“Welcome, Eric. Perhaps you would care to join us?” Bill cracked the whip he obviously had been using on Sookie’s back and looked at him like was sure Eric was going to say, yes and take a turn with the whip himself. How could he not after all?
Eric stood there, processing what he was seeing at mad vampiric rates of speed. His instinctive reaction was to punch Bill in the face, but that was always his instinctive reaction. Emotionally, it still sounded good. Logically, he knew this was not Bill. Bill Compton did not have the power to enter Sookie’s mind the way he did. He was sure of that. So, logically, this was Sookie in some form or another. Right? There was no there to reassure him. He was on his own with this one.
Was he making a mistake thinking that only he had this power? He had his own door, too. Maybe they all got one when she invited them in? No, jealousy flared in him as he thought of her sharing this gift that Compton. Standing before him, Bill laughed.
“Jealous of me are you, Eric? Did you think you were the only one with the key to the Kingdom? I love to be the one to tell you that you are not nearly as special as you think you are!”
Bill chuckled now and moved around Eric closer to Sookie, who was still kneeling, sobbing on the floor. Punching Bill was not the only instinctive response he was fighting. Seeing her like that was causing him pain, but in as much as he could not protect her from himself, nor he could not protect her from herself either.
This was something he needed to understand before he waded in and possibly made it worse. Not that he could imagine how he could make it worse at this point, but a long life had taught him that anything could always be worse. He had to keep “Compton” talking, he needed information.
“I’m not?” he asked turning to follow Bill’s image.
“Not at all, Eric. I mean I know you always thought you were, that Sookie would leave me for you because you were richer, older, smarter, and sure enough turned out you were right. But you know what?” Bill paused grinning at him like he was about to tell him the best punch line ever. “I had her first, Viking,” he whispered, holding his hand up pantomiming keeping this between the two of them though Sookie could obviously hear him since he was still talking in his normal tone of voice. “And she really isn’t worth all the fuss!” Bill finished, chuckling gaily as though they were sipping tea on the veranda discussing the weather and not the woman they had both loved so much that they had nearly let Russell Edgington kill them to save her. Bill was a prick, no doubt, but even Bill was not this big of a prick, at least not to Sookie.
“Hrm, so, what is going here exactly, Compton?” Eric glanced around the chamber verifying that all the other doors were closed, but noting for the first time that on the floor in front of Tea Cup Sookie’s door was Mr. Jones the turtle. The way she clutched that thing the whole time she was talking to him he found it hard to believe that she had left it anywhere that she wasn’t herself. He heard her whisper in his mind Oh, and I talk to Missa Jones. Missa Jones knows de best secwets! Eric, filed that away for another time.
“Well, Eric, Sookie has failed you, as she has often failed me. I am helping her determine the error of her ways and then attempting to teach her to do better the next time.” Eric arched a brow and looked down at Compton.
“And how has Sookie failed me exactly?” he tone was hard and his gaze flinty.
“She failed to protect you when you were resting. She failed to provide a secure location in which to feed and care for you as you asked her do. It’s really all so sad!” For just a minute it looked Bill was channeling Russell Edgington he was being so dramatic with his words and actions. “She used to fail me all the time to, Eric. I was constantly correcting her, guiding her, and she was constantly humiliating me in front of my peers and superiors. Honestly, sometimes I would just cringe at the thought of taking her anywhere, knowing that PWT mouth of hers would wind up being the death of me one day!” He walked a few steps away at this point shaking his head. Suddenly, he turned, “Can you imagine how much worse it would have been if I ever cared about her at all? Thank goodness our whole relationship was just based on me tricking her and using her until she became the Queen’s Pet, and welcome to this bothersome girl, I tell you!” With that he flicked his wrist and laid another stripe across Sookie’s bleeding back. She cried out and continued sobbing.
“It was so sickening to seduce this pathetic little country bumpkin. She was so ignorant it was like fucking a sack of dirty laundry, lumpy and occasionally something hit the right spot. Of course, I always felt dirty when I was done.” Eric clenched his teeth forcing himself not to speak. It was getting hard to hold his tongue. He heard the whip crack again, other than screaming Sookie said nothing and continued kneeling on the floor.
“Tell us, Sookie,” Bill commanded, “What did you do wrong today?” She kept her head down and began cataloging her sins.
“I failed to keep Eric safe. I failed for find a secure location to feed him. I endangered him by distracting him and allowing my desire to be close to his body get in the way of being on alert to keep him safe…”
As she went on, Eric became more and more certain that what he was watching was Sookie punishing herself using Bill’s voice and image. That somehow, this was her way of torturing herself for what she thought she had done wrong. He let that sink in for a minute and then he heard her again tell him, “I don’t think you are going to like what you find, Eric. There are some dark places in me now, places that even I have no refuge from. They are sharp, and moldy and they burn me.” Eric’s felt his heart break that so much damage had been done and that it was so overwhelming to her that she had to splinter herself into different pieces in order to protect herself. Obviously, it didn’t always work, but at its heart, was it any different than the Masks he made? Was he processing any better, or hiding himself? A strange thought came to him unbidden and unexpected.
A Rose by any other name is a Door and Mask. His own understanding clicked into place so loudly he jumped.
Gods, they were so much alike, it terrified him! Then he heard it again, “You haffa show me, Ewic. So I can kiss it, ‘n make it better!” It rolled through him like thunder, and it nearly took him out at the mental knees, she was asking him to let her do for him what she needed him to do for her. “We seem to want the same thing. The problem is that we are nowhere near the water.”
Well, we’re in the fucking water now! He thought fiercely, feeling like he was barely holding on from being swept away in the current. The cold logical part of him took just a moment to wonder how in twenty six tiny years she had managed to get as fucked up as he had in thousand, but he pushed that back for now. The time for analyzing was over, now it was time to act the role he had been assigned here.
“YOU WILL STOP THIS NOW, WOMAN!!!” Eric’s roar caused tiny stones to fall from the walls of her mind chamber. It echoed down the halls of her mind, calling to itself over and over. For the first time Sookie on the floor looked up. Bill dropped the whip stepping back toward his door a fearful expression on his face.
Fully realizing something what he had been processing since meeting Tea Cup Sookie and she had complained of his scratchy beard, Eric pulled himself up and grew, and grew and grew. Sookie had given him not only entrance to her mind, but the power to manifest his wishes in her mind.
She had given him so much trust, and asked him to teach her, he would do his best not to let her down.
Towering above the splintered facets of this woman that he loved, he looked at them. Watching her tear herself apart he said the only thing that he could have been said that would make this better.
“I’ve got you, Sookie,” he whispered it down to her from his towering position above her and opened his arms to her, silently asking her to grow and join him. Slowly, she stood and stepped toward him.
“No!” Bill screamed, stepping in her path. She hesitated, then stepped around him and kept coming, her eyes locked on Eric. Each step she took not only brought her closer to him but also increased her height until for once, she was as tall as he was. She smiled when she stepped into his open arms, and laid her chin on his shoulder. They stood above Bill and all the doors now like Alice just having drank some magic potion.
Eric pulled back from her and kissed her on the forehead. “Finish this now, Sookie. I’ve got you and this will end now.” She nodded and turned in his arms looking down at tiny image of Bill Compton. He was frozen in position, in fact it was like all time had stopped entirely and nothing was moving the universe but the two of them. And maybe Mr. Jones, Eric thought, eyeing him suspiciously, but again, this was not the time.
“My life up until the time I met Bill was filled with other people’s thoughts. I could never explain to you what that was like Eric. I could tell you that every second of every day I felt dirty with their thoughts, but what would that mean? It would be like trying to explain what happened on the roof in Dallas to someone who was not there. Words. Only words. Impossible to convey their depth, and meaning,” she paused.
“The horrible things people keep inside, which was most of the time is actually worse than what came out of their mouths overwhelmed me. I was so lonely, Eric. I wanted dates and dinners and flowers and all the things that other girls thought they were getting. I wanted to be close to someone, anyone at times. But the secret thoughts I heard told me that all that was an illusion at best. It was foolish but I resented not being allowed even the illusion that they got. I wanted it so bad!
“I thought I had accepted that I would never have it, that I could never have it because I could hear their thoughts, and that ruined it for me. Then, I met Bill and I couldn’t hear him.” She paused here, trembling a little in his arms, he just pulled her tighter. “Oh, Eric I was so foolish. I let myself believe that just because I couldn’t hear him thinking the kinds of things I had come to count on from others that he was above having them at all! It was so easy to let myself be the kind of fool I had seen others be all my life. I put all my faith in him. I gave him everything I was and it was so easy. Then when I found out that everything, all of it had been a lie, it broke me.
“It broke me because it changed how I saw myself. I had asked for this, prayed and begged for this to happen to me. To be a fool, that gave everything she was to someone only to find that I had let myself be humiliated. I was supposed to know better. I was supposed to be smarter. I was the most foolish of all for allowing myself to be taken in. For believing in anything other than myself. And now, after Bill I deserved to be alone because I was no longer even able to trust myself. I knew better and I LET THIS HAPPEN! I betrayed myself, Eric. That is the worst of all, that I betrayed myself.” This last was said in a sad whisper.
Eric held her close and rubbed her hands with his, pushing love and acceptance through the bond, and said the last thing she would have ever expected. “I am grateful for your time with, Bill, Sookie.”
“WHAT?” Incredulous, she turned in the circle of his arms to look at him. He couldn’t possibly be serious.
“I am sorry that you had to be hurt, but I know that if all of that hadn’t gone the way it had you would not be the woman you are today. My woman. The woman who asked me to go away with her, to teach her, who cared for me, who made love to me in the shower while visions of other places and times filled our minds. In all those visions all those Sookie’s and all those Eric’s all had their own paths to walk to get to each other.
“You really think that your experience in twenty-six years makes you more unique and less of a fool than what I might have been in a thousand?” She blinked at him. She’d never thought about it that way. “Before I became the, what was it you called me the other night in the shower, ‘bar owner and all around smokin’ vamp playboy’, don’t you suppose I might have been hurt, too? That I might have made some less than stellar decisions?
“Sookie, if I hadn’t walked from there to here I wouldn’t be able to teach you anything.” He smiled at her now, “Let this go, Sookie. Let go of this part of yourself that punishes you for wrongs both real and imagined. Let this go, and learn and grow with me. Let this go and be with me now, as you have asked me to be with you. Be with me now.”
After a moment she nodded, and looking down he saw that the door with Bill on it was gone, and so was the image of him from the chamber. Her back had healed now as well, her skin smooth once more.
She still stood in his arms looking at him, seeming a little unsure of what was going to happen next. “Sookie, will you remember this when you wake up?”
“I don’t know.”
“Will it be ok to talk about this with you when we reach Uppsala and have the chance to do so uninterrupted? Will you believe me if you don’t remember on your own?”
“You already know the answer to this,” was all she said.
Still eye to eye with him she smiled at him. “You should go now, Eric.” He nodded, and returned to the real, no he corrected himself, the physical world. What happened in her mind was just as real as what happened here. It was real…it was all real.
He opened his eyes in the truck, looking at the sleeping girl beside him and let that sink in for a minute.
The CIB was real, The Child was real, Bill was real, true, not the physical world form of Bill Compton but a real representation of Sookie’s fractured psyche in his form. Her minds defense to keep itself intact when faced with too much to handle.
For the second time he wondered if he was in over his head.
He had thought was she was asking too much when she asked him to take off his Masks, and perhaps she was, but she had opened her doors for him, some of them anyway and he thought that the rest would come with time. How could he do less for her than she was doing for him? If she was willing to share herself with him completely, could he do less now that he understood that it was Sookie asking?
Until tonight he might have hidden behind the notion that her offer had less baggage than his, but after tonight he saw that for the excuse that it was?
She was his, and he was hers, and they were both so spectacularly fucked up that it couldn’t have been any other way. For some reason even this scary revelation made him feel warm in his chest, because in addition to being scary it was right. It felt right.
He thought of waking her before getting back on the road, but decided against it. It was better she rest while she could. There was still about four hours of night left, and he could stop later and make sure she was ok before switching off drivers for the day.
As Eric headed down the road he started to really look forward to seeing Uppsala again, and in being someplace he could put his back against the wall, and gods willing his hands on his woman. It seemed like forever since he had tasted her, felt her around him. More than that though he missed her. He disliked the necessity of her being awake while he rested and vice versa. He wanted her at his side, at all times.
His speed increased a little at the thought of holding her again. Uppsala looming on the horizon of his mind.
There would be truth in Uppsala as of old, he thought speeding into the night. Sookie, still sleeping beside him was dreaming of roses, masks and doors and hearing someone tell her that it was all a universe by any other name.