Being locked in a sealed room with Eric Northman, it turned out, was not such a terrible thing. Unethical? To be sure. Respecting the normal boundaries of a barely begun friendship? Dubious, at best. But when Rosalyn woke very late the next day, there was not much time to grow angry or resentful. She had only begun attacking the massive dinner service left in the dumbwaiter cubby when Eric’s trundle coffin rolled out. It unlatched and a ruffle-headed vampire sat up and stretched his long arms. “Morning sweetpea,” he said.
“You’re up early.”
Eric glanced over her attire. Rosalyn had neither showered nor changed out of her nightgown. “You’re not.”
Rosalyn shrugged and finished a bite of the most tender, flavorful lamb she had ever tasted. “You know, you’re really an idiot. You must have ordered everything the kitchen had. There’s enough food to feed a small army here.”
“Well aren’t you sassy today.” He smoothed his blond hair in the mirror. He was apparently in no rush to cover his bare chest.
“Honestly. See this?” She angled the plate at him. The mint sauce sluiced down to the rim, threatening to spill. “This was a little baby sheep. And that? A steer, probably three or four years old. That was a duck once and that…well, I’m not entirely sure what that was, but it’s definitely dead now too.”
“Does this culinary lesson have a point, milady?”
“It’s wasteful, Eric! These animals each gave their lives to sate human hunger and they’re just going to wind up in the trash.”
“Ros, you needed human food. I’m over a thousand years old and very much undead. To say I’m out of touch with what might serve as acceptable comestibles for you is an understatement. It was the simplest solution.”
“It’s not harmonious! It’s taking more than we’re giving back!”
“Then give it to some vagrants.”
She furrowed her brow. “Homeless people?”
“Yeah,” he said, fussing with the microwave and a bottle of Royalty Blended. “Just ask the driver to stop somewhere on your way to the airport later.”
“That’s…actually…a really good idea.”
“I’m full of them.” He smirked.
One minute he was shaking his drink across the room and then in a flash, he was right beside her, her wrist to his nose. She went stiff as a board with a squeak. He inhaled her scent deeply, not hiding the fact that his fangs were fully extended.
“Eric, do not!” she said in a flat tone, afraid that any more of a reaction would trigger the predator in him.
A rolling, low laugh rumbled out of him and he planted a chaste kiss on the back of her hand. “Just trying to drum up an appetite. This bottled stuff is pretty foul.”
“It costs a fortune.”
“So did your baby sheep. Aren’t you glad we’re charging it to the AVL?”
“Just, don’t do that, okay? You startled me.”
“Believe me, I know. A little selfish though, I realize. Would you rather I gag this down in misery?” He made a puppy dog face and damn him if he did not look adorable. “It’s like a human trying to live only on Gatorade and energy gel.”
“Says the man who just finished with his ‘I know nothing of your puny mortal food’ speech.”
“I saw someone make the comparison in a magazine. Obviously, I have no basis for the reference myself. Most of the crap you creatures eat looks like food dye and corn syrup goo to me.”
Ros snorted. “Most of it is, honestly. I guess…here. They left this on the tray for you.” She passed the donor menu to him.
“Rosalyn Murray, you naughty kitten. Am I to believe you want to watch me have a live meal?”
She choked on her glass of water. “Just being polite. Nevermind.”
“Scandalous.” He tutted, raised an eyebrow, and took another drink.
“What’s the last thing you ate as a human? Do you remember?”
“Huh. What an odd thing to ask. I haven’t thought of it…ever.” He closed his eyes to trace back the millennium. It took him a minute to find the memory. “It was war and I was travelling, so the last proper meal I had was with my people in the feasting hall. I believe there was elk and mead and honeyed oatcakes, if I’m not mistaken.”
“And what was the last human food to touch the legendary Northman’s lips?”
“Dried fish. No…” he corrected. “Berries. I ate berries. Godric didn’t want me to throw up the fish.”
“I can’t really imagine you eating. You’re just so…vampire.”
“Why thank you. That’s easily the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
She picked at a piece of chocolate cake, but found it a little on the dry side. “What’s it like?” She was perhaps too curious for her own good.
“Mmm. For us, you mean?”
“Yes.” There were so many rumors, but a lot of it seemed like nonsense.
“Well, it’s like a dance, I suppose. We mirror each other in every step.” Rosalyn grinned almost painfully, remembering Godric rocking her in his arms. Eric set the bottle on the table and stalked toward her. “You see me and your pupils blow wide, to better understand what I am. Mine do the same, to better track your every move.” He leaned down so she could see his eyes. The icy irises were thin halos clasping pools of bottomless black. “Our vision is nearly perfect. I can see the dust shimmer on your skin. The exact number of lines creasing your lips.”
“Six hundred and thirty-nine,” he said automatically.
“I can hear the instant contraction of your heart muscle in response as you realize you’re being hunted. Not just the beat, mind you, but the actual muscle itself. All of your muscles. I know where you’ll run before you do.” He traced the green lace at the top of her nightgown, creating the effect he wanted to describe next. “Endorphins suddenly flood your entire body. They are sharp smelling and maddening and make my fangs spring loose. Every gush and gurgle in the veins drives us toward our prey.” He pulled her thick brunette braid back, exposing his maker’s mark. “Your pores suddenly bloom with heat and sweat, telling me a hundred different things about who you are and where you’ve been. It makes my throat burn with hunger.”
“And…the taste?” she dared to press. She knew she was playing with fire, but she was fascinated.
“Honestly, with you I couldn’t say exactly.” He ran a thumb over the two perfect crimson dots on her neck, invisible to all but his kind. Impulsively, he leaned in and inhaled the column of her throat. She jumped to have him so close and placed a hand on his chest, as if she could hold him back. His cool breath was accompanied by the lightest tickling graze of a fang.
“You’re afraid of me being so close and a little excited too.”
“Tsssht. Don’t lie. The blood sings all your secrets to me. Right here, you can’t see it, but there are two ruby drops of ancient vampire blood. It is incredibly distracting. It screams of power. When you are frightened, it is even louder in its threat. Did you not see some of the younger vampires flailing out of your way when you left the gala? It’s terrifying to them. But to me…” he took another heady draft. “…to me it’s truly the last thing I ate as a human, if you must know. It’s the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to drink since.”
“Alright, back off, then. You’re freaking me out.”
Eric made no move to give her space. He stroked the spot on her neck in fascination. The artery underneath caused the blood sealed there to shimmer and leap. “I couldn’t touch it if I wanted to,” he said, transfixed. “We are incapable of descending our fangs against our makers, especially to reach their blood.”
“Even after you’re released?”
Eric’s entire demeanor shut down into something cold and masked. “Where did you hear that?”
“Oh, I was just guessing. They make a big deal about it on tv.”
“That’s a big word in a mortal’s mouth.” He went to fiddle with the lock on the food carousel, as if it was suddenly fascinating. What he said next, he said with his back turned. “You cannot tell anyone. Almost no one knows.”
“I didn’t mean to intrude.”
“We remain bonded by mutual choice.”
“It’s fine, Eric. I’m sorry I said anything.”
He rejoined her at the table, not willing to meet her stare, she unwilling to meet his. They sat in silence. “I tried to ask Godric and he commanded me to stay silent, so I have to wait for you to tell me about it,” he said cryptically.
He gritted his teeth. “About it.”
“That night?” she said.
He rolled his eyes. They sounded like a bad Abbot and Costello routine. “Yes, fuck, that night,” he growled. “You do understand that I am physically incapable of breaking a command, yes? I cannot ask a question about it.”
She gave a nervous laugh. “Here I was grateful this whole time that you weren’t grilling me for answers I probably don’t have.”
“You just pried out one of my most closely guarded secrets. Recounting this fucking…thing…” he ground out, clearly struggling, “shouldn’t be too difficult.”
“Oh, watch your mouth. Now you’re just being rude.”
“That night, he seemed so lost and disconnected, yet totally impenetrable. You, mister, were drowning in women and totally ignoring him. So I got up and asked him what was wrong.”
“Uh huh.” Eric pitched forward in his chair to listen.
“He took one look at me and basically told me I was no better than a drunkard up in his face. I don’t think he appreciated my prodding.”
As severe as Eric’s expression was, he could not help but lean his head back and chuckle through closed eyes. “Þú lítir vætr eigi heill.“
“The first thing that savage ever said to me.”
“What does it mean?”
“Basically that I looked like shit.”
It was Ros’ turn to laugh. “He has a funny way of making friends, no?”
“Yes, but he keeps them. He does everything ferociously.”
“He didn’t seem like that with me. He was so gentle and sweet. Well, I guess a little intense. Er…maybe a lot intense.”
“That sounds par for the course.”
“He didn’t want to cause me pain, though. I think he liked that I’d never been bitten and wasn’t into that sort of thing. He got upset about wound afterwards. It didn’t hurt, but he said it would have an ugly bruise. Then he healed it.”
“I don’t know. He suddenly freaked out that someone else might bite me and he made me promise never to let anyone feed off me but him.”
“There’s not more, really.” She lapsed into thought.
“You don’t know why he’s refusing to eat, do you.” It was not a question.
Eric clenched his jaw. “No. Our family physician could find nothing wrong with him.”
“I didn’t realize vampires had doctors. Did you try a psychologist?”
“Please. Can you see a vampire blubbering on a couch about his troubles and how it all stems from how his maker never bit him enough as a yearling? We don’t work that way. Anyways, we were both made when the idea of confession meant nothing more than admitting to something under torture. We don’t put much stock in self-purification through verbal diarrhea.”
“I don’t hold any illusions that Godric has probably done some horrific things in his long life. Are you sure he’s not suffering through some moral torment?”
“He’s never liked organized religion – to put it mildly. Moral codes change more often and faster than you’d suspect.”
“So much has changed for you. It must be hard.”
He scoffed. “Change is the only constant in our lives, Ros.”
She sucked at her teeth in chagrin. They were nowhere closer to having an answer. “We’re going to figure it out, Eric. I promise I’ll do what I can to help you.” She reached across the table to give his hand a squeeze. He allowed her this small display.
“We need a plan. And you? You need better soap. Dr. Bronner’s isn’t going to cut it anymore.”
Ros yanked her hand away, horrified. “God you’re rude!”
“You have to stop using that hippy dippy shit. You need something with detergent.”
“Detergents ruin the environment!”
“Yeah, but they are strong enough to remove the vampire off of you. So far I’ve touched your left arm, your neck, your wrists, the cloth around your waist, your hair, and both sides of your right hand. Do you really want to be reeking of me when we finally get you and Godric back together?”
“Oh…well…jeez! Why did you just say so?”
“I told you. I like when you get riled up.” He gave her an impish wink and finished off the O negative, then chucked the bottle into the recycling bin situated on the far side of the room. It was a perfectly clean toss.
“Now, let’s get down to brass tacks. I think you’re familiar with my – how shall we say – charming persistence?”
“God yes. You’re a stubborn ass.”
“Yeah well, brace yourself because Godric is literally the immovable object and the unstoppable force wrapped into one. We need to find a way to get him to do what he already wants to do without him realizing he’s doing it. And it would be really nice for me if he only minimally suspects the extent of my meddling. I’m too pretty to die by dismemberment.”
A/N: Please review. Box is right there! -V