NOTE: I wish to acknowledge Breathesgirl’s contribution. The ‘story within the story’ is hers. Thx LRC
Sookie was crying with the abandon of a child. “I’m so sorry, Eric! I didn’t want to do this! I’ve been working this around in my head and I thought I‘d be all brave and having something all inspirational to say. Instead I’m just a hot mess.” The pain of parting rushed over her again and she found herself sobbing helplessly, her fingers gripping and then stroking his sides. She was ashamed that she was wasting their last minutes together. She knew she had snot running down her face and that just made her cry harder.
At first Eric had been alarmed by her complete disintegration. One minute she had been a shield maiden at his side, planning confidently; a rock. But as he moved to the edge of the bed in preparation for dressing she had crumbled. He had felt her confidence recede and a great sadness fill its space. And then she had flung herself across him and started to cry. He had tried to shush her but finally given up the effort and leaned back against the headboard, wrapping her in his arms and allowing her to give vent to her feelings.
It had felt like a storm; rocky and turbulent but underneath the grief and the sadness he had felt something new from her. There was a connection there that was aimed at him. It felt like acceptance but was somehow deeper and more pure. As her wails slowed and became a kind of hiccupping, he felt it more strongly. He had thought he had felt love from her in the past but now he knew that he had not.
“Do you regret this?” he whispered to the air above her. He was suddenly afraid of the answer. But Sookie turned in his arms and grabbed his chin. He couldn’t help chuckling. She looked terrible but at the same time never more beautiful.
“Never. I love you. I love you Eric Northman. And if you want me to bond with you right now to prove it I will!” Sookie struggled out of his arms and started scrubbing at her cheeks with the back of her hands. She looked at the table beside the bed for Kleenex. Eric handed her a towel they had used earlier and Sookie used it to wipe her face. He could feel her pulling herself together. She looked at him and she sent him a feeling of pure possessiveness. He actually felt himself warming because the sensation was so strong. “I said it before Eric and I’ll keep saying it. I am yours. I am yours with everything I have; my heart, my body, everything I am.” Sookie wiped at his chest and then leaned to lay her head back against him.
“Well,” Eric chuckled. “Perhaps I should ask you to have that tattooed somewhere so that when you forget the reminder will be handy.”
Sookie snorted. “Like ‘property of Eric Northman’?”
‘Nothing that grand.” He smiled. “’Mine’ will do.” Eric pulled her into his arms and kissed her. Sookie remembered reading in a novel that a true kiss was one where you kiss like it’s the last time. Eric’s lips on hers felt like goodbye.
Eric felt her sadness return. “No lover,” he whispered. “No sadness now. We will part but only for a little while. We will be together again. That is written for us both. We have walked far but our journey’s end is now ahead of us. Surely you believe in that.”
Sookie smiled then and nodded. Eric; her Eric smiled broadly. “Let me go now, lover. Let me remember this moment and how you look. Amun Summit is in weeks. Find a way to be there. We will see each other again.” Then he wrapped her in his arms. Although Sookie couldn’t feel his emotions she was sure that he was not feeling as strong as he sounded.
He pulled away from her once more and moved to the side of the bed. Sookie turned on her side and he looked at her over his shoulder.
“It is time,” he said. “Never doubt me. Never doubt us. Close your eyes now and count to twenty. Know that with every breath you take I am one step closer to you.”
Sookie closed her eyes, tears falling freely down her cheeks. She counted and when she opened her eyes Eric Northman was gone.
Sookie returned to her room. She sat on the bed and relived every moment; every touch that had passed between herself and her Viking. Dawn was approaching and the horizon was streaked with pinks and oranges. “Red sky in morning…” Sookie thought. There would be a change in the weather and it would not be fair skies. Then she remembered her favorite movie and Scarlett O’Hara standing against a blazing sunset holding the turnip and declaring that she would fight on.
“Gran didn’t raise a quitter,” Sookie said out loud. She stood up and headed for the bathroom. Step one was taking a shower. As the hot water hit her she hissed. “Sure missing that healing now,” she grumbled and then she smiled again. When she emerged she pulled on comfortable clothes and headed back to the kitchen.
Lydia and Barbara were sitting around the farmhouse table. They both looked up but before they could talk Sookie held up a finger and headed for the coffeemaker. Coffee in hand she took a seat. Barbara reached over and took Sookie’s hand. Lydia smiled her eyes soft with concern. “He’s gone?”
Sookie returned the smile. “Yup. He’s headed back to Oklahoma. And I’m fine. Better than fine.”
Barbara nodded. “Well you look like a gal that could use some breakfast,” she said and she stood up and walked to the other side of the kitchen leaving the telepath and healer alone. Lydia continued to watch her. When Sookie met her eyes they gazed at each other for a minute. Finally Lydia spoke.
“Ok, then. So you want to return to Mississippi?” Sookie nodded but Lydia did not look convinced. “You’re sure that this is the right time?”
“Lydia, I know how I look. Part of what you’re seeing is a gal who’s had no sleep and who’s sitting end is darn sore, so don’t read too much into it. I feel all kinds of nasty but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a smile on my face.” Sookie waited for Lydia to respond. When she didn’t, Sookie continued. “You’ve said yourself I’m ready to be returning. I know this isn’t perfect but from where I sit it’s so much better than I ever expected. I thought I’d be returning to a new place and having to figure out a new life among strangers. I thought I’d be starting from scratch knowing that I would never be whole. Because that’s what life without Eric is for me; what it has been for me; a half-life. I’m not saying I would have refused to be happy or retired into some quiet corner. That’s not me. I would have made friends and I would have got up every morning and done my best by everybody. But that’s not the same.”
Lydia leaned over and took Sookie’s hand in hers. She could see that the telepath believed what she was saying. “I don’t doubt you or what you’re feeling. But I can’t help but think that this reconciliation is very fast. You were so far apart and in a moment you are together. Having met your Viking I can understand how anyone would be swept up in the moment.” Lydia smiled and squeezed Sookie’s hand. “I have come to care about you. I do not want you to ever return to this place.” Lydia waited until Sookie nodded. “Are you sure of him?”
Sookie’s smile tightened and became a straight line. Her eyes turned hard and she withdrew her hand. The look she gave Lydia was far from friendly or weak. “I like you Lydia and I owe you a great deal. I know that everything that I am from now on is partly due to you. I will never forget that. But don’t you ever say anything to me against Eric. I know what he told me and I will never doubt him again. If you value my friendship then you better respect him too.”
Lydia looked down at the table. She squeezed Sookie’s hand again and then released it. “As we’ve discussed I have been keeping the kings updated with your progress. I will give them a call tonight and we can get things rolling. I’ll have luggage and boxes brought to your room. Pack enough for the flight home and a couple days after. We’ll ship the rest.” Lydia noticed that Sookie was reluctant to meet her eyes. “Sookie?” Lydia waited until the telepath finally looked at her. “I am happy for you. I am happy for you both.”
Sookie nodded. Barbara came back to the table with a plate of fresh fruit and scrambled eggs. Barbara placed her hand on Sookie’s shoulder. “We are going to miss you, sweetie,” she said.
Sookie nodded and picked up the fork. “Me too,” she said.
In the end it took days to finalize arrangements. Bartlett had insisted that Thalia be sent to Sanctum to accompany Sookie to Jackson. While he hadn’t offered an explanation Lydia had the distinct impression that there was some reason that the king wanted an extra degree of protection afforded the telepath. Clothes were boxed and sent by Federal Express. It was decided that Sookie would be sent back to Jackson on the kings’ private jet. This would minimize the chance that she would come to the attention of anyone supernatural once she left the protection of Sanctum.
On one of her last evenings in Connecticut Bubba called to speak with Sookie, and they spent over an hour talking about Jackson and music and how the pool house was being converted into a private residence for Sookie’s use.
“We sure do miss you down here, Miss Sookie!” the vampire told her. “Mr. Russell and Mr. Bartlett are both so happy to have you coming home. Mr. Bill is as jumpy as a June bug asking all the time when you’ll be here. And that nice lawyer Mr. C. arrived yesterday. He said to be sure to tell you he was looking forward to seeing you real soon.” Sookie wondered why the demon lawyer would be there and how he knew where to find her. She hoped that his arrival wasn’t signaling trouble. “It sure will be good to see you. Everyone down here is real nice but they don’t hold a candle to you, Miss Sookie.”
“Thank you Bubba. Just seeing your face will make it seem like home to me.” Sookie thought about the damaged vampire and the kindly-meant though frighteningly straight forward way he interpreted any assignment.
“Well, thank you Miss Sookie! Thank you very much,” he said in his trademark way.
The day that Thalia was due to arrive Sookie received a large arrangement of flowers. There were daisies and a dozen crimson calla lilies. There was no card but Sookie didn’t need one. She knew the flowers were from Eric.
Barbara smiled as she delivered the arrangement to Sookie’s room. “Daisies for patience and Calla lilies for passion. Guess we know where these came from.”
Sookie smiled but didn’t say more.
Now that the time was here, Sookie was finding herself increasingly nervous. It was one thing to say that she was ready but stepping forward into this particular unknown was daunting.
Darkness fell and Sookie found herself dressed and waiting alone in the main room. Leave taking with Lydia and Barbara had done nothing to lift her spirits. She couldn’t help but think that she might never see the women again. Lydia had hugged her close and whispered, “You are strong and your path is ahead of you. I am always a phone call away, but everything you need is here.” And she had touched Sookie’s chest over her heart.
Sookie turned as Barbara walked into the room trailed by Thalia. Even knowing that this was a vampire she admired and respected, Sookie still found herself holding her breath.
Thalia’s expression looked angry and her eyes were wary. She walked into the room, and then stopped several feet from Sookie. Sookie rose and when she made eye contact the vampire’s black eyes bore into the telepath’s. In spite of the short vampire’s frosty appearance, Sookie found herself smiling. “I am so happy to see you, Thalia”
Thalia’s eyes narrowed. “You reek of the North Man,” she hissed. Barbara’s eyes widened and then she turned and walked back out through the hall leaving Sookie and Thalia alone.
While Thalia eyed her, Sookie took a deep breath, centered herself and said, “Yes, Eric was here at Sanctum. He tried to convince me to return with him but I didn’t see myself in either Oklahoma or Louisiana.” Sookie smiled her broadest smile and walked past Thalia toward her bags.
Thalia fell into step at her elbow. “It would be better if you didn’t start by lying to me Sookie. You forget I know you both.” Sookie was silent. She didn’t know what to say. Thalia touched her elbow and Sookie stopped. She couldn’t bring herself to turn around and face the other woman.
Thalia waited but when it became clear Sookie wouldn’t look at her Thalia took the initiative to walk directly in front of her. She positioned herself close to the telepath’s face, purposely invading her personal space. “You must have a death wish to come back like this. Every supe within 10 feet of you will smell you and the vampire in you. Are you really thinking to tell people that he means so little that you walked away from him? Is that your plan?”
Sookie wet her lips and looked at her feet. She thought about what she knew of Thalia; what the vampire had done for her. She dug deep and tried to put bravado in her voice that she didn’t really feel. “Are you telling me that it’s so unbelievable? Are you telling me that no one will believe that a mere telepath could turn down the great Eric Northman?”
Thalia sneered at her. “You used to be a better liar.” Thalia indicated that Sookie should sit down. Then she moved herself to block the telepath. “This is what you are going to do. You are going to take my blood.”
Sookie reared back. She found herself having a flashback to that terrible night in Rhodes with Andre. She could see his face in front of her again. Thalia must have seen the panic playing across Sookie’s face because she said, “I will not force you, but you must listen to my logic.” Then she waited until she could see the telepath catching her breath. When Sookie nodded, Thalia continued. “The first thing that taking my blood will do is to muddy the scent you carry. People will smell vampire but my scent will be most clear. I am older than the Viking. My blood is stronger.” She waited again allowing Sookie to process this information.
Sookie swallowed several times. She gathered herself and then met Thalia’s eyes. “What will this do to Eric? Will it interrupt what he feels from me?” Thalia’s eyes narrowed as she considered the question.
“First, why does it bother you? I thought you were turning him down?” Thalia crossed her arms and waited.
Sookie looked away then looked back to meet Thalia’s eyes again. “When we were bonded and the bond stopped Eric knew. He was worried. I don’t want him worried.”
“You’ve become good at not answering questions. There may be hope for you yet,” Thalia told her and then she soundlessly laughed. “I can smell you are not bonded with the North Man. If you were it could not be hidden not even by my blood. I am glad that you were able to show some restraint. Bonding now would be a death sentence to you both. I would not wish to waste my blood for a lost cause.”
Sookie found herself smiling her Crazy Sookie smile. Her eyes widened when she saw Thalia smile back; grin really. It didn’t look happy exactly. “The other thing that you taking my blood will accomplish is to allow me to track you more easily. As your appointed bodyguard no one would question this.”
When it looked like Thalia was going to step forward, Sookie felt tears threatening. “Thalia, this is a lot for me to process. Just give me a minute?” Sookie drew several deep breaths to steady herself. Thalia crossed her arms, clearly willing to wait. Finally Sookie felt herself more grounded. She allowed her smile to become softer; more genuine. “I never thanked you for getting me out of Louisiana. I expect if you hadn’t I would never have made it to Sanctum. I am in your debt.” And Sookie bowed her head.
Thalia huffed. “There is no debt between us,” she told Sookie. “You have shown courage and a willingness to fight for our kind. You have put yourself in danger to end scum like Victor Madden.” When Sookie nodded, Thalia cocked her head to one side. She looked inquisitive. “Are things resolved between yourself and the North Man?”
Sookie took another deep breath then let it out all at once. She made a decision. “Things are not resolved; not truly. He’s in Oklahoma. I’m here. He’s pledged himself to Felipe and Felipe wants to get his hands on me. He sent Eric to get me and return me to Louisiana, but I expect you knew that.”
Thalia hissed. “No. I did not know that the Viking was sent like a messenger boy.”
Sookie nodded. “But if you’re asking if we are resolved to find a way to be together, the answer is yes. God only knows how all this will end, but one thing I do know is that I’m going to fight to find that way back to his side.”
Thalia smiled openly then. “Said like a vampire.” Thalia brought her wrist to her mouth and opened it with her teeth. She held it out to Sookie.
Sookie asked, “Will you want to drink my blood too?”
“No,” Thalia told her. “I have no desire take what belongs to another whether bonded or not.” Sookie nodded and stood up. Stepping forward she grasped Thalia’s wrist and lifted it to her mouth. Sookie saw the appraising look Thalia was giving her. Sookie said out loud the mantra that was in her head and that guided her steps, “Eric Northman is Mine!”
Thalia nodded. “You will be a mate worthy of him, breather. Drink, Sookie. Drink and live.”
Once they arrived at the mansion, Sookie and Thalia were dropped at the pool house. Sookie realized with a start that this was the same pool where she had hidden Lorena Ball’s disintegrating corpse so many years ago. Thalia noticed her wide eyed stare and scowled. “The Kings thought it appropriate that you be given the pool house as a residence since you showed such an interest in their pool.” Sookie found herself smiling in spite of herself.
The pool house was really a converted guest cottage. There were two bedrooms. Both were light tight with automated shutters. There was a kitchen and a cozy sitting room that had a gas fireplace. There was a bathroom with a large stand up shower. The entire front of the house was an enclosed air conditioned porch furnished in rattan pieces.
“I will stay here with you. When you are on the grounds you will be free to wander. If you leave for any reason I will be with you.” Thalia stared at Sookie, waiting for her challenge. She didn’t have to wait long.
“What if I want to leave to run errands during the day?”
Thalia gave her a level look. “You won’t.” Sookie winced. Thalia spoke the rest in a firm voice that told Sookie this was not negotiable. “There is too much that can happen during daytime hours that present danger. Weres, witches and fae all operate during the day. If you need something we can arrange for it to be handled during night hours. Most stores and other services have night hours now to accommodate us.” Sookie knew that ‘us’ meant vampires. “While you are on these grounds we are confident of your safety. Once you leave you need a competent guard.” Thalia made sure that she had the telepath’s attention. “And the only guard that can be completely trusted with you is me. You understand?”
Sookie found her temper rising but the hard look on Thalia’s face kept her from challenging the vampire. Sookie was still fighting with her better nature when there was a knock on the open door. Sookie turned to see Bill Compton’s head looking in. She noticed that Bill’s hair appeared to be a little longer. When he saw her looking at him he opened the door more fully and stepped inside.
“Welcome home Sookie! You look so much better.” Sookie could see Thalia staring daggers at Bill. She wondered what that was all about.
Sookie smiled her company smile. “Well it’s really nice to see you Bill. I’m not sure if I have any True Blood in the refrigerator. Why don’t I check?” Sookie found she appreciated the excuse to walk into the kitchen and get a moment to herself. She was exhausted. She found she felt edgy and wondered if that was the effect of Thalia’s blood. She opened the door of the refrigerator and found that there were several bottles as well as an assortment of human food. She grabbed two bottles, uncapped them and heated them in the microwave. Then she returned to the small living room. She set each bottle on a napkin near a chair and then seated herself on the couch. Bill took the hint and sat down. Thalia stared at the bottle of blood but left it untouched. She retreated to a corner of the room that provided the best access to exits.
“I won’t stay long,” Bill told her. “I know that you just got in. But I wanted to bring you something; a gift.” Bill held out a brown-wrapped box. Sookie took the item and realized that it was a book in brown paper. She smiled uncertainly and looked at Bill.
“Gee Bill; this was awfully nice of you. You didn’t have to get me something.” Sookie unwrapped it and looked at the slip cover. There was a picture of a bare-chested man with fangs. He was holding a voluptuous blond woman. The title was “Bonded by Desire” and Sookie realized that the author was none other than Bill Compton. She felt the Crazy Sookie smile starting in earnest. “Gee Bill. You wrote a book? That’s really great. And look at it. All published and everything.”
Bill was beaming. “I was so unhappy after the database stopped selling. Then I thought what if a vampire was to write a romance novel? It seemed like such a good idea. I put together an outline and I found that a couple of publishing houses had expressed an interest. I wrote the first few chapters and one of them offered to advance me money. The book just about wrote itself. I was inspired. And now there’s talk that it’s selling so well it might make the New York Times Bestseller list. It’s a dream come true for me.” Sookie found herself smiling so hard her cheeks were hurting and her jaw started to ache.
“And you know the best part?” Bill asked. Sookie shook her head. “It’s a story that was inspired by my own life.” Sookie started to feel a small tendril of panic. “Sookie, open the book and look at the dedication page.” Sookie couldn’t make herself stop smiling. Her fingers felt numb as she turned the first few pages to find: To S.S. This is for you. W.C. The book fell from Sookie’s fingers. She could hear Thalia laughing behind her. Bill scowled at the vampire. Sookie could tell from his face he couldn’t understand her reaction.
Finally Sookie remembered her manners. “Bill, this is really kind of you. I’m flattered that you think so well of me.” Sookie smiled at him but she knew her eyes still looked wild. Sookie started to take in Bill’s appearance. He was still wearing his usual Dockers pants. But now he was wearing some kind of button down shirt and a sweater that had leather patches on the elbows. She thought this might be his writer’s disguise. She wondered if he would wear glasses during his book signings. She found herself giggling, but the sound was more manic than happy.
Thalia stepped forward then. “You need to leave, Compton. Sookie needs to sleep.”
Bill smiled. “Of course. I will come to see you tomorrow night. I will tell you all about the book.” He smiled. “I am so happy that we finally have this chance to be together again.”
Sookie couldn’t think what to say. Her head was spinning and she felt hysterical laughter starting to bubble up through her. Bill left, but as he was shutting the door her turned around and winked at her. Sookie thought it looked more like a twitch than a wink.
Thalia walked forward and locked the door. “What an asshole,” she said. Then she turned to Sookie. “Don’t make me treat you like a child. Get into bed and stay there.” And Sookie did.