Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Sookie waited for Eric in the little office of the Palace, her laptop open, until she realized she’d been dozing. She woke with a start to find it was already two in the morning. Eric still wasn’t home. Not yet. When she stood up, she was stiff and it surprised her. She wasn’t used to aches or pains, headaches or bruises. She found herself counting backward to the last time they had exchanged blood. Sookie realized it had been over a month and she felt surprised again. Somehow with the running and planes, meetings and deadlines, time had slipped by. It wasn’t that they hadn’t seen each other or slept together, although Sookie had a suspicion if she counted the times in the past 30 days that they made love it wouldn’t even take two hands.
Feeling worse than she had before, Sookie stood up and made her way to the hallway. James stood next to the door, his face impassive. He was guarding her, willing to wait until she was ready to go upstairs, and Sookie nodded to him. As she walked down toward the elevator, tears started to roll down her cheeks. She couldn’t think why she was crying, but somehow she just couldn’t stop. When she stepped into the elevator with Saul, she told James, “It’s okay. I’m going to bed. Go home. Thank you.”
James bowed, “Good night, Majesty,” he said quietly, but Sookie knew he was really telling her, “It will be okay.”
As the elevator headed up, Saul hummed a tune. Sookie dashed the tears that wouldn’t stop from her cheek and said, “That’s pretty, Saul. Does it have a name?”
“No, Mistress” the Were said quietly, “Just a little something that makes me happy,” and he smiled at her in the mirrored door.
Titus was the guard on station outside the doors to their chambers. He opened the door for her and stepped aside as she walked past him. The door was closed before she could say ‘Thank you,’ and that action seemed to shout, ‘You are alone! Again!’
Their bed was large and empty. Sookie knew she could bury her nose in the pillow and sheets and not find him anywhere in it. The staff here was too efficient. Sookie bit her lip and headed toward the closet instead. Eric’s sweaters were stacked in a tall, thin set of shelves and Sookie pulled out the one she knew he wore often. She held it to her nose and he was there, the dry scent of sawgrass and sand and sea. “Eric!” she cried, and holding the sweater to her face, she sank down, leaning against the built-ins, surrounded by his clothes, her face buried in his softness, smelling the man she loved.
Eric’s plane was delayed. He wondered if he would need to return to his coffin, but they pulled up in front of the Palace with barely an hour to spare. Charles walked behind him, signaling to the Weres on the door to fetch luggage. The following car crew had the back of the van open and were unloading the travel coffin.
“Welcome, Majesty,” the door guards bowed. Eric glanced around, but didn’t see a face he trusted.
Saul’s face broke into a grin, “Well, look who raced the moon tonight.”
“It was a race I thought I’d lose,” Eric was about to ask, but Saul knew.
“She’s upstairs. She tried to wait up for you. She watched the doors and windows all night, your girl,” and the Were winked.
Eric’s mouth quirked, “I suppose you mean the Queen?”
“You know who I mean,” Saul replied with a wink.
Once inside their chambers, Eric saw the empty bed. He headed across the sitting room to their retreat, but that was dark and quiet, too. He felt a moment of panic and then shook his head, closed his eyes and felt for her. He followed her breathing to their closet. “Lover!” he whispered. He tried to take the sweater from her hands, but she held it tight.
Her eyes half-opened, “You were gone!” Her voice was soft and vulnerable, like a child caught in a nightmare, “You were gone and I couldn’t find you!”
“It is over now, Älskade, you found me. I am here.” He stooped and scooped her up in his arms, carrying her against him. Sookie pressed her lips to his chest and then snuggled her cheek against him. “Come, we will get in bed together, my wife. All will be well.”
As Eric unfastened her clothes, she woke a little and helped. He pulled the blankets from under her, getting her settled before taking off his own clothes and slipping in beside her. She curled into him, her fingers stroking and petting his chest. “I missed you, Eric. I missed you so much it hurt,” and then her eyes fluttered and she was gone.
Eric felt the ache in his own heart, the way his body felt raw with the need of her, but there was no time. Dawn was fast approaching and he could not hold it off, not in his current state. “I am here, Lover,” he whispered into her hair and fell into his death with the scent of her tears in his nose.
Sookie opened her eyes to see Eric’s still, white chest. There was something odd about his skin. It felt dry, drier than usual, and it was loose under her fingers. She leaned into him, burying her nose in that place where his neck met his shoulder. His scent always seemed strongest there. He would laugh at her, telling her since he didn’t sweat, he couldn’t have a scent. He was wrong.
“I missed you, Sweetheart,” Sookie propped herself up on her elbow so she could stroke his face. The minute she did her bladder started prompting her. She knew he couldn’t hear her, didn’t know she was here. It didn’t matter. It took a supreme act of strength to pull away from him long enough to go to the bathroom. Just leaning against him felt as if she was lying in the sun, the physical contact feeding some deep part of her.
Sookie took care of her human needs and then raced back across the floor, jumping into bed to press her body against his. She felt the thin headache that warned her she needed sun, but she didn’t think she could bring herself to leave the bed again. As she ran her hand over his chest, she felt something move and give way. Sookie rolled over and turned on the light. There was skin on her hand, fine as spider web. Eric’s chest was peeling in patches. If she didn’t know better, Sookie would have thought he had been sunburned. She peeled the blankets back to find him covered with scaly patches that were lifting, separating from him.
She was startled by the knock at the door. “Go away,” Sookie called out. She wouldn’t leave him like this. She couldn’t leave him.
The knock came again, “Come out here, Sookie, or I’ll come in there and get you.” It was a familiar voice, but Sookie couldn’t place it. She hovered over Eric, pressing kisses to his cold cheek where the skin was peeling, revealing red skin underneath.
When the knock came again, this time louder and more persistent, Sookie whispered, “I’ll be right back.” The telepath grabbed a robe, stepping through the doors and then pulling them shut behind her as quick as she could. Almost unconsciously, she struck a defensive stance, her arms crossed, her legs planted.
“You look like shit!” Doctor Amy Ludwig was seated on the couch facing her. Sookie’s head swiveled as the hall door opened and Devrah walked in. The housekeeper glanced in her direction, but kept walking to lay a tea tray in front of the smaller woman.
Sookie shook her head. She ran her hand through her hair. She felt thin and stretched, as though she was tethered to the resting vampire in the other room, and that tether was pulling on her. She shook her head again, and the saner part of her scolded, asking where her manners had flown.
Then Devrah started to walk toward her. Sookie pressed her back against the door and a sound like a growl came from deep in her chest. Devrah pursed her lips and shook her head. “You see what I mean?” she said to the doctor and then walked back toward the hall saying, “I’ll leave you to it.”
Sookie found her voice as the door closed, “Why are you here?”
“Because I ran out of things to do and thought I’d pop on down to New Orleans to see how your suicide pact was going.” Amy’s voice was matter of fact. She could have been talking about the weather, for all the worry she was showing. She poured a cup of coffee and then another. “You going to stop standing there looking like the Bride of Frankenstein and get some caffeine into you?”
“Did Devrah call you?” Sookie could hear the petulant tone in her voice and she winced.
“No, she didn’t, Little Miss All-About-Me” and Ludwig gave her the stink-eye, and then leaned back a little, slurping her coffee, “I have to say, they make a mighty fine cup of Joe in this place, even if they are all wolves.”
“Why are you here?” Sookie challenged, but she knew she was being silly. There was something wrong and then the pieces fell into place. “Eric?” and she glanced behind her. “Is Eric sick, too?”
“Based on what Maude told me, I’m assuming that’s the case.” Amy watched Sookie like a hawk over the brim of her cup. “But I’m waiting until he rises to verify it. I have no interest in seeing him now, and I suspect if I tried to get too close, you would try to flay me with those claws of yours.”
Sookie swallowed then and lifted up her hands. Her fingers had become those hooked talons again. She glanced at the mirror that hung across the room. The face that stared back at her was longer and pointed. She saw cold eyes that slanted at the corners and a hard, thin mouth. She closed her eyes and shook her head again. From the couch, Amy laughed, “You should see yourself. It’s like watching cats in a bag the way you’re fighting yourself.”
“What’s wrong with me?” Sookie laid her hand against her chest. She felt as if her heart would leap from her chest and gallop around the room.
“Bonding sickness,” Doctor Ludwig chuckled from the couch. “It looks bad based on how you’re behaving. I’m surprised you made it out the door.” The Doctor bit into a muffin before saying, “Give it another minute. You’ll adjust. Take a couple deep breaths, and then walk over here before you miss out on your coffee.”
Sookie’s breathing was still erratic. She was afraid to look back at the mirror, afraid of what she would see. When her heart started to slow and her hands stopped shaking, Sookie stepped away from the bedroom door. The doctor patted the cushion next to her a couple times, “Come on, Sookie, come on! Right here! Good girl!”
“I’m not a dog, you know,” Sookie said sourly, but sat down all the same.
“I know you’re not a dog,” Ludwig snapped, “Dogs know enough to come out of the rain. Jury’s out on you.” The doctor held out her hand and was rewarded by Sookie’s blank stare. “Come on, Sparkles, give me your hand.” Sookie barely lifted it when quick as a snake, the doctor grabbed the telepath’s hand and pulled her so she could lick Sookie’s palm.
Sookie didn’t hide her disgust and she could see the doctor’s amusement. Sookie schooled her face into something polite and said, “What do you think?”
“Well, I’m right. Bonding sickness and you need sun,” the small doctor grimaced at Sookie, “So, what were you thinking, breather? Are you trying to end the bond again? Or maybe you’re just trying to kill the Viking.” The strangled noise that came out of Sookie surprised them both. It was a low keening; like an animal in a trap. Ludwig shook her head and her voice became a little warmer as she patted Sookie’s hand, “I said it before and I’ll say it again. Interspecies romance is a bad idea! You know you’re bonded. You know you have bouts of bonding sickness, and you still went gallivanting all over the country. How long have you been separated? Days? Weeks?” When Sookie shook her head, Ludwig’s look became even sharper, “How long?”
“Grandfather said it would be all right.” Sookie’s voice shook, “He… I was taught how to suppress the bond, make it disappear.”
“Did you do that recently?” and the Doctor’s head tilted to the side.
Sookie bit her lip, “No. Although I don’t know why…”
“Because your body is trying to tell you something,” the doctor interrupted, poking Sookie in the arm. “But, why don’t you show me how this bond fix works?”
Sookie closed her eyes and started to pull the internal blanket that would shroud the bond, but she stopped when the Doctor shouted, “What the hell? Are you trying to get us all killed?”
“What?” Sookie asked.
“You can’t smell that?” and Sookie knew.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me!” Sookie had forgotten to shield her scent first and in the act of doing magic, she was flooding the sitting room with a Fae scent. Were Sookie and Doctor Ludwig outside and far away from vampires it wouldn’t be an issue, but they were not. They were in a vampire palace surrounded by resting vampires. It was well known that vampires reacted to the smell of Fae magic the same way they reacted to the taste of Fae blood. It triggered an urge to feed that could quickly get out of hand. Eric once told Sookie that when he smelled her after she’d been practicing magic he wanted to rub himself all over her, and then fuck her and drink and drink until there was nothing left. He told her it was the same for any vampire. Sookie steadied herself. She put her shield in place then went through the steps needed to suppress the bond. When she finished, she realized she felt a little better, although the ache in her heart didn’t go away as it had in the past.
Sookie reached forward for the coffee cup and gulped some down. She knew if she turned to look, she would see the doctor’s eyes looking at her as if she was a specimen under a microscope, so the telepath did the only thing she could think of, “Is this enough for you?” Sookie gestured at the tray. “Would you like some real breakfast? An omelet?”
The Doctor cackled, “You really are a piece of work! Figure now you’ll turn into Miss Manners and I’ll forget your little performance? That’s a nice trick, by the way. Wish I could teach that to all my patients with bonding issues, but it’s a Fae thing, and you’re the only Fae I know that’s foolish enough to bond yourself to a vampire.”
“I just don’t understand why it stopped working,” Sookie filled her cup again.
“What makes you think it stopped?” the Doctor scoffed.
“Well, you’re here, aren’t you?” and Sookie shook her head. “If I was getting it right, we wouldn’t be sick. I must be doing something wrong.”
“What did you think this magic was supposed to do?” Ludwig challenged her, “Eliminate the bond?” When Sookie didn’t say anything, the doctor rolled her eyes, “I don’t know what you thought this was going to do for you, but nothing is going to eliminate that bond of yours. Well, witch magic, maybe, but with the way you are tied together, you’d probably be pretty ripped up by the end. Might even drive you insane,” and Sookie had the uncomfortable feeling the doctor was filing that thought away for later.
“I’m not interested in breaking our bond!” Sookie replied. “If you think that’s what I want, just get that idea right out of your head! Grandfather told me I could suppress the bond and it would give Eric and me the freedom to travel. It was pretty bad before. Our bond was so tight we were thinking we wouldn’t be able to spend even a couple hours away from each other without feeling it.”
“That does sound like an extreme case,” the doctor nodded, “So, how long do you stay apart?”
Sookie bit her lip, “Days at first…” she said.
“And now? When’s the last time you were with your vampire?” The look Amy Ludwig gave her had Sookie squirming.
“Over a week,” Sookie answered.
“Okay,” the doctor said tentatively, “And just how much time did you spend together before your last trip?”
“A night,” and Sookie drank more coffee to cover her flush.
“When is the last time you had his blood?” Sookie couldn’t meet the doctor’s eyes. “The last time you were together? Or has it been longer?” the doctor drilled.
“Before that,” Sookie said quickly, and then pasted her Crazy Sookie smile in place and she forced herself to look at Amy. She wasn’t prepared for the disapproving look she saw on the doctor’s face.
“I don’t understand why you aren’t in worse shape,” Amy told her. “Your magic is nothing more than a smokescreen, by the way. It just numbs you. It doesn’t eliminate the bonding sickness.” The doctor’s eyes narrowed, “I heard your old place in Bon Temps is like Fae Central. Been spending much time there?”
Sookie nodded, “At least a week, every month,” she confirmed.
Amy’s eyes flicked to the closed bedroom door, “And what about your vampire? You taking him with you?”
Sookie shook her head, “Not often. You know Eric. He’s so busy,” Sookie smiled, “In fact, I’m due to head up there today. What time is it?”
“Afternoon,” Amy said shortly. “And if you want to remain my patient, you aren’t going anywhere until tomorrow at the earliest.” Sookie almost protested, but then stopped. Sookie found her eyes drawn to the closed doors. She didn’t see Amy Ludwig’s satisfied smile.
“Good!” Doctor Ludwig nodded her approval, “You are going to take a muffin and get upstairs. There are at least a couple more hours of sunlight. Charge up! I will speak with your housekeeper and I am going to send you a meal. You are going to eat every bite. When it gets close, you are going to come back down here and greet your vampire, and I don’t want to see either of you until much later. You have my number. Call me when you have everything straightened out between you but before dawn. Do you understand?”
Sookie felt the blush start at the back of her neck and sweep forward. Doctor Ludwig gave her a leering look, “Oh good! I can see that you do!” As she stood up, Amy grabbed another muffin, “I should really double my fee,” she told the telepath, “Once for making me come here in person and double because you are both that much trouble!” Sookie blinked and the small woman was gone.
It took almost everything to walk back into the bedroom and continue through to the closet. Sookie could see Eric lying motionless on the bed and she yearned to wrap herself around him. “Soon!” she said out loud, making promises to herself. “Think of how much he likes the smell of sunshine on your skin,” and she pulled out one of her bikinis. She stepped into it and couldn’t help noticing the room left in the bra cups. She had to adjust the top twice, “Shit!” Sookie knew she’d been dropping flesh, but since she was avoiding the mirror, and no one saw her naked, she was ignoring it. Now she couldn’t. She knew Eric liked her rounder. ‘I’ll do better,’ she thought. There was a wrap and she tied it around her before heading out.
The next thing she knew, Sookie felt as if she was waking up. She was standing next to the bed, staring down at Eric. She figured she must have slipped into a trance. “Come on, Sookie!” she scolded and she gave a strong mental shove to get moving toward the door. She was almost through the sitting room when there was a knock on the outer door. “I’m here!” she called out and the door opened to Devrah.
The housekeeper’s face was concerned, “I’ve been on the roof waiting for you. I thought you’d be there already.”
“I’m coming!” Sookie forced her lips to lift, but when Devrah put her hand on Sookie’s elbow, the telepath didn’t shake it off.
When Sookie took off her wrap, Devrah made a sound. Sookie tried not to wince, “As bad as all that, huh?”
“Have you been eating at all?” Devrah sounded worried. It was Devrah’s voice more than anything else that got to Sookie. If the housekeeper had scolded, Sookie would have felt that things weren’t so dire, but hearing her housekeeper’s concern made Sookie want to go back inside and hide.
Instead she squared her shoulders and said, “I won’t be heading out on Were business again any time soon.” Sookie knew she was apologizing to Devrah, but she felt the one she really needed to explain herself to was her husband.
There was steak and steamed spinach on the tray. The salad on the side had spinach, too, and there was bread pudding made with molasses for dessert. Sookie found it difficult to get started, but once she did, she didn’t want to stop. The entire meal disappeared and she groaned as she stretched back on the chaise, feeling the sun’s rays play across her skin. It was delicious, lying here. She felt as if there were batteries within her recharging. She felt better than she had in weeks when she headed back downstairs. No one needed to tell her he would be rising soon. She could feel him coming back to her.
Sookie reached up to touch his face again. They were in their retreat. Eric was lying back on the large chaise, his head propped up by pillows. The fire threw shadows around the room that were further emphasized by the flicker of the candles Eric lit. Sookie wondered if he chose candlelight for mood or to hide the signs of illness they both wore. She was reading Wuthering Heights on her notepad, her head in his lap, a blanket draped over her. Eric was resting, his eyes closed. They knew the time would come for them to discuss the elephant in the room, but for now it was enough just to be touching each other.
If someone told Sookie that Eric could be awkward initiating sex she might have laughed, but now she knew it was no laughing matter. For the first time they had not found their rhythm. It had been long minutes before their hands found their way, longer minutes before their mouths were able to kindle fire between them. Sookie wondered if they had fallen out of love, but the moment she thought it, she knew it was a lie. The problem was she loved her Viking too well, and the sunken flesh around his eyes and the odd, crepe texture of his skin made her too anxious for him to feel sexy.
It took some coaxing to get him to feed from her, but that act finally got the ball rolling and everything turned out well from that point forward.
Eric opened his eyes, “What?” he asked, his lip lifting just a little higher on the right side. “Are you tired of your terrible book already?” Eric thought Heathcliff a fool. He believed the orphan should have taken Kathy, damn the consequences. He told Sookie that her hero lacked courage. Of course, Sookie disagreed. It was a favorite debate.
Sookie traced the line of his lip with her finger, “Don’t think you’re going to goad me into another argument about the merits of the Bronte sisters, Mr. Northman! They are geniuses and there is nothing you are going to say that will change my mind.” She waited for his eyes to crinkle further before asking, “Do you feel any better?”
“Yes, Lover,” he whispered and turned his head to kiss her fingertips. He drew her fingers down to the place on his chest where a patch of skin had sloughed away, revealing pink, new skin. Sookie tried not to think about it. On some level it made her cringe, but it seemed Eric was shedding.
It didn’t seem to bother him, but what ever really bothered Eric? “I am so sorry,” Sookie said again.
Eric just grimaced, “Stop apologizing! We are together, we both feel better. I am content to lie here with you.”
“I should have known something was wrong,” Sookie persisted. “I just figured I was missing you. I didn’t think I was sick. Or you…”
“I was missing you, too, but you were happy, Lover. When you are determined, you are most attractive. Your eyes light up and you speak and walk with confidence.” The more he spoke, the worse Sookie felt. “I will enjoy the time we have,” he continued, “When do you have to leave next?”
“That’s the thing,” she said, and then, to her horror, her voice broke and her lip was quivering. She could tell by the way he moved that he saw it. “Don’t you peek into my head! Don’t!” Her angry words just flew from her mouth and Sookie sat up. She turned away so she could face the wall and to her great embarrassment, she started to cry in earnest.
Eric didn’t sit up with her and rub her back as he had in past. Instead his voice was cold, “I would not break my word to you, Lover. I have promised you I would not to read your thoughts without your permission. I would think my word should be enough.” He stood up and left the room, shutting the door behind him.
Eric walked into the sitting room. He could feel Sookie’s misery. He had been feeling it for weeks. There would be brief bursts of elation followed by longer periods of frustration. It started shortly after San Antonio. She felt much worse now. He was surprised to find her eager in his arms upon his rising. Her unhappiness was like a third person in the room with them. It colored all they did, but when he agreed to feed from her, he found himself powerless to control his other instincts and he gave into his urges. It made him feel less, but she felt better. Once led to twice and by the end, he almost felt they were ‘them’ again. But now, she was back to her unhappiness, back to her old, accusing ways, so willing to believe the worst of him.
“She looked like shit,” Doctor Ludwig said from across the room, “but you look worse.”
Eric was startled. If he hadn’t felt so poorly, he would not have reacted as he did. He dropped into a crouch, fangs bared, and his eyes looked furtively around him. “You really are in a bad way, aren’t you?” The short woman laughed and then she pushed forward and off the couch to walk over to him. Eric straightened and retracted his fangs. He realized his cock fell just to the level of Amy Ludwig’s head. It was an odd thought and she must have been thinking the same thing because she snorted, “Bet that thing gets in your way,” and she batted it to the side, making him step back.
Amy stalked around him, her eyes moving over him. Eric heard a sound and turned to see Sookie standing in the doorway of their retreat. She had pulled her robe on and was scrubbing at her cheeks with the back of her hand. “You should think about feeding again soon,” Ludwig said, her voice even, “It will help your skin complete its cycle.”
“Of course,” Eric watched her continue her movements.
“From her,” and Amy jerked her chin toward Sookie.
Eric’s eyes followed and then he said to the doctor, “Sookie is not well. I can feed from a donor.”
Ludwig’s expression turned hard and in a heartbeat, she reached out and slapped his cock, making his fangs drop again. Sookie took a step forward as Amy snapped, “They don’t call it a dumb stick for nothing! Your mate is perfectly capable of feeding you, and that nasty way you feel is because you need to feed from her. I’m not making this shit up! If you haven’t looked in the mirror lately, let me be the first to tell you, you look like something the dog threw up and rolled in. Any vampire who sees you will see weakness. You want to be noble? How noble are you going to feel when you get staked and she follows?” and Ludwig waved at Sookie.
The little doctor turned on her heel and stalked back to the couch, leaving both Sookie and Eric rooted where they stood. She jumped up a little and then worked her way back on the couch, “You decided you had to bond, and then you figured you could just ignore it? You wanted to play; now you have to pay. Figure it out, but you need to spend time together. You need physical proximity and you need physical connection. I’d say you should plan on spending at least three weeks together, and I mean close. I can check up on you in a week or two and see how you’re doing, but you have drained yourselves and this is going to take some time.”
“Niall said…” Eric growled.
“I don’t know why the Prince gave you the impression the bond could be ignored,” Amy shrugged, “but who knows why he does anything?”
“So,” and Sookie stepped forward until she was next to Eric. She slipped her hand into his, laying her other hand against his arm, “So, if we spend a few weeks together, we will be all right?”
“No reason to think otherwise.” The doctor looked around, “You have anything to eat around here? I have a Mah Jong group starting in an hour and I haven’t had dinner. Sparkles,” and she glanced at Sookie, “would you do me a favor and have something sent up? And you,” the doctor turned to Eric, “Go take a long, hot shower. That skin has to be itching. Hot water will help.”
Sookie walked toward her bags to retrieve her phone. Eric gave the doctor a cold stare, but then walked through to the bed chamber.
Sookie returned to see Doctor Ludwig make a motion with her hand. The door to their bed chamber swung shut all on its own. When she saw Sookie’s surprised expression, Amy shrugged, “What? Just because I don’t show off doesn’t mean I can’t!” She settled back on the couch and patted the seat next to her. When Sookie sat, the Doctor fixed her with a beady stare, “I need to say this fast because he won’t be busy long. He is going to come looking for you because he can’t help himself. Look, Fairy girl, your vampire in there is going to be stubborn, but he’s in bad shape. In all my years I have never seen a vampire lose skin like that and since he will keep ignoring his problem, it is going to have to be you.”
“Me, what?” Sookie squeaked.
Ludwig pinched Sookie’s arm, “You are going to have to fix this. He’ll let you do anything he thinks will make you happy. I don’t know how you did it, but you’ve turned the great Eric Northman into a pussycat, and you can see how that’s working out. He thinks your happiness is in being away from him? He’s ready to sacrifice.” When Sookie opened her mouth to respond, the doctor shook her head, leaned forward, and spoke in a hissing whisper, “He is noble to a fault. He will put you first. You need to find a way to do the same!”
“I do!” Sookie hissed back.
“By leaving your husband behind for weeks at a time? Look at what that has done to you both.”
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Everything I touch turns to crap.” Sookie sighed. “I’m a failure at being a vampire Queen. I work with Mr. Cataliades on my Grandfather’s businesses, but they mostly take care of themselves.” Sookie’s eyes dropped, “And now I’ve screwed up the Were thing. I don’t know if I can take just sitting around, Eric is going to know I’m not happy. It’s not that easy, pretending. He knows. He can feel it through our bond. He knows when I’m not busy, I’m not happy and I can’t bring myself to act around him. It feels like a lie and I won’t do that!”
“Well,” and the doctor brushed an imaginary piece of lint from the couch, “There’s always that other thing.”
“What thing?” Sookie asked.
“Jane was just reminding me that it’s been a year since your pledging. She has everything ready. You would have to stay in your house in Bon Temps for an extended period so you could be closer to the hospital. Of course, the Viking would want to be close to you. With technology, he could probably run his kingdom from there as easily as he could run it from here.” Amy gave Sookie a knowing look, “It’s likely all that Fae well-being the Prince soaked the place in will help you both heal faster. You could be taking day trips away from each other in no time.”
“Eric and I haven’t really talked about that lately,” Sookie could feel herself pulling back.
“Seems you haven’t been together long enough to talk about much of anything, but, not to worry,” and the doctor hopped off the couch, “you’ll have plenty of together time now. The more time you spend together, the sooner you’ll get to spend time apart. As for what you do to pass the time? Well, that’s up to you, but I agree, you’ll need a hobby. He’ll always have the worries of his world. If you can’t find an occupation that suits you in vampire affairs, you’ll need to find something else.” Doctor Ludwig smoothed her skirt, “But a word of advice as someone who has been around Weres a very long time? They are nowhere near ready to form a true government. This wasn’t your fault. They will need to try this a few more times before they’re really ready. The vampires failed for centuries before they succeeded. Don’t take this on yourself!”
“Aren’t you going to wait for the dinner I ordered you?” Sookie asked.
“Of course not!” the doctor snarked, and in a blink, she was gone.
They agreed they would drive up to Bon Temps separately. Sookie was already a day late. She texted the number Tamsin provided, informing her Fae trainer she would be ready to start lessons a couple days later than originally planned. Michele, Jason, and their children were scheduled to come over for a visit during the day. Sookie considered postponing, but then, she didn’t.
“I think it will be good for us to spend time there,” Sookie told Eric as dawn approached. “The last time we were there for any kind of time was our anniversary and we both enjoyed that.”
Eric nodded. He had fed from her again, and she had fed from him as well, but the Viking remained subdued. “I’m sorry I was so defensive about you reading me,” Sookie apologized again. “I know you wouldn’t break your promise. All I can say is that this bonding thing has me so worn out, I am just not myself.”
“I understand, Lover,” he said gently, and he squeezed his arms around her a little harder.
Sookie kissed his chest, “I mean it, Eric. Please, please forgive me.”
“There is nothing to forgive,” he replied, but Sookie knew there was. She was leaning over to tell him so when she realized he was gone from her, pulled into his day death. She wouldn’t see him again until he drove up the drive in Bon Temps tonight. “Rest well,” she whispered, and tucked her head against him until it was time for her to rise and pack.
All day the house on Hummingbird Lane was a hive of activity. Vans came and went, filled with clothing and food, trinkets and technology. Owen and James moved into the guest house that was located just beyond the edge of the trees. Michele and her three sons showed up before sundown to help Sookie get dinner started. “You should think about getting someone to come in and cook,” Michele told her.
“I can’t see it,” Sookie replied. “It’s really just me and whichever of the guards are here. I figured I’d talk with Holly, Hoyt’s wife, about delivering meals for the guards. Figure some regular traffic couldn’t hurt.” Holly and Hoyt Fortenberry had taken over Merlotte’s. It was called Maxine’s now, in honor of Hoyt’s mother. From what Sookie had heard, it still wasn’t as busy as Merlotte’s had been, but since it had been open less than a year, she figured there was no cause to fret. A business needed time to take hold with folks.
“I think they’d appreciate that,” Michele confirmed. “And what about you? You going to remember to eat?”
“Yeah, I guess I look pretty bad,” Sookie chuckled.
“As bad as when you were starving for that bastard, Sam,” Michele wasn’t laughing. When Sookie had been married to Sam Merlotte, he told her the reason he cheated on her was because she wasn’t thin enough. He had regulated her food and almost starved her to death.
“Eric won’t let me forget,” Sookie smiled.
“So, he’s going to be staying here for a while?” Michele looked out the window. Bit and JC, her oldest, were in the barn tending to the horses. Michael Eric, the baby, was napping in the family room just beyond the kitchen.
“Yup,” Sookie said as brightly as she could, “We’ve decided we were spending way too much time apart. We’re going to be like peas and rice from here on. Where you see one, you’ll see the other.”
“I know there’s something you’re not saying,” Michele told her sister-in-law, “but I can tell you the boys will be thrilled. I just hope Bit doesn’t take it into his head to try and be a vampire again.”
“I can’t imagine what that would be like,” Sookie laughed.
“Believe me, you don’t want to know,” Michele shook her head. “Let’s just say it’s a good thing the folks at Church know us so well otherwise I would be hanging my head.”
Near six o’clock, Jason Stackhouse showed up, freshly showered, and bringing a six pack of beer. They sat down and ate, and Sookie played with the baby. JC and Bit told stories and Jason talked about his day. Once the dishes were finished, they moved outside.
The stars were twinkling above them and fireflies were making their own points of light along the edges of the woods. Sookie, Jason and Michele sat on the wide, front porch of the house, sipping ice tea. The boys played tag on the lawn and Michael Eric showed off how he could pull himself up against the table and stand on wobbly legs. Sookie found her eyes wandering back toward the driveway where it connected with the street and she swept her eyes left and right, waiting for Eric Northman.
The minute she saw the headlights she knew it was him. She felt a small thrill in her chest and she stopped what she was saying mid-sentence. Sookie stood and walked to the steps of her home, feeling herself on tiptoe as the Corvette swung into the long drive. Eric wasn’t out of the car before she was in his arms, her face against him. “I missed you!” she sighed.
“Good evening, Lover,” he chuckled. He really did look better. He had sloughed all his skin, but in that way vampires heal, the redness from the new skin had already faded. If she hadn’t seen it, Sookie never would have known.
“Uncle Eric!” Bit yelled, his legs wind milling in a blur as he launched his body at his favorite uncle. Eric stepped away from Sookie so he could catch the young boy, tossing him high in the air and then catching him. He flipped the boy over, hanging him by his feet, and while the child shrieked with laughter, Eric shook hands with both JC and Jason.
Michele hung back, the baby in her arms, “I’ll wait until you finish with that mess,” she jerked her chin at Bit, “But don’t think I’m not going to collect my sugar!”
As they walked up onto the porch, Jason shoulder bumped Eric, “Nice to see you again, bro. We’ve missed you.”
Sookie stepped back, then stepped forward to tilt the painting she just hung on the wall of their bedroom a little more to the right. As much as Sookie had been coming here, there were still things that had not found their rightful places. Of course, other than their first anniversary, they hadn’t been in the house together for more than a few days. Eric emerged from the closet, “I hope you didn’t mind having Jason and Michele over our first night.”
Eric stepped forward and tilted the painting back just a bit, “It was good to see them.” He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her back against him, and then leaning down to kiss the top of her head.
“The boys were sure happy to see you,” Sookie said softly.
“I enjoy them,” her husband replied. “They have changed.”
Sookie took a deep breath, “I have something to ask you.” Sookie could feel Eric’s curiosity. She bit her lip a little before she continued, “We said we’d wait a year, and it’s been a year.” Eric became very still, and Sookie could feel the blush rushing over her face.
“Are you sure, Sookie?” Eric’s voice was very steady.
Sookie thought about tonight, Eric dangling Bit and the way their godson looked in her Viking’s large, capable hands. She thought of her vision, the laughing, golden-haired boy running toward her. “Yes, Eric. I’d like to try.”
“Then we shall, Lover,” he said simply, and turning her toward him, Eric Northman traced her cheek with his finger. He smiled in that way that was every promise he ever made and when he kissed her, she felt it all the way to her toes.