A/N: This is an alternate version of Dead to the World, taking off after Sookie leaves Merlotte's New Year's celebration... just about the time when she would have picked up a certain someone. Everything belongs to Charlaine Harris. Thanks for reading.
The new year was only three hours old, but most revelers had already stumbled home, leaving the roads empty between Merlotte's and my house.
I rolled down my window. The wind on my face felt almost as nice as the silence in my head. After a night of blocking out giddy, drunk, New Year's Eve thoughts, I felt exhausted, almost as if I'd worked a double shift.
I hit the gas as I passed Bill Compton's house. Bill was my ex. He was also in Peru, which was just as well because we were over with a capital O. I had cried myself dry over him and that was the end of it. Or, at least, I wished it were the end. I wanted to flip a switch and turn off my unwanted feelings.
Bill had been my first. My only, really. I still rolled over in bed some nights, expecting to find him beside me. It happened less and less, which should have made me feel good.
My heart hadn't caught up to my head where the two of us were concerned.
I missed the quiet almost as much as the intimacy. Bill was an attractive man, made even more so because I couldn't hear his thoughts. It had felt like a god-given gift when I'd realized that I didn't have to work to block him out. With him, I could relax. He'd made me feel safe.
Until he didn't.
As I turned into my driveway, my New Year's resolution echoed in my ears:
Stay out of trouble.
An upside of cutting Bill out of my life was that I'd see fewer vampires. Some bloodsuckers were okay, but most were terrifying, and none would think twice about sacrificing me to their twisty plans. It had been nice talking to Bill without hearing his reply in my head, but giving that up was a small price to pay to avoid a beating. I'd spent 25 years alone in a sea of thoughts; I could slog through the next 50. If I stuck around Bill and his friends, I'd be lucky to make it 5 months.
I liked my limbs and health, thank you very much. I planned to keep them.
So that was my resolution. No trouble. No vampires.
Happy New Year.
As my car purred across my new driveway, I noticed a white figure hunched on my front porch. Anywhere else it might have been a lost reveler, but my house was out of town on parish roads. Nobody showed up by accident.
A late night visitor could only mean one thing.
I put my car in reverse. I didn't need to think twice. I'd come back after sunup, when I could be sure that whomever was waiting wouldn't drain me dry.
As I stepped on the gas, I saw the hole in my escape plan. My best friend Tara was at her boyfriend's, my brother Jason never spent ordinary nights by himself, let alone New Year's, and I'd returned Bill's keys weeks ago. Even if I could have gotten inside Bill's house, the thought of spending New Year's alone at my ex-boyfriend's was too terrible to contemplate.
I had nowhere to go.
I stopped the car.
I was tired. I'd been on my feet all night. All I wanted was a hot shower and sleep.
As I sat—sort of weighing my options, but mostly feeling sorry for myself—the figure lifted its head. I had been spotted.
Well, now I couldn't hide.
It was probably a blessing. If my guest was desperate enough to wait on my porch at three am, he or she likely wouldn't leave even if I drove away. And if my visitor had wanted to attack me, chances were that I would already be dead. How's that for a silver lining?
Just in case, I grabbed my cell and thumbed down to Sam's number. A month ago, Bill would have been my 9-1-1 of choice, but I didn't know if he got phone service in Peru. Plus, I didn't want to talk to him.
I kept my thumb on the call button as I got out of the car. I hoped Sam was still up. I hated to wake him, but I had no interest in being attacked without alerting backup.
"Hello?" I called as I started towards the porch. My visitor didn't respond, go figure. My heart was racing so fast, I could feel it. I eyed the bushes in front of my house for rustling or movement—signs of anything that might pounce. They were still. For some reason, it made me worry more.
When I was about ten feet away from the porch, the figure stood up.
It was Eric.
I was so relieved, I let out a mother of a sigh. "Thank god." He didn't say anything. "Why didn't you call? You scared the life out of me."
He stared at me. The silence stretched until he said, "Sorry," as if remembering how to speak. His voice sounded hoarse—off somehow. I couldn't put my finger on why.
"What are you doing here?" I was willing to bet tonight's tips Eric hadn't dropped by to wish me Happy New Year.
He looked upset. I don't know how else to put it. His brow was creased and he seemed a few sizes smaller, almost as if he'd drawn in on himself. "Sookie—" he began, then stopped.
I crossed my arms. It was one thing to show up at my house uninvited. It was another to do it at three am after I'd been on my feet all night. "Get to the point."
He swallowed. "Can I have a drink?"
It had been a while since I'd had any vampire visitors and I was almost certain I was out of True Blood. It was too expensive to buy on a regular basis. When I'd been dating Bill and entertaining vampires from time to time, I'd stocked it. My choice had been between offering vampires bottled blood or giving them a taste of yummy old me, which hadn't been a choice at all. Needless to say, I hoped I had leftover True Blood on hand. I had zero interest in fending off attempts by Eric to sample some on-tap Sookie.
I had to pass Eric to reach the front door. As I brushed by him, I fought the urge to turn up my coat collar. It would be rude, but I also knew how loud my heart had been thudding. If I'd heard it, Eric definitely had. I felt his eyes on me as I fumbled for my keys. It made me shiver and not in a good way.
I didn't think Eric would attack. We were almost friends. But, that being said, I didn't know how much an almost friendship would count if he were starving or otherwise in a pinch.
I wasn't interested in finding out.
I snuck a glance at him. He seemed even paler than usual. He caught me staring and glared, a sign of life that reminded me of the Eric I knew.
I didn't want to deal with vampire trouble right now (or ever), but something was obviously up. Eric could be a headache, but he wouldn't bother me without a good reason—well, a good reason from his perspective. Which didn't always align with mine.
What if he were in real trouble?
Then I needed to get as far away from him as possible. The last time I'd been roped into Eric's business, I'd almost gotten killed. Same story the time before that. It was only three hours into the New Year—far too early to break my resolution.
I hesitated, hand on the doorknob.
For some reason, I thought of Gran. What would she think of me having a vampire on my front stoop? A vampire who probably needed help.
What kind of Christian would I be if I turned him away?
"I might have True Blood in the fridge." I said, as I unlocked the door, already regretting my decision. When Eric didn't move, I remembered that I'd rescinded his invitation the last time he had visited. "Come—"
'Inside' died on my tongue as he pushed past me, into my home.
"Eric?" He kept walking. "Eric." He disappeared around a corner.
I tailed him into the kitchen. He had opened a cabinet and was studying my glassware. "What are you doing?"
He ignored me, took down a glass and turned on the faucet. He filled the glass. Put it on the counter. Stared at it. I was sure he had lost his mind.
The sound of my voice knocked him out of whatever weird dream state he'd sunk into. He glanced over his shoulder. "You want anything?"
"No." I stared at his glass. The top line of water quivered. I felt as if I were teetering on the verge of something big.
I yanked the fridge open and stuck my head inside so I wouldn't have to stare at Eric's back. "I'm out of True Blood. It's New Year's so the liquor store might be open. If you want to check, you can take my—"
I never got to say 'car' because when I closed the fridge, Eric was lowering the empty water glass from his lips. He gave me a look—like I was doing something wrong by staring—and then stuck his glass under the faucet again. Which conveniently meant he could turn his back on me.
"What's going on?" I almost didn't want to know.
This time I watched as Eric drained the glass. He put in on the counter, wiped his mouth and looked at me. Finally. "I think I need a place to stay."
"How long?" I asked, as any sensible person would. I tried to keep my voice even. Something wasn't right, but I had to play this carefully. Eric and I might be sort of friends, but he was a vampire first. He could tear me limb from limb if I rubbed him wrong.
"Indefinitely," he said, something no sensible person likes to hear.
"No," was so instinctive, it slipped out before I could think.
That's when I realized he was breathing.