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.
“I don’t think you should make this decision until after you come back.” Maryann and Sookie were sitting in the kitchen of the main house. There was only one couple staying at the B&B, and they’d be down in half an hour. “There’s heat in the apartment. You could easily live here through the winter. There’s no hurry to leave.”
It was the first time Maryann had said anything that wasn’t remotely Team Breandan, and Sookie couldn’t hide her shock. “I thought you wanted us to get married,” Sookie bit her lip. She’d been up, tossing and turning all night, questioning this very thing, and now here was her boss, expressing doubts as well.
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Maryann shook her head, and then shook it again, as if she was trying to escape spider webs. “I don’t think Breandan’s bad, he’s just not right for you.”
“What brought this on?” Sookie asked.
“Again,” and Maryann shrugged, “I can’t explain it. Some part of me has been thinking this for a while, but I just couldn’t… well, maybe I didn’t want to say it out loud. It’s not that you don’t make a handsome couple, you do! I can see he makes you laugh but, the truth of it is, you’re a strong woman, and he is not your match. Now, I know the whole business about opposites attract and finding those who fill your weaknesses, but this is different. Breandan is altogether too inclined to go along with the last person who spoke with him, which spells trouble. What’s more, he’s proud. He’ll come to resent you and when that day comes, he’ll make you a terrible husband.”
“You’ve never said anything about this before.” What was most distressing to Sookie was hearing her boss saying out loud all the faint whispers she had heard from her own self. Now, hearing the words out loud, it was all her worst fears being made real. “I promised…”
“And what is a promise, if it’s made from ignorance?” Maryann scoffed. “You did the right thing, you took your time. Now, if you really think I’m full of it, then you can tell me to go stuff it, but I don’t think you do.”
“No, I don’t think you are,” Sookie shrugged. “I just don’t know.”
“Then, just as well you’re taking this crazy adventure of yours. You’ll be alone all day, and that will give you plenty of time to think things through.” Sookie glanced at the hiking poles laying alongside the door. She had decided to celebrate the approach of her first year in Ireland by hiking the national trail that snaked around the peninsula here herself. It would take ten days. She’d start here at Seacoast Shores and end here, and when she returned, she’d pack and move in with Breandan, first to The Grand, then Killary once the cold weather started.
“What if I do decide not to stay with him?” Sookie asked. It was another first, the first time she’d allowed herself to say it out loud.
“You can continue to work here,” Maryann assured her. “You had a dream about opening your own B&B. Your citizenship papers came through, so there’s no reason you couldn’t pursue that. With a word from me and Northman, you’d get another dozen book-keeping customers from town. You’d have to give up your waitressing, but you’d make a lot more money.”
“I’m not sure I could stay in Slievemore if I broke it off with Breandan,” Sookie told her boss. It had occurred to Sookie that as much as Breandan could be loving, he could also be cold. She hadn’t seen it directed toward her in any meaningful way, but she thought that if he were to turn against her, it would be unpleasant.
“I could see that,” Maryann was nodding. “He is one of the O’Haras. That means something to folks here. Still,” and Maryann covered Sookie’s hand with one of her own, “you have your own friends. I’d be here, and you know Pam and Eric would stand with you.”
“I know,” Sookie nodded. She glanced at the poles again, “I guess I have a lot to think about.”
Maryann handed her a list of numbers, “I know you have a map, but these are the personal numbers and emails of all the places you’ll be staying along the way. You’ve met most of the property owners, and they’ll be looking for you.”
“I hope my feet hold out!” Sookie tapped her booted feet against the floor, testing to make sure her heels weren’t sliding.
“Well, you know what the walkers tell you, if you feel a hot spot forming on your foot, sit down and take a rest. Dry your feet off and change your socks. Just remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.” and Maryann stood.
Sookie took a deep breath and rose as well. She lifted her speed pack and tested the tube for her water one last time. “Thank you,” she told Maryann, and then hugged her.
“Just take care of yourself and text me when you arrive,” Maryann told her. “I’ll see you when you return, and don’t forget, if you run out of steam or find yourself in trouble, I’m only a phone call away.”
“What kind of trouble am I going to find out there?” Sookie asked. “I’ll be hiking during daytime hours and there’s good people looking for me at the end of each trail.”
“I still can’t believe you’re crazy enough to this do,” Maryann was laughing as they walked out the front door. “The idea of walking all over the countryside for fun? I can think of far nicer ways to spend my hours. Shopping! That’s my idea.”
“If I know more about the trail, I can answer questions,” Sookie shrugged, but they both knew she wasn’t telling the entire truth. The entire truth was that Sookie yearned for time to herself, just walking outside. She remembered the woods and glades of her childhood. She thought of the glimpses of country lanes she saw with Amelia and Sean. Combined with the stories she’d heard from the hikers who’d stayed at Seacoast Shores, it had created a powerful desire within her to walk the steps and see backcountry Ireland for herself.
This first leg of her journey would be twenty miles. It didn’t sound that long, and she had most of the day to walk it. The weather report wasn’t promising, but Sookie had learned from her first days here to dress appropriately and be prepared. Everything she wore was weatherproof, and her poles would keep her from losing her footing on slick footpaths. With a last nod, she headed down the driveway, and then took a right, walking up the sidewalk the half mile until she reached the signpost that directed her to a farm road that snaked her up into the hills.
Breandan and she fought over this. He was angry, insisting that, at a minimum, she move her things to The Grand before she left. When she refused, he left in a huff. That had been two days ago, and she’d heard nothing from him since. It hurt. He was her fiancé, so she expected some understanding, but, in the end, he had been angry that she was taking unnecessary risks and for no good reason, and his anger outweighed his need to see her.
Pam hadn’t been too encouraging either. “At least you’ll have a soft bed at the end of each leg,” she’d sniffed. “And a shower! I don’t understand why you think this is appealing.” but then, she’d gifted Sookie with her speed pack and a camelback water bag. “I hear hydration is important,” she’d told Sookie, and made sure she had phone numbers and an emergency phone recharger in her bag.
It was Eric who was her real supporter. “I always said you were brave,” he’d told her when she explained she’d be out of town for a few weeks. “Leave it to you to find some new adventure.”
Sookie always felt good being around Eric. It wasn’t the blood tie anymore. That was gone, instead, it was him. True, she saw him less since her engagement to Breandan. He was careful not be alone with her and Pam explained that in their world, it was important to make sure no one could interpret their actions against them. “You’re wearing Brigant’s token,” she pointed at Breandan’s ring, “and everyone knows the circumstances around you taking Eric’s blood. We know it was innocent, but the Fae have long memories.”
“It wasn’t anything,” Sookie protested.
“But, if there were a hint that there was,” Pam told her, “Breandan would be within his rights to give Eric his final death. You, too.”
“He wouldn’t do that,” Sookie protested.
“He might not,” Pam agreed, “but Rogan would.”
That put a damper on Sookie’s righteous indignation. She was pretty sure Pam was right. Sookie didn’t doubt that Rogan, or Claude for that matter, would have any problem handing out death sentences, and so she’d resigned herself to friendly conversations and never standing closer than within an arm’s length of Eric Northman.
The morning started well. Sookie soon found herself high above the valleys, halfway to the top of hills that were green below and dirt above. As she walked, she saw a farm truck coming toward her. The three men in the truck waved as they passed, and she noticed the dog with them. They stopped not far from where she stood, and one of the men headed up the hill, staff in hand, and the dog followed him. Sookie watched as the man signaled the dog, using whistles and hand gestures, and the dog started running up and down the barren hills, chasing the sheep that were grazing there. There was gorse growing, bristly and sharp, and the dog had to weave in and around it. Before she knew it, an hour had passed. The men wandered over and she asked questions about the sheep. They explained the markings on their backs and quizzed her about moving here from America. They pulled out sandwiches and shared them. The sky was threatening by the time Sookie moved along, and while she wished she had moved along sooner, she didn’t regret the time she’d spent with the farmers.
The trail climbed higher. She was walking along a thin, dirt trail when the raindrops started. It wasn’t bad, at first. The ground was dry, so the rain seemed to be absorbed, but then, the rain got steadier. There were rills and streams that formed on the hillside, running down natural courses. At one point, Sookie found herself standing on one side of a rushing torrent of water, but, fortunately, there were stones that formed steps. The soles of her boots were under water, and she had a tense moment when her boot slipped a bit, but she was soon safely over, squinting against the rain and looking for her next marker.
For the next few hours, the rain continued. Sometimes, it was pouring in hard, pelting drops, but other times, it was more of a continuous, greasy shower that left the footing treacherous and her fingers numb. Her waterproof pants and slicker kept her warm and dry underneath, but nothing could help the chill that set into her hands or the constant flow of her cold, wet nose.
When the rain finally let up, Sookie realized she still had many miles to go. She thought about the phone numbers in her Contacts list, but it felt like admitting defeat. She couldn’t do it.
She collapsed one of her two walking sticks, strapping it to her pack, and then took turns, trading off from one hand to the other, tucking her free hand into her jacket pocket, flexing her fingers and warming herself.
The sun started fading from the sky, and Sookie started to worry. She’d estimated it would take six or seven hours, but she hadn’t counted on stopping to watch the sheep dog work, or the rain that made walking quickly impossible. She had a flashlight and she had a map. She was pretty sure she was less than three miles from her destination, but she found herself thinking over every turn, and rejoicing at each marker she passed, thrilled to see tangible evidence that she wasn’t lost.
The one bright spot was that her feet were holding up. She wasn’t sure what she would have done if she’d had to stop to change socks. There were no shelters here, no trees. She would have had to improvise something, looking for an overhang under some rock or against the wall of turf that formed the upper edge of trail in places.
It was past time for her to arrive when she saw the lights of the town ahead of her. She had read the instructions so many times, she’d memorized them. The path joined an unpaved road, and then the unpaved road turned onto a paved one. She walked between houses, first set far apart, and then closer together, until she reached a crossroads. There wasn’t much there: a bus stop, two pubs, and a cluster of houses. They were on a hill, and one road led down a fairly steep incline. From where she was standing, Sookie could see the ocean in the distance.
Biting her lip, Sookie headed down the hill. She walked less than a quarter of a mile before seeing her destination on the right. It was a lovely house with a screened-in front porch and a large driveway. There was a light on and now that Sookie was here, she allowed herself to feel how tired and cold she was.
She knocked twice, and the door opened. “Thank goodness,” the woman exclaimed. “Maryann’s already called me twice. We were thinking we’d need to send someone out to find you.”
Sookie found herself ushered into the hallway, and was instructed to drop her wet boots and raingear in the hall. The woman tutted and fussed. “Your suitcase is already upstairs. Now, let’s get you settled. You can take a hot shower, and I’ll bring you up some tea.”
The room was located up the stairs and down a short hallway. There was a skylight over the bed, and a small, frosted window in the bathroom. Sookie’s suitcase was laying on a luggage holder. “You look a sight, if you don’t mind my saying,” her hostess, Mary, was telling her. “There’s plenty of hot water. Use as much as you like. There’s dinner at the pub up at the crossroads, and don’t you worry, I’ll give you a lift there whenever you like.” She handed Sookie the key, “Oh, dear, your hands are like ice!” and she grasped Sookie’s icy fingers in her own.
“I’ll listen for the water to stop, and then I’ll bring up the tea tray. There’s a little room just next door. I’ll see you in a bit,” and Mary turned, shutting the door behind her.
Sookie fingers shook as she unzipped her bag. She pulled out the warmer clothes she’d brought, and she half-considered sliding into her pajamas and calling it a night, but then her stomach growled. She’d brought a sandwich and some raw vegetables in her speed pack, which she’d eaten along the trail, but it had been so wet, that eating had been a hurried affair. “Get warm!” she said out loud, “Think about the rest later.”
The shower was everything Sookie hoped. The water was hot and there was soap provided. Sookie had her little travel bag and she washed her hair, loving how the warmth of the water over her scalp seemed to make everything feel warmer. When she stepped out of the shower, the room was steamy. Sookie took a few minutes to scrub her teeth, and then stepped into the cooler bedroom to finish drying and get dressed.
“My boots really held up,” she told herself, examining each foot carefully for red marks or baby blisters. She pulled on softer socks and a thin wool sweater. Now that she was washed and warm, she felt almost bursting with health. “I made it,” she told her reflection in the mirror. “Only nine more legs to go.”
She used the hair dryer Mary supplied, leaving her hair to fall in soft curls and tendrils. When she was satisfied, she used a little eyeliner and a dab of blush before heading toward where she could hear activity next door.
“It’s all waiting for you,” Mary winked as she bustled past. Sookie felt a momentary pang. She had hoped the landlady would hang around and chat for a bit. Although the path was hard, she found she wanted to share what she’d seen, but Sookie could tell she was Mary’s only guest. She wasn’t surprised, being so late in the season.
“Thanks,” Sookie called to her landlady’s back, and then stepped into the room and stopped again.
“Eric!” Sookie blinked. It didn’t seem real. “How…”
“You didn’t check in. Maryann was worried,” he said, and then poured a cup of tea from the pot and extended it toward her.
“And you came out here to make sure I was okay?” Sookie took the cup from him. She found her heart warming. “That was so kind!” She sat down, staring at him until she realized what she was doing, and then she blushed and looked down.
“Why.didn’t you text anyone back?” Eric asked.
“My phone!” Sookie exclaimed. She set the cup down and ran down the stairs to where her rain gear hung on hooks in the hallway. She unzipped the inside pocket in her rain pants and pulled her phone out. She glanced at the screen and saw the list of texts. There were messages from Maryann, Pam, and Eric. She thumbed up and down the screen. None of the messages were from Breandan.
Her heart felt funny as she walked back upstairs. She stopped in her room to grab her charger and the emergency charger Pam gave her, before walking back into the sitting room and plugging everything into the wall adapters. Eric was leaning back in his chair, looking as if he didn’t have a care in the world. “I’m sorry. I guess I was so preoccupied, I forgot about my phone,” she apologized.
“It had to have been a challenging walk,” Eric offered.
“Not all of it,” Sookie replied, and then she proceeded to tell him about her day. He rarely interrupted, but when he did, it wasn’t to change the subject.
“I must be boring you to death,” Sookie finally said.
“Not a problem with me, since technically, I’m already dead,” Eric laughed.
“That’s terrible!” Sookie scowled.
“But true, nonetheless,” Eric didn’t look the least put out by it. He glanced at his watch. “If you are thinking about dinner, we should get going soon. The pub kitchen won’t be open that long this time of year and, at some point, your body is going to want to shut down.”
“Oh,” Sookie exclaimed, reluctant to lose Eric’s company.
“Don’t worry,” he teased her. “I plan to come with you! I have the night off and no one to torture, so my time is yours.”
“You’re not worried about being alone with me?” It wasn’t a fair question, but Sookie asked it anyway.
“We are technically out of Rogan’s territory,” Eric told her. “He may spy, but there’s little he can do at the moment.”
“Whose territory are we in, then?” Sookie asked.
“My Queen’s,” he told her. “This is kind of a border area between the lands of the Seelie. Your Grandfather’s realm is farther South. You’ll be walking there the day after tomorrow, but, for now, you are in my lands, and the lands of my people. I’ll make sure no one molests you.”
“Molests me?” It seemed an odd turn of phrase.
“Well, other than me,” and Eric gave her that pirate grin that had Sookie grinning back. “We should go,” and he stood and offered Sookie his hand.
For some reason, Sookie took care to extend the hand that didn’t wear Breandan’s token. She didn’t know why that seemed important, but it did. “Get your coat,” Eric told her as they passed her bedroom.
Sookie had brought a warm, fleece jacket with her. It wasn’t particularly waterproof, but it would keep her dry unless the rain was really coming down. She zipped it up and then joined Eric in the hallway. He led the way downstairs and then outside.
“Mary said she’d give me a lift up the hill,” Sookie told him.
“I think I can take care of that,” the vampire grinned. He scooped her up against him and the next thing she knew, Sookie was flying up and over the trees.
“Holy shit!” she swore. She grabbed Eric’s coat, happy her fingers were working again.
“I won’t drop you,” he chuckled. It was only a few minutes and they were descending behind the buildings, out of public view.
“Do you do that all the time?” Sookie stammered, trying to catch her breath.
“You are the first hybrid I’ve ever flown with,” he winked.
“From what I hear, I’m probably the only hybrid you’ve ever seen up close,” Sookie teased back.
“Also true,” and Eric took her arm and guided her to the sidewalk and then into the bar.
“You don’t have to do this,” Sookie told him. “I know there’s nothing here you can eat. If this makes you uncomfortable…”
“I enjoy watching you eat,” Eric assured her. “Besides, it makes it easier for me to know when to give you a lift back to the B&B if I’m here.”
When they walked in, Sookie saw they were the only couple. There were several men at the bar who seemed to be friends with the bartender. “I’ll be right over with menus,” the bartender called.
The menu was extensive with options covering both the front and back, but when Sookie asked, she found out not many of the selections were available. She landed on a lamb dish with rice done in a Moroccan style. Eric ordered her a gin and tonic, and Sookie smiled her thanks when it was delivered. “Sure I can’t get you anything, Sheriff?” the bartender asked. “I have something special in the back that might be to your taste.”
Eric nodded, and soon the bartender returned with a ceramic mug filled with a liquid. “He knows what you are?” Sookie whispered.
“He knows,” Eric nodded. “I have duties that bring me here, and, as I said, this town does fall in our territory. He doesn’t ask much, and we pay well.” Eric sat back when Sookie’s dinner arrived and he sipped while she dug in.
“You have a healthy appetite,” he complimented when she pushed the empty plate away.
“No manners are more like it,” Sookie laughed. “I don’t think I stopped to breath, but boy, It tasted so good.”
“Physical exertion outside always makes food taste better,” Eric observed.
“Do you remember?” Sookie asked, then blushed to have asked something so personal. “I’m sorry. That was rude.”
“I do remember,” he told her. “Even so long ago, I remember the smell of my Mother’s baking. She was talented, and my Father would bring saffron especially for her. Our slaves did the other cooking, but the baking? That was her kingdom.” Eric settled back. “I’ve been coming to this place for ages. I remember when there were no people living here. I landed on one of my first raiding parties not far from here. My people didn’t venture to these western coasts often, but, because of that, there were more riches to be had.”
“It’s hard for me to even imagine how long ago that was,” Sookie told him. Her eyes were shining, “I can’t imagine all the things you’ve seen.”
“It has been a wonderful existence,” Eric agreed. “It was not easy at first, but I find I don’t regret any of it.”
“You’re lucky,” Sookie told him. “You know what you want, and you have it.”
“I know what I want,” Eric leaned toward her, “but I wouldn’t say that I have everything I wish.” There was something about the way he was looking at her that made Sookie feel warm.
“I guess we should head back,” Sookie stammered. She found she had a hard time looking at Eric, and when they stepped behind the pub and he gathered her against him, Sookie found her heart was pounding.
They landed in the driveway and Eric walked her to the front door. “I want something from you,” he told her.
“What?” Sookie couldn’t imagine what Eric would ask for. She didn’t think it was access to her bed, although she half-hoped he’d ask. For a moment, she wondered if he’d ask for a kiss, then thought how silly that was. Eric Northman was a full-grown man, not some silly boy willing to beg for favors.
“I want to take blood from you.” He was staring at her in a very direct way.
“I thought you didn’t want to feed from me.” Sookie’s forehead wrinkled as she tried to puzzle this out.
“It’s not like that,” Eric told her. “The tie between us has faded and I can’t feel you anymore. When I heard you were missing, I didn’t like it. If I take a little blood from you, I can track you, in case you’re in trouble.”
“You want to track me?” Sookie couldn’t help the tone. “What? Like sticking a homing beacon on me?”
“Not exactly,” Eric shook his head, and then, breaking into a grin, he shrugged. “Well, maybe a little.”
“Aren’t you worried about people smelling you on me?” Sookie remembered Eric’s warning and how people had reacted before, including Breandan.
“No,” Eric shook his head. “I will only take a little and by the time you return home, it will have largely worn off.”
“I don’t know…” Sookie said, and then to her surprise, she said, “Well, you better come in, then.”
Eric looked surprised, too, but he followed her into the hall, and then up the stairs. Sookie didn’t take him into her bedroom, though. Instead, she turned on the light in the sitting room where they’d had tea earlier. “How do you want to do this?” she asked, flicking her hair away from one side of her neck.
“You seem to have something in mind already,” Eric murmured. He held her eyes as he pushed her hair back a little further. He stepped around her, running his hand over her shoulder. He settled behind her, and Sookie found she was trembling.
“Don’t be afraid,” he whispered, ghosting fingers along the side of her neck. “I won’t hurt you.” She still jumped when his head lowered. He ran his cheek alongside her head, his hands smoothing her arms. It was almost as though he was gentling her, accustoming her to the feel of him, and it worked. Sookie found herself relaxing to his touch. His nose ran up the column of her neck, and then his tongue. It was almost as though there was a live wire between his tongue, her neck, and her lady parts.
“Oh,” Sookie sighed, and he struck. His arm came around her, holding her tight. Sookie’s mouth opened, and she felt her eyes go glassy. It was amazing. She knew she was bleeding, but it was as though her heartbeat was tied from his mouth to her entire body. She was dying, but she’d never felt so alive.
Eric lifted his head and his grip eased. Sookie entwined her fingers with his, lifting his wrist to her mouth and bit down. Eric made a noise in back of her. He pressed himself against her and she could feel his length, hard against her backside, and then he pulled his wrist away. He turned her to him, “Why did you do that?”
Sookie was sure that her mouth was bloody, and she suddenly felt very foolish. “I thought that’s what we were doing,” she told him, “You know, drinking from each other.”
“I didn’t mean this to be mutual,” Eric told her. “I just wanted enough from you to be able to track you. I wanted to know how you were feeling.”
“Well, I didn’t drink much!” Sookie apologized. “I’m sorry! I misunderstood.” She felt miserable, and she suddenly wondered if what she was feeling was from her, or from Eric. “I make a mistake.” and Sookie felt even more miserable after a single tear fell down her cheek.
“Don’t cry!” Eric stepped back. “Please! I don’t like it when you cry.”
“I don’t either,” Sookie exclaimed, her humiliation complete.
“It’s done,” Eric said quickly. “I’m sure it will be fine. You didn’t take much, as you said. You will be walking for days. The effects should fade before you return to Slievemore.”
“I didn’t mean to cause trouble,” Sookie apologized again.
“I’m beginning to think you are the definition of trouble,” Eric told her, but then his sour face lifted and he shook his head. “You are trouble, Miss Stackhouse, and a great deal of it. Now,” and he glanced at the door, “Morning will come all too soon, and you have a long walk ahead of you. Not quite so far tomorrow, but more hills.”
“Will I see you tomorrow, too?” Sookie asked.
She was sure he would say he had things to do, but instead, Eric said, “I wouldn’t doubt it. It’s a small town. You’ll still be in vampire territory, but you may have found other company by then, and my coming will just make it a crowd.”
“I doubt it,” Sookie told him, “and you’ve had my blood, so you know I’m not lying.”
That night, as Sookie stared through her skylight at the stars above, she thought about Breandan. She’d checked the phone twice after Eric left, but there were no messages. Finally, at wit’s end, she texted him. That had been an hour ago, but she’d not received any answer.
She tossed, she turned, and finally, dipped her fingers between her legs, thinking if she gave herself an orgasm, she’d relax enough to find sleep. It worked, but it wasn’t Breandan’s name she thought when she found her completion.
Breakfast done, Sookie was underway for the second leg of her journey. Her suitcase was packed and labeled, ready for the service to pick it up and ferry it forward to the next B&B for her. The sky this morning was overcast, but her phone was promising sun later in the morning. Sookie examined her map, ‘If I can be on top of the hills before the sun comes out, I’ll be better off,’ she thought.
The start of the walk was relatively flat. The sky stretched grey and cloudy above her. There were flat pastures laid out to either side of the trail. The hills that had hemmed her in yesterday had receded, giving way to a wide valley where she saw more cows than sheep.
It was easy to see how agriculture was changing things here. There were stone walls that extended all the way up the faraway hillsides, dividing the land into wobbly squares. Those squares that were further down the flanks of the hills were colored with the green of grass, but those fields that were further up the hills were covered in the grey of gorse and low shrubs, except in some places. Sookie thought those few fields that were green further up the hills were evidence of farmers reclaiming the land.
At one point, she walked through an extensive stand of trees. They were fenced off, and the map labeled them as a plantation. Sookie looked at the land around her again. “I bet this was all wooded once upon a time,” she said out loud.
As if in answer, a small bird flew out of the woods and landed on a fence nearby. “Hello,” Sookie greeted him. The bird cocked its head to one side and when Sookie started walking again, the bird flew ahead, perching on the fence. It seemed to wait, and then, when Sookie drew abreast of where it was sitting, it sang.
The sun broke through the clouds, catching the green of leaves and the quick brown of flowing water, and Sookie gasped. “It really is the most beautiful place,” she told the bird, and then as if in answer, the bird altered its tune, singing another refrain just as beautiful as the first.
Sookie looked around, then checked the road in front of her, and behind. She couldn’t see anyone anywhere, and so she held out her hand. The bird looked at her, then, it flew to perch on Sookie’s fingers. It’s sharp little claws hurt, but Sookie kept her hand still, as not to startle it. “You sing beautifully,” she praised the bird, and lifted her other hand to stroke his bright breast. He watched her, his black beady eyes looking curious and alert.
“Want to see something cool?” she asked the bird, and then lifted her hand. “You’d better fly over there,” she instructed. “I haven’t done this in a while, and I’m not sure what will happen.”
The bird did fly a short distance, then perched, watching her. Sookie held out her hand again, but this time she thought of the colors around her and the sunshine. It felt different here. The feelings of things seemed bigger somehow. She could feel the pulling but, at the same time, things seemed to hold back. She almost gave up, and then, with a rush, everything came together, but the swirl of color and energy that balanced on her hand was bigger than anything she’d accomplished before. It weighed nothing, but it stood taller than her and as she watched, it grew. Soon it was stretching into the sky, and Sookie was sure she could hear a rushing noise as it twisted and swirled.
“That’s enough,” she gasped and just like that, it was gone. It took a minute for Sookie to catch her breath, and she glanced at the fence, assuming the bird would be gone, but he wasn’t. He was still there, watching her closely. “Can you believe that?” Sookie asked, and then, because she felt wonderful, she laughed out loud.
The miles ticked by, and the sun was just setting when Sookie saw the houses of her destination huddled in front of her. It was another hour of trudging down from the hills before her feet were finally on pavement and she was walking into town.
This time, the B&B was right at the crossroads. She knocked at the door, and another landlady answered. “Well, hello there,” she greeted Sookie. “My name is Mary, and it’s happy I am to meet you.”
“My hostess yesterday was Mary, too,” Sookie laughed.
“It’s the rare family in these parts that doesn’t have at least one Mary,” her hostess laughed, and showed Sookie inside.
Sookie’s bedroom this time was on the first floor. She had doors that opened onto a small patio. It was so lovely that Sookie sat outside, sipping the tea this new Mary brought her after she’d showered. The sun winked down below the sunset and as the last of the rays left, a soft glow fell over the countryside.
She could feel him! He was coming and Sookie raised her eyes to the sky, searching for him. ‘I like this,’ she realized. She liked feeling Eric Northman. She liked how happy he was. She felt anxious to see him, and she thought that she was feeling his anticipation as well. By the time he landed on the patio beside her, Sookie’s face was flushed and her heart was beating just a little faster.
“Sookie!” he greeted her with his deep, pure voice, and then he stopped. His fangs dropped and Sookie was pretty sure he hissed. Eric’s eyes were narrowed and he looked both left and right, literally sniffing the air before turning to her and snarling, “What did you do?” He gulped air and pulled himself up, leaning away from her before adding, “Who were you with today?”
“No one,” Sookie exclaimed, “What’s wrong with you?”
“You reek of magic,” Eric groaned. “It makes me want to rub myself all over you, and drink you, and fuck you!”
Sookie almost teased, until she saw the wild look in Eric’s eyes. He did look as though he was struggling for control. “Do I need to go inside?” she asked.
“No!” Eric snapped, then, more quietly, “No, I am holding my breath. It is better now.” He still kept his distance, and he moved upwind of her before asking, “Do you know how this happened?”
“Well, I guess I did it,” Sookie told him. She hesitated a moment before telling Eric about her playing today. She told him about how birds and animals seemed to like her, and then she told him about forming her little whirlwinds.
“Are you tired?” Eric asked.
“No, but I’m hungry,” Sookie told him.
“Go ahead and have the landlady direct you to the pub,” Eric told her. “I’ll go get someone, and we’ll meet you there.”
“Who are you getting?” Sookie asked.
“Help,” Eric replied, and then, shooting straight into the air, he was gone.
Mary told Sookie that the best dinner was only a few doors away and she was right. Dinner was a hearty fish chowder followed by chicken with root vegetables. There was plenty of brown bread on the table and Sookie dissected it, analyzing the ingredients and speculating about how to improve her own.
She was almost starting on the bread pudding when Claudine and Eric walked in. “Hello, Cousin,” Claudine greeted her. She glided over in her beautiful way, and she leaned close, kissing Sookie’s cheek. After a moment, she turned to Eric, “It’s okay. I’ve shielded her scent.”
Eric approached then, and the bartender came over with two glasses. Sookie hadn’t seen anyone ask for anything, but he seemed to know. “Sheriff,” he bowed to Eric, and then, “Ma’am,” to Claudine.
“Eric tells me you have been up to some interesting tricks today, Sookie,” Claudine lifted the extra spoon from the table and helped herself to a bite of Sookie dessert. “Why don’t you tell me what you did?”
“I made whirlwinds,” Sookie shrugged.
“How do you do that?” Claudine smiled. Sookie could see her cousin’s sharp interest, it was just under her all-too-human face.
“I call the light to my hand and it just forms,” Sookie explained. She’d never really thought about the mechanics of it, it was just something she could do.
“Does it only work in sunlight?” Claudine’s head cocked to the side.
“I don’t know,” Sookie replied. “I mean, I’ve done it with Daddy at night, using light from the lamp in my bedroom.”
Claudine nibbled her lip. Sookie took advantage of her cousin’s preoccupation to take a bite of the bread pudding herself. Eric hadn’t said anything. He was leaning back in his chair, his hand wrapped around his mug as he sipped. “We should see if you can work with starlight,” Claudine said, half to herself.
“What is it?” Eric asked.
“I’m not exactly sure,” and Claudine stole another spoonful of the pudding, “but Grandfather will want to know as much as possible before she arrives tomorrow.”
“Where am I going?” Sookie asked.
“Your hike takes you into Niall’s territory,” Eric told her.
“Grandfather will want to see you,” Claudine added. “He’s very fond of you.”
“Based on only meeting me one time?” and Sookie didn’t bother to hide her skepticism.
“Fae are dedicated to their family,” Claudine shrugged. “It’s our way.”
Sookie turned to stare at Eric. It was the tie, she could feel his cynicism. He must have known because he quickly added, “Niall is interested in you,” to cover himself.
Eric settled their bill, and together they walked outside. “The far hill?” Claudine asked. Eric nodded, and before she had a chance to ask, Sookie was in Eric’s arms and flying into the night sky.
“If you don’t start warning me,” Sookie yelled, “I’m just going to throw up all over you.” She could feel Eric laughing, and she heard him, too.
In just a few minutes, they landed somewhere that seemed high and far away from anyone. The stars were bright overhead, and Sookie spun around so she could look at the lights of houses far below her. “Done?” Claudine seemed to appear from nowhere, making Sookie jump. “Good. I have your attention. Now, focus. Can you show us what you did?”
Sookie felt reluctant. She couldn’t help it, this was something her Father always told her was a secret, but then she felt as if someone was giving her encouragement, and she realized it was Eric. “Thanks,” she told him. “That feels really nice.”
“You bonded with her?” Claudine’s eyes narrowed.
“No, of course not,” Eric insisted. “It’s a tie, nothing more.”
Sookie looked around, wondering where she could pull the light and then she thought of the stars. She held out her hand and almost without thinking, silvery pale light formed its column. It was so much easier this time. The whirlwind grew tall and more distinct. Sookie felt her hair lifting in the wind it created. It was almost as though it had some kind of electricity, and she felt a power running through her. Her face lifted toward the sky and she was laughing!
“Sookie.” It was as if the voice was in her head. “Sookie!” it said, more insistently now, and Sookie stopped laughing to turn and see Eric. His eyes were glowing in the night and for an instant, she thought she saw the black dog from Boston.
“Oh,” and she released it. The whirlwind rose into the sky, and then, with a little pop, it broke into threads and swirls, seeming to dissipate into the night sky.
“What was that?” Eric asked Claudine.
“I don’t know,” the Fae replied, “but it was powerful. Grandfather will need to hear about this.”
“It was beautiful,” Sookie sighed. She couldn’t help it. She was proud of the structure she’d pulled from the stars.
“Yes,” and Eric approached her, “yes, it was, very beautiful.” Sookie smiled into his eyes, and she tried to believe that Eric’s words were meant for her and not her whirlwind.
“You will be in Carreigh tomorrow?” Claudine confirmed. Returning to the town where her Grandmother had been born was part of the appeal of the hike Sookie was taking.
“Hopefully before late afternoon,” Sookie confirmed.
“You remember the pub where we met?” Claudine asked and when Sookie said that she did, Claudine told her that she would meet her there around five.
“Are you coming, too?” Sookie automatically asked Eric.
The vampire glanced at Claudine. The Fae shrugged and he said, “I always enjoy my visits with your Grandfather.”
“You should take her back,” Claudine told Eric. “I’ve deadened her smell. You don’t need to worry about it returning any time soon.”
“She should learn to hide it on her own,” Eric said over Sookie’s head.
“Well, ‘she’ is right here, and you might try talking to me,” Sookie sniped.
“And so you are,” Eric grinned and before she could say anything more, Sookie was back in the air, hurtling through the dark sky toward the gathering of lights.
When he dropped her next to her room again, Sookie was flush-faced and breathless. “You sure know how to make an entrance,” she laughed.
“Not yet,” Eric teased, and he started to saunter toward her. It was in the roll of his hips and the angle of his jaw. Sookie felt both stalked and admired. She backed up a little, and Eric grinned his pirate smile, “Offering to let me chase you? Vampires love to chase!”
Sookie stopped walking backward, instead planting her hand against Eric’s chest. “You really are dangerous,” she giggled.
“Not to you,” he said, his voice low and gravelly. His lips were close to hers. She could have kissed him if she just leaned forward. She thought he would, but then he suddenly straightened up, leaving her almost staggering. “Good night, Miss Stackhouse,” and he launched back in into the sky.
“Especially to me,” Sookie sighed, touching her fingers to her lips and imagining the feel of Eric’s.