Love Is All-6. Love Thyself
“Things are going to move fast now,” Niall said in my ear. I could hear the admiration in his voice as he looked at his great however many times granddaughter. So much so that if he had a corporeal body I would no doubt be defending her from his advances as well. I could understand it, on multiple levels, even if appreciation was beyond me. She was something to behold.
I was in a dark primal place inside myself, pulled back by my bonded from complete surrender to sensory overload. It was getting easier to hold on, but only because my focus was almost completely taken by the vision of Sookie before me. I tried to maintain awareness of the enemies around us, and to some degree I succeeded. I was lucky in that every single one of them was as captivated with her as I was. Sookie had just introduced herself in a way that made me stand up twice with pride and when the newcomer identified themselves as Mab, she went back right at her.
“I challenge you, Mab to Sfida Mente!” Niall had told me that she would do this, demand the Mind Challenge. This was how the Fae established their strongest to lead because to control the mind is to control all. We knew this would happen, but as to how it worked the details were vague. Niall had said that they would face off mind to mind and the strongest mind would win, more than that he could not tell me because each challenge was unique to the minds involved.
“A challenger must bear royal blood, mongrel!” Sookie breathed in through her nose and straightened her back, holding her head high.
“I am of Niall Brigant’s line!” Mab’s eyes widened.
“Impossible! He died long ago!”
“His line continues on. Amare è vivere!” Mab’s eyes narrowed when Sookie quoted the Brigant family motto, To love is to live.
“One hour,” Mab said turning away. Sookie stepped up.
“Now, or you will default and I will be Queen.”
“Very good,” Niall said to me. “She is smart pressing the advantage rather than wait and give her more time to prepare.” He was right. If there were a way to make ready for this Mab would only gain the advantage in utilizing it. Sookie had no hope of figuring it out in an hour.
Mab turned back, her fangs distended to full length she roared. As it echoed through air I felt Sookie shudder in our bond. Before I could move to her side she collapsed on the ground as did Mab. “Sfida Mente has begun,” Niall told me. “You must not touch her or interfere in any way,” he hastened to tell me as I knelt beside her. She was still connected to me but everything that made her Sookie felt so very far away that I felt fear and worry slice through me. Not able to touch her I did the only thing I could, I sent her my love in wave after wave of reassuring feeling and thought.
Come back to me, I begged her, woven into the love that was so new between us we had yet to even fully experience it. There will be time, I told her as I had when we had first bonded. Then I stood beside her unconscious form to keep her safe while she fought the battle of the minds.
I wish she could just be right in the head. That was Tara’s voice. I read that from her mind she was thirteen. The pain of that moment came back sharply. But Tara had defended me? Tara had stood up for Crazy Sookie. That meant she accepted me, didn’t it?
I can’t stand the way people look at me when she does that crazy fucking thing she does! I hate you! Wish I never had you! Oh, God, she can hear me right now, can’t she? I can’t even get away from her in my own head. GET OUT! GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HEAD YOU GODDAMNED LITTLE FREAK! As I had at ten, I curled in on myself and tried to reason why my own mother would hate me. What had I done? If someone could make me understand I swear I would never ever do it again!
Oh, Sookie darlin’, if you could just be like everyone else, it would be so much easier for us all. Gran? Gran, I want to be like everyone else. I want it more than anything! Tell me how! How can I be like everyone else, I never meant to hurt anybody. Please just tell me how to make you love me!!
They circled me then, jabbering and screeching while I was down, my hands over my ears as I tried to shut out their cruel words and even crueler thoughts. “Freak! Loser! Monster! We hate you Sookie! We hate how hard you make our lives! Always having to stand up for you, fight for you and what do we get in return? A freak who won’t stay out of heads. Freak! Monster!”
They joined hands then, these people I tried my best to love and respect, dancing around me in a circle chanting nasty things. Then it got worse.
“Sookie,” Bill said, his hands in his pockets as he looked down. “We could have been so happy together if you had just been better. If you had been the kind of woman you should have been. It’s your fault that we didn’t work out, because of you’re weak, because you were damaged. I took pity on you, decided to give you a chance anyway and you disappointed me. Just like you disappoint everyone.”
What Bill said made me angry, and then it made me sad. I could see his point. If I had been just like Dawn or Arlene I would have been able to have a successful relationship. But that wasn’t what was digging at me, leaving gaping wounds inside me. I knew what was coming next, the hammer blow, and I tried to make myself as small as possible mentally and physically so it couldn’t make contact. It was a futile effort.
“You’ll lose Eric, too. You know that. You know that a little nothing like you will not be able to hold the interest of someone like him. You saw what Yvetta looked like, and that was just the best he could do in Shreveport. He can have anyone he wants anywhere in the world, why would he want a useless piece of poor white trash like you?” His words cut through me. The pain was exquisite, accurately displaying every dark doubt I had experienced since we started this thing. No, since I had started this thing. He had started this thing?
Had there ever not been Eric? There must have been a time when there was just me with no Eric, hadn’t there? I had met Bill just a few months ago, and Eric shortly after that, but Eric was so much larger than life that he required huge chunks of mental real estate.
“Not for long,” Bill said in a menacing tone. “Now that he has sampled the wares he will be moving on and moving up to someone more worthy backwoods trash like you, Sookie. He’ll leave you just like I did. You weren’t even enough for me, Sookie. It’s so funny that you think you could ever be enough for a man like Eric!”
“No!” I yelled at Bill even as I felt his words sink in deeper. I looked at the floor expecting blood it hurt so bad, I had to be wounded.
“Yes, remember I told you that you were a disappointment to me, that you couldn’t keep up and fuck me like a vampire needed to be fucked?” He started laughing then. “That should have told you right then there way in hell you could keep up with Eric!” He kept laughing and I felt the pain settle into my bones draining me of my will to fight.
My friends and family were still dancing in a circle next to us, laughing right along with Bill, shouting, “Sookie is a freak! A monster!” Bill would join in adding, “Trash! Loser! Failure!” when they paused for breath. “HE COULD NEVER LOVE YOU!” he added, bellowing so loud I grabbed my ears and sank to my knees in pain. It was all too much. Just too much.
I had always known I was alone. That in a crowd or with my family even with Bill, I was alone. Was it to be the same even with Eric? Despair over came me and felt the last of my desire to fight slipping away. It was better this way. Better to have it happen right up front, before I could care even more than I did now. Better to be reminded that I was alone and would always be so now before I came to depend on one more person who would let me down. I was sitting on the ground rocking back and forth arms tight around myself when I felt strong arms pull me up and make the voices stop.
Cautiously, I opened my eyes, they were still running around me, their lips still moving but I could no longer hear them. Bill was still there but his volume had been adjusted down. His face looked constipated as he rattled on with no one listening.
I looked up into Eric’s blue eyes and saw his love and acceptance there. As I had known before in my dream I knew now that this was not my Eric but a likeness of him that actually represented the bond we shared. “Hi,” I said quietly, looking at him, part of me waiting for him to attack me was well. Instead he kissed my forehead softly and rocked me back and forth. He was humming Love Will Keep Us Together, and I smiled as I turned into his chest, closing my eyes to block out the figures I could still see dancing around us.
“How are you here?” I asked, her voice muffled against him.
“I am with you always now,” he said, rubbing my back with his large comforting hand. Like the tide coming in I felt waves of love from the bond wash over me, healing the re-opened wounds from my friends and family.
“I don’t want Eric to know about this part of my life.”
“Who would want to bond to a freak?” I yelled into his chest, my hands fisting his shirt as I hid my face from him.
“Is that what you think you are?” I shrugged. I didn’t want to talk about it. “Do you really think, you little fool, that Eric Northman would saddle himself with a freak and loser?” I shoved away from him, disbelief at his words and tone stamped on my face. He shook me then and asked again, “Well, do you?”
“N-no,” I said still dizzy from the change in demeanor.
“Do you think him so stupid that he could not recognize you to be such, if you indeed were?”
“Eric is one of the smartest people I have ever met!” I yelled back at his face like he was yelling at mine.
“Then, might it not just be possible that he sees something in you that you are too foolish to see in yourself?”
“Maybe!” I yelled back. He smiled at me. Even during the yelling all I could feel was the strange sensation of his unyielding love for me.
“Sookie, you must love yourself, accept yourself. No one is perfect, no one expects you to be. You are a liability to yourself if you let this baggage continue to color how you see yourself and your relationship with Eric. “He can love you to the last drop of his immortal blood, but if you hold no value in yourself it will not matter.”
“I know you’re right, but how do you do it? How do I do it? How do I love myself in the face of so much hate? How do I stand up to all the horrible things I have experienced and believe that anyone will ever love me?”
“I don’t know. That’s the part you have to figure out for yourself. If you can figure out how to silence the voices, believe in yourself, the self you know you are and not the one everyone else tells you to be, then you will find your way back to him, and to the woman you were meant to be.”
“Is he worried?”
“Terrified. Let yourself feel him.” I whimpered, feeling terrible about putting him through this. “Shhh,” bond Eric said. “Focus on getting out of here, and you can make it up to him later.” He held me awhile longer, and I let the feelings through the bond push back the despair and buffer me until I could stand on my own. Eric steadied me to stand on my feet but when I looked back to thank him he was gone.
I am with you always now, I heard again, and stood a little taller. Their actions had been kind, even if their thoughts had not been, I remembered when I looked at my friends and family. I had always chosen to put faith in their actions and not their thoughts. I would do so again now.
Looking at Bill, I just shook my head. I’ve got issues sure, but at least I am not a crazy psycho like Lorena. If he prefers her to me, then so be it. That’s just nothing but plain good luck for me! All these people, all these words and thoughts, they got to me because I let them. I listened to them over even myself even when my gut told me I was right. I couldn’t stop hearing them, but I could stop listening.
“You can’t hurt me if I don’t want you to,” I said to the ghosts of my mind. At first nothing happened then slowly they turned to smoke and drifted away. Their voices fading to silence for the first time ever. I had been able to turn them down but never off before. I felt so lighthearted, so free I wasn’t the least surprised to feel myself drifting up.
When she opened her eyes finally and sat up the joy that went through me was second only to the relief that followed it. Niall assured me that it was now all right for me to touch her. I pulled her to my body and kissed her again, reassuring myself that she was here and not damaged from the Sfida Mente.
The sensations of pain I had felt from her in the bond had been upsetting to me, as I am sure they were to her. I needed to take her someplace where I could examine her to my satisfaction and reassure myself of her wellness. I needed to take her someplace safe for my own sanity.
While she had been down the Fae around us had hung back, as respectful of the ritual as Niall insisted I be. I had seen them though, out of the corner of my eyes as I watched over her. I had heard them whisper, most of them too young and inexperienced to know the full range of vampire hearing and other abilities. Most of them were only a few hundred years old, they had never seen a vampire in the flesh before.
They were confident that Sookie would not defeat Mab, and I heard their disbelief Sookie awakened and Mab did not. “She has to finish this now,” Niall told me.
What must she do?
“Absorb Mab’s power into herself. It is not without dangers, but if she can successfully take and contain Mab’s light then they will accept her as leader.” I stilled myself and my instinctive desire to whisk her away from this place. Both sensations were completely new. First the desire to protect her and second the denial of my own desire.
I had indulged even the slightest impulse for a thousand years. This kind of self-restraint was unknown. I watched her walk toward Mab and then kneel beside her. She held her hands over the body and there was an explosion of light. I felt her balancing on the edge of pleasure and pain for a moment before falling decisively to the pain. I reached out in the bond to soothe her, catch her and keep her safe in the secret way that was ours alone.
The bond became a lightning rod for the energy coursing through her. It took everything I had to stand my ground and keep my face blank for the stares of the Fae around us. I knew that if they sensed her weakness and her need to call upon me it would all be for nothing.
So much power surging through me! My heart was beating, racing for the first time in a thousand years, moving my blood through my veins. It was extraordinary! Just as soon as it came it was gone again, pulling back through the bond and into her. Sookie’s back arched and I felt her body respond to the power in an almost sexual way evoking jealousy and lust inside me. I felt a little of that myself and realized that not everything had been pulled back from me. Some part of the Fae magic remained with me, I could feel it dancing along the bond we shared, making a home for itself in me as the woman herself had. I had never felt anything like it before.
Sensing my distress I felt her reach out in our bond soothing me with her gentle presence inside me. How did she learn to do that so quickly? I wondered and then let her wrap me up in her comfort. In seconds I was at ease and focused on our safety again.
Sookie stood and faced her new subjects, a look of power and serenity covering her features. The arch of her brow sent them as one to their knees in front of her. I heard whispers of rebellion move through them and a name.
“Your turn,” Niall said to me, but I was already moving forward.
Any thought of rebellion must be immediately put down. Sookie had faced the mind challenge, my fight would be to demonstrate the physical and tactical acumen to lead her army. As she had fought for her place as Queen, I now would fight for my place at her side.