Title: Offers

Author: California Kat

Beta: None (So forgive my typos. They are all mine.)

Anniversary: It has been one year since Eric made Sookie an offer she couldn't refuse.

Disclaimer: I don't own the characters of True Blood or the Southern Vampire Mystery novels. Alan Ball and Charlaine Harris have those honors.

Summary: It's been a year since Sookie witnessed her best friend being buried and since she got an offer from Eric. She took him up on it. Now she has an offer of her own for the Viking. (This story has been inspired by the Fangreaders Anniversary Writing Challenge.)

Rating: M—There are lemons and language.

A/N: This story is a one-shot (though a long one). It has been written in honor of the Fangreaders and their challenge, which inspired me to step away from the sequel of Back and Forth (don't worry, I'm going right back to it) to write a little (okay, not so little) story. I am also experimenting with writing in first-person for the first time (later in the story). I hope you enjoy it.


Offers

It had been one year—one year exactly—since Sookie had watched Tara be buried in a cold grave in the cold November ground of the Bon Temps cemetery. She, Jason, and Lafayette had held each other for warmth and comfort through the early morning service. The only reverend that they'd found—since Tara's mother had used her new-found influence to make sure that none of the 'fine' Bon Temps preachers spoke words over her daughter's body—was from a nondenominational church in Monroe, and he had to conduct the service in the cold, early morning because he had other commitments for the rest of the day. Lettie Mae didn't even attend the service because she had proclaimed that her child's soul was lost to the devil and hell-bound because of what she called Tara's 'lesbian ways.'

In the end, it had been just the reverend, Sam, Sam's girlfriend Luna, Lafayette, Jason, and Sookie. Still in shock, they all watched Tara's simple casket be lowered into the earth. It was all they could afford for her, given the fact that they'd had to buy a second one for Jesus.

The minister had spoken some kind―but impersonal―words about lives being lost too young, and tears had never been far from Sookie's eyes as she'd helped to hold up Lafayette—while trying not to fall apart herself. Jesus had been put into the ground the afternoon before, and his grave was next to Tara's, still mounding with freshly turned dirt and red carnations. They'd gotten pink for Tara's grave.

At about 10:00 a.m., Sookie had received two items―a package from Eric Northman and flowers from Bill Compton.


Eric had surprised Sookie in more than one way since she'd told him and Bill that she couldn't be with either of them. But the contents of that package had pretty much shocked her.

The first surprise from Eric had come even while Tara lay almost dead in her arms, her friend's head literally blown apart by the bullet that Debbie had meant for Sookie. Of course, both Bill and Eric, having had her blood, had also felt her fear and arrived on the scene even before the smoke from the gunshots had cleared.

But it had been too late to heal Tara at that point; her pulse was barely existent when the vampires arrived. And even though she felt her friend slipping away, Sookie wouldn't have allowed either vampire to turn her. Sookie's first surprise from Eric had been that he didn't offer to try.

It had been Bill who had offered to turn Tara, and Sookie now begrudged that offer with every fiber of her being. At the time, Sookie had thought that Bill was offering to try to make things better for her, but Sookie wondered at Bill's true motives now. She also thought his offer rather thoughtless―in all the ways that truly mattered. He had known Tara much better than Eric; Bill knew Tara hated vampires. And if, in her moment of weakness, Sookie had given in, then she would have been the one who would have had to live with the guilt of condemning Tara to an existence she would have hated. It would have been so much worse than living with the guilt of being the reason why Debbie was in her house with a gun in the first place.

However, Bill's offer and actions that night had not surprised her. Once Sookie had refused his offer to turn Tara, he looked personally wounded; he had the gall to look hurt, and Sookie had—for some reason—felt utterly guilty because she'd hurt him. Now, a year later, she couldn't believe that she'd felt that way.

But, then again, she couldn't believe a lot of things she'd said and done during that time of her life.

Of course, after she'd turned down his offer, Bill had taken over the scene in all the obvious ways. He'd dealt with the police like he was in charge, like he was 'the man of the house.' And Sookie—in her shock and grief—had let it all happen just as she had when Gran had died.

Eric's actions that night, on the other hand, had surprised her—greatly, in fact. It was really he who had been in control of the scene, but in none of the overt ways. Sookie had noticed him flinch when she had so vehemently turned down Bill's offer to turn Tara into a vampire. She now knew that his flinch had occurred because he was feeling her emotions with her. She knew also that her desire to honor what Tara would have wanted made Eric think that Sookie herself would never want to be vampire either. His flinch had meant that he was in that moment with her. It had also meant that he realized her moments on the earth would be finite.

After that flinch, she'd gotten a little nod from Eric, which seemed to say more than any words could have. That nod was understanding. It was acceptance.

Eric's actions that night had been quiet. While Bill had talked to the police and controlled the spin of the situation like a politician, Eric had talked to Lafayette in a soft voice. Unexpectedly, Lafayette had seemed to feel a bit better after their conversation, and Sookie, assuming immediately that Eric had used glamour, poked into her friend's head. To her surprise, she'd learned that Eric had simply asked if Lafayette was okay. He'd told her friend that he was sorry for his losses. He'd assured him that―as had been true for the previous year―Lafayette had nothing to fear from his kind and that Pam had been ordered to stay away from him. But mostly, he'd made Lafayette feel better by being a comforting, calm presence in a sea of turmoil. Lafayette believed Eric to be sincere in his condolences and had been helped by them.

Eric had also offered her quiet words of sympathy. Those words had been simple—"I'm sorry, Sookie." He'd taken her hand for a moment, and she had felt his sorrow, felt it like it was coming through him and into her. She'd felt his powerlessness too, or at least she had imagined that she did, though she didn't know how that was possible at that time. His eyes conveyed that he was sorry that he was unable to find a way to truly make everything better for her.

She'd felt his hand gently take hers again as the body bag with Tara's corpse was zipped up. He stayed until almost dawn, just as Bill did. But he said no other words, at least none that she heard. While Bill was talking to her in the living room about how she should come and stay with him and about how he could make her safe, Eric was nowhere to be seen, though she still felt he was near somehow.

She'd turned down that offer from Bill too, though he'd continued to try to convince her.

Sookie hadn't known where Eric was or what he was doing until after he'd left with Bill. He'd not said anything upon leaving either. He'd watched Bill give her a kiss on the cheek and then on the hands, kisses that Sookie had taken but not really welcomed. Eric had given her another nod of understanding and then had lightly pulled her into his strangely warming embrace for a hug. In all the time she'd known Eric, she'd never imagined that he even knew how to hug, but she'd taken that one gratefully. And as he'd comforted Lafayette with his words and sympathy, he'd comforted her with that hug—at least for a few moments.

She had been sinking into that comforting embrace when Bill cleared his throat and told Eric that they should leave, that it was only half an hour until sunrise.

Now Sookie realized that it had most likely been jealousy that had caused Bill to clear his throat and interrupt her comfort. Given the speed of vampires, Sookie knew that it would have taken only a minute for them to return to Bill's house. But Bill had taken away her moment of peace in Eric's embrace, and she had pulled back; the moment had been lost to her. Eric had looked down at her with eyes that held more emotion than even her Eric's eyes had held.

He'd given her a little bow and then had turned to go with Bill, who had one last time tried to convince her to go with him—that it would be easier if she just gave in to him. Sookie wondered how Bill could even imagine that anything could make the situation she was in easier.

She'd figured out where Eric had been when she'd gone into the kitchen to clean it of Debbie's blood and Tara's blood. Lafayette had taken some valium so that he could go back to sleep, and Sookie wanted the kitchen to hold no traces of death when he woke up. But when she looked at the sparkling floor, she gasped. Eric had cleaned everything.

She'd sunk to her knees and registered that she was in the same spot where she'd found Gran's body. She'd had to clean up that blood herself in one of the most heart-wrenching moments of her life, but Eric had somehow known that the act of cleaning up her best friend's blood would have hurt her—maybe damaged her forever. So he'd simply done it for her, again surprising her.

Looking back at that night after a year, Sookie could see the love in Eric's actions—in all of them that night. She could also see the love in Bill's. But she understood now by looking at those acts that the two vampires loved her differently―so differently, and that made all the difference in the world to her.

Bill had tried to push his love upon her. He'd tried to take control as he always had. He'd offered to protect her and make it better. Of course, Sookie couldn't blame him for this. After all, she'd been the one who—after Gran had died—had been glad to relinquish her control to him. She'd been in shock and aggrieved, and she'd allowed him to take over. Sometimes she wondered if that was the moment when her sensible self had taken a long vacation.

And then she had gone to him for comfort and to forget. She'd literally run to him the night after Gran's funeral. He'd simply acted the same way again after Tara's death; however, this time, she was the one that acted differently, more like Sookie Stackhouse than she had acted in months. She'd remembered that even in grief, she couldn't lose who she was and that she was a strong Stackhouse woman, despite the fact that she felt like she wanted to crumble. She heard Gran's voice in her head telling her to buck up.

Bill had given her the best kind of love that he knew how to give, but it hadn't been what she needed. Now she realized that he simply didn't know her well enough to know what she'd really needed. Whether that was her fault for having been something that she was not for so many months or his fault for not having seen her—maybe not even wanting to see the real her—she no longer cared.

And Eric—well—he had shown her the love that she really needed that night, a quiet love, an unassuming love. It was love that wasn't meant to overpower her. It was not what she had expected from Eric―the Eric that was Sheriff of Area 5, that is. But now she was ashamed for not expecting it. She now recognized that he had always 'gotten' her in a way that Bill never had, and she trusted him, truly trusted him—despite everything.

Of course, it had taken her a year to realize all this, but she could forgive herself for that too. After all, everyone else had a year's head start on her because of the whole fairy thing.


It was a year to the day since she'd received Eric's package after Tara's funeral. She'd also received two dozen red roses from Bill. She'd ended up splitting the flowers between Tara's and Jesus's graves. Bill's attached note had said simply this: "If you need me as you needed me after the death of your grandmother, you know where I am." Sookie had been tempted to take him up on that offer for about two seconds. Looking back now, the words of his note simply made her angry as did the fact that he'd been calling her about three times a night since Tara had died to repeat his offer for her to come to live with him, especially now that Eric owned her home and she couldn't control whether vampires came inside.

Of course, it hadn't been a vampire who had killed her Gran. It hadn't been a vampire who had killed Tara. A vampire had never tried to kill her in her home.

Eric's package had contained the more surprising gift and the offer that she'd not been able to refuse. In it, there were two envelopes and a small wrapped gift. She opened the larger—though thinner—envelope first to find two plane tickets―with flexible departure and return dates―to Hawaii. The names on the tickets were Sookie Stackhouse and Lafayette Reynolds.

Surprised by that item, Sookie quickly opened the other, fatter envelop. It was a letter written in an elegant, practiced script that looked perfect on the page.

Sookie read every word of the long letter twice before she even registered that tears had been falling steadily down her cheeks. In the last year, she'd read it so many times that she had it memorized.

Dearest Sookie,

I have wondered often in the last two nights if I will ever speak to you again—not that I don't want to. I do want to speak to you, to see you, to hold you again, and—yes—to love you. But your decision was clear to me the other night, first at Bill's house and then at your own after the death of your friend.

And despite the obstinacy of all my attempts to do otherwise, I love you, Sookie Stackhouse, and amazingly—even to me—I love you enough to respect your wishes. However―do I hope that you will one day change your mind and choose me? Yes, I do.

You were right when you said that I'd given myself to you completely. I have. Maybe I've been waiting to offer myself to someone for a thousand years. Part of me thinks so. All I am certain about, however, is that I would give you all of me, Sookie. I would give you every part. I would have you by my side for as long as you would stay there. All who owe me fealty would owe you the same. In truth, you have all these things already, and you've had them longer than you know.

It may surprise you to learn that the love I bear for you comes with an unselfish quality, the strength of which I have never known before, so rest assured that I will not force the issue. I have never found someone that complements me as you do, and a large part of me―in truth, all of me―hopes that you will change your mind and make me your mate. I will—unless another curse finds me and you are not there to save my ass this time—live a long time, so if that change occurs in you, then you should know that I will be here. And feelings—though rare in me—do not go away.

I once lied to you and told you I did not understand love. That is not true. I loved my human family greatly—my father, my mother, and my infant sister. And I loved Godric. Pam is more difficult at times, but I love her as well. And now I love you. You are the fifth being I have loved in a thousand years; I do not know if this is a sign that I don't understand love well or that I understand it very well.

Regardless, it is seen as a weakness when vampires love, so we try never to show it. Most try never to even feel it. I have failed in the latter where you are concerned from the moment Bill Compton brought you to Fangtasia after the Maenad had attacked you. I suppose it was seeing you almost dead that made me acknowledge that I no longer wanted to live in a world without you. Showing love, on the other hand, is difficult for me. At that—as you have undoubtedly noticed—I am not so proficient—except, apparently, when I have amnesia.

But none of this is really why I am writing—though I wanted you to know it all. No—I am writing to make you an offer of sorts, an offer that I have a number of reasons for making. You may have already seen the tickets to Hawaii. I know you love the sun, Sookie, and winter is coming to this place. You have also lost two of the most important people in your life, your grandmother and your friend, and to you, these deaths have come close together. In addition, you have learned about Bill's duplicity, and you have been faced with dangers from seemingly every direction, some of which have been made unintentionally worse by me. So I offer you Hawaii so that you may find some healing and some peace in the sun you love so well.

The Hawaiian Islands have few Supernaturals, which I imagine might be quite a draw for you at this time. There is but one vampire there. As you can imagine, vampires did not flock there before the Great Reveal because it was harder to hide in smaller places, especially islands. Plus, we do not love the sun that you crave. It is, simply put, not appealing to most of my kind. However, I do enjoy going there from time to time—mainly because it is a getaway from other vampires. I also enjoy the relative warmth of the ocean water there, even in winter.

I have a house there, a house that is at your service. Before you object to it on principle, think for a moment. You are already living in one of my houses, after all. And you took care of me through my amnesia. I owe you my life six times as far as I see it—once for taking me in after I lost my memory, once for helping to hold me down so that I would not meet the sun, once for breaking the necromancer's spell over me, and once for saving me from being burned at the stake. You also saved my life twice during the Russell debacle. You pulled me out of the sun and fed me your blood. And inadvertently, you also allowed me to set my trap. In return, I have tricked you into taking my blood (Dallas) and used you to trick Russell.

In short, I'm sure that you can see that I owe you, and your using my home in Hawaii is the equivalent of your staying in the Bon Temps home—so why not?

As I said before, Hawaii has only one vampire resident; her name is Thalia. She is unpleasant, and she is mean, but she is respected by me nonetheless. And you would, perhaps, term us friends. We have fought together in many battles, and she has saved my life. Do not tell her you know this, but I have saved hers too. She will look after you if you choose to go to Hawaii. Of course, she will probably not want to meet you as she does this. She's not the most social of creatures, as I have said, which is why she likes her isolation so much. She lives on my property there, but it is extensive, and she does not frequent the main house, where you would stay.

Other than the need to―perhaps―get away, there is another reason why you may wish to go to Hawaii, Sookie. I hope that you will not tell others what I'm about to tell you—not because I'm ashamed at all; I'm not. It's just that most humans do not know that vampires have the ability to do what I am about to tell you that we—you and I—have already done.

Sookie, you and I are bonded. This occurs when a mutual exchange of blood happens between a vampire and a human. The blood exchange must occur simultaneously, or at least be close enough together so that the blood of both members of the exchange is moving into their bodies as one. You do not have a bond with Bill—I have used my own bond with you to assess this. You have had his blood multiple times—that I can tell—but a bond cannot form without love on both sides at the time of its making. This is why it's so rare, Sookie―so precious. And it creates more than just a simply tie, like the one you have with Bill.

As with your tie with him, our bond does enable me to track you and to feel when you are in danger. In fact, with your tie, I'm sure that Bill can feel some of your stronger emotional surges as well. But there is more to a bond. I can feel all of your emotions. I can feel that you love me. I can feel that you love Bill. I can feel your grief. I can feel everything.

Please do not think that I wish you away because I do not want to feel these things. On the contrary—feeling with you has been one of the most profound things that I have experienced in my life, but I know that you value your privacy, so you had a right to know. You may also feel me a bit as well; I think I sensed moments when you did the other night.

Like ties, bonds like the one we made fade over time, Sookie. And the effects are lessened by distance. If you were as far from me as Hawaii, I can assure you that I would hardly feel you. I would know you were alive, but I would feel only the most powerful of your emotions. And you would probably not feel my emotions at all.

Did you know that blood cells survive only 90 to 120 days in the human body, Sookie? Certainly the blood of the undead would seem to be able to last longer, but it does not—at least, not once it finds its way into a human after a tie is formed. Vampire blood latches—or ties itself—onto living cells of human blood and travels with those cells. And without fresh blood infusions from a vampire, his or her blood will be expelled from the body as the dead blood cells that it has attached itself to are expelled.

Your white blood cells will basically eat vampire blood away after a time, and when that happens, the magic of your blood will fade away in the vampire's body as well.

Bonds, however, operate a little differently than ties. I have been told that a bond may make my blood tenacious in you, so it will likely take longer for my cells to be killed. It is believed by my kind that the blood of a bonded vampire will try to transfer to new cells that the human's body is making as the cells it has attached itself to die, but the vampire blood will weaken with the transfer, so eventually, it too will die. And distance will help with the process. My blood and the magic in it would respond to my strength if we were close, and my proximity would enliven it and keep it strong enough to make its transfers to new cells without its weakening.

Shreveport and Bon Temps are not far enough away from each other, my love. I feel my blood in you even as I write this letter. It is looking for me, Sookie. Can you feel it too? Given the complexity of my feelings for you, I both hope for that and hope against it. I want you so badly. Yet I want you to want me on your own. Do you? How could you even know for sure what you want?

I'm guessing that right about now your greatest desire is that you could be sure of your own feelings. I feel some fear from you; are you frightened that the vampire blood in you is manipulating you? I am trying to prevent my blood from having an influence on your feelings, but can you trust that I'm telling you the truth in this? And what of Bill's blood in you?

In truth, my blood will try to draw you to me because you are my heart's desire; I cannot control this. It is a primal urge that is more powerful than all the control that I have built up in all my years. And it draws me to you even now.

Do not think for even a moment that I want you gone from me, my love. I want you only with me. The bond would not have occurred otherwise. It is not only the Eric that had amnesia that loves you fully.

You may—then—be asking why I would give you the tickets to send you far away from me. Perhaps it is that unselfishness that I feel when I think about how I want to love you that is compelling me to tell you all this, to basically guarantee that you will leave me. I must also confess that my feelings will eventually affect you if you remain this close to me. As I said before, I am trying to keep them at bay and away from the bond, but it is more and more difficult for me by the hour. And they will eventually affect your feelings in return. A blood tie works the same in this regard, but a bond is even stronger. Therefore, I have another confession to make. If I so choose, I could use the full influence of our bond to make sure you favor me over Bill. I feel that much of his blood is still tied to your blood, Sookie, but it would be nothing compared to the influence I could have through the bond. I admit that I was tempted to do this at first—right after you told Bill and me that you were choosing not to be with either one of us. But I cannot do that to you; I love you.

There is something else you need to know. Bill is trying to use his blood to influence you through the tie. I have felt this and have been limiting the effectiveness of his attempts through the greater power of the bond. He clearly loves and wants you, Sookie. And it is vampire nature to use our blood to influence others. If you are far away from him, his tie will be useless; for that reason, you may wish not to tell others where you will be if you go to Hawaii. If Bill found out, he might try to find and influence you more.

I have been trying to quell my own emotions and vampire nature, Sookie, but I am weakening, so if you don't want for us to be together, one of us must leave the area. Again—please do not think that this is me trying to make sure that the one leaving is you. Since Bill has become king, I have stayed in Area 5 for one reason only, and you may guess at it. But now we cannot be in the same space without being together in it. And if we are not together, there is no need for me to be here anymore. If you want, I will go. And if you do not take me up on these tickets and this offer, go I will—within a few days. I won't be able to keep my feelings from affecting you through the bond for longer than that.

Don't worry—Bill will not try to keep me here. Though he cannot feel that we are bonded, he still wants you and sees me as a threat to his desires. He would gladly release me from my sheriff duties if it would mean me leaving the area behind. And, as I have intimated, I have many homes around the world. And if I cannot have the home I truly wish—a home with you, Sookie—then the place that I dwell is of very little difference to me.

Just promise me one thing—if I go and you stay, please remember what I have said about Bill and his potential influence over you. If you know his intent, you can, perhaps, shield yourself from it.

There is one more thing I must tell you about our bond. The bond will try to pull at us once we separate—at least at first. From what I know from others, there will be pain. The human will feel something like the flu―from what I have heard―until the bond realizes that it is useless to pull. The vampire will feel as the human does.

I know that I speak of the bond almost as a living and thinking thing, and it is, Sookie. It was formed from magic, blood, and love, and it will fight for itself. If the pain becomes too great when we are apart, call Amelia Broadway, a witch of my acquaintance in Hawaii. Her number is at the bottom of this letter. She will be able to help you deal with the effects of the initial sickness if need be. And she is trustworthy, though I understand if you are reluctant about seeking her help because of our previous dealings with witches.

No matter what, we will both have to deal with the initial pain of being far apart, but it will pass. Please, seek Amelia's help if the sickness is more than just the flu-like symptoms I have described. I cannot face the idea of you in too much pain, Sookie. I cannot have it.

Despite my longing for you, I hope that you choose Hawaii, Sookie. I think it would suit you for a while, at least through the winter. And it would be easier for me to separate from you—if I knew that Bill would not be able to use his blood to influence your feelings and actions more than he may have already.

If you do, call the other number at the bottom of this page. It is for my day man, Bobby. He's an insufferable ass, but extremely efficient. He has been told that if you call, the house should be made ready, and one of my cars there—the one with GPS—will be waiting for you at the airport so that you can find your way to the house. He's also been checking around at the restaurants in the area so that you can take a job if you wish.

As you can see, I have included a ticket for Lafayette, whom I suspect could use some time away too. Would you pass along my offer? It is not contingent upon your going either. One or both of you may go. Bobby is looking into cooking jobs for him as well. And there is a pub near the house that would certainly hire both of you if you wanted (since Thalia owns it). Don't worry. She's never there.

Also, I thought that you would have a better time in Hawaii if your friend goes. To say truth, I don't want to think of you alone—ever. And if I cannot be with you, then there is no one better than Lafayette for you and you for him, I think.

The other item in this box—I'm sure you will find presumptuous. I bought it for you many months ago, actually. During the renovations of your home, I noticed that most of your clothing had been destroyed by the Maenad, and that included all of your bathing costumes. I saw this one in one of Pamela's many catalogues, which she scatters all over my office. The pattern was so similar to the dress that you wore the first time I saw you, a dress that was also destroyed by the Maenad—to my great regret. I couldn't resist getting it. But how could I give it to you before now? You would take a microwave or a new door for your home. You might even take the gardener I'd hired through the year to oversee the new things I had planted into your yard. But you would not have accepted this. Perhaps you will not do so now either. But I will imagine that you do. And though vampires do not dream in the traditional sense, I will imagine you in it as you lie in the sun. I will imagine the way your skin will look and smell after a day in that sun.

I should close. I feel already as though I've been rambling in this letter, but there was much to tell. I find I have so many things that I want to say to you, Sookie Stackhouse, but I will say only one more thing: Thank you. Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for being the sun in my long-dark life.

Always,

Eric Northman


Sookie had wept while reading and then rereading the letter, and a big part of her—a very big part—had wanted to run to Eric, but she knew that she would be running for all the wrong reasons, and she would come to doubt herself if she did. Was she going to him in her grief? Was she going to him in her pain? Was it his blood or the blood bond he spoke of that was compelling her to go to him? There were so many questions.

Did she love Eric? Yes. And Bill? Yes to that too. But mostly, she felt confused about everything that had happened in the last six months―actually the last year and six months. The one thing that she had not been confused about was Eric's offer. She had known immediately that she wanted to take him up on it. There were a million reasons why she ought not ingratiate herself to him, but she hadn't even seen those as valid in that moment. She'd trusted him.

Her choice made, she'd talked to Lafayette and then to Sam. Sam was decent about everything. He too was in grief over Tara and understood when both friends told him they needed to get away. He promised their jobs when they got back.

Jason was less than thrilled when Sookie told him that she was leaving, especially when she didn't want to say where she was going or when she was coming back. But he'd accepted her decision when he knew that she wouldn't be alone.

And after that, Sookie and Lafayette couldn't pack fast enough. She'd called Bobby right after reading the letter the second time. He was indeed unpleasant, but he'd arranged it when she had asked if they could leave that very afternoon. Sookie and Lafayette were out of Louisiana before the vampires had woken up―before the sun had set on Tara's freshly covered grave.


SPOV

I had come to find out that a year could feel like a very long time.

Eric had contacted us only once since we'd been in Hawaii, a call to Lafayette's phone. I had indeed gotten sick after we'd been in Hawaii for only a day. I got a fever and the chills—a bad case of the flu, it seemed—but I knew that it was really my blood trying to pull me back to Eric. Part of me―a large part—very much wanted to go, especially when I thought of him suffering as well.

The phone call to Lafayette had come on the fifth day of my sickness. Eric had told Lafayette that I would have to contact the witch—immediately. He had told Lafayette that he could feel how sick that I was, and that the bond and all the instincts inside of him were pulling him to me. They were calling him to heal me. He said that he could no longer resist that pull—that it was stronger than even Godric's pull had been, that it was tearing him apart.

He'd told Lafayette that Pam had been ordered to put him under silver chains for one last night, but after that, he'd have to come to me if I was not better. I'd heard the desperation and love in his tone of voice even though I couldn't make out his words on the phone. I'd heard what he said in Lafayette's head, however.

I'd told Lafayette to call Amelia the second he was off the phone with Eric. I wanted Eric so badly to come that my body ached for it, but I also knew that if he came, it would be partly because of the bond. And I didn't want that—not then.

I knew that he loved me beyond the bond, but what about me? Did I love him without the blood and the bond? And Bill? I had no clue. All I knew was that in my illness, my dreams had also gotten more and more confusing and disturbing. Sometimes, I was with both Bill and Eric romantically, which freaked me out. Sometimes, I was just a powerless witness to them fighting over me, and I could do nothing to stop them from hurting each other, and that freaked me out even more. Worst of all, in those dreams, it was always Eric who was ultimately killed—killed when something threatened me and he turned his back on Bill. Bill would attack and put a stake through Eric's heart, and I would watch him die. Another death on my hands. More blood on my kitchen floor, and Eric no longer there to clean it. Thankfully, those dreams ended with my illness.

Amelia helped immediately, and she also became an immediate friend. She was a very loud broadcaster, so even in my sickness, I knew from her head that she meant neither Eric nor myself harm.

After a few days, I felt as good as new, except for a little tug in my heart, a tug I knew was the bond—or maybe it was love all along. After all, that tug has never gone away, despite the fact that Amelia is certain I no longer have any vampire blood in my system. It took 350 days for Eric's blood to be gone. By that time, Amelia was checking my blood with a spell every day.

But even if she hadn't told me, I would have known. I woke up on Day 350 feeling more sad and lonely than I had ever felt before, which was strange. In Hawaii, I'd actually made some friends, and Lala and I had settled into our new lives. He'd even begun dating again—a huge Samoan man named Tony. Of course, I still heard Lala crying for Jesus at least once a week, but he was trying to move on, and I respected that.

After the call from Eric to Lafayette during my illness, there was, as I said, no contact―at least not in a traditional sense. However, every day, fresh flowers were brought to the house. They were always different and beautiful, and I quickly began looking up their meanings. They always had meanings related to love or beauty or faithfulness or friendship. On Day 350, I received the largest bouquet I had up to that point. It was full of primroses, a flower that meant eternal love.

It was that day that I gave myself a symbolic two weeks' notice. At the end of those weeks, I was going to go home or I was going to make Hawaii my permanent home and let Eric know this. And maybe even Bill too.

I took those two weeks off from work. Not paying rent, thanks to Eric's generosity, and not really having to buy food either, thanks to a delivery that was arranged by the high-handed vampire for once a week, I had plenty of money saved from my new job, so I could afford to take some additional R&R—or 'thinking time,' as I liked to call it. Every day for those two weeks, I put on the swim suit Eric had bought for me, a perfect little bikini actually, and sat in the sun on the beach—on the private beach of Eric's estate actually. Sometimes, I read a book. When Lala was off, he would sit out with me. Or Amelia would join me. But most of the time, I looked at the water and thought about what I wanted from my life.

I'd never been the luckiest with love, even before vampires. Human men, especially sexually charged human men, were very loud thinkers. And when touching one, I found it impossible to keep his thoughts out of my head. Being objectified in the mind of the boy I was kissing was my introduction to the kiss. Being judged as a slut, because I had developed breasts and—at eighteen years old—was letting someone touch them, was my introduction to second base. I'd skipped over third base and lost my virginity to a vampire many years later, thinking it was perfect because I couldn't hear him. Of course, given the fact that he had been working for the queen of Louisiana and was there to procure me, I wish I had heard Bill's thoughts now.

Weres and shifters were still quite loud, despite the fact that their minds were somewhat snarly to me. I'd thought for about five minutes about taking up Alcide on his offer to get together, but he'd just abjured Debbie, and I was in love with not one—but two—vampires at the time. And Sam—well, we were always better friends, and he'd done his fair share of mind judging me through the years too.

As I had sat on the beach and contemplated my life on Day 352, I wondered if love was even something I ought to go for. But I suppose―in the end―I didn't have a choice about whether I loved or even about whom I loved. I didn't love Bill; of that I was certain. On Day 73 in Hawaii, my love for him just went away, probably with the last bit of his blood. Was it always his blood that had made me love him? Maybe. Probably.

Eric said that even with a blood tie, a vampire's emotions would affect the human's. I'm assuming the tie I had with Bill amplified my attraction for him, even as Bill's feelings affected mine. So that meant that Bill had really loved me―in his way, at least—but without his blood in me, I remembered our relationship with mostly lukewarm feelings.

Bill and I had fought a lot—actually. Looking back, I realized that we'd fought a whole lot. He'd lied to me about a lot of things too—and not just about the queen. He'd lied about Jessica. He'd lied about not trying to glamour me; I now knew what glamour felt like when it was attempted, after all. He'd lied to me about the effects that blood ties could have. And—I now realized—he'd done some lying about Eric too. Those lies were designed to make me mistrust the Sheriff of Area 5 from the start. Eric could be cruel; Lafayette's torture had been certain proof of that. But in the last year, I'd talked to Lala a lot about that time. And he'd told me of what would generally happen to V-dealers when they were found out by vampires, especially when the disappearance of a vampire—Eddie—was added to the equation.

And Lafayette had also told me about Jason's involvement in that vampire's disappearance. And Eric had known about all of that, according to Lala. Yet Jason had faced no torture. I did not need to ask why.

So Bill had lied about Eric. Was Eric capable of great violence? Yes. Did he deal out that violence randomly or without reason? No—I'd never seen that. The same might be said of Bill. Eric was just less ashamed of who he was. Maybe that was why Bill judged him. Of course, many of Bill's lies about Eric were most likely spawned by jealousy. He would have seen two things very clearly from the moment Eric and I had met. Eric was attracted to me, and I was most definitely physically attracted to him. I mean—what heterosexual woman or homosexual man wouldn't be?—as Lala so accurately put it. I now knew that Bill would have been able to sense my spike in emotions and my attraction for Eric the minute I laid eyes on him. And the Viking had hidden nothing; he rarely did concerning his desire for me.

No—Bill's disparagement of Eric, despite the fact that he clearly counted on Eric for other things―like for help during the witch war or after the Maenad attacked me―was mostly due to the king's jealousy and insecurity.

I had longed for love, had been desperate for it before Bill had come into my life. I can admit that to myself now. And when I'd found someone I couldn't hear—well—I'd lost myself. It was clear and simple. I would have probably become infatuated with almost any vampire at that moment―be he Bill Compton or Elvis Presley turned vampire.

The real question of my self-imposed two weeks' notice was if I loved Eric—now that his blood was no longer in me. That was the foundation on which everything else depended. If I loved him, I was going to go to him. I was going to tell him my feelings and pray to God that he hadn't moved on. It was a selfish prayer, but I was gonna pray it with everything in me.

Over the year, I often wondered if Eric was being faithful to me. I was not dumb; I knew I had no right to expect his faithfulness. After all, I'd ended things with him. Still, the thought of him having sex or taking the blood of another always made me feel like there was a bee in my bonnet. Irrational? Yes. Fair to Eric? Hell no! But when are matters of the heart easy, especially when ties and bonds and telepathy are put into the mix?

I hadn't felt any jealously regarding Bill's actions or probable lovers—not even before Day 73. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why.

Still—with Eric, I'd decided, it didn't so much matter what he'd done for that year as long as he'd be faithful to me if we were in a real relationship. However, given the meanings of the flowers and given the little snippets of emotions I'd actually felt from him before Day 350, I was almost certain of his fidelity. Once again, I felt that Eric Northman was giving me something I wanted—no needed—before I was asking for it.

For my own part, I'd seem a lot of scantily clad men in Hawaii throughout the last year—very pretty, scantily-clad men. But it was almost as if the bond I had with Eric wouldn't allow me to look at them romantically—or maybe that was always the love too.

That bond did have a life of its own, just as Eric had said, and it wanted only one man to be in my mind, and that was Eric. Of course, Bill's blood had fought with the bond for a time, but once it was gone, there was only Eric there.

The last two weeks had been the worst for me. Without the bond, all of the insecure parts of myself had wondered if Eric would give up on me. Part of me thought it would be the best move for him to make, given my indecisiveness. But, then again, he'd loved me before the bond had been formed. His letter had said that he'd loved me since he'd seen me near death because of the Maenad. I simply needed to have faith in him. And I quickly found that faith in him was the easy part.

And when had I begun to love him? Was it after or before getting his blood? To me, this was a pivotal question. After the blood meant that my emotions could have been swayed by his, even initially. Before meant that my emotions were mine alone.

It was while I was watching television on Day 361 that I realized when I had first begun to fall in love with Eric. The broadcast was about a Fellowship of the Sun attack, which had resulted in the deaths of three vampires. I'd held her breath until the story had said that the vampires were in California. And then I knew. It was when Eric Northman was under silver on that altar in the Fellowship of the Sun church that I'd felt my first stirrings of love for him. He'd offered himself for me and Godric. And I'd hated seeing him hurt and powerless. When I'd run up to that altar to free him, it had been my heart that had led me there, not my compassion.

In my mind, Eric should always be strong and on his feet fighting. And seeing him under chains made me ache from somewhere deep inside that had already belonged to him. That was before I'd had his blood and after I knew what he was capable of with Lafayette.

And, of course, that feeling in my heart for Eric hadn't left with his blood. On Day 351, I'd loved him just as much as on Day 350.

And on Day 365, exactly a year to the day since I'd left Louisiana, I knew that I loved him even more than that; in fact, each day my love for him seemed only to grow, not dim. After my two weeks of self-imposed thinking time, I was certain, and I boarded the plane home with only one thought in mind. I'd chosen love with Eric if that was still what he wanted, and I trusted that it was. He'd told me that he loved me. He'd said that he'd waited a thousand years to love, and Eric was not the type of man to give up on that—even if it had taken me another year to come to the same conclusion. After all, I smiled to myself, I was a year behind.

And if Eric had moved on? Well—I would need to begin mourning over that fact in earnest, then. And I'd pack up all that I wanted from Gran's old house and move permanently to Hawaii. I'd saved up enough to get my own place there with Lala, who'd decided to stay regardless.


EPOV

I smelled her before I saw her, and I rose from my throne at Fangtasia so that I could look for her over the throngs of fangbangers.

When I found her, she took my breath away, and that was saying something―given the fact that I hadn't needed to take a breath in a thousand years.

She was beautiful. It was early November, but her skin was tan and smelled of the sun. She was wearing a red sweater dress, my favorite shade of red, and her lips, though only covered in a little gloss, were of that same color.

Other vampires had smelled her too, but one low growl from me, a growl that they heard like a yell in the face, told them to back the fuck off. Mine or not, I had made a vow after the witch shit and the Debbie Pelt incident that Sookie Stackhouse would be safe in Area 5 from then on, and that was one promise that I would never allow to be broken.

I saw her eyes as she saw me, and I knew in that instant why she had come to Fangtasia.

It was the look I'd wanted to see in her eyes ever since I'd met her. I'd seen her looking at me with love before, both during my amnesia and after it, but this look was different. It was the look of confident love—of certainty.

I sighed.

She'd picked me. She'd picked me despite the fact that my blood had finally given up its hold in her body fifteen days before—the longest, most agonizing fifteen days of my life. She'd picked me despite the fact that I'd almost ruined everything by tricking my blood into her in Dallas by preying upon her kind heart. I'd been a fool and had almost fucked up everything. But I'd loved her so much already that I couldn't stand the idea of her loving Bill just because of his blood, so I'd wanted her to have mine as a counterbalance.

Of course, after that, it would have been hard for anyone to trust me. And then the Russell situation had given her more cause not to.

But here she was, and her beautiful brown eyes spoke of love and trust.

As if I were still pulled by a bond with her, I walked to her like I was a magnet drawn to its mate. I suppose I was. I was fucking happy that I was.

Before I could get to her, she was walking in the other direction, walking right toward my office, right toward the room where I'd stolen my first kiss from her, and as soon as I followed her in the door, she was returning the favor.

We kissed for several minutes—until she was gasping for air and I was gasping out of amazement and gratefulness.

We looked at each other with wide and grateful eyes.

"You waited for me," she finally whispered.

"I said I would," I answered simply. And I had. On Day 167, Pam had tried to tempt me with a new dancer she'd hired, a clear Sookie look-alike. But I'd not been tempted. Hell—in the twelfth century, I'd been a monk for a while (they did have the best libraries back then), and celibacy had not been a problem for me then since I really have always favored women, despite my ability to use guile with Talbot and Russell. And monks were not the most sanitary of creatures, at least those weren't.

Nope, the books and the knowledge had been better than sex, so I'd gone about twenty years without it. Of course, I'd had to feed on the monks and glamour them so that they were not suspicious that I wasn't aging, but going without sex had been relatively easy.

And given the fact that my love and desire for Sookie was far and away a better reason for fidelity than books, it hadn't been an issue for anyone—other than Pam.

I'd had to explain to my child eventually that the bond simply wouldn't allow me to seek another, and when it had gone away on Day 350, I had simply chosen not to tell Pam about it. After all, it had never been the blood or the bond that had made me love and want my Sookie. It had been my thousand-year-old dead heart, finally making its presence known. And that, it seemed, was much more potent than any bond―given the fact that even without it, I didn't look twice at other women.

And TruBlood had even made it possible for me to stay healthy without taking the blood of another human. In that way, I was able to stay completely faithful to her, whether she was going to choose me or not. How long would I have been faithful? I could not say, nor would I ever have to know now. But given my feelings, I knew it would be a long time―beyond Sookie's lifetime at least. Of course, now it was a moot point.

She was here with me, and her eyes and that kiss told me that I would have reason to be faithful to Sookie through all my life now. It was no hardship in my mind. If this incredible woman was here and choosing me, then there was no way in hell that I would ever be choosing another, no matter how long I dwelt on this earth.

"Sookie?" I whispered the question even though I knew the answer from her eyes.

Sookie grabbed both of my hands and looked up at me. She had a little smile on her face. "It took a lot longer than 120 days for your blood to leave my system."

My lips turned up too. "My blood can be stubborn, Sookie, and it is very certain that it wants you."

"Will I be enough for you?" Sookie asked, nervously biting her lips. I could tell that the answer to this would determine everything else for her.

"You will be. You are already," I vowed. They were the most honest words I'd spoken in my long life.

Sookie's smiled brightened. It was beautiful. "Amelia told me more things about bonds than you did." There was the slightest hint of accusation in her voice.

"You became friends?" I asked, already knowing the answer. Amelia Broadway had always been an outgoing human. I had helped her to relocate after Hurricane Katrina. Her mentor, Octavia, was an old asset of mine, and Amelia had helped me out when a crazed witch named Bob tried to use magic and blackmail to extort money from one of my businesses in New Orleans before the Great Reveal. As far as I knew, Bob was still a cat somewhere. In the Supe community, the outing of a group was pretty much the worst sin that could be committed. Amelia had moved to Shreveport and worked for me there briefly right after Katrina, but after a short and torrid romance with Pam, she had been ready to move on.

"Yes, she's nice," Sookie said. "She's become a good friend."

I pulled her over to sit on the couch. "And what did she tell you about bonds that I did not?"

"She pretty much said what you said for the most part. She said that a true bond required a mutual exchange and love from both in order to happen." Sookie's look got serious. "I asked her if anything could influence that love—anything like magic or vampire blood."

"And?" I asked, somewhat curious about what Amelia knew. I also guessed where Sookie was going with this line of talk.

It was the same reason why I knew she would need to leave the year before. She needed to know that her feelings were hers and not given to her by another. She was my beautiful, fiery, independent mate, and when she had left, it had killed me and made me proud of her all in one stroke. It was why I'd made myself stay away from her. And it was the ultimate test that I had given myself: Did I love her enough to truly let her choose me without trying to influence her? Could I love her enough to let her go? The answers to both of those questions turned out to be yes. And that was how I knew that I deserved Sookie Stackhouse.

In a thousand years, a vampire could do some cruel things, and Godric had not always been the paragon of virtue. At first—with him, I had fed and fucked at will, and he hadn't cared at all if some humans died in the process, so I hadn't either. The ultimate irony was that when he released me after a few hundred years, it was I who chose to operate differently first. Godric had taught me cunning and survival on a level that I hadn't known before, but I had seen that the world was becoming more civilized in a way, and I had adapted with it. I was always much better at adapting than Godric. In the end, that is probably why he killed himself.

Godric's turn toward being more civilized happened quite a bit later and was so mixed up with regret that he could never forgive the vampire he'd been. He could never truly balance his vampiric instinct to be violent with his desire to be—for lack of a better word—good. He had, throughout the years, had periods of time when he slipped back to his older ways, and the indiscriminate killing would return for a time. And his guilt would grow tenfold.

I now realized that he was wrong all those years as he had tried to teach me to master my feelings. It was the vampire's way to try to control his or her feelings, but vampires had such strong feelings, stronger actually than humans. Vampires were taught to suppress most of those feelings and embrace only the darker of them because, in a sense, those were much easier to master―to control. To be a master of your anger, you simply killed your enemies with cunning, according to Godric. To be a master of fear, you simply killed your enemies as fast as you could.

Had Godric loved me? That was a difficult question. He had always felt fascination and affection for me―to be sure. And he was an excellent maker; he helped me learn to stay alive, after all. He forced me to do nothing sexual with him, though my blood and the child-maker bond eventually called me to him, as happens. And I was his lover on and off over the years, though not for about 200 years before his death. In the moments of sexual affection between us, I felt much care from him. And in the last years of his life, I had felt something more akin to love from him.

One of the things that Godric was always fascinated about where I was concerned was my own ability to love him. From my first day as vampire, I'd loved him absolutely and without question—as a child loves a father. He'd felt it through our bond. He'd not expected it. A vampire expected devotion from a child, obedience—not love. And through our early years together, my love was often a point of contention between us. He sometimes wished for me to try to repress my love for him; he said many times that it was not a productive kind of feeling. Devotion was controllable, but love was not, he'd say. Love would make a vampire do something stupid, he'd add, like sacrifice himself for another. And I knew that Godric would not die for me; oh—he'd kill to try to protect me. That was certainly true and had happened many times, but he would not die for me, nor would he live for me. My love for him was different. I would have died for him without a second thought. Of course, I would have done everything possible to avoid that. I would have killed and schemed in order to protect both him and myself, but in the moment of choice, if one of us had to meet the true death, and it was my decision, I would have died to save him. That was how I loved. And Godric had always found that equal parts fascinating and foolhardy.

It was the same with Pam. I would die to protect her—again, after doing everything I could to save both of our asses. But I knew that she would not do the same. My beautiful vampire daughter had the self-preservation-above-all-else instinct that seemed to have skipped a generation with me. It's why she didn't understand why I would handcuff myself to Russell Edgington instead of give up Sookie to him. It's why she didn't run out the door of Fangtasia into the daylight to try to save my life when I had fallen. Ironically, the only other vampire that I knew of who had shown this kind of self-sacrificing tendency was Bill Compton when he had run out of doors in the day time to try to save Sookie from the serial killer in Bon Temps. It was that fact that stilled my hand every time I had wanted to take his head. Like him, I would die for love, but I desired to live for it even more.

Contrary to what most people knew about me, I could love. And when I loved, I loved deeply. Love was what made me seek revenge for my human family's deaths for a thousand years. In the end, my true motivation was probably why I had buried Russell in concrete rather than just kill him. Sure, I didn't want him to find peace in an afterlife, but it was more than that. If hatred of Russell had been my main motivation for revenge, I would have slain him. But it was love for my family that had motivated me. And after Sookie had healed me with her blood―blood that, by the way, had told me that she loved me back―I could not kill him for some reason.

Of course, Russell had been a can of worms literally waiting to be opened, and when he showed up at Fangtasia exactly two weeks after Sookie had left for Hawaii, I was more grateful than I can say that she was out of the way. I was even more happy that no one except for myself knew of her whereabouts, and I wasn't about to tell.

Russell had, of course, thirsted for my head on a silver platter and tried to put it on one―literally.

He'd captured me as easily as one would a small child and had dragged me from my own club in silver chains, just as I'd dragged him out of it more than a year before. Luckily, Pam had not been there.

Russell had taken me straight to—you guessed it—Sookie Stackhouse's residence. But there was a fucking ironic twist of fate waiting for us there.

Godric once said that I was the luckiest creature he'd ever met. And after that night with Russell, I believed him, even though—in truth—I had really begun to believe in my luck when I first laid eyes on Sookie.

But that night with Russell, my luck was unbelievable. First, I was lucky because Sookie was not there. Second, I was very lucky when Russell left me chained on Sookie's porch so that he could go and get Compton to share in the fate he had planned for me. You see, what he really wanted was for Sookie to be there too. He wanted to tie her between us—between Bill and me—with silver chains―after nearly draining her, of course. He didn't want her strong enough to be able to use her magic against him. And then her blood would enable him to stay out in the sun for long enough to watch Bill and me burn to a crisp and take Sookie with us. He had cackled about the romance of the situation the whole way to Sookie's house.

So when he realized Sookie was not home and hadn't been there for a while, he had been extremely disappointed. But he assured me that he would go on with his plans and simply wait until night came to confirm my and Bill's deaths. Of course―in his words, it really sucked that he wouldn't get to see us die. He gained consolation from the fact that our last thoughts would be that he was going to track down Sookie and kill her―or maybe even turn her. That thought did get me simmering, so while he was off collecting Bill, that luck that I somehow always seemed to have, according to Godric, came to me in the form of a nail that was raised just enough on the porch to be able to grasp the edge of the silver chain that I was wrapped in. Russell—in his insanity or haste—hadn't secured me well, and I was able to loosen myself just enough so that I could make a move when he was off guard. I still looked to be secured, but one more hard pull of the chain against the nail would leave me free.

Russell had Bill there ten minutes later. The Southern gent looked resigned to his fate and was as asinine as ever. He even asked me—begged me—to tell him where Sookie was, as if that was going to happen with Russell standing right there. Seriously, Bill's ability to be a dumbass was almost legendary that night. He went on and on about how he loved Sookie—wait, Sookeh—and would be happy to die there if Russell would only promise not to do anything to her. Again, his asininity was epic. Of course, Russell would now be even more desirous of killing Sookie because he knew of Bill's intense love. And Bill had let on that I knew where she was while he didn't. That would lead Russell straight to my properties and to her.

Well—I was biding my time for the right moment to spring on Russell, but Bill kept talking to him, so Russell stayed focused on us. And the fuckwit was too clueless to pick up on all my signals for him to shut the fuck up.

And then it happened—the happenstance that was so epically lucky that it cancelled out even Bill's idiocy. A fairy appeared—a fucking fairy! He was, of course, looking for Sookie, but as soon as his scent hit us, he had the attention of three vampires. Full blooded fairy—let me tell you—is not something a vampire can resist, whether he has amnesia or not. Luckily for Bill, he was securely under his chain. Luckily for me, that nail that I was counting on to free me slipped at first, and it took me several seconds to get free. I now realize that my scheme would not have had time to work on Russell because of the delay that slip caused, but—again—I was very, very lucky. Russell, by the time I had freed myself, had drained the fairy and was as drunk as a skunk. He was at that falling over stage of drunk that I remembered so well. And before he got to the butt pinching stage, which I also remembered, I'd put the silver chains over him. I suppose that I should have freed Bill immediately and let him, as king, decide Russell's fate, but I didn't. I knew that Russell was tuned into killing Sookie, so to protect the woman I love, I did what I should have done before. I pulled a branch off of the nearest tree, put it through Russell's drunken heart, and watched him turn to goo. At least he died happy.

At that point I thought briefly about leaving Bill there to burn in the sun, but―like I said before―he had saved my Sookie's life. So I saved his. It would have been dishonorable to let him burn, and it would have broken Sookie's trust in me, whether she ever knew what I'd done or not. I would have known, and I had already worked so hard to be worthy of her. Hell, I'd put myself under chains only a few nights before in order to keep myself from going to her in her illness.

Luckily, Pam hadn't staked me herself when I did that. She'd threatened, but in the end, she did actually love me—at least in a quintessentially Pam way—and she'd helped me. In the last few months, things had finally returned to normal between my progeny and myself after she had accepted that my feelings for Sookie were neither fleeting nor, as she termed them, ridiculous.

So I had freed Compton, which turned out to be lucky a week later when he called me to tell me that Steve Newlin was now a vampire and had been glamouring Jason Stackhouse into giving him a place to stay. He'd also been discretely feeding on Stackhouse and using Sookie's brother to bring him other victims to feed upon. The first corpse that turned up due to draining was a Werepanther from Hotshot named Crystal Norris. Apparently, Stackhouse had brought her to Newlin, and the old preacher hadn't been able to suppress his urge to kill the Were.

Bill called me for my help because Newlin had Jason in his house as a prisoner and was threatening to kill the boy if he was not guaranteed safe passage from the kingdom.

Fucking new vampires—was all I had to say. I went to Stackhouse's home, and, of course, I couldn't get into the dwelling any more than Bill could. But instead of freaking out like Bill was doing, I had simply called Alcide Herveaux and Sam Merlotte, who would both be able to get in during the day. I told them to come get Jason out after sunrise, and then I used stall tactics with Newlin. He was promised everything he asked for—the next evening. He, in turn, vowed to keep Jason his prisoner through the coming day. Naively, he also said that he would fight sleep and stay awake, so there was to be no "funny business," or he'd kill Jason. Fucking new vampires! So stupid!

I had called the shifter and told him to wait an hour after sunrise. I made a bunch of false assurances to Newlin, and then I dug a nice 'me-sized hole' in the woods and went to sleep for the day. Bill's limo, apparently, was light-tight, so he slept in that—the pussy.

When I woke up, it was all but done. Jason was okay, though he had needed a blood transfusion. And Newlin had been staked by Herveaux. It was neat and clean, and Sookie never even knew it was happening (What could have she done from Hawaii anyway, other than worry?). I did, however, tell her brother that he probably ought to let Sookie know what had happened so that she wouldn't be pissed at him later.

The mind of a vampire, especially of a thousand-year-old vampire, is well-oiled, so it took only moments for the memories of the last year to bubble through mine. In those same moments, Sookie had been building up for what she wanted to say about Amelia and bonds.

"So what did Amelia tell you about the ability of magic or vampire blood to affect bonds?" I questioned, breaking us both from our short silence.

She smiled again. "Bond magic is stronger than any other kind—apparently." Then she chuckled, the sound rich to my aching ears, ears that had missed her laugh. "It seems that it's a kind of safeguard for the vampire, most of all. Typical―don't you think?" she asked with another chuckle.

I returned the laugh. "It is typical. No vampire would want to be bonded to someone who could use him or her. The power of a bond goes both ways. Both can feel the other. The feelings of one fuel those of the other."

"Fuel—yes," Sookie said. "But not create—at least not according to Amelia. So they differ from ties in that way. That's not quite the way you explained it to me."

I nodded. I hoped I knew what was coming next. "So―Compton?" I asked, more nervously than I wanted to.

"I don't love him. When his blood left me, so did the emotion."

I sighed with relief, and she raised one of her hands to my cheek. I'm sure I leaned into her touch.

She asked, "You said that human blood cells last 90 to 120 days? And that vampire blood will link to human blood cells, so their blood and influence will die with those cells too, right?"

I nodded. "In a tie—yes. That is why more blood is always needed to keep a tie going."

The left side of Sookie's mouth smirked up, "His blood lasted only 73 days from the time I left―less than 90 in all."

"Quite a bit less," I smirked back.

"Do you feel satisfied with yourself, Mister, that yours held on for 350?"

I did, but then again, I had wanted it to hold on forever. My continued smirk must have given Sookie the answer to her question because she rolled her eyes and popped my arm with a little slap. I had to stop my erection from springing up at her playfulness—or her smell or her eyes or her body in that dress. Well—I was pretty much holding it off with all my control at this point.

I was simply pleased that it wasn't exploding through my jeans of its own accord at that point! "Down boy," I silently ordered. "Almost," I promised. "Just a bit longer, and you will have all you need. NO—" I quickly added to myself, "not longer; I meant a bit more time."

"There's one more thing you didn't tell me about bonds," she said, interrupting the pep talk I was giving myself.

I raised my eyebrows in question.

"You didn't tell me that three exchanges make a bond permanent—that no time apart or space would ever allow for a thrice bonded couple to be separated."

"No," I admitted. "I didn't tell you that."

"Why not?"

I sighed and let my heart open to her. Once I said what I was about to say, I would be even more at her mercy, completely hers—and she would know it. But I didn't hesitate. The words would only make my commitment to her official; the act of commitment had occurred the moment she had walked into the club tonight and locked eyes with me. I spoke, "Because I didn't want to allow myself to hope for a permanent bond with you, Sookie. It was what you humans call 'too good to be true' to hope for. Do I want to bond permanently with you? Yes—fuck yes! I do—to you and no other. It would mean that I would never be able to take blood from another or pleasure with another. Is that what I want? Yes! To speak truth, those commitments have already been made by me―were made by me the moment we formed our first bond. I love you, Sookie. There will never be another for me."

Her voice was quiet. "And when I die?"

"I will die too. It is the way with the bonded pair, my love. It is why this kind of bond is rare." I sighed. "And if I were to die before you, you would follow soon after as well."

"But you would bond with me—give up immortality for me?" she asked, her lashes thick as they seemed to be gathering the moisture she was holding back from escaping her eyes.

"In a beat of your heart. Yes—I would do it. And I would never regret it."

"I'm a danger magnet."

I laughed out loud. "Me too. But I am lucky—never luckier than in this moment."

Sookie looked up at me with that beautiful certainty in her eyes. "Amelia told me that fairies live long lives, so you are gonna have to wait to turn me until after things start to sag. Until then, I'm gonna want to stay human and say a real long goodbye to the sun and human food. But there's no way in hell I will let you die with me because I'm too stubborn to live with you."

My heart, though long dead, seemed to fill with blood at her words. "You would join me as vampire?" She had surprised me.

I continued, "But I felt your feelings when Bill asked to turn Tara. You were practically disgusted by the idea. It was something you didn't want for her or yourself. I felt that, Sookie—felt it as plain as if you were saying it to me. I cannot let you go against what you truly want, my love. I won't!" I was surprised at the fierceness in my own voice.

She smiled at me and put her hand over where my heart was lying dead. "A year is a long time to think, Eric. A lot can be learned in a year. I have realized that you were willing to give me up in order for me to be happy. I have realized that there have been a thousand things that you have done over the years to show me that your love is unselfish and abiding. And maybe I have finally finished growing up a little. I don't want to be without you—ever. And I want to bond with you, Eric—not one, not twice, and not even three times. I want to bond with you over and over through the years to come."

She went on, "I'm trusting you to let me be as I am until I tell you I'm ready. I'm trusting you to keep me alive and protect me for danger until then. And I'm trusting that if—God forbid—something does happen before then, that you will turn me and let me live on with you."

As she continued, my heart sang with the music of her words. "But make no mistake, Eric Northman. I love you. I have loved you from the moment I thought I would lose you for the first time—when you were up on that altar because of Steve Newlin. Thanks for taking care of that prick and helping my brother, by the way," she said as an aside before continuing her wonderful words to me. "And my love has only grown in my heart since then. I was waitin' to be sure that it was all from me, and I'm sorry that I had to use a whole year to do it, but I'm gonna give you as many years as I can from now on, and like I said before, I'm not gonna let my stubbornness about holding onto my humanity hold me back. After all, you make me feel more 'so-called' human emotion than anyone else ever has."

My beautiful fairy used air quotes around 'so-called,' making me wonder if there was anything that wasn't endearing about her. Then she kept speaking, "Vampires are humans, after all—just changed. And I'm even less human than you already―if you really think about it."

She took a deep breath; I was fucking speechless at the moment. "So I have an offer for you, Mr. Northman, and don't think for a second that you have a choice in the matter." She looked so fierce that my erection could no longer help itself; it wasn't like I had a choice in that matter either at this point. Her fire always did me in.

"Here is my offer. I want to be with you, Eric. I want to bond with you permanently and love you and share my humanity with you until I notice I'm starting to sag. And then, I'm gonna ask you to be my maker so that we can take our love to a whole new level. And then I'm gonna continue bonding with you and loving you until something happens to one of us because nothing can really last forever, but you better believe your cute little ass that my soul will find a way to chase after yours into the afterlife, and you'd better promise me the same thing because, Eric, this is it for me. I'm lookin' right at what I want forever, and if you agree, I am never gonna let you go, so you'd better agree."

I could tell that she was nervous now—nervous, but also so damned sure of herself.

I said the only thing that it was possible for me to say. "Yes."

She sighed in relief.

"As you say, dear one," I continued, "I don't really have a choice—nor would I want one. I agree to the terms of your offer, every damned one of them."

Sookie's smile was wider than I'd ever seen it before. She clapped her hands together like a high-powered CEO who'd just made a deal for all the money in the world. Actually she looked happier than that. I know I looked the same.

One side of her mouth smirked up a bit more than the other, and with that, my erection picked up a bit too. Gods—this woman was so much my mate that it wasn't even funny.

She ran one of her hands down my chest until she found the monster that was trying to get out of my pants in order to attack her. "Excellent non-choice, Mr. Northman. Now—I'm gonna need some sex from you, a lot of sex. And then," she purred—she actually bloody purred! "Then, I'm gonna need some of your blood."

If there was a world outside of her in that moment, I no longer recognized it. I simply picked her up into my arms and began to fly her to the farmhouse, which, of course, I'd kept ready and waiting for her return. I'd even put in a few more surprises since she'd last been there—very, very high-handed surprises. Thank the gods that I was right about the choice she made, or I would be in so much trouble!

Neither of us spoke during the flight after she told me to take us home. But she wrapped herself around me so tightly and so comfortingly that I wanted to both speed up and slow down to enjoy the feeling.


EPOV (continued)

I'd just landed us on the porch that Sookie had last stood on 365 days before. Though we were no longer bonded by blood, I noticed her sorrow by the look on her face.

She looked up at me almost apologetically. "It's just memories," she said quietly.

"I know." I inhaled the air around her home. Truth be told, I'd come there a lot to check on the place—okay at least four times a week—and I'd stayed over many nights and days too, just to be near her fading scent, but then again, people in love should be forgiven for such things. Like Sookie, I had good and bad memories in that house, mostly good, however.

I stroked her cheek. "Today, I know, is the anniversary of your friend's burial. But—in an odd way—it is an anniversary for us too."

She looked up at me with questioning and then realization. "Because exactly one year ago, I decided to take my life back into my own hands."

I nodded and added, "Because it's been exactly one year since I put my life into your hands too, my love."

"And now I'm ready to put mine in yours. I suppose that's what real love means. You hold onto me, and I hold onto you."

"That way, we will never fall because we are both strong and will protect the other with our last breaths," I averred.

She lifted up her soft hand and stroked my cheek; however, my reaction—becoming stiff with tension—was not her desired effect. She looked at me with a question in her eyes.

"Bill," I whispered as my keen nose picked up the scent of my current king. Gods—sometimes the thought of owing fealty to Compton still left me mortified.

Sookie tensed a bit too and then smiled at me. "Good, we'll get to take this for a test spin." As she said the word, "this," she motioned her hand back and forth between us.

It took me a second to catch on. She meant our partnership. She meant us—not her and not me, but us. I smiled and brushed a kiss on her forehead.

Bill was clearing his throat loudly as he broke through the tree line walking at human pace. "Sookeh," his Southern accent drawled in the most annoying way possible.

I whispered to my mate, "Did you add an 'H' to your name that I'm not aware of?"

She looked up at me and giggled before slapping my arm. "Be good," she whispered back. There was a playful—absolutely fucking wonderful—glint in her eyes.

"Your hitting me like that is not going to make me good," I whispered back just as playfully, as I 'accidentally' brushed my newly reformed erection against her thigh lightly.

Her answering inhalation made me want to take her right then and there, Bill Compton be damned. Of course, another part of me wanted to see how she—no, how we—were going to handle him. I decided that she should lead on this one. It'd be safer that way since a large part of me really just wanted to kill him for the hurt he'd brought to Sookie in the past—and for that possessive look he was giving her now.

He had almost reached the porch by then and repeated my woman's name―again incorrectly. "Sookeh," came his almost creepy accent.

"Hi Bill," the blond angel beside me answered. "What brings you here tonight?"

Bill seemed taken aback by her casual, though polite question.

"Sookeh, you've been gone for a year," he said, his voice almost accusatory. Yep—I wanted to kill him. Instead, I took Sookie's hand in mine. I was right about her touch calming me.

Compton had continued speaking, "And now that you have returned, I find you here with Northman." He seemed to spit my name out. "I simply don't want to see you hurt, darling, and I'm afraid for you if you trust Eric. You know how he has hurt you in the past."

I had hurt her. And I was thankful to all the gods that I had ever learned about that she had decided to pick me anyway.

"No more, Bill!" Sookie said forcefully. "Those are the last insulting words you will ever say about Eric in my presence, or we will no longer even be friends, which would be a shame because you were my first love."

Gods—I loved her usage of the past tense in that moment. Bill did not.

"Were?" he asked, his voice forlorn.

Sookie spoke compassionately, but evenly, "Yes, Bill. Now that your blood has had time to be worked out of my body completely, I am confident about that 'were.' I will admit that part of me did love you—or at least, I was infatuated by you, even before you gave me your blood for the first time."

She continued more forcefully. "I was enamored by your silence and by the fact that you seemed to want me when every other man that I had ever dated before you had thought of me as 'Crazy Sookie.' But I don't love you anymore, Bill. There has been too much between us—too much betrayal. And now that your blood is gone, I see you for who you are without my rose-colored glasses on. You are—or could be—a good man, Bill Compton, but you were not where I was concerned. I deserve better."

Was it wrong that I wanted to pull up a fucking chair, pop open a TruBlood, and watch the show? Was it wrong that my erection was rising by the second because she was so fucking hot?

"You think Eric is better?" Bill spit out, with a sneer in my direction.

"Bill!" Sookie's voice held a warning that he needed to shut the fuck up. He didn't. Is it wrong that I was glad that he didn't?

"No Sookeh," his voice was insistent. "You cannot fall for his lies or tricks. I know he is controlling you. He is probably plowing you with his blood even now. He is a master of manipulation, darling. You must see through him!"

Now I truly did want to sit down and watch the fireworks—after I killed him for calling her 'darling' again, of course. He'd just inadvertently—because he really didn't know a fucking thing about Sookie or me—said everything that he shouldn't have said in exactly the way he shouldn't have said it.

"My eyes are just fine, Bill Compton!" Sookie raged. "I see all that Eric is and has done, and I'm accepting him."

She looked at me. For a moment, I thought I was in trouble too, but then her eyes sparkled in that little way that I knew was just for me—my look, mine! "You kept Lafayette in your dungeon because he sold V, right?"

"Yes," I said.

"You tortured him?"

"I kept him locked up. Pam, Chow, and I fed from him to scare him even more. I killed one of the arsons that burned down Malcolm's nest in front of Lafayette after that bastard used silver on me. Lafayette got shot by Ginger when he tried to escape. That was the day before you found him."

"You tricked me into taking your blood in Dallas?" she asked me.

"Yes," I said. I could tell where she was going by rehashing this litany of my wrongs against her, and I knew that all of this was for our own benefit much more than Bill's. My beautiful angel was telling me that she would accept me for all that I was—and despite all I had done. She was incredible.

"You wanted to use me for my telepathy?"

"Yes, but," I paused and smirked a bit, "mainly that was an excuse to be close to you."

"You tried to steal my affections from Bill?"

"Oh yes!" was my response. I couldn't help the smirk this time.

"You arranged for Lorena to come to Dallas?"

"Yes," my smirk was gone at this. That bitch had almost killed Sookie, and I'd introduced her into the equation. That had been a mistake.

"You told me you cared nothing for me at Russell's mansion?"

"I lied to you," I said passionately. "I'm sorry."

"You allowed Russell to feed from me."

"I did," I confirmed.

"You fed from me without my permission."

"Yes," my responses were quiet now, and my regrets over these actions were still great.

"You wanted to use me to help you take out Russell."

"Yes—I'm sorry I didn't tell you beforehand."

"You have killed many people in your long life?" she asked.

"Yes," I answered. "In my early years, I killed many with little care as I fed upon them. It was Godric's way, but when I broke off from him, I no longer killed while feeding. It was safer to change."

"And in battle?" she asked, her voice now soft.

"I've killed many."

"And as sheriff?"

"Many—vampires, Weres, and humans," I answered. "I've killed many enemies. I will have to continue to do so to make us safe."

"But not randomly?"

"Not for 800 years. And never again," I vowed, meaning it.

She gave me a little smile and then turned back to Bill who had been watching us with his mouth gaping open. "Do you have any other sins to put upon Eric—because I know all these already. And I have accepted him."

Bill looked at Sookie, unable to speak.

She spoke to him compassionately again. "I know you think that Eric is a monster, but, Bill, you once hinted that you spent your early years with Lorena doing things that would certainly be equivalent to Eric's most brutal actions, yet you insisted that you had changed—that you had fought against your vampire nature. Eric has also changed throughout time, and—in my opinion—his actions toward me have been much more honorable than yours."

"But—but he IS a monster," Bill stammered, still insisting. "He hasn't changed! He will never change!"

Sookie—my beautiful, amazing woman—was literally gearing up to defend me, and the compassion had left her voice. "Do you know what Eric has never done, Bill? Eric has never arranged for me to be beaten up to get his blood into me. The night Eric tricked me, he had just shielded me with his own body—from a bomb, a bomb filled with silver! And at that church, he'd just offered himself for me. Yes—making me suck that silver from his body was a high-handed and tricky thing for Eric to do, but he didn't intentionally harm me to do it. Yes," she looked at me sternly now, "it was a manipulative action, and if I know him, he realizes that it almost ruined any chance that he ever had with me."

Believe me, I fucking knew that, and I confirmed it with a slight nod to Sookie.

"But you had me beaten to trick me. You allowed the Rattrays to hit me and kick me until I was near death. You lied about trying to glamour me, you lied about Jessica, you lied about the reason you came to Bon Temps, and you lied about the queen. I don't think there was a day of our relationship that you didn't lie to me."

She took a deep breath. "I can count the times that Eric has lied to me on one hand." My beloved numbered them off on her fingers. "He lied to me about needing my help with the silver after the bomb." She hit my arm with her other hand. "He lied about not knowing the meaning of the tattoo on the Were, but he told me the truth the very next night." She didn't hit me for that one—much to my disappointment. "He lied to me when he said that he didn't care about me at Russell's mansion." I got a hit for that one. "And he lied by omission when he didn't let me in on his plan to take Russell down." I got another hit.

She looked at me. "That all?" she asked fiercely.

"No," I shook my head. "I lied to you when I said that I didn't understand what love is."

She smiled at me, remembering that moment in the church. "Okay—still one hand," she said, looking at Bill again and showing him said hand.

"That all?" she asked me again.

"Yep," I said, emphasizing the 'P.'

"You gonna lie to me again?" She looked at me with warning.

"Nope." I emphasized the 'P' yet again. I got another arm slap for that one.

"So you were never gonna give me up to a psychopathic queen?"

"Absolutely not," I said.

"That's because she didn't ask you," came Bill's voice in almost a pout.

Sookie and I both turned our attention to him. Truth be told, I'd almost forgotten that he was still there.

I couldn't help but tilt my head and look at Bill like he was a fucking idiot. "You know why that is, don't you Bill?" I asked, addressing him directly for the first time that evening. "Sophie-Anne did not ask because―though I have done many things in my long life―she knew that I do not prey upon the innocent. I made a deal with Sookie to pay her for her services when I knew of her telepathy. And though I could have, I did not take her from you—despite how much I wanted her." My voice was low.

Sookie looked at me in surprise. "You could have just taken me?"

I shrugged and nodded. "It's a vampire hierarchy thing."

"So he could take me from you now?" Sookie asked, a twinge of concern in her voice, as she gestured toward Bill.

"I'd kill him if he tried," I vowed.

"And I'd fuckin' zap him," Sookie said, giving Bill another warning look.

Okay―that fire in her just went straight to my cock. Seriously, I was pretty certain that I'd never had an erection this fucking hard. But I calmed my libido and continued, "Plus, no one can take a member of a bonded pair. It is forbidden." There was no need for Bill to know we weren't already bonded, though I would fucking kill him if he attempted to take Sookie.

"Bonded?" Bill asked in a whisper.

"Yes!" Sookie said. "Bonded three times." My cunning mate made it seem like the deal was already closed, and that just made the ol' erection jump to even more.

With that, Bill Compton put his head down like a dog whose bone had just been taken away. "Then it's over," Bill said sadly.

"It's been over for a very long time," Sookie said, her compassion back. "Look, Bill, I'm sorry you have been hurt, but you hurt me a lot too. What did I ever have of truth in our relationship?"

"The queen made me seek you out," Bill said quietly.

"There are always choices, Bill," Sookie said less compassionately. "I have made mine, and it's Eric. Please accept that, and go."

Bill sighed and nodded. He looked at me through narrowed eyes. "You don't deserve her, Northman," he said.

"I do now," I answered, though I wasn't looking at him. I was looking at the woman of my dreams.

With that―thankfully―Bill left.


SOV

Eric growled, low in his chest, as soon as Bill had left, and that growl seemed to enter both my ears and my lady parts. It had not escaped my notice that the man I had chosen as my—well—as my forever was aroused. The bulge in his pants now seemed permanent.

I bit my lip and backed up a step. I could feel the corner of my lips going up as I kept backing toward the door. "How about a two minute head start?"

Eric somehow managed to look at me like a dangerous predator AND a five-year-old boy anxious to open up Christmas presents. And somehow, my vampire pulled off the seeming contradiction with ease.

"Why would you need a head start?" he growled a little more, this time the noise soaking my panties. As the scent of my arousal met his nose, the growl intensified. "I don't think I can give you those two minutes, lover." His voice held both warning and promise.

"One minute from the time you unlock the door for me?" I compromised. "I assume you still have the key." Eric zipped to the door and quickly unlocked it. He looked at me, his face now the picture of barely-held-onto control.

"Fifty-eight seconds," he said in a low voice.

At that, I ran inside and up the stairs to Gran's old bedroom, the one that I was ready—no anxious—to make into my and Eric's room if he'd live here with me. If not, I'd just have to live with him, but I figured that since I'd said, 'Let's go home,' when we were leaving Fangtasia and he'd flown me here, our residence in the farmhouse was a logical conclusion―at least for now.

I stripped off my dress as soon as I got to the bedroom. There was absolutely no way I wanted to lose the garment to Eric's frenzy. Then I stripped off my panties and my bra. The bra was one of those comfortable ones from Victoria's Secret that hid under clothes without making lines. I definitely wanted to keep it. And the panties? Well they were uselessly wet anyway.

With two minutes, I would have been able to brush out my hair and maybe even grab a pretty little silk nightie, but under Eric's fangs, I figured it would be destroyed anyway. No—the only sane course of action in that moment was to just jump up on the bed, naked as the day I was born, and wait for my man.

I tried to lie in an alluring manner, but one look at Eric as he rushed into the room turned me into a puddle of aroused and panting woman. He was panting too as he saw my naked body.

Watching someone take off clothing is generally not a study in grace—goodness knows, my own clothing had come off in a tangled mess. But Eric—well—the only word that came into my mind as he undressed was, "Wow." No—there were two words: "Wow" and "Yummy." I think I must have said the second one out loud because he smirked immediately after I thought it. He slipped off his jacket even as he pushed off his boots, using only his opposite feet for balance and leverage. Only taking his eyes from mine when the fabric passed them, he slowly pulled his T-shirt over his head to reveal more of his beautiful alabaster skin—skin that I knew would feel like silk over steel. My fingers ached to make their memories of touching him reality and flexed of their own accord.

Eric, however, did not seem to take my fingers'—or the rest of my—impatience into account, and had begun to move even more slowly—much too 'F'-in slowly! He unbuttoned one button of his button-fly jeans and then seemed to wait. The look in his eyes held an odd mix of contradictions—the kind of complexity that I'd learned was the norm in Eric. It was what I loved most about him.

There was a touch of mirth; obviously my man liked the idea of play, which was generally wonderful, in my opinion. However, at that moment, I was a gooey, quivering, impatient mess. There was also a touch of wickedness in his expression; maybe it was the Viking in Eric that wanted me to beg for him. I was about ready to get onto my hands and knees and do it too if he didn't unbutton another damned button! And then there was a hint of uncertainty in his eyes; Jesus Christ Shepherd of Judea―that little hint was beautiful. It told me that a part of him was nervous. After all, it was our first time to make love—with him being his whole self, that is—and I was nervous too. That look was comforting to me.

There was also lust in Eric's eyes, lust that looked like it would take over at any moment—take over and consume us both. Simply put, the vampire in Eric looked like he wanted to eat me up, maybe even literally; that look got my juices flowing even more—flowing in what felt like a river down my thighs. And I could tell that he smelled that too because his lustful look became even stronger as his nostrils flared.

Also in his eyes, there was love—a big love. That love made me take a deep breath, and my heart answered his look by pounding almost out of my chest. In the days following Day 350 when his blood had finally given up its stubborn hold on me, I had realized quickly that I still loved him, and I knew that the love I felt for him was big—huge.

Some people might wonder why it took me two weeks—well, why I chose to take two weeks—before I came jetting home to Eric. I wanted to get on a plane on Day 351; trust me. Jeez, just looking at him unbutton the second button of his jeans and begin to pull apart the fabric to reveal the honest-to-God monster living in them was enough to convince the most ardent nun that sex was a gift from God that she needed to participate in immediately. Eric was—well—there wasn't really an adjective for him, at least, not one to do him justice.

And the size of the love that I felt for Eric, especially after the bond had gone away, scared the shit out of me at first. I was afraid that if I gave myself to Eric completely―as I wanted to―that I would also lose myself, just as completely. I was scared of how sad that I felt when Eric's blood had finally left me; I was scared of how much I wanted it back inside. It had become such a big part of me without my even realizing it.

Would Sookie Stackhouse disappear into Eric Northman? I was only in my 20's; he had about a thousand years on me. It was 'F'-in daunting! The Eric with his memories was so fuckin' intimidating to the Louisiana barmaid with barely a high school education. You better believe that most of those two weeks had been about me overcoming my own insecurities, and before anyone judges me harshly for not runnin' straight to Eric and for keepin' him waiting even a minute―let alone a year―I would hope that he or she could put himself or herself into my shoes.

Being a telepath had never been fun. My earliest memories are of my mother thinking I was strange―abnormal even. Every day her brain confirmed to me that she wished I could just be normal—every day. My dad was a bit better, but he saw my 'disability'—yes, that's what he called it in his head and why I started calling it the same—as a kind of enemy. It put a strain on the family, after all. Jason had been an easy child, never fussy. He was a beautiful golden boy, full of life and curiosity. He was fun. I was the opposite. Dealing with voices in my head was confusing when I was a kid, so I was sad and withdrawn all the time. And I knew from Mom's head that I drove her to drink too much. I knew from both of my parents' heads that Mom and Dad loved Jason more than me. I knew that the night they took us to Gran's and drove over the low-water bridge that they would be washed off of, they were on their way to Shreveport to a bed and breakfast for the weekend so that Mom could take a 'vacation' from me.

I grew up knowing that despite the fact that I was his sister and he loved me because of that, Jason thought I was abnormal too. He was often embarrassed of me, even as he defended me. I knew that Gran often sat up nights worrying about me. Oh—she loved me like crazy, but I still felt guilt about her worry. She worried about Jason too―don't get me wrong―but she worried about me a lot differently than him. She worried that I wouldn't find anyone to love me. She worried that I would never have a 'normal' life. That's why she'd liked Bill right away. As soon as I had told her that I couldn't hear him, her mind decided he was 'the guy.' My Gran wanted me to be happy, and her greatest worry was that I would die all alone or be put into a nut house once she was gone.

And I grew up hearing a cacophony of thoughts about myself from everyone I ever met. Most of those thoughts centered on the strangeness that everyone sensed in me—the difference. When Eric had had amnesia, he asked me the question that everyone asked eventually—though most didn't have the decency to say it out loud: "What are you?" When I told him that I was tired of being asked that, it was because of a life time of being tired of it.

So it took me a while to feel like I could be enough for Eric Northman, but on Day 363, Eric sent me a strange little flower called a phlox. I looked it up in the book I'd finally bought about the language of flowers; actually, it was a book that Amelia helped me find since it contained both human and Supe meanings for them. The phlox was a beautiful violet flower that came in a big clump of fragrant little buds. It meant harmony. It meant that the souls of sender and receiver were united. It meant, from what the book said, that Eric thought that we shared the same thoughts and essences. And that was my moment—the moment when I knew that it didn't matter if I thought I was worthy of Eric Northman. What mattered is that he was certain that I was a match for him, and that—well—it 'wowed' me. It moved me. And I realized something else too. I would never lose myself with Eric because it was me that he loved, not some image of a Southern belle or fragile damsel—like Bill had seemed to want. Eric loved me too much to let me disappear. I realized something else in that moment. That was how I loved Eric too. I loved every part, good and bad. I loved every one of his thousand years because they had formed the totality of him. All I had to do was trust him—really trust him with myself. It wasn't an easy thing to do; after all, I'd heard a lot of untrustworthy things in the minds of people all my life, and very few could be trusted, but I had to trust Eric with my heart. I knew he had already entrusted me with the same; he'd entrusted me the moment he suggested I go to Hawaii.

I'd always heard people say that you had to be willing to give 50% of the effort put into a relationship for it to work. And the other person had to add the other 50%; that would, of course, total 100%. But that didn't describe what I knew Eric and I were about to create. No—I was ready to give 100%, and so was he. That's what made it a big love.

My mind buzzed over all this in only moments as Eric continued his teasing pace. Of course, I'd thought about a lot of shit in the last minute, and that meant that Eric was going much too slowly. Yes—we had a big love, but at that moment, I was ready to have—though my Gran would skin me alive for being so vulgar—a big cock.

Inch by inch, Eric had been sliding his pants off his slim hips. And if the look in his eyes hadn't been enough to take my breath away, the inch that he was on definitely was. His very long, very hard, very naughty, and extremely beautiful gracious plenty—yes, Gran would find that a less objectionable moniker than cock—was released in that inch.

But he refused to move faster, and the look in his eyes had become more mischievous. I could tell he wanted me to beg, but I figured I'd give him something that he would actually appreciate even more. Of course, I did have to steel myself a bit to do it, but I was in front of the man I literally wanted to spend eternity with, so I figured I could do anything. As Gran would have said, "The bedroom is no one's business but the people inside of it." And I'd once heard her tell Maxine Fortenberry that, "A little kink never killed anyone."

I met Eric's look with a coquettish one, and considering that I had watched a lot of Vivian Leigh flirting with Clark Gable when I was growing up, I think I had the look down well enough. Slowly—but not as slowly as my vampire was moving—I dragged my fingertips over my body, stopping briefly at my breasts to give them a little squeeze. I brought one of my fingers up to my mouth and stuck out my tongue to wet it before circling one of my nipples with that moistened tip. In my state of arousal, the peek could hardly rise anymore, but I was sure by Eric's renewed panting and growling that my actions were doing what I had intended.

By the look now on his face, maybe I'd have him begging. I kept one set of fingertips swirling around my nipple while I allowed the other set to travel down to my lady bits. I was a bit shocked at my freedom and lack of inhibitions in front of Eric, and apparently he was too because he seemed to be stuck in time and space for a second as his eyes followed my traveling hand.

Now—I'm not a girl to talk much about sexual things, but I was a virgin into my mid-twenties and thought I'd die an old maid, so I knew a thing or two about what made my own body tick. I made a slow circle around my nub before dragging my fingers up and down through my nether lips. I was pretty sure I was going to see a vampire foam at the mouth when I sunk one of my digits into my own opening. And then in a move that I hoped was somehow hidden from my Gran if she was indeed watching over me from heaven, I slid that finger in and out a few times before pulling it out and extending it toward Eric as if it were a treat for him to lick. Of course, despite how sexy and seductive I was trying to be, I couldn't help my blush accompanying my acts.

Those jeans that had been so villainously reluctant to slip down Eric's body were off before my next blink, and Eric was next to me, taking my outstretched finger into his mouth with a growl that almost caused me to orgasm from its cadence. I felt naughtier and sexier than I'd ever felt in my whole life. But strangely enough, I felt more pure too. Here I was—about ready to have sex with the man of my dreams. I might not be married to him—yet—but there was something sacred about the idea of joining myself to him. My heart and soul were his already—my mind too. To add my body to that mix was the most natural thing in the world.

Of course, all my thoughts of anything coherent—be it about soul mates or shoe soles—flew out the window was soon as Eric's tongue—actually it felt like he had several tongues—went where my finger had just been.


EPOV

Did I say that I was lucky? I'm pretty certain that I didn't even understand the true concept of the word before until Sookie was spread there, opened for me, and I was lapping up every drop of her arousal.

She'd been waiting on the bed naked for me after the minute head start I'd given her. She'd most likely wanted to save her clothing from my 'amorous intentions' for them. But I knew that part of her liked the idea of me chasing her up here. Of course, the little minx had found a way to take control of the situation. I was about ten seconds away from having her beg when she managed to turn the tables. It was probably the mixture of her very naughty finger and that blush that finally did me in.

Was a thousand year old vampire supposed to stay in control? Fuck yeah. Did I feel like a fourteen-year-old boy about to lose his virginity when she slipped her dainty little finger into her gloriously tight hole? Fuck yeah. Did I almost cum in my pants when she offered me said finger? Uh-huh.

During the time when I'd had amnesia, Sookie and I had precious few nights together. And of those nights, we had sex during only two of them. Of course, in those two nights we packed in quite a few lovemaking sessions, and though I had had amnesia, some things came instinctually to me—thank the gods. Perhaps the strongest instinct I had those nights was to cherish Sookie Stackhouse herself.

I heard a growl and knew it was from me. Of all the things Sookie and I had done to pleasure each other for those two nights, this had not been one of them. I had not tasted her like this or given her an orgasm with oral pleasure. I suppose 'Amnesia Eric' was unable to wait on the need to be buried inside of her. Hell, a big part of the thousand-year-old me wanted to be up to the hilt in her even now. Of course, that would mean depriving myself of the ambrosia of her womanhood right now, and I couldn't have that.

"Oh gods, Sookie," I heard myself moan—outside of my control, mind you—as I drank her in. She didn't say anything, and when her writhing beneath me began to be more like bucking, I had to move a hand to her belly to hold her down. My fangs were already elongated and aching to bite, and I didn't want her movements to cause me to hurt her. Yep—my control was shit right then, but hers was worse. That thought made me feel very, very good.

Her taste—I don't have words, and I know a lot of languages. Honey might be the closest memory to what her juices tasted like to me. No—not quite honey, but close. It was more like honeysuckle, though the name my people gave it was closer to its other common name, woodbine. I remember gathering it as a young boy and bringing it to my mother in the summer. It had pleased her greatly. The flowers had contained a sweet-tasting nectar that I remember even a thousand years later.

I could tell that Sookie was getting close to that orgasm I felt I owed her. I moved my tongue from her entrance to her clit, and, at that, even my hand could hardly keep her from bucking off the bed. I guess I'd found one of her spots. I smiled into my task of kissing and sucking on her hard nub as I thought about all the effort I intended to put into finding every fucking one of Sookie's favorite spots over the next thousand years or so. Actually—check that. A thousand years was not going to be enough. I circled her entrance with one of my fingers, and then deciding that I wanted to just go for broke, I plunged two inside of her.

She cried out my name like a prayer. It was the most beautiful sound I think I had ever heard, besides maybe her telling me that she wanted to be mine―that she wanted to permanently bond with me. The act of giving Sookie pleasure gave me almost as much as she was receiving, and let me tell you, she was receiving quite a bit. I felt her get very close and stopped my movements for a moment. I wanted this to last a while longer for both of us.

My beautiful mate grunted in displeasure at my lack of movement. I chuckled, and her grunt turned to a groan as the vibration of my laugh stirred her clit. Excellent. That was another thing she liked, so it seemed. I purposely blew on her swollen nub, and she bit her lip in the cutest way.

"Please, Eric. More," she muttered.

I realized in that moment that I will not be able to deny her anything—maybe never. I started to move my fingers in and out of her again, this time hooking them upward and feeling for her G-spot. I felt a slightly harder spot within her, and she moaned as I hit it with my fingertip.

"Oh God, Eric. Yes!"

I couldn't help but to smile again as I lavished her clit with a bit more pressure from my tongue. Of course, her passionate moans quickly changed my smile into pure unadulterated lust, and I found my control lacking again. I needed to be inside of her, but damned if I was going to give in before I gave her that orgasm I'd been building her up for. I nibbled her clit a bit and hummed to cause a vibration even as I rubbed the spot inside of her again. That combination of actions caused her to scream out my name this time, and her internal walls closed in on and then pulsed around my fingers. I moved my mouth south to capture her sweet release. Yep—honeysuckle.

Her eyes were closed in ecstasy as I repositioned myself so that my cock was at her still-dripping entrance. I gave her a moment of recovery, but just that. It was that control thing; again—it was slipping, and the patience I'd built up for a thousand years was nothing as the tip of my penis brushed against her folds. "Okay, Northman"—I gave myself a silent pep talk for the second time in a thousand years; I needed one. "You are about to go into the most blissful place on the fucking planet in a few seconds, and you are not going to cum. You are absolutely not going to cum until your woman cums first." Now generally the thought of needing such a pep talk would have appalled me, but I remembered being with Sookie from before. I knew that she would feel like Christmas, my birthday, and the Fourth of July—all rolled into one—as the human expression went. But this time the joining would mean even more to me—to us. And this time, there were a couple of new factors. One was that I loved her; okay, that was there before too, but I didn't know it at the time. And two—well—I hadn't had sex since the last time with Sookie. That's more than a year of pent-up vampire lust. "Control, Northman. Control," I added silently to myself.

Her breathing was settling, and her eyes opened. She locked into my gaze, and her look was all invitation. In her look she invited me to enter her, to kiss her, to bite her, to share my fucking soul with her. And in that moment, my thoughts of going off like a prepubescent boy drowned as I drowned myself into her.

Her warmth took me in. Being inside of her was like no other feeling I had ever experienced. It wasn't just the physical pleasure of our joining either. It wasn't even the way that her lady bits—as Sookie had charmingly called her pussy during one of our two nights of carnal bliss during the time of my amnesia—stretched to perfectly fit me and grip me like an embrace. It wasn't even the way that she seemed made to fit my size despite her tightness, and I was too big for some; I knew that from experience. But with Sookie, I didn't feel the need to hold back any part of myself. No—the physical perfection of our joined bodies was simply a bonus, but it was a bonus that I was going to enjoy every fucking day of my life if possible. Okay―more than once a day would be better, I realized, as I moved in and out of her slowly.

She arched into me to take me in deeper. And I arched downward to take her lips with mine. How could I resist them as they gasped in pleasure? Her tongue played with mine for a moment, and then they danced together to match the rhythm we were making with our lower halves. Her mouth tasted as good as her pussy, but the flavor was slightly different.

I realized that her mouth was the honey I remembered. And the taste of her mouth combined together with the taste of her sweet release that was still lingering on my tongue? Well—the heaven in that mixed flavor was beyond comparison.

Sookie needed air, so I moved my kisses to her cheeks and neck before curving my back so that I could take a pert nipple into my mouth. I rolled my tongue around it in ecstasy. Gods—every part of her tasted wonderful as the salty flavor of exertion worked its way to her skin.

Alright—I could feel myself getting close to exploding inside of her. Between her tightness gripping me, her savory nipple in my mouth, the year I'd been without her, and her fingernails that were busy burying themselves into my back in her passion, I was a dead man—figuratively and literally. I knew that I wasn't going to be able to last, and though her noises told me that she was getting ready to come undone too, I reached down to rub circles into her clit to make sure of her coming undone before I did.

Call me egotistical, but I always wanted to make sure that my woman came before me. That has not always been true with the women I've had, but with Sookie, I knew it always would be.

Sookie's tightening and flexing her internal muscles around my cock didn't help my control and only made my release more eminent, so I increased the pressure of my fingers on her nerve bundle. Of course, she answered that with deeper fingernails in my back, which I had to answer with an upward thrust that I knew would stroke that sweet spot inside of her. Her mewl at the pleasure that caused brought me even closer, but luckily the nip I made to her collarbone brought her just as close. I made a quick note to remember that spot.

Finally, we fell over the edge at seemingly the same time. Her warm release was pulsing around my cock even as the first of my cool seed coated her womb.

Oh—I've had some marvelous sex in my thousand years. I've had hell-cats and debutants. I've had those schooled in the Kama Sutra and in other cultures' doctrines of love. I've had women who fit the mold and the tastes of beauty for a thousand years and in probably a thousand cultures. I've had courtesans. I've had geishas. I've had queens. I've had the finest prostitutes—women whose job it was to pleasure men. I've had women who inspired poetry from some of the most famous authors of all time. I've had every shape and size of woman imaginable.

But in that moment of release with Sookie—with my chosen mate for the rest of my existence—well it kind of made all the others feel like a fucking dress rehearsal for the real thing. And the real thing made me feel like—well—it made me feel like everything I have ever been, all at the same time. And though I haven't needed to breathe since Godric turned me, I am sure that I was inhaling her just as she was breathing me in, in that moment. It was—in a word—beautiful.

"Fagr," I found myself saying aloud, though I'd not meant to.

Sookie had recovered enough to look at me with a question in her eyes.

I felt myself smiling at her. I felt her glistening skin under my hand as I touched her cheek and her hair. "It means 'beautiful' in the language of my people."

She graced me with a smile that was also beautiful. And she graced me with my name on her lips again. "Eric," she whispered.

Beautiful.

With great regret, I unsheathed my cock from its home, and lay down on my side facing my mate. She mirrored my pose, and we just looked at each other for a few minutes. I think that 'basking' is the right word for what we were doing. It was definitely the right word for me, and given the satisfied look in her eyes, it was a good word for her too. I was so lost in those eyes that I never—never—wanted to be found again.

The only parts of our bodies that were touching each other in those basking minutes were our fingers. Hers lay on my chest, and if there was any magic in the universe capable of starting my dead heart, her touch would have done it. Those warm fingers over that spot made me feel like a human man—like her man. It's what I wanted to be in that moment.

My own fingers couldn't stay still like hers were. Mine traveled in a slow circuit from her neck to the side curve of her breast, to the dip of her stomach, to the swell of her hips. And then they went back and did it all again.

Her lips curved up after a few minutes of basking. "Well—I think I'm just gonna have to marry you now, vampire."

"Really? Now?" I asked, feeling my own smile. "Shall we go to Vermont tonight?"

"Yuck," she said. "That's where you know who wanted to take me. Plus tonight's nearly over."

"How about Massachusetts?" I asked seriously. "And tomorrow?"

"I can do that," she said with a little purr. "Gotta ring?" she asked saucily. Despite my recent and overwhelming orgasm, I felt my cock stir at that sauciness.

I chuckled in response. "You asked me, Miss Stackhouse. Where's my ring?"

"True, but weren't you ever a boy scout, Mr. Northman? Don't you know that you need to be prepared?" Her eyebrow arched. So did my dick—just a little bit more.

My eyebrow arched to match hers. "Sookie?" I asked, suddenly nervous again. "Will you take my name―when we marry?" I wanted to add please. I did. "Please?" Only to Sookie would I ever let my vulnerability show—only to her.

Her hand rose up to my cheek. "You'd better fuckin' believe it," she answered with fervor. "I can't wait to be Mrs. Northman." Her eyes held sincerity and promise. I'm sure that mine held gratefulness. I'd always kind of laughed at the human tradition of name changes at the event of marriages. It was not thus in my original culture. But something in me wanted Sookie to bear my name—something instinctual.

Something innate in me also led my hand to her belly. "I can't give you children, Sookie," I said in a low voice. "I'm sorry."

"I know." Her hand covered mine. "I decided long ago not to have them anyway. I don't want my telepathy to be passed on, Eric. And—who knows—maybe we'll adopt one day? And," her eyes glinted with mirth, "I'll be Pam's stepmother, so that will be handful enough in and of itself."

I'm sure I snorted at that. Still, as I rubbed my hand over her belly, I regretted the one thing that I could never give to my beloved.

"So," she asked with a smile in her eyes, "what about that ring?"

I couldn't help but to chuckle again. "How about I take you to Tiffany's in Boston, and you can get whatever ring you want?"

Her nose scrunched up, and my erection, which had calmed a bit because of the serious nature of our discussion before, was again on an upward trajectory. I smiled. I think that eternity with Sookie will most likely include constant exercise for my dick. It didn't seem to object, however.

"Listen up, Mister," she said sternly. "Just because we are together now doesn't mean you get to spend an exorbitant amount of money on me."

"Sookie, do you have any idea how much money one can accumulate over a thousand years when one has a brain?" I returned. "Who else do I have to spend it on—except for Pam? Hell, I'm a jeans and T-shirt man, after all."

She shook her head. "No big gifts, Viking. No new cars. No excessive jewelry. No butlers or maids or ladies in waitin'."

I smirked. "But a wedding ring set seems reasonable. I promise I will try to control myself after that."

She shook her head again and slapped my chest lightly. Note to self. Her slap = my erection. "Fine," she said. "I'll pick my ring and your ring, and then we'll get married."

I grinned like a fool, I'm sure. "There is a vampire way to get married too. Will you do this with me? It's called a pledging."

She nodded and smiled. "Will that make you Mr. Stackhouse?" she joked.

I chuckled. "It will make me happy, lover."

Her hand once again fell over my dead heart. "It'll make me happy too."

We looked into each other's eyes for another few minutes. She broke the silence. "You ready?" she asked.

I sat up. "Yes," was my gruff reply. I could tell my voice was full of all the emotion I felt, emotions I could hardly pin down.

Sookie's brown eyes held many shades too, each one telling me a different story. She joined me sitting up and moved her hair to the side. I rested myself against the headboard and pulled her into my lap. I smelled that she was still wet with arousal, and I was definitely ready, so I made sure that her entrance was lined up over my cock, and then I impaled her.

She sighed in pleasure as I began to move her hips up and down upon me. I knew that our up-coming blood exchange would cause our mutual orgasms, but I was happy to enjoy her like this so that I could build her up. The expression on her face told me that she was happy too—very happy.

After a few minutes of her riding me, I was ready to explode yet again. Thank the gods for vampire recovery time because this woman—my woman—was always going to do her best to draw my release from me quickly. She couldn't help it even if she tried.

I had to ask her a question, though I was almost certain I knew the answer, "You're sure?"

She looked at me with confidence. "Yes. You?"

"Abso-fucking-lutely," I answered.

I raised my wrist to my mouth and bit before offering it to her. It would really be so much easier for her to drink from there rather than from my hand―even though I was tempted to re-create our first bonding. Sookie didn't seem to mind the change. She took my wrist and bit down into the wound to increase the blood flow. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was that—as humans say. With that bite, my little vixen had made me do what I vowed never to do—cum before her. Thankfully, I was prepared to deal with the situation and bit down into her neck in answer to her bite. Her walls came crashing into my cock moments later.

Her blood filled me just as mine filled her. It took a mutual exchange and love to make a bond, and bonds were rare among vampires because most of us repressed love. That wasn't possible for me when it came to Sookie.

I felt our bond forming even stronger than I'd felt it before. As I took in her blood, I'm sure I also took in an unneeded breath against her neck. I'd missed the feeling of her inside of me for the past 15 days. The thrum of her life and the bond we'd made together had been the best part of the last year until my blood had finally worn out in her. I'd never give it a chance to wear out again.

The blood exchange with my Sookie—once again and forever my bonded one—created the oddest sensation within me, one that I hadn't felt during our previous bonding. All of the things that I had most cherished in my long life seemed to collide and be pushed forth into Sookie through my blood, as if I was hoping to gift them to her. The woods where I had played and fished as a child came to my mind as did the large boulder—almost square in shape—where I'd sat for countless wonderful hours during my human days. It had been my favorite place, a place that only I knew. As vampire, my place of freedom was in the sky. Not many of my kind could fly, and I had always enjoyed soaring into the clouds. A hundred similar happy moments and activities flooded into my memory and then into my blood—or at least the feeling of them did, and I know that those feelings went into Sookie in a torrent because I felt her body tense again and then sigh in acceptance.

In return, I felt the amazing gift of Sookie's seemingly limitless love flowing into the fledgling bond we were making. And the thing that floored me most was the certainty behind that love. I knew that she would do whatever it took to sustain that love. My Sookie—yes, her blood told me that she was mine now, and mine for good—was a bulldog. And her blood and the magic within her locked themselves onto my blood like a vise.

I felt my orgasm subsiding even as the bond we'd started took root in me and in her. She was shaking in pleasure and overwhelmed by emotion, so I pulled out of her and settled us under the covers. She lay on my chest like she was made to lay there, like my sinews and bones and muscles had been a mold cast just for her. I've no doubt that if there were a higher power, he—or she—had indeed cast me for her.

I felt her breathing returning to normal just as I felt the warning pull of dawn creeping toward me. "Uh-oh," I almost said out loud. Instead, I pulled her to me tighter, trying to figure out what to say to get out of the trouble I was about to get into.


SPOV

I knew it was getting close to sunrise, and I was about to suggest to Eric that we move to the cubby when I heard something that sounded mechanical. My vampire tensed a bit under me.

I looked up to see some kind of light-tight shade beginning to cover the windows.

"Eric?" I asked. I know my voice was accusatory. I also know that there was a bit of happiness mixed into that accusation.

"What did you do?" I continued. He was looking away. Then he looked at me with almost-innocent-looking blue eyes—almost being the operative word.

"What?" he asked, his tone of voice just as almost-innocent.

"Eric?" I asked, trying to sound stern.

"Happy anniversary?" he tried with a brilliant smile.

"You are a high-handed, over-confident vampire, Eric Northman," I said, trying my hardest to hide my own smile.

"Maybe I'm just a high-handed and hopeful vampire," he answered, giving me what could only be described as puppy dog eyes.

Yep—my Viking had me wrapped around his fingers. I hid a chuckle as he gave an exaggerated yawn.

"So tired," he yawned with only one eye opened. "Must sleep. So near dawn," he choked out in an exaggerated fashion. "So worn out from screwing wife—uh fiancé," he added, not even bothering to hide his smirk.

He let out a sigh and then sank into the pillows as if dead—well more dead than usual.

I couldn't help but to smile at the awful acting performance of the beautiful vampire lying next to me. I wondered what other changes he'd done to the house in my absence and decided to chastise him for those, but to be thankful for the one that would keep him in our bed for the day. I snuggled into his side with a very contented sigh.

Was I surprised when I felt his arms tighten around me? No. I knew he wasn't dead for the day yet.

I sighed again. A year ago, I had fled my house, filled with pain and bad memories. A year ago, I had doubted everything, except one thing—that Eric Northman loved me. His note and offer had proved that. He'd shown that love to me for every one of the 365 days that I had spent away from him; he'd shown it by letting me have enough time to be as sure as he had been. Was I gonna get upset about light-tight windows in our bedroom? Uh—no! Maybe the Sookie that left a year ago—the one that was insecure and screwed up because of the blood of two vampires competing in her body and because of missing a whole year from being in the fairy realm would have been angry at Eric for being high-handed.

But I could only be grateful to my soon-to-be husband in that moment. "Happy anniversary, Eric," I whispered to him.

His arms tightened around me again, and I raced with him to sleep.