Author’s Note: Welcome to the sequel of Swimming to the Light. I designed this to allow you to read separately, but there are characters and circumstances that would make more sense if you read Swimming first.
My thanks to Breathesgirl who beta’s my work. Amazing and insightful, my work is better because of her.
And my thanks to American Android who’s talent has created a haunting and beautiful image that inspires me.
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.
Eric walked with purpose into the pool house. In three strides he was through the porch; in four strides he was through the living area; in two strides he was in front of the telepath and on his knees so he could be at her eye level.
“What happened this time, älskare?” he asked. Eric scanned her pale face. At least she had the grace not to shrug and deny she was injured. But then again, with the way her shoulder was bulging she probably couldn’t shrug. He found himself sighing. “I don’t suppose I need to ask how you dislocated your shoulder. Would you like me to fix it or do you want me to call a doctor?” he asked.
“Fix it,” Sookie gritted out between clenched teeth.
Eric leaned forward, placing his own shoulder against her injured side preparing to use his own leverage to slip the limb back into place. But before he made any further move he whispered in her ear, “Blocking your feelings from me is not worthy of you. You make me worry unnecessarily.” When Sookie didn’t respond he grabbed her forearm in one hand and positioned his other hand in front of her clavicle and twisted. He knew that the swift movement was painful but she had been ready. She still managed to mute the feelings that flowed across the tie between them which made Eric Northman feel real fears.
Eric kept his head beside hers. He rubbed her shoulder as he held her arm at an angle across her chest. “I love you, Sookie,” he whispered. “I love you more than myself and you are safe.” It had become a mantra between them.
It had been three weeks since they had returned from the Amun Summit. The initial plan had been to stop just long enough in Jackson to collect Sookie’s things and then journey on to the palace in New Orleans. But the stress that Eric felt from the telepath made him reconsider. He knew that once the business of the kingdom began in earnest, his time with Sookie would be stolen between meetings and duties. It occurred to Eric that now, while the work of planning was needed there was an opportunity to spend time; real time with his woman.
Eric had discussed the idea with the kings. Russell had been skeptical but Bartlett had been enthusiastic. “Who is going to march in and wrest the kingdom? It’s not like the old days. Eric was introduced on national television; the journalists are lining up to interview him. If someone else shows up there is too much explaining to do. And it makes perfect sense to do strategic planning from a remote location. It will allow conversations away from distractions.”
“You are a romantic,” Russell had said sourly.
“And so are you!” Bartlett had answered. And so the princess and the Viking had taken up temporary residence in the pool house located behind Russell Edgington’s mansion. The Mississippi and Indiana kings announced they would be traveling to the Indiana palace with no plans to return south until the Zeus Summit.
Before they left, Bartlett Crowe, the Indiana monarch, had pressed Eric and Sookie to move into the larger house. “Consider the house as your own,” he had told them. But Eric knew that the close quarters of the pool house were better suited to their needs right now.
As he held Sookie close Eric thought back to the night of the Amun Ball.
Three Weeks Prior:
His being named king had seemed like the answer to all their prayers. They had been surrounded by well-wishers; there had been not one sour face. Even Ralph, King of Kansas had unbent when Sookie turned her charms his way. Eric had experienced a moment as they stood with Sandy Seacrest, Kansas and Pam; Sookie joking and everyone smiling when he was sure that he could never be happier. They had danced and their lovemaking that night had been sublime. She had fallen asleep in his arms, her sweet smell in his nostrils.
Then, in the hours before dawn she had become restless. Suddenly she bolted upright in the bed, her body cold and clammy. She had screamed until she found herself. Eric hadn’t been able to understand some of the words, but ‘Sam’ had been clear. She had calmed after a bit and snuggled back into him. She had curled her fingers through the dusting of hair on his chest and held on tight long after he felt her slip back into sleep.
That night had been the first of many.
Eric called down to the front desk and spoke with the concierge to change travel plans. He didn’t want Sookie sitting alone while he was in his daytime travel coffin. He changed planes, placing them on a commercial flight at night so he could be beside her. As Eric returned to the bed and gathered her back in his arms, he found himself thinking back to the nights following her rescue from Neave and Lochlan. It had been a tense time for both of them. He had had to pay penalties to Victor Madden to spend every night with her. He remembered how she would appear on his rising; hollow-eyed and disjointed. They had talked a great deal during that time of small things but mostly he would hold her as they both stared into the fire. She would insist on making love although he knew she gained no satisfaction from the act. Then she would go to sleep only to wake screaming and disoriented.
Eric had hoped their return to Jackson would break the cycle but it hadn’t.
When they arrived that first night Thalia had met them at the airport. He would never forget the sight of her bowing low to him and saying “Your majesty.”
“Pam will be angry with me,” he told her with a smile. When she raised her eyebrow he explained. “She would want that on video. No one will believe me.” Thalia had drawn back then. Her fangs had dropped and she had hissed loudly enough that people stepped back. The dark haired vampire turned on her heel and headed toward the baggage area without another word.
“I think she’s going to make sure you are sorry for that, Mr. High and Mighty,” Sookie smiled at him. “Thalia is fine until you find her limit and I think your ten seconds is up.” Eric had nodded and he pulled the telepath in close and kissed the top of her head.
“Yes, lover. I think we can look forward to the return of the legendary Thalia.” Sookie had seemed fine, holding his hand and smiling at everyone and everything. Her mood seemed level and her emotions were pleasant. The ride to the mansion had been uneventful. Thalia had refused to respond to any further attempts at small talk so Eric and Sookie had answered questions for their were driver about the Summit.
They had pulled up in front of the pool house (‘the Lorena Ball Memorial Pool House,’ Sookie jokingly told him) and the driver had jumped out to grab the luggage. As they walked up to the door Eric had scooped Sookie off her feet and carried her to the door. “Put me down, Eric!” she had laughed. “I’m perfectly capable of walking on my own two feet!”
“But isn’t this customary? I’m carrying you over the threshold.”
Sookie had laughed some more and pushed against his shoulder, “You only do that when you’re married and we aren’t.”
Eric pulled her against him and purred into her ear, “Well then consider this practice, because it will happen.”
Sookie smiled brightly up at him and he stopped right in the space between inside and out to kiss her. He found himself lost in her; in the feeling of her in his arms. He remembered their time when he had not known himself and she had been everything to him. When he pulled his face back he found her bright eyes on his own. “Jag älskar dig min hustru,” he told her.
“And what does that mean, Eric?” she asked.
“It means you should learn Swedish,” he smiled and then tossed her up just enough to catch her before bringing her all the way indoors. He set her down and looked around. The room was small but neat and the gas fireplace had a cozy flame burning. It was not the same as the wood fire that they had cuddled in front of in Bon Temps but it was still cheery.
Sookie gestured to the room on the left. “That is the room I sleep in,” she told him. Then she glanced at the other door. “And that is Thalia’s.”
“Begging your pardon ma’am but Thalia moved back into the guard barracks last night,” the driver said as he set down their bags. “It’s just you.” Then he winked and closed the door as he left.
Sookie had looked up at him but he could feel that she felt suddenly awkward. He found his face breaking into a smile. “Are you hungry, lover?” he asked. When she didn’t break eye contact and blushed he said, “For food or for something else?” and he reached out and stroked between her legs.
He heard her breath catch and her mouth had dropped open. Then she stepped forward and ran her fingers lightly over the ridge in his pants. “Both. And you?”
It took an effort but Eric managed to raise an eyebrow and leer while stepping back. “I am always hungry for you. So we should make sure you have all your strength.” Then Eric had stepped toward the kitchen area and opened the refrigerator.
Sookie walked up behind him and put both her hands in the back pockets of his jeans so she could squeeze his butt. “Don’t suppose there’s much in there besides some TruBlood,” she sighed.
“Actually it’s very full. What looks good to you?” Eric asked and he unhooked her hands from her favorite body part and pulled her around so that she stood with her back to his chest. He draped his arms around her and pulled her back against him.. Sookie started to laugh. “What is so funny?” he asked as he felt her amusement wash over him.
“I was just remembering my Gran,” she told him. “She’d come in the kitchen and me or Jason would be standing just like this in front of the refrigerator, the door wide open, trying to decide what to eat. She would yell at us! ‘Don’t let all the box air out’ she’d say and tell us that nothing new was going to show up if we shut the door to make up our minds.”
“You still miss her,” Eric had said in a way that was a statement and not a question.
Sookie had leaned back into him. “I always will. She took care of me and she loved me no matter what. I always knew that it didn’t matter what happened or what I said, that would never change.”
“That is how I feel,” Eric said. “You are part of me now. I will never let you go.”
Sookie squeezed his forearms and leaned back further into him. He bunched his muscles a little and squeezed her gently. She felt that he was all around her and that she was truly safe. Then she smiled a little. “Eggs, I guess. And juice. That sounds good.”
Sookie stepped forward a little to break out of her Viking’s tight embrace so she could pull things from the refrigerator but Eric held her more tightly and when she thought she would have to make an effort to get away he said in a quiet voice, “Teach me, Sookie. Teach me how to feed you.”
Sookie couldn’t remember ever feeling more surprised. She turned in his arms to face him. She couldn’t keep the skepticism from her face. “You? You want to learn how to cook eggs?” When he continued to watch her, his expression steady she said, “Have you ever cooked human food before, Eric?”
“Not in over a thousand years,” he replied, his voice level and steady. He tipped his head down and his eyes became more intense. “Will you help me?”
Sookie couldn’t help grinning. “I really don’t think you’re going to like this,” she said. She turned back to the refrigerator and pulled out the carton of eggs and the butter dish and turned back to hand them to Eric. “Well, come on then,” she said and headed towards the stove.
Sookie pulled the heavy skillet out and put it on the burner. Then she pulled out a bowl, a fork and a spatula. Eric watched her closely. Sookie giggled. “I can almost hear your brain checking off everything. Click, click click.” Eric smiled broadly as she took the eggs and butter from his hands and set them on the counter. When she grabbed a towel and tucked it into the waistband of his pants his eyebrow raised and his look turned more predatory. “Stop right there, buddy. This isn’t an invitation. I’m just making sure you don’t slop all over your clothes.”
“Perhaps it would be better to have these lessons without clothes, lover,” Eric growled and he stepped forward, pressing himself against her.
Sookie pushed him back. “Sounds all good until something hot splatters and then it ain’t so funny,” she said. Eric schooled his look into something a little less hopeful and crossed his arms. Sookie talked about heating the pan to the right temperature first and using a little butter so things didn’t stick. She talked about how she liked bread toasted with her eggs, but since there wasn’t a toaster in the house they would grill the bread with the eggs. Eric buttered both sides of two slices of white bread and then pulled out the centers and set them on a plate. Then Sookie handed him the egg.
“You know how to crack eggs?” she asked. Eric nodded but his expression was not confident. Sookie stood back and watched the Viking tap the shell lightly against the bowl and then stick his thumb through causing the whole thing to disintegrate in a puddle of shell and goo. “Huh. Vampire strength makes it a little harder than you remember?” Eric stalked to the garbage can, wiped most of the mess from his hands and then proceeded to the sink to wash off the rest.
“I remember breaking open duck eggs. Mostly we ate the contents raw or we boiled them. They were a delicacy when we traveled. I don’t recall how they were cooked in my parent’s home. We had others who did that work for us.” Sookie almost laughed at Eric’s serious look but there was something that made her hold back. After a minute his eyes stopped looking across the many years and returned to hers. His look was warm and his brief smile was so open it made her heart clench. She realized in a flash that she was seeing ‘Him’; that same Eric who had lost his memory and been wholly hers. “What is it, lover?” he asked and his eyes crinkled a little as his smile widened.
“Just happy,” she told him. Then she reached past him, grabbed another egg and handed it to him with a knife. She showed him how to use the blunt side to crack the eggs and once there were three in the bowl she showed him how to beat them with a fork. Sookie stood slightly behind Eric, talking the vampire through each step: Turning on the heat; putting the buttered bread down in the hot pan; pouring egg into the openings scooped from each slice. “You know, this is how my Gran taught me to cook,” she told him. “Always figured I’d do this for my own kids some day.” Sookie caught herself and Eric’s eyes cut to her as he felt the pain shoot through her. She shrugged and smiled a little too broadly. “Never thought in a million years I’d be teaching a vampire!” And then her look changed a little. She bit her lip and leaned forward to talk him through how to flip with the spatula.
Eric felt absurdly pleased as he successfully turned the first slice. He turned to Sookie for praise and found himself facing her filming him with her phone. “Pam is going to love this! Wave, Eric. Smile!” When he looked like he might grab the phone from her Sookie looked past him and scolded, “You pay attention buster! Don’t you dare burn my dinner!” Eric scowled but turned back to the pan. The next egg flipped half in the pan and half across the stove. When Eric turned back Sookie was reaching for a plate. “Yup, Pam is going to love those. You make one handsome chef, Mr. Northman.” Eric plated the food and walked toward the table. Sookie turned off the stove and shook her head at the mess.
Eric watched the first bite travel from her plate to her mouth. Sookie felt like a bird being watched by a large cat. When she’d chewed and swallowed she smiled, “That is really good Eric. Thank you! Couldn’t have done better myself.”
“Of course, lover. I do everything well,” Eric drawled and leaned back, his hands behind his head and stretching his long legs out in front of himself. But Sookie had seen the flash of relief that passed over his face. She ate slowly, allowing him to enjoy her enjoyment. Then she saw an edge in the way he was looking at her.
“You hungry, sweetie?” she asked. His look turned immediately more interested. Sookie wiped her hands and her mouth and stood up. She walked over to him and threw her leg over his so that she could sit down on his lap facing him. Eric sat straighter and wrapped his arms around her.
“Are you sure, Sookie? There are donors at the house. If you are tired there is no need.”
But Sookie smiled at him and softly stroked his face. “You feed me, Eric Northman, I feed you,” and she swept her hair to the side baring her neck and leaned in. She felt his tongue lick along her neck, preparing her.
“I love you Sookie Stackhouse. I am yours,” he whispered and then he struck.
Dinner had progressed to a shower and then some vigorous bed testing. Sookie found she was too tired to think about cleaning up the kitchen and decided it could wait until tomorrow. She snuggled into her Viking and felt sleep overtake her.
The bed was empty when she awoke later, her throat already dry with screaming. There was a shift in the air and Sookie had a moment of irrational fear as she struck out. “It’s me, Sookie,” Eric crooned. “It’s me. You’re safe,” he said as he stroked her arm and then moved forward again to wrap her up in his arms.
Sookie tried to remember the images that had been chasing her in her sleep. She remembered a dog and she remembered a flash of ginger hair and the sense of old teeth leaning over her and telling her that it would only hurt once and that she’d come to love it. “I was alone, Eric. I was all alone.”
‘Sssh, lover. You aren’t alone now. You will never need to be alone again. I will always be here for you,” the Viking crooned and he rocked her gently. Eric had been in the main house using the laptop and making calls when he felt her panic. While he was reluctant to take any time away from their time together, he realized he needed to conduct some work during her waking hours if he was to stay closer while she slept. He felt her slowly relax in his arms and then her breath slowed as she slipped back into sleep. Once he was certain she was settled he pulled out his cell and texted Pam.
E: I will need you to bring recommendations and paperwork to Jackson. When can you arrive?
P: I can be there tomorrow night. Do you need me to stay?
E: Yes. Plan for several nights.
P: How is she?
Eric looked at the woman sleeping beside him. She was curled on her side. Her hand had slipped next to her face. Her mouth was slightly open. He could see some unpleasant thing sliding across her face.
P: Never thought I’d see you in an apron. You look like a demented Paula Deane.
E: I’m sure that is a compliment. Do not post that video. I mean it.
P: Too late. Sorry. Next time.
Eric pulled up the Fangtasia Facebook account and sighed. She had not posted it there which was good, but Eric had not really thought she would. Pam was the consummate businesswoman. She knew the value of brand and Eric was part of the mystique that sold the club. Instead the messaging that started to buzz his phone came from their more intimate friends. Maude responded and Stan asked if he had lost his mind. Russell texted that he did not look like a monarch and maybe they had made a mistake. When he received the message from Twy he promised himself that Pam would pay. The publicist congratulated him on making cooking look both terrifying and sexy. She asked if he would be willing to demonstrate his skills as part of an article about mainstreaming in America. Eric shook his head in disgust and set the phone aside. Dawn was approaching. Eric pulled the covers back and slipped in beside Sookie. He lightly stroked her cheek and whispered, “Sleep well, my lover. Think of me. I will see you soon.” And Eric slipped into the black of day death until magic found him again.
Sookie rolled over and touched the button on the bedside lamp. In the low light she found her phone and touched the screen. It was already mid afternoon. Sookie groaned and rolled back. She felt Eric’s bulk beside her and she pushed against him just to feel the comfort that contact with him seemed to give. She turned her face and looked at his pure profile. His mouth wasn’t open. His cheek wasn’t creased. Sookie shrugged. It wasn’t fair that he always looked so perfect, even when he rested. She smiled and shook her head a little, leaned over, kissed his forehead and then rolled back and out of bed. Sookie grabbed clothes from the dresser and closet; just jeans and a tee shirt and headed to the bathroom.
The towels from last night were still on the floor and there were clothes in a damp heap in the hallway. “Boy, I forgot that part of living with someone,” Sookie said to herself. “Sure kills the romance.” Sookie picked up one large boot and walked it back to the bedroom. She set it against the outside wall next to the door. She knew there was another boot somewhere in the house and she’d come across it. No reason to be traipsing in and out of the light tight room multiple times. The shutters in the house were drawn and that prevented any stray light from entering but it did still seem like a risk. Sookie went to the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher. She scrubbed dried egg from the stove and the counters. She couldn’t help but giggle at the thought of Eric’s face when that first egg had exploded in his hand.
Sookie showered, taking her time and turning the water temperature higher and higher until her skin was bright red. The heat of the water made some of the tension in her shoulders unwind. She rubbed her scalp, spending time on the knots at the base of her skull. Sam was dead. It hit her again. Sam Merlotte no longer existed. She would never look up to see his face smiling at her. He would never sneak up behind her again. It didn’t seem real. “He’s dead,” she said out loud to the water. “He will never hurt me again.” Sookie didn’t know how to feel. She turned off the water and dried quickly. She pulled on her clothes and found some shoes.
Sookie headed out into the sunshine and started walking toward the trees that lined one side of the property. She saw a were guard who waved to her and she waved back. She picked up a sturdy stick that must have blown down during some storm and kept going until she was under the canopy of leaves. She hit the stick against one of the tree trunks and liked the sound it made. There was something about the shock of the impact and how it traveled up her arm that felt good too. Sookie hit the stick a little harder against another of the trees she passed. And then another. She came to a large oak and she squared off, remembering her softball stance, and she swung with all her might. The stick shattered. Sookie looked around until she found another stick; thicker and more green. Sookie swung the stick over and over again. The shock traveled up her arms and down her back. She felt her teeth rattle with it. When that stick broke she found another and then another. She swung and hit until her fingers were numb and her arms burned. Then she walked in circles, shaking out the cramps so she could pick up another stick and do it again. She swung until night fell and Thalia found her.
Eric stood outside and watched them approach. Thalia kept her distance until Sookie swayed, and then the vampire would reach out and touch the telepath long enough for her to regain her balance. Then Thalia’s arm would drop and she would continue forward as though the contact had not happened. When Sookie looked up Eric met her eyes and opened his arms. She fell into him and he wrapped her up. She was shaking and he knew it was with exhaustion.
Thalia stood back a little and said, “Breather, when you are ready we should resume our training. Your strength has returned. You might even prove a worthy opponent.”
Sookie turned her head and nodded. “I think that would be good.” She turned her face up to Eric. “Are you going to spar with me too?”
Eric met Thalia’s eyes briefly and then turned his gaze to Sookie. “No, älskade. I would not be able to lift a hand against you even to help you train. It is not in me.” He looked back at Thalia. “Thank you for walking her back.”
Thalia nodded. “Yes, it is good that someone is outside since you are now so tamed.” Her lip curled. “Perhaps a dress next time? The apron was not enough.”
Sookie’s eyes went wide and then she started to laugh. Eric squeezed the telepath a little. “You have had a long day and now I will need to think of something to pay you back for your little trick, my love.” Eric felt Sookie still suddenly and he felt something uneasy. “I am teasing, Sookie. I am not unhappy. But such a trick will require that I play a trick too, yes?” And Eric felt the dark edge recede and watched as Sookie’s smile brightened in a natural way.
“Pam will be here tonight,” he told them both. “I expect her in the next few hours.”
Thalia smiled. “The work of the kingdom begins.” Eric smiled as he looked down at Sookie again.
“So, we should find you something to eat before things become busy.” Then Eric looked back to Thalia. “We can meet at the main house in a couple of hours.” Thalia nodded and Eric turned both he and the telepath back toward the door of their temporary home.
Sookie found herself walked into the kitchen. Things were already pulled out and eggs had been beaten in a bowl. There were vegetables chopped and it looked like every dish had been used. “I was thinking that you might like an omelet,” Eric said.
Sookie pasted a smile on her face and looked up at her vampire. He was grinning like a schoolboy and she just didn’t have it in her to be angry with him. “Omelet sounds great!” she said and allowed him to seat her at the table so she would have a ringside seat to watching him trash the kitchen in the name of love.