Author’s Note: Today my first story, Swimming for the Light was nominated for four ‘You Want Blood’ awards. It’s a big deal in this fandom and voting starts May 15. Anyone can vote and the nominees, while not every wonderful author in this fandom, do represent a fair number. I encourage any and all to readers to google, peruse and vote for your favorites. You will also find Breathesgirl who betas this work as well as others nominated and American Android, who’s banners have captured both Swimming and The Far Reach.
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.
Nautical Note: Catching the anchor is what it implies. You have anchored with an unknown bottom and while you have managed to catch against an object and now feel relatively secure, there is a risk that the anchor will not release when you are ready changing you from secure to snagged, or captured.
The packing had gone so quickly. One minute she and Eric were sitting together at the table surrounded by their things; a happy couple living a happy life. And then, in an instant the cottage looked more like what it was; a temporary place for temporary living. Most of the clothing had been boxed and sent by van to New Orleans last night along with photos and other small items. Picking up and handing over the books and knick knacks had brought to mind all the things that had been the setting for her life in Gran’s house; all the things that were lost forever. Sookie had had to leave at one point and find a bench in the quiet garden under the night sky to collect herself. She would never have the furniture of her childhood sitting in her rooms. She would never pull out the shoebox of photographs and share them with her children or grandchildren. She would never again be able to run her hand over the cool surface of the old wooden rolling pin that had been in her family since long before her grandmother. All those things had been lost in the fire. Sookie looked into the sky and felt herself adrift; rootless. There was a great unknown in front of her and she found herself questioning her ability to face it without the things that reminded her of who she was and where she came from surrounding her.
Eric found her there. He sat beside her and took her hand in his. “Nervous?” he asked. Sookie glanced at him. He was looking ahead, his eyes clear and focused on some point on the horizon. He seemed anything but nervous. Holding his hand Sookie felt that she was being silly; Eric was her fixed mark.
“Not as long as you’re here,” she said and laid her head on his shoulder. He drew her closer, his arm wrapped around her.
“You are my good luck charm,” he said above her. “Things are only right when you are beside me.” Then he had turned his face and smiled that wonderful, open smile that made her feel warm all the way down to her toes.
Their lovemaking that night had been slow and wonderful. Every moment had felt like a promise between them. When Eric had cried out, “Detta är bäst!” Sookie had found herself in full agreement. This was best.
Sookie woke up well after noon. She grabbed her swimsuit and a peanut butter sandwich and headed outside to lie on a lounge chair. She and Eric were almost done reading The Lord of the Rings and were debating what book to pick up next. Eric had nixed Austen and Sookie had nixed The Art of War. Sookie wondered where they would find themselves reading at the palace.
Sookie found herself running through memories of what she remembered of the building in New Orleans. She had seen recent photographs and it didn’t look like it had changed much. It was still the same funny four-story office building she remembered. It was kind of futuristic in an old-time science fiction kind of way. It had been built in the 1950s and had been considered pretty progressive at the time. It was located in the Garden District about three blocks from the Old Quarter. It seemed out of place since it was surrounded by residences or former residences converted to commercial use. The building itself took up the whole block and there had been barricades that kept people from walking on the same side of the street. At night the roads around the building had been blocked off as well. Sookie figured that Eric would probably keep all that in place.
Sookie flipped over and found herself smiling as she thought about Rasul. He had been a guard then in the retinue of Queen Sophie-Anne. Russell had told her that Rasul was now the king of Michigan. She remembered the way Rasul had laughed with her and how he had come with Eric to save her when she and Quinn had been kidnapped by the Pelts. ‘Wonder if he’ll come to the coronation?’ she thought. She wondered if becoming king had changed him.
Sookie tried to remember any other vampires she had met there. It was possible that none of them would still be in residence. After all, there had been a lot of vampires killed with Katrina; their bodies never recovered. And Victor had taken possession of the palace and probably did some of his own house cleaning. Still, it would be nice to see a familiar face or two.
Sookie flipped a couple more times and then walked back into the cottage. She tried to ignore the empty look of the rooms and carefully let herself into the bedroom. She stripped off her bikini and slipped into bed, her sun-warmed body immediately registering the cool of Eric. She moved to her side and dozed until she felt something touching her ear. She rolled over onto her back and saw his faint glow looking down at her, his eyes dark pools in the pale circle of his face. She reached up and pulled him down to her. ‘This is right,’ she thought.
There was some formal leave-taking. Sookie made a point to say goodbye and thank you to the staff of servants and the guards who had been most visible during her waking hours. Thalia took a little longer. Sookie thought she was probably spending some extra time with the donors since the evening was bound to be long. She grabbed Eric’s hand and pulled him aside. “Are you sure you had enough to eat, sweetie?” she asked.
Eric’s face lit up and he smiled broadly. “I like this,” he said. “You worry about me and you care about my well-being,” He stroked her cheek and then impulsively kissed her, his fangs pressing against her lips. “Yes, älskade. I am fine.” His eyes tilted and his smile became warmer. “And you? Did you get enough to eat?”
“Yes, Eric,” Sookie smiled back. She looked up into a face that was ‘her’ Eric again and she felt like all things were possible; this was possible. Then Eric’s face turned and she could see the two black cars coming up the driveway. When Eric’s face turned back to hers once more she realized that in that moment he looked like a child on Christmas morning; the excitement for this next adventure so clear and Sookie couldn’t help but feel caught up in his happiness. She squeezed his hand and they walked, side by side to the driveway.
The drive wasn’t long; only two and half hours. Eric spent most of his time texting. Sookie checked her email and answered a congratulatory message from Jason and Michele. She felt a quick stab of guilt. It had been weeks since she had seen them. She wondered how they would feel about an invitation to the palace. She tried to imagine a formal dinner with Jason at the table. Then she wondered if vampires even had formal dinners. She glanced at Eric and realized she must not have muted well because he suddenly looked at her, his eyes concerned. Sookie rolled her eyes, “I was just realizing I don’t know a lot about vampire etiquette. I mean I know the bowing thing and the no touching thing. But I’d imagine there’s other stuff that’s particular to dealing with royalty?”
Eric smiled then. “Yes, good,” he said. “There are many rules and expectations. Too many to go over in the car. When we arrive I will arrange for someone to spend time with you explaining the traditions. I expect you will find some of them tiresome. I do. But it may be best to behave as people expect until we are established.” As he said those last words his eyes strayed to his phone again. “Aah,” he said in a way that did not sound happy.
“What is it, Eric?” Sookie asked. She sounded a little shrill to her own ears and she realized she was starting to be afraid. She focused on Eric’s face and when that didn’t center her she focused on the top button of his white shirt and concentrated on her breathing until the tendrils of panic subsided.
“That bitch of a woman has arranged a circus to welcome our arrival. I had hoped for something a little more low key.” Then Eric looked over at her. When he saw her gaze directed at his chest he leered at her, “Unfortunately, lover, that will now have to wait until later. It would be hard to explain wrinkled clothing to cameras. And the famous Twy would certainly call us out in a most inappropriate way, I am sure.” Eric took her hand and kissed the back of it. He smiled at Sookie when she looked up at him, her Crazy Sookie smile plastered across her face and he moved her hand to his lap before he turned his head to stare out the window.
When they pulled up to the block in front of the palace the barricades were set aside. There were human police there; crowd control Sookie imagined. Their motorcycles and police cars all had flashing lights. There had been crowds of people lining their way for blocks before they even got to the palace.
Sookie’s first indication as to what she would find had been a sign hanging from one of the bridges they rolled under on the highway coming into the city. It had been huge; a long red banner that had the Fangtasia logo and in big letters, “Welcome Home Eric Northman! Long Live the King!” People standing on other bridges over the highway had waved to them and cheered. Now, as Sookie saw the smiling faces and the placards with Eric’s likeness and words of welcome she wondered what all this would really mean. It was one thing seeing it on the television screen. It was another realizing that she would be stepping into it.
The black cars glided to a stop and the door on the building side opened. Eric stepped out and then his hand was open to her, waiting for her to take it. Sookie shut her eyes, took a deep breath and then placed her hand in his.
The first thing that hit her was the noise. There were so many people and they were all screaming and waving. There were flashes of light from cameras. Sookie staggered a little as the wave of thought pushed at her in a way she hadn’t experienced in a long time. She had forgotten how invasive people’s thoughts were; how they shoved and shouted in her head. She realized it had been a long time since she had spent time just with humans; in fact it had been a long time since she had spent time with humans at all. Eric was standing beside her, his arm around her and he was smiling and waving to the people across the street. He felt her flinch and he looked down at her, his smile faltering.
‘Pull your big girl panties up and get a grip,’ Sookie told herself. ‘Don’t ruin this for him,’ and she plastered her smile on her face and made herself nod. She could tell he wasn’t totally convinced so she put her hand up and waved too. Sookie focused on blocking and trusted Eric to direct her movements. He turned them first one way and then another. Sookie just smiled, not really looking anywhere but at the wall she was building in her own head between herself and the wall of thought that was battering her. With every second the wall was stronger and Sookie was pretty sure she would survive. After all, in a few minutes they would be inside where it would be quieter. All she had to do was keep it together until then.
The tall redhead that Sookie recognized as being Twy was behind them. “Come on babies,” she said. “Time to go inside and get busy.” She moved ahead of them and then turned her own back on the crowd, signaling to Eric to turn and walk toward the door. Sookie could see the hall and she found herself looking forward to the quiet that would feel like a cooling balm over her poor, battered defenses. They passed a guard that Sookie didn’t recognize, but she was wearing that same black outfit that Sophie-Anne had favored. Sookie’s eyes closed and she let go a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. But when she opened her eyes she realized the inner entrance to the public rooms of the palace were lined with camera crews and journalists. They were all preparing their questions and working out how they would attract the attention of the king. Their thoughts were loud and so close. Sookie swayed then and Eric stopped, his look becoming alarmed. Thalia was right behind them and she stepped forward and placed her hand on Sookie’s shoulder.
“I need to get away from all this noise, Eric,” Sookie told him. Eric looked at her and then looked at Thalia and he nodded.
Thalia leaned forward and asked, “Can you walk on your own power?” Sookie nodded.
“Yes, but we have to get somewhere quiet soon before I embarrass myself.” Thalia came up beside her and gripped her hand tightly. Sookie glanced up at Eric and she saw his look of concern and then something else; disappointment.
“Where is she going?” Sookie heard Twy snarl. “We don’t have time for this if we are going to make the evening news.”
“Sookie is unwell. I will handle it,” Eric was saying. Sookie made it through the next set of doors and into the corridor before everything went dark and she felt herself falling.
Sookie woke in the dark. She sat up and reached blindly beside her until her hand hit a table. She followed the table until she found a lamp and then following that until she found a switch. It took a little fumbling to get the switch to turn. Sookie looked at herself. Someone had dressed her in a white satin nightgown. It was far more luxurious than anything she ever would have picked for herself. The sheets on the bed were some kind of silky material. Sookie wondered if they were actually silk. The colors around her were the colors she had selected; ice blue and marine blue and tans and linen. She was in their bedroom at the palace. And she was alone.
Sookie slid to the edge of the bed and sat up. Her head still ached but she knew she had to find a bathroom. She eased herself up and noticed the froufrou slippers beside the bed. She couldn’t think who would have ever thought that she would be interested in wearing slippers with heels, but she could see where some folks would think it looked sexy. She padded barefoot to the doors in the room. One led to a closet. Another led to a bathroom and Sookie found the switch. There was a toilet and a stand-up shower. The vanity and mirror were nice. But it wasn’t anything real special. Sookie wondered how she and Eric were ever going to fit in that shower together and she felt a little sad. ‘Maybe because they are all vampires they didn’t have any bathrooms up here,’ Sookie thought. Sookie washed up and walked back into the bedroom. She found her phone and checked the time. It was late; almost three in the morning. She wondered where Eric was. Sookie looked at the last set of doors and wondered if they just led to a corridor. Sookie didn’t want to be walking around the hallways in some negligee but she thought it would be okay if she poked her head out and took a quick look.
Sookie opened the doors to find a sitting room. The lights were on and the room was richly furnished. There were dark leather chairs and a love seat. There was a dark wood table and the walls were all a rich taupe. There was thick crown molding and thicker baseboards all painted a creamy white. The walls were lined with bookshelves and there were rows and rows of beautiful books. Sookie walked into the room and found herself moving from one table to the next, admiring the beautiful things. There were maps and daggers and amazing wood puzzles and gadgets. She realized with a start that these were Eric’s personal items. She had never seen most of them but there was no doubt in her mind that they were his.
She opened a door in the far corner to find another small bathroom/kitchenette area that included a sink, a refrigerator and a microwave.
Then she opened another set of double doors and found a second bedroom. It was larger than the one she had been in. The bed had a large headboard and the furnishings were more masculine. Sookie looked around and realized she was looking at the king’s bedroom; Eric’s bedroom. She felt her lip tremble and she realized she didn’t know what to think. She could feel tears coming to her eyes and she felt stupid. “I don’t know why I’m surprised,’ she thought. ‘All those years I didn’t want to share my living space with him. Guess he felt the same way too.’ Sookie knew that it was kind of close; the two of them in the same bedroom every night but she had started to think it was kind of cozy and she thought he had too. But she could see now she was wrong.
Sookie wandered back into the sitting room and sat on the loveseat. She picked up a pillow and hugged it to herself and she allowed herself to cry. She cried for the exhaustion that she felt and the rawness of her nerves. She cried for the dreams she had built for herself in her head and the reality that was facing her now. She looked around the room and thought about her cousin Hadley and how she had probably lived right here sharing space with the Queen until she wasn’t. When Sookie dragged the back of her hand across her face she saw the sword leaning against the far wall. Something about the sight of that weapon made her give herself a mental shake. Gran didn’t raise a quitter and Sookie was not going to be some big bawl baby. ‘I made this bed,’ Sookie thought. ‘I made these choices. I will figure it out and if it doesn’t suit, I’ll get the hell out this time.’ And Sookie almost started crying again as she felt her heart wrench at the thought of any life that didn’t include Eric Northman.
She pretty much had herself under control when she heard the door open. Eric came through, his face concerned. “Lover? How are you? Are you feeling better?” He was beside her and he wrapped her in his arms and Sookie found herself crying again; crying for the life that they had had in Jackson. She felt like she had when Eric rose and the curse was lifted and everything she had built their dreams on was gone. She could tell that this Eric; this king Eric was puzzled and disturbed by her tears but she was so tired. Finally she hiccupped a little and stopped. She pushed herself away from him and when he resisted she said, “I need to get some Kleenex.’ He nodded then and waited for her, his eyes never leaving her as she went to the small closet where she had found the kitchenette. She found napkins and blew her nose, threw them away and then grabbed another handful. She ran a little cool water and splashed her face. Then she headed back to where he was waiting for her.
“Melanie told me that she had someone here with you. Where are they?” Eric asked.
Sookie shook her head. “I don’t remember seeing anyone, Eric. I guess I passed out downstairs and I just woke up here a little while ago. I guess I missed everything. I’m sorry,” Sookie said and she could hear the waver in her voice. She took a deep breath and mentally bitch slapped herself for being so weak. “I’m sorry if I ruined things. I wasn’t prepared for that many people and the noise in my head was more than I could handle. I promise I’ll find a way to practice. I’ll be more prepared next time.”
Eric opened his arms to her and wrapped her up into him. He stroked her back and spoke above her head. “No, lover. It is me that is sorry. I should have anticipated this. I should have made it clear to Twy that she needed to clear things with us first. I will not have you subjected to that kind of thing again. I promise you.”
Sookie nodded and found her hand wrapping into the front of his shirt. Above her Eric said “Come, lover. Let’s go to bed. Dawn will come too soon and I want to go to my rest knowing you are in my arms.”
“Which room?” Sookie asked. She could feel Eric grow still beneath her.
“What do you mean, Sookie?”
“Which bed, Eric? Your bed or my bed?”
Eric pulled back and tilted her face up so he could see her eyes. “What are you talking about, älskare?”
Sookie gestured with her hand towards the doors of the main bedroom. “You know. The king’s bed and then the other bed; the one where you keep your favorite girl.” Sookie felt ashamed that she had even said it out loud. Eric growled.
“Sookie, there is only one bed,” and he lifted her and carried her towards the main bedroom. He kicked open the door and tossed her on the large bed. His eyes raked over her, lying there in the long white gown. His look turned distinctly predatory. “This is where you belong; beside me and under me. There is only one bed for us,” and he ripped away his own clothes before he ripped away hers.
Sookie woke up the next morning in a tangle of sheets and heavy limbs. There was a persistent noise coming from outside the double doors. Sookie hadn’t remembered shutting them but they were shut now. She reached over towards where she knew there was a switch for the bedside lamp, pulling her legs from under Eric’s dead weight. She finally found the wall switch and toggled it on to fill the room with soft light. The furnishings around them were either tumbled or half buried under sheets and shreds. Sookie pulled the rest of the way until she was free and padded to the large bathroom suite they had discovered last night. The shower in this room was large enough for the two of them and more besides. And the tub? Eric could lay down in it and there would still be room for her. Sookie took care of things and washed her hands. She wondered what her body would have looked like if she hadn’t been taking Eric’s blood so frequently. She blushed a little as she thought of the claiming they had both done. Well, her Gran had always told her that folks who said the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach didn’t know squat about the bedroom. Thinking of how she had had him begging last night did send a little thrill through her lady parts.
The sound from outside the doors became even louder and Sookie opened the door to the closet to get some clothes so she could investigate. That’s when she remembered that she had no clothes in this room. Someone had thoughtfully set all her things in the other bedroom. Eric had assured her that he didn’t know anything about it and she believed him. Sookie found a button down shirt which she pulled on. It hung to about mid-thigh but the sides scooped up higher. She found a pair of stretchy boxers and pulled those on. She figured they probably looked like bicycle shorts on her. She used one of Eric’s ties as a belt to hold them up better. Then she carefully opened the door.
There was a guard right outside and he turned to look at her. “Well, hey!” she said and plastered a smile on her face. She made herself step outside and shut the door firmly behind her.
The were bowed slightly. “Ma’am,” he said. Sookie looked up to see a box spring being taken out of the suite on a wheeled cart.
Sookie held out her hand. “Well, I’m Sookie. And you’re..?”
“Titus,” he answered.
“Pleased to meet you, Titus. What’s going on?”
“King’s orders. There is to be only one bedroom. The furnishings in the other room are to be removed before nightfall. There are instructions that the king’s woman will make decisions as to what the room will become.” As he turned to face forward again, the were had a slight smile playing across his lips. “I would assume that the king’s woman is you.”
“Well, Titus, I think you are right about that,” and Sookie smiled again. “But right now the king’s woman needs to get some clothes so she can take a shower and figure out the rest of her day. You think I can get those folks to stop for a minute or two so I can get in there?”
The tall were walked forward and clapped his hands. Heads swiveled his way and he said, “Take fifteen. Get rid of the stuff in the hallway and then come back.” As the movers were leaving one of them turned and gave Sookie a long, appraising look. Titus growled loudly and the man’s head snapped forward and he moved a little more quickly. The last one shut the door behind them. Sookie walked toward the other room and Titus resumed his place outside the king’s door.
“Thanks, Titus,” Sookie said with a smile. Titus nodded but didn’t make further eye contact.
Sookie showered and dressed. She had had to dig around to find her jeans and she finally gave up the search for a t shirt and pulled on a silky shirt that draped a little lower than she liked in front. She did find some cute, flowered sandals and pulled those on. If she was going to have to walk around she didn’t want her feet hurting. Sookie checked the time and realized if she hurried she’d still get a chance to grab a couple more hours of sunshine before Eric rose. But she also realized she didn’t have a clue where to go or how to get there.
Sookie walked back into the sitting room. She looked up at Titus and said, “I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mind showing me where I can go to get something to eat. And I would like to get a little sun before the day is over?”
Titus looked down at her. “I can’t leave my post but I can send for someone to guide you. There is a person here who made it clear that she wants to meet you. I will have you taken to her.”
Sookie nodded. “Hey, I understand.” Sookie sat down while Titus texted. Within a few minutes a woman opened the door.
“Good, you are up. The demanding one downstairs has been asking about you for hours. Come, we need to hurry.” Sookie felt her smile rather decidedly flipping upside down and her relative good mood souring.
“Well, she can just bank her burn. I want some breakfast and I would like to have it in a nice, quiet sunny spot. You think you can manage that for me?”
The human looked at Sookie in a way that said she was going to protest when Titus cleared his throat. “You should listen to the king’s woman,” he said. “The king has made it clear that her wishes are his wishes.”
The woman’s face became neutral as she bowed slightly and said, “Of course. My apologies.” She gestured towards the door with her hand, “This way. I understand there is fresh fruit or eggs if you prefer.” Sookie stood to follow but before she left the room she turned to Titus.
“Thanks. Appreciate it.” The tall were nodded his acknowledgment but he never turned her way.
As they walked down the corridor Sookie remarked on it; how it made her feel a little like she wasn’t really there. The human woman turned to her and shook her head. “Of course he’s not going to look at you too much. You belong to the king. If Titus or anyone here were to look like they were too familiar with you it could mean their death. No one touches what belongs to the king.” Then the woman giggled a little like she couldn’t believe how silly Sookie was, turned and kept walking at a brisk clip through the hallways and down the stairs.
Sookie followed along but there was something about the whole tone of what was being said that didn’t sit well. She had always bridled at the possessive way that vampires talked about each other. Sookie didn’t want to start making trouble, but it was hard not to be angry when folks treated her like she was just something the king owned. ‘Take a deep breath, Sookie,’ she told herself. ‘You’ll find your bearings soon.’ Sookie hoped she was telling herself the truth.