Author’s Note: Aah! The half-way point in this part. I am so pleased that so many of you have been taken with this story! It is great to hear from you and I love your take on the action.
Thank you Breathesgirl and Ms Buffy for your willingness to read my work so quickly! Where do you find the time (and I am so grateful that you do!)
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.
Karin held her hand out before her, examining how the light reflected dully from her forming fingernails. Her fingers were still stubby, but unless someone was really looking, it wasn’t apparent. “You are beautiful,” Thomas kissed her ribs, and then nibbled at the side of her breast. Karin stretched contentedly, which caused Thierry to moan a little.
“I was comfortable!” the Gallic Sheriff protested. He rolled from his back to his side and threw his arm over Karin’s belly, running his fingers through Thomas’ hair. Like his brother, he nuzzled Karin’s ribs, but then lifted his head long enough to smile at Thomas. “Round three?” he asked.
Thomas shook his head slowly, “No, not yet.” He kissed Karin’s hipbone, and then likewise rose so he could reach Thierry lips. Karin watched them lazily pull at each other’s mouths, giving and taking with the practiced and deliberate moves of lovers who knew each other well.This wasn’t the first time the three of them had bedded together, but it had been the most eventful. Thomas hadn’t expressed any concerns about Thierry’s jealousy, but it was hard not to notice at different points, the tender way the vampire had treated her mate. Now was not the time, but she would discuss it with Thomas. Karin knew that Thierry teased Thomas about her. Until recently, she had written it off as the harmless ribbing friends engaged in when they competed for bed fellows, but that had been before she realized that things were different. Now Thomas was hers as she was his. They weren’t bonded yet, but Karin suspected that would happen. She wondered if she would consider pledging herself to him. Somehow it seemed too permanent, too binding. They were vampire, they weren’t going anywhere. There was no need to enforce their choice through some contract. They weren’t royalty with kingdoms and vassals to consider.
The two men parted. Thierry grinned at her, but Thomas’ look spoke of adoration. The kiss he gave her next was not the playful nipping and jousting he exchanged with Thierry. It was the needy and demanding kiss of a man who was claiming her and making clear that she was to claim him in return. When Thomas parted from her, she met Thierry’s eyes again. She wondered if the Frenchman would also try to kiss her, but he didn’t. “When do you leave for the Summit?” she asked him.
“Max, Jane, and I leave in three days. The King requires us to do a run-through of all the presentations with the audio-visual equipment before the official opening. Pam has promised everything will be waiting for us. It will also give Max a chance to do one more dry run with the Fangtasia material.” He followed fingers with mouth, but Karin pulled his head back. She kissed him, her teeth nipping. He growled a little, smiling and nuzzling. Thomas leaned in to kiss her cheek and then Thierry’s.
When the men sat back to either side of her, Karin sighed, “We are to travel there with the housekeeper and the bitch’s pet. Eric wants us settled in time to attend the movie thing.” She sighed, “Bill Compton will be there.”
Thierry giggled, there was no other word for it. “You weren’t in Jackson when the Mistress ruffled Blasé Bill. It was a masterpiece. He sat on the couch in front of all of us, his mouth opening and closing like a fish! His hands were flapping,” and the vampire waved his hands limply,” and he kept leaning forward like he wanted to say something but didn’t have the balls to do it,” Thierry illustrated by rocking back and forth and making grunting noises. Thomas was smiling and Karin started to laugh. She had seen Bill often enough during her year of guarding Sookie Stackhouse, that she could visualize the mannerisms easily.
“There was always something a little wrong about him,” she agreed. With a flounce and a bounce, she rose from the bed. There was bottled blood in the refrigerator and she pulled out bottles. She held one up, her eyebrow raised in question.
Thomas squinted, and then sat up and grabbed his phone, “I have a better idea. We can have donors here within twenty minutes. The last group was attractive and willing.”
Thierry flipped over onto his stomach, his head now facing the foot of the large bed, “You are a bad influence on him,” he told Karin.
“How so?” she grinned. Thomas was texting quickly and then rose to start looking for clothing.
“He is too happy,” Thierry volunteered a quick shrug of his shoulder, “it keeps him from focusing on work. It gives him a taste for feeding and fucking and feeding and fucking…” Thierry also rose, grabbing his jeans and working them up over his lean hips. “And you, Oh Queen of Slaughter, you are much the same,” and he poked her genially in the arm.
“Perhaps I’m making up for lost time,” Karin offered. “I’ve spent the past year hunting and taking out other people’s garbage.” She found herself watching Thomas as he buttoned his soft, striped Oxford shirt, “Maybe I deserve it.”
“I don’t know why you’re complaining,” Thierry teased. “You must have had so many opportunities to improve things. You could have solved the problem of Felipe de Castro, for example, instead of ending his Mini Me.”
Karin looked confused and Thierry gave her a quick recap on the premise of the movie character. She smiled briefly, but it was through clenched teeth. “I’m sure killing the Caped Crusader would have been easier than killing Horst,” she offered thinly.
Thomas didn’t acknowledge her discomfort. He put his arm around her as he told Thierry, “It would have made the upcoming week easier. I will be on tenterhooks watching De Castro strut around our King. His use of the North Man was infamous. The Mistress could have been killed.”
There was something about how he held her that made Karin feel more whole. She looked at Thomas as she said, “I can’t wish anything different. I would not be here in this place if anything had changed.”
Thierry made a retching noise and Thomas threw a vase at him, which the French vampire plucked from the air with ease. Thomas picked up Karin’s pants and tossed them at her. She returned the bottles to the refrigerator unopened and picked up the pants from where they landed. As she started to dress, standing gracefully on one leg, Thomas walked back to her and nuzzled her ear. She turned her head and they kissed as if they were the only ones in the room.
“Besotted,” Thierry smirked, “Both of you.” When Thomas shot Karin a very satisfied smile he continued, “What good is either of you to me now? How will I convince you to leave your bed and help me fight?”
“What fight is that?” Karin asked. There was something about how he said it that made her think Thierry wasn’t totally joking. ‘I’m like an old warhorse,’ she thought, ‘even tired and trembling; I still turn toward the sound of drums.’
Thomas’ expression turned sour and almost unconsciously, he stepped between Karin and the Gallic vampire, “Enough, brother! She is only now recovering. She does not need to be brought into your crusade!”
“Too late,” Karin laid her hand on Thomas’ arm. “What’s going on? I can sense that you are not as easy with each other now. I was wondering if it was me,” she caught Thomas’ eyes, “how we are now to each other, but I don’t think so. What is it you aren’t telling me?” She asked the question directly to Thomas. For his part, the English vampire turned to Thierry and gave him a blistering look.
Thierry shrugged and laughed, “Don’t blame me! She is too smart and that is your choice, mon ami. You trust her. I trust you.”
Thomas placed his hand over Karin’s, but he remained watching Thierry. “My brother has been working toward a challenge. He would kill Mikhail, New York’s King.”
Karin’s eyes went round. Now she did look at Thierry. The smile was still there, but there was no laughter behind his eyes. “You have a plan?” she asked.
“Not yet,” Thierry acknowledged, “but there are pieces that are starting to fall into place.”
“He is currying favor with Nabila,” Thomas supplied.
“She and I have common cause,” Thierry nodded. “She fears for her position, and she is smart to do so. Misha would not strike at her directly, but I know he is involved with the new vampires! Why would he be making vampires in this rash way? Why is he sending them across the country? They are barely trained. What is the purpose?”
Thomas tugged at her, “This is not your fight, Karin. You are only now restored to your Maker. There is no need for you to get involved.”
Karin looked at Thierry, “And you have a plan for me,” she stated.
“You have a singular talent,” he told her, his expression never wavering.
“No!” Thomas exclaimed. When she resisted his pulling, he stepped in front of her and turned to block her view of Thierry. “There is no need, Karin! This is not your fight. He has nothing but speculation.”
“I love you,” she said simply. She laid her hand against his cheek, “but you are not the boss of me. I do one thing, and Thierry is right, I do it very well.” Her eyes narrowed, “Is it your fight?” she asked her lover, “will you support him if he calls?”
Thomas’ head dropped, “If it does not break my vows to my King, then yes, I will support my brother.”
Karin leaned forward and kissed his forehead, “Well, then,” she smiled as if they were discussing a weekend outing or a party, “I’m in!”
Eric insisted they drive the many hours to Shreveport starting just after noon. That left him in his travel coffin in the back of the specialized van and not available to talk with Sookie. He agreed to her request to add a day to their travel plans so they could attend the party being held in their honor at Jason and Michele’s home. The point of the party was to have them bury a bottle of bourbon in Jason’s backyard in the general vicinity of where they would be standing to be married, but Sookie knew Eric was pouting about it. She explained that it was a time-honored tradition. She explained the purpose and said ‘But it’s fun!’ so often he could anticipate her and supplied the words himself, which just pissed her off.
“I put Pam off until after the pledging,” he growled. “Why can’t you do the same?”
Sookie snapped back almost by reflex, “Because real weddings are more than blood and a book, Eric. Real weddings take time!”
She immediately regretted the words. She knew her refusal to acknowledge their married status the last time had been a sore spot between them. She could tell the wound was not entirely healed when he asked, “And does this mean that I can’t introduce you as my wife after we pledge? Will you make me wait until you have your ‘real’ ceremony?”
Sookie apologized. She assured him she would make the announcement herself the minute the Ancient Pythoness made it official. It hadn’t really helped. Eric told her he understood, but she could see she hurt him and the thought of having to spend time with Jason and her human friends, knowing he was the only vampire attending, was salt in the wound.
They stayed at Pam’s safe house again. It was the closest of the residences, which meant it was still a good half hour away from Jason and Michele’s. On the other hand, it was only fifteen minutes from Fangtasia. As a way to help make the evening easier, Sookie assured Eric they weren’t expected to stay all night at Jason’s. She suggested a stop at Fangtasia to see Indira on their way back to the safe house. “It is sort of where we began,” Sookie said gently, “I’d like to stand there again,” and they agreed.
Charles and Owen brought Eric’s coffin into the house and secured things. Sookie found herself standing alone in the bedroom, her hand resting on the smooth, metal surface. It still disturbed her, this way of traveling. She found herself thinking back to every memory she had of relatives in their caskets, and the many memories that intruded on her from the thoughts of others that were shadows of this same picture. Of everything she had to accept or just overlook in order to make her relationship with Eric work, this was the hardest.
With a quick mental shake, Sookie busied herself, shaking out clothes, and picking an appropriate wardrobe for tonight. They needed to be casual, but still look presentable for pictures. Jason was hosting a pig pull and she was sure that the half pig had been slow roasting in its pit in the backyard for the better part of the day. Chances were good that Jason and his friend, Hoyt, started the whole process early and probably been drinking steadily since morning. They were good about pacing themselves, but if Jason was true to form, he’d be feeling no pain by the time they pulled up. That could go either way. If Eric recovered his sense of humor, Jason could be charming and funny. If Eric was going to be a crank ass, Jason would likely reciprocate, and Sookie could find herself wanting to bitch slap the both of them.
Sookie headed downstairs. On her way through the kitchen she found a large bowl of fruit salad and a note directing her to eat only the green salad in the refrigerator. ‘Twy!” she thought sourly. The woman read Sookie the riot act about weight, photographs, and weddings before she left. It seemed she had taken the extra step of cluing in her guards. The telepath ripped up the note, knowing if Eric saw it, his mood would only deteriorate.
With a sigh, she restricted her choices and took her plate to the outside deck. The last rays of the sun were still reflecting from the bright, new leaves of the trees that bordered the edges of the property. The deck was positioned in such a way that it sat in shadow for most of the afternoon, leaving the decking tolerable to bare feet. Sookie set down her plate on the little table and continued right out into the yard until she stood fully in the bright light of the setting sun. It was that thin, promising light of spring.
Sookie found the seasons influenced the feel of the light as it moved over her. Summer light felt like heavy, gold blankets against her skin. When she closed her eyes, she would feel it moving through her like a slow river that made her feel full. Fall was smoky and changing. Some moments it felt as if Summer had returned. Other moments it felt almost too sweet, like tea that had steeped a bit too long. The feeling of Winter light was different. It was so welcome, but Sookie could feel there was something missing, something that was just around the corner if only she could stay and soak up enough. But Spring? Spring light felt like every promise she had even been given was about to be handed to her. There was a quickening in her, a quickening she could feel from everything around her.
She found herself drifting closer and closer to the border of woods that encircled the property. She knew the guards were there, patrolling as they always did. She didn’t realize she was walking with her eyes closed, but she didn’t feel any need to open them. Her hand reached up and she laid it against a large tupelo tree’s trunk. It was almost as though she could feel the coursing of its sap, a strong, steady thrum running through it. Sookie stilled, listening to the song that she could almost hear singing passing through the tree and into her hand.
“Mistress?” Sookie jumped, her hand on chest.
“Oh, my goodness, you gave me a start!” she shook her head and smiled at Owen. Sookie’s head was a little foggy and then her eyes flew open, “Cheese and rice, I better get back and eat before Eric gets up! He is not crazy about tonight.” Owen didn’t say anything, but his lifted eyebrow seemed to say enough. Sookie chose to interpret that as scolding, “I know! It’s a lot to ask of him, but this means the world to me. Sam,” and Sookie stopped walking. It had been a while since she had thought about Sam in this way. She clenched her hands and continued, “Sam was from Texas. He had his own traditions and his momma made sure that the wedding was a real Texas party. We had the reception at Merlotte’s and we were married in a church. In the end, I didn’t have a lot to say about it.” Sookie found herself looking at the house, “I want to do this right. I want to know that every part of this is my choice and that I’m doing it because I really want to be married to him.” She looked at Owen, “That probably sounds selfish.”
Owen smiled, “No, Sookie. It doesn’t.”
The telepath flashed a smile, sniffed back her too emotional reaction, and marched to the porch where she sat down and soldiered through her dinner. The dishes were all in the dishwasher and she was hanging the dish towel when she felt the low tension in her chest that meant Eric was rising. With a quick smile, she headed for the stairs, and took them two by two.
The backyard was hung with Christmas lights on poles. There was a wood dance floor laid out on the grass and torches were blazing near the pond. Small children ran across the front yard as they pulled up and the smell of roasting pork hung heavy in the night air. Sookie couldn’t help the big smile that sprang to her lips and she turned to Eric.
Eric Northman was not smiling. Sookie’s smile faltered as she reached through the bond to him. He was feeling… repulsed? Appalled? He turned to her, “It is very noisy,” he said carefully, “and there are many smells.”
Sookie felt a brief flash of temper, and then she stopped herself. She knew that his sense of both hearing and smell were sharp. They were traits that had saved her on more than one occasion. She thought about how difficult she found it when she was expected to walk into a crowd of strangers, and she realized that this was now Eric’s experience, but instead of being bombarded with thoughts, he was being thrown into sensory overload. “Take my hand,” she reached for his. She made an effort to push calm and comfort through the bond, wishing that things would mute a little for him.
He squeezed her hand in return, “You are good at that, Lover,” he smirked. “I will have to determine how far your ability to push emotions extends some time. It has possibilities,” and his smirk turned interested in a way that was about more than just research.
“Karin called it ‘fairy Prozac,” she grinned back.
“My child has a way with a phrase,” Eric agreed, turning back to the scene around him. His expression took on a more skeptical look as he nodded once and Charles opened the door. They were immediately blanketed in the cacophony of sound that was a down home Louisiana backyard get-together.
“Sookie!” Tara’s voice cut across the noise. Sookie allowed Eric to pull her from the car and she smiled at him before half running to throw herself into Tara’s embrace. Eric pulled himself up to his full height, a polite smile on his face. If he thought to stand aloof from his future sister-in-law, he was mistaken.
Michele walked with purpose toward them. She was heavily pregnant and seemed to be carrying this child entirely in front of her. When she reached them, she put her arms up, grasped Eric’s upper arms, and in spite of his slightly alarmed look said, “You lean right down here and let me get some sugar!” Sookie could feel how unsettled Eric became. He leaned over slightly and Jason’s wife pulled him lower still, and kissed him soundly on the cheek. The Viking rather awkwardly brought his arms up to touch the woman’s sides. “What?” Michele exclaimed, “Is that all I get? I read stuff! I know you can do better by me!” Eric tightened his grip to hug her a little more securely. He caught Sookie’s attention and sent her a combination of anxiety and annoyance, but before the telepath could do anything, Tara stepped closer and demanded she get a hug too.
Jason emerged from the backyard and he called from a good ten feet away, “Hey! You made it!” He was walking pretty well, but Sookie recognized the slight roll in his stroll. When he got close enough he held his hand out to Eric, forgetting that vampires generally don’t shake hands. Eric looked over Tara’s head and Jason interpreted correctly, “Come on, Tara, get off him!” he said gruffly. When Tara detached herself, Jason stepped in closer and Eric feared that Sookie’s brother might try to hug him too. Instead he placed himself between the vampire and the women and said, “Come on, future brother-in-law! Let’s get you in the backyard and away from this hen house.” He gripped Eric’s arm, stopping for a minute to mumble, “Shit, guess you work out some,” and proceeded to walk in his slightly rolling way toward the barbecue, pulling a bemused Viking in his wake. Tara looped her arm around Sookie’s waist again and together the three women watched as the men rounded the corner of the house.
“I still can’t believe you get to climb that tree every night,” Tara whistled.
“Well, at least she won’t find herself looking like this,” Michele added, pointing at her belly. “Another boy!” she sighed.
Sookie smiled, “That’s great, I guess.” She knew Michele had been hoping for a girl.
“Yeah, your brother seems hell bent on building his own Duck Dynasty,” her sister-in-law sighed. She was close enough to the end of her term that she couldn’t travel. Sookie wanted both Jason and Michele to come to Indianapolis for the Summit, to stand with her for the pledging. Sookie asked her sister-in-law if she minded Jason being out of town so close to the birth but Michele just laughed. “Please take him! He’ll do nothing but fuss and moan and promise me he’ll never put me through this again. I’ll be better off with him away!” Sookie knew that despite her brave words, Michele wouldn’t be alone. Halleigh Bellefleur would be staying at the house to help out with things until Jason returned. ‘I wouldn’t have that problem,’ Sookie found herself thinking as she watched her sister-in-law carefully climb the porch steps, ‘I’d be so surrounded by helpers I’d feel claustrophobic.’ The telepath couldn’t keep the smile from her face. She knew in her heart that children were still a slim possibility, but being here, surrounded by family and friends, she could feel herself wishing hard.
Eric found himself maneuvered toward the pond. There was a knot of men and boys standing around a smoking square in the ground, and they lifted their eyes and jerked their chins in welcome, then they turned their eyes back toward the ground. Hoyt Fortenberry had a shovel and was lifting sod. Jason grabbed another shovel, and the two of them carefully lifted first grass, and then dirt. The smell intensified. Eric had a brief flashback to burying fresh bodies in new graves, but he suspected this crowd wouldn’t appreciate the joke. He found himself looking at the faces. Most of those here he recognized. He knew Tara’s husband, J.B. DuRone. He was the father of Sookie’s goddaughter, Sara. Then there was the policeman, Kevin Prior. He and Eric had had conversations in the past. Eric turned his head further to see Calvin Norris looking at him. The two men nodded formally and Calvin walked closer.
“Didn’t know if you heard we were rebuilding the old house,” the werepanther said as an opening. Eric had not heard, but he knew that Niall, the Prince of the Sky Fae, had made that promise to his Intended. He also knew the Prince wished Sookie to start coming back to Bon Temps regularly once the house was completed to work on developing her Fae skills. Calvin slid his eyes back toward the hole that was smoking more as the depression deepened. “Good thing they lined it with brick,” Calvin said dryly, “or it would have collapsed altogether, they put it so deep.” Eric nodded. In his day, meat was roasted over a fire or on a flat surface. Calvin shifted, “Course it will look a little different.” Eric glanced over, figuring the older man had returned to the topic of Sookie’s house, “Dermot comes out most days, directing things.” Calvin now looked directly at Eric, “Lots of improvements. Light tight glass all around and four bedrooms with a master suite up top. Worked on installing the central air today.” Eric knew there was a question in there, but before he replied he was pushed from below.
Bit had arrived and immediately wrapped his arms around the vampire’s leg. “Up!” he demanded. Eric could sense the eyes of the men around him. Without breaking expression, he reached for the young boy’s outstretched arms and lifted him easily up and over his head to sit on his shoulders.
“Well, I’ll be God-damned and go to hell!” Andy Bellefleur said, not bothering to be polite. Eric chose to continue watching the excavation. They had uncovered what looked to be chicken wire. Hoyt and Jason were pulling themselves out of the hole. J.B. was wheeling over the same mechanism Eric had seen used to lift an engine from a car. It was being positioned near the hole and lengths of chain were linked over the dangling hook.
“I’m going to have a brother,” the small person on his shoulder whisper-shouted into Eric’s ear. The confession was accompanied by a loud sigh and a tugging on the vampire’s hair. “A brother!” Bit sighed again and made a disgusted sound.
Eric raised his arms to press against the legs that dangled down his chest. Bit leaned his body so he could set his elbows on Eric’s head and put his chin on his hands. “You have a brother,” Eric said reasonably, “It will not be different to have another.”
“Yes, it will!” Bit whined, “He’ll want to play with my stuff and he will break everything. I won’t be the baby anymore. I’ll have to grow up and learn to share.”
Eric found himself smiling in spite of himself, “I also have difficulty sharing,” he told Jason’s son. “It is a hard lesson. Perhaps if you choose what things you would share. Surely there are things that are only enjoyable when you have someone else to play with. Those things could be shared things.” Eric felt himself in undiscovered country. He had spent time separating his sons when they fought. He had also been the disciplinarian when he was home. But these ‘feeling’ conversations had been Aude’s. He wondered if he was giving the child good advice.
“I know!” Bit said as if he had come up with a brilliant idea, but there was something in the child’s tone that told Eric the small human had finally come to his purpose, “I could come home with you! You don’t have any boys living with you, and I could be the only one!”
‘Pam would never let me live this down!’ It was a quick thought that punctuated the disorientation Eric was feeling. This was a small human. He should be running away right now, not begging to come live with a vampire. There was something that had turned in Eric’s world, and standing here, surrounded by humans who were drinking and eating, being manhandled by a child was bringing it all to a head. No one bowed to him. They all seemed too comfortable touching him. There was no retinue surrounding him. It had been one thing when it was just Jason’s family, but now, with this larger group?
“Uncle Eric?” the voice from above was less sure.
Eric reached up and lifted the young boy from his shoulders. As he lowered him to the ground he could see the look on Bit’s face, the fear of rejection. Eric saw a large rock nearer the pond and he took the boy’s hand. Together they walked to the rock and Eric watched as Bit climbed up a little so that he could sit next to the vampire, two men together, watching a smoking carcass get winched from the earth. “I think if you were to leave them, your parents would miss you a great deal,” Eric said carefully.
“They are getting a new me,” the boy answered.
Eric’s eyebrows drew together, “You believe this new child will be anything like you?” he asked.
“It will be a new baby,” Bit shrugged.
Eric’s mouth twitched, “Do you think that I am like your father?” he asked. Bit looked at him, his eyes suspicious and he shrugged. “No,” Eric supplied, “I am different, and Calvin Norris is different from me, and Hoyt, your father’s friend, is different too. Each of us were babies once, but each of us is different. You are different from your older brother. This new brother will also be different.”
“How do you know?” Bit asked.
“I had sons,” he heard himself say. “They looked much the same, but they were very different. All children are different, only themselves. This new brother will be different from you. He may be louder or slower or…”
“More stupid!” Bit supplied.
“Perhaps,” Eric nodded.
“So, I can’t go home with you,” Bit sounded sad.
“I am not going home from here,” Eric told him, “Your aunt and I will travel to Indiana next.”
“Oh,” the child sighed as if that was a final answer. “Well, I figured I’d ask,” A minute later he turned, hugged Eric, and then slid off the rock and headed back toward the house at a run, leaving Eric wondering about the resiliency of children. As the child got closer to the house, Eric saw Sookie coming out the back door, a wrapped bottle in her hand. He remained seated, enjoying the way she swayed as she walked. People called out to her, and she smiled and called back in return. She was smiling as a slight, brown-haired woman he thought was Norris’ mate hugged her. He could feel her happiness and when she looked at him, that happiness seemed to glow from her.
“I thought I’d find you out here,” she said as she approached and handed him the bottle of Royalty before sitting down and leaning against his arm. “How’re you holding up?”
“Fine,” Eric said automatically and found himself remembering when his Intended had used the same word with equal sincerity. “How much longer?”
Sookie shook her head, “A while,” she said evenly. “There is dinner, and then we bury the bottle. Folks will want to take photos, and then Hoyt’s band will start. They are kind of auditioning to be the band for our wedding, so you need to let me know if you like them.”
“I’m sure they will be fine,” Eric told her. He watched the men pulling a child’s wagon loaded with the wire-wrapped half pig up the hill. They headed toward a series of tables that were set in a line along the back of the house. He and Sookie were the only ones in this part of the yard now, and there was something primal about watching humans moving back and forth in the evening light. It made him want to hunt. Sookie punched him in the arm, “I wouldn’t really hunt them,” he said quickly, “It’s instinct.”
“Well, you better not, Eric!” she smiled up at him, “At least not unless I tell you that you can. I do have that contract after all!” and she screwed up her face into a Cheshire Cat smile that somehow made his good humor return. “Oops, I think we’re being summoned,” Sookie shoulder nudged him. JC and Bob, the DuRone’s boy, were running down the hill. Eric stood and offered his hand and together they walked up to the crowd awaiting their chance to toast the happy couple.
They were seated between Tara and Jason. Once Michele sat down, Jason tapped his fork against his glass and the noisy table fell quiet. “I want to welcome everyone who came out tonight to help us celebrate Sookie and Eric’s engagement.” There were some murmurs, but most folks were smiling. “I know some folks don’t hold with mixing species,” Jason looked around the table in a movement that had Michele placing her hand against him to make sure he wouldn’t sway too far, “but I am here to tell you, as God is my witness, that I couldn’t think of a better man for my sister. He has fought for her. Hell! He’s fought with her! He’s taken bullets for her. He has chased her and taken all the sass she could dish out, and let me tell you, she can dish a lot!” There was some general laughter around the table. Sookie had her Crazy Sookie smile pasted on her face and Eric was poised to step over his future brother-in-law if things got too out of hand. “But one thing I do know is that he will be there for her, no matter what. He could have given up on her, but he never did.” Jason turned toward them and raised his glass, “To Eric and Sookie!”
“To Eric and Sookie,” the others echoed.
It wasn’t Jason’s best speech, but it was genuine, and Sookie felt tears in her eyes. Jason winked at Eric, and then leaned over, “I love you, sis.”
Eric squeezed her hand as Sookie said, “I love you too, Jase.”
There was some applause and Jason started to take a bow, but Michele grabbed the back of his shirt just in time and he fell backward onto his chair, hard. Tara took the opportunity to lean across Sookie and say, “I’m going to need your guest list, Eric.”
“My guest list?” the Viking heard himself repeating.
“And who is your best man? Are you all set for tuxes?” Sookie turned to him, her face expectant, and Eric realized he had no clear idea as to what exactly was involved. Of course, he knew humans married using some ritual, but it had been many centuries since he had actually attended one. Still, the idea of another man who stood with you for the ceremony was easy enough to understand. But who would that be?
Eric ran through the options. To have one of his Sheriffs standing beside him would set one ahead of the other. He didn’t dare invite Pam to fill the role. She would be merciless and was doubtless already conspiring with Sookie. He briefly considered Thalia, but dismissed it just as quickly. The thought of the fierce woman standing in this crowd didn’t lend itself to any happy outcome. He even briefly considered ordering Bill Compton to fill the role. Eric glanced at Jason, “I was thinking Stackhouse,” he said.
He could feel Sookie’s disappointment beside him, “But Jason is going to walk me to you.”.
Eric looked down the table. While JC had not gone out of his way to spend time with Eric this evening, it was hard not to see the way the young man’s eyes followed the vampire. Eric made a point of looking hard at the teenager, then smiled slowly, “No, Sookie, I meant the younger Stackhouse.”
The table was getting quiet and from his seat, JC said, “Really? Holy shit!”
The teenager’s profanity was immediately followed by laughter and a hissing from his mother who said, “Jason Corbett Stackhouse! We will be talking about your language once our guests leave, but you will apologize right now!”
“Sorry, Mom,” he said, but he didn’t look sorry at all. “You mean it?” he asked Eric again.
Eric turned to Tara, “I recall you have a clothing store. Perhaps you can help my best man with a suit. I will be wearing Armani.” Eric glanced at Michele, “And, of course, the suit will be my gift for his standing with me.” Last, he turned back to JC, “Every young man should have one good suit.”
Next to him, Bob DuRone, Tara and JB’s son, punched him in the arm and said, “You are so lucky!”
Tara seemed to have a list of sorts, and she turned right back to Sookie, firing off questions about table settings, lights, and then she asked about colors. Sookie looked puzzled for a moment, Eric turned to her, “Perhaps it would be best to be consistent.” He turned to Tara, “The colors for our pledging are purple and silver.”
Tara frowned, and then said to Sookie, “Those sound like great accent colors. The dress you liked is cream, right? It might be okay if we make it more lavender than purple. You know, I saw a really nice morning coat that was sort of grayish lavender…”
Sookie turned to Eric, “You’ll be wearing black, right?” Eric nodded and Sookie turned to Tara and shrugged, decision made. She wasn’t going to ask Eric to wear lavender, no matter how secure she was in his masculinity. She was sure if she asked he would. Hell, he’d worn pink lycra without being asked, and that had left some folks around here thinking he was gay until she set them straight.
Tara moved on to food and something called favors, and Eric wondered if anyone would notice if he slipped into downtime. He was about to sit back and do just that when Sookie turned toward him, Hoyt and Holly’s youngest in her arms. The girl was little more than three and clearly exhausted. Her eyes were glazed and she had her thumb securely stuck in her mouth. Tara was asking Sookie if she would just come in the house for a second and apparently with no thought at all, Sookie handed the girl to Eric and walked away. The girl looked up at Eric, and the vampire looked right back. Finally, she seemed to come to some kind of conclusion and leaned a little more into him and shut her eyes. At that moment, Bit reappeared and made an effort to find room in Eric’s lap as well. Jason’s son settled on the opposite knee, turned his forehead into the Viking’s chest and grabbed a handful of shirt before shutting his eyes too.
From beside him, Jason laughed, “You sure do look natural doing that.” Eric didn’t know what to say. He was afraid if he said anything it would be taken the wrong way. What he wanted to say was ‘please take your children off me,’ and ‘tell Sookie it’s time to leave.’ Then he remembered that he had agreed to this, and he stayed silent. Jason stopped laughing. His face took on a thoughtful expression. “Say, Eric… you think you and Sookie might want to stand as godparents to our next one?” Eric could feel Sookie behind him. “I mean, you can say no if you like, but I can see you like kids and, well, I’d be honored if you would both consider it.”
Eric turned to Sookie and he could see she wanted this, so he told Jason, “I am not certain what is involved. If Sookie feels this is a good idea, I am agreeable.” In the back of his head, he could hear Pam howling with laughter and he knew he would feel Thalia’s disapproval. Still, Sookie was clearly happy and he decided to focus on that.
“Well, hell, now that that’s settled!” and Jason stood up. “Come on everyone! We got a bottle to bury!”
The crowd around the table stood. Sleepy children were shifted to shoulders. J.B. DuRone retrieved his daughter and Jason took Bit. Tara walked forward with a sealed bottle of bourbon. She handed it to Sookie, “Here you go, girl. Good, quality George Dickel. You bury this good and no rain will dare fall on you!” Andy Bellefleur handed Eric a shovel and Tara led the way to the area where the small tent would be erected and the ceremony conducted. “Dig here!” she pointed to a place in the ground. Eric dug what appeared to be a suitable hole. He expected Sookie to open the bottle and pour in the spirits. Instead, she placed the sealed bottle, upside down, in the hole and pushed it a little to make sure it was standing firmly on its head.
“Okay, Eric,” she said. “Fill it up.” Eric shoveled the dirt back into the hole and when it looked level, Sookie stepped on it to make sure the soil was firm. Phones were taking photos and Eric was sure there was at least one video. Sookie smiled up at him and he realized he was expected to kiss her here, in front of her friends. It had been an evening, so he handed the shovel to Hoyt, who happened to be standing closest, and then he gathered his telepath into his arms and kissed her until he could feel the heat of her blush through his lips. There was cat-calling and Sookie playfully slapped him on the chest when he finally released her.
“Now can we go?” he whispered against her lips.
“Sure can,” she sighed in return.
In the end it took another hour before they were able to leave, and they leaned against each other in the back of the car. Their next stop was Fangtasia. Charles texted as soon as they were on the road, alerting Indira that they would see her in about an hour.
As they passed the town borders and eased onto the highway, Sookie turned to Eric. “Did you tell Bit he could come and live with us?”
Eric’s eyes narrowed, “Why are you asking? Do you have the impression I would welcome small humans into our home?” He had meant it as a joke, but the tone in his voice was classic Sheriff of Area 5 Eric Northman.
Sookie’s eyes narrowed right back, “Well, I was just asking! Bit came running in the house and told Michele that he had talked with you, and you said it was okay.”
“Their child lies,” Eric snapped.
Sookie smiled, “All children lie,” she agreed.
“I don’t remember,” Eric told her, and then he realized he was answering more than her question. There was something about tonight, the proximity to children and human families that had stirred something in him, something he had buried long ago, and he wasn’t comfortable with it.
Fortunately, Sookie changed the direction of the conversation. “Do you think it looks the same?”
“What?” the vampire asked.
“Fangtasia,” Sookie answered, “I haven’t been there since, well, since the divorce.” Eric turned to look at her. The telepath was resting easily against him, but she was watching the road ahead, her thoughts racing. He could almost hear her replaying that night in her head.
“I did not think it would hurt you,” and Eric looped his arm around her, remembering how distraught she had been at her house when he flew to see her.
“If someone had asked me before it happened? I probably would have said the same thing. It wasn’t until it happened that I realized how much… well, how much I really cared about you. I was so angry and unhappy. I couldn’t see anything then.” Sookie turned into him, burying her face in his chest. “You know I wake up every day thanking God that things worked out. Some days I still can’t believe this is real. I wonder if it’s all just some dream and I’ll wake up and find myself back at Hummingbird Lane with Sam pounding up the steps ready to beat the tar out of me again.”
Eric squeezed her and kissed her head. “Well, perhaps I should find a way to convince you this isn’t a dream,” he murmured against her head. “I could have them pull the car over and we could find a tree. I’ll even pinch you, If you like.”
“Hush!” Sookie giggled and swatted Eric’s shoulder.
“I’m sure that Indira would let us use the office. Perhaps that would convince you,” he persisted. “Or there is the employee bathroom. I seem to recall that sink was fairly sturdy.”
“Cut it out!” Sookie giggled some more. Eric could smell the heat of her blush on her skin.
“The bar was interesting. Then there was the throne that once. I couldn’t believe I convinced you.”
“The bar was closed and locked. Would you stop?” Sookie jerked her chin toward the front seat, “I don’t need to be sharing all my secrets!”
“I’m sure it was no secret to the cleaning crew,” Eric nibbled her neck. “The basement…”
“Enough, Eric Northman!” Sookie sat up and started to pull away, but Eric pulled her back with one arm and tickled her side with his other hand until she climbed on top of him and started to tickle him back. He slid down on the seat, allowing her to rub across him and it didn’t take long for her to notice his interest was manifesting in other ways. “Stop it!” she hissed and shuffled back to sit on the seat.
“I intend to continue this conversation when we arrive,” he said, adding a leer to his look.
“Let me know how that turns out for you,” Sookie huffed, but he saw the smile playing across her lips.
Sookie could see the familiar sign when they took the exit. The outside shape also looked the same, but most other things did not. The color of the exterior was different. The parking lot had expanded and it was packed. There was a lanai over the front door and the line of people stretched into the lot. Owen pulled the car around back. The door was already open and Indira was standing in the parking lot waiting to greet them. She was not wearing her sari tonight. Instead she had on a well-cut black dress and fashionable flats. As soon as Eric exited the vehicle, she bowed low, “Your Majesty,” she said respectfully, “I welcome you back to Area 5.”
Eric inclined his head, and then held out his hand to Sookie, assisting her from the car. Indira bowed her head to Sookie and smiled. “How are you?” Sookie asked by way of greeting. She glanced at her clothes and Eric’s, “I’m afraid we may be a little underdressed.”
“You are always dressed perfectly,” Indira replied graciously, and then indicated with her arm that they should precede her into the club.
Sookie found she was nervous. How many times had she walked down this same hall? How many times had it broken her heart? She found herself remembering the night they killed Victor. She wasn’t sure why that was the memory that came hardest, but she found herself glancing at the walls as they walked past, looking for each blood stain or piece of residue. She could feel Eric’s concern and she gave herself a mental shake. She was being ridiculous. The wall colors were different. The lights were different. She could be in an entirely different place.
As they emerged into the club itself, Sookie appreciated just how much things had changed. Most of the booths were gone, replaced by high-tops and elegant stools. The club was sleek and sophisticated. The bar was backlit in neon, and the heavier lines were gone. It looked almost too upscale to be sitting in Shreveport, but then again, with the money flowing in from gas exploration, maybe it was on scale with Dallas or New York these days. The music was being provided by a DJ and Sookie could tell she was vampire. The dance floor was crowded and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Heads turned their way, supernatural heads. Sookie confirmed they were underdressed for the crowd, but there was not one minute of self-consciousness coming from Eric Northman. He strode through the crowd, accepting bows, and giving the obligatory head nod, the amount of acknowledgement precisely dictated by the relative importance of the person receiving it. Not for the first time, Sookie found herself thinking that this was a role Eric had been born to play.
Sookie looked away from Eric and realized that they were headed to a place that she did recognize. The corner booth, Eric’s booth, was still here. Rubio slid out from the seat, straightened, and made his obligatory bow.
“I thank you for agreeing to watch over the kingdom in my absence,” Eric acknowledged formally.
“It is my pleasure, Majesty,” the Sheriff of Area 6 replied.
A waitress arrived and Eric ordered the telepath her gin and tonic. Eric looked briefly at Indira and Rubio, “I have things I need to tell my Sheriffs, Lover,” he told her. “I won’t be long.”
“Sure,” she found herself nodding. It seemed strange, being back in this place where she had been forbidden. She almost felt that Felipe de Castro would come marching around the corner, or Freyda would look up from a table and hiss at her to leave. It was silly, really. Sookie decided, instead, to catalogue everything that was different. The wall coloring, of course, and the table designs. The lighting had changed and the ceilings were still dark, but the Hollywood gone bad vibe was definitely missing. There were no more Dracula movie posters on the walls. There was a gift shop, though, and that seemed to be doing brisk business. When her drink arrived, Sookie slid out of booth and headed over to that corner of the bar.
The shop was really kind of clever. It was built out like it was a different establishment. There were doors you passed through and the lighting inside was brighter. You could hear the music and the crowd noise, but there was also Muzak playing. The shelf closest to the door was lined with Fangtasia-branded items like coffee mugs and paper weights. Sookie looked up to see T-shirts hanging on display. There were shirts with the Fangtasia logo, but there were also t-shirts with Eric’s image. Then she saw a shirt that had their official wedding portrait on it. Sookie had been avoiding the news just so she didn’t have to see her own face looking out at her. She thought she looked terrible and her hair was too flat, but Eric had been complimentary. It was one thing seeing the portrait looking out at her from a frame on a table at home, but seeing it stretched across someone’s tatas felt different. There was a t-shirt with Eric’s Mr. January pose, too. She noticed that image was also available in poster size. Sookie started to feel as if she was in a fishbowl and too many people were pressed up against the glass. The vampire behind the cash register was watching her in that too silent way vampires had. When she turned to leave he bowed, “It was an honor to have you in my presence, Mistress,” he said formally. His recognizing her added to her feeling of being surveilled.
From the store she drifted over to the bar. She didn’t recognize any of the bartenders, but she hadn’t really expected she would. The traffic was heavy and there were three vampires working the drink orders in addition to a fourth at the far end whose job appeared to be handling the waiters. A seat opened and Sookie hoisted herself up, losing herself in watching the action around the bar. It was something she did when she was managing Merlotte’s and she found herself settling into the old routine. As she watched the way one of the bartenders was ringing out, she noticed a sign beside the register. It looked like her but there was a red circle around the photo with a slash across it. “What the hell?” she said out loud. Immediately all three heads behind the bar turned her way. They had given no indication that they’d noticed her before, but she could see that had been for her benefit. They were clearly aware of her and now she had their attention. The one closest to her walked over.
“Is there something that troubles you, Mistress?” she asked with a bow. The man sitting next to her was now also paying attention. Sookie could ‘hear’ him racking his brain to see if he could figure out whom she was and why she was commanding this kind of respect.
Sookie swallowed, pasted her nicest smile on and pointed, “Is that a picture of me?” she asked.
The vampire didn’t look back, “Yes, Mistress,” she replied.
From behind her Eric said, “Pam tells me it was put there many years ago. The bartenders here believe it deflects the evil eye.” Sookie jumped a little at the sound of his voice and turned around.
“Evil eye? Me? That’s not very funny, Eric. It’s kind of mean!”
Eric didn’t smile as he stroked her cheek, “You did have a habit of getting bartenders killed, Lover.”
“I did not!” Sookie protested, “It just kind of happened!”
“Exactly,” her Viking smirked. Then he took her hand, “Dance with me,” he commanded.
“Well, I wouldn’t if I didn’t want to,” she automatically sassed, pulling a toothy smile from the vampire. He led her out to the dancefloor and they found that they could still bounce their bon bons like it was ten years ago and they were just Eric and Sookie, two beings that had Rhodes and Fairies and Felipe de Castro ahead of them.
The music slowed and Eric drew her close, holding her hand against his chest as he gazed into her eyes. “You are most beautiful to me,” he said steadily.
“Even though I’m skinny and scarred and not anywhere near as naive as I used to be?” she asked as she clutched his shirt just a little.
“You will always be that young woman who walked into my club in a white dress,” he told her, and in that moment, nothing else mattered.