were going to have to figure out another way.
"Oh, baby, I wish I could." Honesty is always the best policy. "I'm going to be here as much as can."
"How much is that going to be?" she pressed.
"I don't know yet, me and your Daddy still need to figure some things out."
I caught Sam's eye and nodded toward the porch, turning back to Eric before catching his response.
"Lucy, I'd like you to meet someone very important to me. This is Eric." I gestured at him with my free arm.
"I remember him," she said, eyeing him with more than a little suspicion. "He tried to take you away."
Apparently she knew more about that night than I realized.
"He's also the one who brought me back." Lucy looked at him again with a little less suspicion this time and slid down my body to stand at my side. Already, I missed the weight of her in my arms. "He's going to look after you while I talk to Daddy."
Eric shot me a look to let me know what he thought about me going off without him. I tried to show him through the bond that I was in control, and I guess it worked because he held out his hand for Lucy to come to him. She reached out cautiously and allowed his fingers to fold over her tiny hand.
"Behave," I told her.
Sam was still sitting on the couch, concern written in every line on his face when he saw Lucy with Eric. We still had to finish our conversation from earlier but that wasn't going to happen in front of Lucy.
"Can we talk?" I asked him. "Outside."
"Is she okay with him?" He had yet to look away from the pair on the other side of the room.
"He won't do anything," I promised. "He knows how much she means to me."
"Uh huh," he said then got up from the couch to follow me onto the porch. He made sure to stand so that he could see everything that went on in the living room. Not that he would be able to do much if something did happen, but it made him feel better. "So what do you want?"
"I need to know what's going on in your head," I said. "I need to know that you don't hate me."
"I could never hate you, Sook." He rubbed his eyes a little to help them focus.
I could hear his heart beating slow and steady in his chest, feel the slight shift in the air every time he exhaled. The scent of alcohol was fading, leaving in its place the unmistakable scent of . . . dog. The hunger was starting to creep back into my veins, but I had no trouble restraining myself from hurting him.
"This can't be easy for you."
"I don't know what this is for me. When I woke up this morning, you were still dead, and I was a single father with no job and a daughter who woke up every morning asking when you were coming back." He started to pace, always keeping a watchful eye on the pair in the living room. Based on what I was feeling through the bond, I had a pretty good idea of what was going on, and there was no need to be concerned. "Now you're here standing on our porch, and you're with Eric of all people. Every time I look at him I want to kill him, but I feel like I owe him everything because he's the only reason Lucy still has her mom."
After his speech, Sam sat on the porch and looked off into the woods. I sat down next to him and waited for him to keep sorting through his feelings.
"What are we supposed to do now?" he asked finally.
These past few weeks, I'd forgotten the habit of physical comfort—unless of course it was through sex. Vampires did not coddle each other by nature, and our bond was strong enough that we didn't need anything else. So I had to consciously think about reaching over and touching his arm. The muscles there flinched as if the knew what was touching them before relaxing.
"We're going to figure something out, just . . . please don't keep her from me." I'd intended to keep that last part internal, but it slipped out before I could stop it.
"She needs her Mom, I'm not going to deny her that. But there need to be ground rules." He sighed and watched her and Eric for a few minutes before continuing. "I take it he's going to be around now too?"
"Yeah. For awhile at least."
A slight breeze picked up and carried his scent over to me, along with a wave of nausea. Who knew shifters were that unappealing to vampires.
"I don't trust him."
"I know." There wasn't much else I could say. "But I do."
Silence extended between us until Sam began to list off all the rules he'd come up with in the last five minutes. "I don't want you taking her out, so if you want to see her, you have to come here and stay here. Don't break your promises. If you tell her you're going to come, then you show up. You have to tell me beforehand that you're coming to see her. And don't bring any other vampires over here, I don't want her exposed to any more than she needs to be."
"Is that it?" I asked after he'd been quiet for awhile.
"One more. The second I so much as think you or Eric is involved in more vampire bull shit, the visits stop. I will not let Lucy get put in danger."
"Agreed." I said with absolutely no hesitation. I was dead; Sam had all the parental rights in this situation, so the fact that he was even considering giving me time with Lucy was more than I could have hoped for. "Thank you. And I promise Eric is not going to be a problem."
Sam nodded and looked out over the porch railing. "Does he take care of you?" he asked after a moment.
"As much as I'll let him."
He smiled and even laughed softly at that. "You always were a stubborn woman."
"I'd like to think of it as independence." I smiled right back, glad that he was unappetizing enough to keep my fangs at bay. I couldn't have asked for a better father for Lucy. He was a good man through and through and deserved someone stronger than me to stand by his side. "Really, Sam, try to be happy. You're the best man I know. If anyone deserves a happily ever after, it's you."
A slight shiver rippled down his body, subtle enough that I wouldn't have been able to notice a month ago. "Thanks, Sookie," he said, and I could hear the sincerity in his voice.
"We should go back inside. It's getting cold."
Sam nodded once then lifted himself off the steps. He moved a little lighter, as if some of the weight sitting on his shoulders had fallen off. It was enough to make me feel a little better.
When we went inside, I was more than a little surprised to see Lucy sitting on Eric's knee like he was some kind of Santa Clause and the words coming out of his mouth were coated in chocolate and sugar.
Eric looked over at us as we stepped into the room as Lucy did the same. When she saw me, she flew ff Eric's lap and leaped into my arms. The fangs pulled in my mouth, but I was able to force them back and keep myself in control. Pride blasted me across the bond, courtesy of Eric.
Lucy's mouth was off like a shot the second I lifted her off the ground. "Mommy! Did you really slide down a glass pyramid with a coffin? And did you really save Daddy and Eric from an evil giant? He says you're a fairy princess is that true? And he says that he had to save you after you found the thief at his work."
She kept going, recounting all of our harrowing adventures we'd collected over the years, including some less than pg-13 details that earned a glare from Sam (like Eric using a vampire's head as weapon, for example). By the time she was finished, she'd exhausted herself to the point of panting, but she was looking at me expectantly, waiting for me to verify that everything he'd told her was true.
All I could do was nod. "Yeah."
"Wow!" The news sent her reeling through another stream of ongoing questions that didn't end until she'd passed out on the couch, her head in my lap. A look at the clock reminded me that it was way past her bedtime, so I carefully picked her up in my arms and brought her to bed, going through the entire process of tucking her in even though she was unconscious.
Most of my human habits might have disappeared, but I was glad that I could still be a mother. I could still take care of Lucy and provide for her.
"I think it's time for us to go," Eric said as I came down the steps. Sam was standing by the door, looking completely wiped out. I'd forgotten that not everyone else sleeps through the day.
I nodded then went to join Eric next to the front door. "Thank you, Sam, for everything," I said, and against all my new instincts, I reached over and pulled him into a hug then kissed his cheek. "Be happy."
Sam opened the door for us and we stepped back into the night, our element. But I wasn't ready to go just yet.
The old cemetery was just a few feet into the woods next to my house, and I wandered over to it, my new vision having no trouble picking out the old headstones. I stood where Gran had been buried and studied the still grave next to it. The grass hadn't filled in completely where the grave had been dug, and I could just make out the outline of my supposed final resting place.
Cherished wife, Loving mother
I don't know how long I'd been looking at the marker until Eric came up behind me.
"Why do you think I told your daughter those stories of our past?"
I shrugged and waited for him to tell me.
"Because I wanted her to see who her mother used to be. Who she still is. You are the bravest, strongest, most generous, and beautiful person I've met in a thousand years. Don't be afraid of your past, Sookie. Embrace it. You are so much more than a wife and mother, and now Lucy and all her children can know firsthand who you really are. Share it with them."
His words were so genuine, so sincere that they pierced my heart like a water balloon. I turned to face him and pulled his head down into the mother of all kisses, the kind where each of us fought to lead and were equally content to give up control, all within the bond's gentle cradle. Eventually, a hurricane of peace swept over me, and I couldn't tell which one of us it came from.
"Can we go home now?" I asked, needing more than anything to be as close with him as humanly possible for the few hours I ha left before death came for me again.
"Yes, lover. Let's go home."
Seriously, not a big fan of the ending, but I had NO idea how to stop. So that's all I got. Likey, no likey? What about this version of vampy Sookie? The only other option I came up with was a vamp/human hybrid, but that would have been stupid.
Anyways, back to Meet the Moon!