Author’s Note: Thank you to Breathesgirl and Ms Buffy. You have been troopers!
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.
It was nearing dawn when Eric returned to Hummingbird Lane. His clothes were stiff and his hair was shedding flecks of Day-Glo paint with every step. The distinct, round bruises had faded, and Stackhouse, good man that he was, had returned to the clearing with two bottles of still warm Royalty he’d picked up at his house. Rubio decided to go to ground with Indira, and Thalia said she would stay at Compton’s again. (“I like the idea of re-arranging his perfect things,” she’d told Eric. “When he returns it will make him scurry, straightening things, like the cockroach he is.”)
Pam waited for him on the porch. She stretched before saying, “Thank goodness! It was getting so late I was worried I’d have to crawl in bed with Miss Farts-A-Lot up there. Honestly, Eric, she makes the most awful smells.
“Her gut is generally quiet unless she has ingested something that is bad for her,” and he arched his eyebrow, “and did she? Ingest bad things?”
“Not my fault,” Pam one-shoulder shrugged in return. “Don’t know what was in those pink drinks, but she was powering through them like they were on the clearance rack at Wal-Mart.”
Eric frowned. It explained the tightness in his head. His Sookie had a headache and she was sharing it even in her sleep. “It was your responsibility to protect her.”
“Your wife is a big girl, Eric. Protecting her does not include regulating her personal habits. She’s safe and in one piece. She had a good time right up to when she didn’t. According to what I’ve seen on YouTube and Doctor Phil, she had a successful stag party,” Pam winked, “I did record it,” and Pam’s fingers flew. “There! I’ve texted it to you,” and she winked again. “Oh, and by the way, looks like you had fun tonight, too.”
Pam was smirking as she scrolled through the screen and then turned the phone toward him. Eric watched himself being barraged by paintballs, colors appearing as they impacted on his clothes. Pam used her fingers to expand on his face. Eric could see his surprise. It was not a good look. “I’ve taken the liberty of forwarding this to Maude and Russell,” Pam’s smirking progressed to giggling. “Oh! Wait! This is my favorite part!” She brought the angle back in time for him to see the moment a paintball had hit him in the nuts and the slightly cross-eyed way he’d reacted.
“I suppose you were responsible for suggesting the strippers as well.” Pam had started the new video showing him autographing one of the women. The dancer straddled his lap and arched so he could sign the area just under her breast. It segued to the next where he autographed a different woman’s inner thigh. What Eric hadn’t realized was that a second woman positioned herself behind the first and the angle, plus the way they were moving made the whole thing look like porn. “You will not share that one, Pamela!” Eric could imagine Sookie’s reaction.
Pam rolled her eyes and sighed, “You should see yourself! You look embarrassed and it’s making me embarrassed for you! She really has broken you, hasn’t she?”
“Leave her out of this, Pam,” Eric growled. “She may not be as indulgent as I am, and you won’t enjoy the outcome.” Pam didn’t seem at all worried. “I will be happy when these human rituals are at an end. I understand they are meant to build bonds. It was the same in my time.”
“Mine too. We would drink and dance,” Pam stood up and waltzed by herself on the porch. “The parties lasted until dawn. It was meant to signal the end of one life and the start of the next.”
“You might have had that, Pamela, if I hadn’t taken you,” and Eric was rewarded by the surge of love and gratitude he felt from her.
“I haven’t regretted it, not one minute. That life was nothing I wanted. I am exactly where I was always meant to be!” Eric let her feel his pride in her, and his fierce daughter returned that pride before sitting on the porch rail and asking, “So, are you going to tell me what happened tonight? I could feel it when your annoyance turned to something else. What is it?”
Eric stared back into the night, “We found a nesting site tonight, a rookery,”
“Around here?” The last traces of amusement dropped from Pam’s face.
“On the boundary with Compton’s lands. They have been bringing them here, to Sookie’s land, to transform.”
“Could it be a coincidence?” Pam balanced, a warrior ready for action.
The Viking shook his head, “I stopped believing in coincidences. When you are as old as I am, you’ll stop believing in them too.” Eric could feel the dawn. It was still some distance from them, but it was nearer than not. Pam would want to rest in her own home and that was some distance from here. “You must go, Pamela. Tomorrow night we can talk more. I am convinced that it is vital we discover the purpose. I feel it. This represents a danger to us.” Eric leaned forward and kissed his progeny’s forehead, “I will rely on you to help find that purpose in your travels.”
“I still don’t like leaving you,” Pam hugged Eric briefly, “so don’t expect me to let you off the hook too easily.”
“It would be best to stop our games now that the wedding approaches.” Eric felt strangely reluctant though. It had been many years since he and Pam had played with such intensity. It was enjoyable. “Oh, the clown car? It was one of your best.”
Eric pushed her toward her car. Eric scanned the tree-line as Pam’s tail lights disappeared, confirming Heidi’s presence. It occurred to Eric that Pam hadn’t confirmed their latest prank war was now over. He texted her, ‘You win. Truce?’
When he emerged from the shower, he found his text was still unanswered. “Pamela!” he grumbled before holding his breath and walking into the bedroom. As he lifted the blankets he found his nose wrinkling. He spooned against Sookie’s back and hoped that dawn would take him quickly.
He could feel the moment she found consciousness. Her breathing changed and then her eyelids fluttered. She drew in a deep breath and rolled, and then her eyebrows drew together. “Here, Lover,” Eric pricked the end of his finger and held it before her. “Drink.”
“My head hurts,” she said in that soft, sleepy voice.
“I know, min hustru, and if you didn’t forget that even pretty things can hurt you, it wouldn’t. But you know that unlike your friends, you can feel better right away,” and he touched her lip, leaving a smear of blood.
Without opening her eyes, she pulled her lower lip between her teeth. He saw her tongue flick out, the barest peek of pink. “Why do you taste so good?” she sighed. He leaned down to capture those lips, but her hands came up and braced against his chest, “Not yet! I’m pretty sure my mouth tastes like the inside of a donkey’s butt. Let me brush my teeth!” and she shuffled out of bed, her hair sticking up, and her bottom wiggling in a most appealing way.
He could hear every detail of her preparations, but it didn’t bother him, this more human aspect of her. In a strange way, it was comforting. Eric stretched out and propped his head on his arms, staring at the ceiling. He was hard, but he was hard at every rising. This sense of well-being was more than that. It was a remembrance of an easier time, a simpler time; Aude using the chamber pot, children murmuring, birds chirping as the village came to life around them. He could almost hear the crackle of the fire as his wife stirred the banked ashes and fed it new wood. It was a time when he knew all the rules and how his life would be. It was a time of fewer questions.
Eric looked around the clean, empty space. Over the ages, he had owned many houses. Most were beautiful and many were more beautiful than this one. It occurred to him that at no point in his long existence as a vampire had any one of them felt like home. From the bathroom he could hear Sookie humming in her toneless way. The water was running, and she stopped her humming long enough to spit. Eric smiled. This was right. This was best.
He stretched on the mattress, feeling the snaps and cracks of bones realigning. He thought of how her skin would feel, sliding against his under the pulse of the large showerhead, and Eric rolled to his feet. On the way, his toe stubbed against her clothes on the floor and he smiled, remembering all the times she scolded him for doing the same thing. Then his smile froze. The movement released a scent into the air. Eric bent over to pick up the blouse she had worn. It smelled of alcohol and Sookie, but mostly it smelled of Alcide Herveaux. Eric’s hand tightened and he raised the shirt closer to his face. With a growl he threw it away from him, and rushed into the bathroom.
Sookie was brushing her hair and he could see he startled her. She set down the brush, “What?” That was when he saw the list of names and numbers tracking up the back of her arm.
Eric didn’t mean to grab her as roughly as he did, “What is this?” his voice sounded angrier than he actually felt.
Sookie shook him off, turning and shoving against his chest, “What has gotten into you?” Her eyes were flaring and he could feel she was surprised, not guilty.
“Look at this!” and Eric took her arm again, holding it firmly when she tried to jerk it loose. He gestured toward the mirror, and the telepath looked over her shoulder. When she saw the writing, she wrenched herself away from him a second time, but now she was pulling at her arm to try to see the backside. She ended up holding her arm over her head so she could see the column of names and numbers written in black marker.
“I have no idea,” Sookie mused, and then her mouth drew together, “but I do kind of remember someone writing on me when I was leaving.” She looked up to meet Eric’s accusing stare, “What are you staring at, Eric?” and she turned on the spigot and turned to grab a washcloth.
“I suppose you don’t remember Alcide Herveaux getting friendly either.” Sookie stopped scrubbing at her arm and met his eyes in the mirror’s reflection. He watched the blush start at her neck and travel upward.
“Yeah,” she conceded, “I remember Alcide.”
Watching the blush deepen, Eric’s eyes narrowed, “And did you enjoy dancing with him, Lover? Rubbing against him? Dancing so that his scent covered you? Or did you take your clothes off first?”
Now it was his mate’s eyes that narrowed, “I think you had better reconsider where you’re going with this, Buster!” Her voice was tight, and some part of his brain was telling him to tread carefully, but the bigger part of him was imagining the former Packmaster pressed against his mate.
“Perhaps this was your wild oats, Lover?” The voice in his head was getting a little louder, telling him not to ask questions he didn’t want answered. He leaned over her, aware his fangs had dropped. Mustapha’s words came to him, “Perhaps your drinking allowed you to act on your real feelings?” Now his voice dropped to a hiss.
Sookie was backing but then he felt something inside her change. It was a shift, and then a break, and he stepped back from the strength of her temper. Her finger was poking him in the middle of his chest, “If that’s what you think of me, Eric Northman, then you don’t deserve me! Are you going to check me out to see if I cheated on you? Are you going to strip me naked and do a thorough check?” There was something in the way she said it that punched a hole in his anger. He caught an image of Sam Merlotte’s angry face and it made him straighten up.
“I am not thinking you cheated on me, Sookie…”
“What then?” She stepped right back into his space, not allowing him to retreat, “You don’t trust me? You think after all of this I would so much as look at anyone else?”
Eric dropped his eyes for a moment, but brought them back, “I am only saying you were drinking last night, too much. Perhaps it was bad judgment.”
“Perhaps it was,” Sookie’s nod was short, “but I did not even consider cheating. It was a set-up to embarrass me. Alcide is working there, at Hooligans. He was put up to it. It was entirely innocent…”
“Then you admit you let him touch you!” It was instinctual, this possessiveness, and Eric could feel the beast within him surge forward again.
“Yes, I did, Eric. Not intentionally, exactly. You had to be there,” Sookie wasn’t backing down, she wasn’t looking apologetic.
“You should not drink anymore,” he growled, “you must promise me!”
“I will not! You’re not the boss of me!” and then Sookie pushed past him, stalking back into the bedroom. She almost picked up her skirt from last night, but stopped, anticipating his reaction to the clothing She walked to the closet instead to retrieve her robe. After pulling her hair out, she turned back to him. “I can’t believe you are doing this! What more do I have to do to prove that I am yours?” Her mouth was downturned and she stalked back, her annoyance flowing from her in waves, “What will it take? I have given up my life here because I love you. I have willingly tied myself to you by vampire custom, and now I’m going to promise in every way that means something to me. I’m living in New Orleans and anywhere else you want to go. Even if we weren’t bonded, Eric, the fact is, my life is yours.” She walked back to the mattress and sat down with a bounce, “If frightens me sometimes, how much power you have over me.”
Eric sat down next to her, careful not to touch her, “I do not require a promise,” Eric looked at his hands, “but think about what I ask. When you have been angry with me here, you were drinking too much.” He glanced at her, but Sookie still looked angry. “I will run the shower,” he offered and stood up.
“And you haven’t done anything foolish either, right? Not done anything you think I might take the wrong way?”
Eric stopped. He thought about last night, but those women had not rubbed themselves on him. He had touched them briefly to write on them, but they hadn’t covered his clothing in their scent. They hadn’t written on his skin. To deny her accusation was not a lie if he considered the circumstances. “No, Sookie. I have not.”
“Well, that makes you a liar, liar, pants on fire, Eric Northman!” Sookie got up, retrieved her phone, and tossed it to him. “You know my password, Mr. High-Handed! Why don’t you take a look at that little file Pam sent me, and then I’ll just ask my question again!”
Eric held out the phone to her without bothering to look. It was wrong, attempting to be tricky with her. He could see it now, “When did you see it?”
“I got up this afternoon,” she just stood there, her arms crossed, “a girl has to eat. And there it was, waiting for me. And you know what? Didn’t occur to me for even one second that I was watching anything other than Jason torturing you. Guess that would make me what?” When Eric didn’t answer, she bit out, “The trusting one, I guess. Huh?” and she headed back into the bathroom. Now she did turn on the shower.
“There was nothing to it,” Eric said, following her into the bathroom. It wasn’t an admission, but he knew she had him. She knew it too because she sneered at him. She was under the water, the door open. She turned toward him, her head back, and the water running over her body. She was standing with her legs open and his cock responded. “I would like to join you, Sookie.”
She stepped toward him, his angry goddess. Her eyes were steady as she ran her hands over her breasts, “Would you?”
“Yes!” he hissed, his own hand traveling to his cock. He stroked himself as he watched her.
“I don’t think you’ve earned the privilege,” and she turned her back on him and stepped under the water, allowing him to watch the water run over her hair and then down her perfect ass.
He stepped into the shower stall, standing close, “I am sorry,” he whispered. “It is instinct.”
She didn’t turn around. She used a sponge to squeeze soapy water over her shoulder. The soap suds reminded him of twin trails of blood. He was achingly hard. “So, you are no better than an animal, allowing instinct to make your decisions?”
“It was unworthy,” he breathed her in. The sandalwood almost covered her scent. She was running fingers through her lower lips. He growled, “Allow me to make it up to you.”
She turned and reached out to take him in her hand. Her chin rose, “With this? You think sex will make it better?”
“Well,” and his smile crept up at one corner of his mouth, “It couldn’t hurt.” When she didn’t answer him, he said, “Do you know what I was thinking about before I smelled the dog? I was listening to you and thinking that for the first time since I became a vampire, I have found my home.” Eric reached over to take a wet tendril of hair and he placed it behind her. He allowed his hand to touch the bone that ran along the front of her shoulder, tracing it from her arm to where it joined at the base of her neck. He circled her slender neck with his large hand and then brought his thumb to trace her lip. “Be my home, Sookie,” he sighed. She stepped toward him, and he lowered his mouth to the lips she offered.
When he pulled back, she grabbed his earlobe and pinched, “What makes you think I would ever lower myself to consider Alcide Herveaux? Really? He just about got me killed!”
“I wasn’t thinking,” and Eric purred while turning his head to free his ear.
“You bet your ass you weren’t!” and his goddess bit the palm of the hand he raised hard enough to leave tooth marks. Eric felt his cock pulse, “Now you better be showing me how sorry you are, Eric! I expect one hell of an apology from you!”
Without hesitation, Eric fell to his knees before her, “Allow me, min Krigare Kvinna,” and he parted her while grasping her thigh to keep her in place. She was short enough that he had to lean over a little, but his tongue found her clit. First he tickled and then he lapped. Sookie’s hands grabbed his hair, her fingers tightened when he found the right speed, and then tightening more when he pressed his face into her so her could suck her swollen bud into his mouth, He released her thigh, bringing the fingers of that hand to play with her slit. Massaging, barely penetrating, one, and then two digits, he played her until his hands were the only things keeping her upright.
”Please, Eric! Please!” she begged.
”Only if you tell me I am forgiven, Lover,” he breathed into her, then sucked her harder, making her moan. He could feel her walls trembling around his fingers and he sped up, twisting to make sure he rubbed the right spot with each motion. She was falling, and so he backed her against the wall where the bench was installed. She collapsed and he followed her, bringing her knees over his shoulders, opening her to him. ”Forgive me, Mistress,” he asked as he might have asked Ocella in past.
”Yes!” she screamed, ”Yes! Oh my God!” She was frantic, her hips rising to meet his tongue and fingers, her orgasm taking her so strongly she hit her head against the wall.
As soon as he heard the answer he desired, Eric stood and scooping her up, impaled her on his length. He used his weight to keep her in place against the wall. She was so tight and his penetration caused her walls to tighten further. Sookie’s head arched back as he thrust and then withdrew almost completely, only to impale her again. She brought her arm to her mouth, biting it to keep from crying out. ”There is no one to hear you, Lover! Tell me!”
”Eric! You feel so good!” she was loud, shouting to the ceiling, her eyes shut, ”Oh yes! Fuck me! Harder! Harder!” The angle against the wall was pleasant, but he was not able to open her as he wished. Cradling her globes, he walked her back into the bedroom and laid her at the end of the bed. With a quick movement he had her ankles over his shoulders and then he pressed her knees farther apart so he could fully seat himself in her.
He slid back and she moaned. ”Lover! Sookie! Look at me! Let me have your eyes!” and his wife, his lover, gave him what he wished. ”Watch me come undone for you, Lover. See what you do to me!” and Eric allowed her to see his lust and his love, his passion and his vulnerability. When he came, he whispered, ”I’m sorry, Sookie. I was wrong to doubt you.”
”You better believe it, Eric Northman!” and his Sookie arched with him before they both collapsed together.
The rehearsal dinner wouldn’t start until ten o’clock. ‘Vampire hours,’ Twy called them. Sookie rose above him. He held her hips, helping her twist just a little as she met him, her walls pulsing. It was sublime, and as he felt himself twitch, his balls drawing close a final time, she fell forward to lie across his chest. His hands moved to drift slowly up and down her back. He lifted his hips to grind into her again, loving the feel of her, warm and tight. “Eric,” she said in that happy, sated way. And then her stomach growled. It was loud, so loud he laughed.
“Do you suppose I’m in danger?” he said to her golden head.
“I guess someone helped me work up an appetite!” She was stroking his nipple. She blew across it and he drew in a quick breath, her action causing him to pulse again.
“I could text someone to bring you food,” he was feeling very lazy. The thought of spending the next few hours in bed was appealing. Demanding sex had transformed into love-making, and Eric didn’t want it to end too soon.
“No, if someone comes I’ll feel obligated to get up and get dressed. I’ll have to offer them something and it wouldn’t be polite to ignore them. I’d have to ask about their family and how they’re doing and then I’d have to thank them for helping,” and Sookie sighed.
“You should be like me,” Eric offered. “Demand what you want and forget the rest.”
Sookie sat up, letting him slide from her. “Sure, that’s you, Mister Rude,” and she grinned. “You are one big faker, Mr. Northman! You take care of everyone! It’s why folks are loyal to you. You may not be all La-Di-Da on the outside, but folks know they can count on you. That goes a long way.” Sookie left the bed and stooped to pick up his paint-crusted shirt, twisting it a little and then staring at the flakes it was shedding on to the floor. With a roll of her eyes, she picked up her bathrobe, “Be back in a minute,” And she headed down the stairway that Eric knew led to the kitchen.
Even though she was floors below him, he could hear her. She was pulling things from cabinets and opening the refrigerator door. The water ran and he assumed she was making a pot of coffee. He thought about getting out of bed to help her, but reached for his phone instead. He confirmed Mustapha sent Weres from LongTooth Pack to patrol their woods during daylight. He trusted his day man more than he had ever There was also confirmation that a vampire was watching over them. Eric had an idea who it might be.
He rolled to his side so he could more comfortably scroll through emails. He knew there was furniture in the rest of the house, but not here. This room held only the mattress and box spring. He saw the suitcases on the floor near the far end. One held the toys Sookie had received as gifts. Exploring them had been most enjoyable. The other he assumed held clothes for his wife.
There were messages from Thierry and Thomas. He scanned both, and then read through each more carefully. He pressed the contact button and Thierry answered on the second ring. They talked about construction, and the options for bringing both wind turbines and natural gas wells on line. Thierry had narrowed his choice of firms down to a final two. Eric asked to delay the meeting until his return from Nebraska. If they were both there, Eric Northman could allow Thierry to be the good vampire. Eric’s role as bad vampire would make clear the penalty for failure. It was an effective ploy with humans.
Thomas’ message was more news and less critical. The flow of vampires through Arkansas seemed to be slowing. Thomas’ assigned Area in the northern part of the state showed promise, and he would be investing money, both his own and Eric’s, in developing lumber rights. There was a short paragraph about Karin, more like two lines, but Eric got the impression his headstrong, fractious daughter was showing signs of restlessness. If Thomas could tolerate her absences, all would be well. If the vampire was looking for a more formal arrangement, Eric doubted the tie between them would survive. Karin was a wanderer, and the demons that drove her were strong.
It was pleasing, having talent like this at his command. Without realizing it, he started to whistle. There was an email from Maxwell Lee with contracts and projections for Fangtasia, Ltd. He forwarded them, sight unseen, to Pam. He trusted them to run their business and furnish his cut. He did open the second email titled, “Touissant.” The New Orleans Packmaster wanted a meeting with both he and Sookie upon their return. He heard about Mustapha Khan, and was worried that the prior relationship between the King and his former day man would edge out his Pack. Emil wanted to be a leader in efforts to unite the Packs and he wasn’t interested in sharing the limelight. Eric sighed. This petty jealousy was one of the reasons he doubted the ability of Packs to form lasting alliances. The Weres didn’t have an Ancient Pythoness capable of manipulating them into greatness. He texted Max back authorizing the meeting.
He was just hitting send when he heard her return. He set the phone down and rushed to the doorway, taking the tray of food from her hand. She had a bottle of blood and a large cup of coffee trapped in the fingers of her other hand. Eric set the tray on the bottom of their makeshift bed and climbed back under the covers, holding the blankets up for her. His Sookie was delightfully warm against him, but rather than settling back into his arms, she reached for the tray and removed several books. They were catalogues with papers sticking from them and she arranged herself cross-legged, flipping open a page. “What do you think of this one?” There were photographs of beds and matching furniture. The one he was looking at was dark wood and appeared solid. When he didn’t react immediately, she pulled the book away, and flipped to another picture. This was more modern furniture in a lighter wood. He found it appealing, but he couldn’t see it in this room, so he briefly shook his head. “Good!” she said. “I didn’t think it was a good fit either.”
She picked up another book and flipped it open to something called French Country. It was appealing, but he asked, “Would you consider using my furniture? It is still in storage from when I left.” He didn’t need to explain, but he found he couldn’t meet her eyes either. They both knew he was referring to before his marriage to Freyda.
“I don’t want the furniture from my old bedroom. I don’t even want to see it!” It sprang from her, and he could feel pain.
“Of course, Lover!” Eric realized she hadn’t forgotten the incident with the Were, Kym. He picked up the catalog, angry with himself. His comfort was not worth the reminder of that painful incident.
Then, his Sookie surprised him, “I’m fine with the other furniture, Eric. It’s just that bedroom set. Oh, and the coffee table from the living room. Not that either! But the rest? I know I didn’t spend much time with you in your real bed. Stupid on my part, but I really liked it. I think you did, too,” and she smiled at him, her face bright.
“I did,” he looked at her now. “That bed, those furnishings, they have value to me.”
Her smile didn’t falter, “Grandfather reminded me you have other things too. I remember paintings and knick-knacks you had on shelves and tables. I’d like you to have your things around you.” Eric nodded. He hadn’t suggested taking his belongings from storage for several reasons. The Palace was already furnished. To have personal things in places where so many moved in and out seemed a risk. He knew as much as he was settled in that place and into his role as King, he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the amount of exposure it required. The other reason was that he didn’t wish to remind Sookie of everything she lost when the fire took her family home. She returned from a trip here with some photographs and the old, ugly afghan. He thought it was all she had left of her history, and he knew that it left her feeling adrift. It seemed somehow unjust that he, who had been a vagabond for centuries, would have trinkets while she, for whom family and history was everything, did not.
“It would sure warm the place up some,” she was saying, looking around the bare walls.
“I can think of something else that could warm the place,” and he plucked the banana she was eating from her hand and then painted her lips with it. Instead of opening her mouth and sucking it as he hoped though, she lunged forward and bit off the end, then winked.
Eric winced and she laughed outright before saying, “You know, I blame both you and Pam for this.”
“The way we make love?” he asked, making sure he maintained a hopeful expression.
“Don’t play stupid with me, Eric!” she growled. “The fight! If you had both stopped when I asked, we wouldn’t be going at each other.”
“I told her tonight that I concede. I have finished it,” he told her. He thought about the lack of response from his child, but he would clear that up later. He asked Pam not to send the video. She had not exactly responded, but now he realized she had already played her trick, so she couldn’t retract it. “I think we can be comfortable that the next two days will be incident-free.” Sookie finished eating and was starting to get up, so he looped his arm around her to pull her back against him. She batted at his hand, “I was thinking I should apologize again,” he said. Tonight was the rehearsal dinner. If they were late no one would mind.
“We have places to be and people to see,” his wife scolded him, heading back toward the stairs to take her tray downstairs. She was walking naked. He wondered when she would realize it. It would require some planning, but it was well worth arranging protection so that they could have this place as their sanctuary. He felt the moment she realized what she’d done, that quick burst of embarrassment. It felt warm and he chuckled, rolled out of bed, and got the shower started again.
Pam met him downstairs with clothing, Sookie’s dress and his suit. His daughter, ever the helpful one, remembered to bring the diamond and pearl necklace his wife would wear. She would look like starlight walking through the gardens of the Gallery. “The limo will be here in an hour,” she told him, then turned and left. He was going to confirm that the prank war was over, but he was distracted by the familiar face standing on the porch.
“Gee, Mr. Eric, guess it’s a good thing no one is around here,” Bubba was looking slightly scandalized. Walking naked was natural for the Viking, but for his once-famous friend, this was a habit Bubba wouldn’t embrace.
“It is good to see you, my friend,” Eric smiled. “Sookie will be most pleased. I will tell her you are here.”
He was turning back to call to her when Bubba said, “You know what? I’ll just sit here on the front porch while you all get ready for your big night. Take your time.” If the big man had been able to blush, Eric was sure he would have.
“Of course,” the Viking smirked, heading back into the house. Eric suspected Bubba had returned. It was in the way Mustapha phrased his text. Eric knew their friend had been in Texas for some time. He and Stan Davis got along famously. Stan had built a pinball machine room just for the two of them, but Bubba was recognizable, and his remaining in any Area too long was dangerous. Bubba was fond of Sookie, so it was always a matter of time before he returned. Eric walked up the stairs, meeting his wife as she emerged from the bathroom. “We have company,” When he told her who it was, he felt her genuine pleasure.
As she turned, he could still see the names and numbers, fainter, but still on her skin. He growled and bit out, “The writing. It’s still there!”
Sookie rolled her eyes and shrugged, “It must have been permanent marker. I’ve scrubbed until my skin feels like it will come off. It’ll be gone in a day or two. I’ll just throw a shawl over my shoulders.” Eric couldn’t keep the curl from his lip and his wife put her hands on her hips, “Just what do you expect me to do?”
“If you were vampire, I’d slice it from you and then use blood to heal the area.” It was not reasonable, but there was some small part of him that hoped she’d agree. Instead, she just stared at him until he turned away. While his wife dressed, Eric texted Indira and then Mustapha Khan. He asked to have the contents of his storage lockers brought here and round the clock surveillance until other arrangements could be made.
While it was pleasant to have the house to themselves, there would be guests from time to time. The property was large. He would talk with Jason Stackhouse tonight about getting a second structure built. It would be a place guards could live and guests could stay. It could be out of line of sight, allowing his wife to maintain her privacy. He thought about his Sookie sun tanning here as she had long ago. He was smiling with that memory when she walked back toward him, her hair upswept just a little before falling in soft waves over her shoulders. Her head tilted as if questioning him. “I was thinking of you making those patterns on your skin.”
“My tan lines?” she almost laughed. “You really like that, don’t you?”
“It’s like a map, Lover, leading to all the best places,” and he didn’t bother retracting his fangs as he kissed her. She licked first one fang, and then the other before caressing his tongue with her own. She was perfect.
It wasn’t long enough before she was pushing him back, “Get finished! I’m going to go down and chat with Bubba,” and his Sookie was walking away from him, her heels causing her gait to roll ever so slightly.
‘It was all worth it,’ he thought. ‘Every challenge, every disappointment, every setback, because it led to here.’ Eric Northman could see a future before him, and for the first time in many years, it was a future that was more light than dark.
“I sure wish I could go with you,” Bubba escorted Sookie to the waiting limo. Charles was in the passenger’s seat. Owen would be following.
“Well, now that we’ll be coming back here more often, you can come and visit as often as you like,” Sookie leaned up and very gently kissed the vampire’s cheek, then rubbed away the faint trace of lipstick.
“Well, shucks, Miss Sookie, you shouldn’t be giving away your kisses, especially with Mr. Eric standing right here!” and Bubba winked.
“I’m just fortunate I saw her first,” Eric replied.
“Yup, you sure are!” Bubba agreed and he closed Sookie’s door.
Eric turned to their formerly-famous friend, “I count on you, Bubba. I know you’ll keep an eye on our girl. It lets me rest easily.”
“Thank you, Mr. Eric,” he grinned, “means a lot to me that you trust me that way.”
Bubba stood in the driveway and waved as the cars headed for the main road. The drive to the Norton Gallery where the reception dinner was taking place would take half an hour, and Sookie fiddled with her phone. Almost unconsciously, she reached across the seat to place her hand in Eric’s. With a sigh, he pulled her toward him. The moon had risen near full and Eric watched it float above the trees, seeming to climb with each passing mile.
There were lights that greeted them as they drove up to the entrance that led into the gardens. The air was heavy with the scent of flowers. The music from a jazz quartet made every step seem as if they were part of some Hollywood movie. People in suits and long gowns turned toward them and Sookie navigated between those people they had spent time with, those they met, and those who were here hoping to become more in their lives. Weres mixed easily with humans, but the vampires remained aloof. All in all, everyone seemed to have a marvelous time.
The caterer who arranged the aerated blood at Sookie’s bridal shower was there and the novelty was well received. Everyone seemed to have glasses in hand. Sookie watched Tara and JB DuRone approach, both impeccably dressed, easily fitting into the crowd. “You look like royalty!” Tara declared. When she released his wife, she smiled up at him to say, “JC is over near the head table. He’s so nervous about making a toast tonight. It’s his first public speech.”
Eric saw Sookie intended to find her nephew, so he headed her off, “Stay here, Sookie. I will speak with him.”.
The Viking found his best man standing with his friend, Robert. He had a paper in hand and he was reading the words out loud. His friend was making faces causing JC to stammer and choke. Eric was reminded of Pam.
“Perhaps I can help,” he said when he was close enough. Both boys jumped and JC turned red. Eric wondered if this blushing was a Stackhouse trait. “What I do,” Eric continued, “is read the words through once and then I think about it. When it is time, I say what the words mean. I don’t worry so much about memorizing it.” Eric didn’t bother to tell the human that as a vampire, he had perfect recall.
“You don’t worry about getting it right?” JC asked.
Eric shook his head, his expression thoughtful, “If the words are close, and you say it from your heart, it will be fine. Trust me, I have had a long time to figure this out.” He laid his hand on JC’s shoulder and the young man straightened under his hand.
Eric found himself saying, “Perhaps, if your friend wouldn’t mind, you would stand next to me this evening. You are my best man and I believe you have been to these human weddings before. I would count it a favor if you could explain things to me.” Young Stackhouse seemed to grow a few more inches as he nodded nervously. Eric saw the look he gave his friend and knew that this had given the boy confidence.
For the next hour, JC was introduced to everyone who approached them. Eric asked his opinion and engaged him in conversation. When JC’s attention diverted to what his friends were doing, Eric released him. Sookie looped her arm back through his, “You made his night, Eric. I thought his face would break in two, he was grinning so hard.”
“He is a young man,” Eric shrugged. “I was a young man once, too.”
The signal was given for dinner, and guests started moving toward the place where tables were set up under the tents. When everyone sat down, there was a tapping against wine glasses. Jason Stackhouse stood up and made a short speech. When it was JC’s turn, the boy stumbled a couple of times, but did a credible job. He was bright red, but beaming at the end. A business acquaintance stood next, followed by another business associate. The speeches were all similar, wishing the couple well and hoping they continued to grace the area for many years to come.
Throughout the evening, Al Cumberland worked through the crowd, taking group shots and individual photographs. Sookie agreed to give Al exclusive access to both tonight and the wedding tomorrow, so she wasn’t surprised when Al positioned himself near the head table as the announcement that the groom’s cake would be presented was made.
“That’s odd,” Sookie glanced at Michele. “I thought they would have done that tomorrow at the wedding.” Brock stood next to Al. There was something about it that had Eric leaning forward. Twy was nowhere in sight, and then Pam stood up and walked away from the head table.
A waiter wheeled in a table that was covered. At a signal, he removed the cover and there was the cake. It was a replica of the clown car. It was almost three feet long and at least a foot high. It was exact in all details and Eric’s eyes narrowed. “Pam,” he growled, but he didn’t get any further because the cake began to play a tune. It was a child’s tune, “All around the Mulberry Bush.”
Sookie took Eric’s hand, saying, “I have a bad feeling about this.” No sooner were the words out of her mouth than the song came to end and there was a distinct ‘pop’. A large clown erupted from the cake, spewing pieces of cake and frosting into the air. Since Sookie and Eric were sitting closest, they were both covered. Chocolate cake clung to their clothes and bits of colored frosting and fondant stuck in their hair. The impact wasn’t hard, but they both felt it. Cameras clicked. Guests laughed. Eric’s eyes narrowed. Sookie smiled through gritted teeth, “She’s a dead woman!” she told him.
“She’s already dead,” he reminded Sookie. He could feel his mate’s annoyance, but he was finding it hard to be truly angry with Pam. It was brilliant. He turned to Sookie, her mouth screwed up, her eyes burning. She had a piece of fondant with lettering on her shoulder. He lifted it off and offered it to her. He realized if her eyes had been lasers, he would have found himself finally dead. “You must admit, Lover, it showed a certain flair,” he said reasonably.
“I’m covered in cake,” her voice was low and tight.
“Yes,” Eric nodded, “so now you are sweet.”
Her lip quirked up. He had tickled her sense of humor, but she was fighting it. He picked a large piece of cake from his sleeve along with some drippy filling and offered it to her and the edge of her mouth crept up more. “Yeah, guess I can’t deny it now, can I?” her voice was more relaxed.
A piece of fondant fell from her upswept hair into her lap and it startled her, and then she started to laugh. The quartet started playing and his wife held out her hand. Together they circled each other on the dance floor, picking debris from each other and laughing at the absurdity of it all. The pictures Al took became part of a collage Sookie hung in their sitting area, ‘to remind us never to forget to laugh,’ she said. The newspapers printed a photo of Eric laughing with Sookie in his arms. They called it proof that vampires were just like humans.
Pam arranged for extra clothes, so after a couple of dances, Brock directed them into the Gallery so they could change. Others who were at the table and caught some of the cake explosion had already found their way inside.
There were attendants there to help clean clothes, but Sookie could hear real annoyance from Michele and others. There was no time to get things dry cleaned, and they were wearing their good things. If their suits and dresses were ruined, there was no easy money lying around to just go out and buy more. Sookie resolved to make this right, although she knew pride would keep her friends and relatives from complaining.
As she exited she found Eric, “I thought you said you stopped this.”
“I thought so too, Lover.” He was trying to respond in a serious way, but he couldn’t hide his amusement. He confirmed it when Pam re-appeared, and he wrapped her in his arms and kissed her forehead.
Sookie watched them. Eric chastened Pam. Pam smirked and acknowledged she had masterminded the cake. Sookie could see the wheels turning again, and she realized she would need to take matters into her own hands. With a bright smile, she detached herself from Eric and went in search of the person she felt could best help her.
Pam woke up with the feeling that something was terribly wrong. Her skin felt stretched somehow. Her eyes opened and she was looking at her room. It took a whole second to realize she was looking at the wall and not the ceiling. She tried to move and couldn’t. She turned her head to the side to see her reflection in the mirror and she screamed. Someone had duct-taped her to the wall. From her toes, which were several inches above the ground, to her shoulders, she appeared to be in a cocoon of dull silver.
There was a knock at the door. She figured it was Brock. She and Twy fought before the rehearsal dinner. Twy refused to accept Pam’s explanation of where she’d gone following the stag party, and the publicist left in a huff, checking into a hotel. Now, seeing herself, Pam wondered if she was going to have to end the New Yorker. “Get in here!” she shouted. The slight assistant opened the door, flicked on the light, took one look, and then sat down on the floor, his mouth wide open. “Get up!” Pam screeched, “And get me out of this! Where were you today? Are you going to tell me you weren’t in on this?”
The assistant stumbled to his feet and found a pair of scissors in the middle of Pam’s bed. He was looking at a note, but when Pam said the last sentence, his eyes had narrowed. “If I had anything to do with this, I’d be pretty stupid to free you, now wouldn’t I?”
“Or smart,” Pam bit out. She tried to wrench some room into the bindings by twisting, but she couldn’t budge.
Brock’s eyes narrowed, “Before I do anything, I think you should read this,” and he held the note in front of Pam’s face.
I love you like a sister, but if you pull one more prank before we return from Nebraska, I’ll chain you in your coffin and throw away the key.
P.S. Cut it out! Left you scissors.
“Bitch!” Pam spit, but Brock could hear the new note of respect.
Sookie turned as Michele hooked the last small clasp in the back of her dress. The princess neckline was demure, but low enough to expose some cleavage. Long, gauze scarves passed through loops on the bodice, and then ran over Sookie’s shoulders, through more loops, flowing into the full, long skirt. The ivory field of the gown with its bursts of red flowers glowed against her skin. Tara brushed more pink to the sweep of her cheekbone and then ran the brush across the line of Sookie’s shoulder blades.
Pam sat in the chair in the corner. She had been quiet but cordial since her arrival, and Sookie took that as a good sign.
“Well, I think you’re just about ready!” Michele announced, and turned Sookie to look at herself in the large mirror. The woman Sookie saw, surrounded by her formally gowned bridesmaids was beautiful. Her hair swept up, small curls hanging to frame her face and accent her long neck. There was a bouquet of daisies and roses sitting on the bureau, and smaller bouquets with the same flowers for Michele, Tara, and Pam.
“It’s the way I always imagined!” Sookie felt tears threaten and Pam was beside her in an instant.
“Don’t you dare ruin your makeup!” her vampire sister hissed. While the telepath dabbed her eyes dutifully, Pam retrieved her purse. “Dear Abby always said there were things a bride should have for her wedding day.”
Tara stepped forward, “Something new,” and she handed Sookie a handkerchief embroidered with small flowers. “Owen tells me you borrow his a lot.”
“Something borrowed,” Michele said next, and held out some small pearl earrings. “Jason said these belonged to your mother. She gave them to him, and I’d like to lend them to you for today.” Sookie smiled and used the new handkerchief before placing the pearls in her ears. She remembered these earrings. They reminded her how much her mother preferred Jason. Borrowing them for the day was fine. Sookie felt no need to have reminders of the woman who had feared her.
“Something blue,” Michele turned from the bureau with a blue, ruffled garter in her hand. “Come on!” and she pulled a chair over. Sookie lifted her foot onto the chair and Michele looped the garter over the telepath’s shoe and then up until it sat on her thigh.
Now it was Pam’s turn, “Something old,” she said, and opened a red velvet box. The necklace was pearls and rubies. The setting looked Victorian. The rubies were set in a gold collar, each stone rimmed with small pearls. Larger pearls were strung to loops to hang between the ruby medallions. The vampire moved behind Sookie and fastened the necklace in place. “There, now you are complete!” and she turned Sookie to look in the mirror once more.
“Mad at me?” Sookie asked.
“No,” Pam shook her head, “I had it coming. Still, I know you didn’t do it alone…”
“I’m not telling,” Sookie interrupted her. “And just to be clear, no more tricks, right? No exploding cakes or collapsing chairs.”
“I never thought of chairs,” Pam said thoughtfully, then winked at Sookie’s look of panic, “Scout’s promise. No more pranks until after Nebraska.”
“I guess it’s the best I can hope for,” and the telepath and her bridesmaids headed for the stairs.
Outside, Eric stood near the pond with JC beside him. The best man was dutifully trying to pin a boutonniere on the vampire’s suit and making a mess of it. Jason stepped in and took over, “Nervous?” he asked. Eric wondered why he did and if there a reason to be nervous. His eyes flicked to Thalia, but she had gone into downtime.
“No,” JC answered, and Eric realized Jason was speaking to his son. He found himself glancing back toward the house. They had been in there over an hour already. Sookie went upstairs with the women and he found himself outside, talking with these many townspeople… friends, he reminded himself. When Mustapha arrived with Warren, Eric found a welcome distraction in hearing how the Were helped his mate strap his progeny to the wall of her own home. There was a photograph, and Eric quickly texted it to Maude and Russell. Payback felt sweet. When the Were drifted away to speak with Calvin Norris, Eric was sandwiched between Rubio, who was welcome, and Maxine Fortenberry, who was not.
The older woman had done something with her hair and she smelled of noxious chemicals. She was also creaking. It reminded Eric of corsets, and he thought it possible she was wearing one the way she held herself. Maxine Fortenberry talked and talked about Adele, Sookie’s Grandmother. There were stories large and small. The woman seemed to think that Eric was interested in cooking and knitting, because she described these aspects of the deceased woman in some detail. Then she said, “I guess that’s where Sookie gets it,” and Eric realized the woman was trying to tell him stories of his wife’s history. In his day, there would have been a singing where the saga of his bride’s family’s history was made known. This funny woman with her serious look seemed an unlikely substitute, but it would appear this was her role.
“Thank you,” Eric said solemnly, and bowed. Rubio snorted beside him, but stopped when Eric made his displeasure known.
“I think Adele would be happy she’s marrying you,” Mrs. Fortenberry said with a sniff. She cut her eyes at Eric’s Sheriff, then moved away, her body moving naturally except for the area around her middle.
“So, you are ready?” The Reverend Collins wore a black jacket.
Calvin Norris stood beside him, “I give you credit, Northman. I didn’t think you’d go through with it. You’ve done her proud.”
“Why wouldn’t Mr. Northman wish to marry Sookie?” the Reverend Collins asked.
“It’s not the marriage,” Calvin winked, “it’s all the foolishness Jason put him through along the way.”
Jason shrugged, “Well, wouldn’t be any kind of marriage if my future brother-in-law can’t laugh.”
“Momma said you were torturing him because he’s a vampire,” JC volunteered.
“Well, your Momma was a little angry when she said it, Son,” Jason said hastily, then glanced up at Eric. “What do you say? Ready to get this show on the road?”
Eric thought about how Jason would look duct-taped to the wall, then nodded, “Yes, Stackhouse. I’m ready.”
The Reverend Collins touched his arm. Eric and JC positioned themselves under the white archway. There were flowers and white ribbons laced through the wood, and the entire structure sparkled with white fairy lights. Jason entered the house and then stepped back out with Sookie, his Sookie, on his arm. “Ain’t you nervous?” JC asked.
“A man is never nervous when he faces his destiny,” Eric replied, his eyes never leaving his wife.
Hoyt plucked a song on his guitar, and started to sing. It was a country tune, one that had been popular some time ago. The refrain promised that ‘in all the world, you’ll never find a love as true as mine.” Michele walked forward, followed by Pam, and then Tara. They were each wearing long, black dresses. For some reason, Eric thought of his pledging in Oklahoma. Freyda had stepped toward him, completely naked under her robe. She thought he would be tempted by her flat-hipped body, but she repulsed him. ‘Even then, I was yours,’ Eric thought. ‘You took my heart and I never recovered.’ Sookie was nearer now, swaying on her brother’s arm. The ivory gown seemed to glow in the twinkle lights. The rubies around her neck were black. “Mine!” he hissed.
“What?” JC asked.
“Your Aunt Sookie is very beautiful,” he replied. Eric stepped forward. Jason kissed Sookie on the cheek, then laid her hand in the vampire’s.
“We are gathered here together,” the Reverend Collins said as Eric turned her to face him. He was vampire, so his recall of the words should have been pitch perfect, but in years to come he would find the words were not what he remembered. Instead, he remembered the way her hair glowed. He remembered the slight rise of her lip and the way her eyes shone. He remembered kissing the ring that remained on her hand, and promising by that ring to honor her and keep her all the days of her life. Eric remembered the triumphant look on his Sookie’s face when the Reverend Collins pronounced them ‘husband and wife,’ and he would remember until his days were dust the feel of her lips on his as those who were gathered clapped for them.
In the ways of his world, this ceremony meant little, but in seeing the happiness on his mate’s face, Eric Northman knew it was the moment that truly made her his own.
End Note: As so the second part of And Then We Were One concludes. The last section, The Handfasting, will launch in a few days. This last section will be shorter than either of these.
Thank you to everyone who has been reading and commenting! Your interest and support mean a great deal to me.