Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
It wasn’t really any competition. Sookie pressed for the dark blue gown, but Eric prevailed with the red dress. Both looked wonderful on Sookie. They were cut to emphasize her shoulders and trim waist. Both were wired to allow her to go bra-less without looking as if she had no support, and both swept over her hips with plenty of fabric to flow around her. It wasn’t the cut, though, it was the color. Eric loved red. He drove a red car whenever he could, he decorated with red, and his eye was drawn to the red dress right away. Of course, the backless design helped and now, with Sookie balanced on her heels and the links of Robert’s chains draped around her neck falling in waves over her pale skin, Eric knew he was right in pushing for this one.
“They do sound nice,” Sookie said, swaying a little.
Unlike other chains, vampire chains were fashioned to rub and strike against each other, emitting tiny, bell-like chimes. The purpose was to ‘bell’ the wearer, allowing his or her Master to track his possession’s progress. “You look enchanting,” Eric answered. Sookie turned again, trying to catch the effect of the chains across her flesh and Eric couldn’t help it. The sight of her, the sounds, made him hard. It was foolish, but seeing her this way stroked every possessive bone in his body. He could hear Pam scolding him. He knew it was wrong, but he couldn’t seem to stop. He wanted Sookie to parade in front of everyone he knew and those he didn’t, her form and presentation making him the envy of Boston. Sookie was, in a word, spectacular, and she was his. “Mine!” he declared, draping his hands on her shoulders and nuzzling her neck above the knots of metal.
“You make that sound nice, too,” Sookie purred, pressing against him, letting him know his state hadn’t gone unnoticed.
“Our car will be here soon, my Mate,” and Eric stepped back. It was difficult. His feeling of unease was growing. Eric knew what was expected of them, but doing it felt wrong. He and Sookie had teased about making up rules to explain them, but Eric hadn’t been serious. Here? Among enemies? It was too risky and Sookie was too precious. Eric just wanted tonight over and done so they could return to Ireland where he would have Pam and those he trusted surrounding him while he sorted out the snarl this woman had awoken in him. He checked his phone again, “Damn!”
“What?” She was still smirking and he could feel her. She was confident in her beauty. Her eyes were warm and her chin tilted upward. She had never looked more attractive.
“I am a lucky man,” he told her. ‘You love her,’ he admitted once again. It was on his lips to tell her, but he thought of what lay ahead this evening and pulled back. ‘Once we’re home,’ he promised himself. ‘Ireland will be best.’
Seeking more neutral ground, Eric introduced a new subject, “I left word for your attorney, your neighbor. I asked him to name a time to meet, but he hasn’t responded. Now…”
“Mr. Cataliades?” and his mate registered surprise. “Didn’t I tell you? I guess I was nervous about tonight. I spoke with Desmond this morning. The estate’s nearly settled. He’s emailing the paperwork to Ireland in the next few days. He apologized for taking so long, but he moved.”
“Moved?” Eric recognized the code. ‘Moved’ meant the demon didn’t wish to be found. “Well, at least it’s concluded. One less loose thread, isn’t that the expression?”
“Yes,” and Sookie’s glorious eyes clouded with a shadow of grief, “One less loose thread.”
Her slightest change now drew him, so this was no different. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, Älskade. It was wrong of me to speak of your Mother’s estate in that way.” Eric raised his hand to cup the side of her face. He needed to touch her, his feelings too real. The connection lay open between them, stronger than any he’d felt, except one.
There was a discrete knock at the door. It was Sookie who turned away first. “Car’s here,” she smiled.
The Summit was as every Summit. Appearance factored into who was chosen to become vampire and it was true here in the Americas, too. The gathering was breath-taking. Beautiful people moved through well-appointed rooms, wearing designer clothes. All young, all perfect, until you noticed the world-weariness etched into their features.
Eric led Sookie to stand in the reception line. The vampires around them spoke in their soft sing-song, the hiss making it almost impossible for human ears to understand. “My Bonded,” he said to the King, when it was their turn. “Sookie Northman.”
“You decided to take his name?” Robert asked Sookie. “How very traditional. I understand it’s not done so often in these times.”
“We live in Ireland,” Sookie replied. “Things are more traditional there.”
“Just so,” Robert nodded. “It’s one of the reasons we came to this country. Fewer traditions, fewer rules.”
“Really?” and Sookie’s eyes grew round, “I heard you left the old rules so you could come here and create twice as many.”
Robert smiled when Sookie said her impertinent thing, but Eric felt the tension around them ratchet up. Robert’s outward expression was calm, but Eric wasn’t fooled. “You might be right about that,” Robert continued. “You are a charming creature, Sookie! Perhaps you would do me a small favor?” and Eric felt himself still.
Sookie glanced at Eric before answering, “If I can.” It was the right answer and the right action for a pet, although Sookie had no way of knowing that. Those around them would assume she was well-trained and the idea had Eric’s fangs threatening to drop.
“Turn for me. It’s been many years since I’ve seen those chains worn. It was kind of you to wear them tonight, reminding me of the one who is lost to me.” It was as good as a declaration that Robert and Eric would be sharing Sookie’s body tonight. Eric’s hand twitched, looking for a sword, and then he pulled himself back. This was how things were done. This was his world. Robert’s words were meant as a favor, further safeguarding his mate, and Eric shoved his jealousy back into the box his Maker taught him to create, all the while assuring himself this approach was best.
Sookie was saying, “Of course,” and Eric could hear both speculation and admiration from those around them as Sookie rotated, her skirt flaring a bit and the chains singing their bright tune. Robert laughed again, “With your permission, Northman,” and he took Sookie’s hand, raising it to his lips. “Thank you, Mrs. Northman. But I have held the others up too long. We will have time later to…talk.”
Eric took Sookie’s arm, leading her away. “He seems so charming,” Sookie ventured, and then, “Tell me again why he loaned you this jewelry?”
She looked placid, but Sookie’s suspicion had been poked. ‘Too clever, my wife!’ he thought, but what he said was, “He told me he was fond of the woman who last owned them. It is hard for us to lose someone. Robert didn’t explain, but it sounded as if she was lost to age.”
“Oh,” and Sookie was looking thoughtful. “If he loved her, why didn’t he turn her?”
“Vampires don’t love,” Eric corrected, his voice sharp, too conscious of the eyes and ears around them. “Vampires admire, we possess, but we don’t…”
“Love,” Sookie finished and he felt her shock, and then her unhappiness.
“Sookie…” he started.
She pulled away from him, “I heard you, Eric. No need to explain.”
He took her hand, “It’s just… It isn’t said,” he said quietly, cursing his distraction as he realized his mistake. “Come,” and he pulled her arm, looking for a place where they could talk more discretely.
Sookie’s smile was slipping, and Eric could feel how his words struck her. He took her into a feeding alcove and shut the curtain before drawing her to him. “We don’t say those words,” he whispered. “We are what you say, Sookie, we are sharks who feed on our own. To love is to invite an attack. To love is to broadcast a weakness that could be used to bring final death. It is our first lesson.”
“So, you can’t love me?” Sookie asked.
“I can,” Eric found himself saying, “and I do.”
It wasn’t how he’d intended to tell her, but it was truth and he knew she needed to hear it. Sookie stilled in his arms and he allowed himself the luxury of truly experiencing the happiness he found with her. “I love you, Sookie Northman,” he whispered into her hair. “You have conquered me, Älskade, and I am, truly and forever, yours.”
They held each other, content, but after a bit, she pulled back so she could look up at him. Her eyes were shining, but they were a dim reflection of the happiness he felt from her. Sookie’s body was warm, but the emotions she sent him were a glowing fire. He almost felt alive as wave after wave washed over him and he wondered why he had waited so long to tell her this thing. “You love me,” and the tears in her eyes added their scent to the intoxication that was her.
“From the first moment I saw you,” he confessed.
“Well,” and she pulled herself back, startling him, before she said, “It took you long enough!” She sniffed and her eyes turned teasing, “So, you’re sure about this? Not going to take it back?”
How could he explain to her? How could he make her understand what surrendering to this feeling meant, so, instead, he simply leaned down, kissed her forehead, and said, “You are worth it.”
“Just remember who said it first,” Sookie smiled, and then glanced at the curtain. “We should probably get out there. People will think we’re…you know.”
“Maybe we should prove them right,” and he grinned, content, that if he was doomed, it was with this woman. What did it matter what Fate had in store? All that mattered was this moment with her in his arms.
“Maybe we should dance and save the real dancing for later,” she teased, and then she pulled his ear hard, both kissing him, but punishing him, too.
“We can stay for three dances,” Eric purred, allowing his fangs to drop.
“We can stay for ten dances,” Sookie sassed “and you’ll take me for dinner after.”
“You ate,” Eric frowned.
“Like a bird,” Sookie eye-rolled. “I was too nervous. I was so worried about fitting into this dress.”
“You are beautiful,” Eric told her and he made sure she felt his admiration.
“So are you, Mr. Charming,” and she gestured with her chin, “Well, come on. The music sounds good. Show me what you got.”
The music was a mixture of DJ and live music. Many older vampires lived in New England, so the dance selections spanned centuries. One minute they danced to the latest song and in the next, waltzed around the floor. When the Mazurka started, Robert tapped Eric on the shoulder. “I apologize,” he told Sookie. “I would like to borrow your Bonded for a moment.”
Eric escorted Sookie to a couch. He squeezed her hand, “I’ll be back.” It was his Arnold Schwarzenegger impression.
“Terrible!” Sookie eye-rolled. “You need to give it up! Pam does it better than you!”
Eric and Robert moved a distance before Robert said, “You needn’t thank me, unless you would like to truly share her. She is lovely.” Robert was watching him and Eric’s throat closed, knowing Robert was serious.
When Eric stayed silent, Robert’s mouth firmed. “I see. No matter, it wasn’t what I wished to talk about. I heard you are planning to leave tomorrow. I understand why you wish to return home quickly,” and Robert glanced toward the sofa. Eric knew he shouldn’t, but he couldn’t help his eyes from turning toward Sookie as well. When he pulled his eyes away, it was to see Robert watching him. “I was wondering if you might be willing to consider remaining a little longer, Sheriff. I have a job that requires your special skills.”
“A job?” Eric asked.
“Well, part job, part training. You see, I have taken on two new Sheriffs. The population in my kingdom has expanded and we are experiencing…growing pains. You could be based here in Boston if you wish, or New York. Most of the unrest is there. It’s understandable. The City is so alive, it breeds opportunities.”
“What kinds of opportunities?” Eric was listening, but he also shifted a fraction so he could keep Sookie in view. She was sitting alone. After the show he and Robert had put on this evening, no one would approach her without permission. When he set his personal feelings aside, Eric had to admire the strategy. Sookie was safe, the chains acting as effectively as any fence. No one would talk to her and no one would question her oddness. It was perfect, except it wasn’t.
“Blood selling,” Robert said. “Younger vampires, mostly. We think they are capturing our own kind or, worse, making vampires to use as blood slaves.”
That captured Eric’s attention. The idea of enslaving their own and selling the sacred blood struck deep. “How sure are you?”
“These abominations need to be caught and ended,” Robert told him. “You could do that and train my new Sheriffs in the process. You know how these things are done. I will pay you, of course, and your Bonded would be welcome here,” Robert’s eyes seemed to warm and Eric almost shuddered as the King’s fangs dropped. “She is quite enchanting,” he hissed through his teeth.
“Yes,” and Eric shifted his eyes back, “Sookie…” and he found himself looking at an empty sofa. “Where?” and he looked around. She was nowhere. He closed his eyes, searching for her. When he picked up her essence, he turned his head, opening his eyes to see the doors. “I’m sorry,” he stammered, “Excuse me.”
It took everything not to move with vampire speed. Sookie was upset and she was walking. He could almost see her leaving the hotel. She was outside and as soon as he could, Eric used his speed to close the distance between them.
Sookie was walking down the sidewalk in the wrong direction. She was looking to the street, trying to signal a taxi. “What are you doing?” Eric demanded. He was already upset, so the words may have come out more yell than ask.
“I don’t care what you call me!” Sookie rounded on him, her chin up and her hands fisted. “You are a bastard and I don’t want to be anywhere near you!”
“What are you talking about?” Eric asked, but he knew. Someone had said something.
“What is it you love about me, Eric? My tits? Or is it that I’m so stupid that I believe the shit you say?” She turned away from him again, waving to another taxi, who passed them by.
“Sookie, just tell me what happened.” Eric touched her arm, but she jerked away from him.
“Why? So you can twist it to make it sound like I didn’t understand what people were saying? Or maybe you want to explain how you really respect me, but you still think I’m some pass-around toy?” He could feel her anger, but he could also feel her pain. It was like an arrow through him.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked.
“What does it matter?” she huffed, and then rounded on him, “Or is it because I’m supposed to get permission from you? Well, you know what you can do with that? You can kiss my ass!”
Sookie stepped off the curb, stepping between the cars. She held out her arm again, her eyes on the streaming traffic. She didn’t see the car swerve and Eric watched, helpless, as she flew into the air, a red bird flying through lamp-lit skies.
“The ambulance is on its way,” Robert’s guards were pushing back by-standers. It would be a special ambulance, one that would transport them to a supe-friendly facility.
“Robert is aware of the situation,” another guard hissed. “He is concerned and tells you that everything will be ready for your arrival.”
Eric knew they were talking about having things prepared so he could turn Sookie. It was assumed. She was his Bonded, she was injured; it was the honorable thing to do. Eric wasn’t sure how he would explain it. What excuse could he give that wouldn’t betray his real feelings? Niall Brigant forbid it? He didn’t wish her as his child? None of those reasons would convince anyone. There was only one reason. Sookie didn’t wish it and he loved her too greatly to defy her wishes.
It was possible things weren’t so dire. She was still, too still, but he could hear her heart beating. The thought of her heart stopping caused his chest to tighten. ‘I should have pressed you,’ he thought, looking down at her still face. ‘I should have argued until you allowed me the possibility of making you vampire.’ Speaking to the guards, he commanded, “Give us some privacy.”
The guards pressed close, trying to shield him from the curious humans surrounding them. Eric took the chance, biting his wrist and pressing it to her mouth. He massaged Sookie’s throat, willing her to swallow, but she didn’t. He could only hope some part of him had slipped into her. He could barely feel her. “Sookie,” he called to her again, using both voice and Bond, but there was no response.
The wail of the siren was getting closer. Human police appeared and they were taking over crowd control, starting to push Robert’s guards aside. Fortunately, the ambulance arrived, and the Were attendants pushed through the blue cordon, their uniforms making everyone believe they were as they appeared.
“With your permission,” one whispered, and Eric leaned back. He clenched his jaw as the man touched his Sookie, pressing fingers to her neck and lifting her eyelids. “Unresponsive,” he told his partner.
“Get the gurney over here,” another shouted.
“Did you get blood into her?” another whispered in Eric’s ear.
“Maybe,” Eric replied.
“We’ll handle it once we have her inside,” Eric was assured while the stretcher was rolled over. It was all for show. Eric was perfectly capable of lifting and carrying her, but it wouldn’t fit with what people expected. Instead, he stood back, allowing the two Weres to lift his mate onto the wheeled cart. Eric refused to release Sookie’s hand, moving so he wouldn’t impede the Weres, but not losing contact with her, either. For some reason, Eric felt that if he wasn’t touching her, she would be lost to him. It wasn’t reasonable, but he couldn’t shake the feeling.
As soon as they were inside the back of the ambulance, one of the attendants said, “I’m going to run a line between you. Can you feel her? Hear her?”
“No,” Eric shook his head. “I can hear her heartbeat. It’s fast, but she, my bonded, is missing.”
The other attendant placed an oxygen mask over Sookie’s mouth and Eric started to worry. “Eyes are blown,” he said, his tone professional as he flashed his penlight in first one eye and then the other.
“How long before you got blood into her?” Eric felt the prick of the needle. He watched his blood flow down the tube and into Sookie arm. “How long?” the attendant asked again.
“I’m not sure she got any,” Eric repeated.
“Head injury,” the other said. “Even if she didn’t get any before, your blood should help stop the swelling.”
Eric could see faint bruising beginning to show on his Lover’s face. Sookie was still and, for the first time, he noticed her shoulder was scraped and bloody. “How far away is your facility?” Eric asked.
“Other side of town,” the Were next to him answered. “It shouldn’t take long, this time of night.” He was pressing sensors to Sookie’s shoulders and head. In answer to Eric’s questioning look, he said, “Helps detect if she’s going into arrest.”
“But she shouldn’t now,” Eric said more confidently than he felt. “She has my blood in her.”
“Hard to know with head injuries,” the other Were said.
“Sookie!” Eric leaned over, calling to her. A drop of blood fell on her face and Eric realized it was his own tear.
The ambulance slowed, then stopped with a bump. The doors flew open and another tall Were stepped in. “I’m Doctor John Bellweather,” he told Eric, but his eyes were on Sookie. “What do we have?”
The Weres who had ridden with them recited numbers and observations, and the Were doctor’s hands moved everywhere. He disconnected the bloodline and held up Sookie’s arm for Eric to lick. Eric realized the Doctor hadn’t asked his permission to touch his Bonded and as soon as he thought it, Eric felt shame. What did it matter? What did any of it matter? The world as he knew it was upside down. None of the rules applied.
“Did you hear me, Mr. Northman? We have ground prepared in the back.” The Doctor was staring at him and Eric realized he must have been talking for some time.
“I won’t turn her,” Eric muttered. He could see the shock on the Weres’ faces. “She didn’t wish it,” he explained. “I won’t do it.”
Doctor Bellweather’s expression was grave, “The numbers aren’t good. There’s no guarantee. You’re sure she’ll recover?”
Eric couldn’t say it. He looked at the hand he still held and shook his head. He understood the Doctor’s worry. Sookie wasn’t quite human. Her disappearance would be difficult to explain, but her death might include retribution as well. The Doctor was worried trouble would come to his facility. “I will take responsibility for this,” Eric told him.
“I see,” and the Doctor looked to those waiting outside. “As long as no one’s going to blame us,” and then he turned to the other Weres, “Come on, let’s get her inside.”
This time Eric had to let Sookie’s hand go. All this time he had touched her and the loss left him so cold. “You’ve given her blood,” the Doctor was trying to sound positive. “Her heartbeat has improved and her swelling could be worse. She might stand a better chance if you were to stay with her for as long as you can. There are light tight rooms here. We will place her in one to make it more convenient for you.”
Eric shook his head, “No,” he groaned. “Place her where the sun will touch her. She loves the light…” and he couldn’t speak again. Pam had warned him, but he hadn’t listened, and now Sookie was lying close to death. He failed her and he was filled with self-loathing. He realized as he followed her into the warehouse that the last time he’d felt this way was after he had failed one of Appius’ tests.
‘I let her down,’ he thought. He followed the Weres into a bare room that held a bed, some machines, and a window. “Please…” he begged the Doctor. Eric hated this feeling. He couldn’t make sense of it, but he couldn’t escape it, either.
“She will be close to my station,” John Bellweather assured the vampire. “Nothing will happen without my being aware. If she does awaken during your rest, I will watch over her.”
Once Sookie was settled, more machines were brought in and sensors re-attached. “You’ll want to donate, of course,” the Doctor told Eric. When Eric reared back, the Doctor explained, “For her. We can run your blood into her at regular intervals. It might help.” When the initial flurry of activity stopped, the Doctor asked, “Do you need to feed from her?”
“I promised,” Eric said to Sookie, but then gathered himself to look at the Doctor, “No, it is not necessary.”
“But you promised,” the Doctor smiled. Eric examined the Were’s face for some sign of derision, but found none. “It’s okay, Mr. Northman, yes, I know who you are. We can have small amounts of blood drawn from her throughout the day. It may actually help her to absorb your own faster.”
“If it will help her,” Eric nodded. “Why doesn’t she wake?”
“She’s going to have a scan in a few minutes,” the Were told him. “The room is being prepared. You see this bruise?” and he touched a slightly discolored area on Sookie’s forehead. “Her pupils are dilated and nonreactive to light. She may be bleeding internally,” and the doctor stroked Sookie’s forehead, “here. If there is brain swelling, it would explain her not waking.”
“But, my blood will heal her,” Eric said. He said it as if saying the words would make it so.
“What else is she?” and John Bellweather cocked an eyebrow. “I can tell she’s not entirely human, but I can’t place it.”
“Seelie…” Eric offered, and then, thinking of Lars’ mother, he added, “Witch…maybe.”
The Doctor looked startled, and then asked, “Does she have any Seelie relatives you can reach?” The Doctor asked. “The nearer the relationship, the better.”
Eric nodded, “She does. Why?”
“Good,” the Doctor nodded, and then added, “The Seelie heal each other. It’s remarkable. I’ve heard of injuries worse than your woman’s and contact with kin overcame them. It’s what makes them so hard to defeat in battle. They touch each other and regenerate.”
‘Niall Brigant!’ Eric thought and he felt his balls shrivel. He could imagine the Fae King’s reaction to his Granddaughter. Eric’s hand hesitated as he considered that Sookie might decide to leave him. The Doctor was staring, so Eric forced his hand to move. He pushed the phone buttons, texting, ‘Sookie’s been injured. She needs your help. Please come.’ He hit send, and then brought up Pam’s information. ‘Can you come to Boston? I need you.’ He checked his watch. Ireland was only five hours ahead, which meant Pam was already resting.
Niall was not. There was a shimmer, and then a pressure in his ears that made Eric rear back in pain, and the Fae King was there. He was dressed in soft pants and an open shirt. He looked like the most interesting man in the world, except, instead of a beard, he wore a neat ponytail that trailed between his shoulders. “How did this happen?” he asked. He didn’t sound angry, but Eric wasn’t fooled.
“I failed her,” he answered.
“But, I can see you didn’t turn her,” and Niall looked happier.
Doctor Bellweather’s was shocked, his face as pale as if he’d seen a ghost. The Were’s eyes were wide and Eric could see he was close to shifting. Eric wasn’t sure what animal the Doctor manifested, but he couldn’t think it would be good to shift near his patients. “Doctor,” Eric said sharply, then “Doctor! This is Sookie’s Grandfather, Niall…”
“Greetings, Prince Brigant,” and the Doctor bowed, remembering himself.
Niall glanced at the Doctor and dismissed him just as quickly. He leaned over Sookie and his nose wrinkled. “I truly hope she loves you, Northman,” he sniffed. “She reeks of you and I’d hate to think she didn’t enjoy the process.”
“Can you help her?” Eric asked, ignoring the slight.
Niall took Sookie’s slack hand in one of his own and trailed the long, elegant fingers of his other hand across her forehead. “So far…” He said quietly, and then he straightened. “She is badly damaged. What caused this?”
“She was struck by a car,” Eric replied.
“And you weren’t there to guard her?” Niall was taking less care to hide his growing anger.
“She was…we were… She was walking away from me. We were fighting. She wasn’t watching and she stepped into traffic…”
“Was she running away from you?” Niall asked.
“She was angry,” Eric confessed, “but I don’t think she meant to leave me.” Eric looked back at her. She was so pale, “Please!”
“I see,” and Niall finally acknowledged the Doctor, “You! We need a bigger bed in here. Arrange it! And some food, wine if you have it.”
“I don’t think the patient…” the Doctor stammered.
“Not for her, Dog,” Niall scoffed, “For me!” Niall threw off his masque, allowing his true face to be seen, and then he dropped his other shields. The room started to fill with soft, golden light. “Northman, you may find the light I bring to become uncomfortable, but if you can withstand it, I may need you,” Niall said.
“I’ll stay,” Eric announced. Dawn was still hours away, but, if he could help, if she might wake, he wanted to be where she could see him.
A crew with a gurney arrived. “Pardon me,” the Doctor interrupted, “We’re taking her downstairs for scans. It won’t take long and it will help us see what’s going on.”
“It won’t be necessary,” the Fae Prince sniffed. Another withering look was all it took. The Prince sat in the only comfortable chair and gestured at the small table when the tray of food was brought along with a bottle of wine and a glass. The Prince ate until a bed large enough to accommodate two people was wheeled in and he watched as Sookie was lifted from one bed to the other. A chair was brought in for Eric as well, but Niall snarled, “Take that away. The vampire doesn’t need to sit!”
Eric opened his mouth to protest, but stopped. He felt his failure keenly. Standing beside her was the least he could do, so he stepped to the other side of Sookie’s bed and laid his hand on her chest. Even in this state, touching her made him feel better.
“I will arrange a blood line,” and the Doctor moved to the cabinets on the side of the room.
“She doesn’t need that, either,” Niall interrupted. “She has everything she needs. Make sure the vampire has a place to go come sunrise. Better yet, post someone outside the door so I can call them if needed.” Wiping his hands, he stood. He looked at the Weres standing in the room, and curling his lip, commanded, “Get out!”
“But…” The Doctor’s mouth hung open, but Niall’s look ended any protests. “Fine. I will post someone outside. The light-tight area is just around the corner,” and the Doctor followed the retreating attendants.
As soon as the door closed, Niall glared at Eric, “Help me get her clothes off.”
Eric knew better than to protest. He wasn’t sure what the Prince had in mind, but he had no doubt Niall would do what was necessary to heal his own blood. As Eric removed her underwear, the Prince started to strip. “What are you doing?” Eric couldn’t help it. He had to know.
“We heal best when we are in close contact with our own kind,” the Prince told him. In another minute, he was naked and getting onto the bed. He pulled Sookie’s still body next to his, wrapping his arms around her and breathing into her face. “There,” he sighed.
Eric could see gooseflesh rise on Sookie’s arms. The room was cool and he took a blanket to drape over her. “Do you fight often?” the Prince asked. His eyes were closed, his face alongside Sookie’s.
“Often,” Eric agreed, “but not always. She is…stubborn.”
“And so are you,” the Prince chuckled. “Perhaps it would be best if you were to lie next to her, too. She seems unsettled. With your bond, it is probably your presence she seeks.” Eric moved to the bed, but the Prince added, “Skin to skin is best, Northman,” and Eric shed his clothes.
Even with the bigger bed, it was a close squeeze. They turned Sookie on her side so her front was pressed against the Prince and her back to the vampire. “I have to admit, I’ve never been interested in having you in my bed,” Niall said, his bright eyes looking over Sookie’s shoulder.
“You are not known for preferring men,” Eric answered.
“But I have them from time to time. There is something about a man that satisfies in some way women can’t. No, it’s not that,” and Niall sighed. “It’s you.”
“I suppose I should be insulted,” Eric said, making an effort to hold up his side of the conversation. He wished the Prince would stop talking. He wished Sookie would respond to him, give him some sign, but neither wish was granted. Niall quizzed Eric about their trip to Minnesota and when Eric shared the words of Lars’ mother, Niall became more interested.
“Witch,” he nodded. “I don’t think Adele knew that in Ireland. I would have known.”
Eric remained silent. He thought of how he had no clue as to Sookie’s abilities until she showed him.
It was almost dawn when Niall exclaimed, “There!” The Prince’s attention shifted back to the woman between them. “Can you feel that? She is starting to heal.”
Eric reached out, closing his eyes and searching. While he didn’t feel her consciousness, there was something about her essence that seemed brighter. “I think so,” he acknowledged.
“So, why was my Granddaughter leaving you?” the Prince asked.
“She wasn’t leaving me,” Eric huffed. “She was angry. I did something foolish.” Niall’s eyebrow rose, waiting. “I treated her as a pet; dressed her as a pet. I thought it would make things easier at the Summit, fewer questions. Someone must have explained it to her.”
“Is that how you see her, Northman? A pet?” and the Prince’s eyes narrowed.
“No,” and Eric decided. “I love her.” To his embarrassment, Eric’s voice almost failed him.
“What did you say?” Niall demanded.
“I said, I love her,” Eric repeated more clearly.
And Niall Brigant laughed! His glow grew with his humor and the room began to take on that tell-tale sweetness.
“Niall!” Eric gasped, his fangs descending reflexively. It was enough to quell the Fae King’s merriment and the scent disappeared at once, to Eric’s relief.
“Your Maker would be so disappointed in you!” Niall chuckled.
“Yes,” Eric agreed. “He would seek to punish me, which is why it would be best that he never knows.”
‘A vampire doesn’t love.’ It was one of the cardinal rules of his kind. A vampire protects his own. A vampire defends his progeny. A vampire guards his possessions, but a vampire doesn’t love.
It was the first lesson any vampire learned, but not all Makers were as dedicated to teaching their progeny as Appius Livius Ocella.
In their early days together, Appius would throw Eric together with others, encouraging Eric to form friendships, only to kill those companions in front of his progeny. Once he felt certain Eric had learned that lesson, he tempted Eric with lovers, sharing them, showing them affection, until he could see Eric’s reluctant attachment forming, so by killing them, he could cement the point.
Even after Appius told Eric he was ready to leave him, still Appius tested his child. Once, when he thought he detected a sign of sentimentality, Appius used his Maker’s command to force Eric to use his own hands to destroy those around them. Appius was a stern taskmaster and his lessons included vampires and Fae as well as countless humans.
Eric understood the lesson, even if the process left him loathing himself for centuries. An emotional vampire was a dead vampire. Planning and plotting required detachment. Survival required the willingness to sacrifice all around you, and Appius made sure Eric’s heart was hard enough to survive, and Eric had. Even now, Eric’s greatest achievement, his child, Pam, had never heard the words Eric had given to Sookie this night. Eric told Pam he was proud of her, he told her she was precious to him, but he never said he loved her.
Niall stared at the vampire for one long moment before saying, “Your Maker is a monster…”
“My Maker is a great vampire!” Eric defended.
“Still, it would be best, as you say, that he not find my Granddaughter,” Niall said, confirming Eric’s worst fears. After a moment, Niall added, “I really do understand. Loving her Grandmother cost me much. I lost a Granddaughter. I might have lost a kingdom and in the end, she left me.”
“Was is worth it?” Eric asked.
“It was,” the King smiled. “Every moment.”
Eric nodded. “I thought my world was one way. It is not. She…” and he closed his eyes, savoring the feel of Sookie against him, “Sookie changed that. She is a risk I am powerless to refuse. It requires a new kind of courage, one that will take a new way of approaching things.”
“I’m not sure why you look so down-hearted, Northman” Niall smirked, “I’ve never known you to shy away from new things, Eric.”
It was the first time in all their long acquaintance that Eric could recall the Seelie calling him by his first name. “This is different,” Eric told the Prince. “Like you, this goes against everything I was taught. I will need to learn all over again,” and he felt her. It was just a moment, but it was her. He couldn’t help smiling, “She is worth it.”
“Go to your rest, Northman. Day comes,” the Prince announced. Eric could feel it, too, the creep that was the approaching dawn. When Eric lingered, the Prince added, “Don’t worry, she’ll be here when you rise. I’ll see to it.”
There was a human standing outside the door, as the Doctor had promised. “This way,” she said. Eric’s fangs itched, but he decided to go to his day death hungry. He would wait for Sookie. His room was just around the corner, a strong lock on the inside door. Eric dropped his clothes on the chair and grabbed his phone. He activated the locator program that would send Pam his address. Soon, his child would rise and he thought of his new-found resolution. It was a new day. Perhaps, soon, Supes would mainstream, their world of connections that could be no more than partnerships and alliances becoming obsolete. Perhaps he was forging a new path for his kind. “Or, perhaps, this is the beginning of the end for you,” he said morosely.
He reached out and she was there. She was still faint, but her presence in the bond was stronger. “I will see you soon, Sookie,” he said to the darkness. “I love you,” and the words felt both bitter and sweet on his tongue.
Sookie stretched. She felt good and at the same time, feeling good felt all wrong. Her eyes opened and there was a white ceiling above her. She was naked and she turned, looking for Eric. ‘It was all a dream,’ she told herself.
But Eric wasn’t there. “You’re awake,” a familiar voice said.
“Grandfather?” Sookie’s eyebrows drew together. “Are you the dream?” she asked.
The King laughed, “No, although I’ve been called that before!” Sookie rolled over. Her Grandfather was sitting beside her. He was dressed in his suit, his cane under his hand. His pale hair was loose around his face, lifting and waving as if a slight breeze was blowing around them. Just seeing him reminded Sookie of looking at the sun. “Welcome back, Granddaughter,” he greeted her. “What do you remember? Do you know what city you’re in?”
“Boston,” Sookie replied, and then wasn’t sure. She took a breath to steady herself. It was disconcerting. She thought some more and then stated, “Yes, I am in Boston. We, Eric and me, we went to the King’s party.”
“Very good,” and her Grandfather beamed as if she was a bright child. “The party you remember was the King’s Summit, which was last night. Do you remember anything else?” Niall was wearing his Fae face and Sookie automatically slipped her masque to match, wanting to feel as much connection with him as possible.
“Eric,” she stammered. “Where’s Eric?” She was remembering more now. She remembered arriving at the Summit and she could see herself dancing. Then she remembered sitting by herself and the way the vampires stared at her. She was sitting right there and they talked past her, but about her. She had challenged one, asking a question. She remembered the female vampire’s face, how the woman’s lip curled. ‘Leashed pets are seen, not heard,’ the woman hissed. ‘Northman should have trained you better!’ “Leashed?” Sookie said aloud, the pictures playing through her head. “Chained, then,” the woman laughed cruelly. Sookie remembered how angry the woman’s words made her. She remembered how angry she was with Eric.
“Your mate hasn’t risen yet,” Niall was saying. “He will be most pleased you have recovered so well. I hadn’t realized…”
Sookie tried to sit up and as she did, a long, sharp pain erupted in her side. “Ow!” she winced.
“Ribs take a while to heal,” Niall informed her, “but you have done better than I would have anticipated. By this time tomorrow, you will barely feel any of your injuries.” Niall leaned forward as if to stand, “I have done my part to get you started, but feeding from your mate will complete your healing…”
“I’m not feeding from Eric!” Sookie exclaimed. “And don’t call him my ‘mate.’ At the moment, I don’t think I’m talking to him at all!” Sookie tried to lever herself up again, but the pain was persistent. Finally, she compromised with her body. Rolling over rather than sitting upright, she asked, “How did I break my ribs?”
“Don’t you remember the accident?” and her Grandfather settled back into his chair. “Northman told me you were signaling a cab.”
Sookie searched her memories. She thought she remembered voices, maybe lights, but, in truth, everything after the vampire woman was a blur. “Not surprising,” Niall said sympathetically when she told him. “You suffered a head injury as well. You may regain those memories in time, or not. Perhaps it’s best you don’t.”
Sookie reached out to take her Grandfather’s hand. His fingers were long and pointed and just touching him was like feeling Spring. “Please tell me what happened to me,” she sighed.
“Would you like me to get in bed and hold you?” Niall offered.
Sookie had the feeling the Fae had done that already and the idea made her a little uncomfortable. “No, I’m good. This is enough. Do you know what happened? Can you tell me?” she asked again.
“Well, I can only tell you what your vampire told me,” Niall sniffed. “It seems you stepped into traffic, Granddaughter. You were fighting with the Northman. He tells me you do that often and so your head was turned. You didn’t see the on-coming car. These cities with all their traffic, so dangerous!” Niall patted her hand, and then stroked it. “You should know that you were very damaged when I arrived, Sookie. I would have thought Northman would turn you rather than risk losing you, but he did something I wouldn’t have expected. He put your wishes first and he called me.”
Sookie took the opportunity to look around. It gave her some time to consider what her Grandfather said. She and Eric had talked about turning her; he’d requested the option in the event that she was severely injured. Granted, she hadn’t said yes, but she hadn’t exactly said no, either. “Maybe he just doesn’t want me to become a vampire,” Sookie offered.
“Northman tells me you know how he feels about you,” Niall replied and Sookie could hear his disapproval. When she didn’t reply, Niall pushed, “Has he? Has he told you what you are to him?”
“You mean that he loves me?” Sookie asked, her voice small. She couldn’t look at her Grandfather, “How is that different than Breandan? Breandan told me he loved me too…”
“Do you really think that Rogan’s son and the vampire are the same?” Now there was no doubt. The scorn dripped from Niall’s tongue, and Sookie felt her quick blush overtake her.
Sookie waved her hand, trying to explain, “It’s just…”
“You do him an injustice, Sookie,” Niall continued to scold. “I have my issues with your mate, but the Northman is a man of honor. He stands by his word. Breandan Brigant was a child and no matter how old he grew, he would have always been a child. I trust you know the difference.”
“He let those vampires think I was some chained pet,” Sookie protested, her chin jutting.
“He disguised you in a way that would keep his own kind from molesting you,” Niall countered. “He should have explained it to you, but it was crafty.”
Sookie’s hands fisted, “No woman should be chained…”
“There is right, there is wrong, and there’s the way things are,” Niall huffed. “He did his best to take you into a dangerous place and keep you safe. I would have preferred he not take you at all, particularly now that I see how your childish reactions have made things worse.” Niall sat back, staring at Sookie’s stricken face, “But, how could he?” he said, as if to himself. “He loves you. He fights for every second he can spend with you, preferring you by his side in all things, even if it places him in danger.”
Sunlight was streaming in the window. Outside, Sookie could see a tall, industrial building. “Maybe,” she conceded, “but in the end, he left me here…”
“Do you really believe him so unworthy of you?” Niall didn’t really look curious. If Sookie had to put a finger on it, she might have said disappointed. “Of course, he is here. He could have had you placed in a light-tight room, but he wished you to wake to the sun.”
“He did?” and Sookie felt ashamed. “Where is he?” she asked and she closed her eyes, reaching for him.
“Let him rest, Granddaughter,” Niall told her. “He stayed until the last moment. He was here all night, holding you, offering his blood.” Sookie sat back, and Niall nodded. “I can’t explain to you the courage it takes to set aside all your beliefs for one person. I did that once, for your Grandmother.”
“But, how can I trust that? How do I know if I should believe him?” Sookie asked. She wanted to believe what Niall was telling her, but she’d believed so many things before; things Breandan told her, things her Mother told her, things Eric told her, only to find out they weren’t entirely true.
“If you ask a test of him, he will grant it,” Niall told her, “but I warn you, Granddaughter. My Adele asked a test of me, a proof of my love, and I gave it to her. In the end, it cost us everything.” Sookie looked at the Seelie ruler, and although he didn’t say it, she knew he was talking about her Father.
“Vampires don’t change, Sookie. Once they are transformed, that is how they stay forever, but, somehow, you have changed Eric Northman.” Niall stood now, “Be mindful of the great power you have over him, Sookie. Be mindful of what demands you place on him, because he will try to give you all you ask.”
“I don’t know if this is going to work,” and Sookie bit her lip.
“If you truly wish to leave him, I will find you safe harbor,” Niall told her, leaning down to kiss her forehead, “but it would be my advice that you remain with him. I sense great things ahead, as long as you are willing to give him as much as he gives you.”
There was a strange pressure, and then a flash and her Grandfather was gone. In that next moment, Sookie felt Eric, joyful and anxious. ‘Älskade,’ she thought and opening her arms, turned her eyes toward the door.