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.
The travel coffins were delivered the day before Sooke and Eric were scheduled to leave for Minnesota. The van that brought them arrived around eleven in the morning, just as Eric said they would. The driver rang the bell and Sookie signed for them, just as simply as if she’d signed for flowers or a registered letter. “Store them here,” she told the handlers, opening the still-empty second garage bay, and watching while they wheeled them in, like it was business as usual.
Except it wasn’t, not for Sookie.
Pam had told her vampires traveled in coffins. She told Sookie that these coffins only had the appearance of caskets and were very different on the inside. “No one questions coffins being transported,” she’d shrugged. “It’s the perfect camouflage.”
Eric hadn’t explained it at all; he just confirmed the arrangements and moved on to chat about their travel schedule. The wheeled trollies that allowed them to be more easily moved were part of the deal, so once the men finished lining them up against the far wall, Sookie was asked whether she wanted to inspect them.
“No,” she shook her head. “I’m good.” The driver shrugged, so Sookie was pretty sure she’d just done something wrong. The delivery team walked out of the garage and Sookie saw their van pulling away as the garage door lowered. The light stayed on and Sookie stood there, just looking.
They were big. One coffin was fancier than the other. They were both gunmetal grey, not wood, and there were handles around the sides, just like every coffin Sookie had ever seen. Sookie found her breath coming faster and her heartbeat pounding in her ears. ‘You’re panicking,’ her voice told her. ‘Cut it out! They’re only boxes!’ although they felt like so much more. They felt like every death and loss she’d endured over the past year. She had felt in each case she’d somehow survived, running fast enough to elude death, yet, now, Death was in her house. ‘You married it,’ her voice told her.
Sookie remembered each time Eric made light of the fact, teasing her that he was already dead. Staring at the coffins, those jokes didn’t seem quite as funny anymore. Sookie checked her watch. She had hours until Eric rose. The sun was setting earlier now, so there were more hours together. “He isn’t really dead,” Sookie said aloud to steady herself. “Not really.”
The light flicked off, the automatic timer expiring. Sookie took a deep breath and walked back into the house. She grabbed her purse and Eric’s car keys. She had things that needed to be done in town, now that she was married and free to leave the house. She had to transfer her bank account, joining hers to Eric’s as they’d agreed; however, first, she had to travel to the Registry Office in Listowel and file the marriage certificate Eric had given her.
Sookie looked at the car keys in her hand. Eric had grumbled quite a bit last night. It made her smile to remember. ‘Maybe some things aren’t so different!’ she assured herself. Eric had a thing for his car and he didn’t like anyone touching it, not even his wife.
‘Wife,’ she reminded herself. Sookie pulled the marriage certificate from its envelope, looking at it again. The wording was all in Gaelic, although she found her own name easily enough. Eric assured her that all she had to do was take the paper to the Registry Office in Listowel and get an official copy. It would be needed to change her bank account and other documents. Eric programmed the directions into his car’s GPS and then had insisted that she drive him into town to prove her skills before he grudgingly handed over his keys.
“You’re sure no one will question this?” she’d asked, looking at the certificate again.
“The Fae have been living here a long time,” Eric assured her. “We know how to manage these things.” He was making an effort not to make her feel stupid for asking, which, of course, made her feel stupid. “Would you like me to arrange the license for America, too?”
“No,” Sookie declined. “I’ve already asked Aunt Linda and I’m sure she’s started wedding arrangements. I think it will be good to do it once with my family.” Sookie hadn’t said what she was really thinking, ‘And then, at least, I’ll really be married to you.’
Now, as she stood in the kitchen, staring into their refrigerator, looking past bottles of synthetic blood, coffins stashed in their garage, all she could think was, ‘Life sure doesn’t turn out the way you think it will.’
Sookie glanced down at the floor and realized she was still wearing her shoes. It was a pet peeve of Eric’s. He didn’t like random dirt and smells tracked in from outside. “It makes it hard for me to determine whether outsiders have been in my house,” he explained.
“Fuck it!” Sookie declared, deliberately stamping her feet a couple extra times. “I’m no outsider and I’m going to have people visit me here, whether it makes you uncomfortable or not, Eric Northman!”
Sookie fried two eggs and toasted her latest version of brown bread. She ate at the table, staring at the empty space and considered her options. ‘I could totally convert my lifestyle to night,’ she thought, ‘and then I’d have company any time I ate.’ As things were, Sookie fell asleep sometime after midnight every night, leaving Eric with hours of alone time. He didn’t say he minded, and Sookie had the impression he actually welcomed it. ‘Besides, I’d never be able to give up the sun,’ she mentally acknowledged.
‘I could drive into town and eat there,’ she thought. As quickly as it came, she dismissed the idea. It reminded her too much of her unhappy days with Breandan when they were living at The Grand.
“Stop fretting!” Sookie said aloud, “You’re not unhappy!” It was true. She liked being married to Eric Northman. He was playful and he made her laugh. They flirted and he made her feel desired, both for her body and her brain, and then she thought of the coffins in the garage again. “All couples have their problems,” she reminded herself, but, somehow, his being vampire seemed a little bigger than different religions.
“It’s settling pains,” she scolded herself. “You know what he is! It’s all just new. You’ll get used to this, and it’s Eric! He’s worth it!”
Sookie finished eating and took her dishes to the kitchen sink. She checked the time. It was almost past noon, so both the bank and Registry offices would be closed for another half hour for lunch, but once they re-opened, it wouldn’t be for long. Listowel was a distance, over an hour each way, and there could be traffic. Sookie knew that not washing the dishes would bother Eric, but, for some reason, it wasn’t hard to make excuses. “You can accommodate my differences, too!” she peevishly snarled and then, grabbing her purse, she headed out the door.
It was overcast, but most days were now as Fall tightened its grip, sliding them toward Winter. Eric’s car purred through the turns and almost seemed to take off on its own through the straight-aways. Sookie had a hard time translating kilometers to miles, but she was pretty sure she was speeding most of the way. She’d forgotten how wonderful driving a powerful car felt. She tuned the satellite radio until she found Irish tourist music and she turned it up, singing at the top of her lungs.
In almost no time, she was in Listowel while the snotty British voice coming from the GPS was scolding her about missed turns. Finally, after some unplanned wandering, she spotted the address and found a parking spot.
The woman behind the counter in the Registry Office greeted her friendly enough, but after she took the certificate from the envelope, her eyebrows drew together. Sookie felt her mouth go dry. She thought the woman would call her out as a fraud at any moment. Sookie shifted from foot to foot, her palms getting moist, before the woman looked at her and said, “I didn’t know Niall Brigant was still performing weddings!”
Sookie jumped, she couldn’t help it. “Are you all right?” the woman asked.
“I’m sorry!” Sookie stammered, “Of course. It’s just… I didn’t see his name on the paper.” Sookie knew it was a stupid thing to say, but, instead of keeping her mouth shut, she couldn’t seem to stop talking. “I was looking it over earlier, you see. I’m American, as I’m sure you can tell, and it was a long drive here. All this driving on the left side…not that there’s anything wrong with it… It’s exciting!” She finally stopped, took a breath, and said, “I’m just newly married and I’ve been living here less than a year. I guess that drive shook me up a little more than I thought.”
“You Yanks marrying our Irish lads isn’t so uncommon,” the woman sniffed, “although your husband’s name doesn’t look Irish.”
“He’s a citizen,” Sookie assured the woman, “although he did originally come from Sweden.”
The woman looked around, making it clear she was looking for Eric. “But he didn’t come himself?”
“No,” Sookie bit her lip and shook her head.
The woman gave Sookie another long look before she sighed and said, “I expect he’s working, your husband, then,” and as she looked at the document, her eyebrows came together again, “And it says here you’re an Irish citizen as well?”
“I am,” Sookie nodded. “My Grandmother…”
“The American thing,” the woman nodded. “There’ve been a number of you Yanks over the years, getting your dual-citizenship.” The woman nodded, “It’s a smart thing to do, as you’ll be living here.” She was starting to look more business-like. “I expect you’d like a copy of the executed document as well. That will be five Euro,” and her hands were moving around, stamping things. “Of course, you can wait for it to be uploaded to the National Registry if you’d prefer, then you can print it for free.”
“I’ll take a stamped copy,” Sookie confirmed, “For the bank.”
“I take it you don’t speak Gaelic, then?” the woman asked.
“Not a word,” Sookie replied.
“Well, it’s as I’d expect, coming from America. You should make an effort to learn it, though.” The woman turned the document toward Sookie and pointed at a collection of letters and accent marks. “That says Niall Brigant and that’s his signature,“ and she pointed to a large, perfect signature on the bottom of the page that was the same collection of letters and accents. “I don’t see his name often. He must be very old now! Oh, as I was saying, Gaelic is a beautiful language. Some say it was taught us by the Little Folk themselves,” and the woman was suddenly in better spirits, winking and smiling.
“It does sound lovely when I hear people speaking it,” Sookie nodded. She could barely keep the relief from her face. She prayed the woman would just finish processing the papers and not question her any further.
When Sookie made her way back to the car, she couldn’t help noticing her hands were shaking. It took some fumbling to get the GPS programmed for the route back home. Her heart had almost resumed its regular beat when she eased the vehicle back into traffic. “One done,” she congratulated herself.
The route back seemed to take longer this time, but Sookie made it into the bank just ahead of closing.
The man at the bank squinted at her, examined the official wedding certificate, and actually held up her passport to compare her to the picture. “You’ll need to be getting your other documents changed over, then?” he asked.
“Pardon me?” Sookie asked.
“Your name, Missus, and your address. I can update them here for your bank account, but you’ll want to get your other documents, your passport and such, updated as well.” His hands were moving from his keyboard to a stack of papers. He pushed a document toward Sookie and instructed her to sign first in one place, and then another. “Your husband,” and the teller’s brow wrinkled, “Would that be the same Eric Northman who owns Ghoul’s Kiss in Carrack?”
“It is,” Sookie nodded.
The man’s eyes narrowed and, for a sick moment, Sookie thought this human would challenge her about marrying a vampire. “I thought he was gay,” he said instead.
“Nope, he’s not!” Sookie almost laughed with relief. “Definitely not gay! Nope!”
The teller winked, “Well, you’d know, Missus. Must say, it makes me like him a little better,” and he continued to work away, making the changes that would merge Sookie’s bank account with Eric’s.
As she drove down the final stretch of road that led to their driveway, Sookie felt Eric’s rising. It was a warm wave followed by a quick stab of irritation that made her grin. She could just see the house, but, with their bond, it was as though she was standing right beside him. Feeling Eric’s steady, straightforward emotions, she thought about all her earlier doubts and wondered if he’d felt them even in his day slumber.
As she pulled into the open garage bay, she thought again about his being vampire. ‘What if he’d been in a wheelchair, or if he had some disability that forced you to change a colostomy bag or hook him up to a machine? Would you love him any less?”
Sookie sat in the car almost a full minute, her hands on the wheel. “I love him,” finally saying aloud what her heart was telling her. She loved his smile and she loved the way his eyes warmed when he saw her. She loved that he hungered for her, always making sure she knew it was about who she was, not just what she was. She loved how he asked her about her day and really listened to what she said. She thought again about the dishes in the sink, how they bothered him. ‘I’ll make it up to you,’ she resolved.
Sookie checked her appearance in the mirror, patting down her hair before she breezed through the utility room. She dropped her things in the kitchen and used their bond to track him down. Eric was in the area next to the family room. He’d moved one of the caskets in there and the lid was open. When Eric turned to her, his face was stormy, still, Sookie ran to him as though he was the best part of her day and threw her arms around him. “You’re up! Are you hungry?” She looked up at him and tugging his shirt a little, said, “I sure hope so, because I’ve been hungry for you!”
“You have?” and stormy Eric became startled Eric.
Sookie cupped his cock and squeezed, “I have,” she purred and in no time flat, Sookie realized that although as species they might have their differences, there were other areas where they were exactly the same.
Later, after she’d had her dinner and they’d laughed about her adventures, Eric said, “You need to know some things about how I travel.” He rose and walked into the room where he’d taken the coffin. The track lighting was catching the soft grey of the metal, making it almost glow.
“Really?” Sookie sighed, but didn’t follow him.
It took Eric a moment before he turned, “Sookie? What is it?”
“A coffin,” she answered, then laughed a little, trying to make it a joke.
Eric’s eyes narrowed, “No, there is a problem.”
“It’s not a problem!” she answered and made herself stand. She jutted her chin forward a little and took the steps needed to have her standing beside him.
“You are uncomfortable with this,” Eric said, his eyes traveling from Sookie to the coffin.
“I’ll get over it,” Sookie declared.
“Did you ever think that perhaps your Christ was made into one of us, that becoming vampire is rising from the dead?” Sookie caught her breath. It was such an outrageous thing to say, but what was truly outrageous in this world where she now walked?
“Is He?” she gasped.
“No,” and Eric grinned. “You should see your face!”
“Did you know him?” Sookie couldn’t help asking.
“No,” and Eric laughed again. “I’m old, but not that old. No, when I was born there had already been over a hundred Popes. The Muslims controlled Jerusalem and the four kingdoms of England offered ready plunder for my people. My Maker, though, he was a Centurion. He lived in the time of your Christ.”
“I didn’t know your Maker was still around… I mean, alive… I mean…” and Sookie fell silent.
Eric didn’t laugh this time. Instead, he looked out the front window into the night, “He walks still, but I haven’t seen him in many ages.” He looked back at Sookie, “This distracts. You are growing tired and there are things you still need to know.” He took her hand and walked her closer to the coffin. “There is a hidden switch, here,” and Eric took Sookie’s hand and ran it over an invisible bump under the lid of the exterior. “I don’t normally wake during day hours, but, in times of great need, our bond will allow you to call me. If you need to open the lid for some reason, push this, and it will open. You don’t need to open it to awaken me. Just use the bond.”
“If sunlight hits you, will it kill you?” Sookie asked.
“Eventually,” Eric nodded. “If the sunlight is very bright, it will make me burn. If the exposure is prolonged, I will die.” Sookie nodded, her throat closing.
“I don’t like to think of you lying in one of those, so vulnerable,” she stammered.
“I am less vulnerable than you, Älskade!” Eric grinned. “Any little thing can endanger you! Cars, lightning, drowning, falling down stairs! None of those things can permanently injure me! No, my list of kryptonite is small, compared to yours!”
Sookie stared at the cushioned interior of the coffin. “Is it comfortable for you in there? Or do you not care?”
Eric glanced at her, and then, in an instant, he was in the coffin. He held out his hand for her, “Climb in and tell me yourself!”
“There’s no room!” Sookie protested, then Eric rolled a little on his side and pulled until she joined him. He turned her so she was facing him. It was bigger than she thought. She couldn’t quite lie on her back, but she wasn’t totally on her side, either. The padding cushioned her surprisingly well. Sookie took a deep breath, steadying herself, before saying, “I guess it isn’t so bad.”
“There’s a light and space for me to store a book or two. Of course, there’s a port to charge my phone and earbuds,” Eric told her. “I’m going to close the lid for a moment. I want you to appreciate how it feels. There’s air in here and were we in danger, or need to travel in secret, going together this way would make that possible.”
“I don’t know, Eric,” Sookie’s heart started hammering as things became darker. “I don’t know if I could stand being cooped up like this!”
“Look at me, Sookie!” Eric commanded. “Do you see the light I emanate?” and as he said it, she did. It was the soft phosphorescence of fireflies, but it was enough for her to make out Eric’s features. She was reminded of being under the blankets of her bed as a child, flashlight in hand, reading into the night. She focused on that memory to keep her head from jumping to the less pleasant idea of being stuck in a box. “It is not optimal, but, if you can do this, it may mean the difference in your survival,” Eric told her.
“You’re really okay with using these?” Sookie whispered.
“I’ve had over a thousand years to get used to it,” Eric told her. He shifted just a little, and the lid smoothly opened above them. “Tomorrow, when you rise, I’ll be in here. The representatives from Anubis will arrive promptly at nine. They know what to do. I’ve asked them to have food on the flight for you. They are used to accommodating our human traveling companions, so you should be comfortable.”
“Anubis? Like the Egyptian god?” Sookie asked as Eric lifted her from the coffin.
“It is also the name of the airline we use,” and Eric smirked, “You may remember that Anubis takes the shape of a black dog.”
“About that,” Sookie frowned. “You do…what? Shape shift?”
“Among other things,” and Eric nuzzled her ear. “Perhaps you’ve had some fantasy about coupling with animals?”
“Yuck!” and Sookie shoved him. “Not! No way!”
Eric laughed, his head thrown back. It was a joyous sound and Sookie couldn’t help joining him. “Well, min hustru,” and Eric ran his fingers over her breast, “Perhaps we can simply simulate wild animals.”
“You sure do like sex!” Sookie grinned.
“And I can feel that you do, too!” Eric growled, wrapping Sookie in one arm and moving toward the staircase that led down to the chamber they shared.
The alarm brought Sookie back. Eric had changed the tone again and it was cackling the Joker’s trademark laugh. “Hilarious,” Sookie deadpanned. She was naked and very sticky and she couldn’t help her goofy grin. She turned to slap Eric, but his pillow was empty. “Upstairs,” she said aloud.
The suitcases they’d packed were gone, too, and Sookie was sure Eric had carried them upstairs when he left her. She felt the butterflies she associated with facing new things. Using a lifetime of experiences in finding herself in new situations, Sookie took a couple deep breaths, then queued up the music app on her phone. She chose Irish acoustic music, but this morning it reminded her too much of her first trip overseas and Breandan Brigant. Flipping through channels, she decided on Led Zeppelin instead. Sookie didn’t listen to hard rock often, but there was nothing better for distraction, and she made an effort to dance as she worked her way through her shower and dressing.
Sookie was finishing her second cup of coffee, singing, ‘I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon,’ when the doorbell rang. She rose, the butterflies returning with a vengeance. The door opened to reveal a woman in a dark uniform. “Anubis,” the woman announced. “Everything’s ready?”
When Sookie nodded, the woman gestured behind her and three others appeared, all wearing the same grey uniform with the familiar dog head stitched above their names. “Show us Mr. Northman,” the woman said, the same way she might have said, ‘Take me to your leader.’
Sookie could tell the woman was human, and so were the men. They moved efficiently, two wheeling Eric while the third lifted their suitcases from the front hall. “I understand you’re traveling with him?” the woman asked.
“To Minnesota,” Sookie answered, then blushed, realizing it was a stupid thing to say. She could see their final destination clearly written on the woman’s notepad.
“Long flight,” the woman said automatically. She didn’t wait for Sookie, or even make eye contact. She exited followed by the others. In fact, by the time Sookie finished grabbing her purse and locking the door, they were all in the van, which looked like a longer version of a contractor’s van.
‘I’m just another suitcase to these people,’ Sookie realized. She’d felt a little thrill, seeing other humans who knew the same things about Fae that she did. She even imagined swapping secrets on the way to the airport, but, instead, the trip was silent. Sookie was seated alone in a jump seat behind the first bench seat, facing Eric’s coffin, which was secured with straps to the floor. As if to reinforce her impression, she saw the suitcases stacked exactly opposite her. ‘Yup,’ she mentally confirmed, ‘Nothing but supercargo to them.’
There were no windows, so Sookie retreated to her headphones. She could see the road out the front window if she angled around the heads of the attendants. About twenty minutes into their trip, one of the men turned around, “Okay back there?”
“Yeah,” Sookie nodded almost too quickly, then stopped bobble-heading, “Thanks. How long?”
“We’re almost there,” he told her. “Of course, we go around the airport to our hangar. Hope you didn’t want to buy souvenirs!”
It was a kindness, so Sookie laughed at his joke. “Nope, my folks will be happy enough just to get me!”
“He’s taking you home to your family?” and the man looked surprised. Sookie knew that the ‘he’ the man was talking about was Eric.
“’He’ is my husband,” Sookie felt her chin lift, “and yes, Eric is meeting my family. We’re getting married by human custom while we’re there.” It was too much information, but the way these people were treating her was getting under Sookie’s skin.
“The mighty Eric Northman!” the man’s eyebrows lifted. He gave Sookie a frankly appraising look before saying, “We’re about fifteen minutes out,” and turning back around.
The people at the airport hangar were also efficient. Sookie stood beside the van, unsure what to do next. She watched as Eric’s casket was raised into the back part of the plane and the suitcases carried up the short ladder in the front. Other than the logo on the tail, there was nothing to distinguish this plane from any number of other fancy, small, commercial planes. People who looked like flight crew walked out of an office and boarded, and then someone started pulling up the steps. “Wait!” the woman with the notepad called, then looked at Sookie. “You’d better get on! They’re serious about their timetables.”
Sookie felt her blush creep over her again, her armpits prickling in embarrassment. When she got on the plane, the man she’d seen pulling the stairs met her, “I’m so sorry! I assumed Mr. Northman…well, he never… I’m Raoul and I’ll be your flight attendant.” He motioned to the seats in the cabin, “You may sit anywhere, but I would ask that you fasten your seatbelt. We’re cleared for takeoff and the pilots want to get underway.” As if to punctuate Raoul’s statement, the engines roared to life and Sookie heard sounds she assumed were blocks being removed from tires.
It all happened so quickly, Sookie had no time to get nervous. She was sitting down as the airplane started to move, and she’d just snapped her seatbelt when the plane seemed to leap forward, faster and faster, before lifting smoothly from the ground. “Wow!” Sookie exclaimed.
As they leveled out, Raoul returned from the back. “Is there something I can get you?” he offered. “I noticed the galley’s been stocked. There are soft drinks, or are you hungry?”
“Eric travel often?” Sookie asked instead.
“The Sheriff is one of our more frequent customers,” Raoul acknowledged.
Sookie could see questions forming, so she headed them off. “We are only recently married, pledged, I mean.”
“So, the rumor is true!” and Raoul’s stare became more pointed.
“What are they saying?” Sookie asked. When the attendant’s eyebrows started to pull together, Sookie added, “Tell me what you’ve heard and I’ll tell you know if it’s true.”
“It’s not kind,” the man shrugged.
“Well,” Sookie sighed, “then I guess you’d better tell me.”
“Are you going to vaporize me with your Fae magic?” Raoul asked. Sookie could see the man was only half-joking.
“What Fae magic?” Sookie huffed. “Sounds like every other rumor I’ve ever heard. Someone took a grain of truth and built a mountain of lies around it!”
“They say you’re related to Niall Brigant, the Seelie King,” and Raoul waited.
“That part’s true, mostly,” Sookie nodded. “I’m the part of his family they don’t talk about,” and she grinned, trying to place this man at ease.
Raoul looked a little more nervous as he shared the next part, “They also say the Sheriff made a secret pact with Niall and the Queen is angry with his deal-making. She punished him by forcing him to bond with you.”
“You say ‘bonding’ like it’s a bad thing,” Sookie couldn’t help the weakness she heard in her voice. “Is it?”
“No, of course it’s not!” and Raoul stood. “I’m sure you’re very happy with the Sheriff.”
“I am,” Sookie agreed, startled by the attendant’s reaction.
“Let me get that drink for you,” Raoul said, slipping his professional façade back in place.
It was a long flight and Raoul stayed in the back. He resisted Sookie’s attempts at conversation, and Sookie got the message.
It took seven hours until they landed somewhere near New York. “We’re just refueling,” Raoul told her. “Won’t take long.” Sookie could see they were near another hangar like the one in Ireland. It started to rain, then Sookie found herself drifting. The last thing she remembered was the sight of water streaking down the windows.
It was how Eric found her. Raoul greeted him as he exited the cargo area, offering him his own blood, and then hastening to warm bottled blood after Eric declined. “Your companion is most charming,” Raoul flattered.
“My mate is remarkable,” Eric replied, making sure the attendant understood him.
Raoul bowed, told Eric there were another six hours left, and scuttled back to his seat. Eric eased himself into the seat next to Sookie. ‘It will be good to be away from Ireland for a while,’ Eric thought.
Looking at her, Eric reflected on what he’d learned about the attack that had damaged Sookie in Slievemore. As she’d promised she would, Sophie-Ann LeClerq had made inquiries with her counterparts on the Continent. Andre assured Eric that the answers were quick and forthcoming. Based on what the Queen’s fellow rulers volunteered, there was every reason to believe that Gregor and Kurt’s target had been Eric.
Eric hadn’t relied on that source alone. He made his own inquiries and his contacts, many of them friends for centuries, confirmed that Gregor and Kurt weren’t subtle. They were overheard complaining that they’d been unfairly treated, loudly telling those around them Eric Northman would pay.
The part that kept worrying Eric was that his interactions with these two had been so many years ago. It was Eric who arrested and then gave the testimony that sent Kurt to prison, but Kurt had been free for some time. As for Gregor, he had found himself under Eric’s knife more than once. True, the last round of torture had involved removing certain body parts, but that was almost ten years ago. Gregor regenerated. As vampire, it was understood that he would, but Eric knew the process of re-growing bone and muscle was both painful and long. “If the attack was about revenge, why didn’t they come for me sooner?” Eric asked himself.
In the next thought, he wondered, ‘Why a bi-metal knife?’ Almost reflexively, he gathered Sookie up, lifting her into his lap. She sighed when her head found his shoulder. ‘Yes,’ Eric thought, feeling that deep sense of contentment that came just from being in contact with her. “This is best.’
When he had her arranged comfortably, he leaned back so he could see out the window. Eric revisited the attack in his head, remembering the position of each vampire, what they’d said, where they’d moved. It made no sense. There was no reason to hold Sookie in the office. They hadn’t tried to glamour her, which was almost a reflex for any vampire. If the knife was meant for him, they should have moved closer to Eric before having revealed it, shortening the strike zone.
When he voiced his suspicions, he was told he was being paranoid, but Eric couldn’t shake his worry. He glanced at the woman in his lap. He’d felt better when Selkies were shadowing her. While she’d hated it, he hadn’t worried while they were confined in Ballytyne, Octavia Fant’s spell warding off any danger. Eric wondered whether he should ask Octavia to place a more personal spell on Sookie, but he dismissed the idea. He had no idea how Sookie’s magic would interact with something that would have to be bound to her person.
He remembered how unsettled he felt, rising last night to find she hadn’t returned to their home yet. There were scents in the house he didn’t recognize and he rushed upstairs, certain he’d find signs of trouble. Instead, he’d found evidence that Sookie forgot her promises and it pissed him off, at least until she’d returned and, with one simple smile, made his life perfect again. Sookie sighed in her sleep, her lips tilting upward. A pleasant dream, then, and Eric found himself hoping it was about him.
‘So strange,’ he thought. ‘Since being turned, even before, I have refused to give in to sentimentality. I pride myself on my ability to be dispassionate and, yet, now, I am willing to set it all aside.’ He allowed his lips to brush the curls on the head of the woman he held. Sookie was an adult, but it was hard at times like these to see her as anything other than a weaker being who needed his protection. Her life was a mere blink compared to his own, so fragile. ‘And yet, My Lover, your impact on me is profound,’ he acknowledged.
Eric looked out the window again, watching the night sky pass. The clouds were far below, closer to the endless sea. Eric didn’t need to see them. He’d seen them too many times before. Instead, he allowed himself to go into downtime, the better to experience this moment with her. After a while, he looked down and found her staring up at him. There was something in the way the cabin light caught her eyes, making them periwinkle blue. Eric knew that if his heart still beat, it would have stopped. “You captured me this way once before,” he told her. “In the Queen’s Court.”
“You were the most handsome man I’d ever seen,” Sookie told him in return. Eric wished they were alone. He wished he could show her exactly how much he desired her; how much he cherished her. “Are you hungry?” she asked instead.
“I can wait,” he replied. She grinned, knowing what he intended, and he found he loved her even more. ‘Love,’ he thought and didn’t make any excuses.
It was still several hours before the plane taxied to the hangar within eyesight of the Minneapolis-St. Paul terminals. There was a limo waiting on the tarmac and in less than an hour, they pulled into the driveway of a small ranch home set on a street of identical ranch homes. Sookie saw nothing to set it apart until she realized the plain-looking key set was more complicated than it appeared.
Eric and Sookie were shown the basement room. It was accessed by putting in a code on two sets of doors, but, once you got past them, the chamber was more than acceptable. There was a king-sized bed, a refrigerator, microwave, and a fully-functioning bathroom. “For the Queen’s special guests,” the driver bowed.
Eric’s coffin arrived and was tucked into the garage. There was a car sitting in the second bay and the driver handed Eric the keys. “It’s fully equipped. GPS, and the route to the Queen’s Court is programmed. You are expected to present yourself there tomorrow.”
Once they were alone, Eric retrieved their suitcases from the hall, leaving Sookie time to look around. There wasn’t much, barely enough furniture to give the appearance that the place was inhabited. Sookie was in the kitchen, staring at the odd assortment of items in the refrigerator when Eric returned. He laid his hands on her shoulders. Nuzzling her ear, he asked, “Tired?”
“I think you can figure that out without asking,” Sookie answered.
Eric could. He could feel the thread of excitement that animated her, while at the same time the dreary weariness from long travel. Eric understood. Since air travel became available, he’d spent countless hours jetting from one country to another, sometimes on assignment, but often on his own, keeping relationships with friends and business associates strong. Travel satisfied some part of him, perhaps the long-dead Viking who looked forward to Spring and raiding voyages. “We can rest, if you’d like,” he offered, although that wasn’t what he wished.
“You still need to eat,” and Sookie turned in his arms, her face mischievous, and it took less than a blink for Eric to pick her up and whisk her downstairs.
Afterward, as he gathered her to him, she asked, “How is this going to work? I’ll need to be up early. I don’t know if there’re pans upstairs to cook those eggs, but I’m willing to bet not.”
“Ever practical!” Eric smiled. It was one of the highest compliments he could pay her. This woman thought ahead, planning as he would.
“Darn straight!” Sookie grinned. She squinted at Eric, “What I’m thinking is that I’ll take the car and drive out to Aunt Linda’s. She’s already texted me, asking when I can get there. When it gets close to sunset, I’ll come back and get you.”
“You told me the drive will take over an hour,” Eric scowled.
“That’s not far in this part of the world,” Sookie shrugged, trying to dismiss his concern.
“Take the car,” Eric told her. “I’ll arrange a second car.” He touched her, enjoying how her skin felt under his fingers. “I would feel better knowing you are with your family. I don’t like the idea of you driving back and forth by yourself.” He couldn’t explain it, but he felt that dangers were crowding around them.
“Good grief!” Sookie laughed, “You’d think I just got my license! I know how to drive, Eric. Really, it’s no big deal.”
“I will get a second car,” he bit out, and Sookie realized the conversation was over.
“Fine!” she huffed. “Then spend the money, it’s just…”
“It’s late,” Eric cut her off. “We could shower. It will help you sleep.”
“We could shower,” Sookie shook her head, “but I don’t think you have sleep in mind.”
Eric’s lips quirked, “Are you offering?” Sookie didn’t answer. Instead, she jumped off the bed and sprinted toward the bathroom. “I’m chasing!” Eric laughed and he exacted his reward when he caught her.
“I’m sorry about the air conditioning,” Aunt Linda said for what had to be the tenth time. They were standing in Linda’s bedroom in front of her dresser mirror, looking at the wedding dress Linda had pulled from one of the family cedar chests. It was September and days here in Minnesota were usually cooler, but today was the exception.
“I’m fine,” Sookie insisted, but, secretly, she felt as if she were melting. She distracted herself from her prickling armpits by examining the dress. It was beautiful. It was a little old-fashioned and the soft neckline and bodice were edged with hand-crocheted lace. It had been the dress of a long-dead Great Aunt (‘Ada was busty, like you,’ Linda told her.), and the fabric felt like linen, or maybe an old-fashioned cotton. It was soft, yet substantial, to her fingers.
“Let’s take it downstairs so you can try it on,” Linda scooped the dress from Sookie’s hands. “You can stand right in front of the fan and don’t worry! The weathermen are promising this will move out tonight and we’ll be back to our regular temperatures.”
The dress did fit. It wasn’t quite white, but it flowed over Sookie as if it had been made with her in mind. Sookie looked at her reflection, thinking the dress needed a necklace, and she thought about the chains she’d received from her Fae relatives, now safely locked up in Ireland. “Let’s see if I have some pearls that would dress that up,” Linda said from behind her, as if reading her mind.
“You look pretty.” Sookie swirled to find Jason, her brother, standing in the doorway. He smiled awkwardly and Sookie smiled back.
They were still a little awkward around each other. Jason apologized, and then he’d cried. Mostly, he told her how guilty he felt not being able to say goodbye to their Mother. He never once asked Sookie how she was doing, or even about the man she was bringing here to marry. Instead, he’d told her how grateful he was to Aunt Linda for not forgetting him and how joining the Navy was the best thing he could have done.
“Thanks,” Sookie nodded. “You done?” Jason and Uncle Lars were driving the farm truck back and forth to the local Church, borrowing tables and chairs for the wedding.
“Nah,” and Jason glanced over his shoulder. “We have at least one more run. From what I hear, there’s going to be over fifty people here. Did you ever think we had so many relatives?”
It made Sookie draw another deep breath. She was sure it would be okay. It had to be okay. She remembered how easily Eric fit in with humans in his pub. She had been able to tell there was something different about him right away, though she took comfort in knowing humans didn’t seem to pick up the same signals as her. “Aunt Linda sure went out of her way,” Sookie acknowledged.
Uncle Lars called Jason’s name from outside and with a boyish smile, Jason left, banging the screen door behind him. Linda bustled back down the stairs, a single strand of pearls in her hand. She stepped behind Sookie, fastened it in place, and then pulled Sookie back, so she could see herself in the mirror over the fireplace. “There! And there are plenty of mums and coneflowers to make bouquets. Your Eric won’t know what hit him!” She glanced again at the clock, “Now, what time did you say he’d be here?”
“Not until later,” Sookie answered, and then gave the cover story she and Eric agreed to, “It’s the first day of his convention. He has to stick around. He’ll come out as soon as he can.” Sookie could see her Aunt was not pleased by this, so she introduced a new one. “So, what else needs to get done?” It was exactly the right thing to ask. Aunt Linda had a list that never seemed to get any shorter.
Together, they cleaned the house. It looked clean to Sookie and Lars scolded Linda when he came inside following another trip to the Church, telling Sookie that Linda had just cleaned yesterday. “Top to bottom!” he said, giving Linda a sharp look. “She wanted things to shine for her niece and nephew.”
Sookie could see that just because Linda cleaned yesterday, with more people coming, Linda had felt the need to do it again. They pulled out buckets and rags and started in the living room. Linda’s daughter, Hadley, stopped by with extra tablecloths and silverware. When Sookie asked why didn’t they just use plastic cutlery, Aunt Linda shot her a look that would have peeled paint. “Not in my house! Not for my own niece’s wedding!” she exclaimed, then turning to Hadley, asked, “Remy is bringing the platforms out?”
“After he gets off work,” Hadley nodded.
“Platforms?” Sookie asked.
“For the band,” Hadley explained.
Thankfully, Hadley’s arrival meant they could take a break for coffee and cookies. Linda kept a pot of coffee going in the kitchen all day. Sookie soon realized that with a wedding being planned and most people having never met ‘Michele’s children,’ there was a constant stream of visitors. People, both neighbors and relatives, would walk into Linda’s kitchen with some offering for the upcoming event and then sit down at the kitchen table, coffee cup in hand. Each time it happened, Linda and Sookie would take a break, too.
There were the neighbors who brought over an arch that Jason and Lars positioned outside near what would be the head table. There were more neighbors who came by with ladders and Christmas lights to string in the two large trees out front. There were neighbors who brought by electric urns to hold coffee and hot water and others who brought more dishes and extra generators. Many were related to Sookie and Jason in some way and they were all huggers. “I’m your second cousin, Vi…,” or “I’m your cousin Dwayne’s wife’s sister…” and then there was a kiss and a story about her Mother. After a time, it occurred to Sookie that no one mentioned her Father.
“What about my Daddy? He lived around here, too, didn’t he?” Sookie asked Linda as the two of them hand-washed cups in preparation for the next group of visitors.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Linda shook her head. “I’m not sure any of us really knew Corbett all that well. And he did take your Momma away.” It was something Sookie was beginning to appreciate, the way her Aunt avoided saying anything unpleasant by simply pretending it didn’t happen.
The sun started to set, so the lights in the trees were tested. “I can’t say I understand what could be holding up your young man,” Linda said. They were all standing in the front yard.
“Let it go!” Lars said. He laughed, but Sookie could hear her Aunt’s irritation. She looked at Linda and wondered if, in time, she would be the one her Aunt pretended she didn’t know. It occurred to Sookie that, despite her Aunt’s welcome, there might be a price to be paid for being different.
“So, you pledged to her?” Maude laughed again. “Sophie-Ann must have been furious. I must say, I’m sorry I wasn’t there to see it! I don’t much like your Queen.” Maude and Eric were sitting in her living room. “Of course, you did get the short end of the deal. Now, you’re bonded to the creature. I understand the importance of keeping the peace between our races, but, I must say, Eric, I wouldn’t have thought you’d give in to some Seelie! I’m sure you’re getting something and don’t deny it! I wouldn’t believe you if you did.”
“I wouldn’t dream of disagreeing with you, Maude,” Eric said graciously.
Maude was not a conventional vampire. Unlike most, she hadn’t been turned when she was young. Most believed her Maker had a mother complex, an opinion largely supported when the two of them were seen together. Maude was older, organized, and had a rare delight with the world around her. It was a point on which she and Eric Northman found common ground.
“I was hoping you’d bring her with you,” Maude scolded. “It is customary for mated pairs to both check in with their local ruler.”
“I apologize for my oversight. My mate is with her human relatives. We won’t stay long, as you can understand, and I wished her to have as much time with them as possible.”
“You intend to turn her,” Maude said it as a statement, but Eric recognized it for the question it was.
“She is Niall Brigant’s progeny, even if he can’t openly acknowledge her. Taking any action would require some…consideration.” Maude looked at Eric through narrowed eyes. His statement implied many possibilities, and Eric could see the Queen was tempted to just ask his meaning, even if her pride wouldn’t allow it.
“I’m sure Niall wouldn’t require compensation,” Maude said, deciding on an interpretation. “His people consider her vampire already, but perhaps it’s worth more to keep her as she is,” and Maude’s eyes narrowed. “He is a dreamer after all…” and then Maude laughed. “But, of course! He’s paying you! How foolish of me not to see it! Don’t worry, Eric, your secret is safe with me.”
Eric laughed, but he couldn’t help feeling as if he was betraying Sookie. He knew it was best that others not understand the nature of their relationship. When he and Sookie were alone or with Pam, it was one thing, but to reveal too much to outsiders would place Sookie in danger. Gregor and Kurt were not the only vampires with a reason to seek revenge. It would be an easy thing to take Sookie, torture her… And Eric’s mouth fell open. He felt as if bands of iron were squeezing his chest and, in that moment, he saw Maude’s eyes narrow and realized she’d been watching him. ‘Shrewd,’ he thought.
“I’m sure it’s irksome to have to spend so much time among these humans,” Maude said lightly. “It is, as you say, a concession, nothing more.” She glanced at the clock, reminding Eric that by the time he arrived, it would be late. “Of course, these humans do have their little feelings. You probably should be going, but, first, we should share a meal. I have the most amazing couple! There’s something about the quality of their blood that’s simply invigorating!”
Maude was staring at him, daring him to refuse. Eric knew he was caught. To keep his promise would give Maude a weapon; to accept meant he broke his promise to his mate. “I have given her my word,” he told Maude.
“Well, Sheriff, if the relationship is so important to you…” and Maude let the words hang between them.
“I would be pleased to join you,” Eric replied, damning the situation and damning his aching, dead heart, which wouldn’t stop telling him how wrong he was.
It was almost ten by the time Eric pulled down the long driveway. It ran between maple trees, leading straight as an arrow to the farmhouse. He had seen the cluster of trees for many miles, brightly lit against the night sky. He texted when he left the Queen’s residence, and then voluntarily texted updates as he drove, keeping Sookie appraised of his progress. It seemed a small thing, hardly enough to offset the unfamiliar sense of guilt he felt.
Maude offered him her donor’s body as well as her blood and the woman had been eager, but Eric declined, citing the time. It rankled. He’d broken his word to support the illusion that Sookie was nothing more than a business accommodation, but, in the end, Maude hadn’t been fooled. ‘For nothing!’ he growled at himself and there was more. It wasn’t just that he was protecting Sookie. There was a part of him that couldn’t accept he was bonded. It wasn’t that he didn’t like feeling Sookie. He did. In fact, if he was perfectly honest, he liked feeling Sookie a lot, even now, when she was irritated. It was that being bonded didn’t fit with his idea of who he was. Eric Northman was free to roam, master of his destiny, but now, he wasn’t. He might never be wholly free again. Not until Sookie died and just thinking that made him feel a sharp stab where his heart should have been beating.
As he pulled into the yard, he had to maneuver around a large, flatbed truck. There were several men climbing over it, pulling off what looked like stage pieces and other men carrying the platforms to the far side of the house. Eric pulled into the grass and climbed out of the car. Almost at once, he was confronted by the woman he recognized as Sookie’s Aunt. He knew she had no way of knowing him. The last time he’d seen her, he had been in his other form, watching the apartment in Boston for Rogan.
“You must be Eric,” she said. She wore a tense smile and she didn’t offer her hand.
“I am sorry to be so late. I hadn’t anticipated traffic,” Eric lied.
“Traffic?” and the woman’s eyebrow rose. “Well, you must be the only one who found any north of the Cities. Folks who made it here at a Christian hour all told me how remarkably quiet the ride was.”
Eric could see the woman was bristling for a fight. He looked around for Sookie, but she was nowhere to be seen. Linda crossed her arms and her eyes narrowed, but just then, a tall blond man fast-stepped over. He wrapped Linda with one long arm and held out the other to shake hands, “You must be Eric. I’m Lars, Linda’s husband. You look like a strapping fella; can you lend me a hand?”
It was smoothly done. In one movement, Linda was turned back toward the house and Lars was leading Eric toward the large barn on the other side of the yard. “I think I owe you,” Eric acknowledged.
“I’ve been married to that woman a long time. I can see her winding up for a tongue-lashing a mile away. I figure if you are this late meeting your new relations, you have a good reason.” Lars glanced at him and when Eric nodded, Lars smiled. “I figured. How are you with cows?”
“Cows?” and Eric found himself laughing. “I used to be very good with them, but it’s been a long time.”
“Mostly they’re cattle these days. I raise them for the organic folks, but I still run some dairy cows, too.” It had been a long time; over a thousand years, but the smells and sounds brought Eric back to his Father’s farm. It was comforting, except for the way the cows all seemed to stop as one and turn suspicious eyes his way. Eric quickly looked at Lars, wondering if the tall farmer had noticed, but Lars seemed intent on measuring out grain. “Can you pull down a bale?” the farmer asked, gesturing toward a stack of hay bales in the corner.
Eric walked toward them, which meant he had to pass closer to the cows. They started to shy and Eric did what he’d always done when his family’s cattle became restless; he sang. It was an old song about a cowherd who fell in love with a fair maiden and when Eric reached the chorus, Lars joined in, their voices barely a whisper as they serenaded the calming livestock. Once the cattle were fed, Lars said, “I heard Sookie say you were Swedish.” He was speaking in that language and it was easier for Eric to answer the same way.
“I was born there,” Eric acknowledged.
“A long time ago, I’m thinking,” Lars said. Eric realized the farmer wasn’t meeting his eyes.
“You know what I am?” Eric asked.
“Dreygur,” Lars nodded, using the old Swedish word for vampire. “I figured it out. I figured out Sookie isn’t what she appears neither, but you don’t need to worry. I don’t mind. Just don’t tell Linda.”
“How…?” Eric asked.
“My Mormor knew things,” Lars nodded. “She told me plenty of stories about Sweden and the creatures who lived there. And then, there was Sookie’s Daddy, Corbett. Corbett and I knew each other pretty well, so I knew there was something special about him. His Mother, too. My Mormor told me that Claire Stackhouse was a witch. Not a fancy witch, with big spells and curses, but a hedge witch. Corbett’s Mama knew about herbs and nature, but she kept to herself. Corbett, though, he was another thing. He had a rare joy about him, like Sookie does now. A shine, I suppose you’d call it. Made the folks around here plenty nervous. Folks don’t like anyone who makes them think too much, or maybe says something unexpected to spoil the potluck,” and Lars laughed. “Do you suppose I can look at you without you cursing me?” he asked.
“You’re safe,” Eric nodded. When Lars met his eye, Eric asked, “What are you going to do?”
“Do?” and Lars shrugged, “Nothing! Sookie is blood. Michele was one of us, even if she did run away with the town black sheep. I’ll fix it with Linda, don’t you worry about that! I will do something for you, too. I’d imagine the problem is having somewhere close enough that’s safe for you, yes?” and Lars rocked back on his heels.
“I have particular requirements,” Eric answered.
Lars nodded, “I bought my parents out a while back. They moved to Florida, but I kept the house. It’s fifteen minutes from here. Old farmhouse. Linda keeps asking when I’m going to rent it or sell it. I give her plenty of excuses. Truth is, I like to escape there from time to time. I love my Linda, but that woman can talk the ears off the cornstalks. It’s a good house, solid. It has a real root cellar underneath, deep and dark, with a solid door. Plenty of room for a bed. No one goes there but me.”
“I would be most grateful,” Eric nodded. “I wish this to be a happy occasion for Sookie. The commute from the Cities is long.”
“Good, then we’ll make excuses. I can take you there tonight. I know you don’t have your things, but Sookie looks like a sturdy woman. She can drive into the Cities tomorrow and collect your belongings.”
“This is very kind of you,” and Eric performed a bow.
Lars grinned again, “A happy Linda is best for all of us! You are doing me a favor! Come on, before she decides I’m a problem, too!” and Lars clapped Eric on the shoulder, leading him into the yard and toward the house where Sookie waited.