Author's Note Well, this is the end. Thank you so much for reading, and for your long, lovely, intelligent reviews. I'll try to get back to everyone at least once. I hope the epilogue satisfies; it may not be quite the ending you were hoping for, but I for one like to leave a story slightly unsettled. It lives longer in the imagination that way.

He should have killed her the first time he saw her.

A hundred years ago, fifty, even twenty, she would have been dead within minutes of the first time he laid eyes on her. When he thinks of the night Bill first brought her to Fangtasia, he can still remember how she called to the hunger inside him. She'd burned like a candle against the red and black embers of his domain, and he'd beckoned her close, to warm himself in that light.

He should never have given her a chance to open her mouth. She had no sooner spoken to him than she had roused something deadlier than hunger inside him.

He's not sure how she did it. There is no art in her, no guile. Her seduction was irresistible, because it was unconscious. She was, not a study in contrasts, but a contrast in herself. Others cowered before him; she was merely courteous. Others sought to manipulate him; she was forthright.

Occasionally he has met with humans who hate his kind, who pretend to be unimpressed by him. They mask their fear with loathing and contempt, and this, he has always assumed, is what it means for a human to speak to a vampire as though they were equals. But Sookie had spoken to him with a respect that held no trace of servility. She had spoken to him as though he were human-as though, in her mind, he had a place in her sunlit world of children and church picnics and laughter.

Such a simple, shattering thing. For a millenia, he has lived as a breed apart. Then she appeared, and now he is filled with a crushing, childlike desire to belong. She walks within a dream, and he would give anything he possessed to walk beside her.

He isn't alone in this. Every vampire who knows her feels it. Eric understands now the possessive fury Bill felt when first he made his interest in Sookie obvious. But he feels no sympathy for him. Bill was like a vain child displaying his prize to other children, to excite their envy. But Eric had seen more than Bill meant him to. Bill had been a fool to ever bring Sookie to Fangtasia in the first place.

For a long time now, Eric has been unable to imagine Sookie's death with agony. But if he had been wise, he would have killed her that night. Because now he is a stone carving undergoing a slow transformation into flesh. It is painful beyond words, a new and undreamed-of kind of death. But there is nothing so wrenching, so irresistible, as the passage from death into life.

That is what Sookie is to him. Life.

She won't let him take her to his home in Shreveport, so he turns Fangtasia over to Pam indefinitely and takes up residence in Bon Temps.

Sookie is in constant pain, and when he reflects on the greater agony she must have suffered before she confided in him, he feels-unworthy. A strange sensation, for any vampire. But he knows, in what passes for his heart, that he is much to blame for her suffering. She had weighed him in the balance and found him wanting, unsafe, untrustworthy. She is not given to harsh judgments, so he knows that he is responsible for looking to her like the specter of death.

He does what he can to atone, within the limits she imposes on him. Eric knows that he has reached her, finally, on some deeper level, when she allows him to pay her bills the first month she no longer has a paycheck to draw on. She lets him cover the expense of a thorough hospital examination, as well, including extensive tests that map the electrical activity inside her brain. But it is difficult to take much satisfaction in this when the tests prove uninformative.

He isn't nearly done trying to find an answer, but every day that Sookie passes in pain and confinement, he senses her growing resignation to what her life has become. She sleeps in the day, now, because his company, and Pam's and Bill's, is all that keep her from complete isolation. Her human friends visit her less and less often, because she has no protection at all from the intrusion of human minds, and they cannot bear to bring her more pain.

Eric, Bill, and Pam each try to persuade her to let herself be turned. They are all convinced that her powers would come under regulation, if she were a vampire. But Sookie is determined to cling to her humanity, and though Eric cannot believe he would love her less as a vampire, he knows that he, too, would mourn the loss of her human life-not only for her sake, but for his.

His people supply them with blood and groceries, clothing and home repairs. Their life together settles into a very nearly comfortable routine. Because Sookie chafes at inactivity, he teaches her how to handle Fangtasia's books, and they conduct the club's business across the kitchen table from each other, Sookie working at her new laptop, Eric taking meetings over the phone.

"Sounds like a marriage," Sookie had said to him once, in what feels like another lifetime. "Yes," he'd said to her then. All he wants to say to her, every day, is yes.

He wakes early one evening, before the last of the sun's rays have faded from the sky, and walks out to the kitchen. Sookie is sitting on the porch, watching the pink and orange glow over the treetops. He fights every instinct he possesses and steps outside to join her. The remnants of sunlight raze his skin, but the pain passes, and he sits beside her, taking her hand in his lap, and they listen to the crickets and cicadas strike the first notes of their evening symphony.

Sometimes, when she looks at him, there is something not unlike contentment in her expression, and he wonders to himself if this is such a bad way to pass a mortal lifetime, in shelter and companionship. She is somehow undiminished by all that she has lost, as though the essence of her is a fluid thing, taking the shape of what contains it.

He has not done looking for answers, though he knows her liberty will bring an end to the dream he's living. She is less like water than light, and the world he lives in, and will continue to live in long after her, is brighter when she is unconfined.

"It's almost October," she says, an idle thought that drifts easily into the comfortable silence. "The nights will be getting longer soon."

He knows, as surely as though he could read her thoughts, that for her the nights are long enough already. But she is thinking of him, and he is basking in the miracle of her selflessness.

To him, she is life, the catalyst of his transformation. For her, he will transform yet again. Eric the Northman, vampire, bringer of light.

One day soon, he will see her shine again.