As I stood over the bathroom sink, staring into the mirror, one thought kept racing through my mind.
How the hell did I get here?
My right hand gingerly reached up to touch the hand marks bruised into the flesh of my neck. But as my arm reached up, my vision was assaulted by the sight of blood trailing down my arm. The flesh in my forearm was torn and ragged. It looked like a dog had sunk his teeth in and shook his head.
Which I guess wasn’t far off.
How the hell did I get here?
I grabbed some paper towels and got them wet in the sink, and then began swabbing the trickles of blood away.
“I could seal that wound for you,” Pam said from behind me with a sharkish smile.
“No, thanks,” I stiffly replied.
I kept my eyes averted from her, but I could still see Pam’s sulking form behind me in the mirror as she casually leaned against the doorway watching me.
“You ingested some of Long Shadow’s blood. It should be enough to heal your wound in time,” she commented.
I cringed at being reminded of the fact that some of his blood had gone down my throat. I’d been so shocked and surprised when he’d attacked me, that my mouth was still open in disbelief when Eric had driven the stake through his back. His blood and my own had splattered over my front as I had scooted backwards from under his slowly flaking body. It had all been so unexpected to me, that I hadn’t even immediately noticed that I had swallowed some of his blood.
Two months ago, I had been quietly living under another name in a crap apartment and working in some unmemorable restaurant waiting tables. I had never been injured and now I was staring in the mirror at hand-shaped bruises on my neck and a nasty looking vampire bite mark on my arm.
“How the hell did I get here?”
I didn’t even realize I’d said it out loud until Pam’s puzzled voice answered, “Eric drove you here earlier. How do you think you got here?”
I shook my head as I dabbed at my arm with more paper towels. “It was a rhetorical question,” I muttered.
It was amazing to see, but I could tell as I dabbed the blood away, that the wound was indeed healing. The edges of the wound were already turning shinny and pink as they closed. I figured at this rate, by morning it might be completely closed with new pink, shiny skin. Even the bruises on my neck seemed to be fading.
Suddenly, as I looked up again in the mirror, a different vampire was filling the doorway. My heart started racing against my will. The last time I’d seen Eric, he’d been hunched over me on the floor, his fangs run out and his eyes glazed over with lust. What kind, I wasn’t sure. I’d been scooting backwards away from him as Pam had swooped in and shuffled me from the office to the bathroom to clean up. Her fangs had run out too, but as she stood and watched me clean up, she seemed to get herself completely under control.
“I brought you some bandaging,” Eric quietly said as he studied me.
Not moving, I took a moment to study him as well. There didn’t seem to be any sign of fangs, and he seemed completely in control of himself again. His eyes were clear, blue, and unfathomable. But then, Long Shadow had seemed completely benign until a split second before he’d launched himself at me intent on ripping my throat out. I’d barely been fast enough to reflexively throw my arm in front of my face.
Eric sighed. “I will not harm you. You have my word.”
I slowly reached out and took what appeared to be strips of a t-shirt or something torn up. Eric stepped forward, his eyes focused on my wounded arm.
My response was to grip the makeshift bandages and step backwards again.
With another sigh, Eric repeated. “I will not harm you.”
My eyes cast downwards on my injured arm, I tried to explain. “I’ve never been to a hospital before. I’d never been injured until I came back here. I just want things to go back to the way they were. I just wish things would stop changing.”
“Life is ever changing. It is the only constant in life.”
My eyes shot up to his. “Says the vampire who’s probably older than dirt and hasn’t changed one bit in who knows how long.”
The corner of his mouth tugged up as his arms crossed over his chest. “And yet I do not look as I did when I was human more than one thousand years ago. And I can assure you that in one thousand years, I have changed a great deal. I may physically have stopped changing, but I have never stopped evolving. Everything that has happened to me, good and bad, has changed what I have become. You cannot stop change. At some point you must embrace it.”
“Yeah, well, this change has led to me nearly dying more times than I’d like to think about. Twice by the fangs of a vampire. Maybe not all change is good,” I replied. I could still leave. I could leave and go back to the life I’d been living. It was a somewhat gypsy or nomadic life, but at least I’d been safe.
Eric’s eyes seemed to bore into me, as though he could see everything with that one look. “No. Not all change is good. But how you react to it is what matters. Will you stay and fight the ill the world throws at you, or will you cut and run?”
I gingerly wrapped the cloth around my arm, carefully tucking one end in place with one hand to secure it.
“I want to go home,” was my quiet response. Eric nodded and silently led me from the now empty bar to his car in the employee parking lot.
As Eric held the passenger door open to his corvette, I looked up into his blue eyes. “I’m no coward,” I told him.
“I know.” His whispered response came as I slid into the seat.
We rode in silence for a while. I thought he was content to let our ride home be as silent as our ride to Fangtasia earlier in the evening had been, but then his deep voice broke the silence. “We did not have a chance to discuss the details of you working for me.”
My eyes closed as my head fell back against the headrest. “Can we just not talk about this or anything else vampire related tonight. I just want to go home, sleep, and forget any of this ever happened. I found your thief for you. Can’t you just give me some time to think?”
Even with my eyes closed, I could tell he was looking at me.
“Eyes on the road,” I muttered.
I heard him grunt, then, “I have some paperwork that I have had a lawyer draw up. If you have any questions, you can call him to discuss the particulars or ask questions. His number and name are on the first page.”
When we pulled down the driveway and into the parking space behind my house, Eric grunted again and commented, “Your driveway needs repair.”
I climbed out of the low-slung corvette, and waved my bandage-covered arm at Eric over the roof as he got out as well. “Well, I’ve kind of had more on my plate lately than just filling in the potholes on my driveway! I’ve been attacked and nearly killed three times since I moved back to Bon Temps, so I’m sorry if I just haven’t had the money or time to take care of everything.”
“What happened to the money you collected from the casino?” he carefully pried.
I swiped at the wetness trying to escape from one eye. “I used it to put a new roof on the house and pay some other expenses.”
“We have not discussed your compensation, but there are some figures included with the paperwork. I will see to it that you are paid well for tonight’s help.” He reached inside the corvette and then handed me the paperwork over the roof. “Look the paperwork over. I will come by tomorrow evening to discuss it.”
I took the papers with a huff. “Can’t I have a little more time to think things over? I’d like some time without a vampire trying to kill me.”
“It would be best not to wait too long to finish our business. It will be later in the evening however when I come over. I’ll have Bubba come over after dark to look in on you. He seemed very concerned with your wellbeing and I think would enjoy being tasked with watching you again.” His answer came with arms crossed over his chest and a no-nonsense look.
“Why do I need Bubba looking after me, and just what’s the deal with him?” I pressed, my arms crossing over my own chest to mimic his stance. It was probably a lot less intimidating since I was more or less cradling my injured arm.
“I would feel more at ease with Bubba at the very least watching over you. There are still certain things which do not seem right to me,” he replied as he leaned down over the roof of his car and braced his arms on it. He then launched into a quick explanation about Bubba and his quirks. I’d already figured who Bubba was, but hearing about how he’d been turned was fascinating.
I said a quick goodnight and turned to head for the house. I nearly jumped out of my skin when Eric appeared beside me to escort me to my door. I’d been a lot more comfortable with him when we’d had a car between us. It was almost overpowering to have him this close. And when we’d been in his car, at least most of the time, his attention had been on driving. But now, he was staring down at me, his eyes completely focused on me.
My eyes quickly dropped away and I hurried towards the backdoor. When my hand darted out to turn the doorknob, Eric’s hand closed over mine, stopping me just short.
“I am sorry you were injured this evening. It was not my intention for any harm to come to you.”
I didn’t look up, and kept my eyes locked on the door as I nodded. Suddenly, his hand was gone and the sound of his car starting filled the night. I glanced over my shoulder to see him driving back down the driveway.
My house was quiet and still as I went inside, with only Tina to greet me. I felt safe inside the house, but I found myself wondering just how safe I really was. And like I’d told Eric, I’d nearly been killed three times since coming back to Bon Temps, so just how safe was that? Maybe I would be better off moving on.
But my words to Eric kept coming back to me. I’m no coward. And I was determined to prove it.
For the first time in a long time, I slept in. It had been years since I’d allowed myself the luxury. But heck, I figured I was due after nearly dying again last night. I seemed to be doing something wrong with my life. Maybe I was living wrong.
But that silent challenge from Eric still bothered me. He may not have said the actual words, but I’d seen the silent challenge in his eyes. Was I a coward?
I’d always told myself I wasn’t, but maybe now was the time to prove it.
With that determination in mind, I walked out to the kitchen table where I’d left the paperwork Eric had handed me the night before. I hadn’t read a word of it yet, but I decided I would at least read it through once so I could start pondering it and figure out what I was going to do.
An hour later, my eyes tired from reading, I walked outside to do a little work while I thought.
“What the hell?” escaped my lips before I could stop it. I had made it out to the bottom of the back steps and was shocked by the sight of my driveway. New gravel lined the once potted and pitted path. And it looked like awful nice gravel too. Expensive. “What the hell?” I repeated.
Eric, my mind growled. My gaze narrowed in frustration. People didn’t do things for free, and now I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. What was Eric expecting to get in return?
Well, can’t do anything about it right now with the sun still up, I thought with a sigh. I always seemed to think clearer when I was working, so I went to the toolshed in the backyard and found an old rake. With gritted teeth, I turned my energy and determination on my yard, resolved to rake up the scattered leaves, and maybe my scattered thoughts too.
“Do you need help, Miss Sookie?” Bubba’s timid voice asked behind me.
I swung around at the sound of his voice, surprised to see him standing with an almost sheepish look on his face.
I’d still had things to mull over in my mind when the sun went down, so I’d decided to rake leaves closer to the house where I could use the yard light to see by.
I glanced over at the trash bags on the steps and replied, “Sure, Bubba, do you want to help me bag this pile of leaves?”
His face split into a grin like he was a child and I’d asked him to come to my house to play. “Sure thing, Miss Sookie. I’d surely love to help you.”
He zipped over to the steps and pulled a bag out for me to hold open, then proceeded to stuff it with leaves at super speed. I think I ended up wearing a fair bit of the leaves in his enthusiasm, but I didn’t have the heart to stop him. He looked so happy to be helping with something so simple and menial. Maybe he just liked being treated like he was normal and could help do even simple things.
After we had bagged that pile, Bubba even asked where another rake was, and went to get it so he could help me rake some more. Raking at least he did at a more controlled pace. The leaves had scattered too much when he tried to do it quickly.
After a few minutes, he even seemed comfortable enough to start asking questions. I remembered that Eric had confirmed my suspicions that he wasn’t quite right in the head, but he seemed to be having a pretty good day—or night I guess—and was asking about how I’d ended up in Bon Temps.
I had just gotten done briefly explaining my move back to Bon Temps.
“Well, it was real lucky your Uncle decided to give you this place instead of giving it to your brother. It probably would have been lots simplier since he lives close,” Bubba commented before going back to humming. He seemed to hum to himself quite a bit, but I noticed it seemed to keep him calmer too. It was probably the familiarity of it.
“Huh, yeah. I guess it was lucky,” I commented absent-mindedly.
Why did he leave me the house in his will? Just because it was what Gran wanted didn’t mean he had to. It would have been a hell of a lot easier for his lawyer just to sign it over to Jason. Why did he go to all the trouble of even trying to track me down?
This time, my mind registered the void approaching across the cemetery, and I turned to watch Bill step into the glow of the yard light.
“Good evening, Sookie,” he said in his southern, gentlemanly way.
“Evening, Bill,” I nodded.
Without speaking a word, he reappeared from the toolshed with another rake and wordlessly began to help. I considered protesting, but I’d spent the afternoon thinking about some of the things Jeanie always harped on me about.
Lack of trust had been a huge one. But she’d also complained that I couldn’t accept help. It was tough for me since I always saw in people’s minds just what they expected for their help, but maybe I could try learning to accept a little assistance. Doing a little yard work wasn’t the same as giving lavish gifts and expecting something in return. Neighbors helped with yard work. Didn’t they?
Bubba continued humming softly to himself, but at Bill’s appearance, had stopped asking me questions.
After a few minutes, Bill picked up the slack.
“Do you have any other living relatives, Sookie?” he queried.
My brows drew together in surprise and confusion. “Not really,” I answered shortly.
“Oh? You have no other relatives alive? Your Great Uncle was the last of your known relatives?”
I turned to fully face him and leaned on my rake. “What are you getting at Bill?” Something didn’t seem right.
“I was simply curious if it was only you and your brother now or if you had any cousins as well,” he quickly said, his answer coming out more like a hurried cover.
“The only real family I can say I had while I was in foster care was a lady who took me in until I turned 18. I don’t have much of any memories of other family,” I carefully answered, trying to gauge his intentions in his expression. There wasn’t much to gauge. He kept a pretty blank face. Vamps seemed real good at that.
He nodded. “I suppose growing up in a small town like Bonita wasn’t much different than growing up in Bon Temps would have been,” he said conversationally.
My heart started thundering. “Who said I’d been in Bonita?”
A/N: I know it’s a little short, but I wanted to get a little something out while I could. I’ve been busy at a trade show this week (and had the stomach flu ) but I was able to find a little dead time to write.
Also, if you haven’t already, check out the reading group that Fairyblood has started. A group gets together every day to talk about fanfics, the SVM series and just about anything. It’s been a blast to jump into when I can. Tons of great discussions going on about everything under the sun and a great place to ask readers and writers both questions about fanfiction. You can find it on Fairyblood’s blog: http://fairybloodsfantasies.blogspot.com
It really is a ton of fun!
This was actually a tough chapter to write, so let me know what you thought. I decided we’ve all read the Long Shadow staking bit a hundred times and so skipped over it.