Author’s Note: Joyeaux Noel to all my friends, and in the spirit of the season, and extra chapter this week. I couldn’t leave our couple fighting over the holidays. It wouldn’t be right!
My best wishes to each and every one.
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 rolled over and looked for the bedside clock until she remembered she wasn’t where she was supposed to be. Her mouth felt like a bagful of dirty laundry and her eyes hurt the moment she opened them. “Shit.”
“That’s a bad word,” a solemn voice informed her. Sookie took a deep breath, squeezed her eyes so only the smallest bit of light could get in, and lifted her head off the pillow. The minute she moved, the dull headache formed between her eyebrows. When Sookie let her breath go, an oily burp followed.
“Sure am glad Eric isn’t here to see this,” she mumbled.
“Uncle Eric’s coming?!” the solemn voice rose about two octaves and then yelled, “Mommy! Uncle Eric’s coming! She said!” Small feet made a sound like a herd of stampeding elephants out the door pounding down the stairs. Sookie felt every single stair all the way to her back teeth.
Groaning she rolled over, pulling the pillow over her head. What could have been minutes or might have been an hour later, she woke to the smell of coffee. The side of the bed dipped and she opened her eyes. Somehow her head was hanging over the side of the bed and Sookie couldn’t decide if that made things better. She saw a hand holding a cup of coffee just under her face. “Want some help sitting up or do you need the bucket first?”
When Sookie rolled over she felt her stomach just keep going. “I’ll let you know in a second,” she groaned.
“Damn, Sis, you sure got to be a lightweight hanging out with the crypt crowd. You better get yourself in training, cause folks around here are going to expect you to toast your own wedding.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be working?” Jason Stackhouse looked all too happy and Sookie found it offensive. She reached for the coffee, but her brother pulled it away, “Not yet. You need to get yourself into the bathroom and clean the clown paint off your face. Shit, Sook, anyone who looks as scraggly as you should never have made it up the stairs. You could scare paint off walls!”
“Shut up!” Sookie protested, and then regretted it. Talking hurt. She rolled over into a sitting position. “Oh shit, Jason. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to walk!”
“Well, you have knees. Bathroom is right down the hall. I’ll make sure Bit doesn’t think you’re playing horsey.”
Sookie groaned again as she stood on wobbly legs. Running her hand along the wall, she stumbled to the shared bathroom. Once she took care of her human needs, she turned on the light. The face she saw in the mirror had her putting her hands over her face and groaning again. Mascara ringed her bloodshot eyes. “I look like a rabid raccoon!” she exclaimed.
“That’s an insult to raccoons,” Jason said from outside the door. “Here, open the door long enough to take your coffee. Throw your nasty self under the shower. You’ll feel worlds better. You know I know what I’m talking about.” Jason had a reputation as a world class drinker back in the day. “Now hurry it up before Michele tries to offer you breakfast. It was eggs and really greasy bacon this morning. I think the drippings are still in the pan.”
“Shut up!” Sookie cried, her stomach lurching and another oily burp working its way out.
“Could be that sausage we had hanging around in the back of the freezer since last year,” he called as he retreated down the stairs.
“Asshole!” Sookie muttered as she turned on the shower. Waiting for the water to warm up, she lowered her head until rested it on her knees. “God damn it,” she said to no one in particular. She tried to remember how she had ended up in JC’s bed, but she didn’t remember much beyond hanging up on Eric. “Eric!” she moaned again.
She remembered Eric had gone to Fangtasia. Sookie had spent a good part of her evening watching the front door. She figured he’d walk in any minute to claim her. He told he had something to do, but she figured it was a dodge. It was hours before he’d texted her and she was pretty well bent by then.
Tara told her to take a chill pill, after all, smart men stayed away from hen parties. Michele pointed out that Jason was AWOL, too, and boys will be boys. Frankly, it just made her angrier. He was Eric Northman, sex god, and bonded on a deeper level than any mere man! He should be sitting beside her, helping out, and being excited.
Sookie climbed into the tub, lifting first one foot and then the other, making sure to balance herself with a hand against the wall. Now, in the bright light of day, and without the jet fuel Tara was mixing last night, she thought maybe she was being a little unrealistic. Maybe Eric was a sex god and her bonded, but maybe he was a man, too. She thought about how he looked sometimes, when she said something that hurt his feelings, or how his eyes would look soft when he pulled her close. Sookie leaned her head against the cool tiles and ran her hand up and down the cool wall, imagining it was Eric’s chest.
She yelped when the hot water turned hotter and she heard her brother call from downstairs, “Come on! Get your scrawny ass down here! We got places to go!”
“I’m going to kill him,” she growled, and then the water was scalding again. “Jason!” she yelled. She could hear him laughing from the bathroom downstairs, “Don’t flush again! I swear! I’m getting out!” and as she crawled from the shower, feeling only a little better, she sighed, “Never again!” but she knew it was a lie.
There was a pair of leggings and a long shirt Sookie assumed were from Michele waiting for her on the foot of the bed. They didn’t really match her shoes, but Sookie didn’t care. She started to pull her hair into a ponytail, and then let it fall just as quickly. Pulling her hair back made her scalp ache. She maneuvered her way down the stairs to find Jason with Bit sitting in his lap. Bit was coloring and carrying on a conversation that didn’t sound like it needed Jason at all.
Her nephew looked up and squealed, “Oh, hi, Aunt Sookie! Is Uncle Eric coming now?” Sookie thought fingernails scraping across chalkboards sounded nicer.
“It’s light outside, Bit. Your Uncle Eric doesn’t walk around in the light.”
“Why not?” Bit asked. The way his head was cocked to the side reminded Sookie of a puppy.
“Cause your Uncle Eric and sunlight don’t mix,” Jason supplied. “If Uncle Eric walked around in the sunlight he’d turn into a crispy critter.”
“For real?” Bit’s eyes were round.
“Yup, sure as the day is long!” Jason chuckled.
“Real cute,” Sookie groused.
“You think?” Jason cocked his head to the side, looking exactly like his son. “Well, what I think will be cute is when Michele gets back from the baby’s doctor visit and tries to feed you breakfast.” When Sookie looked pained, Jason nodded, “Yup, it’s true. She is a firm believer that food fixes hangovers. Course, could be that she’s just evil and wants folks that drink too much to get an early taste of hell.”
“You said a bad word, Daddy!” Bit scolded.
“I did, Son, and I rely on you to let me know so I’ll get better,” Jason said solemnly. “Why don’t you run upstairs and get your brother out of bed so he can keep an eye on you.”
“He’s not in school?” Sookie winced as Bit ran from the room, yelling his brother’s name.
“Spring break,” Jason told her. “As soon as JC is upright we can get going.”
“Going? Going where?” Sookie asked. The last thing she wanted to do was move.
“Over to the house,” Jason winked. He pointed at a stack of catalogues on the counter. “Dermot wanted you to get a start on ordering furniture so you’d feel comfortable coming back to stay. Besides, Michele ain’t going to grouse at us heading over there, and if you feel like a little dry toast or the hair of the dog that bit ya we can stop at a roadhouse on our way back.”
Once JC stumbled downstairs, Jason pulled Sookie after him. “You need help getting in the truck? I could give you a boost,” he teased her. When she rested her head against the padded dashboard he said, “Don’t you puke in here. I’m serious! You think you have something to lose, you hang your head out the window!” but once they were on the road with the windows down and the cool air blowing through the cab, Sookie did feel better. There was nothing like a bright morning in a pick-up with Southern rock playing on the radio to make you feel like the whole world was right. She sat back, trailing her fingers in the wind. Her hair whipped across her face and she shut her eyes, soaking up the light, singing softly along with the radio. In no time they were pulling up the pitted ruts of her old driveway.
When they cleared the trees, Sookie’s eyes went wide. The house was so different. It was even set in a different place than the original house. Jason pulled a shiny key from his pocket and tossed it. Sookie caught it in mid-air, and together they walked across the yard and up the stairs.
The porch stretched all the way along the front of the house and wrapped around the other side while to the left it stretched out into three garage doors. There were bougainvillea baskets hanging between the columns and a collection of teak and wicker furniture. Sookie felt giddy as a schoolgirl as she walked up to the front door. The key turned and the door opened to a large front hall. There were arched doorways that opened to both sides and a back wall with another hallway and a staircase that made a quarter turn about halfway up. The floors were wide, light wood and the bannisters and trim were all painted glossy white. Sookie just stood with her hands hanging at her sides, her mouth open.
“Yeah, it’s nice,” Jason winked.
“I wish Gran could have seen this,” and Sookie felt tears come to her eyes.
Jason wrapped his arm around her shoulders, “She would have been real proud to see how you turned out,” and Sookie felt happy hearing the words.
The first floor still had a big parlor, but it was to the right of the doorway now. To the left was a dining room that led into a big kitchen. There were black appliances and an island with a stone countertop. Sookie’s face hurt, she smiled so much. It reminded her of the kitchen in Maude’s palace in Minnesota and she hoped Eric would like it. Halfway into the kitchen was a door that opened to reveal a set of stairs leading down. Sookie was surprised. She would have a basement, which was not common in this part of the country. Bon Temps wasn’t like New Orleans where the water table was too high but this was the first time Sookie lived in a house that had one.
With a grin, Jason headed down and Sookie followed. The lights revealed finished walls and tile floors. There were a couple rooms, including a decent bathroom with a shower. Sookie wondered if this was meant to be their master suite. “He built it tall enough that you can use it for working out,” Jason said out loud. She could see him eyeing one of the long walls, “Or this could be Eric’s Bat Cave.”
“Jason, that’s not funny!” the words flew from Sookie’s lips and she felt guilt fueling her defense of her Viking.
“Just saying! Every guy needs a place to get away and that wall would be perfect for a big screen.” Sookie could almost see Eric hanging out down here with her brother and his family. Eric surprised her with the easy way he handled Jason’s children. She could see both the older boys adored him. For a moment she lost herself in dreams of gatherings and family until Jason pulled her back, “We just going to stand down here all day, or do you want to see some more?” and together they headed back up the stairs.
There was a large doorway at the back of the kitchen that led down two shallow steps into a room that ran across the whole back of the house. There were narrow windows and a ceiling that vaulted up. The middle of the wall was dominated by a large fireplace, the chimney rising up and past the second floor where small galleries overlooked them. “Wow, this is really something!” Sookie was at a loss for words. Lying on the floor, wrapped in blankets and each other was one of her fondest memories with Eric in the old house. Looking at this new fireplace, she could see them wrapped up in each other, watching the flames.
“You’re blushing!” Jason nudged her.
“Let’s see the rest of the house,” Sookie pushed past him.
There was a bathroom off the kitchen and a second, more narrow, set of stairs behind another door that led up. They headed up to the second floor to find four large bedrooms opening off a roomy central landing. There was space for a small sofa or chairs on the landing that overlooked the family room, and a door that led to a short hall and another space that was over the garage. ‘Playroom,’ Sookie thought.
“You could turn that into another bedroom if you wanted,” Jason nudged her. “I’m figuring that with all these rooms someone is expecting to get real busy.” Sookie felt a stab of panic. It was one thing to talk about it, dream about it, blond babies with blue eyes, but seeing all these bedrooms? It didn’t seem so dreamy all the sudden. Jason drew her close do he could whisper-speak in her ear. “You know, the boys could really use some cousins. Girls would be nice.” When Sookie’s face flushed and she felt prickly heat running up her spine, he added, “I bet Northman shoots all girls!”
“I don’t think that’s how it’s going to happen,” the words were out of her mouth before she could stop them and she saw Jason’s look turn from teasing to thoughtful. Sookie shook off her panic, “Come on, Jase, let’s keep looking.”
Sookie stepped iton the largest of the bedrooms, looking through to the bathroom that connected with the next bedroom. “Guess this could be the master,” Sookie said.
“Yeah, sure,” Jason grinned, “You go ahead and set yourselves up in here and I’ll move into the palace upstairs,” and he winked.
Taking her hand he walked to the stairs in the front of the house that led up to the third floor. These stairs were an extension of the front staircase and Sookie glanced all the way down to the front hall before they stepped out into a large space that ran the length of the house. The fireplace that started downstairs had another opening here. There was space for sitting, and Sookie could tell that the large window that faced out onto the side yard was light-tight glass.
Jason walked ahead of her and opened doors, showing her the walk-in closet and a bathroom that had the largest tub Sookie had ever seen. There was a small room that could be used as office space, and behind another door was a narrow staircase Sookie suspected connected back downstairs to the kitchen. “Dermot said there’s a panic room hidden somewhere in the house, too. He said he’d show it to you when you’re ready,” Jason said proudly.
With a grin, Jason headed to the closed double doors near the front of the house. He opened them with a flourish and Sookie found herself looking at a huge bed. “Dermot built it himself,” Jason stepped back and crossed his arms, clearly impressed. The footboard curved up. There were posts at each corner and a design inlaid in light woods against dark that looked like a rising sun.
“Oh!” Sookie could feel magic pulsing from that bed. She swore she could hear singing and sighing, the bed itself a living presence. The headboard soared to the ceiling, dark and carved in rounded curls and points that looked like antlers and leaves. There was an inlaid design on the backboard that Sookie suspected was a stylized moon.
“It’s quite the thing, ain’t it?” Jason was smiling, and Sookie realized he couldn’t feel the magic. All he saw was a beautiful, hand-made bed.
Looking around the space, Sookie felt claustrophobic, the rooms, the bed, everything herding her, and pushing her. “I keep waiting to wake up,” she said out loud, the reality that plans were being made for her staring her in the face.
“You deserve it,” Jason beamed and he put his arm around her. Together they stood in the bedroom that Sookie was meant to share with Eric Northman, watching the dust dance in the still air, each lost in their own thoughts.
When they walked outside toward the truck, Jason asked, “So, you thinking about moving back here full time?”
“Yes, and no,” Sookie answered. “I promised Niall I’d spend at least a weekend a month here. I seem to be getting more Fae somehow, and Niall is all anxious to get me trained up.” Sookie thought about Eric’s reaction the last time she tried out Fae magic. “I guess I should be enthusiastic about it, but it seems like a lot of work for no good reason.”
“You getting good at magic now?” and Jason’s eyebrows lifted.
“There’s stuff I can do pretty well. I can think about small things and have them show up. You’ve seen me do that glowing thing when I call moonlight or starlight, or whatever to my hand. It’s real pretty, but not practical. Frankly, I’m worried about going any further.”
“What does Eric think?” Jason seemed to expect her vampire to be supportive, but Sookie could still see Eric’s panicked face as he forcibly pulled himself from their hotel room. Sookie had scryed, trying to see her future, and her magic had such a strong Fae scent that Eric had worried he’d hurt her.
Sookie decided she didn’t need to share some things. “We haven’t discussed it much. He agreed I should do this, though.” Sookie looked around, “So, I guess I will be spending more time here, but move here for good? No, Jason, New Orleans is our home now.”
“Guess I was thinking a little further ahead,” Jason shoulder nudged her, but before she could ask what he meant, he asked, “You up for that dry toast?”
Sookie wondered if she’d be comfortable sitting in Merlotte’s and then she remembered Merlotte’s was closed. “Where did you have in mind?”
Jason gave her a lopsided grin, “I don’t have to be a mind-reader to know what you were thinking. Anyway, there’s a road house about ten miles to the other side of town. Burgers ain’t the best, but it’s okay.”
As they pulled up, Sookie saw a few trucks and a couple motorcycles parked out front. The inside was dark, but there were booths. Jason ordered a beer and while they waited for their waitress to take their order, Sookie heard someone call her name. “Sookie? Sookie Stackhouse? Is that really you?”
Kennedy Keyes walked out from behind the bar. Sookie was surprised to find the former bartender hadn’t changed much. The telepath stood to say hello and found herself wrapped in a big hug instead. “Well, hey,” Sookie said weakly, “Nice to see ya!”
Kennedy had worked at Merlotte’s after Sam and Sookie were married, but then she had left without saying one word to Sookie. Sookie asked Sam what happened and Sam told her there was no reason, but later, when things started to get worse, he told her the real reason Kennedy left was because she was sick of Sookie and her poor attitude. Until now, Sookie realized she believed what Sam told her.
“I heard through the grapevine you might be back in the area,” Kennedy wiped at her face as if scrubbing away a tear. “Terry and Jimmie Bellefleur? Well, we kept in touch.” Kennedy stared at Sookie’s face and her eyes seemed to focus on the scar Sookie still carried over her lip from one of the times Sam struck her. “You doing okay?”
Before Sookie met her Kennedy served time in prison for killing her abusive boyfriend. It was something Sookie never held against her. When the bad times with Sam started, the times that seemed like one long nightmare, Sookie found herself thinking about the bartender. There were nights the telepath lay awake thinking about murder while Sam snored that she remembered the stories Kennedy told of her. It was those stories that made Sookie decide to find another way. Sookie didn’t think she could survive the prison life Kennedy described.
“Right as rain,” Sookie pasted her smile in place, “I’m Sookie Northman now,” and she could almost hear Eric chuckling.
“Oh?” Kennedy looked puzzled, “Jimmie told me you were getting married in a couple weeks at Jason’s place.”
“Human wedding,” Sookie nodded quickly. “Already vampire married.”
“Gee,” Kennedy said a little flatly, “That’s great.” The bartender looked down and then glanced back toward the bar. Sookie’s head was hurting again and she couldn’t think of anything nice to say. ‘Why did you run out?’ and ‘Why didn’t you say goodbye?’ were the things she wanted to say, but it didn’t seem like the right time.
Kennedy must have been feeling awkward, too, because she said, “Guess I’d better get back to work. It was great seeing you,” and she glanced toward Jason, “You too, Jase.”
Sookie sat back down and looked at her hands, “Guess now I know what happened to her,” and she looked up to see Jason watching her. He put his hand over hers and she felt comforted. It had been a while since she thought of those dark days with Sam Merlotte. Seeing Kennedy brought back some part of it.
“You want to get out of here?” Jason asked, and in that moment, Sookie could have hugged him.
She shook her head, and in the process, shook the dark memories away, “Nah! It’s was a long time ago, It’s over now. All over.”
Sookie ordered a salad with dressing on the side and Jason ordered a hamburger and French fries. When everything arrived, Sookie felt well enough to steal one of Jason’s fries and dip it in ketchup, but she found her eyes kept drifting back to Kennedy.
When both their plates were cleaned off, Jason asked, “Have you thought about what you’ll do with Merlotte’s?”
“Nope, no I haven’t,” Sookie shrugged.
“Well, what if there was someone that wanted to open it back up?” Jason was watching her carefully.
“Like who?” Sookie thought of Kennedy Keyes since she’d just seen her.
“Hoyt and Holly asked if I’d ask you.” Sookie sat back. She’d known Hoyt forever and she thought well of Holly. When Merlotte’s was open, Holly worked there for a while. Hoyt’s wife was organized and she knew her way around waitressing.
“Hoyt thinking about quitting the road crew?” Sookie knew the benefits were good, so it seemed unlikely.
“Actually, yes,” Jason told her. “With Obamacare he can get benefits, so he’s not stuck in the job. Holly, too. Now, I don’t think Hoyt’s going full time all at once. He’ll keep working on the crew for a while, but Holly would be there all the time. They’re thinking they can get things open and hire a couple folks. Customers would come back. Hell, I would, and I’ll bring the whole crew, just like before.” Jason leaned back, warming up to the task. “Holly wants to make it even more of a family place than it was before. Lighter. She’ll keep the pool table, but put in some video games, too, for the kids. Smaller bar. You know, like that.”
“Are they thinking they want to buy the place?” Sookie had no idea what the value would be.
“I kind of think they’re hoping you’ll stay on as owner, maybe give them some free advice. They have money to get started, so I don’t think they want you to invest your money in it.”
“Kind of like a landlord?”
“Yeah, and unpaid restaurant consultant,” and Jason grinned ear to ear.
“I guess we can talk about it,” Sookie started feeling more enthusiastic about the idea. It would be good to have the property productive again.
“Great!” Jason nodded. “After the wedding we can get together and figure it out. You know Hoyt’s band is playing for the party at the house, right? Boy, they are going to be all kinds of excited. Lots of folks are.” Jason winked at her, “Besides, it’ll be good for you to have this. Keep you busy, since you won’t be working.”
“What?” Sookie asked, “What are you talking about? Did Eric say something?” and then she blushed that she immediately assumed Eric was involved.
“Hell, Sookie, I guess I just assumed,” Jason shrugged. “I mean, here you are, hanging around with Tara and Michele. I never hear about you having to get up or running to meet with folks. I just figured with the house and Eric being King and all, you’d be, you know, more of a stay-at-home wife.”
“I can’t see myself not working!” the words burst out of her, and then she realized she really hadn’t worked in some time. Her last paying job had been the contract work she’d done for Phoebe Golden in Iowa and that was months ago. ‘I guess I’d better talk with Desmond,’ she thought with a start. ‘I’m becoming that kept woman I never wanted to be,’ Sookie thought about the house. She could see that bed and she didn’t like the feeling at all.
Owen glanced in the rearview mirror again. Sookie hadn’t said much on the ride from Bon Temps to Pam’s house. He figured something happened between them in the last twenty-four hours. The King stayed at Fangtasia almost until dawn, dancing and celebrating with Mustapha Khan and Indira. When Owen asked about picking up Mrs. Northman, Eric shrugged, but the Were knew better. He could spot when the King was performing for others, and the North Man’s actions screamed acting loud and clear.
It was his job as a guard to observe and anticipate the moves and desires of his charges. Those who were good at this job knew things about their clients before they knew those things themselves, and Owen knew he was very good at this job. For example, he knew without a doubt that these two were halves of the same person. The Were watched the way they moved around each other, unconsciously mimicking each other’s movements like planets circling some shared sun. He knew neither rested well without the other and that the longer they were apart, the testier and more emotional they became. But Owen also knew that even conjoined souls could fight with themselves and their actions last night had all the earmarks.
“We missed you last night,” he said as a way of providing the Mistress an opening. Owen knew there were times Sookie needed to talk, but she got shy about starting. She didn’t want to burden others with her problems. It was one of the things that got her into trouble. He wondered if she thought over things internally at all, or if she just moved with the flow until some calamity stopped her. What he did know was that when she said something out loud, it would click with her and she would see where things were heading, almost as if hearing it made it worthy to consider.
“I doubt it,” Sookie said softly, and then forced a smile on her face.
‘I hope you had a productive evening with your friends. I remember how busy my wife was when she and her friends were planning our wedding. I barely remember seeing her, and when we did see each other, all she talked about was the wedding,” and Owen watched the Queen in the rearview mirror.
“She didn’t… you didn’t… I guess I figured these things were kind of planned together,” and Sookie looked out the window.
Owen chuckled, “Only if the guy you’re marrying is gay,” he offered. “I’m not saying that I didn’t help some, but I could care less about colors and whether it’s roses or camellias. Just give me a band, a bar, and I’m happy. I didn’t mind her spending all that time with her gal pals, though. It made her happy and she still looks at the pictures. Seeing her in that dress, glowing like a star and walking toward me? Happiest day of my life.”
“I don’t know much about you, Owen. I didn’t know you were married,” and Sookie bit her lip, embarrassed by her confession.
“Five years, two kids. She’s a full Were, like me.”
“Must be hard,” Sookie said softly, “all this travel.”
Owen smiled, “Absence makes the heart fonder? Fact. She and Charles’ wife are good friends. Titus’ family is pretty close, too. Kids play together. It’s good to have folks around who understand.”
Sookie was looking out the window when she asked, “So, what was going on at Fangtasia last night?”
Owen didn’t hesitate. He was Pack. She was a Friend of the Pack. This was news that should come through her Were network. “Mustapha Khan was there, presenting himself as the new Packmaster for Long Tooth. He had planned to check in with Indira, but since the King was also there, it was an opportunity for them to reconnect.”
“Mustapha?” and Owen could see her surprise. “But I thought Shari would be…” and she stopped. Her eyes sought his out in the mirror. “Is she alright?”
“No, ma’am,” he said simply. “There was an accident during the fight. She stumbled. You know they don’t blunt their blades. Everything was done to try and save her, but there was nothing anyone could do.”
Sookie’s head hurt again and her chest hurt, too. Owen held up his handkerchief and she took it as the first sob escaped her. “I’m so sorry!” she apologized, “I never have Kleenex and I always seem to need them.”
“No need to apologize, Majesty,” he said gently.
Hearing Owen call her that did something to Sookie. ‘Don’t be a big bawl baby,’ she scolded herself. ‘There will be plenty of time for tears later,’ and she did something she hadn’t before. Sookie bit her lip, squared her shoulders, and fought back her emotions. The tears continued to leak down her face, but she held herself together as she asked, “Will there be a funeral?”
Owen shook his head. “She’s in the family plot, though. I can get directions if you’d like to visit.” He looked in the mirror and Sookie met his gaze with a watery smile. “She died doing something she wanted, Majesty. She talked of the challenge all the time. It was no one’s fault.”
Sookie nodded. It was several minutes before she asked, “How did Mustapha Khan look?”
“Happy to see the King,” Owen informed her. “I didn’t realize the Packmaster was your husband’s day man. Looks like the King always had a good way with his hired help.”
Sookie smiled wanly as they pulled up to Pam’s house. The lights were on. Sookie waited for the feeling that told her Eric had risen, but it didn’t come. That’s when she figured out Eric had closed the bond. The emotions that ran between them were second nature to her now, she didn’t really notice them unless she looked. When he closed the bond, it wasn’t as if his presence was gone. It was more that the flow of feelings and shared essence lacked urgency, a freshness. It was only at times when she expected something, like feeling his rising, or his sending her some emotion that she noticed the lack. Sookie bit her lip as she considered the house. She hoped Eric wasn’t really angry. She didn’t feel one hundred percent, and the news about Shari was hovering close enough that it wouldn’t take much to tip her into full-fledged basket case. Truth be told, she missed Eric and yearned for his arms around her, making her feel safe, but that wasn’t going to happen if they were fighting instead.
Sookie could hear her Gran’s voice in the back of her head telling her it took two to fight, and Sookie made up her mind. Owen ran ahead and opened the house door for her. Sookie looked around the living room. She could see Charles, but she didn’t see Eric. She kept walking through the kitchen and then into the bedroom. Eric was there, pulling the zipper closed on a suitcase. The closet was empty. He had packed her bag for her.
When he straightened, she could see he was ready for her. His mouth was firm and his eyes narrowed. “Sookie…” he started, but she couldn’t wait anymore. She walked into him and wrapped her arms around him and she held on, her eyes closed and she continued to hold on until his arms came up to wrap around her too, “Lover?”
“I missed you,” she murmured. “I missed us.”
Eric stroked the palm of Sookie’s hand with his thumb. She was looking out the passenger window, her chin balanced on the palm of her other hand. “How do you get over it?” she asked him.
“Get over what, Älskade?” It was the first she said since he confirmed he’d heard the news about Shari Decker. Eric expected tears and hysterics, but his wife surprised him. He knew she would cry, he could feel it in her, the sorrow, but this time she pushed it to the side and he wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Eric thought about how to answer. If Sookie followed this line of conversation too far, he was worried she would despair. It was the tragedy that came with this gift of immortality, the sure knowledge that all you loved who were not as you would pass. You would be helpless as you watched them march toward an end, where you could never follow. When she showed no signs of looking away from the darkness of the landscape, he told her the only answer he could, “I don’t become involved with those who will precede me.”
Now she did turn, her eyes squinting and her lips pursed in that enchanting way she had, “But you got involved with me.”
“Yes,” he looked back at the palm he was stroking before turning to watch the road again, “You were always the exception.”
“How do you fill the emptiness?” she asked him.
Eric shrugged, “I work, I fill my time with productive pursuits, I remember that each moment is its own miracle. For as many years as I’ve lived, I have yet to live the same moment twice. Sometimes it’s difficult to see that, particularly when I’m facing troubles, but it’s a thought that gives me hope, that there is always something new around the corner. I prefer to think that life is full of possibilities.”
“You know what I realized today?” Sookie rolled her head, stretching her neck. Eric waited. He knew she didn’t need a prompt, just a minute to collect herself. “I realized that I haven’t had a new job offer from the vampire contract since Iowa.”
‘Oh,’ thought Eric, ‘I was wondering how long it would take her to notice,’ but what he said was, “I was worried this might happen. You are known now. It’s one thing to set up businesses with a Queen, but to hire one feels disrespectful somehow. It may be that your days as a telepath consultant to vampires have come to an end.”
Sookie grimaced, “Well, that wouldn’t be so good. How else will I earn my keep?” She rolled her eyes at Eric, “Don’t even suggest that I don’t work. You know I can’t do that. I’d feel like some poodle-toting, bonbon-guzzling diamond hustler, and I just can’t be that!”
Eric laughed. It was an easy, full laugh, and he smirked as he told her, “Aside from the poodle, I think you are all those things! You wear diamonds, you eat chocolates.”
“Shut up!” Sookie sassed. “I’m serious, Eric. I need to find something to do. The thought of hanging around the palace all day just makes me itch.”
Eric nodded, “Emil Touissant was interested in your talents to help them organize the Weres.”
“I heard that and I did agree to help,” Sookie confirmed, “and I told Devrah I’d do a read of the staff, and I agreed to help out with the Palace tour.” Eric’s eyebrows raised, “I know!” she huffed, “but most of that just feels like bonbon work. It has to have a paycheck to count!”
Eric shook his head, “That will change. In a hundred years, you will have money in the bank because you will find you are bored with spending it. After a while you’ll stop watching your account balance because every year just means more. You will find that the acquisition of things is something that happens and not something you pursue.”
“Well, amen to that day, then!” Sookie said mostly to herself, “I can’t wait to see it!” Eric frowned. He wondered if she doubted him, and she proved she did with her next words, “It’s just my whole life has been a struggle about money. I watched my Gran scrimp and save to get us everything we had. When you and I first met? There were days I didn’t eat because I had to pay taxes. What you’re describing? I can’t even imagine it!”
Eric lifted her hand to his lips, “You will get used to it, Lover, all that and more. You will never be hungry again. This I swear to you.”
Sookie couldn’t help the smile that drifted across her lips, “Did you steal that line from Gone with the Wind?” and she was rewarded by Eric’s wink. After a moment Sookie sighed, “Well, I saw our Tara today. Our new house, the one Dermot built? Jason took me over there today.”
“What did you think?” Eric asked.
“It’s big, Eric, and fancy. Kind of too fancy for me,” and she turned to look out the window again.
“I can feel it, Älskade. What is it?” Her emotions were twisting and turning. When she didn’t answer, he squeezed her hand to let her know he wouldn’t let it go.
“There’s a bunch of bedrooms,” she said simply.
Eric didn’t understand why this would be troubling, “We have many bedrooms at the Palace and they are filled many times.”
“If I didn’t want to have children, would that be okay?” she asked.
Eric looked at his wife, his laughing heart who held every human baby and talked of children with yearning, and pulled the car over on the berm. He glanced at the guards behind them and texted that everything was fine so they wouldn’t get out the car, before turning to Sookie. “What happened?”
Sookie told him again about the bedrooms. She told him about Jason’s teasing and then she told him about the bed. “You have to see this thing, Eric. It’s like a big old pregnancy maker. I just… I just…” and she bit her lip and looked away again.
Eric took her chin and turned her face back so he could see her eyes, “I will tell you what I know of you, Lover. You do not want to find yourself forced to do things. You like to make up your own mind.”
“Damn straight!” Sookie exclaimed, “and it was like that house has nothing to do with you or me. It’s all about what someone else wants us. I looked at that bed and I felt like I was being told I was only good for one thing.”
“We are under no obligation to accept the house, Lover,” Eric growled. He would call Niall tonight and tell him what he could do with his pressuring tactics.
“I don’t feel like I can say no,” Sookie sighed, “It was so much money and Dermot built it with his own hands. Maybe we can just get rid of the bed…”
“Consider it done,” Eric soothed. “You are worth more to me than you know.” He looked down at her hand and he smoothed it with both thumbs as he said, “But I have promised Niall that I would try to create progeny with you,” and Eric glanced up, hoping she knew what he was telling her.
“You promised?” and he saw the trapped look in her eyes, so he pushed again. He saw her eyes open wider and she said, “you promised… but I didn’t.”
“I suppose that is so,” Eric grinned.
“You really are a tricky vampire, aren’t you?”
Eric lifted her hand and kissed it again, “But I am your tricky vampire.”
“And I am yours,” Sookie placed her hand alongside his cheek, leaning over the console to kiss his lips.
Eric basked in the love he saw in her eyes. He thought briefly about Bill Compton and whether he should tell her, but he worried that some part of what Bill said was true. He worried that Sookie would not be happy he had ejected Bill from his kingdom, so he decided to hold that information for another time. For the moment all was right with their world again. She was smiling and holding his hand.
Sookie was still awake when they pulled up to the public doors of the palace. The crowd out front was larger than usual. As Eric unfolded himself, the cheers started. Eric smiled and waved as he walked around to Sookie’s door. When Sookie stood up, there was renewed cheering. Eric nodded to the guards at the door and they descended to flank the couple.
Twy suggested ‘meeting and greeting.’ She pointed out the example set by European royal families. “If you give the illusion of accessibility and make yourselves look like average citizens, it makes the public your ally.” So far, Eric found the advice to be sound.
Sookie smiled and chatted with a group of girls pressed against the barrier. Eric signed t-shirts. There were posters of the latest magazine cover featuring a picture of smiling Eric, his hand positioned on the arm of a chair so his ring was visible. ‘He’s Off The Market!’ the headline proclaimed. There was no interview to accompany the story, but there were several ‘official’ wedding portraits. None featured the Viking in his robe or the Fairy in her gown, those pictures were on the shelf in their private retreat. Their first married interview would happen tomorrow night along with their first official Palace Tour. Sookie was conducting the tour herself and Eric, as agreed, would join the lucky group halfway through to answer questions. Most of those who were part of the tour were members of the public. A local radio station had run a promotion, awarding the tickets. The group was limited to twenty-five for security purposes. In addition, though, Twy added a journalist and her camera crew. The reporter would take the tour and then she would sit down with the couple for an exclusive question and answer session.
“Congratulations!” people called. “We love you!” said others. The couple remained outside answering questions, avoiding any mention of a second ceremony in Bon Temps. Twy warned them that with half of Bon Temps invited it was a secret that wouldn’t keep, but for now, no one seemed the wiser.
They were about halfway across the street when someone shouted, “Why don’t you kiss her?” Eric slowed, looking in the direction of the person who shouted the words. It was enough and the crowd took up the chant, “Kiss her! Kiss her!” Sookie looked around uncertainly. Eric’s hand squeezed hers and she glanced up to see her Viking raising his hand for silence.
When the crowd noise lessened, her Viking gave her a mischievous smile. “I think it’s time for this lovely woman to introduce herself,” Eric said loudly, and then he stroked Sookie’s cheek with his fingers, “Don’t you? Tell them, min hustru, tell them who you are to me!” His voice was heated and Sookie could see the tips of his fangs.
“You’ll pay for this later,” but Sookie wasn’t angry. She saw the man who would stand with her no matter what. He would help her fight battles and back her action.
“I’m counting on it,” Eric purred.
Sookie squared her shoulders, threw her head back, and shouted as loud as she could to all the stars above, “I’m Missus Eric Northman!” The crowd roared their approval, and Eric pulled her against him and kissed her so well and so thoroughly that her toes curled.
From who knows where, and because it could only happen in New Orleans, a band started to play. Eric released her only enough to take her hand and twirl her right there in the street. The band stepped out from behind the barricades, one of those loud, brass bands that led second lines all over the Old Quarter. People behind the barricades started to dance and wave T-shirts and posters.
Eric twirled her again and Sookie could see a group of palace people come out to stand on the steps. Then beside her, Sookie saw a streak of coral. That streak became Pam, and she and Maxwell Lee started to dance near them. Eric shimmied around her and Sookie wiggled her hips and bent her knees so she could grind right down his front. The crowd cheered and whooped and before she knew what was happening, the barricades were down and they found themselves surrounded by New Orleans.
Eric grabbed her hips and they were shaking their bon bons with everything they had. People were laughing and calling out congratulations. The band grew as other musicians joined them. Vampires, Weres, and staff from the palace were among the crowd, laughing and dancing. Eric twirled Sookie in close and then bent her over his arm, kissing her again, earning more catcalls and applause.
From her place near the front door, Thalia watched the crowd; vampires and Weres, humans and Fae. For this moment all were smiling and laughing, dancing and clapping, and in the middle of it, the Viking and his woman twirled, the center of all that was good. If she believed in signs, she might have marked this as one. Then her eyes flicked to the humans who were stalking her, photographing her. Some things didn’t change, but on nights like tonight, she found hope that it might.