Bed time is the chaos it usually is that night. Adele is splashing water all over her mama while she’s getting her bath, and howling when Sookie accidentally drips some baby shampoo in her eyes (“Ooh, so sorry, little girl!”) and Hunter and Justin are running back and forth through the upstairs hallway pretending to be superheroes (even though Alcide is threatening them with another bath if they don’t settle down) when the doorbell rings. “Now, who could that be?” Alcide says, sticking his head into the bathroom. He waves and grins tenderly at his baby daughter in the tub, while the other hand is busy holding a giggling Justin upside down.
Sookie sighs. “Probably Jason. He wanted to borrow your power-saw, but I told him that if he was getting it tonight, to come by after the kids went to bed-"
“Uncle Jason!” Hunter flies by them and down the stairs and Justin wriggles out of Alcide’s grip. He crashes on the floor, rolls, gets up and keeps going, and Sookie sighs again. That boy is going to give her a heart attack before he’s five.
She exchanges a look with her husband and blows a blond strand out of her eyes, “Because he’s gonna get them all riled up again,” and they both laugh.
“Tell my brother I’ll be down as soon as I get her changed,” Sookie says, lifting Adele out of the tub and wrapping her in a big fluffy towel.
Alcide stops her in the doorway to press a kiss to Adele’s damp, clean hair, and he kisses Sookie too, in the middle of the forehead, tenderly stroking the side of her face. “Wanna have a date tonight?”
A date. Sookie laughs softly even as her heart begins to pitter-patter. As husbands go, she really did make off with one of the best. She stands on her tip-toes, and he automatically ducks his head to kiss her, quick and sweet. “A date? Is that what we’re calling it these days?”
She can hear his low chuckle as she heads into the baby’s room, and he heads downstairs to talk with Jason. As fantastic as he is as a husband, he’s just as good of a dad. When Remy had dropped Hunter off, without so much as a change of clothes five years ago, and never returned, it’s not every guy who would have taken in that little boy, and loved him like his own right from the get-go. Sookie was halfway through her pregnancy with Justin, and that pregnancy hadn’t been easy, with going in and out of the hospital a couple of times, and she had panicked a little with this devastated, confused little boy who didn’t know whether he was coming or going. Alcide took care of them all, made them all a family, and one day, Hunter was just calling him Daddy and Sookie Mama and none of them had ever looked back.
Adele’s babbling happily to herself while Sookie powders her down, and puts on her pink unicorn pajamas. She might be biased, but she’s pretty sure her daughter is the cutest, sweetest baby girl that ever was. “Wanna go see your Uncle Jay before we put you down?” Adele holds out her chubby little arms as if to say yes please! and Sookie laughs, gathering her up and pressing kisses all over the top of her head.
“Now why are y’all being so quiet down here?” she calls out as she carefully walks down the front stairs with the baby in her arms.
She stops short, gripping the rail tightly.
Bill Compton is standing in her doorway.
For a second, everything else goes away, and that’s the only thought in her head.
And then…the world comes back. Adele is squirming in her arms and starting to fuss because she can feel the tension in the room. Hunter’s staring at Bill in wonder, and Sookie knows why- he’s never heard such silence before. And Alcide…he’s standing back, stock still, holding the boys in each of his huge hands, and Sookie can see- and feel- barely repressed fury coursing through him. Hunter glances up at his dad, feeling his anger too, and back at this silent man, wondering what draws this rage.
Forcing herself to walk a straight steady line, Sookie makes the rest of the way downstairs, rubbing gentle circles on Adele’s back to soothe her. She goes to stand next to Alcide, in a show of solidarity to her husband, and takes his hand before she addresses their visitor. “Hello, Bill,” her voice is quiet, low, and she forces herself to speak up. “Won’t you please come-“
“No.” Alcide shakes his head, squeezing her hand gently. “No, he won’t. Not with the kids.”
That’s just an excuse, Sookie thinks to herself. She knows Bill would never hurt her kids- or her- and she’s pretty sure Alcide knows it too. She looks at Bill, who has been staring, transfixed, at her since she came down the stairs. She doesn’t remember seeing this despair in his eyes. She shoots her husband a pleading glance, but he stands firm. “Unh-unh, I mean it, Sook.”
Sookie sighs. It’s not like she doesn’t understand where he’s coming from, but…This has got to be real important.
“Hunter and Justin, go on upstairs to bed. Your daddy will be up to tuck you in in a few minutes,” Sookie says to the boys. They don’t move for a second, both of them curious about this man, especially Hunter. She prods them again, gently. “Go on, now.”
When they’re both out of earshot, Sookie passes Adele into Alcide’s arms. She takes his face in his hands and speaks quietly to him, even though she knows full well that Bill can hear her perfectly. “Listen. I love you,” she says firmly. “This is our family and nothing can change that. But Bill has stayed away since we got together. He’s respected our boundaries, and he wouldn’t be here if this wasn’t something big.” She looks over at Bill, and he’s been so still these past few minutes- she forgot how still he could be. “I won’t be long. I promise you.”
Alcide sets his jaw in a hard line and he goes to stand in front of the door, looking Bill square in the eye. “You stay on the porch, she stays inside. You don’t even think of setting a foot over that line. And I’ll be right there,” he points to the top of the stairs.
Bill growls in impatience. “Fine, consider your territory marked, boy.”
Alcide growls back, that low rumble from deep in his chest that reminds Sookie that her husband is not just a regular guy. But he remembers his little girl cradled on his chest. She looks so tiny when he holds her. He gets ahold of himself and nods to Sookie. He trusts her. That means everything to her.
“I’ll be right there,” he repeats himself, softly to her, staying close for one more long moment before going up the stairs.
Sookie waits until they can’t see his broad back any more, though she doesn’t doubt that he’s still in earshot, and she turns to Bill. “What are you doing here, Bill?”
“Sookie,” he says, and goshdarnit, but that voice, the way he says her name can take her back six years as if nothing else has passed. He looks her over. “You look different.”
“Of course I do,” she says stiffly. He always knew time would change her. Two pregnancies later, and she’s put on some weight, though Alcide tells her all the time how much he loves her curves, how beautiful she is to him. She’s got a husband and three active kids who love to be outside, and her tan is much deeper than he’s ever seen it. He, of course, is exactly the same.
“You’re beautiful,” he says, almost under his breath, almost to himself. He looks down at his feet and she can see that his fists are balled into tight fists, and her heart softens.
“What is it Bill? What’s wrong?” she asks softly.
“Jessica,” he finally looks up, blood tears streaking down his face. “She was…staked.”
Oh, that poor girl. She didn’t have an easy life, as a human or a vampire. She can see that Bill’s heart is breaking, and wants to put her arms around him, if only for a moment, but she can’t disrespect her husband that way, especially in his own home. She reaches for his hand instead, holding his cold fingers in between her warms ones, and bringing it to her mouth. “Oh, Bill. Oh, I’m so sorry, so, so sorry…” There are no words that will assuage his grief right now, she knows that.
His hand tightens on hers for a moment, as if trying to absorb her warmth, her comfort, and then he pulls away. “Will you tell Hoyt Fortenberry?”
“Of course,” Sookie answers. And she will have to tell Tommy, too, but she knows that Bill was never fond of him, so she keeps that thought to herself. “Bill…what are you going to do?”
“I will avenge my childe,” he says in that deadly serious, older-than-the world voice of his, and Sookie shivers and realizes how very long it’s been that she’s been outside the company of vampires. “The less you know, the better for you.”
Sookie nods, wrapping her arms around herself. “Is there…anything else I can do for you?” she asks tentatively.
Bill shakes his head. “You’ve been more than kind.” He looks at her, studies her carefully, and she can feel herself warm under his gaze. “You seem…happy, Sookie.”
Sookie smiles. “I am.” And it kills her that he’s not.
He nods carefully. “Your children are beautiful.”
“Your son, is he…” Bill’s gaze drifts towards the stairs.
“Is he like his father?” Bill questions.
“Well, we won’t know for sure until he’s about fourteen or so,” Sookie answers carefully. “But…Alcide thinks he is. Apparently he shows a lot of the signs.”
“What are the signs?”
Sookie shrugs. “He was real colicky as a baby, he’s got tons of energy, always running around and crashing into things, never stops,” she has to smile, thinking of her wild, funny little boy. Plus, he’s the spitting image of Alcide, bigger and stronger than any of the other boys from his pre-school class.
Bill nods carefully. “Do they know what their father is?”
“Of course,” Sookie answers automatically. Neither she nor Alcide ever wanted them to be in the dark about what’s out there, especially if Justin’s going to shift one day. They’ve all seen Alcide shift; it was important to him that they not be afraid of him when he was in wolf form, and more importantly, to be able to pick him out against any other wolf.
They both stand in silence. The last thing she expected when she was clearing up the dinner table an hour ago was to be standing at her front doorway with her first lover, but she has to admit- she doesn’t want him to go. It’s been so long since she’s seen him, she forgot how powerful it was to miss him. But she can’t exactly give him a reason to stay.
Bill reaches across the doorframe again, not passing into the house, and Sookie carefully lays her hand in his. She knows she’s playing with fire. “Sookie,” he says, and the sound of it courses all the way through her, sending her heart pounding in a way that she knows is torture for him. “It is…very likely that I will not see you again.” She bites back a sob. They’ve already done this, they’ve already said their goodbyes. “So…in light of this, I would just tell you that I have always, and will always love you. With everything that is in me.” She nods, not trusting herself to speak. Always means something entirely different with him. A tear slips down her cheek and she bites her lip. “I am so happy that you have this life. Please always be safe…please remember me.”
Sookie nods, closing her eyes, and takes a deep breath. “Bill…” But when she opens her eyes, he is gone.
Feeling empty from the inside out, Sookie quietly closes the door. She goes into the downstairs bathroom and turns on the water, giving herself exactly four minutes to let out a real good cry. Then she splashes her face, scrubbing away at the tear tracks, and takes a few deep breaths, until she stops shaking.
Alcide is awake in the dark when she goes up to their bedroom. “Everything okay?” He asks gruffly while she takes off her jean shorts and changes into his big old football tee shirt from high school that she loves to wear to bed. She crawls into bed with him, snuggling under his arm, and he holds her tight for a long minute before she speaks.
“He…He came to say goodbye,” she answers. “He said he’s real happy for us.”
Alcide snorts bitterly. “Yeah, I bet. Happy as a pig in …..” He stops when he sees her serious face. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, well, you should be,” Sookie says, sitting up. “He basically told me he’s going off to be killed and all you can do is curse?”
“I said I was sorry,” Alcide snap, sitting up as well. “Look...I know you still care about him.”
“It’s okay,” his voice is gentle now. He reaches out, and pulls her back to him, settling her on his lap. “I can’t be too pissed when I’ve got you here, in my bed, can I? And three great kids sleeping down the hall...”
“We’ve got the best life,” she replies, in all sincerity. “I wouldn’t do a thing differently, you know that right?” He nods, but Sookie isn’t quite so sure he believes her.
Well, I guess the date is off, she thinks to herself, not caring that she sounds selfish in her head.
Alcide turns over on his side, and Sookie pulls the blankets up under her chin. It feels strange and she doesn’t like it- being in bed with her husband and thinking about another man. But how can she not think of Bill at this time? At this time...she’d always known it would come to this, even when she was wearing his ring on her left hand. They never would have had a life together, nothing like the life she has now.
Say a prayer for me in a real church some day, sweetheart. He’d said that to her once, in a moment of quiet intensity, one of the rare times they’d acknowledged that...the world would never let them be at peace. She’d cried and told him not to talk like that, and he was immediately contrite, but...he’d known. He had over a hundred years to come to peace with his mortality and he’d reached that.
Bless you, Bill Compton, Sookie sends that thought, that wish out into the universe. She hopes it reaches him wherever he is. She believes it does.
“Alcide?” she whispers tentatively. But there’s no response. Either he’s sleeping or he’s being an enormous baby.
She wakes up an hour or two later, the same way she does almost every night, when she hears the baby crying. Making her way quickly down the hall- she can do this with her eyes closed, and more often than not, does. “S’okay, s’okay, Mama’s here, little girl,” Sookie lifts Adele out of her crib, and kisses her head, soothing her with her voice. Methodically, she runs down the checklist. Dry diaper. Sookie lifts her shirt, but the baby doesn’t want to feed.
“You just needed a cuddle, huh?” Sookie says, settling into the rocker. Grandpa Earl made it himself when Gran was pregnant with Sookie’s dad. “Baby, I know the feeling.” Slowly rocking back and forth, Adele stops fretting, but she’s not sleeping either. So, Sookie tries something else. “How long do you wanna be loved...” she sings so softly, barely above a whisper. She’s sure not the greatest singer, but it always did make the babies calm down, and it’s doing the trick here.
“Is forever enough, ‘cos I’m never, ever givin’ you up,” she continues on, but stops when she hears the low creak of the floorboards. Alcide is standing there in the doorway, watching them. His hair is tousled from sleep, and he’s barechested, and even from this distance, he looks like the warmest place in the world. “Hi,” she hardly speaks, more just mouths the word at him.
Alcide walks over and takes the baby from her. Adele doesn’t even stir. He’s so, so gentle with her. “Sleep tight, little girl,” she hears him whisper as he lays her back in the crib.
He takes Sookie’s hand and leads her back out into the hallway, back to their room. “I’m sorry for being an asshole,” he murmurs against her ear.
“You’re not an asshole,” she answers, leaning into him.
“Call a spade a spade, honey,” he chuckles, pulling her through the doorway. She crawls onto the bed while he opens the window- it’s a constant in their marriage, he’s opening it, she’s closing it. She doesn’t move to fight him on it tonight, though.
But when he gets under the covers with her, she tucks her feet under his well-muscled calves. “I’m cold,” she says, and he pulls her against him. Best spaceheater in the world, having a werewolf for a husband.
“I’m sorry,” he says again, absent-mindedly stroking her hair back from her face. “I know you’ll always care about him.” His grip on her tightens, gently, when she lifts her head to respond to that, and she quiets. He needs to get this out. “Sometimes I still just think...what if it weren’t for the kids, you would still want to be...”
She shushes him with a long, deep kiss. “Unh unh, Alcide Herveaux. That’s too many what-if’s for my life.”
He rolls her beneath him, and he’s so, so gentle with her. Her big, strong, baby of a husband. “You still up for that date?”
They laugh together. Sookie loves this man, and their life together.
She loves life.