Summary Sookie returns from Fairy Land with a dash of reality, and handles her dangerous situation with more awareness. Watch the pretty ripples...AU Season Four. Eventual Eric/Sookie.

Sookie burst out into the night air, and it hit her like a bucket of ice water. She felt like she had been sucker punched deep in the gut, insides bruised and gushing blood from the blow, fragments of her spine stabbing her insides, and her eyes were on fire from the agony. Her heart felt raw, like it had been dragged across the road for miles and miles. Her head was riddled with panic, urging her desperately to run, run, run while she had the chance, to get away before -

Before. It hurt so much right now, the uncertainty, but knowing felt worse. Knowing for sure if he wanted her or not, if she had lost him entirely, if he hated her. It was terrifying, like the steep drop from the empire state building to the harsh concrete below. She loved him, as he had been and as he now was.

That was the worst part. She was torn between agonized grief for the smiling lover she had known, and dizzy relief that Eric Northman was back. He was safer now than ever, and he was himself again. She had missed him - his dark humor, solid strength, and odd complexity.

But it was sickening to think this might be the end of them. The idea felt like an amputation of her most vital limbs, and she ran from that - from the killing blow. It was pure survival instinct to get away from that kind of pain, to delay even the threat of losing someone. She'd tried so hard not to love him, but she'd fell for him so deeply, and the freefall was catching up with her.

Her heart was crushed under the weight of memories - the stark happiness in his blue eyes, the vulnerablity in his sleeping face, his open and honest smile as he looked at her. She might never see any of that again.

The loss screamed through her with an ugly, wild desperation.

Eric was impossible to predict, saving her one minute and betraying her trust the next, and he could crack her heart open, revealing an ugly poorly healed mess of meat, without even intending too. And he wouldn't intend to, because Eric had given her a means to protect herself even while demanding everything she had in exchange for her home - the next night, he had kissed her so fiercely, so violently, and then called her his -

He had stayed with her when she had asked him too, easing her fear of Bill simply by standing there. The look of fury on his face when she revealed where she had been, and why she had been gone so long. Then, in Dallas, with Godric. In the aftermath, she had gone to him and held his hand and never told a soul of his tears.

Later, Eric had tricked her (scared her so badly) with a blood-soaked bullet instead of asking for her help, then she could never forget the cold shock and painful betrayal with Russell - "You mean nothing to me! Nothing!" - and then that bite, tearing mercilessly into her flesh - and she had been so scared, so hurt -

And it changed nothing.

She would still do anything for him.

Sookie stuttered to a stop, less than a few feet from her brother's door. She couldn't move another inch forward. In the end, she didn't even try. She felt a strong chain of iron in her chest, urging her to go back to him, no matter what.

Because she would do anything for him. Because she loved him. Because she wasn't that cowardly girl anymore who stuffed her head in the sand, and jumped the gun, letting her feelings drive her wild with stupidity.

He deserved a lot more than her, an emotionally immature waitress from the middle of nowhere. The truth was another knife sliding the chest, but she managed a weak, hitching breath through the stabbing pain. Eric deserved to have his say, even if it was all rage and snarls and rejection. And she deserved to be more than that girl again, the one who chose false happiness over blistering, real agony.

Loving someone was never supposed to be easy or fair. It was horrible and terrifying, like throwing away everything at someone else, and just praying things weren't about to go bad.

Like she had done so stupidly for Bill, all but stabbing her own eyes out to keep her delusions running on.

Sookie would rather die than become that blood-addled girl ever again, so she had spent so long questioning her feelings for Eric and his feelings for her. So she tried to convince herself - to brace herself, only it felt far more like a cursed resignment - that there was no chance this was going to end well.

Only. . .

It was harsh but Sookie didn't want to be Tara either. She didn't want to think in constant worst-case paranoia, dodging any chances that could break her heart into a million pieces.

Because she loved him too much to be that selfish and because they both deserved better than this, she needed to go back.

Tears burned her eyes like acid, and she covered them, bowing her head. She bit down on a noise, forcing it back down her throat. The tears poured down into her palms, spilling heat over her skin. She tried to fight her terror back, to turn around and face Eric, but for a moment, it was too strong. The cold air burned down her lungs as she finally sucked in another shaking breath - and forced her jaw to lock down on sobs.

Her legs were weak under her, ready to pitch her to the floor in a crumbled wreck, but she held strong.

Inhaling deeply through her nose, Sookie wiped at her eyes and lingered a moment. The night air cooled the heat in her eyes. She felt raw and vulnerable, like her chest was sliced open, easy for anyone to deliver a violent kick to her insides.

Fragile and weak and scared out of her goddamn mind but she wasn't a runaway.

Sookie forced herself to turn around, stomach twisting painfully in protest. Before she could take more than one step forward, the door was ripped open, and her world blurred - and then her back struck brick hard, breath catching in her chest - and Eric stared at her furiously, a feral frenzy in his eyes -

The glimpse of his expression hit her like a punch to the gut, wrecking havoc on her visceral organs. The ghost of his feelings were worse, a tangled trainwreck of emotion speeding towards her violently.

"Don't run from this," he said, a hoarse rasp to his voice.

Sookie tried to breathe, her throat closing up painfully. She felt sick with terror and pain, barely able to think beyond the blue of his eyes. Iron bands clenched around her chest, crushing her lungs bloodily.

"I won't," she managed quietly. She meant those words fiercely. "I won't run."

Eric stilled at her words, and she could see calculations ticking away behind his hard eyes. He continued to stare at her, a blunt drilling look that assessed even the slightest threat of her leaving. If he believed her or not, she couldn't tell because he didn't budge an inch. His grip tightened on her arms, just shy of painfully, before loosening but not letting go.

"But we can't talk here." There was sure to be yelling, and Jason was inside.

Eric looked at her, expression hard and skin pale, even for a vampire. Without a word, she felt herself being hauled over his shoulder, and then he took off in a run. The wind whipped at her hair, but Sookie was almost used to travelling at vamp speed by now. He curled his arm under her knees, skin soft against her bare flesh, holding his shoulder still enough that it didn't dig into her stomach. The memory of his drunken antics, sliding a hand up to palm her behind, felt like enough of a punch to the gut that he needn't have bothered.

Within a short time, Eric came to a stop on her porch, and Sookie slipped hurriedly down off his shoulder, moving away from him. She sucked in a couple of deep breathes, trying to handle the sudden stillness after so much motion, before trying the door. It was still unlocked from their hurried exit. The back of her neck prickled under his stare but she forced herself not to look back, terrified of what might spill out of her mouth.

The door opened. She entered her home with Eric closely behind, and paused in the hallway in surprise. The wall had been rebuilt from when she had blasted through it. Perhaps it had been Bill? But why?

Throught years of ingrated habit, she kicked off her shoes automatically. There was a sound behind her, the faint thud of shoes on the floor, and she looked back. Eric had kicked off his shoes, leaving him in dark socks. Abruptly, she remembered washing his feet, pulling those stones from his flesh, and he'd smiled at her . . .

Eric seemed to be suffering from his own recollection from the fleeting glimpse she caught of his expression.

The memories seemed to gut the anger in his eyes, leaving something far more horrific to her behind. His eyes went strangely hollow and opaque, lingering on the couch. Where she had first told him she loved him, where they'd had sex, where she had chosen him over Bill.

Her own memory stabbed steeply into her gut, so deep that she tasted bile in the back of her throat, and she turned her face away, walking to the kitchen. She grabbed a glass from the cabinet, filling it brisky with water, and tipping her head back to drink it. It tasted icy cold, and she ended up drinking more than she'd expected, swallowing slowly to settle her twisted stomach.

Sookie didn't want to turn around, to face Eric and talk, to listen to whatever he had to say but it was inevitable. Her back stiffened, spine threatening to turn to jelly, stomach began to rebel from a mixture of bone-deep pain and cold terror. She put her glass aside, laced her shaking hands together, and turned.

Eric stared at her across the table, blue eyes burning intensely, head lowered. The stance made him seem feral and almost wolfish, ready to pounce. She leaned back against the counter, needing something solid at her back, and moved her hands to grip the side.

"I remember everything," Eric said, tossing the words out into the air starkly. "I'm still who I have been with you," he continued. There was no give in his expression, no vulnerablity to match the words. "Nothing has to change."

Only it already had.

It killed her to see him like this, cold and harsh, so unlike the softened man who had invaded her house and her heart. She couldn't even imagine what it was like for him, trying to mesh two sets of memories together, and what was in those new memories . . .

A thousand years carried an impact.

Softly, she shook her head. "Everything's changed."

"Not as you have been afraid of," Eric stated, voice firm and certain. He sounded like he was pitching a concept to her, not fighting for their relationship.

Sookie adverted her gaze, struggling to swallow as her eyes burned, threatening to spill over. She felt so many things, all of them jarring together painfully. It was too much - all of this was too much - and she was splintering under the pressure.

She could never regret him, not for a single second, but the memores were choking her. Waking up with him curled around her tightly, the happy flare of his vivid blue eyes, the sleeping vulnerablity of him, and his honesty.

"Sookie." His tone had shifted, lowering until his rough voice seemed softer. It forced her to look at him, a quick nervous glance that lingered for longer than planned. There was a crack in his expression, a yield of vulnerablity that leaked out.

He was so brave. She tried to match him.

"You scare me," she admitted quietly.

Eric's expression lurched, like she had kicked him, and locked down instinctively. When he spoke, his words were clipped but harshly sincere. "I would never hurt you."

"I know that," she said firmly, putting force behind the truth in her voice. She looked at him somewhat intently, wanting him to read her sincerity from her face.

Eric looked away for a brief moment, struggling to regroup. His jaw was a hard line of tension. "Then what are you afraid of, Sookie?"

Sookie was silent, words catching in her throat, and Eric looked at her, grey-blue eyes riveted on her dark set.

Sometime over the last few days, she had forgotten this, how to put herself under a spotlight and point out all of her worst fears, how to be vulnerable with somebody. It had been hard with the other Eric. Her insides shrank fearfully at the mere idea of doing this with him now.

She had tried so hard to cautious. Even before his memory loss, she had cared about him deeply, feeling a stubborn attachment that drew her to him like a moth to a flame, but she had been flung violently over the edge by his unknowning vulnerablity - his trust - and she was still falling, always falling for him.

But there was something that stopped her from hitting the bottom, from trusting the man she loved.

It made her run, and resign herself to losing him, and not even think of fighting for him, not even think that he might love her with the same hot-headed passion she felt for him.

"No use in lying," Sookie said, partly to him, but mostly to herself. She crossed her arms tightly across her chest, and Eric tracked the little gesture with his steely blue eyes. "I don't know you."

Those eyes snapped to her face, burning like an explosion with intensity - a dangerous intensity.

Sookie surged on quickly before he could contradict her, "We've never been friends. We've never talked about anything personal before the last week. I barely know anything about you. And you don't know me, Eric - not really, and I'm glad for it. Before now, I've been actin' like such a child."

And how could he possibly want - love - someone who had behaved like that? It seemed impossible that this Eric, who knew himself, could love anyone, especially her. Even as a child, she had never acted so foolish and blind and arrogant.

"I know you," Eric said in his rough-soft voice. It was a hard statement packed with cool certainty. A inferno raged behind the icy blue of his eyes, hot and overpowering. "Perhaps not as well as I once assumed, but I know you now." There was a heat broiling under his smooth calm, a possessive fire, deeping the rasp of his voice. "And you will know me."

Sookie felt drawn into him, like a moff to the flame. It was an effect Eric simply had on people, a ruthless magnetism that was hard to resist. It had nothing to do with his remarkble looks. He had lost it with his memory - his personality.

"You can't say things like that and expect it to fix things," Sookie told him softly.

Eric lowered his head a little more, not sheepishly as he would have done mere hours ago, but angrily, and then he was a blur, zipping across the table at vamp speed, coming to a hard stop scant inches away from her. There was a snarl hiding under his smooth humanly angry face, crackling in his blue eyes. "Running from me is hardly a better option."

Her spine stiffened. "I was coming back." She let that settle on him for exactly a second before charging forward. "I was coming back because we can't just ignore this, or pretend it'll all go away - "

A low snarl rumbled through the kitchen from the back of Eric's throat. "I refuse to ignore this."

Sookie's arms tightened around herself, an instinctive reaction to the growing fury in his eyes, though she wasn't afraid of him, just his words. "I don't know what you want," she said, voice harsh with upset.

"I don't want trite excuses," Eric said sharply. "You knew nothing of Bill yet you were with him for quite some time."

The reminder was painful, and worse still, she knew it had been deliberate - maybe he was testing her feelings for the other vampire, maybe he was punishing her for running before, but Eric was too sharp for it to have been an accident.

"I learned from that mistake," she bit back, just shy of harshly. Eric's eyes blazed with fury at the unintentional barb in her voice. "And Bill has nothing to do with our - with this."

The blue of Eric's eyes deepened, giving way under something unreadable. "I have made my intentions clear from the moment we met," he claimed in a calmer, almost soft manner.

Sookie didn't notice his tone, all she heard were his words, and the words were killers. She felt a part of herself screaming wildly in pain, like the sharp shock of instinct after an amputation, a wild desperation to reclaim what vital piece was brutally sliced away.

But she didn't cry, though fuck did she want to. Cry and get as far from him as possible, as far from the memories and thoughts and the love that crushed her chest like an aluminum soda can.

Adrenaline and self-preservation numbed the loss she felt for now, turning it into a minor case of shock to lessen the thunderous impact.

"To fuck me," Sookie heard herself saying from a million miles away, through a baffling film of gut-busting sickness and numbness.

The numb took a hit when his fangs snapped down, a move of pure undiluted fury.

"No," he hissed at her viciously. Eric was livid. His blue eyes looked like sparks shooting off a sharpened blade, gray and hot enough to singe. His smooth handsome expression had disappeared, leaving behind a look of animal rage behind. "I want more. I want everything."

Heart lodged in her throat, Sookie gazed at him, unable to speak. Eric reached out for her, touching her face. The large span of his hand curved around her cheek, and he stared down at her intently, reading the broad hesitance in her eyes.

"If you give yourself to me, you won't regret it," he promised, drilling through her grey matter with a single stare. His fangs clicked away. "You will know me."

He was a whirlwind, an unstoppable force when he wanted something, but Sookie wasn't a pushover anymore. She could push back, but it wasn't easy when she wanted it to be true, when she wanted to believe him so bad.

But this was Eric, who had tried to buy her and then asked her so rawly to be his. He didn't make sense. She couldn't trust her judgement on him, and she couldn't trust blindly. But she loved him, so she wanted that too. Want and smarts, the two always clashed. And she always chose wrong.

She had been silent too long.

Something cold and bitter darted across Eric's face, and his hand dropped away like lead. "Do you truly hate me that much?"

Shock crashed through her abruptly, like being doused in ice water. Her heart exploded in her throat, and words jerked violently out of her mouth, "No! I've . . . " her startled voice softened, like it would have for him hours before. "Eric, I've never hated you."

His smile was hard. It made her chest hurt, reminding her of the look on his face when he had first seen the ring Bill had proposed to her with. "Not even when I tortured your friend?"

She stiffened. She tried to be as loyal to her friends as possible, especially after Faerie, and the truth felt like a betrayal of that. She had barely spoken to Lafayette since getting back. Tara had drained her focus, and he was somewhere safe now, far away from Eric's delayed fury.

However, they were friends.

"I was mad as hell," Sookie said finally, regret in her voice. Not mad enough. Not worried enough when Lafayette disappeared. "And I wanted to hate you, but . . . "

But even then, there had been something about Eric - something that burrowed under her skin, that made him a person to her (far from human, but not a monster) and she couldn't hate a person, not even Bill. She just wasn't built that way.

"I hated what you did," she said firmly, eyes darting up to catch his tentatively. "But I didn't hate you."

To her surprise, Eric's hard expression flickered at her confession. He stared at her, such a beautiful man with wildly intense eyes. The air felt tight and heavy, almost thick enough for her to feel weighing down on her. His silence in the face of her confession made her nervous, and she was aware of the irony in that.

When Eric spoke, his voice was strange, holding the other Eric's emotional boldness but also his usual unreadable tone. The only thing to connect it to the man before her was the voice, rough-soft and filled with so many contradictions in that alone. "Do you still love me?"

The question hit her like a punch to the gut, knocking the breath out of her and sending her mentally crashing to the floor. For one wild instant, she thought about lying and saying she wasn't sure, he was so different that she didn't know. The idea was dismissed abruptly as cruel and cowardly. She didn't want to lie to him, but she was terrified of telling the truth.

"You know how I feel," she said instead, hedging around the question nervously.

"Say it," Eric bit out, the tension coiling in his voice, and in his body like a current of electricity growing deadlier.

Sookie felt her own body lock up with discomfort. She felt boxed in, trapped by his eyes. It was an awful hackle-rasing feeling that worked through her form, tightening her muscles against her will. The words were weights in the back of her mouth, unwilling to budge an inch, and truthfully, she didn't try to move them. It would be like ripping her heart out and throwing it at his feet.

It was a huge risk, and the words would make her so very, very vulnerable.

Her thoughts shifted, a memory flash of Amnesia Eric. He had been open with her, devoted and happy and unscarred. Astonishingly brave, enough to grind down all of her objections and turn her affection into love.

It was the actual feelings that made her vulnerable to him, not the words. She could control words, but not her feelings, never her feelings. The telepath felt a pang of sadness. When had she became cautious enough that love felt shameful? When had she started living in a world where she trusted the man she loved with her body, but not the truth?

Gran had told her to take a chance back in Marnie's shop, and she had taken what felt like dozens, but they were small steps in reality. How could she trust Eric if she didn't take a gamble?

Sookie inhaled slowly, heart racing wildly with panic and sheer icy terror, and as Eric looked at her intently, trying to gauge her expression, she was brave.

In one smooth movement, she moved forward, stretching up, and she kissed him. It was a soft kiss, more romantic than passionate. Eric's eyes flared wildly like an eruption, the black in his eyes widened, blue retreating wisely. When she leaned away, his arms snapped out to grab her roughly - not painful, but the movement was vampire fast and very tight, like he expected her to slip away.

"Sookie," he gritted out through his teeth, rough and heartbreakingly raw, almost desperate. It was easy to look at him like this and be convinced he loved her, but self-doubt was never an easy kill.

"Shh," Sookie said breathlessly, and his hands tightened. His eyes searched hers in a furious frenzy. She breathed in deeply. Sticks and stones but words will never hurt her yet somehow, this did. "I love you, Eric."

Have faith in me, dear readers. Next on my update list, Circular Reasoning, and that pesky novel of mine . . .