**A/N: I’ve gotta say that I absolutely adore how irate some of y’all were at Sookie over not being sure of Eric’s feelings for her…! THAT MADE MY DAY!!! Ohhh how I wanted to gloat since I knew what was in this chapter… (BTW: We’re pretending that whole “SUDDENLY: ERIC LOVES SOME GIRL IN SOME OTHER PLACE/TIME **BAM** SHE’S ALL DEAD” bit never happened…call it “writer’s prerogative”…) Hope you enjoy this chapter and my tiny li’l crowings of “I coulda tol’ja so’s” that I womanfully (as opposed to manfully) refrained from, erm, crowing cause I’m nice that way… Finally, read slowly…there are a lot of words in this chapter, too.**
Sookie sat down for a minute to finish her tea, then returned to her own office to grab a change of clothes from the pile she kept on hand. After changing from her business suit in the women’s restroom, she splashed her face with water for a bit of a perk-up, then did a general check of the facilities and wasn’t surprised to see that the restroom was in good shape.
The employees were honestly a great bunch. Most were moms and a few dads and were used to keeping their surroundings tidy, but even the singles were good about cleaning up after themselves. She knocked on the men’s bathroom door a few times and, after the silence assured her that no one was in there, she peeked in to give it a once-over and, yes, it was fine too.
Now to oversee the staff as they cleaned up after the day’s work. It had been a long day for some of the cooks, so she sent them on home and dove in with the rest of them to get the place ready for the vans’ return.
That was always a hassle, well, the dirty serving pieces, plates, everything of that nature was at any rate. There was usually varying amounts of food left over and while food regs stated that all returned food was to be thrown away, if it was “thrown away” into “carry-out containers” that the employees agreed to “throw away” at home, who was to know?
She hated the thought of perfectly good food going to waste, and since they made obsessively sure that all food was handled properly at all stages – during storage, preparation, transportation to and from and presentation during, hot foods were kept hotter and cold foods were kept colder – her employees tended to eat well after their shifts.
Sookie also kept notes on what dishes had been more popular, how much in general was left, what “sold out” quickest, and other minutia for future use. After everything was put away, cleaned up, and hosed down so that the place was ready for the next day’s schedule, she could leave.
In the meantime the kitchen was spotless from that day’s efforts and they were just waiting for the vans to return, so she wandered into the staff room. As she waited, she saw on the table an old magazine with Eric’s face on the front.
Whether she’d meant to or not, over the years she had managed to avoid most of the New Blood publicity bits. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see Eric’s handsome face so much as the first time she’d seen it on a magazine, it had brought a small flood of memories and a huge flood of feelings from…back then.
Some of them were good – sharing a fresh-baked pie with her family…joking around with Lala at work…seeing Lala with his boyfriend what’s-his-name…Jason doing his own laundry for once…Tara when she was little…the taste of Eric’s blood? She didn’t understand that one.
Most of them weren’t.
She remembered getting reamed out by The Cowardly Asshole for encouraging Jessica to visit her family and then of him fucking around with his great-whatever granddaughter. A few more memories resurfaced of being beaten nearly to death by the Rattrays before he conveniently appeared, then there were more memories of Uncle Bartlett and of Pam being a bitch. She’d stopped trying after she remembered Eric being mean to her at…at…oh, what was his name…that old crazy vampire… She couldn’t remember the name but remembered the heartbreak.
That she knew there was some sosrt of reason behind the whole thing didn’t matter – all she could remember was the feeling, and the feeling was like having her heart torn in two.
That episode had caused what she could only call a minor setback and had brought dreams of “monster Bill” back in full force – especially the dreams where he had forced her to watch as he endlessly tortured Eric. She remembered more about being fangraped at that bar, and remembered that other vampire’s name – Russell Edgington. That bastard had infiltrated her nightmares and delighted in torturing both her and Eric.
Time spent under the noon-day sun had helped considerably, but the damage was still there.
Afterwards she was simply too scared to think much about Eric. The night terrors had been devastating in a way Fairy Sookie didn’t want to risk again. Some part of her knew that something wasn’t right, that Eric wasn’t really bad, but her psyche didn’t seem to want to risk it.
Several years later she had happened to spot another magazine while she was out shopping. There was Eric in all this tall, glorious magnificence…along with two red-heads.
That picture had pissed her off, but she couldn’t exactly explain why. She knew her memories from back then were shit…knew she only remembered bits and pieces of what felt like years’ worth of time, but surely she would know why she felt that he wasn’t supposed to be with other girls, right?
Hadn’t he been hers for a few precious moments in time but…but that was over, right?
She’d spent several hours on the corner of her couch that night wrapped up in her gran’s afghan and with a pillow cuddled on her lap as she tried to think about…things. It was the first time she had purposefully tried to think back to those times, and it had been utterly frustrating.
What she couldn’t remember, or couldn’t remember well, could fill books.
She did remember that he had been her haven on earth, that she was his “sunshine in a pretty blonde bottle”. If she wasn’t mistaken, at some point along the way she had felt very precious to him. She knew that she had cared for him when he’d lost his way. She knew that the Lost Eric had loved her but knew that wasn’t who he was in his real life when he was in his real mind. She knew that his return to his reality had broken her heart. She knew that one night he’d flown away like those castles made of clouds in the sky.
She also knew there was more…much more.
She knew she knew Eric, knew she knew him and at the same time knew she had forgotten too much. If she could remember unimportant details about people who were far less important to her, then it made no logical sense that she would forget important things about the people who were important to her, and even with the way she was, she knew Eric was important to her in a way that The Cowardly Asshole had never been.
It didn’t make any sense. Sometimes the memories were there and sometimes they weren’t. It was exactly as if Fairy Sookie was playing hide and seek in the holes in her brain. Maybe her memories were held in an imaginary muscle that had atrophied through disuse?
She knew she wasn’t exactly well and that minds drew blanks for a reason, but what could she do? She couldn’t risk getting back into the supe community and it wasn’t as though she could talk to a regular person about any of her past.
Between sunshine, sweet tea, and strong blond coffee, though, she would deal. Hard work helped tire her body so she could sleep, and barring unforeseen complications causing night terrors, she’d actually get that sleep.
She was strong; she would deal.
She did know that she didn’t like seeing Eric with those nasty looking bimbos, though, and the logic of knowing that her time with him had been years ago, that time and people moved on and lived their own lives, made no difference.
Besides, every now and then here lately she would have these brief but amazing dreams about Eric. At first he would save her from The Cowardly Asshole like he’d done in those dreams a long time ago, but those dreams had ended, finally. Now…now sometimes he would save her from Weres or those nasty vompires…one time he had kissed her in an ugly office somewhere…another dream had turned into a nightmare, though, when he had chained her by the neck in some filthy prison.
That dream had made her wake up with a damn headache.
Other dreams were much better, especially the one where they were on a rug before a fire. She’d thought about that dream all the following day. There hadn’t been anything special about it, they’d just been talking, but there was something about it that tugged at her heart. She liked when that dream returned because it felt so real.
At one point she conceded that it might be something that really happened, but if it had happened, why did it stop? It felt so perfect…
Sometimes the dreams really were memories, dreams where she knew that she was remembering a real event like when he was in her kitchen telling her she was sunshine in a pretty blonde bottle and the one where he’d somehow bought her grans’ house (why would he buy her house?) and thought he’d bought her, too, silly man – Fairy Sookie seemed to like the blonde-bottle one best for some reason, but other times they were sadly just dreams, like the one where they were in a shower together, and that other one where they were running around naked in the snow and there was that bed out in a forest or something.
Those were best.
She hoped they’d been real – sometimes she was sure they were. Maybe one day she’d find out for certain.
Sookie shook her head as she heard the employees talking about some upcoming ball game of some sort as they waited for the vans to return.
It would still be a few hours before she could leave, but she hoped she had the fireplace dream again that night. It felt closest to what home might be like.
(Go get a coffee…I’ll wait)
Now reasonably assured that her fellow co-owner wasn’t going to fire their entire crew – the night was still technically young according to the vampire event they were catering – Misty left to supervise the rest of the set-up at the Center.
Sookie didn’t have meltdowns very often but when she did, want ads had to be placed in the local papers and the interviewing process was always a hassle. She was glad the blonde didn’t seem to mind doing those interviews, though.
Despite the rare shows of temper, Misty knew she’d seriously lucked out when she’d met The Mysterious Sookie so long ago.
Misty’s dad had welcomed his only daughter into his main, and easiest, restaurant straight out of high school. Since her only “skill” at that time was in waiting tables, despite his loftier ambitions for his daughter he had reluctantly agreed to let her be a server. She suspected he’d wanted to park her back in an office somewhere doing make-work until she figured out what she wanted to do with her life, but she’d always been a people person…
Although her father had never said a word, Misty knew she had sucked at waitressing. She had gone into it thinking that it couldn’t be that hard – she liked people and all she had to do was just take orders and bring drinks and food, right?
Thankfully a week later Sookie had come along and her dad, always a sucker for a pretty face and a hard-luck case, had hired the sad looking blonde immediately.
She secretly suspected he hadn’t wanted to have to fire his only daughter and was sorely hoping Misty would learn from the new waitress since she apparently hadn’t learned squat from the others on staff.
Sookie had quickly proven to be an excellent server and although she had never talked much, she had kindly helped Misty learn how to do her job, and eventually do it well.
It was as though the blonde had some sort of sixth sense about what her customers would need and Misty had been somewhat jealous at first. Still, though she had never become as good as Sookie, she improved dramatically under her tutelage.
Over time the two had developed a strong, if seemingly superficial, friendship.
At one point it had dawned on Misty that she knew next to nothing about the blonde’s past, her hobbies, much of anything, really, but consoled herself that she knew what counted. As Sookie became more comfortable working with her, their small talk during slower times gradually grew until they eventually discovered that they each wanted something different out of life.
Misty started taking part-time accounting and other business classes along the way but continued working steadily at the restaurant, and was somehow, she suspected her father was behind it, always scheduled to work with Sookie.
Thus was born the catering business with the slightly odd name her friend had suggested with a strange look on her face.
Misty never did get the story behind all that.
As she drove the last of the loaded vans down the now familiar route to the Center, she wondered about Sookie’s strange reluctance to work with vamps. She hadn’t seemed anti-vamp the times she’d actually spoken about them – the lady didn’t have a racist or bigoted bone in her body – and she did seem to know a lot more about them than she ought considering she didn’t seem to be a huge fan of them.
Maybe she’d had an affair with one some time back and he had broken her heart?
Something had happened, though – she could see it in Sookie’s eyes. She’d tried gently prodding at the topic a few times, not so much as to make Sookie hide back in her shell again but enough to let it be known that she was willing to listen if the other woman wanted to talk, but nothing had ever come of it.
With a shrug she eased onto the ramp that led down to the back entrance of one of the Center’s underground banquet halls and meeting rooms.
The whole “complex” struck Misty as weird. This was Yuma…there was absolutely no need for a place like this – in fact, she’d laughed her younger ass off when she’d first heard about the possibility of it being built. Surely the know-it-alls lording it over the “growing” city had better sense than that…but nope, they’d built it and built it huge, too.
Her dad, who was involved in city planning and sat on lots of committees she couldn’t care less about, had said it was so that they wouldn’t have to go back and build it all again later.
When she’d heard from him that they were even going to build a big vampire hotel under it or around it somewhere, she honestly hadn’t believed it. Vampires weren’t exactly rare in Yuma but they weren’t exactly thick on the ground, either. Phoenix was far more likely to draw their business. It hadn’t made all that much sense to “if you build it they will come” them to Yuma…but she had to admit that it’d worked.
At the time she hadn’t known about their addiction to conferences…conferences that Tasty Morsels made a killing – she had to snicker at her joke – catering.
She suspected her dad had a lot more than a little to do with that, too.
Soon enough everything was in full swing. Normally she would have left by now or would at least have found a quiet area to relax in while the staff tended to the food and serving duties, but this job was an exceptionally big deal for TM.
Misty didn’t understand much about the vamp world but knew tonight’s event was part of one of their many, many conferences – yep, vampires really were big on conferences – and apparently some of the big honchos in the vampire world coming to this one. Earlier she’d even heard a couple of rather squeaky guests going on about how “the hot vamp who owned that fake blood company was even attending”. She couldn’t tell if the women were vampires or not, she usually couldn’t tell the two apart and especially not by voice, but she remembered seeing that fake blood guy’s picture on the cover of some magazines and newspapers off and on and had to agree with their assessment.
If she’d been into men, she’d have given him a whirl herself.
Maybe two whirls.
Girl had to test out her options, right?
Misty, however, didn’t normally deal with attendees at these events so she mentally wished the loud, squeaky girls good luck as she found herself a handy wall to support as she monitored the food and staff.
The dinner portion of the evening had gone splendidly – Sookie had been wise to suggest doubling the amount of shrimp – and the dessert portion of the evening was coming up.
Serving the main and dessert courses separately had been another of Sookie’s suggestions after their second vampire event.
Although she hadn’t explained why, she’d told Misty to suggest to the event planner that the two courses be served a little while apart “to let the odor of the vegetables and meats have time to clear the air before bringing in the chosen desserts”. She glanced at her watch as she remembered for some reason that the requested meat on that long-ago night’s menu had been lamb and that after Sookie had made her suggestion, she’d thought at the time that while it was a weird idea, it might work because lamb stunk.
The dayman charged with making those plans had called back that next morning and his voice had been fairly beaming as he gushed over his boss’ approval of the suggestion. They had made it an option for every event thereafter, and most vampires gladly chosen it.
A little while later she started as she spied that gorgeous vampire the women had been so excited about. He was surprisingly tall, had beautiful long-ish blond hair, and damn but he was sex-on-legs… She revised her option. There was no law stating that just because she preferred women meant that she couldn’t prefer him, too…and he was…he was coming into the food annex?
Vampires generally avoided the food area like the plague.
Wait…was…was he sniffing the room?
This was strange…and why were his fangs out? Wow they were huge! But that look in his eyes…yeah, that was frightening…and so was the look in his eyes.
Did all vamps go scary-eyed like that when their fangs came out?
It got weirder when he grabbed Celia’s hand and sniffed it. Misty stepped forward to go to her employee’s aid if needed, and watched in alarmed fascination as the man dropped her hand, stood up straight, and from what she could tell, he scented the air like a wild animal would.
Immediately his head turned toward her, and he caught her gaze with an intensity she had never seen before in another person.
She felt pinned to the spot.
Misty’s world then faded.
(And a donut just ’cause)
Eric kicked Sherri, and Merri – or was it Mandi, and Candi? – out of his suite and hastily showered away the evidence of satiation, such as it was. They tried, though…they tried enthusiastically…and vocally… He hadn’t even missed the missing “i”.
Not that one, anyway.
Like all his portable feed and fucks through the years, they served their purpose but quickly left more and more to be desired. None of them ever lasted in his service too long and, like the years in his unlife, after a while they all tended to blend together.
He called the underling in charge of the heels and instructed him to find out which two he’d just had and have them paid, glamoured, and shipped back to wherever they’d come from.
Not that he cared enough to bother remembering.
They were nice enough ladies – with his appearance and personality he always had his choice of the best of the best, naturally, and his fame and fortune certainly hadn’t hurt, but he never promised any of them anything other than a good time and a plane ticket home.
He more than kept his promises by always making sure his conveniences were paid well for their time and service.
But just because he treated them decently according to his higher standards didn’t mean he had to put up with high pitched, extraneous noises, either.
He flipped the switch to kick on the highly touted air filtration system then wandered aimlessly around the rooms as it cleared the now cloying sex funk from the air. He’d have activated that handy little amenity after kicking them out if he hadn’t been so desirous of a shower.
After he was satisfied with the air quality in the suite, Eric reluctantly shrugged into one of the elegant designer suits Pam had sent over to the underground hotel ahead of his visit and considered instigating a few anonymous mini-revolts in Louisiana.
Obviously she needed more to do if she had that much time on her dainty little hands.
Once properly attired, he along with the small detail of guards his darling child insisted that he use in such public situations headed toward the enthusiastically named “banquet hall”. He knew what a true banquet hall was supposed to be. This? This was nothing but a large room with too many chairs and tables and barely room for the expected dancing.
Why Pam had volunteered him to headline that night’s gala, which he also knew meant “dinner for humans complete with unnecessary speeches for and by vampires so everyone could bore him to tears and/or stabbing with their pandering and ass-kissing”, he’d never know. He accessed the bond she didn’t realize they still shared and was surprised to note a vague sort of anticipation bordering on…excitement?
Well, what passed for “excitement” for her at any rate.
Maybe she’d found her own redheads for the night. It wasn’t as though he could be with any of his… He briefly contemplated having them flown in but decided it wasn’t worth pouting from the heels still in attendance.
Eric stepped into the “banquet hall” and, ignoring his guard detail, surveyed the scene before him. The air fairly reeked of women’s perfumes, men’s perfumes, dog perfumes on the attending Weres, floor wax, chemical cleaners, and food odors as the caterers set up in some nearby room.
While the so-called fragrances were proof that more expensive products didn’t necessarily smell better and the chemicals slightly irritated his nostrils, there was something indefinable about the food odors he had come to associate with this Center these past few nights. If he cared enough to provide his human and supe employees with meals, he would be tempted to get their contact information since their food seemed to be less offensively pungent to sensitive vampire noses than the usual fare.
Other guests were milling around seemingly thrilled to be here – as to why he had no fucking clue – with the humans smelling and to an extent looking somewhat less tainted than the ubiquitous vampire “pet” tended to be.
At least these functions generally made people shower before leaving their rooms.
Oh. And there was the Queen of Idaho complete with her two left feet.
The eating part of the evening’s festivities were odd but…oddly easier on his vampire senses. His own second-most-expensive New Blood products had been served to the undead in attendance, he’d noted with a smirk.
As he had suspected earlier, food for the Weres and humans had been placed in a small room off to the side of the “ballroom” so, he supposed, the more sensitive undead noses wouldn’t be overly bombarded with the decaying stench of vegetation, fruits, and carcasses. Eaters at each table were presented with the options available and their orders were taken by glorified waiters who then brought their filled plates out to them.
There had been no way to completely avoid the food odors, but at least they hadn’t been overwhelming. The facility’s over-touted air ventilation and filtration systems helped, too.
Fortunately there were only three eaters at his table; unfortunately one sat to each side of him.
He was surrounded by chewers.
Eric glanced around and hid a smirk upon noticing the badly concealed grimaces from some of the youngest vampires in the room. He could sympathize a little since young vampires had a harder time with such an inundation of food scents, but he knew for a vampire’s own survival they needed to learn fast how to minimize their reactions and expressions.
Stoically he’d refrained from leaning away from the uniformed servers as they’d brought decently loaded plates of an elegant design to his table and placed them gracefully before the eaters.
He was thankful that his long experience enabled him to breathe normally without reacting to the cooked (but still rotting) stench of dead animal meat. With difficulty he subdued yet another smirk at the thought of some of the youngest vampires in the room holding their breath in the way of pouting toddlers.
An hour or so later he reclined with his usual unintentional grace in his seat at what he guessed was supposed to be the high table for the night, and watched the continued proceedings with feigned interest.
His entertaining yet completely unrehearsed speech had been delivered to deafening applause as had several others with more reserved appreciation, the wait staff had been circulating to refill everyone’s glasses with blood or whatever the non-undead were drinking, and things were finally beginning to wind down from the talking phase to the dessert-eating phase.
Afterward would come the dancing phase.
Weren’t all the eating phases supposed to come before the talking phase? After? With humans these nights he never could tell.
Putting actions to his own previous thoughts he inhaled normally – he was well over a thousand years old, after all…then stilled when he caught the faintest whiff of something…someone he had never forgotten no matter how hard he had tried…
And he had surely tried.
Sunshine in a pretty blonde bottle…a scent that had lived tucked away in the back of his mind for so long now…
No matter how hard he had tried to ignore it, that something had haunted his downtime dreams…haunted him at that fetid bar he’d avoided for so long…had haunted him in ways he hadn’t chosen to contemplate.
A split second later he inhaled gustily, scenting the air with determination as he tried to decide if his mind had finally broken or if he really had caught a whiff of…
His fangs dropped and in an instant he was on his feet and moving.
With no care for the dropped jaws of his table companions or indeed any of them as all eyes in the room followed his every move, Eric blurred toward the area where that scent seemed more concentrated and, oddly enough, found the epicenter in the anteroom where the food was located.
The unwanted guards made to follow him but with an imperious wave he sent them away.
His nose led him first to a short plump woman, but he was disappointed when he sniffed her hand. It held that scent faintly, only, it wasn’t…
A thousand years of honed instincts surged to the fore and alerted him of a stronger concentration of that scent somewhere close…two chuffs…
There…his target was the brunette across the long room watching him with wary curiosity.
He captured her gaze with his and in a blur he was before the woman whose name-tag revealed her to be Misty, co-owner of the catering company.
Misty…who smelled like his Sookie…
**A/N: <stands out of Eric’s way> See? See? Heh, really, though, Sookie isn’t broken but she was hella bent. Not only did Bill and his manipulations, blood, and brain-games do a number on her poor psyche, but she’s also dealing with the Fairy Sookie side of her personality, too. When Fairy Sookie went into survival/self-protection mode, well, she did it the freaky-deaky-WTF-fairy way. (Not to mention the fact that losing Eric ‘permanently’ would fuck anyone’s shit up…or is that just me?) So…what did you think?**