I heard Eric bellow something incoherent from the office next to the den. I was cleaning up after dinner and we were supposed to go to Bill’s house (ugh!) to see what I would need to get to start taking care of it. I kept drying the same pan slowly, trying to listen from the kitchen. Something or someone had made Eric furious. He stomped to the kitchen and I made myself busy again. He reached for a True Blood and stuck it in the microwave violently, almost breaking both the bottle and the microwave’s turntable. I didn’t ask what was wrong because I knew he would tell me any minute.
“They can’t find the woman who shot the shifters,” he said suddenly, just as the microwave beeped.
I tried to think of a good enough question. “Who are ‘they’?”
“The Shreveport Weres said they’d take care of it. They have all the information they need on that woman, and they still can’t find her. I think that good-for-nothing Andy Bellefleur would have found her already. Those fucking Weres won’t ask for help either. Don’t they understand I have a duty to them? Motherfucking mutts.” Eric stopped talking to gulp the blood. He barely ever cursed in front of me, only when he was extremely upset.
I didn’t know how to calm him or make things better. He was leaning against the kitchen counter, so I put everything down and got close, to hug his waist. His inner ire became subdued as he returned the hug with one arm. I looked up and he looked down. He’d been so mad that he was showing fang, but they were retracting now. Eric took a deep breath. “What did I do without you?”
“You probably stayed mad all night,” I answered, trying to contain a smile.
“You are right,” he hugged me tight and kissed my hair. “Let’s go to Compton’s. I can’t help the Weres if they won’t let me help. They’re the ones being targeted, not my people, so if they feel comfortable with their inept attempts at finding the woman then I have to accept it.”
We left soon thereafter, taking my car with the bigger trunk space, just in case. “I remember Bill had tons of True Blood. I’m sure they won’t keep for two years, so we should take them home,” I said, making mental lists of things I would have to do.
“Why in the world did you look inside the refrigerator?” Eric asked. He was amused.
“It wasn’t me, it was Jason. He was curious,” I answered. I thought about it. “I might have opened it too if he hadn’t done it.”
Eric chuckled. “What would you have done if you had found something other than True Blood?”
“Like what?” I asked. “A body?”
“No, not a body. Some of us drink real blood that comes in those bags, from donors. They’re usually stolen from blood banks,” Eric explained.
I must have made a face because he was laughing at me. “Why don’t you drink those?” I asked, peeved that he was making fun of me.
“I told you, they’re usually stolen. I’m a sheriff. I do not steal, I am the law,” he said, looking innocent. “So are you girls set up for the Super Bowl?” Eric asked, changing the subject.
Pam and I were going to have a Super Bowl party at Fangtasia. For that we needed several TV screens, subscription to cable (which the bar hadn’t had), and everything hooked up after Saturday’s closing, but before Sunday’s opening of the bar. This was Pam’s baby, more than mine, but I was offering moral as well as daytime support.
“Yep! I’ll go there Sunday morning and supervise the installation of the TV’s. Tomorrow I have to go there and supervise the cable people. Hopefully they’ll be done early so I can go visit Sam,” I said.
Eric made a face. “I don’t like it that you will be alone at the bar while those people work,” he said. For a moment I thought he was going to say something about my visiting Sam. I was glad he didn’t. “I can send Bruce instead,” Eric offered.
“I don’t like Bruce,” I said. Bruce was Eric’s day guy, and I’d been trying to tell Eric to just let me do whatever Bruce was doing, and save himself money and my aggravation with Bruce, but Eric said no. I was his wife, not his employee, and besides I was helping enough already without compensation. For a while now I’d waited tables just to help out, and given my tips to the other girls. Why in the world did I need my tips? Eric had set up a separate account for my spending whim… not to mention the household accounts that I managed. Plus I helped out with some of the fiefdom business once in a while, whenever Eric was overwhelmed. So Eric had kept Bruce for daytime business.
“Sookie,” Eric said my name in that way he had, as a warning that I was being pigheaded.
“Fine, call Bruce. Just as well. I didn’t want to wake up early tomorrow anyway,” I said, pouting like a teenager. He called Bruce before I had a chance to change my mind.
Bill’s house was dark and somber, a relic. It stood like a monster among the bare trees against a cloudy sky. It felt chilly enough that it might snow, though the weather forecast wasn’t clear on what kind of precipitation we were getting. It smelled like snow to me.
“Every time I come to this house I feel like I’m stepping into an episode of Scooby Doo. At any minute we’ll get attacked by bats and get chased by monsters. Did you bring the Scooby Snacks?” I asked Eric as we got out of the car.
He’d started laughing as soon as I’d said “Scooby Doo.” Well, at least one of us found humor in this situation. Wait ‘til he got chased by monsters. He wouldn’t find it funny then. Eric took my hand, still laughing, and led the way to the spooky house. The front door now sported a brand new shiny lock, courtesy of my bank account and Jason’s handiwork. Eric opened it with the set of keys that he was about to hand to me, and found a light switch right away. At least the front yard was now illuminated. The house was too, but the lighting was sub-par.
“The house was much brighter during the day,” I commented, holding tight to Eric’s hand. I was not going to let go until it was absolutely necessary.
Eric stopped in his tracks. He sniffed the air like he sometimes did, opening his mouth like a cat. Whatever he was feeling gave way to battle mode. He quickly moved me to stand behind him.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered.
“There’s somebody here. Show yourself!” he shouted into the dark house. Nothing happened. I half expected Bill to show up. “Sookie, go outside.”
Before I could even start moving back out the door, I heard the sound of shots being fired, Eric’s growls, and a sudden pop right in front of me. I was knocked to the floor, and felt a sharp pain on my tailbone where it made contact with the hard floor. I looked up, scared for Eric, who moved in a blur up to the landing that overlooked the foyer. There was somebody there, somebody who was firing a large gun in my general direction. I wasn’t getting hit, though, and I realized why. Claudine had been the one to knock me to the floor and out of the way.
“Come on,” she picked me up and ran right out the door as if I weighed nothing.
“He’s dealing with the threat. Let me deal with you so he doesn’t have to worry about you,” she said, and set me down behind the car, covering me with her body so I wouldn’t run away.
I focused on Eric’s feelings. They were a chaotic mess of rage and bloodlust. I started hyperventilating, and Claudine had to hold me to calm me down with her fairy proximity. Eric better be okay. Eric better be okay or I swore I would kill somebody. The shots had stopped. All I heard were growls coming from inside the house, and Claudine talking low and quick into her phone.
The night was quiet once more. I tried to get up but Claudine prevented it. “Stay,” she ordered me without moving from her spot.
“Is Eric okay? I want to see him,” I said, trying to get up again in vain. Claudine was as strong as a vampire.
“He’s okay,” she said in a very serious voice that was very unlike her. I asked her the question with my mind. “Remember I told you he loves you very much. He was only trying to protect you. Do not judge him too harshly.”
With that she stood up and helped me to stand. I immediately turned to the front door of the house, where Eric was just emerging. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief to see him, which was quickly dislodged by fear and dread. He was covered in blood. Obviously he had killed the shooter, but how much of the blood was his, and how much of it belonged to the other person? I started to walk forward but Claudine held me back.
“Keep her there,” Eric said. He looked exhausted. I knew he’d gotten hurt.
“Let me go,” I shouted, trying to break Claudine’s hold.
“Stay there,” Eric shouted back. That had the effect of stopping my attempts to break free. And broke my heart.
“You smell like me and he’s still under the effects of the bloodlust. Give him a few minutes,” Claudine whispered in my ear. I nodded dejectedly, watching his every move.
“The Shreveport Weres are coming. I called them to take care of this mess,” Claudine said. She was talking to both of us, but mostly to Eric.
“Thank you,” I heard him say in a very low volume. He was holding himself up using the front door’s doorjamb.
The time seemed to drag slower than ever as we waited for the Shreveport Weres to come. Eric didn’t move from his position, and I didn’t move from mine, watching and “listening” to his feelings inside me. There was a lot of fear mixed in with rage and bloodlust. He was obviously scared of hurting me.
“How’s your tailbone?” Claudine asked. “I’m sorry I made you fall. I wasn’t very accurate when I popped in this time.”
“I’m okay. How did you know to pop in?” I asked, never moving my eyes from Eric’s figure. He was staring into the middle distance between him and us.
“Whenever you’re in danger, I can pop to help you. The last time I popped into your house instead of the grocery store, simply because I wasn’t paying attention. I’m more tuned to you now,” she explained.
“That’s handy,” I commented, not really knowing what else to say.
“Sure, but not practical. It takes a lot of energy, so I can only do it in emergencies,” she paused. “I was able to speak to Niall. He didn’t tell me anything, only that he wants to meet with you and Eric.”
“Oh, okay,” I said. Well, it was about time I met him anyway.
“Seems to me that he already knows Eric,” Claudine mused.
“Yes, I know Niall,” Eric said from the door. He’d heard our whole conversation. “I will set up the meeting.”
I felt guilty that we had just given him something else to think about. Plus who had he just killed to save my life?
“Oh! I thought you knew,” Claudine said from behind me. “That was the woman who was shooting shifters.”
I nodded slowly. “How did she get in the house?”
“She forced a window,” Eric answered. Great! Something to add to my list for taking care of this place. I’d have all the windows replaced. “Claudine, please take Sookie to her house. I’ll be there shortly.”
Claudine didn’t hesitate, taking my hand and starting to walk towards the cemetery between the houses.
“Wait!” I said and she stopped. I couldn’t leave Eric here like this. “What the hell, Eric? I can’t just go.”
“Go home, Sookie. I don’t want you involved in Were politics. I promise I’ll be there soon,” he said in a stern voice, not moving from the door. “Please, Sookie, go home. For me,” he repeated in a softer tone. When he said it like that, I had no choice but to let Claudine pull me through the cemetery.
“Look, Sookie. You have to understand that Weres are bad news. You think vampire politics are bad, Were politics are worse,” Claudine started to explain as we walked in the darkness. She must have had super fairy vision, because I couldn’t see a thing. “Also, remember that vampires would like to use you to read human minds, but you can’t read vampire minds. But you can read shifter minds. The less they know about you, the better.”
We walked silently for a few minutes until I saw the dark outline of my house in the trees. Claudine paused at the perimeter and tried to touch something in mid-air. I knew what had stopped her immediately.
“You didn’t feel this before? It’s the barrier the witches put to keep out uninvited people from my house,” I said as we walked right through it.
“I drove in last time. I guess I wasn’t paying attention, or I drove through it too quickly to feel it, and since I’m invited it didn’t stop me. It’s clever,” she mused.
The security lights came on as we tripped the motion sensors. We made our way to the back porch where Claudine stopped. “Go take a shower. I don’t think I should go inside the house after the kind of night your Viking’s had. Can I trust you not to go looking for him? He’ll be here any minute as soon as he deals with the mess next door.”
“Yes, I’ll stay here and wait for him,” I said and rolled my eyes. Claudine and I parted ways and I headed straight for the shower. Since I didn’t smell anything, I felt like I was washing an already clean body.
“Sookie?” I heard Eric’s voice from the kitchen as I got dressed.
“Yes?” I said, since I knew that he could tell exactly where I was. He’d been trying to get my attention.
“Is there any way I can convince you to avert your eyes, while I walk to the bathroom?” he asked. He was being too formal.
“Eric, please…” I hadn’t been able to see him well, but I’d seen he was bloody.
“I’m afraid it will scare you. Please grant me this one wish,” he said. He was very close, probably standing in the hall right outside the bedroom.
“Okay, Eric. I’m covering my eyes,” I said, and did as he asked, feeling a little foolish but not wanting to upset him any further. I opened my eyes only when I heard the bathroom door close.
I sat in the middle of the bed and waited patiently. He was still upset, but until we spoke, I wouldn’t know why. He seemed more upset about this than when he’d killed the vampires that had come to get me, or when he ripped Bill’s arm. I wondered if he felt guilty for not being able to protect me and deal with the threat at the same time. I wondered if he resented that Claudine had come to my rescue.
The shower stopped. I knew he was done, but I wasn’t sure if he wanted company. I stayed where I was and continued waiting. He emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, brush in hand, sat on the bed and handed me the brush over his shoulder. I knelt on the bed and set to work. By degrees his emotions calmed and the longer I worked on his hair the calmer he became. So I decided to braid his hair, taking my time with it, running my fingers over his neck a little bit. He didn’t need me to do his hair. He needed my soothing touch. I took the band out of my ponytail and used it to secure the braid I’d just made.
Eric finally turned to me and I could finally see him properly. What I saw stunned me. He looked sunburned, and I knew that if I turned off the lights he would be glowing like a beacon.
“I drained her,” he confessed, waiting for whatever I would say next. By the look on his face and the sudden chaos of his feelings, I knew he would expect me to go off the deep end.
I remembered Claudine’s words, not to judge him too harshly because he was only trying to protect me. I put my hand on his face and stamped down whatever feeling of disgust or whatever words of reproach were trying to bubble up. He didn’t need me to make him feel bad about it. He was already feeling out of control and guilty as hell. I loved him enough to help him get out of whatever dark abyss he was mired in.
“Are you okay?” I asked, because that was one always my foremost thought: keep Eric safe.
“Yes. I am healed,” he answered, eyeing me cautiously and still waiting for me to say something bad. He looked as if he thought he deserved a verbal lashing.
I got close and hugged him hard. He was okay, and he’d saved my life. He hugged me back tentatively at first, but when he felt that I wasn’t going to let go, he hugged me that much tighter.
“Sookie,” he whispered my name, and finally, finally his feelings started pointing towards happiness and relief.
We made love slowly, savoring each other thoroughly. We needed it as a reaffirmation that we were both there and we were both safe. The rest could wait.
Sam was convalescing in a regular hospital bed in a regular hospital room by the time Wednesday rolled around. It was amazing to see the transformation. In less than a week he’d almost recovered fully from the brink of death. I brought him my famous Sookie’s Cookies, fresh from the oven. I knew he’d gobbled them up.
“Sookie, you’re too good. How’s Eric? I hear he ripped the Shreveport Weres a few new holes,” Sam snickered and reached for a cookie.
“He was upset but now he’s doing better. You know how he is: he sent them a bill for the repairs to Bill’s house. I’m surprised he’s not suing for pain and suffering too. He would, just to teach them a lesson,” I giggled, remembering how I put together the bill after getting the preliminary quote the day before. The gunshot damage had been extensive, plus dumb Bill had antique rugs on the landing that got soaked with blood. All of that was going to cost an arm and a leg to clean and repair. If the Packmaster had accepted Eric’s help from the get go, then Eric would have overlooked the expenses for this damage and simply called Bill’s insurance. But Eric was angry. Beyond angry. Eric was piiiisssed…!
I told Sam all of this and he smiled. “I got to thank him, Sookie. From the time I opened Merlotte’s he always helped.”
That shocked me. “Really?” I reached for a cookie too. “The first night I met him I knew you’d known him, but I didn’t know how.”
“Eric is very hands-on, as you know. He was sheriff and heard I was opening the bar. Since I’m a shifter, he came to make the introductions and to offer his help. Pretty much he wanted to see what kind of supe I was, but I think I gained his respect when I told him I was a veteran.”
“You are?” Boy! The surprises just kept on piling up.
“Yes, I thought you knew,” Sam said, looking at me curiously.
“How would I have known that if you didn’t tell me?” I said, sounding very much like a normal person. Even Sam gave me a disbelieving look. “I’ve always made it a point to not listen to your thoughts, Sam.”
His eyes widened, as surprised about my revelation as I had been about his. “That explains so much.”
“I thought you knew,” I said, borrowing his words.
We talked some more until it was time for me to head home. Niall was coming to visit that night, and I needed to drive all the way back to Bon Temps. Once there I made some peach tea, since my previous fairy guests had been partial to it (they’d drunk the whole pitcher – too late I realized they liked sweets of any kind), and cleaned my already spotless house before changing into something other than jeans and a sweater. Eric woke up and joined me, and together we waited for Niall to arrive.
“His fairy scent won’t bother you?” I asked. I couldn’t fathom how they knew each other.
“No, it doesn’t. The Prince is so powerful that he can mask his scent easily. Truly, Sookie,” he shook his head in disbelief, “I would have never guessed you were related to a Prince of Fairy.”
“Add that to my list of the bizarre,” I said facetiously.
Eric snickered. He knew I was fishing for a compliment. He kissed my temple and went to get the door. Obviously his super vampire senses told him that someone approached.
Sure enough, less than I minute later he’d let my great-grandfather and my grandfather in the door. Niall must have lent Fintan some of his magic for disguising his scent, because Eric didn’t seem disturbed in the least. I had everyone sitting down in my small living room, feeling very small myself. I was the only one there less than six feet tall. As I expected, the fairies loved my tea and the cookies I’d served with it. We made small talk about the weather, and about Eric’s businesses (Niall had asked), and eventually got down to business.
“So, Eric. You gave my great-granddaughter a necklace made of stones that were meant for your protection,” Niall said. It wasn’t a question, but Eric nodded before Niall proceeded. “Those stones had been touched by Freyja. Did you know that?”
“I had to way to ascertain that, your highness,” Eric answered.
“I understand. I don’t believe what you did was bad, on the contrary. It shows your affection for Sookie. Honestly, Viking, I did not know you had it in you. Nevertheless, your actions created an enigma. It seems you have been devoted to your gods all the time you have existed. Am I correct?” Niall asked. I looked at Eric and held his hand. He’d never told me he was religious, but that was what Niall was asking.
“Yes, your highness,” Eric answered, obviously not bothered by the line of questioning.
“Yes, good. It seems your gods do listen to you, and Freyja has taken a liking to you and to Sookie thanks to you. Sookie’s name reaches her ears quite often, Northman.”
“I pray for her constantly.”
“You pray for her and for other things, things that you lost that you want to have back,” Niall said. He was talking in circles, but Eric seemed to understand. He was feeling hopeful. Niall continued, “It’s not every day a god or goddess listens to prayers, but said with such fervor and repeated often enough, eventually the gods forget their fickle nature and decide to at least listen. Freyja has been testing you, Viking, both you and Sookie for some time now. The stones sealed the deal for her, apparently.”
Eric and I looked at each other, still as confused as ever. Fintan reached for my free hand and gave me a slight smile to calm me. I was beginning to really enjoy being around fairies. Or maybe not just fairies, but my family.
Niall caught on to our confusion, since we hadn’t spoken. “You put Sookie above yourself and above all else. It was the proof she needed to know how loyal you were to your chosen mate. And, as you know, Sookie had already chosen you.”
I’d heard that before from Claudine, so it wasn’t news to me. It was news to Eric though. He looked flabbergasted. It wasn’t a look I saw on him often.
Niall leaned forward, looking Eric in the eye. “What is your one true desire, Viking?”