The next day I woke feeling like total hell. I groaned as I sat up, my eyes squinting against the harsh rays of morning light streaming through my window. My muscles screamed in protest as I stretched my limbs and swung out of bed. There was no way I was going to work.
I scanned the room for my cell phone, realized it was still in my purse, and shuffled across the room to retrieve it. Turning the screen on, my eyes went wide at the notifications. There were more than twenty missed calls and messages, all from Pam. I rubbed my temple and dialed my voicemail. The first message played.
"Call me." She did not sound happy, not that she ever really did. I hit 'delete' and listened to the next message.
"What happened?" She was exasperated, bordering on panicked.
"Pick up your goddamn phone. We need to talk."
"I'm starting to feel like a jilted lover. Call me."
Message after message played, repeating variations of the same sentiment, until finally, "Eric is losing his mind. He's asking all sorts of questions. Abby, I have to tell him."
I put down the phone and lay my head in my hands. Naturally, this was the logical course of events after my ridiculous display last night. I could only imagine the fallout to come once the sun set.
Shaking my head clear of those daunting thoughts, I called work and begged out for the day. Philip was understanding, if not entirely pleased. I was sure that I wasn't the only one calling out after last night's festivities, though I, for one, could honestly claim that it was not due to a hangover.
Fulfilling my serious need for rest and relaxation, I took a long hot shower, ate lunch outside on the porch, read a good book, and took a nap. By the time the sky began to darken, I felt back to my usual self, the previous night's events not as heavy on my mind. But I knew that wouldn't last. I changed into a fresh dress and went out onto the balcony as the sun set.
The last rays were fading on the horizon when I felt an old, familiar spark ignite at the base of my skull. Eric. The connection I'd not felt for so long revved to life again as if it had never stopped. He was awake and he was very, very close.
My heart raced and my eyes scanned the darkness. I could feel him drawing nearer. It seemed like the bond was stronger, or maybe I was just more sensitive to it now.
"I know you're here," I spoke to the air, unable to bear the anxiety any longer.
Eric stepped around the corner of the house and I instantly knew he'd been here all day, probably in Pam's basement sleeping chamber. He wore the same clothes from the night before, though his suit coat was missing. His shirt and pants were wrinkled, his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows.
I watched him approach me, the old slat boards creaking under his weight. He stopped a few feet from where I sat in a wicker rocking chair and met my eyes. The depth of emotion in those deep blue orbs almost made me burst into tears. An aching sadness like I'd never felt from him, even on that fateful night four months ago, poured from his eyes, flooded our bond, and rendered me completely speechless.
I couldn't say how long we stayed that way, speaking volumes without words. But eventually, Eric's eyes dipped to my stomach and he asked lowly, "May I?"
I didn't respond, but gave no sign of reluctance either. He sank to his knees before me and gently placed a hand on either side of my belly. The baby moved inside me, but it was when it kicked, its foot landing squarely against Eric's right hand that his eyes snapped to mine.
Choked and desperate, as if he would break to pieces at any moment, he asked, "Mine?"
Had Pam not told him after all? Did she hold out, saving the honor for me? I was struck by sudden indecision. The chance might still be there to carry on with my plan. With one word I could steer him away from the difficult future that surely lay before us. But looking at his face, I knew that one word would also destroy him. Could I do it? Could I lie to his face to save him? Would he even believe me, after all he'd seen?
A sobering thought crossed my mind that maybe, just maybe, it wasn't all about saving him either. Maybe there was just as much vengeance as compassion motivating my thoughts. I looked down at him, a thousand year old vampire reduced to a fragile, aching man with the smallest glimmer of hope in his eyes.
"Yes," I whispered.
He crumpled in on himself then, his hands covering his face. I didn't need to see him, though. His body shook with silent sobs and despite all that had transpired between us, I couldn't bear it. Scooting forward in my seat, I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and squeezed. It was a long time before he pulled away from my embrace and looked me in the eyes. My heart broke a little seeing the streaks of red dried to his cheeks.
"You must hate me," he said.
I paused and thought it over. "I don't hate you," I sighed. "I don't know how I feel, really, but I could never hate you."
Eric's red rimmed eyes fell again on my belly. "I have failed you. I have failed all of you."
Gooseflesh sprang up over my skin as his words registered. "What did you say?"
"I failed you."
"No, no." I shook my head impatiently. "The other part. Did you say 'all of you'?"
He nodded, his brow furrowing for a moment before realization dawned on him. "You didn't know," he breathed.
"Eric, tell me exactly what you meant," I demanded, my voice edging on panicked.
He stood, taking my hands and bringing me to my feet along with him. Though his touch wasn't something I was particularly comfortable with at the time, I left my hands in his to help stop the shaking. I felt lightheaded before he even said the words.
"There are two heartbeats, Abigail."
Immediately I sank back into the chair, the breath going out of me in a rush. I shook my head, utterly amazed.
"I had no idea," I muttered. Then, more sharply, "Pam never said a word!"
Eric rested a hand on my shoulder and I didn't brush it away. "It is possible she didn't hear it. It is very faint. I only heard when I got very close."
I wrapped my arms around my stomach and rocked slightly. I was so unprepared for this. This night had taken a complete detour from what I'd expected. Sensing my shock, Eric slowly took a seat in the chair next to mine.
"You have not been to a doctor, then," he observed quietly.
In full hormonal glory, I switched gears and turned on him in an instant. "Of course not," I spat. "How stupid do you think I am?"
He took my mood swing in stride and adjusted himself thoughtfully, resting his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together in front of him.
"Do you need anything?" he asked. "Clothes? Furniture?"
I shook my head stubbornly. "Nope. I'm good," I replied though apparently I needed to go buy a second crib soon. The idea of accepting Eric's help on that front just didn't sit well after all these months of relying on myself... and Pam.
Eric was quiet, but I could feel that I'd stung him with my refusal. After a long pause he asked, "Will you ever be able to forgive me?"
I thought about it, thought back to that night four months ago, as I laid in shock on the bathroom floor in my little apartment. It seemed like years had passed since then. "I was so scared," I began, "I had no idea what was happening to me. All I could think was that once night came, once you woke, everything would be OK. We would figure it out together." My voice broke and I furiously wiped at the tears in my eyes. "You wouldn't even listen to me. You were so quick to judge, to turn on me. How could you think I would ever have betrayed you like that?"
"There is no justification," he replied, his voice thick and rough. "I thought my worst fear had been realized that night- that you turned from me because I could not give you what you wanted. It's no excuse."
"I didn't want this, Eric," I said quietly. It was the truth. I'd never decided on my path. It was just as likely I would have chosen eternity with him as a vampire as it was I would have left him for the chance at a family and a normal life.
"Do you regret it?" he asked.
I shook my head vehemently. "Never," I said staunchly, wrapping my arms around my belly. "Never, ever. This was a gift." I looked over at him. "Do you regret it?"
His blue eyes welled red and in the blink of an eye he was on his knees in front of me again. "You have given me something I'd surrendered all hope of a thousand years ago. My children will walk this earth. My living, breathing children. I couldn't imagine a happier thought."
Although the damage that had been done between us would take a long while to heal, I allowed Eric to stay that night. It was probably a conceited notion on my part that I could have made him leave even if I wanted to. He was my shadow, keeping a respectful, but watchful distance. He was intensely curious about the changes to my body, how I was becoming more and more vampire-like by the day. I showed him how fast and strong I'd become. My abilities still paled in comparison to a full blooded vampire's, but I was far from human any more. I told him about Maeve O'Malley, the history of my family, and how Maeve would be here in just a few weeks to help with the birth.
As the night wore on, I could feel my energy draining and the babies growing hungry. Eric could sense it, too. We'd migrated to the sitting room hours before and I was reclined lazily on the loveseat. He was settled in the chair opposite.
"You've been taking Pam's blood," he ventured tentatively. "Is there a reason for that?" I nodded reluctantly, but hated the idea of explaining more. "You need vampire blood," he deduced.
Again I nodded and too tired to fight the inevitable, clarified, "Your blood."
He swallowed my words, his lips drawing into a tight line. "How clever of you to think of Pam. I owe my progeny a great debt." He slid his long body from the chair and closed the distance between us. "Will you allow me?"
It would have been stupid to refuse him, even as reluctant as I was to have him so close. I nodded and pulled my body into a sitting position as he carefully tore into his wrist. His eyes shone as I took the offering and placed it to my lips.
His blood was heaven. I lost myself as I drank, moaning greedily as it poured down my throat. Pam's blood had gotten me through, but now I realized what a poor substitute it had really been. My body sprang to life, electrified, energized, complete. When the wounds closed and I released his wrist, I looked up at Eric with foggy eyes.
"Better?" he smirked.
"Yes," I moaned softly. Pam's blood had never had this effect. I felt so sated, floating and happy. I sagged against his shoulder and he scooped me up bodily with one effortless motion. Drowsily I registered the slight shifts as he carried me upstairs and laid me in bed.
Eric gently removed my sandals before pulling the blanket over me. As he clicked off the light and closed the door I only remember thinking how comforting it was to know he would be there, just two floors down, as I slept.
A/N: I just wanted to say a quick thank you to everyone who's taken the time to read and especially review! You guys are great! You make you me smile. :)