Actions

Work Header

Wedded Bliss Or Something Like It ~ Story Three

Chapter Text

 

Bill

Bill was happy to be home; the business trip of a week had unexpectedly turned into two and he was ready for some downtime. He entered the house and keyed in the alarm code before heading upstairs. He was a little surprised that Sookie wasn't up to greet him but as he started up the staircase, he quickly discovered why. The unmistakable smell of a small child was everywhere. While Bill was holding onto a tiny bit of hope that Sookie would be waiting in the bedroom to spring some erotic delight upon him, he wasn't the least bit surprised to hear the sound of deep sleep in Sookie's breathing.

With a smile, he went straight to the walk-in and put his bags down. As Sookie was so soundly asleep, he switched on the light and opened his luggage. He put the things that needed to be laundered down the clothes chute, and added two of his suits that needed dry cleaning to the pile stacked to go on the settee. He changed into a pair of sleep pants and pulled a soft and well-worn tee shirt over his head and stepped back into the bedroom. He walked soundlessly to the side of the bed and gazed down at his wife of a little more than five years. He reached out and softly ran his fingers down the side of her face, before leaning down to tenderly kiss her temple.

A broad smile played across his face… there was no doubt about it, Sookie smelled of crayons and peanut butter and the distinct essence of an active child prone to blitz attack hugs and sticky handed kisses. Bill left the bedroom and headed downstairs to get a TruBlood and seeing Sookie was asleep, decided he may as well get some of his work out of the way so he'd have more time for her later. He went to the kitchen and out of habit, flipped the light switch.

As expected, there was a new finger-paint picture done in vivid colors attached to the door of the fridge, held in place by a daisy shaped magnet, Sookie had obviously helped guide Colton's little hand for it was inscribed in crayon, "For Uncle Bill" within a finger-paint heart. Or maybe it was a race track? Bill wasn't sure but it didn't matter, he knew it was another piece of artwork destined for the scrap book Sookie so lovingly kept.

The microwave beeped and he took out his TruBlood, tipped it a couple times before he tossed the special venting cap into the recycle container and walked to his office. Not long after, Bill was deeply immersed in his paperwork. After Nan had met the True Death at the hands of The Authority, a little over four years ago, (for reasons Bill neither knew nor did he want to know) the reins of her job had become his. It had started out well, but it was more difficult than it appeared.

Hence the schedule going from a week then turning into two, entire nights at home spent on video conferencing, conference calls, multiple appointments and appearances... talk about endless! The paperwork and reports seemed to multiply like caged rabbits. He was surprised when his arms began to feel as heavy as lead and eyes gritty. Glancing at his desk clock confirmed what he already knew… dawn was only a few moments away. He shut everything down, left the office, stopped in the kitchen to deposit the glass bottles in the recycling bin and then headed to bed. Sookie was still sound asleep and snoring lightly.

He hadn't expected to work through the night, but he was quite glad that he had, he would be able to spend tonight with Sookie without interruption, and that would make her very happy. He slid between the sheets and slipped close to her, gently wrapping her in his embrace. Who did he think he was kidding? Having an uninterrupted night would make both of them very happy! Sookie moved slightly, nestling into him and as he closed his eyes to rest for the day, he was already looking forward to the night.

Sookie

Sookie woke contentedly in Bill's arms, even though there was a little guilt in the mix. She'd tried to stay awake until Bill got home but after spending five full days with an active four-year-old, she was lucky she'd made it as far as the bed to begin with! With Annie, still in Shreveport handling the transition of her bank being sold to a larger banking corporation and Jason down with strep throat, Sookie invited Colton to come and stay with her for a couple days.

It wasn't much of a decision on Jason's part. The mere thought of more than five minutes of not having to speak or being able to take a nap without his son lying next to him asking if it was time to get up yet, roughly every thirty seconds, made Sookie's offer a no-brainer.

Besides, Sookie had a huge house with lots of tiled and wood floors and she let Colton race his remote-controlled cars and trucks as fast as he wanted. Much like his father, Colton often felt the need for speed, and his cars and trucks suffered more than their fair share of mishaps, which seemed to have increased amazingly once Uncle Hoyt bought him a remote-controlled ambulance for his birthday!

Sookie was impressed at the manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination Colton had developed and it was getting better all the time. Colton had even taught Sookie how to drive them, and he was sweet enough to tell her that she did okay, but probably not as good as him because of being a girl. But his ultimate delight in staying at Bill and Sookie's was that he was also an utterly, fearless fish-child and his Aunt Sookie had a pool!

It also couldn't have been made any safer for him. There was a special locking and alarm system built into the fencing around the pool with no way for him to get there unobserved or unaccompanied. Colton was good in the water and he knew the rules were very important and never to be disobeyed… but he was also a small child and as such Bill and Sookie had spared no expense for an automated, wood-slatted pool cover which took a special key to expose the motor housing to roll it back from over the pool water. It wasn't just the third line of defense to guard against accidents with Colton in mind… it also prevented the occasional snake or small alligator from taking a dip. There was nothing more unnerving than getting ready to dive into your pool only to discover a four-foot-long alligator swimming in the shallow end!

The water moccasin had been the most dangerous however, after which they installed a special heavy-duty screening buried into the ground and attached upwards to a height of two feet. The exclusive design bowed outward from the fencing. The angle was such that no snake could navigate it. At a certain point, any snake would simply drop back on the ground. The premise was simple really, gravity worked.

Incorporated into the overall design of the fence, it didn't look like a safety feature, but rather a lovely part of the fence and they hadn't been troubled since. While it brought Sookie a great deal of peace of mind, it didn't stop her from taking a very good look around first, anytime she entered the pool area though.

She and Colton had spent about five hours a day in the pool. Between waterproof, 90 sunblock and the overhead vampire-friendly pool shade that let in the light but kept out the UV rays, they'd turned their fingers into raisins and loved every minute of it. With the help of Mac and Ali in Hawaii, Sookie had become a very good swimmer and as such, they'd built the pool here in Bon Temps. Sookie marveled over Colton's unabashed joy of the water. He never reacted to his face going under the water, in fact, loved nothing more than diving to the bottom for extra-large, brightly colored coins he would beg her to throw.

Even at his age, he was a strong swimmer and hadn't doggie paddled since he was about two. Jason was convinced that Colton would be his generations', Michael Phelps and there were times when she agreed. He thought he was grown up enough for her to throw the coins in deeper water, but all of the adults involved disagreed. So, he had to make due with retrieving the coins in water that was shallow enough to stand in. On occasion Jason would toss one in water just a little over Colton's head, but only when he was within arm's reach of his boy; Jason dearly loved his son but also knew accidents happened in the blink of an eye, so he took no foolish risks.

This year the Compton's and their loved ones were doing Christmas in Hawaii again. It had been a couple years since they all went. They hadn't told Colton, mainly because he would drive them all insane. In all likelihood, they wouldn't tell him until they were on the plane! He was going to have two surprises, they were going to let him go in the ocean and Mac and Ali were going to teach him how to play with a boogie board in the beach surf. It was going to be fun, no doubt. Tara and Mike would be coming, as was Sam and possibly his girlfriend of eighteen months, Amy. (Beth had left Bon Temps for a seriously important dream job in Miami and long-distance dating hadn't worked out for them) Sookie was also ecstatic that she'd finally convinced Terry and Arlene to come too… of course the package also included Coby who wasn't quite close enough to being a teenager that he thought it wouldn't be cool.

It didn't hurt that Colton worshiped Coby. Lisa would be coming two days after the rest would arrive because of finals. Lisa would be entering her sophomore year at U of L in a couple of weeks. No one could have foreseen the change the oil spill in the Gulf had affected Lisa. She finished high school with honors, and then enrolled in Geosciences at University of Louisiana Lafayette.

She was well on her way to her degree of Environmental Geology which dealt with many facets of every imaginable subject within her major. She was also minoring in Petroleum Geology, which schooled her in the possibilities, solutions and prevention of drilling accidents and a host of every subject therein. She was an honor student with a full-ride scholarship, as well as a monthly stipend, a car and a credit card for any and all necessities.

When Lisa had been applying for scholarships, she hadn't remembered the Loudermilk-Hale Northern Louisiana Foundation, but she was the first recipient and it was truly a godsend! Arlene had her suspicions about the background of the Foundation, but she never asked Sookie about it, outright. Sookie was glad because she knew if Arlene asked; she'd tell her friend they were behind it and she didn't want Arlene to be uncomfortable.

Sookie talked with Lisa quite often and had insisted she join them in Hawaii. Lisa told Sookie that her roommate Mary Catherine would be staying at school over the break and Lisa didn't want to leave her roomie all alone. Sookie had met Cat, as she liked to be called, during their freshman year.

Cat had been placed in foster care after her junkie father had left for places unknown and her mother had died of AIDS from sharing needles on the streets. When she was in high school her GPA was a perfect 4.0 and she had shown impressive test scores for college. Her age of only 16 however, necessitated that she be placed in the care of a court appointed guardian. It wasn't an ideal situation, but at least she had access to grants and scholarships for college.

Sookie loved spur of the moment visits to the campus to take both girls shopping and out for dinner. Lisa had brought Cat home with her for barbeques and parties Sookie and Bill had from time to time and it only took a few months before Cat felt more relaxed around all of the Bon Temps family.

When Sookie learned Cat would be alone over the winter break, she'd called and talked to Cat's guardian. Sookie had gotten the impression that the woman was relieved she didn't have to deal with the girl and that was just plain sad. Sookie had shown up at the school a couple days later and told them they would both be coming to Hawaii for the holidays. When Sookie had explained it all to Bill, he agreed it was a wonderful idea. He also wondered how long it would be before Sookie would want them to become Cat's guardians.

XxXxX

Sookie smiled as she waited for the coffee to finish brewing and thought about the doubts Jason had had about his capability to be a good dad. Soon after Colton was born, Jason nearly turned himself inside out with fear he'd either do something wrong or worse, not do something he should the right way. Annie was marvelous with Jason, even telling Sookie that she had more trouble with calming Jason than the baby!

Sookie had grown to love Annie like a sister, she was an incredible mother and a calming influence (and thank the lord, at times was the voice of reason to some idiocy of one kind or another in Jason's thought processes!) but she managed to gently teach Jason and assure him he was a capable and wonderful father. They had a good life together, Sookie was secretly sad that Jason had not married Annie, but she knew if and when it happened, Jason had to make his own call.

Sookie was just glad that Annie deeply loved Jason and thankfully didn't care if they were married or not. All she cared about were her 'boys' and making sure she told them and showed them every day how much she loved them. Even on the days when the 'boys' made up a new sport called, 'Muddy Belly Flops' or some equally messy game… those were the days Annie also thanked God for bleach!

Sookie took her first cup of coffee of the day and went out onto the deck to drink it in the sunshine. She had plenty to get done today yet she was also feeling decadently lazy. So, she let the sun warm her and the coffee wake her and ran down her list deciding what she would or wouldn't do. After a quick mental calculation or two she had her day planned. She was going to drink a lot more coffee, finish a report for work and send it to Joe and then she was going to shower and head to Merlotte's for lunch. She finished her coffee and went inside; where she poured another cup, and carried it to her office.

Sookie loved her office; Bill had surprised her with it on her birthday a couple years ago. It was bright and cheery, with comfortable furniture, a wall covered with an amazing array of photos of family and friends in all shapes and sizes. None of the picture frames matched exactly nor did the room give the impression of a distinctive décor.

Among her absolute favorites were pictures Bill had either acquired from friends of her parents and grandparents and even copies of the ones Sookie had dug up in Shreveport of Bill, his wife and children. He'd gone so far as to have two of Colton's first drawings professionally framed. They were little more than squiggles really, but having them hung there was just pure, unadulterated Sookie.

On the many shelves, there was a pair of cut-glass candlesticks that had been her great-great-grandmothers, sitting alongside a Cajun Mardi Gras mask that Sookie had bought at a yard sale just because she liked it. Not to mention a jeweled Faberge egg, from Bob (Bill refused to tell her what it was insured for) that sat beside a plaster circle with Colton's handprint from when he turned two. Another favorite was a heart shaped suncatcher-prism crystal that shared one of the window panes with the lovely beveled glass, hanging suncatcher with the pressed forget-me-nots from Gustav.

There was a bookshelf full of books, everything from romances to mysteries, some true crime, some guides to identifying Louisiana flora and fauna. A few fairy tale books (a gag gift from Sam after Rose had explained to her how bloodthirsty and cruel real fairies actually were!) at least they'd come in handy when Colton was a toddler! A number of books about the Civil War, Hawaii and books she'd bought from places they'd visited on various trips. There was one shelf that had a door that flipped up and you needed a key to open it. The books held there were for special eyes only and even Tara had never asked her why.

Bill had bought her desk at a flea market, it was handmade and certainly had age, it had been painted white at some point but had been scuffed, dented and chipped over the years and while most would have refinished it, if not passing it up completely, Bill knew his wife. He just washed away years of grime from neglect and the stain of nicotine, then had it fitted with a glass top. Not surprisingly, Sookie loved it and thought it was beautiful and moments later made love to Bill on top of it once assured they couldn't break the glass.

Now Sookie sat down and turned her laptop on. Bill had made her a credenza that matched the desk; he'd worked hard to make it appear to be the same age on the outside. Inside there was quite a difference. Shelves held printers, a copier and scanner as well as a fax machine, a secure, dedicated phone line and the best Wi-Fi secure connection money could buy. To say that Sookie's office connections were state-of-the-art was an understatement. Sookie's equipment was of a quality the government didn't have access to yet!

Sookie hadn't remained a private consultant for Mr. Garth's companies after her Joining Ritual to Bill. Bob wouldn't hear of it, he wanted her in his company as one of his special employees. So, she had filled a number of niches within Louisiana Mutual Insurance Company and also in Garth & Associates. While she wasn't the average executive, she had made a name for herself and had become LMIC's lead Insurance Fraud Investigator, and chose to remain as such, which in most other companies, was unheard of. Then again, most executives spent their careers climbing the corporate ladder. That had never been Sookie's goal.

While as impressive as that was in a company as large as LMIC, she was also highly regarded for her willingness to be among the Crisis Response Field Teams. She didn't think twice about heading out into the field, in times of extreme need. She was well known for being on-scene of a tornado or some storm devastated community, and when she and her team got there, they hit the ground running.

Her team worked with efficiency and compassion. First and foremost, she saw to it that those people that had lost all, got the help they required, when they needed it most. And there were times when not everyone she gave comfort to was a LMIC customer. She was highly regarded among her peers and her team learned early on she was smart, dependable and fiercely loyal when it was called for, be it an issue regarding an LMIC insured customer or another team member.

Mr. Garth was not surprised by this in the least, he'd often wondered how much of the praise she garnered would have differed if she'd been doing the job without her 'gift'. He found it interesting that none of her peers thought it the least bit strange that even though she had the coveted, 'corner office', she thought nothing of slogging around putting herself at risk, in the middle of utter devastation to help others. He eventually decided that even without her unique ability, she wouldn't have done things any differently.

When Sookie saw need, she gave all she could. In actuality, she had set a fine example and others in LMIC were following suit, more and more department heads and managers were helping either in the field or coordinating relief efforts. Mr. Garth could not have loved her more if he had tried.

Sadly, her devotion aside, she did have a specific job she had to fulfill and it wasn't always easy. There were those that played the numbers game and over the last five years Sookie had discovered crooked adjusters and contractors and claimants from the start. She had come to despise being assigned a case for fear it would uncover yet another dishonest employee.

As was exactly the case here. Mel Burclaw had worked for Louisiana Mutual Insurance Company for almost 30 years. He'd also been padding claim amounts, filing non-existent claims and getting hefty kickbacks from contractors for the last ten.

This was exactly the kind of thing that made Sookie sick to her stomach, much as she was this very moment. Trying her hardest to explain the issue, and discern a possible motive behind the greed and a recommendation for a possible solution. Without really being aware of it, she opened her desk drawer and shook a couple of antacid tablets into her hand then popped them in her mouth.

Sookie would have been quite surprised to know that while Bill hadn't said anything to her, he'd noticed the taste of them in her blood more and more. It had him thinking about a lot of different things, foremost being her need for them in the first place. Sookie had no idea that her husband was growing concerned about how her work was affecting her and she would have been stunned at her husband's thoughts about his job as of late. Sookie sighed, deleted a paragraph and considered a more favorable description of what she'd learned.

The truth of the matter was that Mr. Burclaw had always liked a challenge. Which led to a foray into gambling… it was a little exciting and he won some small amounts and it seemed a harmless enough diversion. But much like countless others before him, the euphoria didn't last. He began to lose, and then he tried to recover by placing larger bets and as was inevitable, quickly got in over his head.

He hid the issue from his wife and daughters, scrambling to find funds, certain that the next bet would pay off big and then he'd never place another bet again for the rest of his life! But the 'sure thing' was a complete bust and unbeknownst to his wife, he used part of his daughter's college fund to cover heavy losses. He used more to get ahead and from there his downward spiral gained speed.

With his oldest girl starting her junior year in high school, he became desperate, so he padded a claim and made sure the contractor that took the job was one known as not being opposed to a little number massaging. Soon Burclaw began replacing his ill-gotten gains to hide the truth from his wife, but was unable to pass up the easy way to get his hands on some extra funds for his, 'One Last Bet' but he'd screwed up big time and he could no longer juggle the running chainsaws his life had become.

His world began collapsing around him and once Sookie finished this report, it would collapse for good. Sookie had mined all the sordid details from his head and dutifully recorded them in her numerous notes. And here she sat… trying to keep her feelings out of it, while every word she typed seemed to add weight to her shoulders and sadness in her heart. What he'd done was wrong obviously, he'd been stupidly careless and ridiculously blind to the inevitable truth of his addiction. Yet Sookie felt he shouldn't be terminated but possibly counseled in order to get back to his original and former, upstanding community member.

But even as Sookie wrote her last section of the report, an opportunity that Mr. Garth extended only to her… she asked for leniency and a second chance, even though she knew in her heart that Burclaw had gone too far. There had been an exposé in the Shreveport press in which the reporter alleged possible connections between crooked contractors and insurance companies, including some that worked regularly with LMIC. The assertion had set everyone on edge and Joe actually instructed her to not try and reach out to Bob on her own.

That was probably the thing that alarmed her most. Well, not alarmed per se, but saddened. She knew in her heart of hearts that Burclaw would receive no mercy for any of his crimes. No one cast dispersions or sullied one of Garth and Associates and their various Divisions. She knew Joe would do his job to make certain LMIC and their reputation remained intact, and the exposé would quietly go away. Sookie sighed and was sure of at least one thing, because Bob allowed her alone that last paragraph; she knew Mel Burclaw's daughters would receive generous scholarships to attend college when the time came.

Even sitting in her bright and cheerful office, surrounded by the things that lifted her spirits with every glance… after she spellchecked the report and sent it on its way, she couldn't help but feel a little chill. She swung around in her chair and gazed out the nearly floor to ceiling windows and listened to the buzz of the insects and watched a hummingbird hover to drink the nectar of one of the many gorgeous blooms she could smell from her chair. When the tiny bird zipped away, Sookie stood and stretched, turned her computer off and left her office.

She went to the pool house and changed into her suit before diving into the deep end and began swimming laps to try and clear her head. This Burclaw business had upset her more than usual and she didn't know why.

With every stroke she pushed herself harder, slicing through the water as if she were going for the gold… her tears were swallowed by the pool and with each lap she grew almost angry… she felt frustrated, she pushed off the wall again and again before feeling her arms growing heavier and heavier, until finally she stopped and clung to the side of the pool, barely able to pull herself out of the water. She sat at the edge of the pool, gasping for breath, muscles shaking… considering a decision and trying to figure out a way to make the impossible work out.

With shaky legs, she stood and walked over to a deck chair, grabbing the towel and wrapping it around herself before dropping into it. She had to figure out how to talk it over with Bill before she even considered for a moment talking to Joe or even Bob about what she wanted to do.

In a way, it was quite simple. She wanted to quit her job. Then she laughed out loud and then couldn't stop… yeah, that would go over like a lead balloon! No, quitting her job would never happen, she had always thought that the books she read and TV shows with plots about people 'burning out' in their jobs was just that… a plot or a story! She'd come to realize that there really was something to it.

She flopped back onto the warm cushions and wished she was in Hawaii. If she really wanted to be, she could… she could be there by sunset with a good tailwind. She had gone on her own once, the first couple of days were nice but after three days she came home. Without Bill, it held little  magic. Of course, there had been more than a time or two when there had been absolute mayhem in Hawaii when Sookie had declared a girl's week at a moment's notice! Those had been some kind of fabulous fun! The ladies had taken to the lush tropic life with gusto. Unlimited sun, fun and no money worries had made it a trip they longed for all year round! Sookie had thought that rather than annually, maybe they should do them at least twice a year!

After a while, she got up and headed upstairs, her muscles were quivering a little but her swimming had made her other plan of the day an absolute necessity… she was starving and one of Lafayette's burgers and sweet potato fries was the only thing that could possibly satisfy her needs!

Merlotte's

Sookie walked into Merlotte's to a frenzied flurry of hugs and 'How are ya's?' but because it was nearly lunch straight up and already busy, everybody went back to their work quickly. Sam steered her back to his office with his arm draped casually across her shoulders. She sat in his guest chair as he slumped into his desk chair and gave her that same, friendly Sam Merlotte grin. She grinned back just as broadly and said, "How are things going, Sam? Jeez, the only waitresses I knew were Arlene and Holly!"

Sam nodded a bit and gave a little shrug of his shoulders, "I know I tell you this every time I see you but the place really ain't the same without you Sook. But you're looking pretty fine I've gotta say, guess marriage agrees with ya' huh. How's Bill?"

Sookie didn't miss the lightest of light, tone of melancholy in his voice. She often felt the same way when she drove into the parking lot, laughing at herself when she automatically parked in the employee section of the lot just as she had today! She missed Merlotte's but she covered well and told Sam about Bill's latest trip and where she'd been before that.

"How's Jason feeling? He looked pretty rough the last time I saw him."

Sookie answered with a smile, "He's better, I had Colton for the last few days, I swear Sam, that kid grows at least four inches taller every time I see him! He's a handful but he's a good kid and I love him to pieces."

They talked for about ten minutes before it became obvious from the noise level that the place was filling up and they left Sam's office. The lunch hour was in full swing and Sookie took a seat at the bar rather than take up a table when it was so busy. She reached over and took the bar's food ticket pad and wrote her order down then walked up to the pass and clipped it to the wheel. She said hello to Big John and Lafayette leaned forward to air-kiss her cheeks. He told her he'd give her a holler when her order was up.

Sam poured her a sweet tea and she sat there and did a little daydreaming. She had so many good memories there. Times when she been working or had just been there with friends. Sookie looked around Merlotte's and realized as many people that were there and she greeted, there was almost an equal number that she didn't know at all. There was one table full of Renard Parish road crew workers and she didn't recognize a one of them!

Andy Bellefluer walked in and gave her a nod and a smile, something she would not have seen years ago. She smiled back and laughed a little to herself, Andy had taken a while to come around to accepting what she was. He hadn't ever been nasty to her on purpose, but once she helped him nail a serial rapist and then later a number of other criminals over the years… he ceased to dismiss her when she gave him information.

Andy sat in one of the booths and was joined a moment later by the District Attorney and a new, up and coming Assistant DA. About three years ago, Bud Dearborn had been killed by a drunken Fred Jenkins as he was doing about 80 mph when Fred slammed into Bud's prowler. That; ironically enough, was parked behind a car he'd just pulled over because of a suspected DUI, lights flashing and all.

The driver of the other car was also killed from the crushing impact. Bud had died instantly and Andy had been named sheriff. The department had moved on but it hadn't been easy. Andy saw to it that the DA at the time lost his job. He had tried (unsuccessfully) to get the serial rapist a plea deal, not to mention all the other deals that Bud and Andy both had suspected were being paid for under the table. It had been a banner kind of day when he lost the election. Sookie had been very glad too, she'd always thought of that DA as one big weenie.

The new DA was a no-nonsense woman in her late fifties; her hair was black as night and her eyes so light blue, that in certain lighting, they seemed almost silver. She liked to joke that her mother was a Siberian Husky. Because Sookie was aware that she was a shifter, it made for quite the inside joke. Her eyes came in handy though as they could be disconcerting and more than one witness had been rattled enough to tell the truth under their unwavering gaze!

Like Andy, she believed that too much plea bargaining was the sign of a weak judicial system and a green light for criminals to do pretty much what they pleased, knowing that in this Parish, you didn't have to worry about heavy penalties. That's how it had been but certainly wasn't any longer! Petty crimes were down by 70%, property crimes were down nearly 40%, and violent crimes almost by half.

Lafayette called out to her and she got up and fetched her order. She sat and her stomach growled and her mouth watered as she dug in to one of the best burgers in all of Renard Parish. Sookie was surprised when Jane Bodehouse walked in and sat next to her. First because Sookie actually didn't recognize Jane until she spoke and second because she'd heard Jane had quit drinking so this was the last place she would have expected to see her.

They exchanged hellos and she ordered a Lafayette burger with hush puppies and with a wink, ordered a double bourbon on the rocks. Sam poured her a sweet tea with extra ice and clipped her order to the big wheel at the pass. While Sookie finished her lunch, Jane explained that after sneaking her car keys away from her son one night, she tried driving to Shorty's only to roll her car after swerving to miss a deer that had jumped into the road. She'd come to a stop far enough away from the road that she wasn't discovered until nine hours later.

She explained to Sookie that she'd taken a good hard look at things, even as she laughed a little and said, "You're kinda forced to look at things differently when you're hanging upside down in a seatbelt that won't release." She told Sookie about the treatment center she made her son take her to the moment she left the hospital. She'd been sober for almost three years, was working at Super-Save-a-Bunch in the housewares department.

Sookie finished up her lunch and when Jane's was ready; Sookie congratulated her again and told her she was proud of her accomplishment. To Sookie's surprise Jane gave her a big hug and then apologized to her for all the headaches she'd caused Sookie over the years. Realizing that part of Jane's process was making amends, Sookie thanked her and hugged her right back.

Sookie had hoped to talk more with Sam but the beer truck had shown up early and even though things were slowing down, it would be a while before he'd be free. Arlene came over and chatted for just a bit as most of her tables were taken care of for the moment or empty. "Are you sure you don't need me to bring nuthin' on Saturday?" Arlene asked Sookie, referring to the get-together Bill and Sookie were having.

"Well, if you really want to, I'd surely love to have some of your pecan apple fluff desert!" Sookie said with a wide grin.

"Done!" Arlene said and added, "I think Lisa'll be home with Cat, a 'course that's okay, right?"

Sookie gave her a hug and said, "That's perfect, I've gotta run… tell Terry I said hey and I'll see y'all this weekend! Bye Sam!" Sookie called out as Sam carried a case of beer down the hall toward the walk-in cooler.

"See ya' Sook!"

Sookie left the bar and as she walked to her car she made a mental note to check with Bill to see if Steve, Christa and Alex would be coming. She thought Lisa had a little crush on Steve, and she couldn't blame her, he reminded her a little of Bill! As she drove out of the parking lot, she had no idea how many things would change before the coming Saturday night.

Together at Last

Bill smiled before he opened his eyes. He could smell the perfume he bought for Sookie for Christmas and that meant she was near. He opened his eyes and his smile widened She stood halfway between the closet and the bed, she wore a long, dark emerald satin nightgown. Her blond hair was a cascade of soft, wavy curls and her makeup was done in such a way that it made her eyes look luminescent, warm and inviting. Bill was reminded of Veronica Lake and in an instant, he stood before her. She looked up at him from beneath her long, thick lashes, "I'm hoping you're going to forgive me for not welcoming you home last night the way a wife should."

Bill face lit up and he chuckled lightly as he swept her up in his arms, "Well… if I'm not mistaken, you've never been big on the idea of playing the old-fashioned wifely roles." He leaned forward to bump his forehead to hers.

"Agreed, but there are some roles I just love to play, interested in figuring out which one?" She brushed his lips with a kiss, and issued forth a tiny sigh as she lifted her lips from his.

"Oh, my sweet, good girl…" He kissed her tenderly, then deepened the kiss as he turned toward the bed.

"A request?"

"Certainly."

"Please try not to rip this off, I absolutely love it…"

"Oh no, sweetness… this will never be ripped, you're far too gorgeous in it."

"Good, but…"

"Oh, don't worry my darling… I'll love you just as much out of it as I do with you in it."

"I knew there was a reason I stay married to you…"

It wasn't long before they showed each other again and again all the other reasons they'd stayed married as well.

The Conversation

Bill and Sookie lay in the gazebo on the chaise, "Sookie, I'm not trying to be insulting, but I've noticed for a while now that you've been… unsettled and well, stressed. Have you talked to Joe or Bob about how you're feeling?"

"Well, it's all I've been think…, hey, what did you mean noticing? Noticing what?" Sookie leaned up and propped herself up on her elbow.

"Simple answer? You've been eating antacids like they're candy." Her mouth dropped open in surprise, before she could ask he gave her fingers a light squeeze and said, "I can taste them in your blood."

"Oh… of course you would." Then she sighed and said, "I've been trying to find a way to bring it up, and I've tried to figure out a way to open up about it but… I chicken out. Don't give me that look! I'm not as brave as you think all the time."

Bill just gave her a smile and said lightly, "Oh Sookie, if you were as brave as you make most people think you are, you wouldn't need me for anything. It's one of the many reasons I love you so much." He kissed her forehead lightly. "Back to the issue at hand… have you given any thought to just taking a leave, or a sabbatical of sorts? I would think that Bob would certainly understand your feelings… Sookie, he knows how tenderhearted you are." His words were gentle and kind, and even if Sookie had been having raging PMS, she couldn't find fault in his words.

Sookie dropped her head back down on Bill's chest and sighed deeply, "I know that and he would… a part of the problem is that, well, what else am I going to do? Bob wouldn't hesitate to let me leave completely if I had a mind to but I don't think Sam would rehire me and besides, I'm too old to go back to that!" She could hear Bill's laugh from inside his chest. "Besides, you're gone all the time so that would be even worse… being here or Shreveport by myself with nothing to do day after day… I'd go nuts in under a month." She sighed again.

After a long pause Bill quietly said, "What if you don't have to be alone that much?" He heard in tiny intake of breath, and just a bit of a bump in her heartbeat.

She slowly raised her head from his chest as he put his hand behind his head. When their eyes met and she took in his grin her eyes grew large in surprise. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that I too, am very tired of one week trips turning into two or more and a flight home diverted halfway through to attend a meeting or a public appearance because some new fire needs to be put out." He gave her one of his biggest smiles, "Actually, I've been considering approaching my, for all intents and purposes, ah," he cleared his throat comically, "father-in-law and asking him to get me out of the stranglehold this job has become."

Sookie sat up with a speed that surprised Bill and her mouth dropped open in complete shock. "Wait… do you mean, I mean… wh-what do you mean?" she stuttered incredulously. Sookie's mind whirled with confusion; a statement like this just wasn't her Bill!

Bill sat up and put his arms around her, and laughing pulled her back down so they lay on their sides face to face. A quick kiss and he brushed back a strand of her hair. "Sookie, I never asked for Nan's job, as a matter of fact, if you'll remember," he kissed the tip of her nose; "I was working a job we were both happy with. Then I started doing this, and you started to fill your time with more cases…"

"And it led us to here… married…"

"Happily married," Bill interjected.

"Happily married, yet unhappily apart far too often." Sookie answered.

"Exactly." Bill's traced his fingers down the side of Sookie's face and said quietly, "Sookie, I don't want to be apart so much anymore. I want my wife to be within my reach, and not just by way of my cellphone."

"Tell me more…" She said as she reached for the buttons on Bill's jeans. "But later, okay?"

"You've convinced me, my darling." Then lifted his hips to help his wife with her active hands.

The Plan

Sookie was pacing the floor in the Shreveport apartment. She was doing her level best to keep her breathing deep and even, tamping down her anxiety with every step. She was doing a pretty good job of it and she was happy knowing her tension and fears wouldn't be affecting Bill. After discussing ideas at length, over the course of a couple of days, they'd decided on a three-step game plan.

First, she would speak to Bob and tell him what she was hoping they could do. Sookie hadn't been the least bit surprised when Bob had given her his complete and unconditional blessing. What surprised her was how enormously relieved she felt!

Second, Bill had made a special appointment with his superiors at the AVL and explained that in many of his travels for them, he'd learned there were a surprising number of 'juvenile' and older vampires out there struggling with their ability to cope with their relatively new life or out-of-the-coffin circumstances. He had discovered some because their actions had been media nightmares and he'd had to be a spin doctor of the highest magnitude.

On more than one occasion, Bill had become acutely aware that many of the newer-made vampire's mistakes or issues; could have been prevented had they had access to a more experienced vampire for counsel. The more he reflected on it, the more convinced he became it was a much-needed service. His bosses at the AVL hadn't been as convinced and basically dismissed the idea out of hand. Their response had been simply, that it was the Maker's responsibility. But there were too many vampires that had been released by their makers without enough knowledge or the makers hadn't been that good to begin with.

The third and final step dealt with the alternative, should the AVL be uninterested in Bill's proposal. Therefore, Bill had met with Mr. Garth, explained his reasoning and what it was he wanted to achieve. Bob had been highly receptive to helping Bill get what he wanted. He agreed and not only told Bill he would ensure the AVL and The Authority understood this was to be done, he told Bill he would cover any and all expenses, including all the air travel, accommodations and anything else Bill would need to help as many troubled vampires he could.

Bob also loved the idea of Sookie being able to travel with Bill all over the world. In fact, he couldn't have been happier, even when Sookie told him she would work a case for him whenever necessary. Which of course, he would only allow Sookie to do if it was absolutely imperative and they happened to be home.

The only drawback was that it was up to Bill to meet with high-ranking members of the AVL, along with two chancellors from The Authority to both resign and explain what he would be doing. Bob would back Bill up, but the initial resignation was Bill's alone and it was the reason Sookie was pacing. Technically, all of this was for the most part a moot point. Bill wanted to leave the AVL to start his own business. With both Bob and Sookie wanting the same thing, it was pretty much a done deal.

Even though she had been doing a good job keeping her cool, she still worried. Sookie knew just how tricky it could be when The Authority was involved. Bob being who and what he was wouldn't make much difference if some hothead at the meeting staked her husband because they didn't like being forced to do something because of Mr. Garth!

When her phone rang she jumped and yelped. It was Bill. Oh shit, it was much, much too soon for him to know the outcome! Sookie had never felt so conflicted in her entire life. With every fiber of her being screaming at her to answer the phone, she instead stood utterly frozen, staring at it like she'd never seen one before. And while it felt like it had been ringing for hours, she opened the call with a push of a button before the second ring finished. However, her hello was practically a whisper and if there had been anyone other than a vampire on the other end, they wouldn't have heard her.

"Sookie?" Bill asked, his voice sounding as normal as any other conversation that passed between them.

"Yes?" She could not form another word.

"Sweetheart, why don't you give Greg a call and see if he could fly tomorrow, I think a nice long weekend at Halé Nohea is just the thing we need, and we can stay longer if you like."

Bill's suggestion of them going to their, "Home of Loveliness" as they'd named it; in Hawaii was a truly mind-blowing suggestion to say the least. "You mean they're letting you step away? Oh baby! That's incredible! When will you be home?" Sookie spun around when she heard the key in the lock and by the time he entered the apartment, she was already throwing herself into his waiting arms. Sookie squealed with delight and Bill spun her around with her feet flying in the air.

She peppered him with kisses and his chuckle was deep and genuine. He stopped turning and Sookie's legs wrapped tightly around his waist. He smoothed her hair from around face, tucking a few strands behind her ears and kissed her softly before moving his head back to smile and say, "Well, I don't believe things could have gone any smoother… of course between my father-in-law and his princess paving the way, it gave them little choice in the matter."

Her smile was one of Bill's favorites and his alone, and the joyous emotions washing over him in waves was like a drug, with his hand on the back of her head, he kissed her again sweetly, her heavy, silky hair, slippery beneath his fingers and the feel of it flooded his mind with desire. The kiss slowly ended and he looked into her eyes. Wordlessly, she let her legs drop back to the floor and in doing so tilted her head back to look into her husband's mesmerizing blue eyes.

She smiled and slid her hand into his and wordlessly turned to walk to their bedroom, Bill following behind. Once in the room and standing beside their big bed, Sookie let go of his hand and stood before him, he reached forward and began to unbutton her blouse. One by one he undid the small buttons and then slowly rubbed his thumbs across her collarbones as he slipped it from her shoulders.

Bill put one hand in the small of her back and pressing very lightly, moved closer to her. He tilted his head and brushed kisses on her forehead and then her cheeks as his capable hands unclipped her bra. He slipped it off and dropped it at their feet, then whispered, "Undress me darling."

With a slow and steady smile, she whispered, "Gladly… but shouldn't you be calling me Princess?"

Bill rolled his eyes slightly as they continued their erotic dance, fingers slid across bare skin, lips brushed against lips, tongues touched and inflamed; soft sighs marked the progress as their bodies eventually found their way to their bed. Names were mere whispers of love and tenderness, as passion grew and they became one… the hunger and desire only flourished more intensely and when they reached the pinnacle of their wanting, they crashed together and it was glorious and all-consuming and as they slipped into a soft slumber… their bodies entangled and sated, and both contemplated the new phases their lives now held.

“My sweet darling princess, you enchant and inundate me completely with your love… thank you.” he whispered in her ear.

She sighed, the words barely spoken aloud as sleep overwhelmed her, “I am yours, now and always…”

She slept.

XxXxX

Bill and Sookie were under the dome watching the ocean roll up and down their beach, discussing the parameters of just what Bill would be doing. "What do you think would be a good starting point? Do you think the AVL will make things difficult for you?" Sookie asked. Bill was dealing with a somewhat rare circumstance and it was frustrating him. Even though he had the go-ahead, the funding and the ability… he was struggling with an acceptable strategy to promote his service. Thus far the best approach discussed had seemed to be a referral system, but Bill wasn't sure of that path.

"Well, it's not exactly as cut and dried as I'd like it to be. Yes, there are those in the AVL and I would speculate in The Authority that feel this plan should never have been approved. But I don't think they would deliberately cause problems. But I have to agree with some of my former co-workers. How do you go about announcing there is a service for troubled vampires? The public as a whole would probably become quite unnerved to think there are mentally unstable vampires out there." Bill said evenly, but Sookie could tell her husband had his doubts. It was why she didn't laugh at the word, 'unstable'. Sookie had known more than one unstable vampire in her years with Bill.

They were silent for a bit, watching the waves, both thinking about how best to proceed. Bill held Sookie's hand and he brought it to his lips and kissed the back of it. "Sweetheart, I know you've got something on your mind… would you like to tell me what it is?"

Sookie muttered, "Damn blood bonds." But she was smiling as she said it; she squeezed his hand and spoke further. "Bill, what if you did treat this as a commercial venture? It's a service, right? Hire a business consultant. Wouldn't that be the best way to start?"

"Sookie, I think I can handle the business without a consultant, I think that would just over complicate things, but why do you think that would help?" Bill loved the fact that he could counter a statement like that with Sookie without the conversation turning into a battle royale. Well, most of the time… Sookie still had plenty of hot-headed moments and the two of them were capable of some pretty wicked fights, but happily, this wasn't one of those times.

Sookie sat up and turned to face Bill more directly. Just as she started to speak the timer chimed and she said with a smile, "Why don't you head up and I'll be there in a minute." She stood and pulled Bill to his feet. He kissed the crown of her head and agreed and they walked to the stairs still holding hands.

On the second level, they separated and Sookie went to the kitchen, she put a TruBlood in the microwave and then opened the fridge to discover Ali had already prepared a plate of freshly sliced fruits and cheeses. Sookie smiled, not the least bit surprised. She poured herself a glass of sparkling water, poured Bill's TruBlood into a glass then placed everything on a tray and headed to the master suite.

XxXxX

Sookie and Bill were sitting cross-legged on their bed as they discussed the matter at hand. Bill held his hand up to give Sookie a slice of strawberry. She bit into it moving forward because he'd pulled it back ever so slightly. "Bill!" she exclaimed, with a smile, he brought his hand closer to her and carefully placed the rest of the slice at her lips.

As she took it from him and began to chew, he said, "I just don't know if an advertising campaign would be well received." His expression was serious and he picked up a piece of pineapple, lifting it with a questioning look in Sookie's direction but she shook her head no and swallowed the last of the strawberry. He put the pineapple back on the plate and Sookie took a deep breath in and Bill feared she was getting angry.

Sookie released the breath like a sigh and said, "Babe, I'm just not explaining myself clearly," Bill was about to object but she held up a hand and then continued. "I'm thinking more along the lines of gentle, well, that's probably not the best word, oh okay, I know… discreet! I didn't mean that you consider a showy media blitz but more like some of those commercials like they have for other vampire things… like the Hepatitis D things."

The light clicked in his mind, of course, he thought to himself. If it wasn't so late in the day his thinking wouldn't have been so muddled. She was right, a few well done and subtle advertisements and of course, in the right venue, could really work to his advantage. He suddenly realized Sookie was touching him and her voice sounded far away. Even though he tried to concentrate on it, it slipped away from him and his mind quieted in an instant.

Sookie had seen Bill's eyes begin to droop and she could tell he was on the verge of going out for the day. She pulled the plate aside and carefully turned him so when he laid back, he would be in a comfortable position. It didn't take long and just as she managed to pivot him on the bed, his deepest need to rest claimed him and he was out. Sookie took the plate and their glasses and put them on the nightstand.

Her first thought was to exit the suite and get a few things done, but nothing earth-shattering came to mind. She looked at Bill, he was so handsome and she loved him more than words could describe… the debate was over. She got into bed beside him and even at rest, when he felt her near him; his arms pulled her into his embrace and before long she slept too.

XxXxX

That evening the Akaknai family were their guests for dinner. Sookie and Ali had done the cooking, with Sookie surprising the hell out of Bill with a dish she made just for him. It certainly wasn't the first time she'd made him something special, but she'd used donor blood and that was a rarity!

The conversation was light and happy; Kalani had just been commissioned to do a large piece for the lobby of a major hotel in the middle of a significant remodeling project. Mac and Ali's grandmother Puanani had been released from the hospital two days before, so it was a celebration of sorts. She'd been having cardiac episodes and her heart was not beating with a proper rhythm. After consulting with one of the world's best cardiologists, (not surprisingly, a very good friend of Bob's) he'd implanted a state-of-the-art pacemaker and she was feeling better than she had in years.

Over the years, Puanani and Sookie had grown quite close; she had become a calming source of love and affection for Sookie. Even though she wasn't nearly as old as Gran had been, she was enough like Gran to feel a kinship. Puanani had a great love for Sookie as well, how could she not? Sookie was so earnest in her thoughts and the things she did, both little and big. Puanani had to admit, Sookie's husband had been a little intimidating to her at first, but she quickly recognized the love he held for Sookie and of course, Sookie was madly in love with him!

If there was one thing that Puanani was more grateful for than anything else, was Sookie and Bill's generosity had allowed them the means to pass along traditions that would have easily been lost. Kalani had been able to teach an eager Mac how to carve, how to bring the wood alive and bring forth the spirit of the animal under his hands. In under a year, it became obvious that Mac had the gift and talent of his grandfather, and it had brought great joy to them all. He had carved a graceful pair of dolphins, side by side, so close they were almost one and had given it to Bill and Sookie on their fifth wedding anniversary.

The Compton's had genuinely loved it and asked if he would mind if they kept it in their master suite. Sookie worried that Mac would think they didn't like it and wanted it to be hidden away, but Mac thought it was a great honor and assured them of that happily.

Sookie and Bill had placed it front and center in their sitting room along with other treasures they had collected over the years. There was a large hunk of volcanic glass, the obsidian so dark it seemed so much more than simply black. Scattered throughout the suite were pictures everywhere. Among Sookie's absolute favorites were the ones of her and Bill together on the beach. There were photos of all the friends and family that had ever stayed there, and Sookie especially loved the ones of Colton and the first time he felt the surf on his feet!

After dinner, they all sat out on the balcony and visited for about an hour before the grandparents bid them all goodnight. Mac and Ali stayed an hour or two longer, both fascinated by Bill's new business venture, so to speak. Ali had been curious about the details and being too polite to ask, Sookie gave Bill a small nod and he supplied them with some of the more 'knowable' aspects of the plan.

After they left, Bill helped Sookie carry in the glasses and cups from the deck and neither were surprised to see the dining room and kitchen sparkling clean. Sookie put the dishes in the dishwasher as Bill handed them to her and she added the soap and turned it on. When she turned, Bill took her in his arms and kissed her, his tongue seeking hers and they stood there in the quiet kitchen a moment longer. Bill broke the kiss and looked into his wife's dark chocolate eyes.

"Anything in particular you would like to do my darling?" He placed a sweet and gentle kiss on the tip of her nose.

"Let's go up and make a fire." She smiled and he chuckled and with his arm across her shoulder they headed to the master suite and their private balcony. Bill started a fire and as he did Sookie made herself comfortable on the many large lounging cushions. Even after more than five years, Sookie still marveled at the colors that danced within the flame as the salt in the wood burned.

Bill joined her and gave her a kiss and said, "Is that going to be the only fire I'll be starting tonight?" His blue eyes sparkled mischievously.

Sookie's smile was just a little coy and flirty when she said, "Well, only if you are very, very good." She giggled then as Bill tickled her ribs a little before they lay back against the cushions, her head on his shoulder and looked up into the sky so full of stars Sookie couldn't help but feel insignificant in comparison.

They lay there silently for a little while and then Sookie asked him if he'd given anymore thought to what he might do to promote his services. Bill nodded a little and said, "I have, and I think your suggestion of doing them as almost this side of a PSA is definitely the way to go."

Sookie frowned slightly and said, "PSA?"

"Public Service Announcement" Bill answered.

"Oh… is that what they're called? I didn't know that!" she exclaimed.

"Well, most PSAs are done at no cost because…"

"They are a public service etc.…" she finished.

"Yes, I can gear them toward that style, being discreet and low-key, but I'd have to pay for the advertisements myself of course."

"How come?" Sookie thought that what Bill was going to do was certainly something that should be a PSA.

"Without the backing of the AVL…" he didn't need to finish the sentence.

The two of them talked quietly about different strategies for a few minutes and then Sookie said, "You know what you need? You need some big names to bring this to the forefront. Didn't you tell me once that, I don't know… um, somebody like Jim Morrison was turned? There's got to be a lot of big name vampires out there that would really make others sit up and take notice!"

"I agree darling, except sadly, it would likely be noticed more by humans and such. Most of the vampire community as a whole is aware of the celebrities and famous names that have lived the life of a vampire for many years."

Sookie sat up so she could look at her husband as she spoke. "Still… maybe it wouldn't hurt to talk to some of them anyway, right? Some of them must have struggled terribly when they were turned, especially those turned so long ago that they had only their makers for information… for, for instructions, don't you think?" her voice and manner was resplendent with enthusiasm and earnestness.

Bill reached up and cupped the side of Sookie's face, "You never cease to amaze my love." She pressed her face into his hand slightly and Bill's fingers slipped to cup the back of her head, as he whispered, "Sweetheart… I want to be inside you."

Sookie's face glowed when she whispered back, "I guess it's time to start that other fire then."

In one fluid movement, Sookie found herself on her back, Bill's face above her. "Sookie, tell me what you want."

With her hands behind his neck she said breathily, "I want you to undress me slowly, I want you to kiss my skin and touch my body with the softest of touches…"

Bill's eyes snapped with blue fire as Sookie whispered her wants and needs and it wasn't long before her words caused him to moan with desire for her… too long to fulfill each directive. After an almost agonizingly slow pace, Bill got what he wanted, slipping inside her slick velvet warmth and it was obvious Sookie's own words had enflamed her as well. They moved together, a slow, sensual dance, their passion growing with each moment that passed. When Sookie's release loomed, it was Bill's turn to tell her what he wanted, "Come for me darling…"

She did and she didn't go alone.

XxXxX

Sookie was in her office looking out across the ocean and talking logistics with Rose. "What is the best way to buy advertising air time? Do I need a media consultant?"

"Oh, I wouldn't think so, unless…" Rose paused before saying, "Although that may not be such a bad idea if Bill will be taking this internationally as well."

"Oh crap! I never gave that a thought! I wonder if Bill has." Sookie thought for a moment then added, "I'm sure he has so let me ask you this…"

After another half hour on the phone with Rose and then close to two hours researching through various media specialty firms suggested by Rose, Sookie was looking forward to Bill waking so she could share all the information she'd gathered. Being ever the smartass, she did a Power Point presentation to show him, knowing it would make him groan but admittedly it would be the fastest way to school him in all she'd learned.

Once done, she made her way to the kitchen and fixed herself a salad and wandered out onto the balcony. She sat in a chaise in the sun, enjoying a cool breeze coming off the water and ate. She thought about how different her sun exposure was these days. She had a healthy glow for certain, but she didn't spend nearly as much time beneath the sun as she used to. Partly because she began noticing little creases around her eyes and mouth. Granted, they could be worse… and as she chewed a bite of her lunch she wondered what she'd look like if she wasn't routinely taking Bill's blood now and again.

She swallowed and paused, then was quite shocked to discover she no longer had an appetite. Wow. Where did that wet blanket come from? She sat back and thought hard about a truth she did her best to skirt around.

She was aging. Plain and simple. She was human and that was how it worked. But as hard as she tried to tamp it down, a fear kept creeping back up and into her subconscious. She couldn't pretend it didn't matter… it did. She had no doubt that Bill's love would be eternal, but when would it change? When she looked like she was an older relative of his? When she looked old enough to be his mother?

She set the bowl on the table next to the chair and quickly descended the stairs to the beach. She walked to the water's edge, pulling off her shirt and shorts and dropping them onto the sand, she ran into the surf wearing one of her favorite swimsuits that had been hidden beneath her clothes. She dove in and after a few hard strokes was beyond the whitewater and contented herself to just swimming easily while letting her mind concentrate on nothing other than the pulse of the ocean and the beating of her heart.

XxXxX

As expected, Bill had groaned and complained loudly when she readied her presentation for him, but he'd also pulled her down onto his lap and kissed her deeply and thanked her sincerely too. They talked for an hour afterward before going outside to take a swim in the surf. Sookie loved to swim at night, but wisely never did it on her own. Swimming with her own personal shark repellant beside her was another story altogether.

After she'd become a stronger swimmer, Mac and Ali had taken her snorkeling, she didn't like that it was something she and Bill would never do together. Still, taking in the beauty of the fish and sea life sans Bill she discovered a creative side of herself she'd never imagined, underwater photography. He was amazed at her pictures and wasn't lost to the fact that it was her way of showing him more of her world and in return he gave her the ocean at night.

She'd learned to scuba and with the help of a scuba diving tow sled with high powered spot lights, Bill showed her an ocean she'd never dreamed of. It was on one of their night dives that she saw her first tiger shark, and it was coming straight for her. It scared her half to death before it turned itself on a dime and fled from Bill has he put his arms around her to keep her from panicking. Over the years, she cherished their nights in and on the ocean and could still remember the first time Bill had ever gotten her in the water in what seemed like a lifetime ago.

Tonight, the moon was full and bright and as Bill floated on the water, she lay astride him and they talked quietly about the options before being surprised by a breaching humpback whale about 70 yards away. It was so sudden and explosive that Sookie slipped off Bill but he grabbed her before she could go under. While a vampire could instantly turn away the occasional shark or two without fail, it seemed they had no effect on something as majestic as a whale.

It unnerved Sookie a little too much and in a few moments, they were walking up the beach to the outdoor shower to wash off the salt water. When they returned to the master suite Sookie's cell phone beeped alerting her to a waiting message, followed almost immediately by Bill's heralding the same.

Sookie listened to hers, one was from Jason to let her know he discovered a family of raccoons living in the loft area of their garage when he was there to return the brush cutter and he'd get someone to take care of them before they did too much damage and the other was from Rose asking her to have Bill call Joe when he had the time. By the time Sookie finished listening and deleting her messages, she turned to see Bill jotting things down on a pad of paper by the bed. When he spoke, she realized he was actually on a call and a moment later he hung up and turned to her with a slight smile.

"What?" she asked when she saw the look on Bill's face.

"It would appear I have my first client; how do you feel about taking a trip to Alaska?"

Alaska

Sookie had been able to catch glimpses of some of the Alaskan terrain as they flew toward their destination. What she'd been able to see of the Pacific was radically different than the waters off Hawaii. Down there the water was black as ink and it took Sookie a moment or two before realizing that some of the things she was seeing in those pools of blackness were most likely ice of some sort or snow-covered islands. It was both exciting and somewhat daunting. Then Greg called her on the intercom and told her to look to her left and she saw Denali for the first time and was in absolute awe of the sight. Much like she had done when Bill took her to see Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, she felt her eyes tear up as she looked at the incredible sight of raw nature in all its beauty.

It was more spectacular than she could ever have imagined it would be. The sun was already setting and before long it became too dark to see much of anything so she went back to her book. As they banked to make their approach into the Fairbanks International Airport, she heard Bill close the door behind her. He leaned over and gave her a kiss before sitting alongside her.

"How was the trip darling?" He took her hand in his and kissed the back of it.

"Uneventful for the most part, a little turbulence but mostly it was kind of long because you were in back. Did you rest well?"

"I did. So… was it still light enough for you to see Denali?" Bill watched Sookie's face light up as she described what she'd seen. He'd only seen it by moonlight and while the ballet of the Northern Lights shone above him countless decades ago, but hearing Sookie describing it to him was something to cherish. He was happiest because in this new path he'd embarked on with her, he would be able to show her the places of her dreams and see them through her eyes. He couldn't wait.

XxXxX

Just as Greg had assured her, there was very warm transportation waiting for them on the tarmac. In just a few short moments, they were whisked away to their waiting accommodations. The Lodge was amazing even at night and Sookie couldn't begin to imagine what the scenery was going to look like during the day.

The owners of the Lodge had the most secluded, vampire-friendly, log cabin ready and waiting for them. Sookie had worn the warmest clothes she'd had with her and just the short space between the SUV to the cabin was frightfully cold. She was extremely happy to discover the interior was toasty warm with a crackling fire already going in the hearth. She took a moment to really look around and realized this was not the Alaskan stereotype log cabin despite its log exterior visible from the driveway.

It was gorgeously decorated home with an entry way that opened into a great room. The floor plan was an open concept which allowed Sookie to see most of the entire downstairs. It had at least a 20-foot high cathedral ceiling with huge log beams stretched from wall to wall. She walked through the space with her mouth open in surprise. The back of the building seemed almost level with the yard and there was a staircase leading to an upper loft area and other bedroom doors. There were flood lights mounted high on the outside corners in back and they showed Sookie a world of dreams.

Even though it was only nearing November, there was a blanket of snow, although she couldn't say if it were six inches deep or sixty. It was just one continuous blanket of effervescent white in the bright lights. When she walked to the back of the house, reaching a pair of over-sized French doors, she couldn't resist touching one of the panes of glass, etched with frost. Sookie marveled at the intricate patterns on the glass that were like fine filigreed etchings.

The woods were close to the back of the house, the lawn, well, what she assumed was a lawn as there were no trees, was about half the size of their big sloping yard at home. Two things caught her attention quickly; the forest visible from the back door appeared as solid as a fence. She'd never seen trees so densely packed. The second thing she found interesting were the tracks. She wondered what had made them and was content to assure herself they were non-threatening woodland creatures like deer or moose… something harmless.

She heard the softest of sound and then Bill slid his arms around her waist and pulled her close to him as he hugged her and kissed her temple. "Is it what you thought it would be?"

She leaned back into him and said quietly, "You know… I don't think I can answer that yet, I need to see it during the day first. What do you think made those tracks? You don't think they're those Kodiak bears or something do you?"

Bill smiled a little because she couldn't see him and said, "No sweetheart, the bears are in hibernation, my best guess would be moose. Do you see that area over there where the tracks seem the heaviest?" He pointed to the left of the yard.

"Oh, yeah, okay." She hadn't noticed it earlier.

"That is a sweet salt lick from the looks of it. The Lodge probably does it to bring the animals closer for the guests to see. I know that there are people that try and help the moose during bad winters by feeding them at least a little to help. But it's illegal and it can cause more harm than good even though they mean well. Salt licks aren't specifically banned though."

"How deep is the snow out there?" Sookie asked as the two of them swayed slightly, the minor movement of their eyes made the snow sparkle that much more.

"About a foot or more… but, Sookie, would you do something for me?"

"Not if it involves going outside and lying in the snow."

"Funny. No, would you close your eyes, give me just a minute while keeping them closed?"

Sookie sighed heavily as if he'd asked her to explain Einstein's theory of relativity. "I guess I could, if I absolutely have to." She said with a giggle then closed her eyes. Bill slipped away from her and in an instant had his arms around her yet again.

"Open." He whispered and the feel of his lips brushing her ear and the sweet slow honey tone of his voice made her shiver and she wasn't cold!

She did and after a second her eyes adjusted and just as she was about to ask why the lights were off, she saw the sky dancing with undulating waves of green and it took her breath away. Her eyes swam with tears and before she even gave it a thought, she opened the French door and stepped out onto the cleared, snow-free patio.

She tilted her head back and turned a small circle, oblivious to the cold because her mind was barely registering the incredible phenomenon unfolding above her. She'd seen pictures all her life, seen them in movies and on TV but nothing had prepared her for this.

"Oh Bill!" her voice little more than a breath of a whisper. She stared open-mouthed and then tore her eyes away and sought his face. "They're so beautiful!" A tear slid down her cheek and Bill scooped her up in his arms and in a flash, they were in the loft, it wasn't until he began to undress her that it occurred to her that she was trembling. He swore at himself for letting her go outside in cold like this, it had been foolish of him. Once he got her out of her clothes, he dropped his beside hers. He picked her up once more and took her into the bathroom for a warm shower.

Once she'd stopped shaking, he'd dried her hair then he bundled her up and held her close, the view in the loft was almost as if they were beneath the sky itself. The peaked apex of the back wall was glass floor to ceiling. He pulled aside the puffy down comforter and the flannel sheets and laid her on the bed. They made love gently and Sookie watched the sky moving and shimmering above them almost as if they were keeping pace. She put her hand on Bill's chest and knowing what she wanted, he flipped them. Sookie began to move slowly and sensually on top of Bill and with him deep inside her, his blue eyes reflected the phenomenon and it seemed as if the sky's ballet was meant just for them.

XxXxX

When Sookie woke, she didn't immediately realize where she was and at first thought they were at home. Bill was beside her and as she sat up, she noticed a faint light glowing beside the bed. She reached for it and the motion brought the lights up slightly. She was just a little confused as she looked around. Had Bill taken her to a different room? Then she noticed the glass. Of course, she thought… light tight panels between double thick panes of glass. Either Bill had closed them or perhaps they were on timers like the ones at Halé Nohea.

She sat up and turned to get out of the bed, then hesitated. What was she going to wear? She sighed and thought she'd just dress in what she'd brought and call the front desk to arrange a rental car. Or would she need a rental Jeep or something capable of driving in the snow? As she made her way to the bathroom, she noticed the heat settings and cranked them up.

After last night, she was not looking forward to going out in any kind of cold, much less Alaska cold to shop for heavy clothes! She was just starting to turn the water on for her shower then remembered she would need her robe. She closed the bathroom door behind her and went for her suitcase. She thought Bill had brought them up but she didn't see them, then she smiled. Of course, she thought to herself, he probably put their things away while she slept.

She walked to the closet and opened the door and began to shake her head. Rose. It had to have been Rose. The closet was filled every imaginable warm weather clothing item she'd need, including a fluffy, thick and soft fleece bathrobe hanging on the door hook. With a thankful grin, she grabbed the robe and headed back to take her shower. While she was in the shower she thought of two things, first it occurred to her that the roads they'd taken to get there had been bare pavement and secondly, that was probably a good thing because she had no idea how to drive on something like snow or ice anyway!

XxXxX

A few hours later, Sookie was curled up on the couch in front of a crackling fire, reading a new novel she'd been trying to read for months but hadn't been unable to. She took a sip of her hot cocoa and turned the page. She caught movement from the corner of her eye. She looked up and saw something move through glass of the back doors; she got to her feet and went to see who or what it was.

She froze halfway there when she saw it. The only animal that she had ever seen that was even close to the same size was a horse! The moose stood perfectly still, his huge head turning slightly toward the back of the house. He must have heard or seen her, Sookie thought. Through Sookie's eyes, the moose's antlers looked a little crooked but they had to be as wide as the front end of her car! She slowly leaned against the kitchen island and watched the moose as he lowered his magnificent head and returned his attention to the block.

She watched for about two minutes, enraptured by this incredible animal, when it suddenly occurred to her that some pictures might be nice! She slipped away quietly to grab her camera from her bag and moved slowly and silently to the door. She got half dozen shots. Some were just the moose licking the sweet salt block, but she got one magnificent shot, when the bull raised his head, turning it slightly toward the house. It was a shot worthy of a wildlife magazine and Sookie had goosebumps when she viewed it on the screen. Not long after, the moose made his way into the woods and out of sight, as quietly and calmly as he'd come. Sookie watched the woods for a few minutes, wondering if he'd return but when he didn't, she made another cup of hot chocolate and returned to her book and her warm, rustic fire.

XxXxX

"Honey, I'm not trying to be difficult, it's just that I didn't know you would be bringing him here. Bill if he's troubled, is it a wise idea to have him in the same house as… well, with me here too?" Sookie wasn't angry, but she was feeling a little apprehensive and had to make Bill aware of her worries. Sookie didn't want to fight with Bill, but she had to be honest… she was scared. What if this vampire was struggling in such a way that she could become a target? She was feeling pretty lousy about telling Bill, but she felt it a very valid concern on her part.

Bill walked out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist while he used a second to dry his hair. Sookie was relieved to see his mouth was not tight and he seemed relaxed, calm and attentive. He hung the towel over his shoulder and walked to where she sat cross-legged on the bed. He cupped her face with his hand; she leaned into it and smiled. "He won't be a danger to you my love, I understand you're a little unsure about all this. But, in actual fact, your being here will be of help to him, he had a very poor, and as of yet, still unknown maker and was never properly told there was more to immortality than drinking TruBlood or humans and sleeping during the day."

Bill leaned over and kissed the crown of Sookie's head, "More than anything else, he's lonely and to give you a little support I've asked Greg to join us as well. That way, if you do feel uncomfortable, you can retire for the evening and leave us to deal with the issues at hand, fair enough?" He looked down at her upturned face, her deep chocolate eyes seemed less troubled, and her smile was genuine.

"Fair enough." She said with a teasing smile. Then she pulled the towel from his waist as she drew him onto the bed. She opened her robe as she disentangled her legs and soon she lay beneath him.

"Sookie, have I ever explained to you what I mean when I say, 'fair'?" He asked with an amused smile on his face.

"Bill, don't you know that all is fair in love and war?"

Bill just chuckled. Then kissed her breathless, not getting up off of her to dress until she told him she loved him.

XxXxX

Surprisingly enough, it was Sookie that spent the larger part of the evening speaking with Bo. Bill couldn't say what it was that made Bo open up to her, but he did a lot of talking. Most of his discontent had hinged on the fact that in the two years since he'd been turned, while he loved Alaska and its' long, long nights. It was the summers of so few hours of any true night that drove him to feel every bit, the tragic, tormented vampire. The anonymous creature that had preyed upon him and then literally left Bo to fend for himself; hadn't even told him if he could travel to a safer place!

Bill was still conducting a search for Bo's older vampire maker. He was extremely annoyed that Bo had been left in a mountain cave with nothing but a note with directions to the closest town that sold TruBlood, a few hundred dollars in cash and the caveat, "If you drain a human, make sure to take them into the wilderness so nobody finds them."

Sookie had drawn Bo into a discussion about his life before he'd been turned. Bo described his parents as 'nutjob whack-os' because when he'd turned nine, they had sold all their belongings, and converted a well-worn school bus into a mobile home of sorts. Convinced that the potential for complete anarchy was imminent within the lower 48 and there was no way for it to be avoided; hence, they had made their way to Alaska to live off the land, safe and free.

While he told his family story, Sookie understood completely why he referred to his parents in a less than respectful manner. But he was also adamant about his love for them and how much he missed them. That had Sookie believing completely that he really did indeed love them deeply.

He had hated the new, off-the-grid life at first, but became accustomed to it by the time he turned eleven. But, he was also unhappy because he missed school, his father had done his best to take over the teaching he felt his son should have, but in truth he simply wasn't very good at it and Bo knew this would make his future much harder. After a lot of disagreements, some compromises and finally, resignation… his parents gave in and found him a place to stay and the chance to go to school.

It was a small town, but then most Alaskan towns were, but he was able to put his mind to work and not only make up for the years he'd missed but also excel the longer he went. By the time he graduated from high school he was eighteen and the family that had fostered him, encouraged him to go to college.

Bo didn't begrudge the life he had for those first few years he lived in the bush with his folks. He had learned how to hunt, trap and fish, as well as hiking and climbing. His foster family encouraged him to explore other facets of Alaskan life. One of his favorites became dog sledding. He'd loved raising the dogs that so loved to run and pull that they'd jump four feet high straight off the ground if they saw him touch a harness! While many mushers worked hard to build teams to compete for money, Bo was content to use his dogs strictly for recreation and, in a lesson learned from his parents, lighten his carbon footprint by using his team and sled rather than a snow machine.

The summer after his graduation, he hiked deep into the bush where his parents had settled. While their contact over the years had been sporadic at best, he'd still managed a few weeks during the summer to spend with them… time that grew to be less and less once he got a job and began applying for grants and scholarships to continue on to college. The summer before he graduated, he'd only spoken to them by radio phone twice and he was anxious to see them before he started at U of A, Fairbanks.

They were nowhere to be found. It was obvious from the overgrown condition and utter disarray of their settlement, that they had been absent for some time. The way things were laid out however, led him to believe that whatever had happened, it hadn't seemed as if they'd expected to be gone for an extended period of time.

Just to be sure, he scouted around before going to the place where his father had hidden their fallback cash, and after a few false starts due to the massive changes of natural markers, he found the long, buried fire safe. As he pulled it free from the dirt and roots that clung to it like a thousand clenched fingers, it seemed heavier than it once had been.

Using a badly rusted splitting maul, he whacked away at it until the lock broke and what was revealed left him stunned. When his parents had buried it, it had contained a large amount of cash. He was so surprised that he sat down hard after his legs buckled beneath him. It was full of gold. Gold coins, gold dust, gold nuggets and pieces of ore, heavy with veins of gold.

The cash had likely been slowly converted over time. That would certainly explain the coins, but then where had the nuggets, dust and ore come from? Obviously, his parents had made a gold strike, where or when was a complete unknown. Without any sign of just where his parents had gone, he was left with nothing but unanswered questions.

He spent more than a month searching for any sign of them. The Alaskan bush however, was formidable. He was very careful about marking his progress with ribbons so he too would not go missing. He knew after a week it was a lost cause, he could have been a few feet away from his parent's remains at any given moment and not known. The undergrowth was just that thick. Still, they were his only family and he had to try. As he hiked back out, his pack almost unbearably heavy; his mind played an endless loop of possibilities. The one that he ultimately decided was the most logical was that his folks had started buying the coins once they'd reached Alaska.

They had used cash to get there but convinced that currency would eventually become useless, began the conversion to gold. Then, they had stumbled upon a gold source. He felt this was the most likely explanation because if they'd been doing any digging, perhaps they'd been caught in a collapse that had cost them their lives. It was the gold dust that intrigued him and the more he thought about it, a more likely scenario came into focus… the river.

There was gold to be found in almost every source of water in the state, there were also more than plentiful fish in the waters. And where there were fish, there were bears. Great big, unfriendly, Alaskan Brown bears, also known as grizzly bears or Kodiaks. None of which would be very tolerant of humans frequenting their territory or their food source. Bo knew that whatever had befallen his parents, predation would have made the recovery of their bodies' a complete and total impossibility.

When Bo returned to his small town, he made the decision to move to Fairbanks to attend college; he carefully began to convert the gold into cash, bonds and even a few blue-chip stocks. He kept a great deal of the coins, tucking them away in a safe deposit box and then readied himself for college. Bo had become quite intrigued with computers while in high school and chose to major in Computer Science.

While Fairbanks was the largest city he'd ever lived in, it was also small enough for a young man with an apparent supply of unexplained cash to be noticed. Which usually led to the belief that there was something illegal going on. To avoid that, he lived in the dorm, was very frugal and took a part-time job as a night watchman in a trucking company load lot. His effort to remain un-scrutinized by law enforcement and the college itself, sadly cost him his life his sophomore year. While doing his rounds in the yard, he was snatched by the vampire that turned him, waking to find himself alone in a crude yet safe enough cave thanks to his maker.

Bill was a little surprised that Bo had gravitated toward Sookie at first but then realized it was most likely because Sookie was younger and clearly had empathy for his tribulations. Before long, Bill and Greg drifted into the background and let the two interact uninterrupted. Bill was filled with pride as he watched and listened to his wife drawing Bo out and into discussing the issues he so struggled with. Sookie had always had that ability, but generally more often with humans because of her ability to ascertain the true reasons behind the problem.

Bill and Greg began a game of chess in the study adjacent to the great room. Bill of course missed nothing of their conversation and in doing so; he realized that Sookie could be an integral and important role in his fledgling business venture. Perhaps not in every situation he might come across, but he could see now the empathetic nature of her personality could certainly be utilized to draw out the true struggles of vampires in crisis. As his mind spun with possibilities to come, Greg managed to checkmate him rather quickly, which thrilled Greg to no end.

XxXxX

Greg had left around 1:00 a.m. to go back to his cabin and Bill sat with his laptop in the den and dutifully compiled a report, filled with most everything Bo and Sookie discussed. He sat in front of a pleasant fire, his legs comfortable on an oxblood leather ottoman that matched the leather wingback chair. Sookie had kept Bo in a sometimes, well-animated discussion throughout the night. Bill could feel her dwindling attention. It was very near dawn and she was feeling the effects of the long night. Bill shut down his computer and set it aside, the fire had burned down to a few glowing coals and it was time for everyone to get some rest.

When he joined them Sookie and Bo were relaxed and smiling and it was clear that the evening had brought about some sincere and realistic possibilities to help Bo with his current situation and how to improve it. Bill offered accommodations which Bo began to refuse politely. But Sookie with all her Southern upbringing and way of doing things informed Bo that he would be staying despite his willingness to leave and rest elsewhere. After talking to her all night, he was smart enough to know that Sookie was a force to be reckoned with and acquiesced almost immediately. He wished them many thanks and settled into the vampire safe guest room.

Bill secured the house for the night and followed Sookie upstairs. Moments later, she'd changed into her nightgown and was already on the cusp of sleep by the time Bill joined her in the comfortable bed. Pulling her into his arms to spoon with her, he kissed her temple and told her how wonderful she'd been with Bo. She moved herself closer to him and said thanks weren't necessary. Bill had wanted to make love to her for the rest of the night, but he could feel her exhaustion so he kissed her warmly and told her how much he loved her once again for all she'd done.

She assured him it had not been her goal to fix Bo's troubles but that she had just listened to someone that needed to talk. Bill cupped her chin and gently turned her face to look into her eyes before he began kissing her face and throat with tender kisses that soon became more urgent. If Sookie had intentions of drifting off to sleep in a heartbeat… they were soon forgotten.

It wasn't long before their naked bodies joined as one and Bill moved at a sweet and slow rhythm. Sookie stroked his back with feather light touches until the desire to hold back stopped and she began to feel the intensity as Bill moved within her, his kisses soft, yet urgent, his movements more determined and deeply felt.

He moaned her name and her soft caresses on his back, arms and flank pressed him deeper, her fingers more insistent as her inner and sensual self, began to sing its inevitable aria. They continued to move together, their movements becoming driven with the need for release. Sookie reached the summit first, tipping and sliding over as her hot, silken walls undulated around him. It brought her name to his lips in almost a chant; he filled her deeply, quenching his desire as he came within her, shuddering with the power of it.

She kept her arms and legs entwined around him and whispered, "Don't leave me baby." So, they both slipped away with the dawn… comfortably contented and connected in their favorite way.

XxXxX

Sookie woke and smiled the second she became fully awake. She was still wrapped around Bill, with only one connection between them missing. She was all smiles as she gently extricated herself from Bill, before standing and pulling the covers over her sweet husband's delectable body. She brushed the hair off his forehead before placing a kiss there and made her way to the bathroom. She entered and as she readied for the rest of her day, not that there was much of it left, she showered and smiled as her body sang to her of Bill's gentle touch.

After she dressed and left the room, she went downstairs and made coffee. While it brewed she started a fire and once she got it going, she made some breakfast then eventually made her way to the cozy fireplace with a mug of coffee and her book. It wasn't until she got up for a second cup when it occurred to her that Bill hadn't fed from her. She added another split log and curled up on the comfortable couch before the fire to think it through. It wasn't an enormous anomaly, he didn't always bite… usually after they been particularly ardent and she had been getting a bit anemic, still; it was a bit odd. She pushed it to the back of her mind and resumed reading. She'd ask Bill about it later if the thought crossed her mind.

XxXxX

Bill and Bo were behind the closed door of the den, discussing what Sookie knew was sensitive and private vampire things. She'd learned long ago that it wasn't because Bill was trying to keep something important or crucial from her and since then her life had become easier. She was stretched out on the sofa watching a DVD and eating popcorn from a large bowl currently lying on her tummy. Whatever worked.

She was pretty sure that the main topic of conversation for the two vampires revolved around Bo's maker. She'd made a special vampire friendly dinner for them once they'd woken and Bo had never had anything like it and he'd been amazed and thoroughly impressed by it. As they'd been sitting around the table, Bo had told Bill that after a lot of thinking, he did want to try and discover who his maker had been.

After dinner, Bo had thanked Sookie enthusiastically before he and Bill slipped into the den and closed the door. Sookie had to admit she felt sorry for Bo, while Bill had been in the shower, they'd had a brief conversation before dinner. Bill explained how daunting finding Bo's sire could be. There was also the issue of how it would all be handled if they did find the maker. Sookie thought it was all terribly sad. She decided it was because she too had lost her parents, and in a convoluted kind of way, Bo had lost his human parents and his maker! Even if his maker was most likely; kind of an ass, all things considered... He was still all Bo had left in the way of a parent!

Sookie finished her popcorn and the DVD was done at roughly the same time and she found herself feeling a little restless. She cleaned up, washing the popcorn bowl and putting it away before standing at the back door looking out into the darkness, her eyes following the sky as it shimmered. She smiled to herself and was kind of surprised when she found herself putting on her arctic weather gear, so graciously provided by Rose, before she stepped out into the Alaskan night.

As she walked around the side of the house she marveled at not only the breathtaking brilliance of the Aurora Borealis, but the bite of the crisp, cold air and the sound of the snow crunching beneath her boots, she was a little in awe of the sensory overload that was this wintry night. She took in the look of the trees as they stood bowing slightly from the weight of the snow blanketing the branches, from outside the windows were filigreed with patterns of frost made more noticeable from the lights on within.

Her breath puffed from her mouth in tiny little clouds as she inhaled the indescribable smells of the polar world around her. Within a few steps she walked around the side of the attached garage to find it void of any ambient light and in that instant, Sookie was utterly overcome with emotion. The ripple and swell of the Northern Lights above her, the pristine and crystalline carpet of snow beneath her, sparkling like diamonds from the faint green glow above… took her breath away.

She was not the least bit surprised when Bill slipped his arms around her waist from behind. He barely whispered, "Sweetheart?" as if concerned for her wellbeing.

She just leaned back against him, tucking her head beneath his chin and whispered back as tears slid down her cheeks, to become perfect and tiny trails of shimmering ice, "Oh Bill… is this even real?"

He moved his head so that his cheek was alongside hers and brushed her temple with a kiss before telling her yes. They stood there for what seemed like hours, taking in every tiny miracle on display before them. Sookie had never felt so in awe of anything in her life and all she could say to express what she felt was simply, "Bill, thank you for giving me this."

He carried her inside and made love to her until the Lights dimmed and the sun began to color the sky once more…

XxXxX

Sookie was walking from the mailbox and culling the junk from the important when a wide smile lit up her face. Bo had written and when Sookie reached the porch she sat in one of the big white rockers and impatiently tore the letter open and began to read. The days were beginning to lengthen significantly in Alaska and Bo was readying himself to go to the place Bill had helped him purchase in northern Idaho for the summer months.

Over the previous six months, a lot had transpired and Sookie always loved hearing from Bo. Together he and Bill had discovered who his maker was, and after confronting him over his unfortunate lack of vampire ethics, (a total oxymoron if ever there was one!) he'd been more than happy to compensate Bo financially. Of course, by fessing up, he also avoided the penalty of meeting True Death because of his actions.

Bill wisely counseled Bo to have the Authority's Prime Investigator grant Bo asylum and sanctuary thusly breaking the Maker-Progeny bond, the same as Pam had done with Eric. Bill thought it a wise move if for no other reason than to keep Bo from becoming the object of his maker's 'payback' so to speak for bringing him before the scrutiny of The Authority in the first place.

As Sookie read further, she got a little teary-eyed. Bo had gone back to the spot where his parents had lived and with his heightened senses, was able to find at least some parts of their remains. He couldn't be certain because of the natural predation in the wild, but he suspected his folks had lost an encounter with a bear. What bones he found, he buried but not before sprinkling the gold dust over them. He wrote that it wasn't until he left the bush and returned to his tiny cabin that he felt the full effect of all he had lost.

He went on to say that it hadn't been an easy thing, but he'd worked his way through it all and had been able to move past it. Sookie smiled at the rest of the letter, Bo was excited to be moving to his place in Idaho and promised to write again soon after he got settled. Sookie tucked the letter back in the envelope, knowing Bill would want to read it. Sookie loved that Bo wrote other than just sending emails… she thought it was probably that small part of her that was like her Gran. Sookie got up and went inside thinking about how Gran had loved reading aloud to Sookie, letters she'd received from friends that had moved away over the years and always books before bedtime.

Sookie hummed to herself as she walked back to the kitchen to pour herself some coffee and go read her book out in the gazebo, propping Bo's letter up against the napkin holder on the kitchen table so Bill would see it later.

XxXxX

Sookie stood in the walk-in closet staring at the clothes hanging before her and sighed. She couldn't decide what to pack, she knew there would be at least one if not two formal occasions and everything she looked at seemed wrong. It had more to do with her insecurities than the clothing. She had never been to the UK and she was nervous because one of the events would be attended by the King and Queen! She sat down on the slipper chair and with her elbows propped on her legs she put her face in her hands and moaned.

A second later, Bill was behind her, sweeping her hair away from the back of her neck and placing soft kisses where her hair stopped and the tender skin began. Her body gave a little shiver and a fire sparked below her tummy as he did. Even after more than five hours making love to Bill in their big bed, he could spark that fire every time he kissed her there.

"Sweetheart," he murmured, as he lightly brought his lips and tongue to the side of her throat. His hands slipped down her arms before gently cupping her breasts. "You're overthinking things darling… yes, you'll be meeting the Royal family but all you have to do is take the black and gold McQueen for that."

Sookie leaned her head back against her husband's rock hard abs and sighed again as he brought his hands to her face, his thumb gently tracing across her cheekbone. He was kissing the top of her head when she said, "Really? Do you think its special enough?"

Without breaking contact, he was suddenly before her on one knee, as she leaned her hand against his palm. "It will be perfect darling… Kate might just recognize it, and it'll give you something to talk about." His blue eyes sparked mischievously and she pushed him away as she rolled her eyes and stood up.

"Somehow I doubt the future Queen of England will do anything more than nod at me in the receiving line. I don't think we'll talk about designers!" She brushed his lips and he gave her the grin she loved so much. "It's not that I'm afraid of talking to them, like the Queen, but what if I… you know… hear them!"

Bill was so surprised by her response that he gave a sudden bark of laughter. "That's what you're worried about?" he laughed again, "if you do hear them you'll probably discover that they are just as unbelievably bored as the rest of the people there!" Chuckling he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead, "You'll be just fine Sookie, I wish I could be there with you to share in it."

"Me too." She gave him a squeeze and took a step back from his arms. He dropped his hands and walked to the built-in chest of drawers. He opened one and pulled out a pair of undershorts, dropping the towel from around his waist he stepped into them and Sookie noticed. It wasn't difficult, noticing her husband's amazingly perfect ass, but it was the towel that drew her attention, "You better pick that towel up mister because I will not come back home to a mildew smelling closet!"

He gave her a slight bow, scooped the towel up and said, "We wouldn't want to have that now, would we my queen!" The hanger she tossed at him missed and she found herself off her feet and spun. When he put her down he gave her a loud smack of a kiss on her lips and ducked out of the closet.

"Smartass." She muttered, although she couldn't keep from grinning.

"I heard that!" he called from the bedroom as she took down the garment bag containing the dress in question. He was right, of course, it would be the perfect. She scooped up the shoes and clutch that went with it and walked into the bedroom. Coming back a moment later to take the underthings that had to be worn specifically with that dress. As she lifted the deep ebony satin from the drawer her grin became a smile, she wondered idly how many times she'd had to remind Bill not to rip these garments off her.

She stepped from the closet and Bill glanced at her, when he saw what she held he began walking toward her… a wicked smile spreading over his face, "I'll help you put those on." He purred, his voice flowing over her like a fine brandy over ice. He had her in his arms, finishing with, "and off of course." Sookie tried to resist temptation.

She failed miserably.

XxXxX

Sookie was sipping her coffee and staring out at the ever lightening sky. She'd slept most of the flight with Bill but had set her alarm to wake her to help puzzle out the six-hour time difference between London and home. She was prepared to deal with the jet lag… it was just a little annoying to her that vampires didn't ever get it. It was simple, if the sun was up they were at rest and if it was down they were awake.

They would be arriving in London just before noon which would make it six a.m. at home. Sookie took another sip and leaned back in her seat. This was going to be a very long day but she was too excited to be seeing Anna again and of course the UK in general!

She and Bill had been in Europe before this, but they'd spent their time in Italy during a conference in which Bill had been a keynote speaker. Sookie had been captivated by Rome and Bill had surprised her with four full days in Venice before returning home. She was happy that she would get at least some part of their stay in London with Bill.

Since they had returned from their Christmas in Hawaii, only Bill had been away. A case had come up and he'd been gone for more than two weeks. Jessica had accompanied him as the vampire was brand new and impulsive as hell. His maker hadn't abandoned him but had met with an untimely end when their daytime resting place had accidentally collapsed. It was within a set of caves, destroyed in part, by heavy equipment moving above their resting place as it cut a roadway deeper into the rain forest.

Sookie had been a little disappointed because of the idea of seeing South America and the rain forest seemed adventurous. After researching it online however, she gladly deferred to Bill's best judgment. The area was remote with no comfort or conveniences not to mention, Bill explained, he wanted her nowhere near this, dangerous young being.

Sookie didn't ask and Bill didn't talk about it but The Authority had contacted him directly. Sookie had the distinct feeling that the crew responsible for the cave-in had likely met with untimely ends themselves. Sookie stopped bumming out about not getting to go along.

This time the circumstances were slightly the same, the vampire in question was a couple of centuries older than Bill. But it didn't make it any less dangerous, if anything, it was much worse. Until now, Bill had never helped a vampire older than himself, as such, should Sookie be near and threatened, Bill would not be able to save her. It was a sobering thought and they had discussed it at length.

Sookie was worried that Bill was in as much, if not more danger then she herself would be. Without divulging specifics, he assured her that would not be the case. Sookie longed to know more but it was useless to waste time trying to get information from Bill. The man could keep a secret, there was no doubt there… and she accepted it because she had no other choice.

Still, he was not expecting to have to spend virtually each waking moment with this woman so they would have time to do things together during their time abroad. Of course, Sookie's imagination had been working overtime. With Bill being so annoyingly discreet… her mind mulled over all manner of possibilities. Some bad, some good and still others, a little silly! Maybe the vampire was descended from royalty! Maybe she was a known royal that the world had believed long gone! What if she was a Countess or a Princess or something?

Her overactive mind had churned over the thoughts for days before Bill finally rose one evening tired and on the verge of having the bleeds because she'd kept him from resting well with all her speculations. She apologized and he told her generalities to ease her mind. Her name was Aileana and she wasn't descended from royalty when she was alive but she had been married to a Lord, which made her a Lady.

When Bill tried to explain the complexities of such a distinction, she'd eventually told him to stop. It was far too confusing. He told her just enough for her to feel sadness for this vampire. Much like Bill, Aileana had lived through seeing her entire family die off from generation to generation until she was all that was left. But unlike Bill, she was having a more difficult time, as the decades advanced. It had made Aileana very jaded… and it had also made her inappropriately angry from time to time. This was why Bill couldn't let Sookie join him when he went to see her and try to help.

Sookie had known there would be cases like this and while it was a little frustrating, she knew she'd have time with Bill so she'd spent a great deal of time doing online searches to find some vampire-friendly destinations to visit. Of course, Anna and Henry would be joining them a few weekends while they were there and Anna assured Sookie they had some lovely places already mapped out.

Sookie got up and fixed herself another cup of coffee. She wasn't quite as familiar with this jet, it was larger and Mr. Garth had insisted they use it for their time overseas. Sookie had to admit that it was filled with sumptuous luxury, the seats soft and comfortable, with built-in massaging rollers that turned on with the push of a button. What she really liked best was that they were heated!

She returned to her seat and tucked her feet up under her and covered up with a light-weight cashmere throw, she sipped her coffee then picked up her book and began to read. They still had about three hours of flight time and Sookie would have to force herself to stay awake but she wasn't worried. She knew once they got ready to land she'd be too excited to feel tired.

XxXxX

Bill hadn't bothered to set an alarm when he'd gone to rest because he knew it would be unnecessary… and he'd been right. Once the pilots had told Sookie to get ready to land, she'd gotten so excited she'd woken him. Bill was standing beside his pod when she burst into the room. Her eyes were bright with enthusiasm and she jumped into his arms, "Oh, you're awake! Did you hear? Can you believe it? The pilot helping Greg? He said I'd be able to see all kinds of things as we come in for the landing like maybe Big Ben! Are you gonna get in your pod now? Do you want a TruBlood fir…?"

Bill silenced her with a slow, deep kiss and she molded herself around him as he took her breath away with his sensuous mouth. He broke away reluctantly and he could see the flush on Sookie's face. "Sweetheart, how much coffee have you had?"

She didn't care and wasn't even annoyed that he'd asked, she was too jazzed up anyway you cut it and they both knew it. "Oh babe…" she said breathlessly. "Can you believe it? We're almost there! I can't wait to see Anna!" Her eyes held his for a moment and her thoughts turned toward the way Bill felt with her body wrapped around his and her mouth still feeling his kiss. "Let's go to bed before we land." She whispered, her voice losing its excitement, becoming more lustfully needful instead.

He leaned forward to slowly bump his forehead to hers, their eyes meeting as Bill answered quite reluctantly, "Dearheart I would love nothing more but if we do, I fear I will develop the bleeds this evening. I don't want to spoil our first night here." He kissed her lips delicately, feeling her disappointment for a fleeting moment before she smiled beneath his lips and relaxed her legs to stand before him.

He held her close and said lightly, "May I have a raincheck?"

She slipped her hand downward and gave his sculptured flank a squeeze and said, "Oh yeah! Now get in." She stepped away from him and put her hand on the open pod door. After one more, quick kiss he got in and she helped him close the door and once she knew he was secure she returned to her seat and buckled up.

She watched the sky out the window and did her relaxation breathing in an effort to give Bill a break. It was no use though… she sighed a little and smiled. He'd get plenty of sleep once she got through customs and met up with Anna. She practically bounced in the seat, and she wasn't sure why. She guessed it was because she would be able to spend time with Anna, then it kind of dawned on her.

When she traveled with Bill, they did a lot of things, visited many places and made fabulous memories together. But this would be the first time that Sookie would have someone to share in the things she could only see during the day. Mindful of Bill's proximity and not wanting him to wonder why she suddenly felt much less excited, she quickly cast the thought aside and caught the first glimpse of the ocean far below. And just that fast, her heart began to pound again.

Aileana – One week earlier

With Sookie asleep beside him on their big bed, Bill read the file on Aileana Macleod with interest; it was the third such file he'd received from The Authority, though it would never be acknowledged. The Authority had come to realize what Bill had to offer was actually something they could use to their advantage. This case was no exception but it came with its own set of unique troubles.

To start with, this vampire was between 700 to 750 years old. Record keeping being what it was when she'd been turned made an exact age impossible to ascertain. That brought with it a danger Bill had not faced thus far, he was significantly younger which put him at a distinct disadvantage. If she chose to do him harm he would be helpless against her.

This was an issue that was going to be difficult to explain to Sookie. He was just thankful that Aileana resided in the UK. It gave him the perfect chance to take Sookie to London where she would have the companionship of Anna and Henry and he would still be able to spend time with her too. Henry also afforded him with important backup when he was with Aileana. He knew it would help to tell Sookie that!

He knew it had been a hardship on her when he hadn't been able to take her with him to South America. It had turned out to be a wise decision. Especially when he and Jessica had been forced into reporting that only the True Death would stop the young vampire after all attempts to help him failed. Sookie could never know about the bloodbath and total carnage he and Jess had helped conceal.

Bill was fairly certain the same would not happen here, but there were no guarantees. So far, there had been reports of trouble but no large-scale issues… and that was the thing that could change in the blink of an eye. Bill glanced at the clock and then rose silently from the bed to make his way downstairs. He would be speaking with a doctor from Los Angeles that he was hoping could give him guidance.

Dr. Kenly was foremost in her field and Mr. Garth had arranged the call. The suspicion of The Authority was that Aileana Macleod was suffering from a malady generally experienced only in humans. If true, the first hurdle was going to be the fact that the most successful remedy was medication or a combination of medication and therapy. But as Bill turned the lights on in his office, his first order of business was to learn as much as he could from Dr. Kenly about general anxiety disorder, or known more commonly as GAD.

As Bill settled into his chair, he read through the information he'd received. Aileana had become increasingly more troublesome. In large part because her malady often triggered anger and if and when that happened it was a PR headache. That was the reason they'd called him in. They were determined to make sure PR headaches didn't become full-blown PR nightmares!

This poor vampire appeared to be stricken with a condition like many countless thousands of humans who worried constantly about things that were above and beyond their ability to control.

They worried about the weather, how their city was being affected by pollution, how high the crime rate was becoming or how poor their obese next-door-neighbor's health was becoming. The humans would spend endless hours walking the floor; some would bite their nails bloody, smoke endlessly or turn to drinking or drugs to make their minds stop churning endlessly just so they could sleep.

Most were unaware of their problem and didn't even realize they had an issue; they just believed that was how everyone felt. Others were only diagnosed after seeking treatment for insomnia or at the request of loved ones who recognized or suspected an illness was at fault.

Aileana Macleod was a vampire that couldn't rest, she suffered the bleeds more often than not, and when she tired of worrying about the condition the world was in, she thought about meeting the True Death to escape it… and that was when she got mad. And when she got mad, invariably, a human ended up drained.

Up until recently, The Authority had been able to deflect the issue but the last time she'd lost it, she killed too close to her home and the humans around her were beginning to have suspicions. There was only so much The Authority could contain so they'd sent someone to talk to her.

Her pride had raised its stubborn head and she sent the delegate packing, but not before she understood that her choice in the matter was work with Bill or die. She'd agonized over her choices for a few nights which filled her with more despair than anger. She'd picked Bill but he knew it was going to be a difficult task. His phone rang and he answered anxious to learn all he could about GAD from an expert.

"May I speak to Mr. Bill Compton please?" a gentle sounding voice asked politely. Bill was a little surprised at how young the voice sounded.

"Speaking, I want to thank you Doctor Kenly for taking the time to answer my questions." Bill responded.

"You are very welcome Mr. Compton. How may I assist you?" she asked in a voice that was soft and lyrical and held just a trace of a mid-western accent.

As Bill began to lay out the basics, he asked her about GAD and shared his concern over the fact that if it was indeed GAD, medication and long-term therapy wasn't an option. "Dr. I know that she's become increasingly world-weary and I wondered about explaining to her that there have been many times I've felt exactly the same way."

The young woman cleared her throat quietly and said, "That wouldn't be wise because in essence, you are not her and therefore are unable to know exactly how she feels. Depending on her level of despondency, her anger… she could lash out."

"What do you suggest?" Bill said. A slight frown on his face as he jotted down notes.

"From my experience, vampires are 'solution focused' and they don't talk about emotions, the only way to approach it is by problem-solving. Cognitive Behavior Therapy would likely work. Basically, the idea is to help the client to look at their problem 'logically' and that way, hopefully, they'll be able to see that the things that they're worried about are least likely to happen, or if they do happen, the reality of the situation wouldn't be as bad as they thought."

"In essence, it's like giving a different point of view to her problems. But getting her to open up is going to be key. May I ask if you have a support system in place for her once you leave? This is going to depend largely on having a great deal of support for a good long while."

Bill's conversation was nearly four hours long and by the end of it, he was grateful Dr. Kenly had been so generous. Her insight clearly showed him that this was a vampire in crisis and it could have been a complete disaster if he'd tried to help her without this new knowledge. It also got Bill thinking about something he hadn't considered before… perhaps he could be even more effective if he had schooling.

After reviewing the notes he'd taken yet again, he saw all the places where his planned approach would have gone wrong with Aileana. He sat for a moment then opened a search engine on his laptop, he spent the hour before dawn researching colleges and finding those that held highest ratings in the field of psychology.

After sliding into bed beside his sleeping wife, Bill remained alert even after the sun rose. His mind churning with ideas and questions, mostly about the good doctor's inquiry as to a support network and extended therapy. One thing he was certain of, he would truly love to sit down face to face and talk with Dr. Kenly at length.

London

Sookie and Anna were giggling like a pair of school girls on the top of a red double-decker bus. Sookie had never dreamed London would be as incredible as it really was. Anna had made certain the first couple of days were a whirlwind of sights and sounds and the ultimate tourist experience and Sookie just loved the buses! One afternoon they got rained on but it just made Sookie fall in love with London even more.

Today they were on their way to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels among other things. Sookie seeing priceless artworks in the Queen's Gallery had made an impression. Especially when viewing those artists that before this had been nothing but names in a book or movie. Actually, seeing a painting done by Ruben, viewing what he, himself had touched sparked an appreciation that Sookie didn't even know she could feel.

Sookie had to admit, left to her own devices during the day, she doubted she would have seen as much but with Anna it was day after day of constant fun, information and new passions being discovered. Although today they weren't doing as much. They needed some afternoon rest as tonight they would be dining out with Bill and Henry at one of London's finest restaurants and then going to the Victoria and Albert's Museum. It was Thursday and therefore open all night and thanks to Sookie's newly piqued interest in art she was looking forward to it a lot more than she had initially!

Bill had met Aileana for the first time two nights ago and Sookie had been relieved when she learned Henry would be nearby. She had been worried because the female vampire was older than Bill and could hurt him if she chose to be combative. Sookie also felt concern when Bill explained that Aileana's problem was a serious one and he was unsure if he would be able to help her completely.

He'd patiently explained to her that Aileana's issue was going to take a lot more than a week or two. Sookie could tell there was something else on Bill's mind but she didn't push. They had decided that they would only intrude upon Henry and Anna for the original two weeks they'd planned to. Sookie was excited to learn that Bill had already managed to book them one of the only eleven available suites at the five-star luxury hotel The Dukes. She was also sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that Bob had something to do with its availability at this late date.

Henry and Anna had assured them it was no imposition but Sookie and Bill convinced them it was something special they wanted to do together. Besides, Anna would spend a night or two so she and Sookie could plan some day trips and see the countryside. The two women also began discussing plans to take a train to other countries for a few three or four day jaunts, seeing as they would be staying longer, and Bill was thrilled with the idea.

Uppermost in his mind was Sookie's eagerness to explore with Anna and be happy about taking advantage of their surroundings. He was hoping to perhaps talk Aileana into coming to London at some point. He knew this would be easier if Sookie were away but what he was really hoping for was to establish a level of trust with Aileana. Then again, he couldn't be sure he would even get that far in a few weeks. He also had to consider the possibility that he might have to send Sookie back to the States before he was comfortable enough to leave Aileana to her own devices.

XxXxX

The Tower of London was amazing even though the history was unbelievably dark. But the Crown Jewels were almost beyond comprehension. Sookie had been utterly stunned at their beauty. Diamonds and precious gemstones the sizes and colors of which were beyond compare and the scepters and swords were beyond description. She'd actually been quite surprised to learn there was so much more to the collection other than a few crowns! She and Anna laughed over their wedding rings; the Crown Jewels making their diamonds look like chips rather than cut stones!

After a lovely lunch, they headed back to Anna's house talking about the coming evening and how much they were looking forward to it. But all that changed when they got into the house and Anna retrieved her phone messages. Henry and Bill had been unable to return home that morning. Therefore, their evening was off and they would contact them as soon as they could.

Sookie got weak in the knees when Anna told her Henry had said if they didn't hear from the men by dawn the next day, Sookie was to call Mr. Garth immediately. Sookie almost stumbled as she pulled out a kitchen chair and more or less fell into it. Her ears started to ring and her vision began to blur and close in just before Anna gently put her hand on the back of Sookie's head and pressed it downward between her knees.

Once there, Anna quickly grabbed a clean dish towel, wet it with cold water, squeezing it well, before placing it carefully on the back of Sookie's neck. In a calming voice she crooned, "Really, Sookie… don't worry too much. I'm sure it is just a safety concern with a light tight environment. She is living in some kind of castle ruins so maybe there was just a sudden need to find alternative shelter. I'm sure that is all there is to it! If there had been some imminent danger Henry wouldn't have been able to leave a voice mail or tell us to call Mr. Garth… if she bolts, Garth has the best trackers in the world, that's the only reason we'd need to call him. Sookie, it's going to be just fine I'm sure."

Sookie nodded slightly then slowly straightened up. Her eyes looked intensely haunted and her voice was barely more than a whisper when she grabbed at the handful of straws Anna had thrown into the water trying to soothe her. "You're right. That's why Henry was there, to help contain her because she was older than Bill, he's fine. Of course, they're fine."

But Anna saw all too clearly that Sookie's mantra of acceptance sounded good but the truth of it didn't reach all the way into her eyes. Anna had to work hard to keep her own concerns off her face as well. She did feel some relief that Henry had left the message, but the instruction about calling Garth shook her. It was very unlike Henry to ask something like that but she wasn't about to let Sookie pick up on her apprehension over it all.

After about five tense minutes, the two women began to talk and to say that things were a little out of sorts was the understatement of the year. They made busy work by taking their purchases out of the bags and taking them to their rooms, all the while dancing around the issue of their worry, while desperately willing one of their phones to ring once the sun set.

Sookie put away her things and sat on the bed, her mind reeling as fear's black tendrils of smoke curled and flitted around her thoughts. Without being aware of it she lay down on the bed and curled up into herself, wrapping her arms around her knees as hot tears slid down the side of her face and dropped onto the pillow sham. Wishing with every heartbeat that the sun would set soon, she hadn't thought it possible, but she cried herself to sleep in spite of her dread and worry.

XxXxX

Bill and Henry were at rest with Aileana lying between them. It had been a difficult night and the ruins of the castle had sustained a lot more damage in the tussle the night before. Trying to cover-up the damage would be difficult but it could be managed with help. The one saving grace was that it wasn't a ruin that was frequented by tourists and sightseers. That would have been an utter nightmare!

Bill didn't wake, but he was all too aware when Sookie received the news about the coming night. Her emotions overwhelmed him and a crimson tear made a trail down his still face. He'd known it would upset her and if there had been any way he could have prevented it, he certainly would have. He had settled into his day's rest with a heavy heart. He and Henry could have returned to London but both had felt staying with Aileana was the best thing to do. They were far from a solution but Bill had known instinctively that if she rose with them, it would enhance her belief that they really were there to help. Well… that was the plan but there were no guarantees it was going to work.

Having Henry tell Anna to contact Garth had been a backup plan. There was a very real chance that Garth would be the only one that could get Aileana to agree to return to the States if need be to help her resolve her issues. As he felt Sookie's fear and pain, he tossed his head from side to side. As she slid into a fitful sleep, he followed as well. His mind finally quieting until he too was under as deeply as his companions, little did he know that the backup plan would be the only hope of saving all of them, come the night.

England

Inside a virtual fortress of iron and stone, the old vampire sat in utter darkness and drank the still warm blood from the corpse on the floor. One of his servants would see to its disposal later once he'd left the study.

A small candle flickered on a table between two heavy, ornately carved solid mahogany chairs. As he raised the weighty crystal goblet to his slightly pink lips and drank deeply, he savored the taste. It had turned into a surprising treat quite by accident. He'd had his procurer snatch someone young and pretty because he was bored and he'd simply felt like toying with a woman for his amusement.

The fact that she turned out to be a rare, AB-neg blood type was the opulent icing on a very special cake! He smiled in a most evil way as he drank and pushed some of the cards from her purse around the table beside him with his finger. The blood donor card made him chuckle, he hoped there wasn't a terrible accident somewhere tonight that would be relying on this girl to help out. He finished his glass and after a moment lifted his arm upward.

In an instant, a servant refilled his glass and returned to his position along the wall, his eyes downcast along with the two other servants waiting to rush forward to answer any need required by their Master.

The vampire, being only a couple of centuries away from being considered a true ancient, heard familiar steps approaching and bid the newcomer to come forward. The man stepped before the vampire and bowed deeply until he caught the slight movement of his Master's hand before straightening to his true height.

"Speak."

"She is at rest; both vampires are resting with her."

"Do they have her restrained?"

"No Master, she is only resting between the two."

The Master mulled this information over, his mind working out the various possibilities and deciding if it felt necessary to make his presence known. He chose to leave things as they were for the moment, drained his glass and stood in a movement only a vampire could track. "I think I will rest for a bit"

He turned his gaze on one of the manservants and said, "Clean that up." He vaguely swept his hand towards the young woman's body as he turned to leave the room. His eyes caught the man's and the color drained from the man's face as he did. "And make sure it will never be found, the last one you left was too close." The vampire suddenly loomed over the trembling servant and added in a voice that dripped with venom and menace. "Because if this one is found within the next five years, I will crush every joint in your body until you flop like a rag doll. And you'll be alive while I do it and you will remain alive until they heal and then I will do it again. Do you understand what my instructions are?"

The man couldn't have uttered so much as a sigh because his fear was absolute but he was able to nod vigorously and then in a blink he was alone with the remaining servants. He turned and ran to the kitchen pantry for everything he would need, rubber gloves, bleach, large garbage bags, duct tape, a hacksaw and extra blades. He threw it all in a reusable canvas grocery store bags and ran back to the corpse with his clean up kit and a tarp and began the process of disposing the body.

For probably the hundredth time he wondered how in the hell he'd ever gone from mere fangbanger to living in a situation like this. The answer was a simple one… the rush of utter terror he'd just been subjected to was better than any orgasm he'd ever had in his life. The knowledge that one day he would likely die a horrible death actually made him hard. He pulled the girl's body onto the tarp and tried to ignore the low throbbing between his legs.

London

After a fitful and useless sleep Sookie awoke, her eyes burning, her head throbbing and her mind chaotic. She got off the bed and walked to the window, glancing at the clock on the night table. There was at least another three hours until sunset and for a moment she thought she'd never make it until then. She stared out the window at the beauty that was London and yet didn't see a thing. Before her mind had allowed her the brief respite of sleep she'd wondered why Henry hadn't called Anna's cell phone. The only thing she could think of was that he must not have had access to a cell signal. Still, she found it odd.

As her mind turned over possibilities she suddenly decided she could stand no more. Sookie was freaking out and she needed someone strong. She crossed the room, picked up her cell and called Mr. Garth. He answered on the first ring and after he said hello, Sookie went to pieces. A moment or two later, Anna knocked softly and said, "Sookie? Mr. Garth is wondering if it's all right to come in?"

Sookie crossed the room and threw open the door and in the next instant was swallowed up in an embrace that at once calmed her, while allowing her to collapse completely into a blubbering mess. After a few moments of soft crooning and gentle patting, Sookie was able to collect herself and Bob handed her a silk handkerchief to wipe away her tears.

"What would you say to going downstairs and having a cup of tea with Anna?" he said as softly as a sigh.

Sookie sniffed somewhat loudly and replied in a shaky voice, "I think I'd rather have a good stiff drink!"

Bob chuckled and hugged her close and then let her step away from him. He was glad that she still kept her hand in his. They left the room and once downstairs Anna made a pot of coffee and the three sat down to discuss the matter at hand.

XxXxX

Henry opened his eyes a split second before Aileana and he was ready to grab her should she try to flee. She didn't do anything other than sit up and Bill did the same. Aileana drew her hand through her tangled hair. "You can try and stop me," she turned and stared Henry in the eyes when she repeated, "try… but I'm giving you fair warning. I'm finding someone to drink. I refuse to drink that foul brew you brought with you."

Bill wanted to sigh as he did often around Sookie but managed not to and said "Would you consider a willing donor?" as calmly and as casually as he could. He was surprised when she suddenly laughed out loud.

She gave him a wink and then said with an exaggerated Eliza Doolittle accent, "With a little glamour, everyone is a willing donor sir!" Before she stood and brushed the dirt from her clothes. She turned to make her way down the passageway to the hidden entrance. They had rested in an underground tunnel that had originally been an escape tunnel to the occupants of the castle ruin above them. Neither Bill nor Henry attempted to restrain her although that hadn't been the case the night before.

Aileana had become quite irate while Bill was trying to explain some things to her, so irate in fact that Bill had come down very hard and sternly on her. She hadn't liked it one bit and the battle of wills raged for a better part of the night and a large portion had been the two men restraining her by force. By the time Aileana had grudgingly accepted the fact that she had no choice in the matter besides doing what she was told, Bill had signaled to Henry to use the fall back plan.

While Bill spoke with a somewhat calmer Aileana, Henry made a quick trip to a public phone in a nearby town to leave a message for Anna and Sookie. By the time the moon was setting Aileana understood two very important things. The first was that for all intents and purposes, working with Bill was the equivalent of a human's court-ordered therapeutic sessions and secondly that even though Bill had established important and basic ground rules on more than one occasion at this point, he wanted to be there and help her feel better! He made her realize that he didn't need to be there, nor had he simply been sent. He had chosen to come of his own free will.

This shocked the troubled vampire but she didn't show it to him just yet. Henry returned and as they readied themselves to rest, Aileana had said sarcastically, "I suppose now you're going to silver me to keep me in line."

When Bill replied he hadn't planned on it, she challenged him saying, "There's silver in the bags you brought, I can smell it from here!"

Bill looked into her vivid blue eyes and said quietly, "If you tell me it is unnecessary and that you will not run, then no, I will not silver you." He held her gaze and he could see the tiniest trace of confusion in them.

She dropped her eyes and quietly said, "I will not run."

"May we rest beside you?" Bill asked gently.

She gave a quick nod and led them into her daytime resting place. They lay beside one another on a bed of soft grasses and moss she used regularly and as Bill felt the sun rise he felt a sense of satisfaction. It was just a tiny chink in her armor but it was a chink nonetheless.

Now, they stepped into the night from behind a tangle of overgrown hedges, Bill asked Henry to go get the donor and call their wives to prevent panic.

Aileana gazed intensely at Bill for a moment. She wasn't sure if he was being stupid by relying too much on Henry's ability to catch her if she chose to run or if he was just trying to show her he wanted to trust her. Either way, she realized she was hoping it was trust and not stupidity. She walked toward a trout stream that cut across the landscape and Bill followed along saying nothing. "When I was a girl, the fish in that stream fed my family almost every day."

"How large was your family?" Bill asked softly.

"Twelve in all, five boys, five girls." A look of sadness flit across her face and Bill didn't miss it and hoped that she would voice it. He felt encouraged when she did.

"I can't remember what any of them looked like, or even their names. But I remember how good those trout were." She frowned slightly and added, "I'd venture a guess that they'd not taste the same now! Why can't these moronic humans get it through their thick skulls that they're ruining everything?! They destroy the natural resources like there's an endless supply! Toxins, bacterial contaminants… why there probably aren't enough fish to feed a family of four or five anymore. Over-used… no thought to conservation whatsoever! Left up to those idiots it's a wonder the water is even still flowing!" Her voice had risen in volume and her body had become tenser with every word.

Bill gently said her name and in his quiet manner brought her focus back to him. Bill stopped about ten feet from the stream and sat down in the grass and gestured toward Aileana to sit beside him. He smiled when she did and said, "I don't know about the fish… those appear pretty large and healthy." He pointed to the water and the moonlight shimmering on it was the same as a spotlight would have been to a human. Under various cuts in the bank and within the streambed itself there were numerous, sparkling fish, all looking strong and robust.

A smile touched her lips and she glanced at Bill, "Guess I just showed you how crazy I am didn't I?"

"Well, I'm wondering more about why you feel so strongly."

"Don't you ever feel like they're destroying everything with their carelessness? You may not be as old as me but you've got to see that with their wanton destruction of everything and anything they choose will be the end of us!" She jumped to her feet and began to pace before Bill in the moonlight. Raking her fingers through her hair with such force that Bill wasn't surprised to see strands of it clinging to her fingers with each pass.

"God, sometimes I just think, what the hell am I waiting for? I should just not bother to go to ground and be done with it!"

Thanks to Dr. Kenly's generosity in sharing information, Bill realized he had to be very, very careful. This beautiful, yet anguished being had just confirmed that she had indeed been thinking about suicide! Bill hoped that Henry didn't return right now, he needed to have her undivided attention because he may not get a clearer shot than he had at this moment.

"Aileana, do you really think meeting the sun is your best solution? After everything that you've been through are you going to choose the True Death and leave everything behind because of the human race's sheer stupidity?"

His words stopped her in her tracks, her brows furrowed together in concentration has she pondered over what he's said. She took a step forward then stopped yet again. Bill strained to hear any indication that Henry was near and was relieved to hear no one closing in on the two of them. A minute ticked by and then a second and third, then she was pacing again, her voice vehement.

"You're right! Why should I leave this world? I've been here longer than most of those idiots! I've survived a hell of a lot more than most of them could ever dream of surviving!"

Bill saw the chance he'd been waiting for. "Yes, you have survived but you cannot continue to live like this. What are you going to do about this situation?"

The pacing stopped mid-step and she very slowly turned her head to look at Bill. He could read both confusion and realization in her eyes. "I could rip all their throats out." She said matter-of-factly.

"I'm sure you could. However, we both know that it's not possible. Or advisable. What good would it bring you? You've said yourself you've survived a lot worse. Are you going to throw away centuries of existence for the momentary satisfaction of killing untold numbers of mortals?"

Bill patted the grass beside him and he was only slightly surprised when she sat beside him. He held her eyes with his and quietly said, "Aileana, if you let me help you, you may get out of this alive. I want to help you and I will help you if you'll let me!"

She held his eyes, and a human wouldn't have seen it but she gave him a slight nod then got to her feet. "Looks like Henry's back… let's go eat." By the time Bill stood, he heard the slight moan of the donor as Aileana's fangs pierced his flesh. Though their conversation had been almost miniscule on some levels, it was tremendous on others. Aileana had decided to trust Bill and now the real work would begin.

London

When the phone had rung not long after dark, Sookie leapt from her seat like a bullet from a gun. She answered with, "Bill?!" in a shrill and panicked voice.

Henry very calmly said, "No Sookie, it's Henry but everything is fine."

Sookie's tense muscles suddenly gave under the strain and Bob was there to catch her as she went limp and Anna took the phone from her hand to speak to her husband. Sookie's hands were shaking so hard that she could barely wipe at the tears streaming down her cheeks. But Bob just crooned softly to her to relax and wiped her face with tissues from the box beside her. He finally made her laugh when he quipped dryly, "I would have hated to see your reaction if Anna hadn't made decaf."

It was the laugh that drained away the last bit of stress and it dawned on Sookie suddenly how totally rude it had been of her to snatch up Anna's phone the way she had. She could feel herself blushing crimson and right about then Anna turned and said to Mr. Garth, "Henry would like to speak with you a moment, if possible?"

He nodded and stood to take the phone and Anna came and sat beside Sookie as she began to stammer out an apology. "Good gracious Sookie! Do you think I cared? I was as worried about Bill as you were!"

Sookie didn't believe it for a minute but she had the good manners not to say it and she sighed a watery sigh then blew her nose. She began listening to Bob's side of the conversation and she was almost instantly put at ease. Bob was going to have everything Bill would need waiting for them and she was really happy when he gave the phone back to Anna and sat down again. "Sookie, I'm having John and Frank come to open up one of my houses in Essex, about 20 miles north of Brentwood."

"He'll be able to bring the vampire there if she's willing and it will give him access to more help should it be needed. Although, I can't say if you'll be going there, that's up to Bill but there are four wings and with proper protection, I am certain you would be perfectly safe there."

Every fiber of Sookie's being wanted to be there if Bill was, but they'd discussed this at length and she wasn't expecting it. Of course, the offer of a secure estate hadn't been part of the equation but Sookie wouldn't let that get her down. She now knew Bill was safe and unhurt and if help was needed, it was available in a heartbeat. Plus, if things worked out, they may even get to be with each other while Bill helped this poor woman get better.

Sookie suddenly felt unbelievably exhausted. She could barely keep her eyes open and was hardly aware that Anna had hung up and was talking to Mr. Garth. She vaguely was aware of motion and then warmth and darkness. The worry of the day and the aftereffects of the adrenaline rush had fried her body and her mind. She was soon out cold, not waking until early the next morning.

XxXxX

After Aileana had had a healthy drink, even Henry and Bill had a taste. Henry healed his wounds, glamoured him into remembering to take vitamins and iron tablets to prevent anemia and paid him well. He returned him to his home and more or less tucked him in bed. When Henry came back to the ruins he saw Bill and Aileana walking along a hilltop about a quarter of a mile away. Henry made himself comfortable and just took in the quiet, yet somehow oddly cacophonous night around him. What he enjoyed most was the sky. The night was clear, the moonlight bright though not bright enough to diminish the blanket of stars shimmering above him. He decided then and there it was time for him to take Anna on a holiday. Someplace where they could lie in the grass and watch the stars twinkle above them, they were long overdue for just such relaxation.

He watched for quite a while and thought about what Bill was doing now. Every now and then he heard a snippet of words floating on the soft breeze as Bill and Aileana walked. Henry had been more than a little shocked when he and Bill had first spoken of it. At the time Henry had believed that deep down it had more to do with Sookie than Bill, but after these last few nights? No, clearly this had been Bill's idea from the start and Sookie was as supportive of Bill as Anna was to him.

Henry did a lot of thinking before the two returned as the sky began to lighten and the birds began their songs. Aileana wanted a quick swim before the sun rose so while she was in the water, Henry gave Bill the broad strokes of what Garth had told him as well as assuring him Sookie was now fine, much to Bill's relief. Aileana returned to the ruin and the three entered the tunnel making their way into the darkness. As they settled in for the day, all three were lost in deep thought.

Aileana felt a tiny flicker of what she guessed might just be hope. Bill longed to be alongside Sookie and prayed that he could take Aileana to Mr. Garth's estate. Best case scenario would be having Sookie there with him. Henry's mind churned over thoughts of stepping away from his obligations of his work and spending the rest of his beloved wife's life showing her the world.

The sun broke free of the horizon and all three eased into their day's rest.

Aileana

Henry had returned to London and during the past seven nights, John and Frank had joined Bill at the castle ruins in the English countryside. Most of the time Aileana wasn't aware of their presence because she was resisting Bill as he tried to convince her to go with him to Mr. Garth's estate. She was still actively defying him at nearly every turn and it was frustrating for Bill. In large part because he'd only managed just a single night with Sookie and when he'd returned Aileana had had an argument with Frank that had led to a physical altercation. Bill hadn't even asked how it began because clearly Aileana had taken a giant step backward as a result.

Not wanting Garth to kill Frank, he asked him to make preparations for the arrival at the estate. This courtesy was not lost on Frank and after apologizing profusely, left John to keep watch over Bill and his troubled vampire. The night after Frank left Aileana seemed to have no interest in Bill or anything he was trying to accomplish effectively ending their progress. As such, Bill knew he was going to have to do two things and neither of them was palatable. He was going to have to spend much more time with her than he'd planned but worse was the knowledge that he would have to send Sookie back to Bon Temps without him.

As Bill sat beside the stream while Aileana had her pre-dawn swim, he contemplated his limited options. For one, if and when he was able to get his troubled vamp to the estate in Essex there was simply no way he could put Sookie in such close proximity to this unstable creature. Bill couldn't help but grin to himself at the thought of Aileana discovering he was married to a human. As a vampire, she'd know instantly that there was a human there and what would Bill say? "Oh yeah… did I forget to mention that my wife isn't a vampire? Sorry, guess it slipped my mind."

Bill shook his head slightly as he watched Aileana slice through the water. He knew that technically he really shouldn't watch her swim naked but she was a beautiful woman. She was neither modest nor bashful and Bill wasn't aroused by her but rather appreciated her grace and symmetry as she cut through the water. Bill glanced toward the ruins and could see the sky getting brighter and when he dropped his eyes Aileana had left the water and they made their way to their place of rest.

John followed them in and they made themselves comfortable. No words were spoken but John had given Bill a look that he thought was disapproval. Bill wasn't surprised, John was very protective of Sookie and perhaps he felt it was inappropriate for Bill to be watching Aileana swim. As Bill settled back for the day beside Aileana, he decided John was right and made a metal note to keep his eyes elsewhere when Aileana was swimming from now on.

Bill had two more nights before Sookie would be back in London. She and Anna had taken a trip to Amsterdam and Sookie believed that when they got back, she would be joining Bill at Garth's. As the sun broke the horizon Bill shuddered slightly… this was news he did not want to tell his wife because he knew it was going to go badly. Dawn claimed him but not before he shuddered slightly once again.

Eight nights later and some steady forward progress with Aileana, Bill was unaware that as soon as he slipped into his day's rest, Aileana sat up and made her way to the opening of the tunnel. She hoped she was safe when she felt the watcher with demon blood leave the area. Although it was fairly easy to fight the pull of the dawn as the sun broke the horizon flooding the land with rich light, she stood waiting, the sunlight uncomfortable even in the gloom, but unable to return to the total darkness behind her. Before long a man approached and spoke to her as she stood quietly in the darkness of the entrance. He spoke three words and she turned to make her way back to lie beside Bill. She was going to have to make quick work of him before he woke. As she succumbed to the day, her mind turned the words over again and again… "Kill them all."

London

Sookie looked at the complete mess in the bedroom suite. She had clusters of bags and boxes, clothes and shoes lying everywhere. She was trying to organize all the things that she was going to have picked up and taken to the plane for the eventual trip home and also trying to figure out what she should take to Essex. Seeing as she would not be going anywhere else in Europe she was certain that she could also send her more formal and dressy attire to the plane too.

Even though she hadn't heard from Bill yet, she wasn't concerned as Bob was in close contact with John and she knew Bill was safe and working hard with his client. Still, she longed for him to return to her. She couldn't keep erotic images from her head whenever her husband crossed her mind. This was almost the longest they'd been away from one another in quite some time and she was more than ready to show him how much she'd missed him!

XxXxX

Bill was struggling into consciousness aware there was something alarming going on and by the time he became fully aware, he realized he'd been bound by silver! What the hell? Just then John was beside him tossing the ropes of silver chains away, Bill couldn't help the shudder that shook his body. Bill knew what John was about to tell him… Aileana was gone and Bill didn't want to contemplate just how bad that could be.

John apologized profusely as he thrust his arm at Bill to feed on. Bill didn't hesitate, he grabbed John's wrist and bit. He didn't need much to stave off the effects of the silver, he guessed correctly that they hadn't been there long, as he pierced a finger to heal John's wounds and thanked him; they zoomed to the tunnel entrance and into the night. It took just moments for them to realize they were completely, shit-out-of-luck… Aileana had crisscrossed, backtracked and befouled layer after layer of scent trails. There would be no following her in any direction that would be correct. Bill knew that they'd never be able to determine her true path before dawn.

He shoved his hands through his hair in frustration. He just couldn't understand what had happened! Why had she bolted? Where was she and what was she doing? John stood silent and still a few feet behind him. He was waiting for Bill to realize he hadn't gotten there on time and he was waiting for the fireworks to begin. He also knew it would likely be a very good thing that he was loved by Sookie and considered him family. Once Mr. Garth found out… it was John's turn to shudder.

Bill stood utterly still a moment or two longer before walking off to pace along the edge of the stream, and John did not disturb him. He had a pretty good idea of what he was thinking. Even John had believed Aileana was coming along wonderfully the past two weeks. So wonderfully, in fact, that John had arrived later than he should have. John sighed heavily and watched Bill pace like a caged tiger… knowing that at any moment Bill would figure out this was all on him. John had barely finished the thought before Bill turned and stood before him.

Bill's face wasn't angry which surprised him but it was obviously intense. "John," Bill asked quietly, "you undoubtedly heard us these last weeks… last night… did you hear or pick up on anything that would have warned of this?"

John slowly shook his head and said, "Bill, this is…"

Bill raised his hand to stop John from speaking further. "John, none of this is your fault; I was foolish to believe her resting patterns were the same as mine. She didn't silver me, she had help. I would have been able to smell the silver if she had it here. But right now, I'm more concerned with why she had help." Bill cast his eyes towards the stream and shook his head slowly. "I'm not sure I really want to know but I have a bad feeling I'm going to find out soon enough."

Bill sighed heavily and John's lips almost twitched into a smile for a nanosecond. He couldn't help but wonder if Bill knew he sounded exactly like Sookie when he did that. He was surprised when Bill turned and clapped John on the shoulder and said, "We may as well go back to London."

"What?" this was the last thing John expected, actually he'd been expecting Bill to have him call Mr. Garth and get some demon scent-trackers here to try and follow the errant vampire! "Why?"

"First of all? I need to be somewhere that I can follow the news and secondly I need to explain to Sookie that she has to go home depending on the circumstances in the next night or two."

For a very rare moment in time, John didn't envy Bill in the least!

On his way back to London, Bill's mind worked feverishly. He thought of a hundred ways to approach the numerous problems he faced and rejected one after the other. By the time he was letting himself into the suite where Sookie was deciding what to pack he had picked one idea over all the rest.

He was quite simply going to keep his wife in the throes of passion so intensely that she'd be too exhausted to fight. It was what any red-blooded male would do… he didn't expect it to work but at least he'd feel better before his marital life went to hell in a hand-basket!

Sookie had heard the card key access beep and she was walking out of the bedroom expecting to see Anna. "Bill!" She screeched and threw herself into his waiting arms, she wrapped her legs around his waist, her arms around his neck and kissed him long and hard, their tongues probed and twirled and each touch sparked more heat between them, in what seemed like only seconds, he had divested her of her shorts and panties (well to be honest, he ripped them off of her like paper) and they found themselves on the thick, soft Persian carpet he held Sookie just above himself and looked into her eyes, her eyes shone with love and lust and need and happiness. He lowered her onto him slowly and her eyes closed, her long lashes fluttering against her cheeks as a deep and satisfying moan escaped from her lips. "Oh Bill," she said breathlessly. She opened her eyes and looked down into the deep dark pools of blue topaz and whispered, "Love me."

He began to move and she reached for his hands, she interlaced her fingers with his and began to counter his rhythm. Her breath getting faster, as did the pace they set, her hips slid across him and he could feel her building up, he felt her grow slicker, her soft, velvet inside seemed warmer with each movement… he wanted to slow her down yet he wanted her to go on and before he could decide what he truly wanted, her heard the little hitch in her breathing and felt her grow tighter as she began to move faster.

She snapped her hips and Bill held himself in check knowing it was her rhythm that mattered now. She moaned low and deep, her hands held his as if in a vice, her head thrown back, some of her hair trailed down her back while some bounced just above her breasts… he felt it begin and all it took was four words…

"Come for me Sookie."

Her world exploded around him and he followed suit.

XxXxX

They finally made it off the floor and into the bedroom. If Sookie had thought she'd had a mess on her hands before Bill showed up, it was worse now. Most everything that had been in semi-neat piles on the bed were now scattered to all four walls and she couldn't care less!

They lay together, entwined, entangled and sated after having made love for the fourth time and Sookie drew lazy curlicues on Bill's shoulders with her fingers. Her head was on his chest, tucked under his chin and for some reason Bill knew what she was going to say before she drew in breath to form the words…

"Baby, what do you have to tell me that I'm going to really, really get upset over?"

Bill grinned, then sighed and slowly maneuvered the two of them so they were lying side by side, each propped up on one elbow, face to face. Her hair was a mess and he knew his was likely the same and her large, deep-cocoa eyes were open and inviting. Bill wished he didn't have to kill the moment but he also knew he had to be honest because she was expecting it. He began to explain what had happened. By the time he finished, Sookie's eyes weren't quite as inviting.

XxXxX

The next day, just before noon Sookie literally slapped Bill awake. Due to his many outings under the dome in Hawaii during the day, waking him could be done easier than in the past, albeit today she did it a little painfully. He opened his eyes and slowly got his bearings. "Bill! Babe! Wake up! You've got to see this!" Sookie pulled his arms which felt like they were full of lead and gradually he began to make sense of her words… she pointed toward the flat-screen television and turned up the volume. In the foreground was a very staid and respectfully somber newsman repeating the news of the horrible events. In the background, there were numerous ambulances and police vehicles. What Bill saw first were the body bags… there were quite a few and it snapped him into ultra-alert focus…

"… yes, Michael the impact of this devastation is yet to be fully realized but as of this moment officials are not confirming any details other than there are seventeen victims, all workers and owners of the small farm behind me… they will not confirm how the victims died, all we do know is that a local woman coming to purchase fresh eggs came across the gruesome carnage and alerted authorities."

"Joseph, have the police allowed anyone other than themselves to speak to the woman?"

(Joseph resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the idiot newscaster back in the studio) "No Michael, no one has been allowed near her as she is still being attended to under the capable hands of emergency medical personnel."

"Thank you, Joseph." The screen went full shot in the newsroom where the anchorman said, "Joseph Eubank live and on-scene in Willenfield Farms in…" Bill muted the sound and looked at Sookie, her eyes full of concern and more than a little fear. "Bill, do you think it was her?"

Bill looked away and put his head in his hands. "Yes. It was her." What Bill didn't understand was how it had slipped by The Authority and made it into a breaking news story on the London news. "Sweetheart, could you…"

She gave him a sad smile and handed him the already warmed glass of TruBlood she'd brought into the bedroom with her before she slapped him awake. He took a long, long drink almost finishing it before setting the glass on the nightstand and flopping back into the pillows. Sookie gently cupped the side of his face and stroked his cheek lightly with her thumb. "What do you need me to do baby?" She asked softly.

"Join me in the shower?" She leaned down and brushed a soft kiss across his lips and whispered, "Would you like to wash my hair? That tends to relieve your stress." By the time Sookie was undressed and stepping into the shower, she carefully knelt on the folded towel at Bill's feet and did her best to make him forget what the rest of his day was going to be like.

XxXxX

Sookie was back to packing things up but there were no longer any decisions about what would go to the plane and what would stay. They'd had a short but wicked fight the night before and she'd reluctantly agreed to return home. This news however did change things and not in a good way. Bill had been on the phone, or on video conferences and back on the phone since he'd showered. She hated the terse words spoken both to him and by him.

His emotions were overwhelming her, making her jumpy and tense… she'd almost wished they hadn't exchanged blood last night but she also wondered if he hadn't done it on purpose. The more she thought about it the more she was sure he had. He needed it so he could find her and find her fast. He'd done this before the fight, before he'd told her about Aileana giving him the slip.

Not so long ago the fight would have been a lot longer, and much, much more wicked not to mention they would both be angry still. Sookie sighed and abruptly sat down on the edge of the bed. This was so awful and she knew Bill was going crazy trying to figure out what had happened and why. The news began breaking in almost every five minutes as the media frenzy started and it wasn't long before the rumors were flying about a vampire being the cause of the shocking and ghastly deaths.

The death toll had risen higher as Authorities searched the farm bringing the final total to twenty-one, including three young boys that helped bring the cows in from the fields. They had picked the wrong night to stay after dark swimming in a pond on the property. Sookie had finally shut the TV off in the bedroom and closed the door. After a bit, Bill noticed and turned the TV in front of him down low enough that she couldn't hear it and then slowly opened the bedroom door.

She turned as he did and she could feel his aching need so she walked to him and he held her tightly for a moment, never halting his conversation with the very angry person on the other end. She clasped his hand tightly before lifting it to her lips to kiss it softly then gave him a small nod and walked back to her packing… keeping the door open so he could see her as he paced in the outer room.

She looked at the piles scattered around and after a moment walked over to the house phone and called the concierge desk. She asked if they could please get her two new suitcases and bring them to the room. They assured her they would be there within a half hour. Sookie thanked them and went back to her sorting and packing with an odd little smile on her lips. She knew she would likely get two Louis Vuitton hard-side cases that likely retailed for several thousands of dollars. Just like she knew that Mr. Garth would have left strict instructions that anything asked for was to be the top-of-the-line, best-money-could-buy without exception.

Twenty minutes later she was presented with exactly what she had thought she'd get and she gave the gentleman that delivered them a large tip, which he politely refused and left her to continue her packing. Bill had moved into the office within the suite and the door was closed. She felt Bill's tension wash over her and after bringing the second suitcase into the bedroom; she crawled onto the bed and curled up in a ball, hugging her knees.

She closed her eyes and slowed her breathing, concentrating on taking deep, relaxing breaths, as she mentally envisioned a warm, golden light descending her body from the top of her head, downward and downward… across her shoulders, down her chest, her tummy and legs all the way to her feet. Her breathing was calm and slow and she was awash with warm, glowing light of relaxation.

While she lay there, her breathing measured and soft. Bill felt her calm washing over him and he smiled even though his conversation at the moment wasn't anything to smile over. After a while, his phone call was over and his worst fears had been confirmed. There was no doubt that Aileana had done the unthinkable, slaughtering all those present on the farm.

The one and only mercy had come when it was discovered the farmer's daughter-in-law and her three children, all under the age of five, were away on holiday. Sadly, her husband had been at his parent's farm helping as the calves were coming and he'd been needed.

Bill felt like he was centuries older than he was as he dropped his cell phone on the desk and spent his first moment alone since Sookie had roused him from his slumber with the awful news. He glanced at his watch and he hesitated for only a moment before switching off his cell and keying a do not disturb code onto the house phone. He hoped that perhaps he could rest long enough to hold off the bleeds. He found Sookie asleep on the bed and he curled himself around her drawing her close to him. He drank in the sweet scent of her hair as he kissed the top of her head and she stirred briefly to whisper, "Not your fault baby…" before sleep stole over her again.

Bill closed his eyes and wished the words were true.

XxXxX

She lay in darkness on a cold, wet slab of rock… her body restrained by silver chains that burned her with even the slightest movement. She knew it was night, the sun had gone down hours ago… yet she was in this horrid dark place, her skin burning, her strength lessening with each passing moment. What had she done? Her mind was awash with confusion. Why was she being punished? She had done what she'd been bid! She forgot and shook her head in despair and the silver links across her throat found new skin to sear. Bloody tears slid down the side of her face and into her ears.

“I did as I was told!” she cried out into the dank, darkness. “I did as I was told!”

XxXxX

Sookie had finished the packing and there were seven suitcases stacked in the bedroom and three more waiting to be filled. The concierge desk had sent up a lovely young woman to help Sookie fill out the necessary paperwork and documentation for when Sookie went through customs. Sookie liked her tremendously and thought that if she lived in London, she'd love to have her as a friend.

When all was said and done Sookie bid Poppy goodbye and went to see if Bill was still on the phone. She listened at the door before quietly turning the knob and peeking in. Bill sat in the office with his back to the door, the lights were off and the light-tight panel had been pushed into the pocket within the wall. Bill was staring out across the night sky of London and Sookie had a feeling he wasn't seeing a thing.

"Babe?" she said quietly. "Is it alright if I come in?"

"Sweetheart, nothing would please me more." He answered. She crossed the room quickly and not surprisingly he took her hand and pulled her onto his lap. She just snuggled into him knowing that he needed comfort. She sat quietly, covering his hand with one of hers as her husband continued to gaze across the lights of London. "I'll be returning home with you." He said somewhat tonelessly.

"What!" she moved quickly to look into his face, shocked surprise evident on her face. "Why?!"

Bill looked both bewildered and angry when his eyes met hers. "Apparently, The Authority has decided for the moment to rescind their support of my endeavors of trying to help troubled vampires. It seems they are under the impression that had I not been pushing Aileana to get better, she would not have snapped and killed so many, so… violently. I've been told to return to the States immediately before the authorities here discover my relationship to her."

Sookie almost shuddered when he said the word relationship, and his cold tone made her realize he was angrier than she'd first believed. He was keeping a very tight lid on his emotions because if he hadn't been she'd be feeling it too. "When…" but before she could finish he pulled her back to him and wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight.

"I've already called Greg. Once we finish packing and get to Heathrow, we should be wheels up in about two hours."

That was when Sookie felt his anger ebbing away and sorrow taking its place. "It is my fault this happened. Those people died because I didn't know what I was doing, children lost their lives because of me Sookie."

She pushed away from him and looked into his sapphire eyes and saw the pain, the raw, gut-wrenching pain that was tormenting him. "Babe… no…"

But he just shook his head slightly then reached up to pull her back to him once more. He held her there, his chin resting on the top of her head and absorbed every ounce of compassion and love he could feel singing to him in her blood.

XxXxX

Traffic was a bit more snarled than they'd expected so they didn't get on the plane much before dawn. Bill was quiet and as much as Sookie wanted him to talk to her about it… she knew it would do more harm than good to try and force his feelings out into the open. She was relieved that Bill chose to join her in the huge bed in the back of the plane instead of the pod. But she was also concerned. Bill was blaming himself and it looked as if he was going to allow The Authority to use him as a pawn.

He held out his arms and after a sweet, slow kiss, he pulled her near. She put her leg between his and tucked herself under his chin, getting a close as she possibly could. "Bill?" she whispered.

"Yes." He whispered back.

"Please don't forget that you are deeply loved… now and forever."

"Sookie you are the light in my world, without it my heart would see only opaque, endless ebony darkness."

Sookie squeezed her arms tighter around him and began to cry softly as she could not bear his pain. In just a short while later, the plane taxied onto the runway that would take them home.

Aileana

Sookie was curled up on the porch swing, one leg tucked under her and the other was toes-first on the floorboards, pushing the swing ever so gently back and forth. She had a lot on her mind and had been there for some time. She was waiting for her husband to wake and even though it was full dark already, he had yet to come down. She wasn't surprised; he evidently thought that his shirts and handkerchiefs soaking in pre-wash in the laundry room sink wouldn't be noticed by herHe was wrong.

Sookie knew he wasn't resting fully because she'd noticed spots of blood on his pillowcase. He'd had the bleeds and even though he was drinking TruBlood, they'd not been intimate since their first night home so he hadn't had any of her blood either. After much thought, she had decided she was going to insist he feed on her tonight. She was also hoping to persuade him to make love to her in hopes that it could get him out of this moody, blue, funk he'd been in since they'd returned home.

She knew he was hurting over it; she had been as supportive as she could possibly be but… nothing. She couldn't remember the last time he'd spoken to her in something other than monosyllables and it was getting pretty goddamned annoying. She'd planned on insisting that he call Dr. Kenly tonight and go over things with her. Sookie was hoping she'd be able to tell Bill what Sookie already knew… and for that matter, what Bill also knew but refused to admit… it wasn't his fault!

They'd often joked over the years about the 'Vampire's curse, being a tormented soul' and all but this was seriously too much for too long. She sighed heavily and got off the swing; she picked up her glass from the side table and stood to pour a fresh glass from the pitcher full of ice cold sweet tea. She was just about to put the pitcher back down on the table when she heard her husband walk out of the front door.

Before she could speak, he stepped out and without so much as a glance to either side; he started down the porch steps to go walking into the night. Just like he'd been doing for the last three damn weeks straight!

Sookie didn't plan it. She hadn't even been aware of the anger lying just below the edge of her consciousness. She actually didn't give it any thought while she did it. But suddenly… there it was… a nearly full pitcher of sweet tea, with its sides glistening with beads of sweat because of the ice cubes and cold tea… arching directly for her husbands' back. Bill may have been oblivious to his wife's presence on the porch in his distracted state of mind, but as a vampire, he heard the sound behind him and instinctively turned to face it.

Just in time for the pitcher to connect smack dab in the middle of his chest, drenching his face and shirt before he nimbly caught the glass pitcher before it hit the ground and shattered. It wasn't very often that Sookie could shock Bill but the look of complete and total disbelief on his dripping face proved she'd certainly done it this time!

Her mistake, however, was the single giggle that slipped out before she could cover her mouth with her hands. Her eyes were the size of saucers and then she saw a quick glimpse of blue flame in her husband's cerulean eyes. She held up her hands palms out as if that could somehow ward him off, "Oh, Bill… I didn't mean,"

He took a step up, his eyes not leaving hers. "It was like, like… an accident…" she took a step back.

His voice was low, slow and his accent was as smooth as warm caramel when he softly said, "Sookie, I find it hard to believe that this pitcher of tea just magically flew off the table and launched itself at me." He took two more steps and was now on the porch with her. She continued to step back towards the front door, not failing to notice his fangs were glistening in the moonlight.

"Well, you know what I mean… not uh, an accident, accident, I mean, I thought," Sookie felt the doorknob poke into her back and was only too aware that she had absolutely nowhere to go. In a move too fast to track, Bill put the pitcher on the table and then stood before her, his face a mere few inches from hers. A single drop of tea slid down a lock of Bill's hair and landed on her collarbone. As it slid down her skin, she let out a yip when he grabbed her and pulled her to him, pressing her tightly against his soaked, and for her, cold clothing.

"Oh Bill! C'mon! Don't… I'm gonna get all sticky!" she both whined and giggled as Bill continued to press their fronts together to get her as wet as he was. She was still laughing as he nuzzled her throat and somehow, he got them to the porch floor. Especially impressive was how he managed to get them both naked as quickly as he did. It wasn't long before Sookie's stopped giggling but she was certainly smiling for all she was worth!

Bill's mouth and hands made slow and incendiary trails on her skin. It felt as if she hadn't been touched by him in years, like this was the first time he'd ever chosen to worship her body. His deft fingers and mouth slid sensuously across her skin and when his fingers brushed that most sensitive part of herself she moaned low and breathily and slipped her fingers gently into his wet hair. She arched her back rising to meet his glorious touch but he slid his fingers away, bringing her need washing over her like a wave. "Babe… please…" she whispered so low only he could hear her.

He just smiled as he nuzzled her neck and whispered, "It's much too soon my love, we've got all night."

As she groaned in frustration, desire and longing, he worked his way back up and then down her body once more. When he suckled one of her pert nipples, she gasped loudly when his fangs lightly pricked either side of it. Her heart accelerated wildly when he gently slipped a finger inside her and she cried out with surprise and delight.

Sookie lost all sense of time, all she knew what that her body was taut and humming and she knew that Bill could do whatever he wished and she was powerless to control his effect upon her. Soon his fingers slid from within her and before she could protest, his lips and tongue replaced them and Sookie thought she was going to spontaneously combust. This time she grabbed him by the hair and she didn't give thought to the fact that she might be grabbing a little too hard…

She couldn't have done so if she had tried! Because Bill's mouth and fingers were sending her to that golden edge and she was so close, she wasn't aware that she was holding her breath but she was… it was just so intense, almost overwhelming and just as she was about to go over, he took his mouth away.

Even as she cried out a strangled, "NO!" He filled her completely and as her orgasm pulsed around him, he sank his fangs deeply into her throat and Sookie screamed his name into the night. Although he hadn't planned it… her response touched off his own, and he buried himself as deeply inside her as he could. For Bill Compton, it seemed that his world had finally found its way back to its perfect axis for the first time in weeks.

Afterwards and once Sookie's breathing had returned to normal she moved from his side and discovered a bit painfully that their skin was stuck together. "Oh… gross!" she looked down and that was when she noticed the trail of sweet ants making a beeline for the porch thanks to the very sweet and sticky trail Sookie had inadvertently laid for them. "Agh!" she screeched and Bill had her upstairs and in the bathroom before she could finish her thought about getting ants on her while she was naked.

Bill didn't say it, but he was glad it had distracted her enough not to register the fact that her skin was quite red from where it had been stuck to him like duct tape. He knew that he'd best get her in the shower before she started to feel the burn so he was busily soaping her up before he heard her mutter, "Why is that stinging?" This time he distracted her with a deep kiss and she figured out what was going on and took him in her own soapy hands.

He broke the kiss and grinned down at her, she gave a bit of a squeeze and he said, "Gently dearheart… we don't want any accidents in the shower, do we?"

She grinned back, her eyes shining brightly and said, "No, we wouldn't want that."

He placed a kiss on the tip of her nose and then twirled his finger in the air above her in the universal language that meant, 'turnaround' she reluctantly let him go and he soaped her shoulders and back, and when his hands lightly cupped her bottom, he was surprised when she put her hands over his and stopped him.

She drew them to the front of her and leaned back against him then tilted her head to one side, "Baby, I want you to feed some more."

He opened his mouth to protest but she just wrapped his arms around her until they were tight against one another and she said, "You have the bleeds Bill. Drink. I have plenty of vitamin B on hand." She had lifted her right hand to lie beside his neck and now she pulled it in front of them, her fingers dark with the blood running out of his ear. Without another word, she tilted her head a bit more and Bill bit her tender throat. As Sookie felt Bill's cool lips on her skin and her hot blood flowing over them, she climaxed unexpectedly and as always… it was sublime.

XxXxX

Bill and Sookie were lying on the chaise in the gazebo, looking out over the pond and into the moonlit night. They laughed and whispered, occasionally waving to various, if somewhat odd animals trotting across their yard. A silky collie barked a hello as a small fox ran beside him and Sookie called out, "Hey Sam! Hey Brenda!" They had forgotten it was the first night of the full moon and ever since the protection details of so many years back, their acreage was used regularly by friends for their moonlight romps. "Guess it was a good thing we went in when we did!" Sookie whispered with a little giggle.

"I concur, Mrs. Compton." As he pulled her closer in his embrace and lightly brushed a kiss across her lips.

They lay in silence for a bit and then a gorgeous black stallion ran across the lawn and into the woods near the edge of the pond. Sookie frowned slightly and said, "Hmm, I wonder who that was?"

"New guy would be my guess." Bill said dryly.

"Funny." She replied while smacking him lightly on the chest, "Awfully pretty though." She teased so Bill pulled her to him and kissed her soundly. As they separated her smile was wide and her eyes sparkled, "Maybe we should go inside…"

"Well, I'm not so sure we need to…" Bill started to say before the gazebo door slammed open and a huge Rottweiler jumped on the chaise between them, his big tongue lolling and his face full of the doggy-equivalent of a grin.

"Hey Doug! It's been ages! How've you been?!" Sookie cried happily. The dog answered by flopping down between them and laying his head on Sookie's belly so she could scratch his ears.

"Lovely." Bill said, just slightly annoyed. Doug moved his head forward quickly and gave Bill's face a big lick and that was when Bill bellowed, "Out!"

Doug jumped off the chaise and waited patiently for Sookie to open the door and ran out into the yard. Barking the entire time. Bill bitched that it sounded like Doug was laughing at him, but then it didn't matter all that much because Sookie was laughing too.

In one smooth move, Bill tossed his wife over his shoulder and walked back into the house, the meet and greet for the full moon this month was officially over. Bill couldn't help but smile as Sookie giggled all the way to their bedroom but it wasn't long before her mouth was too busy for laughing.

XxXxX

Aileana had no sense of time… she didn't know if it was day or night… all she knew was the horrid burning of the heavy silver chains and her hunger… the hunger was consuming her. She had no idea how long it had been since she had decimated those at the farm, but she knew it had to be a long time. She felt her strength slowly ebbing away, she could feel her skin… shifting! It was disconcerting to say the least. Then her hunger-addled brain began telling her to pay attention!

She listened intently… Yes! Someone was coming! Would she be fed? Would she learn why she was here? Or would she meet the True Death? As a huge key moved the heavy tumblers to allow entry to her cell and Aileana realized she wished for any or all. The door moved inward and her captor walked up to the stone slab where she was held immobile by the silver.

Her Master drew his fingers gently down the side of her face as gentle as the movement of a butterfly's wings. "Hello my sweet child, I'm sorry you been restrained so long." He shrugged his shoulders slightly and continued, "I must confess, I forgot you were here! Isn't that terrible?"

"No Master" Aileana croaked, "it is your will I am eternally bound to."

"Yes… yes, it is. Sweet child, are you ready for your next task?" his voice was soft, like verbal honey sliding from his mouth.

She knew better than to do anything other than nod and answer his question instantly, "Yes my Master, I serve only you."

He smiled and brushed away a lock of hair out of her eyes most tenderly. "So be it." And with that he was gone; this time however the door was not closed or locked as he left. Mere moments later two of his humans entered. Between them they half carried a young woman and pressed her body downward putting the woman's throat within Aileana's reach and she did not hesitate. She struck like a snake and did not stop drinking until the woman was dead.

While she had been feeding, the minions had been carefully removing her scorching bonds. When she was free she pushed the body away and sat up on the cold slab. A well-dressed vampire stood at the door and smiled at her. He then took her hand and tucked it into the crook of his arm and said, "Let's get you settled in your new quarters, shall we?"

All Aileana could do was nod her agreement and they began their walk to a more modern section of the castle. The vampire introduced himself but Aileana was barely aware, she was concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. The silver had leeched away almost all her strength.

After what seemed like days, they reached a very pleasant wing that reminded her of some of the old churches, the smell of the ancient wood, the oil soaked deep within the grain after centuries of care. When they reached her 'quarters' she saw it was quite large and she didn't miss the fact that the bed had a lot of clothing spread out on it. He led her to the bathroom and released her arm.

With a warm smile on his face he said, "You have everything you need to freshen up. After you do, chose something to wear." He handed her a wristwatch. "Put this on also, look at the face. Do you see the time?" She nodded. He pointed to the large, white-tiled shower and said, "You have one hour Aileana before you will be summoned before our Master, use your grooming time wisely."

With that he turned on his heel and disappeared in a blink. Aileana didn't hesitate, she stripped and entered the shower and turned the water on as far as it could go and stood beneath the pounding, almost punishing water. She grabbed a bottle of shampoo and used it from head to toes scrubbing the dungeon off herself. She felt her strength returning but it would take a very long time to gain back what she'd lost.

Exactly one hour to the minute later, the well-dressed vampire knocked and then opened the door. "Come."

Dressed in a simple navy cotton skirt, matching blouse and soft-soled shoes, she followed meekly behind until they reached a great room with three huge fireplaces burning hot and steady. Her Master sat at a magnificent table and actually swept his hand toward the chairs across from him. The vampire whose name she couldn't remember pulled out her chair. She sat and he then sat down beside her. She was given a gold chalice with body temperature blood and her Master smiled.

"My dear, you have some things to memorize… and then you will go directly to The Authority to turn yourself in."

Aileana froze; so, she would meet the True Death after all.

"But first, let's discuss Compton and how you are going to explain to The Authority that your actions were a direct result of his so called 'counseling' and also how being held prisoner by Garth's men was against your will affected your state of mind as well."

"Yes, Master." She whispered and oddly enough, she wished they'd just staked her.

XxXxX

When Sookie got out of bed, she did so with a groan, she was stiff, achy and sore in places she didn't know she could be. She made her way to the bathroom fairly certain there wasn't a need to shower, seeing as her last memory of the night before had been in the tub with Bill.

She smiled widely; she had to admit... it had been awhile since Bill had taken her to bed because she was out cold! After a moment, she decided to take a shower, with luck it would help work some of the kinks out of her overused muscles. It felt divine and she didn't want to get out but she had things to get done.

A half a pot of coffee and three phone calls later, Sookie was back upstairs and putting on her makeup. She was meeting Joe and Rose for lunch and then was going back to the office to see Bob. She put her mascara in the drawer and walked out of the bathroom and over to the bed, she stood alongside it and gently reached over and brushed a lock of hair back from her husband's forehead… even after all this time, she could never leave the room without touching him. She brushed her lips lightly across his with a smile because she knew when he woke, he'd taste her kiss. Cherry flavored lip gloss had its advantages!

XxXxX

Seeing Joe and Rose was wonderful and she hadn't realized how much she'd missed them. Through most of their lunch, they peppered her with questions and although she thought they'd be bored silly with her trip highlights, they assured her they were not and asked to hear more. Of course, as she knew it would be, the discussion took a serious tone when the three began discussing Aileana and the unthinkable events at the farm.

Over coffee and a shared desert, Sookie explained how Bill had been since their return, his not resting, his torment, the bleeds… Joe told her Mr. Garth was most anxious to meet with her when they returned to the office. Joe didn't tell Sookie that Bob was not a happy demon, not by a long shot and a sudden, urgent summons had him at a meeting at that very moment. It wasn't the reason why they'd made Sookie tell them all about her vacation; they were enchanted by her excitement and joy. It afforded them time until Mr. Garth had returned to the office and Joe had no idea what lay in store when they did.

With the meal done, Joe was relieved when he felt his cell vibrate the sequence assigned to Mr. Garth. He didn't have to answer; he knew it meant Garth had returned. A discreet signal to Rose and they brought the meal to a close and headed to the office. Rose rode with Sookie asking if she wouldn't mind running a few errands with her. The women left and as Joe kissed and hugged both Sookie and Rose and left to have a private chat with Mr. Garth before Sookie arrived.

Forty-five minutes later, Sookie walked through Bob's door and he took her in his arms and hugged her, before kissing both her cheeks. As always in his presence, she felt profoundly loved. Sookie hugged John and Frank and Garth led her to the sofa and chairs, Sookie sat on the sofa with Joe and was just a little surprised when John and Frank sat in the chairs on either side of Bob.

In her mind, Sookie felt just a tiny flare of uneasiness and Mr. Garth sensed it immediately. He reached over and took her tiny hand in his massive one and looked at her with great seriousness. "Sookie, I need to explain some things to you and I don't want you to get overly alarmed at this point. But I must inform you of recent events."

Sookie mouth went dry and her stomach did a bit of a roll, she knew what was coming was bad but when he said the words, they were a hundred times worse than she could have ever imagined.

"Sookie, my darling child, at sundown, The Authority is going to take Bill into custody until a tribunal can hear the facts about the circumstances that led to Aileana's killing spree." He gently squeezed her fingers and added, "because of new information, they are at this time going to hold him until a determination can be made."

It took Sookie two tries before her voice was actually able to make the words audible, "But why? What has he done?"

Mr. Garth sighed heavily and answered, "Aileana has come forth. She claims Bill's actions, along with Frank and John's were the catalyst to her breakdown and subsequent incident at the farm."

Sookie was fighting hard to keep her lunch down and was too shocked to think clearly, "But what does that mean? What will happen to Bill?" Her voice had an edge of panic to it and her blood pressure shot so high she could barely hear with the sound of her blood pounding in her ears. She held Bob's hand so tightly her knuckles were white and a cold sweat had broken out above her upper lip and forehead.

"Child… he could be found responsible and if so, the outcome could conclude with him meeting the True Death."

Sookie's vision blurred, the only sound she heard was the frantic sound of her heartbeat pulsing in her head and then everything just slipped away into darkness.

To be continued…

Chapter Text

 

Part Two

Sookie's mind came out of its free fall and she wasn't the least bit surprised to find that she was lying on the couch, a cool cloth on her forehead. The moment her vision cleared enough to see the sad and concerned faces around her, tears began to slide toward her ears. Mr. Garth still held her hand and the other reached out to gently dab her tears away with a blindingly white handkerchief. She moved to sit up and he helped her with ease as Rose took away the cloth and John held a glass of ice water for her.

She took it gratefully and sipped from it and Sookie found herself both surprised and yet quite unsurprised when Garth took her in his arms and held her close to his massive chest. She felt immediate comfort as he held her, handing her the handkerchief to wipe away the last of her tears. She took a deep, yet quavering breath and relaxed against him before asking, "What's a jurisdictional inspective panel and how long will that take to put together?"

It was an odd sensation to hear Bob's deep voice coming from within his chest before her ears heard the spoken words. "It's not anything like the human justice system my dear… he will sit before the panel before night's end and I have already petitioned and been granted he be released to my custody at dawn. Although, he will have to stay at the penthouse to meet the terms of release. Your apartment here is considered unacceptable because I just own the building. Whereas, the penthouse is considered a flight restrictive location so to speak."

Sookie wasn't quite sure how to take that. Her problem at the moment was that it felt like someone had shaken up a bagful of weasels and then let them loose in her mind. So, she just closed her eyes and sighed deeply and then realized she could hear Bob's heart and it was slow and soothing even if it was different. She allowed herself to just listen and drink in the calm. As she relaxed, she began to count and after a bit she asked quietly, "Why does your heart beat so differently?"

Bob laughed just a little and said just as quietly, "The human heart has four valves, I have six."

"Oh." She whispered. She drank in the sound a moment more then opened her eyes and moved away from his chest. The others were gone as Sookie had known they would be. Garth kissed the top of her head lightly before moving slightly so she was able to straighten herself away from him and his embrace and also so she could look at his face while they spoke.

"Do you think Bill caused this?" knowing she could ask this of him and be prepared for his truthful response.

"No child. Nothing Bill did, or even Frank and John for that matter had anything to do with this." His voice rang with conviction and an undercurrent of well-controlled, if ice cold rage. "These are machinations far beyond any unstable or troubled vampire my dear. Rest assured Sookie… I will use all means necessary to expose and punish those responsible for these vile acts."

Sookie let his words sink in and turned them over in her mind. Her eyes flicked up to his and she saw the spark there. "You know who's behind this don't you?"

"I have an idea yes…" His eyes showed just a flash of rage or was it something else? Sookie thought about that but didn't push for an explanation. There was every likelihood that the look was more along the lines of bloodlust and she was almost certain that Garth wouldn't hesitate to share if she asked. She decided it was in her own best interest not to ask.

"Do you think it will be alright to go home to Bon Temps so I can be there when Bill wakes?" Sookie was a little shocked at how calm she sounded.

"No, my own dear one…" he said gently. "There are protocols that must be followed and you might find some of them," he hesitated slightly but enough that she caught it, "…alarming."

Sookie shuddered, doing her level best to not even begin contemplating what those things might be exactly. "In that case," she said with a sigh, "I really need some good strong coffee because this is going to be a long night."

XxXxX

Sookie had expected the day to crawl but while Joe and Garth spent time on calls or in meetings, Rose asked Sookie if she'd be up to looking at a file. Sookie agreed because she knew it would keep her mind busy. She made herself comfortable in the conference room and before long was engrossed in a questionable insurance claim. Sookie wouldn't have thought it possible but her mind picked up where she'd left off and before long she was making notes and knew she'd have to talk to this guy to find the truth. The day flew by and she was surprised when Bob knocked.

"Sookie, you don't have to worry about working on that." He said kindly and with one of his most special smiles on his face.

"It's okay; actually, it's been very helpful." She began to put the file back together and as she did she said, "Since I don't know what's going to happen I can't say I'll be able to interview this guy right away, but I do want to do it."

"Of course, my dear, when time and circumstance allows I would appreciate your help." The big man wasn't in the least bit surprised and with any luck; she'd be able to do it soon. He knew what needed to be done although Sookie didn't need to know what that was just yet.

Mr. Garth had Rose go with Sookie to the apartment where she gathered a bag of things for Bill and herself. It was full dark by then and Sookie knew that Bill had been in custody a few hours now. She asked Rose if she knew what the process entailed, but Rose told her truthfully that she did not. Sookie wished desperately that she knew what was happening to Bill, all the while praying that it wasn't as vivid a picture as her imagination was painting!

Once she was settled in the penthouse and its comfort, she became almost overwhelmingly fatigued. Not that it was unexpected; she'd been running on pure adrenaline, caffeine and anxiety for hours now. She went to the kitchen to look for something soothing and found her favorite herbal tea, a tea cup and saucer so translucent it looked like fine paper, all laid out on a tray with a tea kettle filled and waiting on the stove.

Sookie turned on the heat and leaned against the counter, rubbing her hands down her face, arching her neck trying to relax. Her mind replayed everything from the night Bill returned to her in London to the meeting with Bob this afternoon. How did this go so wrong? Was Bob correct, in his assumption that this situation with Aileana had been fabricated? She had wanted to push Garth into letting her in on his thoughts but he had gently explained it was best if she was not privy to his suspicions. At least not yet, he'd explained gently.

Sookie still didn't know what to make of that conversation. The kettle began to whistle and she set about fixing her tea. Once it was ready, she added some cream then headed toward the garden. It was like walking into paradise and she felt her mind unwinding just a bit. She kicked off her sandals, curled up in her favorite wicker chair and just looked out across the magnificent beauty of the rooftop Eden. She sipped her tea and rested comfortably against the plush cushions, soft smiles flitting across her face now and then as she reflected on the many memories of the penthouse and its garden. So many years had passed since her first time there… my, didn't time go by in a blink?

A half hour later she fell asleep and John covered her with a soft cashmere throw, he'd been keeping watch over her. When Bill arrived a half hour before dawn, John held the door for him as Bill scooped Sookie up and carried her inside. After he closed the door to their suite, he let himself into the security center behind Garth's penthouse office. Via video conference he gave his report to all concerned and then privately, Mr. Garth gave him his instructions. He didn't like them, but he would not consider for a moment disobeying them. Shortly thereafter, John entered one of the many demon realms and set off to complete the orders Mr. Garth had given him because failure was not an option. Especially if he wanted his head to remain on top of his shoulders!

XxXxX

Sookie felt complete terror, it was cold and dark pressing against her chest, her heart, she ran and as she did she was filled with a sadness so deep it drove her to her knees. She struggled mightily… trying to get free of all that held her mired in place… she had to move, she needed to keep running! She had to get free! "No!" she screamed with all her might…

"Sookie! Wakeup darling! I'm here… sh-sh-sh… I'm here dearheart, I'm here." The nightstand lamp glowed softly and Bill was leaning against the headboard of the huge bed and had gathered her into his lap. He brushed her sweat-damp hair from her face, placing soft kisses on her forehead as he coaxed her anxious heartbeat and breathing back to normal. When she was fully awake and aware, the floodgates opened and she began to sob.

Bill just held his wife to his chest and rocked her slightly and let her cry. He had known she would breakdown once she knew he was safe, so he cooed quietly in her ear. Whispering all those gentle, loving words one said to calm someone they loved more than living itself. As she gained control over her anxiety, she pulled herself closer to Bill, touching him, stroking his face, kissing his eyes before bumping his forehead with hers as she gazed into his amazing sapphire eyes.

"Was it horrible?" she choked out, the tears threatening once again.

"No, my darling, it was not. I was held with silver," he placed his hands alongside her beautiful face when she stiffened in his arms and pulled in a great gulp of air. "It was alright Sookie, I was only restrained not tortured. Just like a human police officer restrains a suspect with handcuffs. They did not hurt me needlessly." He cupped her head lightly and brushed a kiss across her lips before tucking her head back under his chin.

"You're not just saying that are you? Bob wouldn't let me go home to be there when they took you!" she asked with a shaking whisper.

Bill chuckled slightly and said, "No dearheart, I'm not just saying that. I'm glad however that you were not there to see it because through human eyes it would have seemed quite violent."

"Why?" she asked, her voice high-pitched and anxious.

"The way a vampire is detained is regimented and the same no matter who the vampire is or how much they do or don’t resist. It involves a silver net and silver manacles and collar. Along with a number of strong and older vampires. There's a great deal of force involved. But as I did not resist, I did not suffer as those that fight." Bill answered in the softest and soothing tone of voice he could.

Sookie sighed in relief, surprised to note that she hadn't even been aware she'd been holding her breath. She shivered slightly and in an instant, Bill had her covered with the bedspread.

"What do we… no wait, first tell me what happened then tell me what we're going to do." She drew the cover closer around her and then put her free arm up around his neck, clinging to him tightly.

Slowly and methodically Bill laid out the sequence of events, including what Bob had told her about it being much deeper than Aileana. She asked him if he knew what or who Bob had in mind and Bill told her he knew the same as she did. Sookie thought about this and as she did, Bill's arm continued to rub her back lightly as they sat there intertwined. After a little while had passed, Bill wondered if she had drifted back to sleep but then she spoke.

"Bill, I've gone over this again and again from start to finish. I can't figure it out. There was a time I would have instantly thought of Nan being at the top of the list of someone out to hurt you, but…"

Bill felt Sookie's face frown against his throat and it made him smile just a little. "Yes, and I would have very likely agreed with you but that threat was vanquished some while back. Still…"

Sookie heard a tone in his words and she pulled away from him just enough to see his face easily, "Bill, do you have an idea of who might be behind this?"

His eyes held hers and he answered as honestly as he could, "You thought of Nan first," He faltered just a bit and added, "I thought of…"

"Eric." They whispered in unison.

Sookie's face went white and she drew her arms around her husband and held him so tight that had he needed to breathe, he wouldn't have been able to. Then Sookie began to cry as hard as he'd ever heard her cry before and his heart shattered a little more as every teardrop fell. Of course, Bill knew where Eric was and that was no chance he had escaped his punishers but if Eric was in any way connected to this… this time Eric would suffer the True Death at Bill's own hands.

XxXxX

Over the next few days, Bill and Sookie fell into a rhythm of sorts, Bill worked with a Vampire Advocate nightly, Sookie quickly learned this was the equivalent of working with an attorney and to keep herself busy, she helped Joe with certain case files. They even had her former office set up for her and once again Sookie found herself back at work full time. She was a little surprised when she realized how much she had missed it!

Rose and Sookie enjoyed the opportunity to be spending more time together, lunches, shopping, a spa day… (although Sookie felt a little guilty about that until Rose explained it had been Bill's idea) and Sookie was also glad to be spending time with her precious Mr. Garth. She'd missed having him entering her office with someone pushing a fine silver cart, laden with exquisite coffees and desserts. He came often now and not only explained what was being done for Bill's case but also to put her mind at ease and convince her this would not end badly for Bill. She loved Bob with all her heart and believed all that he told her, but she always felt as if there was something lying just beneath the surface that wasn't being discussed. She wondered about it… she was even sure that if she pushed for answers she would get them. But wisely she let it go, knowing as soon as she needed to know it they would tell her. Until then she concentrated solely on the positive.

Two days later she was in one of the conference rooms, finishing an interview with a client, and while she was relieved that he wasn't cheating the insurance company, she couldn't help but feel a little sorry for the poor guy because he was really going through a rough patch. She was all too familiar with that feeling as of late! Rose stuck her head in and asked if she could see her for a moment. Sookie excused herself and followed Rose out into the hall.

Rose didn't miss a beat, "Sookie, Frank is waiting for you downstairs. Mr. Garth needs to see you immediately. I'll finish this up for you." She said as she handed Sookie her purse and briefcase that Rose had been kind enough to retrieve from Sookie's office.

Without question, Sookie gave Rose a swift embrace and headed quickly for the elevators. Frank held the door of the limo open and she said her hello as she climbed inside. Within moments they were in the Shreveport traffic and Sookie's mind was reeling with anxiety and trying to remain calm as the car moved onward. She was so caught up in the possibilities of what she might be heading into; it took her awhile to realize they weren't going to the penthouse, in fact, they were already leaving downtown.

She was just about to push the screen down to talk to Frank, when it slowly descended and she saw Frank's eyes meet hers in the rear-view mirror, "I just wanted to let you know that we're going to one of Mr. Garth's outlying businesses in case you were wondering."

Sookie shifted herself so she was able to talk to him more easily, "Why is that?"

Frank glanced back at her and said, "It's more appropriate under the circumstances." His eyes told her instantly that he couldn't reveal anything more. Whether it was because he didn't know or had been ordered not to say anything Sookie wasn't sure.

So, she just nodded and gave Frank's shoulder a soft pat and said, "Will it take long to get there?"

"About forty minutes."

"In that case…" Sookie shifted back and pulled the refreshment bar open. She took a crystal glass, added ice from the bucket then filled it with the sweet tea she knew was made especially for her. She poured then sat back against the plush seat, took a sip and closed her eyes. She concentrated on her breathing and willed herself calm… a small smile on her lips, Bill had taught her how to do it and she had always wondered if it had been for her benefit or his… blood bonds had their downsides.

She switched on the music system, drank her sweet tea and closed her eyes letting the music and breathing relax her completely. After a while, Frank told her that they were almost there and as Sookie put her glass away, she was surprised to see they were in what appeared to be a warehouse district. She didn't ask why but her relaxation slipped a bit when Frank parked beside a gray, ominous-looking building. But she just squared her shoulders and by the time he opened her door, she was ready for whatever was in store. She hadn't even noticed that the sun had nearly dipped completely below the horizon.

Frank offered his arm and she took it somewhat gratefully, the thought of walking into such a big place on her own was a little odd. The slightly rusty looking door was of imposing size and Sookie wondered if it was because of Bob's size. When Frank opened the door, she expected to hear a shrill metal screeching but the hinges were well oiled and it opened with barely a sound. The lights were on but they weren't glaringly bright and Frank led her towards what looked to be a block of offices. Just as they drew near them, she was relieved to see Bob open one of the office doors and her mind was at once at ease.

That was until she stepped in and saw who stood behind him. Her mind flooded with fear and her hand flew to her mouth as she stepped back in panic, ready to flee.

Bob pulled her into his embrace quickly and said, "I'm sorry child, I had hoped to explain things to you first. But time is of the essence. Earlier today Bill was taken into The Authority's custody and this is, unfortunately, Bill's only hope my dear."

Sookie thought about asking Bob why The Authority had rescinded Bill's bail but could only stare at the apparition before her. He had changed significantly without doubt but there was no mistaking who stood before her.

"You." She barely whispered the word. It was all she was able to say as her mind tried to wrap itself around the fact that she was looking at Eric Northman.

XxXxX

Bill was sitting on the edge of a utilitarian cot in a sparse cubicle. He wasn't being held in silver but nonetheless he felt a certain draining pull, for the lack of a better word. He knew there was silver within the walls that surrounded him. He was grateful that they were keeping his exposure relatively light. He felt slightly weakened but knew they could incapacitate him in a nanosecond if he was stupid enough to try something like trying to get out of the cell without permission.

Bill was also aware that the greatest danger wasn't the silver but the huge flood lights that lined the entire expanse of the ceiling. Bill knew that with the flick of a switch he would be subjected to ultraviolet light capable of burning him nearly to death if it was deemed necessary to gain compliance on his part. Inwardly he shivered; he knew that there were occasionally those that met the True Death under these very lights and it was far from an easy death. It was excruciatingly painful; it also took a much longer time for a vampire to succumb to the finality of their existence.

Bill suddenly felt terror and shock wash over him and he knew it was Sookie. It took all his willpower not to react when what he really wanted to do was rant and rave while demanding his immediate release. An action that would have certainly resulted in the use of the UV lights. He remained quiet and still, reminding himself that Mr. Garth was caring for Sookie and therefore she was safe despite her sudden rush of fear. Mere moments later, he felt another emotion sweep over him and this time he smiled.

Sookie was seriously pissed!

XxXxX

"What the hell? Why is he here! Shit!" Sookie's reaction was laced with confusion, then more profanities and ultimately rage. Mr. Garth held her in his arms as Eric knelt before her and placed his forehead on the floor before her. This brought Sookie's verbal tirade to a mid-word halt as her mouth dropped open and she stared at the Viking on his knees before her. She turned to look at Bob's face and he gave her a nod and let his arm fall away. Sookie took Eric's appearance in slowly. Even though he was a vampire and unable to age, he seemed markedly aged since she'd seen him last.

He also looked positively feral despite being prostrate before her.

Mekahoomblek instructed the Viking to stand and Sookie's eyes slid to the side at the huge non-human being standing in a darker corner of the office. Sookie had never seen a full demon that closeup before and it took her by surprise. She sucked in a deep breath to keep from screaming and swallowed hard. She didn't mean to be rude but all she could do was nod at the demon when Bob introduced them. Had she not seen Bob in his nonhuman disguise and one or two highborn before this, she may have fainted. Rose hadn't been kidding when she said pure demons were a very scary lot.

Even though she was incapable of speech just then, she extended her hand to him. He glanced at it for a moment his eyes flicking to Bob's who gave him a wink and slight nod. Mekahoomblek reached forward and for the first time in his entire existence, shook hands with a human being. (Afterwards he would decide it wasn't all that disagreeable.)

The demon nudged Eric and Sookie's focus was once again returned to Eric. Sookie wondered how long-ago Eric had spoken because when he began to speak his voice was hoarse and gravelly. He cleared his throat trying to make it easier for him to speak, "Hello Miss Stackhouse. I trust you are well."

Sookie answered quietly, "Uh… yes I am, thank you for asking. And it's Mrs. Compton now." If Eric had any feelings about that, he showed absolutely nothing. Sookie's sense of the surreal was in high gear when she finally turned to Bob and said, "Not to sound stupid, but why in the world would you bring Eric here?"

Mr. Garth had to swallow the laugh that nearly erupted from him and before he lost his control over it, he gestured to a beautiful set of leather armchairs placed before a large desk. "Please my dear, have a seat."

When Sookie sat, he did and once settled she quickly asked, "Why has Bill been arrested? Again! I thought he was out on vampire bail or whatever you call it. This makes no sense! And why is he here?!" she said loudly as she pointed to Eric. In fact, if Sookie had been standing she may have stamped her foot just then.

Bob reached over and took her hands in his and calmly said, "First let me explain a few things and they should answer most, if not all of your questions. Yes, Bill was out on vampire bail as you put it. Unfortunately, a Tribunal has been sanctioned, which is a much more formal charge and therefore, he had to be in their custody as the penthouse was no longer deemed a secure enough location for their purposes. Second, Mr. Northman is here for two reasons… Eric, I believe you have something to say, do you not?"

In a movement to fast for Sookie to track Eric was once again before her, his forehead on the floor. "Mrs. Compton, I apologize sincerely and wholeheartedly for all the pain, hardship and fear I caused you. If at this moment in time, if it is your wish you may take up a stake and drive it deep into my chest as my penance for the trouble I have caused you. You may therefore pronounce the True Death upon me."

Sookie was speechless. Especially when Frank opened a huge, ornate case that contained one of the most wickedly sharp and jewel encrusted stake Sookie had ever seen. She looked at the stake a moment before she spoke softly. "Eric, please sit up."

Eric complied instantly, his hands clasped behind his back, his eyes downcast. Sookie looked him over with a wary eye. She’d been correct in her earlier assessment, he did look feral and he had aged! While part of her wanted to know how that was possible, her good sense told her it wasn't important just now. Then she was suddenly overwhelmed with a veritable explosion in her head in which she heard Eric's voice chanting, "I'm sorry, so sorry, so very sorry Sookie! Please, please forgive me… you have to forgive me or I will never have peace in my heart, please, please, plea…"

Sookie stood so fast that she nearly stepped on Eric in her desire to get away, her skin felt like it was being doused with fizzing water and her voice was trapped in her chest as she made her way to the door and when she burst through it she did so with such force it slammed into the outer wall. Bob and Frank were right behind her and when Bob called her name she turned and threw herself against the massive man, quaking and whimpering with fear.

She immediately felt safe and protected and as he held her close. She listened to the steady but odd beating of his six-valve heart and calmed after a moment or two. She took a couple of deep but extremely shaky breaths before stepping back from his embrace. Her eyes were wide with shock.

"How did he do that?" she said in a voice barely louder than a whisper.

"Do what Sookie?" He snapped his fingers and pointed to the office and Frank raced back to it. "Tell me child… what has frightened you so?"

Sookie's hands still shook when she said, "I heard him! He's a vampire and I heard him! And he's aged and he's a vampire and I can't hear vampires and they don't age and I heard his thoughts…"

Mr. Garth listened to Sookie's voice become louder and shriller with fear so he thundered, albeit mildly, "Sookie get yourself together this minute!"

Sookie was so shocked she stared back him for an instant utter silent, and then took a deep breath, blowing it out slowly. As she worked on getting ahold of herself, Bob took her hands once more and said with a sweet smile, "Walk with me dear child and I'll explain things to you."

He tucked her arm through the crook of his and they began to stroll around the warehouse as if they were in the most beautiful of gardens. It didn't really matter, Sookie was too weirded out to notice anything anyway.

"I'm sorry my dear, I should have better prepared you. Eric has been living in a demon realm and while he resides there, he ages. Evidently, he is also able to be overhead by you with your gift. I must admit I erred in that issue… I had no idea that you would be able to hear him telepathically. It could be a result of his aging, in the other realm he is more like the human he once was. I surmise his brain has changed as well. I am very sorry to have subjected you to something so disconcerting as hearing Eric's thoughts. If I may be so bold… were his thoughts hurtful or threatening? I can have him severely disciplined or staked this very moment. Of course, you can stake him if you'd like."

Sookie shuddered inside at the reminder that Mr. Garth could be completely bloodthirsty at the drop of a hat. She slowed to a stop and turned to look up at him and said, "No, I'll go back in there in a minute, but Bob, why is he here anyway? What could he possibly have to do with this?"

Mr. Garth turned to face Sookie and said quietly, "I know that what I am about to say will shock you my child but still it must be said. Sookie he is Bill's only hope to survive the Tribunal."

Sookie was so stunned by his words she couldn't speak. Bill's life depended upon Eric?! Sweet Jesus how was that possible! For a second she was convinced that she was suddenly going to wake up and all of this was just one big, terrible nightmare. Problem was… she wasn't waking up because she was only too aware that she wasn’t asleep.

XxXxX

Bill could no longer stay still. Sookie's emotions were all over the place so he stood up and began to pace. As he paced his mind tried to block out the bevy of emotions flooding through him. He forced himself to think about why he was going before a Tribunal instead. Something had to have changed drastically but for the life of him he couldn't see it. Aileana had made her accusations; he'd been processed and released to await further dispensation. Then today he was removed from the penthouse, heavily silvered, and under an unnecessary show of law enforcers.

Bill wracked his brain and paced, his mind sprouting theories and dismissing them one after another. When he had thoroughly gone through every possible scenario and rejected it he realized that Sookie's emotions were no longer chaotic. He settled back on his bunk and began to speculate on what had set her off in the first place.

XxXxX

Once Sookie had quieted her nerves she had returned to the office with Bob to hear Eric out. Oddly enough, she accepted Eric's apology and not simply because he was going to help Bill. Being able to listen to Eric's mind proved to her that he was truly sorry for his actions. Sookie also discovered that she could sense his sincerity, not like a blood bond-type sense but in his overall demeanor and actions. It suddenly occurred to Sookie that Eric had become a genuine and somewhat caring person for the lack of a better term. She probed his mind like a dentist probing for cavities, but there simply was no deception in Eric's thoughts, body language or behavior. The one thing she was surprised by was the fact that he had no desire to stay here.

As she listened to what Eric had to say she was simply stunned. Eric's information would prove beyond a doubt that Bill was innocent on all fronts. Based on one simple fact… Eric knew who turned Aileana and it was someone Mr. Garth and Bill had tangled with in the past. Shortly thereafter, Eric asked Mekahoomblek to return to the demon realm and after they departed Mr. Garth and Sookie returned to the penthouse to devise a plan of action. And it was going to be epic.

XxXxX

In his holding cell, Bill was lying on his back with his hands behind his head. Slowly his impassive look vanished and he smiled broadly… he could feel the triumph mushrooming through Sookie's blood bond and he no longer feared the coming trial. He closed his eyes and let his thoughts drift. He needed to think of someplace fun to take Sookie when this mess was behind them. Maybe Maine or Vermont, it could be quite breathtaking in the fall of the year; he'd spent a number of autumns in Maine, the thought of which made him smile wistfully. He thought about a beautiful woman named Patrice with almost a tiny sigh. On second thought, maybe he would leave the East Coast memories to her alone. He could take Sookie somewhere else, someplace just for the two of them.

XxXxX

Sookie and Pam were relaxing in the plush leather seats in Mr. Garth's private jet. It was so beautifully appointed it would have put the Titanic to shame. Sookie moaned much like the purr of a contented cat as the young woman massaging her feet now that her pedicure was done.

The flight from Paris had been a smooth one, and of course the home Bob kept in France was just this shy of a royal palace! It had been a whirlwind of a week, being admitted into the most prestigious design houses in all of Europe was incredible and something Sookie would not soon forget. Pam had kept her from losing her religion a couple of times, much to her embarrassment, but all in all the stage was set and in two days, Bill's trial would begin. Sookie was strangely at ease at what lie ahead… she was like a cocked pistol and in less than 48 hours, she was the trigger that would be pulled. She sighed with delight as the masseuse began to massage the calves of her legs.

XxXxX

Bill watched the city of New Orleans pass by him through the dark limo-tinted windows of the big, black SUV as it slipped unnoticed through the night. He was dressed in a tailor made Italian suit, he had to give The Authority some credit, when he was being fitted for it he couldn't help but feel slightly amused… the outcome of a Tribunal such as his could easily be meeting the True Death but at least he'd look damn nice before he died!

All too soon they were turning into a secure parking structure that from outside looked just like many others in the area. Once the heavy metal door closed behind them, things were radically different. The inside of the roll-up door was faced with silver and the level they drove to was ringed with guards all of whom were in full SWAT regalia but Bill knew the truth of what a human wouldn't see. Their weapons were loaded with lethal rounds capable of killing human and vampire alike and the human to vampire ratio within their numbers were most assuredly vampire heavy. Bill also knew that all of the vampire guards would be older than him by decades at the very least. It was just one more precaution The Authority made sure was to their advantage. Once the SUV came to a stop, Bill was whisked inside and deposited into a rather luxurious, but functional holding cell with highly comfortable leather chairs beside a sizable mahogany table.

There he was met by his counselor for the Tribunal, Lord Drustan DeBusaery and even though he was around 600 years old, he'd been turned when he was just shy of thirteen years of age. And while looks could be deceiving, Bill had complete confidence in him. He was wicked smart with an eidetic memory, a rare holdover from his youth. There was nothing he couldn't recall, cite or refute with amazing accuracy. Few in the world could afford him and luckily for Bill, Mr. Garth was among them.

After greeting Lord DeBusaery with a deep bow, his Lordship motioned for Bill to take a seat and then began to go over the plan of action. More than an hour later, Bill was still listening intently. The two men were in deep discussion when there was a knock at the door. The Lord called out, "Enter."

The door opened and two smartly attired Authority guards stepped inside, both bowed quickly to Lord DeBusaery and one said quietly, "It is time for us to bring the prisoner to his place."

Both men stood and Drustan placed a hand on Bill's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "You'll be home soon Bill, do not fear for your existence."

Bill nodded then stepped toward the waiting guards, arms extended and they quickly snapped softly padded cuffs upon him. They were of a substantial amount of silver but humanely covered to prevent skin contact and burning. Bill was not considered a flight risk and his impeccable manners and demeanor had awarded this small kindness.

Together with Lord DeBusaery, he was led to an elevator and taken to the room where the Tribunal would be held. As Bill expected, it was elegantly understated while still remaining opulent. The dais held assorted heights of seating with a large half circle which hid the bottom halves of the intricately carved high-backed seats. It took Bill a moment before he recognized the wood as Madagascar Ebony.

As Bill's guards removed his cuffs, he studied the front piece of the solid Judge's bench which was Parana Pine found in the Brazilian Rainforest. Bill knew that both woods were critically endangered now but had been plentiful when these trees had been felled. Bill lips curved upwards slightly as he thought of how much useless knowledge a mind was capable of remembering at his age.

Bill glanced at his wristwatch and at 12:00 sharp one of the Honor Guard struck the floor with the bottom part of his staff. All those present either stood and bowed their heads or knelt as a door to the left opened and the Officiator stepped through the door followed by 16 members of the Vampire Ruling Class and One True Authority. Two of the Honor Guard moved to either side of the door and as the first Lord of the Tribunal walked forward they stepped behind him and stood behind his chair, the same show of respect followed with the second Lord and then three Honor Guards took their places as the Lord High Minister entered the room. He slowly walked to his seat, his vivid, indigo violet, jewel encrusted robes sparkling in the muted light. The Lords on either side had their heads bowed and as the Lord High Minister took his seat the others then followed suit.

They seemed calm and unhurried, typical older vampires, their faces serene giving no sign that the proceedings were to determine if Bill would meet the True Death. One of the Lords didn't appear quite as serene as his counterparts. He seemed to view Bill disdainfully but before Bill could give it much thought, the Lord High Minister nodded his head once and all in the room took their seats or got up off their knees. As was required, Bill and Lord DeBusaery remained standing.

The Officiator stepped forward and called the Tribunal to order. He then read the charges against Bill, which included twenty-one counts of mayhem and murder against human beings by inciting Alienna to lose her fragile control regarding humans. Basically, the charges boiled down to Bill 'loading and aiming the gun' so to speak with an unproven and highly questionable method of treatment for an allegedly, unstable vampire. When the Officiator finished speaking, the Lord High Minister asked if Bill would be offering forth his request to meet the True Death at that time.

"No, you Lord High Minister I am not guilty of the accusations against me."

"Very well, Lord DeBusaery are you ready to provide this Tribunal with arguments to convince all gathered here that Mr. Compton is indeed not guilty?"

"I am." DeBusaery bowed his head.

"Proceed."

For the next hour, DeBusaery laid out the facts as Bill believed them to be. After the start of the second hour, he called forth members of The Authority asking and getting answers to their roles in the approval (and disapproval) of what Bill had proposed to help troubled vampires. Throughout the questioning one of the Tribunal Lords often interrupted, asked unrelated questions of those being questioned until the Lord High Minister gently placed his hand lightly on the Lord's forearm, silencing him wordlessly. Bill on the other hand tried to figure out if he had ever done anything to or against said Lord. It seemed quite obvious that in his eyes Bill should meet the True Death and the faster the better. As the questioning continued, Bill had to admit, things were not moving forward in the way he'd expected. He mused to himself that were he sitting on the panel he would be far from looking at an acquittal at this point.

A short time later, there was a slight commotion from the back of the room. Just seconds before the double doors were pulled open and there stood Mr. Garth resplendent in a black robe with scarlet embroidery and studded with what could only be diamonds and rubies. When he entered, the entire body assembled stood and bowed some at the waist while those of the Tribunal bowed their heads. As he greeted one and all he stepped aside, extending his arm to Sookie as she stepped from behind him and slid her tiny hand into the crook of his arm.

Bill stared at his wife in utter amazement; she was wearing what was obviously a designer gown that looked as if it had been painted on. It was a deep, scarlet red satin and her every curve was accentuated, the dress flaring just above her knees the back showed an opera length train. At her throat, she wore an exquisite ruby necklace with the largest stone almost the size of a pigeon egg, her earlobes sparkled with diamond and rubies and in her hair a tiara of rubies stood out in her elegantly coiffed blond hair, her makeup dramatically done. Standing beside Garth, they were the perfect complement to one another and Sookie looked absolutely regal. As they walked forward toward the dais, the Lord High Minister stood and with a diplomatic smile and tone spoke. "Good evening Great Temragobeshib and welcome. We are honored by your presence but I must ask; do you have a reason to grace us this night?"

Garth bowed his head graciously and took a step back and Sookie stepped forward. She spoke in a clear and unwavering voice. "I asked him to escort me here before you…"

She was interrupted when the Lord that had been sitting on the left of the Lord High Minister stood quickly and stated loudly, "I protest most forcefully… this human woman has no place here!" he practically spit the words out.

Bill felt great pride in the fact that Sookie did not so much as flinch by his outburst, but also couldn't help but notice the corner of Garth's mouth lift ever so slightly and he realized that Buryakov, yes! That’s who he was! And the good Lord Buryakov had made a grave error. He wasn't sure what, but if it got the slightest reaction from Mr. Garth it wasn't good.

"Oh, but I do, your Lordship."

"And what would that be?!" as he sneered contemptuously at Sookie.

"I request a Court of Osiris."

The Lord sputtered and began to rant at Sookie but the Lord High Minister said one quiet word.

"Sit."

He did.

"On what basis do you make your request?"

"I ask as it is my belief that my husband is falsely accused, and innocent of all charges."

"I see," The Lord High Minister pursed his lips and closed his eyes for a moment as he mulled Sookie's words over in his mind. When he opened them, he addressed Sookie once more, "Mrs. Compton as a mortal woman this request would be dismissed immediately. But as the Great Temragobeshib's chosen daughter I must ask, do you intend to present additional information or witnesses that would change or shed light on these proceedings?"

"I do."

"Mrs. Compton, I hereby grant you a Court of Osiris."

Lord Buryakov came unglued and The Lord High ordered him removed. He then stood and added, "We will reconvene in one hour." And with that he left the room followed by all but Garth, Lord DeBusaery, Sookie and Bill. Bill's advocate and Garth sidled away to give the couple some privacy.

Bill caught Sookie when her knees gave way and sat her up against the large table he and the Lord DeBusaery had been sitting at. "What are you doing here?!" as he held his wife's trembling hands.

"What do you think?" she gaped.

His eyes took in her face and then he leaned in and bumped his forehead against hers, "Oh my sweet darling wife… what do you have up your sleeve?"

Sookie gave him a winsome little smile and said, "You aren't going to believe it!" Bill pulled her to her feet and as he glanced down she heard his sharp intake of air when he saw her dainty feet were clad in the five-inch-high stiletto's she only wore in the bedroom. "Yeah… I wore them just for you…" she whispered to him wickedly.

Bill scooped her up in his arms and was about to zip her somewhere private when she laughed lightly and said, "Put me down sweetheart, we have a lot to cover and we've only got an hour."

Bill groaned and set her down as Bob clapped a hand on his shoulder and said, "You'll be coming home with us in a couple of hours and then she's all yours young William."

XxXxX

One hour later on the dot, the members filed back in and the Lord High nodded at Sookie now standing beside Bill.

"Do you intend to present your case or will you be working with Lord DeBusaery?"

"I have asked him to conduct the presentation of evidence and witnesses, your Lord High Minister." Sookie answered solemnly.

"Very well, let us proceed with the Court of Osiris being granted to the Great Temragobeshib's Chosen Daughter Sookie Compton."

DeBusaery stood and said, "We will begin with questions for Aileana Macleod."

The Lord High Minster merely lifted his index finger from where it rested on the table and the side door opened and two men dressed in fine suits entered with a woman wearing a simple black dress. They led her to a small dais set apart from the other and she took her seat. Sookie was surprised at her appearance. She silently chided herself, what had she expected? A drooling, slobbering lunatic? If anything, Sookie saw a touch of natural, not exactly beauty per se, but Sookie thought Aileana in her time she would likely have been described as a handsome woman.

But Sookie did not let that fool her, Aileana was lying and her lies could end her husband's life and that just wasn't going to happen. DeBusaery stood and walked toward the witness stand, Sookie noticed that Aileana kept her head tilted down but could tell that she was aware of every movement the Lord made as he neared.

"You are aware that you are being questioned in a specially convened Court of Osiris and not the trial of Mr. Compton, is that correct?"

"Yes." She replied quietly.

"And you are further aware that in addition to the testimony you were to have given you are now open to questioning from additional persons present?"

Aileana looked up for the first time, a small measure of confusion on her face, "I am?"

As DeBusaery answered in the positive, Sookie noticed her eyes darting to the sitting Lords of the Tribunal and then to Bill before dropping her gaze back to the floor. It seemed to her that Aileana looked either worried… Or maybe a better term would be, frightened. But that made little sense why would she be afraid of answering questions? Then something occurred to Sookie and she quickly made the connection and more so, the importance of Eric's testimony.

"Aileana, we are here tonight because we need to get to the bottom of a prickly issue. You attacked a farm house near where you reside and killed twenty-one humans including children, is that correct?"

"It's his fault." As she gestured vaguely towards where Bill sat.

"That's not what I asked you. I asked you if you killed twenty-one humans without thought or care!" Even Sookie started a bit as DeBusaery spoke forcefully. Aileana however had actually jumped. Sookie glanced at Bill and he seemed unfazed but she could tell he'd noticed Aileana's reaction too.

"Yes." Aileana answered so quietly Sookie barely heard.

"Why!?" practically a yell.

Aileana looked confused for a split-second and then the lines of her face hardened and her eyes glittered ominously. "I was fine until he came. I had slips from time to time but once he began his questions and his talking and his ideas and, and, well… I just got confused and turned around and then Garth's men," She made the mistake of looking Garth's way, John and Frank on either side of him and her words lost their force and the defiant look faded and she simply stopped speaking, looking down once again.

DeBusaery waited a beat before asking, "You say that in addition to Mr. Compton, the Great Temragobeshib's men drove you to the attack on the humans."

She nodded, but DeBusaery told her to answer out loud and she did. "What did they say?"

"I don't remember but it made me mad. That one," she pointed towards Frank, "he told me Bil… Mr. Compton was wasting his time on me and that I should be staked."

Sookie didn't look Frank's way, Bill had told her of the general discord between Frank and Aileana and while it hadn't exactly helped Bill, she was simply using Frank as an excuse. Bill had also made sure Garth was aware of the same thing. But Sookie suspected if it had happened over something other than it being for Bill and by default her, Frank wouldn't be around anymore.

"So, you were angry about something said by a hybrid so you went out and murdered innocent people? Women? Children even? That seems beyond the most rudimentary logic, in fact, it seems quite ridiculous to me." DeBusaery's voice growing more powerful as he spoke.

"I object to that statement! It puts undue burden on the witness." Lord Buryakov stated forcefully.

DeBusaery turned to look at the Lord's and awaited the response by the others. The Lord High Minister contemplated a moment before saying in a thoughtful and pleasant reply, "I must disagree Lord Buryakov, what say you, Lord Ashmont?"

"I agree, for the Court to be effective, these questions must be asked and answered. However, perhaps with less personal interjections Lord DeBusaery?"

"Absolutely your Lordship." He said as he bowed his head slightly. He looked back at Aileana and said, "Answer the question."

"It wasn't like that exactly…"

"Then how exactly was it Miss MacLeod?"

"I was confused, he said I couldn't shape or fix the world…"

"Who said that?" he interrupted.

This time she pointed at Bill. Sookie frowned and looked at Aileana's face, trying to see anything that could show her words were lies.

"So, were you trying to fix the world?"

"No…"

"What do you mean then? You had more than your fair share of slips, haven't you? Massacre's that had to be hidden, covered up and you always had excuses, didn't you? And now your excuse is that the man trying to prevent you from doing it again actually made you do it again?" He stood before her and finished at a yell.

"No! Wait, yes! I don't…"

"WHY? Answer me!"

"I did as I was told!" She fired back at DeBusaery. Her eyes shining with defiance, her hands in tight fists.

"By who?!" he roared.

"I… I, I don't know…" she stammered, her defiance deflating instantly.

DeBusaery placed his hands softly on top of hers and said quietly, "You don't know or you can't say?"

"I can't say." She replied with so much defeat Sookie almost felt sorry for her.

Without missing a beat DeBusaery turned away from the witness and looked at the panel before him, "We would ask to hear testimony from Eric Northman at this time."

Sookie had expected a certain response but the one that occurred took her by surprise. The Lord High Minister raised his eyebrows, Lord Ashmont dropped his jaw and Buryakov stood so fast his large, heavy chair slammed onto the floor with such force Sookie felt the vibration of it in her feet.

"Eric Northman has met the True Death! That happened half a decade ago! And if he's not, he is a fugitive and as such may not be questioned without his own trial being concluded!"

Before he could continue, the Lord High Minister placed his hand on Buryakov's arm and said with breathtaking menace, "Sit down and say not another word further."

Sookie shuddered and Bill reached over to take her hand and hold it securely and more importantly, comfortingly as he felt her fear flood his senses. Sookie looked at Buryakov and suddenly realized where she knew him from. He had been the very unhappy Lord at their wedding. She was glad Bill held her hand as she wondered just what else was going on here.

Buryakov motioned to one of the guards and they set his chair upright, and then he seated himself immediately.

For a moment, the silence of the room was overwhelming and it stayed so for at least a full minute and a half before the Lord High Minister spoke quietly, "This Court has quickly become an unprecedented event. If we allow for the fact that Mr. Northman is still in existence, he too may petition for a Court of Osiris, so in essence, we must decide before that point to conclude the matter at hand, move back to the original trial or begin a new Court if Mr. Northman so desires…"

At that moment Garth stood and was immediately motioned by the Lord High Minister to speak, "I can alleviate some of your concern," he began as Buryakov rudely interrupted.

"This is preposterous! If Northman is present he should be executed forthwith! He no longer has standing as anything other than a fugitive!"

Sookie thought if she were ever in a position to see a vampire suffer a stroke, it would be now. More than that was he obviously was so wrapped up in his argument that he did not see the others staring at him in horror. But in the moment that Sookie processed these thoughts the Lord High Minister had him by the throat and held him off the ground as his words bored into all of them like titanium drills.

"Lord Buryakov your conduct tonight has been abysmal at best. Which leads me to believe there is something oddly amiss with these proceedings. Therefore," he stood Buryakov on his feet before giving the guards a nod. They moved faster than Sookie could track and had him in heavy silver cuffs, "I am ordering you be taken into custody and if you so much as whisper a sound I will pronounce the True Death upon you and stake you myself."

Sookie hadn't realized that it was possible for a vampire to go pale but that was exactly what happened.

The Lord High Minister turned to Garth, "We must speak privately." Garth gave a single nod and both men left the room. The guards still held Buryakov and with mere movements Sookie smelled the silver charring fresh flesh. She was oddly surprised that the manacles weren't covered. Further stunned when she noticed that Aileana was rocking silently back and forth on the chair in the witness box, with the strange events of the last few seconds Sookie had forgotten she was even there.

Just then, Garth and The Lord High Minister returned to the room and both took their seats. The Lord High Minister waited a moment before speaking. "As I stated previously, this has been a night to remember… something never before seen. Great Temragobeshib has explained much and therefore I have decided the following actions will be taken. First, Miss Macleod will be taken into custody," She was seized instantly, "Second, as I believe there is much to be decided I will herein judge this matter by myself." He nodded at Lord Ashmont who stood, bowed his head and turned to take a seat among the others present. Lord Buryakov didn't move quite as fast, but move he finally did. "Finally, I will hear from Eric Northman without the benefit of him asking for his own Court. Great Temragobeshib has informed me that Northman will acquiesce to this demand of mine."

There was a pause before he continued, "It is my belief that there are some very serious and long-reaching decisions to be made and information to be learned that will address all such issues." With almost a sigh, he nodded at the guards and silently Eric Northman entered the room accompanied by Mekahoomblek from the back and was seated where Aileana had been previously.

Now it was Bill's turn to be shocked by Eric's presence, he sat silently stunned while some others present murmured quietly. The Lord High Minister cleared his throat quietly and the room was deathly silent in an instant. Amazingly enough, Bill was further dumbstruck when The Lord High Minister nodded at Sookie and his wife stood and walked slowly toward Eric as Lord DeBusaery took his seat. They hadn't told anyone she'd be doing this part of the questioning, even knowing it was her Court.

When Sookie reached halfway, she took a deep breath and began, "Mr. Northman, where have you been for the last five or so years?"

He gave her a tiny, soft smile before answering, "I have been enslaved in my Master Mekahoombleck's home realm."

"I see. Why were you asked to participate in this proceeding?" she said.

"Because I am here to right many wrongs with my knowledge."

"What knowledge Mr. Northman please explain." She slowly walked back toward the table and stood near Bill.

"If I may explain in detail?" Eric looked at the Lord High Minister who nodded his assent.

"Many years ago, I tried to hurt both Mr. and Mrs. Compton out of sheer foolishness that grew into a deadly spiral of madness. I was allowed by Great Temragobeshib to either meet the True Death at the hands of the One True Vampire Authority or live the rest of my days in exile in a demon realm as a slave to my Master Mekahoombleck. I chose the latter."

Eric paused and looked directly at Bill and added, "William Compton, I am grievously sorry for the wrongs I caused you and your beloved Sookie. I beg your forgiveness and also say this, I will not ask for a Court of Osiris, in fact I will offer myself for the True Death upon the end of my testimony if you see fit to demand such a judgment." Eric bowed his head slightly toward Bill and Bill slowly gave a nod in return.

Again, Eric looked at the Lord High Minister who simply nodded for Eric to go on.

Eric spoke then, his voice strong and clear, "I would ask at this time the Aileana name her Maker."

Every head in the room turned to look at her and she seemed in great pain when she answered with a painful plea, "I cannot say!"

Eric then said, "She has been commanded by her maker, whom I believe has instructed her unable to answer your questions. I know that Aileana was likely ordered by her Maker to commit the murders in an effort to discredit Mr. Compton because in turn he wanted Great Temragobeshib to be disgraced…"

The Lord High Minister nodded and said to Eric, “Am I to understand you know who Aileana’s Maker is?”

“Yes, I do.” Eric paused briefly before adding, “It is Lord Buryakov.”

Buryakov erupted, "There is no…"

His words died on his lips as he was held by guards while the Lord High Minister held an elaborately carved stake, mere inches from his chest. Sookie was shaking as he said, "I will end you this minute if you so much as blink."

Bill reached up and snatched Sookie off her feet and sat her in the chair beside him, his arm wrapped protectively around her shoulders. The Lord High Minster stepped back nodding at Eric to continue but added, "Get to the point Northman."

"Before the Compton's were married, he was… unhappy with his standing in The Authority and the AVL. He hired me to cause, 'problems' but I took it too far. But after Great Temragobeshib named Mrs. Compton his own, Lord Buryakov was livid."

"You know this how?" DeBusaery said, knowing Sookie's ability to ask the question was an impossibility.

"My Master Mekahoombleck told me after I entered his realm."

"Why did you feel compelled to be here tonight?"

"Because when Great Temragobeshib explained what had happened, I knew that Lord Buryakov was behind it. I explained how it all began and that Mr. Compton had unknowingly fallen right into Buryakov's plans."

"How is that?"

"Because I am the only vampire that knew he was Aileana's Maker, and that he wanted to not only disgrace Great Temragobeshib but establish himself firmly and higher up in The Authority and the AVL. So, I have no doubt he ordered Aileana to commit the heinous murders."

"I see," DeBusaery said smoothly, "and you are sure of this how? Seeing as she cannot say one way or the other who her Maker is or if she were given instructions to commit murder at her Maker's behest."

"Because I know the human that serves him. He passed on the orders to Aileana."

"Even so, he's human correct? As such wouldn't the Lord have simply glamoured the information away?" DeBusaery queried.

"Yes," Eric smiled a soft smile as he looked at Sookie, "but Mrs. Compton is able to reach behind a glamour and read the truth from their minds."

This time there was an audible gasp as all eyes turned in Sookie's direction. The Lord High Minister looked at her too and said quietly, "Is this true Mrs. Compton?"

Sookie had no idea how exactly she managed but she said in a clear, steady voice, "Yes, it is."

"And would you be willing to attempt this action?"

She nodded.

The Lord High Minister looked at Eric and asked, "Who is this person and how long will it take to get him here?"

Eric returned the gaze and said, "I believe he is already here. He is registered at the Black Dagger South, he arrived here with Lord Buryakov."

The Lord High Minister looked to the head of the Authority's representative and said, "Get him here!" He stood and then pointed to Aileana and Buryakov. "And throw them into Dead cells!"

Buryakov's eyes bulged and he shouted, "No!" as the guards swarmed him and Sookie was stunned to see him struggling to get away but in seconds he was bound in heavy silver chains and he began whimpering as his skin smoked and burned and he was swiftly removed from the room. She sagged against Bill and didn't realize how shaky she was until she tried to speak.

"B-b-bill, what's that mean? D- d-ead…"

He held her closer and whispered, "It's a cell that is made entirely of silver, floors, ceilings, walls," he swallowed, "and they're placed inside them naked and the only light is UV."

Sookie blanched and then said, "What if I can't read him?"

DeBusaery leaned back in his chair and said, "It will likely mean the True Deaths for more than one this night."

Sookie was only too aware that he had not excluded Bill from that statement.

XxXxX

Sookie, Bill and DeBusaery had been ushered into a small private sitting room to wait the arrival of the man she would have to read. More than an hour later, remembering how they had intended to use Decebal to help her read the last glamoured human Sookie asked who would be helping her and was stunned when DeBusaery told her it would be the Lord High Minister himself. She was sitting on a small comfortable couch with Bill and at that she sank against him almost lifelessly against him.

Bill pulled her to him sliding her so she was seated on his lap and carefully bumped his forehead against hers, "Dearheart… look at me please," Her eyes opened and met his, "There is no way this can fail."

"Sweet baby Jesus Bill! If I screw this up we could all die!" she whispered vehemently.

He moved his arms so he could place his hands on either side of her face looking deeply and lovingly into her eyes, "Sookie, the only beings that may die tonight are those that deserve to."

She nodded slightly and then said, "What about Eric?" She bit her lower lip and Bill could see doubt there. He wasn't surprised.

"I believe his apology was sincere, we can make that known." He reached up to tuck a stray lock of her hair behind her ear. "How do you feel about it?"

"Ah," she glanced away from his eyes and Bill pretty much knew what she'd say, "If he wanted to go back, that would be okay I guess."

"You wouldn't want him to return here, though would you?"

With a sigh she answered, "I wish I could but not even so much for me but for Pam… she'd be devastated if he were allowed back here. Don't you think?"

True to form his wife took him by surprise and he wasn't even sure why. "Agreed my darling, it would be best for Eric not to be in this realm." He kissed the tip of her nose and a soft knock was heard. "It's time."

XxXxX

Within minutes they were seated in the courtroom and there had been significant changes made during the break. When Aileana and Buryakov were led in. They were covered with simple, cotton robes and they limped on badly burned feet, the skin of their heads and arms were crusted with open and weeping burns and Sookie almost swooned when the smell of them hit her senses. They were made to stand in a silver-barred cage that had been moved in while the room had been empty. Sookie also noticed there seemed to be far more vampires in attendance than previously, she had a feeling a great deal of phone calls had been made during the last hour or so. There was soft whispering going on that Sookie couldn't discern but it ceased the moment the Lord High Minister stepped into the room.

Without a pause, he explained to all present how Sookie's gift worked, he explained that he would be helping Sookie in her task. Then the man was brought into the room and Sookie recoiled involuntarily. Everything she had expected to see in Aileana she saw now. If there was a picture beside a description of 'homicidal manic' it would be his. He was the spitting image of everyone's worst nightmare.

First off was his size. He was not a lot smaller than Garth. His brows were heavy and thick, his skull slightly misshapen, his eyes were small and piggy, his lips thick and fleshy. The thought of having to delve into this man's head made Sookie queasy. Feeling her fear and revulsion Bill squeezed her hand and whispered she would be fine.

She had no choice but to believe him, because if she couldn't do this, her husband may be forced to pay the price. They clipped the scary man's handcuffs into a large ring on a table in front of the place where the highest dais had been. With a small motion of his hand, the Lord High Minister beckoned for Sookie to move forward. She was suddenly calmed when she felt Mr. Garth standing beside her. She walked forward and sat in front of the man and the man leered at her openly. Sookie knew in a split-second he was going to say it and she couldn't help but feel the minutest bit of guilt because she knew what was coming.

"Well here I thought it was gonna be a borin' fucking night but things are looking up cupcake, how 'bout I throw a fuck int'a 'ya and give 'em all a thrill?"

The words had barely left his mouth before Garth smacked him in the back of the head with a ham-sized hand. The look on the guy's face was priceless and Sookie relaxed instantly and turning to the Lord High Minister said, "It will help if I can touch his hand." She tried hard not to smile when the thug thought briefly about lipping off again but then thought better of it. Sookie placed her hand over his and then quietly explained what she wanted to know. As expected, there was clearly a void as she searched his mind for memories of any contact with Aileana. Sookie told this to The Lord High Minister and he asked her what he should do, she had him begin to glamour the man as she fought to get behind Buryakov's glamouring shield. Explaining as she did so and within moments, the voids fell away and they had all the proof they needed.

Under glamour, he relayed all of Buryakov's instructions including those given to take the lives of all at the dairy during those early morning hours. What he further revealed took everyone by complete surprise. The reason Buryakov had begun all of it, figured all the way back to some of Sookie's very first work for Mr. Garth… Decebal the Collector was Buryakov's Maker.

The Lord High Minister ordered the man be taken away and Sookie had a hunch he would never be heard from again. You could have heard a pin drop as the Lord High Minister slowly turned to the cage where Buryakov and Aileana suffered. Bob led Sookie back to Bill and stood aside them. He'd already made his wishes known to the Lord High Minister so he had a fair idea of what was to come.

"Aileana MacLeod, you are hereby sentenced to the True Death and Sookie was stunned when she realized Aileana had been removed from the cage and staked before she could track the movement. With the stake, still in his hand he looked to Garth. Garth spoke nearly silently to Bill and Bill shook his head. Garth gave the Lord High Minister a slow and deliberate nod and the stake was laid aside.

In a flash Buryakov was on his knees before the Lord High Minister, and as he looked down at Buryakov he said. "Your actions are reprehensible in even the lowest species of the world's eyes and you do need to meet the True Death." Buryakov's eyes fluttered closed slightly before a small sigh escaped his lips.

The Lord High Minister however wasn't done yet. "Someday." He added ominously.

Buryakov's eyes flew open wide as the Lord continued, "Until I deem such a day in the future, you will spend your time waiting in a Dead cell."

"NO!" Buryakov screamed but in seconds, the guards had him out of the room and his cries were silenced.

The Lord High Minister turned to face the room and more importantly, Bill. "Mr. Compton, you are hereby free of any and all allegations against you and I hope you will forgive us our foolishness in believing Lord Buryakov." He turned to Sookie and with a smile he reached for her hand and taking it in his said, "Mrs. Compton it is easy to see why the Great Temragobeshib has claimed you as his own. You are quite remarkable and I hope you will forgive us our mistake." Sookie smiled and nodded and with that, the room cleared quickly.

Lord DeBusaery shook hands with Garth, Bill and even Sookie and then planted a chaste kiss upon her cheek. Sookie felt herself blushing as he did, he reminded her of a teenager with a crush. Then he too was gone in a blink and then Sookie said, "Oh! What happened to Eric?"

Mr. Garth looked at her and cupped her face gently, "The Lord High allowed him to return with Mekahoomblek. I am sorry not to have asked you what you thought, child. It was unfair of me to speak for you."

Sookie leaned her face into his large, warm palm and smiled, "I'm fine with that, will Mekahoombleck ever allow him to return to this realm?" When Garth shook his head, she smiled and said, "Then I'm good."

XxXxX

Bill and Sookie were silent as they held hands in the back of the limo on the ride to the airport. Not surprisingly, Garth had a jet ready and waiting for them so they could take some much, needed down time at Halé Nohea. Once onboard and after takeoff, Bill stood and gave Sookie his hand and when she stood he scooped her up and carried her back to the richly appointed bedroom and laid her gently on the bed.

Her eyes glittered with unfallen tears as he slowly took her ankle in his hand and slid the red shoe off her foot. Kissing the top of her foot before sliding his hand upward, caressing her leg and luxuriating in the feel of the silk hose over her warm skin.

"Bill…" she whispered as a tear slipped down toward her ear but never reached it because he caught it with his fingertip before it could.

Bill gathered her into his arms then whispering her name, he said, "No tears dearheart, no tears." Between whispers of love, soft sighs and passionate moans, they stripped away each other's clothes and Bill made love to his wife as if it were the first time. His lips skimmed across her skin leaving a trail of fire across it. His teeth nipping gently here and there and when he took her pert nipple in his mouth, his fingers caressed her silken center and her breath became ragged with desire. Her body arched off the bed as she reached to touch him, to worship him with her tongue, her hands… but her desire to do more was eclipsed by the explosion of her climax.

As it did, Bill pulled her onto his body and held her as he moved ever so slowly, entering her as she pulsated around him and she cried out at the feel of it, his hardness catapulting her into a second release. She dug her nails into his chest as the intensity had her gasping and moaning at the same moment.

He moved his hips as he sat up so she could ride him, their eyes centimeters apart as the depth of their love and devotion poured through them. Slowly they moved together, their skin alive with sensuality, each movement a whisper-like thrill that coursed through them like the heat of glowing embers. As they moved they fought for control, fought to keep from finishing in a frenzy… so their passion built and Sookie gasped for breath, her hands fisted in Bill's hair as her deep chocolate eyes plumbed the depths of his blue and when his fangs snicked into place she threw back her head letting herself go as he pierced her throat and her blood began to flow she screamed his name as they detonated together… each lover overwhelmed by the fervor and the incredible intensity that crested like the surf, flowing like the water that kissed the sand.

Neither was aware of when they had begun to cry. But their tears streamed down their faces and it was passion, love and happiness that caused them. They slid down into the bed and Bill pulled the covers up over them and as the plane made its way west; they slept, safe within each other's arms, content and more relaxed than they had been in quite some time.

XxXxX

Sookie was not a happy camper.

They had spent almost a month at Halé Nohea and usually that mellowed her out big time; and, why wouldn't it? Bill was able to tolerate being in the sun dome more and more and so there was a real blur of day and night for them that was quite fun. But since they'd been back; Bill returned to his regular schedule which was fine, except now that he was again up only at night he was quite busy, either working on homework or a conference call or his damn night college video classes on Skype.

During their downtime in Hawaii, it had been decided that Bill would not counsel any other vampires in crisis until he became a licensed psychologist. Bill had certainly learned his lesson and while treating vampires and their way of thinking was different; he knew now more knowledge in general certainly couldn't hurt. Now that he was well into his classes, he'd begun tossing around the idea of opening a practice to treat people as well. Sookie wasn't sure how she felt about that. She had, however, failed to foresee how diligent Bill would be in pursuing his goal of becoming a licensed professional.

It was the reason she was in the laundry room ironing Bill's shirts at three o'clock in the morning.

She could hear him in his office, well, she could hear the lecturer over a video conferencing class. Sookie heaved a heavy sigh as she hung up one of Bill's shirts and then took another out of the laundry basket. She normally did the ironing and other household chores during the day so she could spend her nights awake with her hubby.

With his new zeal to pursue a degree and put himself in a better position, it didn't matter much when she did chores. It was about a 50-50 chance nowadays as to whether or not she'd have quality time with him or not. She finished the shirt on the board and then turned the iron off, unplugged it and walked out of the laundry room closing the door behind her.

She walked into the living room and dropped onto the sofa and grabbed the novel she had started reading in Hawaii. It was a great book, normally she would have been burning through it but her thoughts were tangled and unsettled so her concentration was pretty much nil. After she realized she'd read the same page for about the third time, she dropped it on the coffee table and glanced at the clock on the wall. It was already close to four and she decided to call it a night.

She could hear Bill talking and that meant the lecture was now open for discussion and she knew that meant Bill would likely be online until dawn or just past it. She walked to the stairs and listened a moment, yes, Bill was having a lively conversation with others on the video feed so she decided against letting him know she was going to bed.

He'd figure it out when dawn arrived.

XxXxX

Sookie woke in the absolute, best way possible… with her husband's hands skimming her body and his kisses drifting south… she sighed with pleasure as he slowly made her body taut with desire. His mouth reached its destination and Sookie could not hold back her response. She arched her back and Bill captured her legs and drew her to him. Sookie moaned deeply as her husband teased and excited her with his mouth. She was getting closer to climaxing and he knew it, so to build the moment, he stopped his sweet nuzzling and began kissing her inner thighs and Sookie gasped his name.

The moment she heard his fangs snick into place Sookie was just that much closer to exploding. Bill teased her mercilessly moving from kisses to quick licks until Sookie thought she couldn't stand his teasing one second longer and when he slipped two fingers gently inside her, replacing his tongue with his thumb… her breath hitched and as he bit her femoral artery Sookie's release was instantaneous and incredibly sublime. After a moment or two, Bill healed her tiny wounds and moved up the bed and drew her into his arms. She snuggled in as close as she could and murmured into his chest, "Well that was unexpected."

"Did you like it?" He asked as he placed his lips on the crown of her head, planting small kisses in her hair.

"Oh yeah, I think I'd prefer that over an alarm clock any day."

Bill chuckled and said softly, "I've been neglecting you dearheart and I'm sorry."

Sookie frowned and said, "Well, I'm not sure it's neglect exactly,"

"I felt your disappointment tonight when you went to bed, darling… you have to be more… I don't know… vocal?"

Sookie burst forth with a laugh and moved herself so she cradled her chin on her hands as she looked into her husband's face, "Bill, I'm pretty certain you really don't need me to be more vocal!"

He tugged on a lock of her hair and gave her, her favorite crooked smile. "No… I guess all I can say is perhaps I made a poor word choice. But the message is the same, you must tell me when I'm not meeting your needs or," he paused for dramatic effect, "validating your feelings."

Sookie rolled her eyes and they both started to laugh. They'd had a rather loud and heated discussion some while back about what he was learning in his studies. She sometimes resented his attempts to, 'analyze' her in the beginning so they'd come up with a joking way to ease the tension. Anytime Bill used the words, "validate your feelings" it was meant as a lighthearted way for Bill to be certain that any real tension between them had been resolved.

She laid her head back on his chest and he wrapped his arms around her, "You need to sleep baby." She whispered and he just nodded and it didn't take long for either of them to drift quickly into sleep as the sun moved higher in the sky.

XxXxX

A few weeks later Bill sat on the big bed, leaning against the headboard as he typed on his laptop, Sookie was channel-surfing and not having any success in trying to find something worthwhile to watch. Just as she was about to turn the TV off Bill stopped typing with a flourish and closed his laptop and had his wife in his arms before she could put the remote down.

"Are you done?" He nodded. "Will you let me read it?"

Bill hesitated for a split second and it was a split second too long and Sookie snapped acerbically, "Nevermind." And turned the volume up on a TV show that she had no interest in whatsoever.

Bill fought his first response, which was to snap back, but then thought about how unsettled she had been lately. He got off the bed and put his laptop on the desk and walked into the bathroom to run a bath. He added some lavender oil and lit the candles that surrounded the tub, put two large, soft and fluffy towels on the towel warmer and then tested the water with his fingertips.

Bill walked back into the bedroom and gently removed the remote from his wife's hand. She scowled at him and crossed her arms tightly over her chest. Her body language left a lot to be desired and Bill was determined to get her relaxed and hopefully talking. He wasn't sure why his wife was feeling so out of sorts but he was hoping a nice romantic interlude would do the trick.

However, as he lifted her from the bed she began pushing him away and vehemently protesting that she was in no mood for a bath. "Dammit Bill! Put me down this instant!" and she put both hands on his chest trying to squirm out of his arms.

Bill was stunned. She was truly fighting him! He dropped her quite unceremoniously back on the bed and in a flash had the candles out, the tub draining and the towels off the warmer. In that same moment, he dressed, grabbed his cell off the nightstand and left the house all before Sookie had gathered her breath after landing on the mattress. By the time she got off the bed to call him back, she watched the taillights of his car leave the driveway on the CCTV monitors by the alarm pad. Which, she noted bleakly he had already set for the night. She walked back to the bed and crawled onto it, thought about calling him and thought better of it and finally she picked up the remote and went back to channel surfing.

XxXxX

Bill was equal parts angry, concerned and dumfounded by what had just taken place. He left the house initially to drive to Shreveport and spend the night at the apartment but by the time he made it to the main road he sighed heavily and drove to Merlotte's. It was surprisingly busy and for a moment he considered driving away but then smiled, he could use some conversation.

Bill walked in and was greeted by many and as he nodded at some and said hello to those closer to him, he was glad he had decided to stay. Sam was tending bar and held up a bottle of TruBlood and Bill tipped his chin upward and Sam turned and popped the bottle into the microwave.

"Hey Bill, how ya' doin' tonight?" Sam asked as the microwave dinged and Sam removed the bottle and shook it then twisted off the cap, "Glass?"

"No thanks," Bill answered as he glanced around the bar, he said, "Something special going on?"

"Yeah, well no, not really. Shorty pissed off the new Parrish Bar and Restaurant Inspector and long story short, they pulled his liquor license for 90 days." Sam said with a grin and a shrug.

"I've heard he has a certain… belligerence." Bill said with a grin. Shorty's temper was well known in Bon Temps and had long been the beginning of some of the area's best stories and a few were outright legends.

Arlene stepped up to the bar, put down an empty pitcher and asked Sam for a refill and two whiskey sours before turning to Bill and saying, "You come here and hug my neck!" Bill did and she gave him a peck on the cheek and the looked around, "Sookie in the can?"

"Uh, no she was feeling a little under the weather, she wanted to catch up on some sleep." Bill made a mental note to inform Sookie of this before Arlene talked to her wondering how she was feeling.

"Here ya' go…" Sam said putting the drinks on her tray and turning the pitcher so she could grab it by the handle.

"Well you tell her, she needs something to just call, you hear?"

"I will, thank you."

Arlene headed off and Bill looked at Sam, who was grinning with a spark in his eye, "Lemme guess… Sookie's really fine, huh?"

Bill chuckled and took a swig from his bottle, "Let's just say it was a good night for a little space." A small frown settled on his features and he said, "Sam, has she seemed out of sorts around you lately?"

Just then, Angela, Sam's newest waitress handed Sam her drink order tab then walked to the pass-thru clipping an order to the wheel and giving Big John a heads up. She walked back to the bar to wait for Sam to finish making the drinks, smiled shyly at Bill as nervous energy radiated from her. Bill gave her a gentle smile in return and turned his attention to the TV which had some kind of kickboxing match playing. He couldn't have cared less about the TV but he knew Angela was frightened by vampires. Bill didn't take it personally, because of Sookie, (Angela was a very loud thinker) he also knew she was really trying to overcome her fear so he always did his best to make her feel unthreatened by him whenever possible.

It wasn't long before the bar got busier as the people that worked in some of the smaller factories in the area were done with their shifts for the night. Some greeted Bill and a couple came to sit by him at the bar, Sam nuked another TruBlood for him and for the next couple hours or so Bill enjoyed some lively conversations about a plethora of topics. Bill thought briefly about how he'd thought his evening was going to go earlier but all things considered, this wasn't half bad as an alternative. Sort of.

XxXxX

Sookie woke with a start and for a moment she held her breath while her mind worked quickly to determine her surroundings and if it meant danger. She felt relief wash over her. She was in her bed, the TV was on, one glance showed the alarm was set and green across the board… then with a deep frown she thought, where the hell was Bill? She glanced at the clock and saw it was almost 2:00 a.m. She slipped off the bed and realized she needed to pee desperately and did so, her mind churning the entire time.

It wasn't like him to not let her know where he was, but then again, she'd treated him like a total bitch so his absence was not without cause. She washed her hands and could still smell the scent of the lavender oil Bill had put in the bath. What the hell was her problem? She went back to bed and shut the TV off and stared at the ceiling. Doing a little mental calculation, she was more than happy to put some of the blame on being premenstrual but still… that was no excuse.

She sank back into her pillow and tried to ignore the reason she felt so out of sorts. At the same time, she wondered if Bill had been so pissed that he'd gone to Shreveport. No, he would have called her if he was doing that, he might be damned angry with her but he wouldn't not tell her where he was if he wasn't coming home. That just wasn't his style. She heaved a heavy sigh and tried to figure out a way to apologize for being so nasty earlier. She glanced at the clock once more and this time noticed a small note on the table next to the clock. She picked it up and saw Bill's elegant script, "Sookie, perhaps tomorrow evening we can speak about the events of this evening. Please know that I am safe and near. Until then I remain your devoted and loving husband, Bill"

Sookie felt tears filling her eyes, damn! Why did he always have to be such a gentleman? She laid back down and read the note once more and then reached over to click off the bedside light. Her tears slipped from her eyes and she felt tremendous guilt over her ridiculous actions. Her tears became soft sobs and for the first time since the awful situation surrounding Bill's Court of Osiris and all that preceded it, she cried herself to sleep.

In the light-tight spare bedroom, through their blood bond Bill felt Sookie's confusion, her guilt and her sadness. He gave thought to re-entering the master suite to soothe her but decided against it. He hadn't intended to sleep alone but when he'd gone to their bed and looked down at her sweet face, he saw that even in sleep she seemed troubled. She obviously had something she needed to work through and so he wrote her a note and brushed her lips with a kiss. He decided it was better to give her some space. She'd read the note and know he was safe so she would have no worry over that.

Even without the benefit of his current academic studies, Bill knew that Sookie needed to figure out what was wrong with Sookie, or if and when she'd be ready to tell him what was bothering her. And that didn't always happen if he gave her too much comfort, too soon. He was aware of the timing of her monthly cycle but this was far more than that, so it was the spare bedroom for him tonight. Bill fluffed up the pillow behind his head and picked up his latest novel, then settled in to enter the world of the NYPD, its most famous fictional criminalist and his partner Amelia.

XxXxX

Sookie woke with a headache and she truly hated when that happened. She stumbled to the bathroom to grab some aspirin from the medicine cabinet and caught her reflection in the mirror. She groaned, ran the water until it got cold, downed the pills and splashed more cold water on her face. Her eyelids were swollen and puffy with bruise-like rings beneath her eyes. Her skin was blotchy and her hair a complete rat's nest because she hadn't combed it out before falling asleep. As she stared at the undeniable proof of a night gone very wrong, she knew what she needed.

More sleep.

There was only one way that would happen so she left the master suite and went quickly down the hall. As she had hoped, the small red light on the doorframe of the spare light-tight guest room glowed. She opened the door carefully, waited for her eyes to adjust a bit and then walked to the four-poster bed where her husband rested. She drew back the sheet, then crawled into bed beside him, her body curling up alongside him. She felt him stir and his arms moved around her pulling her closer to him, even at rest, he knew when she was near. Sookie closed her eyes and began to feel her headache slip away. Whether it was the aspirin or the arms of her husband around her, she drifted off knowing she would not wake with it again.

XxXxX

Bill was instantly aware of how near his wife was, he could smell her, hear her soft breathing… the beating of her heart, beating slightly faster when he opened his eyes. To say she was beautiful would be a true disservice. She was magnificent, dressed in a flowing floor length gown of pearl colored satin, her eyes shining with unshed tears, her hair trailing down her back and brushing lightly across her breasts. In the blink of an eye he stood before her, close enough to see her pupils grow larger amid the deep color of her liquid chocolate eyes, yet not touching, not yielding to his urge to scoop her into his arms.

She moved her hand upward, pressing it softly against his chest as her eyes searched the depths of his ocean blue irises. "Forgive me." Sookie barely breathed the words and Bill cupped her face within his hands. Her eyelids fluttered down and she leaned into his touch as a tear spilled down her cheek. Bill wiped it away with his thumb and whispered, "Hush, no tears my sweet darling." They stood that way for an instant or maybe it had been an hour but it did not matter. What mattered was that they were one entity again, one husband, one wife, one life force in sync.

XxXxX

It was nearing dawn when Bill finished rinsing the conditioner from Sookie's hair in the shower. She of course was sound asleep and it always made him smile. As he readied her for bed, combing out her tangles, pulling one of his t-shirts over her head before gentle laying her down on the bed. He got in from the other side and pulled the covers over them, snuggling Sookie to him, the crown of her head nestled beneath his chin. He closed his eyes but was not surprised when even the pull of dawn could quiet his mind. He listened to her slow, deep breaths and turned his thoughts to the revelation of their conversation they had had earlier…

"Jason married Annie." She stated matter-of-factly.

Bill was startled by her words and he turned her in the warm water so she straddled his lap and her eyes looked into his. "When?" He was more than a little shocked and for the moment he was filled with disbelief that Jason would have taken such a monumental step in his life without telling his only living relative about it first.

"When we were at Court." Sookie said with a sigh. "They've had a bit of a surprise and Annie thought that having two kids out of wedlock was a little too trashy for her taste, so they went to the courthouse and got it done."

Bill's mind was reeling before it dawned on him the reason given, "They're having another child? When did you find this out?"

"Yesterday, no maybe the day before," she shrugged. "Not exactly planned but they're happy." Sookie couldn't hold his gaze and chose to instead slide forward onto him and lay her head on his chest.

Bill slipped his arms around her, holding her tenderly. Her emotions were rolling through him like the train with no brakes. She was happy, yet sad, excited, but angry. It did at least explain her volatile mood as of late and again Bill felt a deepening sense of annoyance toward Jason. Admittedly, Jason wasn't always the brightest guy around but excluding his only sister from his wedding, even if it was only done before the justice of the peace, seemed unduly harsh.

Then Bill had a bit of an, 'ah ha' moment. "Dearheart, did you say they married while we were… away for the Tribunal?" His wife merely nodded and he closed his eyes and silently cursed himself. She'd refused to leave him before the Tribunal and Bill had a second, more painful thought. He very gently moved her away from him in the warm, sweet smelling water so he could see her face, he asked very seriously, "Sookie did you not go to the wedding because of me and what was happening at the time?"

It was now Sookie's turn to reassure, "Babe, all he did was leave a message or two. He said it was urgent but that I shouldn't worry because everybody was okay and I should call him back when I could. And I… didn't." She looked down and Bill felt a pang of guilt radiate through her and he could only assume that Jason or Annie had hurt feelings because Sookie disappointed them. That would stand to reason because Sookie was forbidden to speak a word of any of the proceedings they were involved in. So, they may have assumed she didn't care and any explanations she could offer were vague to say the least. Still, Jason could have done more than just a message for her to call him back. They would have postponed going to Halé Nohea had they known.

Now, as Bill held his sleeping wife there was another matter entirely that occupied more of his thoughts. Bill couldn't help but wonder if what was bothering Sookie most. He sighed deeply, kissed her forehead gently then closed his eyes and slipped into his daily rest.

XxXxX

Sookie sat on the porch sipping her coffee and looking out across the lawn as she rocked slowly in the oversized rocking chair. It was early with just a hint of mist still visible above the dewy grass giving the lawn an almost iridescent look. She was glad that she and Bill had talked things out, her lips slowly turning upward as her body gave her tiny reminders of their lovemaking. She sighed and thought for probably the millionth time that sometimes she really didn't deserve Bill and his ability to forgive her stupidity from time to time. She loved him so much that when they argued it hurt her almost physically and it was even worse when she knew she too had inflicted that kind of pain on him.

Granted, he'd had his fair share of bonehead missteps in their years together so she wasn't always the only one to screw up but this time… this time she didn't understand where her actions and reactions were coming from. She drank the last of her coffee and got up and went inside. She refilled her cup and cradling it in her hands she walked to the huge glass back doors and looked across the yard and the pond. Even safe and calm in her own lovely home, her tiff with her husband forgiven and their lives moving forward unmarred by anger once again; the moment still found her disconcerted. Her forehead creased as she frowned as she tried to figure out what her real problem was.

Sure, she'd been very hurt to discover that Jason and Annie had married without her knowledge but at the same time she shouldn't have blown off all of Jason's calls. She had felt a smidge better when she found out that their witnesses had been two random people at the courthouse that day. She truly was happy for them and told them so. She and Bill were planning a party in their honor and to make it a real celebration but Sookie knew that she had fences to mend with her brother and his new wife. Sookie couldn't help but grin at that… Jason was somebody's husband! Just then she knew one thing she needed to do. Upstairs, she dressed quickly in shorts and a tee and stepped beside the bed where she brushed Bill's hair off his forehead, planting a soft kiss there. She headed back downstairs and into the laundry room to grab her gardener's tote pail and left the house.

Before long she sat in the warm grass before Gran's headstone. Sookie washed the headstone, trimmed away the long grass and weeds as she told Gran about Jason's marriage, the new baby on the way and all the other news she could think of. As she sat there and talked, her heart began to feel lighter and the longer she stayed, the better she felt. When she walked back to the house she went into her office to check the calendar. Tonight, Bill had two video lectures, an hour-long Q & A class and as she called up his schedule she saw he had at least one paper he needed to get done by Friday.

Pulling her cell out of her back pocket she dialed Tara and asked her if she felt like going to Shreveport with her for a couple days. She knew Tara wasn't working at the moment and she was more than happy to go to Shreveport for some fun.

Sookie wrote Bill a detailed note and placed it on her pillow, showered, dressed and grabbed her purse and within thirty minutes she had Tara loaded in and they were on their way for some full-on best friend time.

XxXxX

Sookie and Tara were comfortably sprawled out on a pair of chaise lounges on the terrace, half-drunk and giggling and Sookie realized how very much she had missed her best friend these past months. Jason's marriage had been the topic of conversation for some time now and Sookie was still giving Tara grief over her once all-too-real-Jason crush. Tara snorted as she laughed and Sookie lost it. She also realized that the two of them were a little more than half drunk. But that wasn't an issue as their farthest destination to travel for the rest of the day was to the kitchen for more margaritas!

They did decide sometime later that food would probably be wise so Sookie made sandwiches while Tara sat at the island and told her about Mike's idea to find a quiet vacation home somewhere other than Louisiana. She didn't really get why it seemed like such a big deal but she wasn't about to rain on his parade. Her only request was that it wouldn't be anywhere cold. She had to insist on that after he'd started floating around ideas of skiing and the beautiful autumns on the eastern seaboard, Vermont in particular. The most Tara would agree to be a part of thus far was a vacation there, not a vacation home. They were going this coming fall, staying at a quaint bed and breakfast with plans to take various outings to drink in the beautiful foliage and other such sights. Tara knew he planned to visit incredible art galleries and antique stores all in hopes of finding stuff to furnish their as of yet un-scoped out potential vacation home.

Sookie managed to convince her that Tara had to at the very least give both Mike and Vermont the benefit of the doubt and Tara reluctantly agreed but she did so smiling which made Sookie happy because she knew then that Tara meant it.

They ate the sandwiches sitting before the huge plasma screen, making drunken, snarky comments about the silly romantic comedy they'd chosen from the numerous choices available. That soon morphed into turning off the sound and making up their own lines to the actions on screen and laughing until their sides and faces hurt. When the movie was over, they chose an action movie and that one proved to be even funnier given their sassy and cheesy dialogue. They giggled, laughed and snorted their way into the wee hours of the morning before finally turning the TV off and stumbling off to bed.

XxXxX

They didn't get up the next day until nearly two and they had both slept through most of their hangovers. Conversation was all but absent as they downed Advil and large cups of coffee for the first half hour or so. They began to feel better and before long they were cleaning up their mess from the night before and trying to decide if they were in the mood to do anything specific for the rest of the day. They eventually took showers and feeling much better, they decided to stay in and take advantage of being in Shreveport by ordering delivery. They debated pizza versus Asian for about ten minutes before deciding on both and Sookie placed their orders.

Once the food arrived they sat cross-legged on the sofa, shared pizza and Chinese and talked about a more serious side of their respective relationships. It was a night of revelations for them both.

"But, Jason and Annie aren't like seriously pissed, anymore right? I mean, you guys're like throwing 'em a party and shit…" Tara speared a half an egg roll with one of her chopsticks as Sookie swallowed a bite of veggie pizza.

"No, nothing like that, I think if it would have been something that we knew about and blew off it would be, but let's face it… Jason could have simply said they were doing it and I would have figured something out."

Tara looked closely at Sookie and said quietly, "I know I can't know any of the gory details and all but, it was real bad, wasn't it? I mean, really bad…"

Sookie scooped some fried rice onto her plate before meeting Tara's eyes. "They could have staked him." She pushed the food around her plate a little and added quietly, "I don't want to admit it Tara but even if Jason had told me what they were gonna do? I wouldn't have left Bill there to face that on his own."

Tara chewed slowly nodding her head, she swallowed and said, "I get that Sook and Jason would have too but… you just sayin' this to me? It's really something you shouldn't be telling me, isn't it?"

Sookie just nodded in agreement and Tara continued, "Then there's no harm, no foul. Jason didn't tell you why he was trying to reach you, so there's that and it makes the whole thing a moot point. I mean, why even be concerned? You didn't have to choose between one or the other, they have no idea you'd had 'a make that choice so that's the end of it, right?"

Sookie slowly smiled a little and said, "You're right, hand me the soy sauce will ya'" Tara did and they continued to eat and turned the conversation toward all the small-town gossip Sookie wasn't up on yet, starting with the suspension of Shorty's liquor license.

XxXxX

The next day Sookie made spa appointments and she and Tara spent the better part of the day being pampered. After the pedicures and manicures, they headed off to shop and bought some nice clothes to wear out to dinner and the theater that evening. It had been far too long since Sookie and Tara had spent such seemingly endless time together and Sookie was determined to make sure it didn't happen as often ever again.

One of the more interesting aspects of the exclusive girls-only time was Tara's belief that she wanted to get married. This wasn't exactly shocking to Sookie, she'd always thought that Tara would give in to it with the right guy and Mike was certainly one in the same. But it was a surprise when Tara admitted she was afraid after all this time Mike wouldn't ask.

Sookie had a grin a mile wide as she looked her best friend in the world and asked, "Really? You want to get married?"

Tara rolled her eyes and exhaled with flourish, "Yeah, yeah, yeah… keep it up and I won't tell you nuthin' anymore!"

Sookie gave a bit of a little giggle and reached over to pat Tara's hand, "All you have to do is let him know what you want, besides, he's head over heels in love with you and you know it! I'm happy for you Tara I really am."

Tara turned her hand over and lightly held Sookie's for a moment before meeting her eyes. Sookie was surprised to see a serious, intently earnest look in Tara's eyes. "Sook, what do I do if he wants kids?"

Sookie understood immediately. Tara had sworn on her life that she would never have kids, they'd couldn't have even been more than eight at the time. Sookie knew it wasn't a spur of the moment statement after a horrid and mind-numbing night of Tara dealing with her ranting, abusing drunken mother either. But over the years, Sookie had come to realize that Tara meant it as much now as she did all those years ago.

Sookie leaned forward holding on to Tara's hand and said quietly, "Has Mike ever talked about having kids in the past? I mean, you guys have been together since before I got married. That's a lot of years, surely it must have come up at some point, right?"

Tara shrugged but held her friend's hand in an iron grip, Sookie could feel the anxiety and fear rolling off Tara. "I mean, well… yeah things have been said, sure. You know like when we were all in Hawaii and Jason and Annie were there with Colton." With a quick squeeze Tara reclaimed her hand from Sookie, sat back and took a shaky drink from her wine glass before adding, "Have we ever had a conversation where he said, 'Tara I want to marry ya' and have kids too.' No. He's never said that, obviously I haven't either. But he knows enough about me to know how I feel. He's like you with Colton… he absolutely adores his nieces and nephews and he seems happy being a part of their lives as an uncle." Tara mused a moment before meeting Sookie's eyes and in almost a whisper said, "Sook, what if he hasn't asked me to marry him because he wants kids someday?"

The sadness and fright in Tara's eyes shocked Sookie taking her totally by surprise. "Tara! Mike loves you with every bit of his heart! He's probably just not asked because he knows you aren't one of those women that looks at marriage as a goal that must be reached. Don't sell yourself short Tara, if Mike felt like he needed 'that life' with someone, I doubt very highly he would still be with you."

Tara's jaw dropped at what Sookie had said and stared at her as she continued speaking. "Mike, all on his own, made the move to Shreveport with his job so he could live with you in Bon Temps! He could have lived anywhere in the country! But he made the choice to be here so he could be here with you! Why would he do that if it wasn't because he knew what, and more importantly, who he wanted to be with!? Face it, Tara… that man will never leave you, nor will he ever demand anything of you that he knows you truly believe you don't want. So yeah, you've never wanted kids and yeah, I made the choice when I married Bill that I wouldn't have kids and yeah Colton and the new baby will always fill me with joy… but you can change your mind. I'll live with it because even though I do want kids, what's done is done."

Tara's mouth opened and closed trying to form a word but she couldn't. As low-key as Sookie's rant had begun the actual final admission was one of stunning proportions. Sookie paled, she couldn't believe the words she'd just said aloud. She dropped her eyes and stared at her hands as they twisted the napkin in her fingers. She wasn't sure of what to say next or for that matter, what to even think next!

Tara answered that in short order. "I do believe I have just heard a Freudian slip of cataclysmic proportions. Hell, maybe the biggest one ever!"

Sookie just swore under her breath and signaled the waiter for the check. It was Tara's turn to wear a grin from ear to ear as she chortled, "Time to head back to the apartment girlfriend because we've got a lot to talk about, don't we? Hey! Will we need to stop and get more wine?"

Sookie stood and with a slight grimace on her face said, "No. But we might need to stop and get some more Advil, I'm getting a headache."

Tara just laughed as they headed for the exit.

The two women talked late into the night, sometimes laughing but mostly serious. Before long there was a pad of paper grabbed and notes being made. Not long thereafter, the laptop and tablet were fired up and both of them researched all the information they could find about mixed marriage adoptions, including agencies that specialized in vampire-human adoptions. The irony was not lost on either of them that it wasn't so long ago in the deep south, that mixed marriages used to be considered those of different races or in some cases, just religions… but now it had become about mixed 'species' so to speak.

By the time they called it a night Sookie was sure she wouldn't sleep a wink. Her mind was in overdrive as she considered all of the information she had to process. The thought that loomed largest though was how she was going to tell Bill she was sure she wanted a child. As she tossed and turned she thought about all the hurdles they'd face.

She flipped her pillow to the cool side, punched some air into it and flopped down on her back, blowing out a heavy sigh. There was a lot of different things to think about especially Bill's schooling. He would be coming up on finals soon and so she tried to decide if the revelation would affect him adversely or if it was plain old procrastination at work. Well, that was stupid as she mentally rolled her closed eyes… of course it was nothing but procrastination! Turning once more onto her side, she sighed yet again and knew she'd be needing a lot of coffee come morning.

In Bon Temps, Bill paused from the term paper he was writing and couldn't help but wonder what had his wife's mind so troubled… after a while though her thoughts calmed and he once more turned his attention back to rechecking his footnotes for accuracy.

XxXxX

Bill knew there was something on Sookie's mind but seeing as she didn't seem ready to spill yet, Bill had been diverting his curious thoughts by stalking his wife. It had been a while since he'd stalked her and while their love life was far from mundane he'd forgotten how exciting it could be… pouncing on her when she least expected it certainly brought both their bloods to boil and he was having a great time doing so.

Now that he was done with his classes for the time being, he was devoting himself to his lovely wife… as it happened, he was putting the finishing touches on a picnic to be served on the soft, big blanket under the stars. He had wine for her chilling in a bucket, some cheese with crackers and bite-sized cut fruit arranged under a lovely, old-fashioned oil lamp he discovered in the attic not long ago. Suspended from a Shepard's hook it cast a soft glow across the blanket without dulling the view of the night sky and the stars glimmering above.

Once he was sure it was perfect, he zipped back to the house to find his bride. Find her he did, her hands immersed in a sink full of 'delicates' that couldn't go in the washer, she wore no makeup, her hair was pulled up in a messy bun at the top of her head and she wore what she termed, "her rattiest" shorts and a paint stained t-shirt. 'God,' he marveled, 'she is so beautiful!' He scooped her up into his arms and she yelped with surprise and in a flash, he was depositing her gently on the blanket but not before kissing her soundly while undoing her hair.

Her face flushed with both surprise and adoration she cupped his face in her hands as they broke the kiss and she looked deeply into his blue eyes and whispered, "You scared me silly." She whispered.

"Did you mind?" he asked, his eyebrows arching.

"No."

"Good. Wine?"

Sookie reached down and stroked her hands along his thighs until she found his already responding self and whispered, "Later…"

XxXxX

Bill lay with one hand behind his head and the other around Sookie as she snuggled her head under his chin and said with a small sigh, "I'd forgotten how lovely it is to lay under the stars."

He tilted his head to kiss the crown of her head and spoke softly, "I know that I've been neglectful these last months, I'm sorry dearheart…"

"Nonsense," she muttered, "I knew what life was going to be like before you started your schooling… I didn't object to it and there isn't any reason for you to be apologizing."

Bill kissed the crown of her head and slowly ran her loose blond hair through his fingers and debated whether or not he should bring up her inner struggles as of late or not. While on one hand he thought it might be easier to get it off her chest if he asked. But on the other hand, he didn't know if she'd think it intrusive. If there was one drawback to Sookie's mindset at times like this, it was the not knowing of how she would feel about the question. Bill weighed the consequences in his head, through their blood bond he could feel how peaceful, contented and utterly sated she was at the moment, did he want to take the chance and change that? He was unsure so he stayed quiet for the moment. His lips curved upwards in a slight grin as he thought, 'you coward' before finally deciding to give it more time before jumping in feet first and ruining their moment under the stars. Instead, he brought her hand to his mouth and sensuously began to suck her fingers and nibble the pads of them one by one as Sookie moaned.

XxXxX

Much later, Bill carried a drowsy Sookie back to the house and put her gently on their bed. He swiftly returned to their star-gazing blanket, gathered their things together and returned to the house. He was surprised when he walked into the bedroom and saw that Sookie wasn't on the bed. Instead the soft scent of lavender filled the room and the sound of a gentle surf led his eyes to the slightly open bathroom door and the flicker of candlelight within.

He opened the door stepping inside and saw her waiting, naked and glistening in the warm water, the only thing that surprised him was that her face looked very serious. "Sookie?" he said as he undressed.

She held her arm towards him and said, "I need to tell you something."

For a split second, Bill wondered if he really wanted to know what had been weighing so heavily on her mind, as of late. But as he slid into the warm water and into her waiting arms he knew he was about to find out.

She slid herself around him so she was straddling him once he sat down. He saw her take a deep breath before she said quietly, "Bill, I've been going over this in my mind until I can't think straight so I'm just gonna say it… I want kids or you know, a kid or maybe two but uh… that's what I wanted to tell you." Her voice was barely a whisper when she finished speaking and he was surprised to see that she was blushing, not to mention not looking in his eyes.

For a moment Bill was expecting her to laugh at her joke but in that same instant he knew it wasn't a joke. He could feel her anxiety rolling over him in waves and he quickly wrapped his arms around her and held her tight, he could feel her heart thumping wildly against his chest as he quickly formed thoughts only to reject them before speaking.

Finally, he began kissing her neck and gently drew her body away from his so he could look into her warm, if not slightly wary, deep, milk-chocolate eyes. He found them luminous and wide as she waited for his response to her words. A smile made its way to his lips and he said, "Really my love? This is what you want?" His hands claimed her face and he moved forward to kiss her, slowly at first and then deepening the kiss, her tongue and his dancing, her body arching slightly forward on his lap and before he was truly aware himself, he felt a shift and his length slipped inside her and unbidden… she began to move slowly against him, a soft moan escaping her lips.

He took hold of her hips and held her to a slow, languorous rhythm as his lips traced tiny kisses on her throat, across her collarbone and finally to her breast where he licked her nipple making it harden beneath his tongue. As he moved to give the other a kiss his fangs snicked into place and Sookie gasped at the sound, arching herself so her breast pressed forward to his waiting lips. Her hips began to push against his hands, wanting to move faster, to engulf him completely but he held her steady and she moaned a single word… "Please."

His hands slid to her bottom and he kneaded her gently, all the while holding her to the cadence he set, his lips teased and she became enflamed and when he pressed his fangs carefully upon her throat and her breath hitched with excitement and yearning.

"Bill… oh baby please! I want to move!" her voice dripping with desire and want.

He felt her silken walls begin to tighten with anticipation and in an almost cruel move, withdrew from her, her voice issued forth a desperate, "No!"

But he simply spun her around so her back was tight against his chest. He impaled himself inside her and with one hand he cupped and kneaded her breasts and her responsive, highly-sensitized nipples while the other hand held her pelvic close, his fingers dancing and sliding around and across her most sensitive self and she moaned as he whispered, "Then move my darling… and come for me!"

Sookie cried out as Bill sank his teeth into her throat and her orgasm burst forth from her deepest depths as he pulled her blood hot and sweet into his mouth. When he swallowed he came deeply inside her with a force that surprised them both. They clung to one another as the shocks and shivers made each hyper-aware of the other… as Sookie's breath became calmer, Bill found himself feeling a range of emotion he'd not felt in a more than countless decades. He clung to her in the sweet-smelling water and his mind was filled with a single joyful and mesmerizing thought… "I'm going to be a father!"

Sometime later, Sookie and Bill lay side by side looking into each other's eyes as they discussed the future plans for their child or children. Sookie was quite ecstatic when Bill told her emphatically that he could not wait to be a father again, so for the rest of the night they talked about different options. Insemination of Sookie's eggs and a surrogate sperm donor, donor embryos, adoption… it all factored in and out of their conversation long after the sun rose.

Bill had been quite shocked by Sookie when she said almost shyly, "You know I don't ever want to be turned right?" As her hands stroked softly down his cheek, her eyes filled with sincerity and perhaps a wee bit of worry.

"Of course, I do darling, may I ask why you felt the need to ask that?" Bill really was confused by it but he spoke gently and gave her a warm smile.

"Well, I was thinking that it would be something kind of special in a way… I mean, I'll grow old and someday pass away but our child or children," she grinned, Bill kept reminding her more than one was just as acceptable as just having one. "And well, they would still always have you… you could be there for them for generations to come. I just thought you should know that you can have with them what you lost because you were turned."

Bill had been, quite frankly, floored by Sookie's logic certainly but more so he knew now why she'd been so preoccupied with the whole idea. She really had apparently thought of everything before finally bringing the subject up with him. He kissed her lightly on the tip of her nose, told her he loved her more than he could ever express. It was there, warm in their big bed, they finally began drifting off. Sookie's thoughts were filled with the possibilities ahead of them and Bill dropped off with his mind's eye showing him a child that looked like Sookie's baby pictures… they definitely had to use Sookie's eggs, he knew without a doubt that the child had to be her own if she were to carry it. It didn't take long before they both fell asleep with smiles on their faces.

XxXxX

Sookie got up about three in the afternoon and had to fight her desire to go back to bed once up. She made her way to the kitchen and made coffee and while it brewed she thought about the conversation with Bill about kids. She shook her head slightly as she thought about all the second-guessing she'd put herself through trying to figure out how to tell Bill about wanting a child. He couldn't have been more enthusiastic or happy in her wildest dreams. She wasn't sure about one thing though and she assumed it was largely because he wasn't sure himself yet… but she'd had the distinct impression that he was letting his thoughts on the surrogacy thing, be led by her suggestions rather than voicing his.

If she had to guess, she thought he would prefer the embryo to be half hers or that either way, she would carry the child. It wasn't anything specific he'd said or done but considering how excited he'd been about the idea she wouldn't think it surprising. And while she had certainly considered it a legitimate point, she had to decide for herself what she was inclined to do. She grabbed a mug from the cupboard fixed her first cup and walked out onto the porch. She sat in one of the big rockers and listened to the 'noisy' quiet around her.

She took note of the birdsong and watched the wind as it fluttered the leaves, catching the light scent of flowers and fresh cut hay here and there. She sipped her coffee and thought about their options… there was obviously something quite special and completely amazing when it came to carrying a child. Of course, at the same time there was something miserable and annoying about carrying a child. That made her grin wickedly. Swollen feet, ponderous belly, stretch marks, not to mention the terrible stories she'd heard about labor and delivery over the years!

That was undoubtedly a daunting task to take on, she also had to consider her age. Granted, she wasn't that old but neither was she a twenty-something either. She knew from the past few years that it was easier to add a bit of weight during the food rich and plentiful bounty of the holidays and while it didn't take a supreme effort to tone herself, it did take a bit more effort than it used to. She tried to envision herself pregnant and she suddenly giggled as visions of pickles and chocolate malts swam through her mind.

She swallowed the last of her coffee and went back inside to get a fresh cup. She suddenly had a dismaying moment… if she carried the baby she couldn't drink coffee! Maybe she had been wrong about Bill wanting her to have the baby over adopting… 'One can only hope' she thought to herself with a grin. Stretch marks and being unable to see her feet was now a mere, and frankly, a tiny inconvenience when she compared it to nine months without caffeine. Granted, she shuddered at the thought but her face never once lost its happy and joyful smile.

XxXxX

Two days later, a string of heavy storms and tornados tore through parts of Louisiana and Alabama. There was seemingly no end to the damage done and Sookie wasn't the least bit surprised when Rose called and asked her if she could step in as they were overwhelmed with claims. Sookie agreed immediately and promised to get to Shreveport as soon as she could. As nearly an afterthought; she asked Rose if Tara could come along. Sookie had been pumping Tara up, getting through her friend's thick skull that she was more than capable to work for Mr. Garth's company. Rose asked Joe and he said, "Absolutely!" they had been hoping for some time that Tara would consider coming to work for them. So, in an instant, all the pieces fell into perfect alignment.

Sookie had convinced Tara that she could handle the job even without Sookie's mind reading abilities and now here was a chance to show her. A quick phone call to Tara; five minutes' worth of packing, ten to get Bill coherent enough to understand she was leaving and why, then Sookie was in her car and on her way to pick up Tara and head out. Sookie had to admit, barring the damage and the families this natural disaster had preyed upon aside, she felt a certain excitement about the coming days. She had not realized how much she missed this chapter of her life and that was going to have to be a point of discussion when she returned. But for the moment, her immediate goal was to get to where she was needed and help anyone she could.

XxXxX

Tara was a little freaked out when she discovered they would be taking a helicopter to the area they would be working in. She had been nervous the first time she'd flown when they'd gone to Hawaii, and a helicopter seemed much worse. Once inside though and with Sookie's talking to her as they left the ground behind, she got over it quickly. Once they got to northern Georgia they began to see the utter devastation from the air and both women were silent.

Sookie had all the files they would be handling and had gone over them with Tara during the flight. Sookie had made Tara feel very confident in her ability to handle what they were going to do. Now, looking at the tornado's vicious path of debris from above, Tara was not so sure she was as ready as Sookie believed.

As they came down, Sookie muttered, "Oh wonderful."

"What?" Tara looked at a couple of people that seemed to be waiting for them to touch down.

"Oh, that's John Ranthum, he replaced me when I left and he is more than just a little pissed about my being here."

"You can tell that from here?" Tara said her eyes wide with surprise.

"He's a very loud thinker so just follow my lead okay?"

With a movement so smooth Tara had thought them still off the ground but the ground crew personnel ducked and ran to the door unlatching it and holding it open for them to get out. Even though she and Sookie were only about two or three inches over five feet tall tops, she followed the suggestion that they walk away from the aircraft bent over. As they cleared the rotors and finally stood straight, Tara felt a bit of a thrill as the helicopter lifted off. As the noise and rotor wash faded away she turned her attention toward Sookie as Sookie walked up to the people waiting there.

Sookie extended her hand and Tara noted that Sookie wore her best smile as she shook hands with Ranthum. He introduced them to his assistant, Carla and Sookie introduced Tara. Sookie then turned to John and said, "These are the files Rose gave me," she held out a clipboard with the overall list of clients to him and said, "where do you want us to start?"

He took the list and scanned it but Tara and Carla both saw the moment of surprise on his face when Sookie had deferred to him. Tara knew instantly that Sookie was shining him on because of what his thoughts were and Tara secretly marveled over Sookie's ability to make the best of what could have been a contentious beginning to task at hand.

Ego intact, John scanned the list and said, "This looks good, I would start at the hospital where the Mackenzie's are… they are an older couple and both were injured badly, and I think they should be a priority." He handed the list back to Sookie and asked, "You have your GPS?"

Sookie nodded and he reached into his jacket, pulled out a set of car keys and pointed to a small SUV parked nearby. He then handed her a walkie-talkie and told her that some cell towers were down so if all else failed they could be in contact if need be. With a nod and a quick smile, he turned away but then turned around again. "I almost forgot, I managed to get you a room at another small motel… I'm sorry you won't be with our group and you'll have to double up," he shrugged slightly, handing Sookie a slip of paper with an address on it. "There are a lot of folks around who don't have homes anymore so getting even a single room was a feat."

"Thank you, John, that was wonderful of you to do that for us." John once again seemed startled before he turned abruptly and walked toward his own SUV waving a hand over his head before getting in and driving away.

"Bastard." Sookie said and rolled her eyes. "C'mon, we've got to find the hospital. You drive and I'll call Rose on the way, that asshole put us up at the worst place around."

Tara laughed and said, "So you showed the guy some respect, so-to-speak, and he gives us shit in return? Well, that fucking sucks. And just out of curiosity, what was up with asking him about how to work from the list?"

"Simple, I got him out of 'attack and undermine' mode. He thinks I deferred to him, so at least this way he feels like the hotshot and I'm free to do my own thing."

"So, you already knew we'd be going to the hospital first."

"Absolutely, but this way he thinks he told me what to do, so in his unbelievably large, yet pea-brained ego he will now leave me to my own devices because he is expecting me to fail seeing as I had to ask him where to start."

With that they got into the SUV and mapped out the road to the hospital and while Tara drove, Sookie talked to Rose about better accommodations. By the time Tara pulled up as close as they could get to the entrance, Sookie hung up and happily told Tara, "Wait until you see where we're gonna be staying!"

A few hours later, they'd been in contact with four clients out of the nine they had been assigned and Tara was amazed. She'd always heard the phrase, "Hit the ground running" and now she knew the definition should have a picture of Sookie beside it. She was startled when her stomach growled long and hard and was glad they were in the car and not with people.

Sookie glanced at her watch and said, "No wonder we're hungry! It's nearly 7:00!" they'd been there for almost nine hours and Tara also felt fatigue sliding through her. Since she was driving she asked Tara if she should find a place to eat or go back to their place and cook something there. Tara opted for their place and secretly Sookie was glad. She was beginning to run on empty herself so she drove to the motel that John had booked.

Sookie had asked Rose for a camper if possible, explaining the circumstances. So, she wasn't even slightly surprised to see a large RV parked in the lot. She sighed and parked beside it. A young man who had been sitting in a car in front of it, got out and greeted Sookie while handing over the keys to the RV that was likely the same size as the ones used by celebrities and bands on tour. Tara was too tired to even marvel at it she just saw that it was amazing and better still… had a refrigerator filled with enough food and drink to feed an army, and a note telling them that dinner was warming in the oven.

Ten minutes later, they were digging into the best Shepard's pie they'd ever eaten and laying out the battle plan for the next day. Once done, both retired to their own 'rooms' after saying good-night and agreeing on a time to get an early start. Tara wasn't surprised at all to discover her things had been unpacked and after a moment she stripped to her underwear and slid under the sumptuous Egyptian cotton sheets and comforter and went out like a light.

XxXxX

Over the coming days, Sookie and Tara worked twelve to fourteen hours a day. Neither of them minded though because they managed to get displaced families what they needed to rebuild, fix or simply cleaned up so they could move back into their homes by the end of the second day. They moved one family of six into the RV with the two of them and when Sookie and Tara finally headed back home, the family remained in the RV until their home was rebuilt. Halfway through the first day, Tara had decided she did indeed want to make this a permanent job.

Of course, returning home wasn't as urgent so instead of the helicopter, they flew home on one of Mr. Garth's private jets. Tara said she'd enjoyed being spoiled because certainly her next job assignment wouldn't be so special without Sookie there to get her privileged travel and accommodations. Sookie just laughed already knowing that Joe and Rose would treat Tara like her very own sister. Besides, Mr. Garth loved Tara and they'd had many lively conversations and debates over the years, so Sookie was sure Tara would have at least a few perk's others may not.

During the flight, they talked about Sookie and Bill's decision to have a child. At the moment, Sookie was about 90% sure she would carry the child but was still torn about the whole harvesting eggs thing. Tara dismissed some of Sookie's concerns but laughingly agreed the ban on caffeine was a serious consideration for the plus side of surrogacy. By the time they returned to Bon Temps, the decision had been made, at least as far as Sookie was concerned. Her eggs, her pregnancy… it was time for Bill and Sookie to find a doctor.

XxXxX

A few months later, Bill found himself being wrenched from rest yet again, discerning that Sookie wasn't in the bedroom he groaned in frustration. He was awash in Sookie's emotions and he knew that he would have the bleeds later and that meant taking donor blood again. Not to mention him having to reassure his lovely wife that these things happened to every vampire from time to time.

The truth was more along the lines of Bill never knowing what version of, "Name that Raging Hormone" he would be dealing with on any given day or night. He scrubbed his hands down his face and glanced at the clock… mid-afternoon, with luck she wouldn't come in to see if she'd woken him. He sighed and reached for the novel he was reading.

He would be happy once the eggs were harvested and they could move on to in vitro fertilization and the implantation in Sookie's womb. Although, both Jason and Terry had cautioned him not to get too comfortable once Sookie was with child. The truth was simply that anytime hormones were involved, so were the emotional ups and downs. Bill shuddered just a little… Sookie could be as touchy as nitroglycerin with PMS but since starting the reproductive therapy medications, she could be downright scary!

Bill had tried to recall what Caroline's pregnancies had been like but it was so far in the past he remembered little. Of course, back then no woman would have dared to act in such a way to her husband…especially knowing it could earn her a good, sound spanking. Bill's mouth turned up with a crooked grin, if he ever tried to spank Sookie like the olden days, she'd probably stake him. No, he would survive this for one reason and one reason only… Sookie wanted a baby and Bill wasn't about to deny her.

He had to admit, he was getting pretty excited by the thought too. He thought how interesting it was that Sookie was so set on a boy while he was hoping for a girl. A sweet, soft, doe-eyed little girl with her mother's face and smile. Bill tossed the book aside and closed his eyes, Sookie had calmed over whatever it was that set her off in the first place and Bill was so tired he immediately began to slip into sleep. He dreamt of a golden-haired child and Sookie was rocking her gently on one of the big porch rockers, her face soft and gentle in the moonlight.

XxXxX

Sookie had never been as aware of her body as she was just then. She was lying on the sofa with her feet up on pillows and a new book in her hands. She knew she was being silly but she kept lowering the book and scanning her belly. She'd had the embryo implanted two days ago and she still couldn't believe it. It had been an interesting week or so, first the harvest, then fertilization after producing embryos, and finally five days later they had returned to the clinic where a single embryo was implanted. It had been an interesting discussion with both the doctor and Bill. They had worked on the best-case scenario, with a 5-day single embryo transfer. Even though the rate for multiple births wasn't a given with more than one transfer, Sookie was content with trying just one.

But she couldn't get past the wonder of it all… right now in her remarkably flat tummy, a child was growing. She squinted a little trying to imagine her stomach rising as the baby grew and; in a move many women before had done, she stood, stuffed a pillow under her shirt and looked at herself in the reflection of the window. She jumped a little when Bill slid his arms around her and caressing the pillow said, "I didn't know in vitro was also meant an amazingly fast pregnancy too."

Embarrassed, Sookie pulled away, her face growing hot and pink and pulled the pillow out and threw it on the sofa. Bill however, wasn't going to let her be troubled by it though. He gently turned her in his arms and tilted her chin upwards so he could place soft kisses on her face, her eyelids, and her lips as softly as a whisper of breeze. "I love you so much Sookie, and I will love you even more as our child grows within you." He murmured.

Sookie sighed and allowed him to hold her head lightly to his chest, "Yeah, we'll see what you have to say when I gain fifty pounds, can't see my own feet and polish off a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting."

Bill chuckled and Sookie smiled broadly as she pulled back to look at him. He bumped his forehead to hers and looked into her eyes, "What kind of ice cream?"

"What? Wait… what do you mean?" her brows furrowed in confusion and she pulled away from him to look him in the face.

"Well, if you're going to gain fifty pounds, I prefer it when you eat mint or praline pecan… they make your blood taste so much sweeter than just vanilla." He said with a straight face. He couldn't hold it though and cracked a smile.

"Oh Bill!" she grinned then pulled out of his embrace and returned to her place on the sofa with Bill sitting also, then taking her feet into his lap. She groaned slightly as he began to rub them adding, "You realize of course that you will be doing this at least once a day for the rest of the pregnancy, right?"

"Gladly my darling," he lifted on leg and kissed the top of her foot, then sucked her big toe. Sookie giggled, and rolled her eyes but he could feel her surge of love and contentment all but consume him.

Sadly, five weeks later Sookie miscarried and he was unsure if she would ever recover from the loss.

The Final Chapter

It had been a hard few weeks for both Bill and Sookie. The miscarriage had been hard, even forewarned that it was a possibility with IVF, it didn't keep it from being a true emotional blow. At first, Sookie had been calm, resigned and seemed to toss off the grief by acknowledging it and moving on.

Or so she believed.

Bill knew better and what had been the biggest clue beside their blood bond was her uneasiness to return to a physical relationship. Bill knew very well that it would take time and he did nothing to push the point, but he could feel her distance even when she herself snugged her body close to his so she could fall asleep in his arms. She dreamt a lot and Bill knew they weren't pleasant dreams because Sookie was beginning to look haggard with deep purple circles beneath her eyes and little or no spark in those soft chocolate eyes.

A quick check of their home security footage showed him that her days were spent pacing the house like a caged panther and her nights were spent tossing about and dreaming things that were far from peaceful. It was about six weeks after the loss that she tentatively showed interest in him sexually, and he could tell she wasn't sure if it was what she wanted or not. Bill wasn't quite sure just why but she was hesitant and jumpy and even being as gentle as he could be, they completed the act but it saddened Bill when he felt her relief afterward.

The next night, she came to bed rubbing her hand cream into her hands and sat cross-legged on the bed beside him where he'd been propped up and reading a book. She took a deep breath and started to speak, she stuttered a little and blew a mouthful of air upward, puffing out her hair. He gave her his undivided attention as he felt her swirling emotions.

"Babe, uh… I think I want to go to Halé Nohea." She finally got out.

"Well, call Greg in the morning and have him get the plane ready, should we go tomorrow night?" Bill knew she preferred his being awake during the long flight and he was surprised when she blushed and stammered.

"I was ah, sort of thinking of going by myself." She flickered her eyes up to his, then back to her fingers as they picked at some nonexistent piece of lint on the bedding.

Bill wondered briefly if he should feel upset at this but then decided it was probably for the best. He reached over and gently put two fingers under his wife's chin, tilting her head up so he could meet her eyes.

"I think that is a wonderful idea, go enjoy the sun my darling…" He slid his hand to cup her cheek and she pressed her face into his hand, smiling a little before he leaned forward and brushed her lips with his. A moment later she untangled her legs and they made love; slowly, achingly tender and this time he felt Sookie's desire and need when she exploded around him rather than relief that it was over with.

XxXxX

Sookie lay on the chaise lounge and felt the warmth of the sun permeating into her very bone marrow. This had turned out to be the right choice and she knew it the moment she arrived… the soothing sound of the surf seemed to pull away all the sadness and sense of loss out of her mind. She'd been fooling herself by thinking she had handled everything fine.

But the second night there, on their beach, she was able to truly move past the loss… and she'd done so with a simple helium balloon at dusk. Earlier in the day, she'd gone to her favorite roadside fruit stand and they'd had a bunch of them tied to one of the posts. She hadn't set out to do it but she remembered something she'd read many years ago about dealing with the loss of a baby and she bought a yellow one that was shiny and pearly looking.

Then as the sun set, she stood in the surf… the warm water whispering softly over her feet and with tears coursing down her cheeks she said goodbye to the tiny life that she'd held so briefly and opened her hand. She watched the balloon rise and watched it until she couldn't see it anymore and for the first time in weeks she felt normal again.

XxXxX

Sookie spent the rest of the week reading books and working on her tan. Once it was at least a shade darker she began sitting under the dome Bill used. She'd gotten a bit smarter about tanning but it still was hard… she couldn't help but hear her Gran's voice hollering about frying like a corn fritter every time she did oil herself up in the sun. The dome was her saving grace… she'd been out here for close to five hours and had almost finished her book all while soaking up the sun with no chance of a painful sunburn. Demon or not… God bless Mr. Garth and his awesome inventions!

Sometime later she finished her book and made her way up to the house, she dished up a bowl of cut fruit, everything fresh and mouthwateringly perfect, dumped a container of vanilla yogurt over it, sprinkled some granola on top of that and carried it poolside. She sat at the glass table beneath the umbrella and looked out at the incredible view. There was a slight breeze and it carried the luscious scents of the flowers around her, she closed her eyes and breathed it in as she chewed.

She continued to eat and contemplated her future, their future she thought to herself, she wasn't alone in this desire for a child. Her biggest decision at the moment was whether to try it again and when. Part of her thought it was too soon but the other, more deeply felt emotion, was to do it as soon as she returned. It was for that reason that she hadn't made arrangements to go back to Bon Temps yet. She wanted her mind to be clear and her thoughts sensible before deciding.

She'd been speaking to Bill for hours on end from Halé Nohea each night and it had been almost four days before she told him about the balloon. He'd been moved to the point of tears and she'd asked him if he was angry that she'd not included him, and he'd assured her that he was not. In fact, he'd been relieved that she'd found a way to come to grips with their loss, although he didn't say that for fear of offending her. Through these late-night conversations Bill was reminded of their early days together… when they'd spent hours on the phone talking about everything and nothing in particular and Bill was happy because he knew he finally had his wife back… happy and healthy and he had little doubt that she'd be back home with him soon.

XxXxX

She returned to Bon Temps four days later and he met the plane in Shreveport. They were so starved for one another they went directly to the apartment and after making love to him until she slept through the shower they took together. He laid her gently on the bed, combed out her hair and slid in beside her. She'd told him she wanted to try again and she planned on making the appointment for two weeks from her return. She was so happy and so relaxed about it that he too was caught up in the excitement.

Sookie underwent the procedure but the pregnancy test routinely given a few weeks later was negative. They were saddened but after another three months they tried again only to be disappointed yet again. The doctor had explained that this was not an uncommon occurrence but it didn't make the disenchantment of the situation any less painful.

They made the difficult choice to take a step back from further procedures for an indefinite time period and one night in the gazebo they held each other close and cried. Once that was out of their systems, they began to talk about adoption. There were a number of options but there was also a number of hurdles. Vampire adoptions was still new territory and unfortunately, in Louisiana, it was not yet legal. The only chance they had thus far was that Hawaii did have the law allowing vampire adoptions.

Even that was not a slam-dunk. They would have to change their legal residence to Hawaii and they would have to be residents for a year before they could even file with adoption agencies there. Sookie and Bill were both stressed to the max and while both were thinking it, neither wanted to be the one to suggest they give up the idea of having kids altogether.

The stress fueled minor skirmishes and one or two full blown fights as each danced around the choice they knew must be made. After one particularly nasty squabble, Sookie slept very defiantly in one of the non-vampire friendly bedrooms and the next morning decided to spend a few days in Shreveport. Tara was there while she was learning the ins and outs of her new position and Sookie needed to get away from Bill before they really hurt each other with words they didn't mean.

She went to the bedroom to wake him to tell him where she was going but she found him awake. She explained her thoughts and wasn't surprised when he kissed her passionately, told he was sorry, that he loved her and that going to Shreveport was a good idea. She also apologized, kissed him back just as passionately and crawled up onto their big bed and pulled at his t-shirt and sleep pants as he ripped her clothes from her body with equal ardor.

In a few seconds, she straddled him, sinking down on his rigid length with a deep moan, their coupling was animalistic as she snapped her hips in a frenzied rhythm. His fangs snicked into place and he suckled her breasts purposely leaving tiny punctures that welled up with single, ruby-red drops of blood. Sookie gasped as he flicked his tongue across them and Sookie dug her nails deeply into the back of his neck, before she grasped his upper arms and leaned back as far as she could… riding him, engulfing him as deeply as was possible. She could feel him pounding up to meet her and just when she thought she'd never get there, he pulled her to him and sank his fangs almost cruelly into her throat and she screamed over and over as her orgasm tore through her.

She had no idea how long they had lain there before Bill punctured the tip of his finger and healed the marks on her throat and breasts. He had cuddled her close to him once her breathing had returned to normal and they simply laid there, each certain there were no hostility between them any longer.

Her fingertips softly stroked his chest hair and she whispered, "You're going to get the bleeds."

Bill kissed the top of her head and she heard his soft chuckle in his chest before he said, "I think I'll be fine… I, uh, drank pretty deeply." His brows furrowed at the thought and he moved the two of them so he could look at her face, "Maybe you shouldn't drive to Shreveport."

She smiled warmly and said, "I'll be fine…" He frowned a little, "but when I get up if I feel weak I'll wait 'til morning okay?"

He kissed the tip of her nose and smiled back. "Deal." She snuggled back into his arms and they slipped into easy sleep.

When Sookie woke about an hour later she stretched like a cat and looked lovingly at her sleeping husband. She softly brushed a lock of hair from his forehead and smiled… she was still so in love with this man. She moved to the edge of the bed and as she stood she felt a slight dizziness but it passed quickly. She took a shower and got ready to leave, the last thing she did was write a love note leaving it on the pillow next to him, then brushed his lips with a kiss, left the bedroom and headed to Shreveport.

XxXxX

Not surprisingly by the time Sookie stepped off the elevator, John waited to greet her at her door. Sookie gave him a big hug and kissed his cheek and he blushed crimson but his smile was a mile wide. He took the cloth grocery bags she carried from her while she unlocked the door. They chatted while she put the food in the fridge, a big bowl full of marinating teriyaki shrimp with mushrooms, sweet peppers, onion and tomatoes, then pouring them each a large glass of sweet tea they went out onto the patio. Sookie had created her own little Eden on her balcony albeit perhaps one-tenth of what Mr. Garth had, but still, she loved it. She'd not realized how much until she saw it.

John heard Tara before Sookie did and made to leave but Sookie talked him into staying for dinner, Tara joined them on the balcony and they sat outside and enjoyed the early evening. Sookie fired up the grill and before long she had the shrimp kabobs skewered and laid out on the grill. John stayed for a half an hour after dinner before insisting that he had work to do and after he left, Sookie and Tara stayed on the patio talking.

"So… how's it going with Bill and you? Still pissed?"

Sookie couldn't help but grin wickedly and roll her eyes as Tara just shook her head and laughed, "Well, I guess that's a good thing but why'd you still come if y'all aren't still fighting?"

"Well, we ah, worked things out but the problem isn't exactly resolved," Sookie sighed deeply. "Aw Tara, I just don't know what to do… I mean, I should just be happy with what I have and just you know, devote all my attention on Colton and Chase and be happy with that."

"Whoa! What?! What the fuck, Sook?! You're just gonna stop because of a few set-backs?!"

"Calm down." She said in a whisper and with that two-word sentence, Sookie's world fell apart. She started to cry and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't rein it in and her tears turned into gulping, hiccupping sobs and Tara could have kicked herself for not being more sensitive to her best friend's misery and heightened emotional status. She finally got Sookie inside and to her bedroom and onto the bed, then got a warm washcloth and wiped Sookie's tears away. As Sookie calmed, Tara's mind raced trying to come up with something, anything to pull Sookie out of her heartache.

"Hey, did I tell ya' they gave me your old office? Yeah, no shit… no cubicle farm for this hard workin' girl!"

Sookie's smile while a tad watery, was still genuine and she wormed her way into a sitting position on the bed, her mind already focusing on Tara's news. "I knew it! They love you, didn't I tell you they would? I'm so glad for you Tara and this isn't because of me, either."

"Oh Sookie, of course it's because of you!" Tara said a big smile lighting up her face. "I know they probably wouldn't have hired me on their own."

"Tara, that's complete bullshit and you know it! Bob loves you and he's not one to suffer fools. Why do you think he loves talking with you so much when we have lawn parties and barbeques? Hell, one of the first thing he usually asks me when he arrives is if you're there yet!"

Tara was grinning from ear to ear as she contemplated this bit of information and Sookie wiped her face with the washcloth. "What do you say we go to a late movie?"

"Deal. But no slasher flicks or nuthin'." Tara said as she stood.

"Why?" Sookie asked a little surprised considering how they had loved them when they were younger.

"Because after all we've dealt with since those damn vamps came out? Those movies are utterly boring now."

Sookie pondered that for a moment and said, "Good point… we should see if there's like another multiple sequel to I don't know Rocky or something."

"Yeah… Rocky 17, 'Rocky struggles back to the ring after his latest hip replacement." That made Sookie laugh out loud and a little while later they left the apartment to attend an oldie but a goodie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show complete with water pistols, newspapers and all the other odds and ends to make it one of the original, interactive experiences.

XxXxX

The next day, Sookie met Rose for lunch and it was wonderful, so wonderful in fact, that Rose called Joe to tell him she was taking the rest of the afternoon off. He quickly countered that the only way that would fly was if Sookie came to the house for dinner so he could spend some time with her too. Sookie agreed and they invited Tara too bit she declined because Mike was coming to Shreveport. After leaving the restaurant, they went for a walk through a lovely park and were enjoying the beautiful day when Rose finally raised the question Sookie had been waiting for.

Rose slipped her arm through Sookie's and said with sincerity rich in her tone, "I understand if you feel this is none of my business but, you've been so melancholy lately that I've been hesitant to ask what is going on but I just can't keep worrying about you. You realize you can tell me anything my dear, right?"

Sookie walked along slowly, her eyes on her feet while forming what wanted to say. She looked up and saw a table under a towering magnolia tree and steered them toward it. They sat down and the simple and concise things she had intended to say turned into a breech in a dam and everything spilled out and it seemed like the flood would never stop. She explained her ache, her fears, and her question on whether or not to continue to try or face up to the fact that it just wasn't meant to be and be done with it.

Rose listened carefully, all the while holding Sookie's hand gently in her own and when Sookie finally paused, she quietly soothed Sookie with her sympathy and acknowledged the pain and loss Sookie had been dealing with. Then she said, "Have you truly considered changing your residency to Hawaii to start an adoption process? I think that would be a consideration before giving up completely or is that just not something you want to do?"

Sookie sighed and said, "Yes, we have discussed it a lot but one thing it would unfortunately do is set Bill's schooling back by quite a bit. Sure, the online stuff is still perfectly fine but a bulk of the major classes are the ones he takes in Shreveport and more importantly the classes held in New Orleans. Those wouldn't be available to him if we lived in Hawaii. Of course, we thought he'd just stay here but that wouldn't work for residency guidelines per the adoption regulations. We checked… he has to be in Hawaii physically because they do regular compliance checks."

Rose frowned slightly, "That seems a bit harsh."

"That's what I thought so I researched it. They have to be so strict because they're one of the few States that has the law and people were trying to get around the requirements. So, it boils down to Bill putting off most of his class load for a minimum of two semesters and then there's the undeniable reality that we won't get a child as soon as we meet the criteria. It could be months or even years! So yeah… it's going to require some substantial sacrifices in our lives.”

Rose nodded, "Please don't be angry my dear but don't you think he would be willing to do so out of his sheer love for you? For the family, you want to create for the two of you?"

Sookie's eyes shimmered with unshed tears as she whispered, "Yes, I know he'd do that but what if he decides it's too steep a price at some point down the road? Rose, he wants to be a doctor of psychology so he can continue to do what he discovered brought him such joy. Aileana aside, he loved doing what he did. Rose if you could have seen how happy it made him… do you know that of all the other vampires he helped keep in contact? They come and spend weekends with us, vacations… there have been some pretty huge accomplishments and Bill is the catalyst that brought them about! How can I take that desire and sense of accomplishment away from him? How do I deny him that?"

Rose was quiet for a moment, thinking about what Sookie had said before saying, "I see your point my dear but are you sure there isn't a way to work around the residency requirement?"

Sookie used her fingers to wipe away a tear that had spilled over before sighing heavily and saying, "Nope. The requirements are set in stone. If they do a check, and we're not there? It's a heavy black mark against us and if it happens twice, they suspend our petition indefinitely. There's little chance to circumvent the system in regards to adoption."

"Yes, there's always a catch isn't there?" Rose said softly.

"The thing is, I know Bill would do it without question… I want a child, he wants to see that we get one. He's genuinely thrilled about our having a child, but for as much as he wants that, I feel exactly that way about his degree! I mean, how do I make him put all that aside?" Sookie's shoulders sagged a bit as she turned her eyes to Rose. "And therein lies the rub… we both want to see our way to mutual happiness but we can't do both at the same time."

Rose reached out and squeezed Sookie's hand and gave her a soft smile, "I'm sure there's something that can be done my dear, it's just finding that one piece of the puzzle that will solve everything. Trust me honey… it'll work out. Look, let's go shopping and we can spend away some of the problem!"

Sookie burst out laughing and grinned, "Yeah, a little retail therapy sounds perfect! Besides, I've got to get some new shorts anyway."

Rose noticed the pale blush that suddenly colored Sookie's face and smiled broadly, ah yes… superhuman strength had its downsides, then she linked her arm through Sookie's and said, "New shorts it is…"

XxXxX

A few days later Sookie was cleaning house, dancing around and singing along with her mp3 and making short work of her chores. She wanted everything out of the way so she could spend time with Bill tonight, she decided that she wanted to go to the lake seeing as they hadn't gone skinny-dipping in a while and she was in the mood for some romantic relaxation.

As she put away her vacuum cleaner, she noticed the cemetery tote and decided that was something she could do before she laid down for a nap. She grabbed it, filled the buckets with soapy and clear water and made her way down to talk to Gran.

Once there, she clipped the grass, pulled weeds and explained the hold she'd placed on their attempts to have a child. She spoke about her frustration and also the feeling of sorrow each time an attempted pregnancy failed. She rinsed off the stone and sat back in the grass, surprised when she said, "I guess it was the choice I made the day I married Bill, wasn't it?" A soft breeze lifted her hair away from the nape of her neck and for a split-second, it felt like a soft, gentle hand caressed it and Sookie smiled and felt at peace. It was time to move on and make Colton and Chase the two most spoiled nephews in Bon Temps.

That night as they swam in the warm water of the lake, Sookie told Bill what she'd decided and he accepted her choice. He could tell her mind was at peace and that was good enough for him but he still felt a little sad knowing there wouldn't be a child to share their life with.

Little did they know just how much that choice was going to impact their lives in the very near future.

XxXxX

The following evening Bill was enjoying a new vampire dish Sookie had prepared; while she contented herself with homemade ginger, cashew stir-fry chicken in the chef's quality wok he'd got her for Christmas. As they ate they debated hosting either a 4th of July bar-b-que or just having a basic get-together some other weekend in the coming summer weeks ahead, just for the heck of it. They were still discussing it when they took their dishes to the kitchen and cleaned up.

Bill put away leftovers and Sookie loaded the dishwasher, he closed the fridge and popped up to sit on the counter. Sookie closed the dishwasher and looked at her hubby with curiosity. He reached out his hand, took hers and pulled her to him so that she stood between his open legs. He tucked a stray hair behind her ear and kissed the tip of her nose. It made her smile and just as she was going to ask him what he was up to, he bent his head until their foreheads touched, their eyes mere millimeters apart.

"I've been thinking," Bill began. "We need to do something different. We're in a rut."

A cautious smile spread across Sookie's face and she said, "What do you have in mind?" she asked as she curled her arms around Bill's body. This definitely had her full attention and she couldn't wait to see where he was going with this.

"I've been thinking that we should go on vacation." Bill moved forward and off the counter, took her hand and led her into the living room. He sat down on one of the comfortable sofas, settling her on his lap, keeping his arms around her.

"Well, do you want me to call Greg? We can be at Halé Nohea by this time tomorrow."

"Dearheart, that's just the thing I mean about being in a rut or the lack of a better term. We need to take a vacation, go somewhere we've never been, do something we've never done before."

At his words, she frowned slightly. "Well, like what? Sailing? The Caribbean? Well, that's pretty limited. What?" She seemed genuinely perplexed as to his suggestion.

"Well, I know you've always wanted to go back to Alaska…"

Sookie snorted a bit of a laugh. "Sorry babe but going to a place where the sun goes down for about ten minutes a day right now wouldn't be a whole lot of fun for you, but forget that… something set this idea in motion what kind of things were you thinking about?"

"I was thinking about maybe going to Europe. There are a lot more places that cater to both vampires and humans. Some of the greatest gems in Europe are now open at night, the Louvre, the vineyards of Italy… its beautiful Sookie my love and I want to see it with you! Think of it… Madrid, Amsterdam, Rome, Monte Carlo best of all? Paris. It's called the City of Lights for a reason, you know."

"Sookie, we can go anywhere! Norway, Finland, Germany, Switzerland; any country you want or cities…"

Sookie gently place two fingers over Bill's lips to silence him. She could barely breathe; Bill's face was so animated and hopeful that it felt like her heart was about to burst.

"I can't wait but just how long to you want to be away?"

"That's entirely up to you, weeks, a month… We could be gone the entire summer if you want!" Bill's eyes were almost snapping with hot blue sparks of excitement.

Sookie couldn't help to be caught up in his enthusiasm. The idea of seeing Paris or Monte Carlo seemed both overwhelming and at the same time she felt a deep longing to do exactly that with no holds barred.

"Well, I guess we can't go too close to some of the Scandinavian areas because of the summer issues, but… Well, where do you want to go?" As Bill was about to speak she held her hand up to stop his response before he could answer.

"Wait! I want to amend that question, you tell me oh, let's say three places to consider and I'll choose from those." He again began to speak when she said, "I'm not done yet!" He sighed heavily and she gave him a dirty look and that made him smile. "I know you've had ample time to circumnavigate the world so I guess a better question would probably be, where would you like to return to the most?"

He kissed the tip of her nose again and slid his long fingers into her hair, resting them at the back of her neck. "Well, contrary to your beliefs I haven't been 'everywhere' in the world but I do have some favorites I'd love you to consider."

"Go on," she prompted.

"Okay, in no particular order mind you, Greece, France, Italy, Rome, Monte Carlo... But dearheart, we can do one or all or go anyplace else you'd like to see."

A small frown line formed between Sookie's eyebrows and a dark cloud seemed to slip across her eyes before she raised them to look into Bill's eyes.

"Babe, why do you want to do this all of a sudden? I mean, the real reason, not the excuse of 'we're in a rut'." Sookie wasn't sure if she really wanted to know but it suddenly seemed extremely important that she did. Before she could track the movement, she found herself sitting on their bed with Bill's laptop in front of her and her face being held gently in his hands.

"Darling, I want to do this for two reasons," he leaned against the headboard pulling her to him and looking deeply into her eyes said, "We've gone through some tough times as of late and I honestly feel as if we're drifting apart. First, I think we both need to recapture ourselves, to return to our day to day lives and rekindle the joy we share for life. And secondly, we both need to accept that there are so many places and experiences out there to be savored… but we must do it together my angel. Agreed?"

She nodded and her eyes shone with unshed tears brought about with his gentle tone and the pain she now truly saw reflected in his deep blue eyes.

"I want you to do something amazing, I want you to be blown away by the world around you and I want to be with you to share every new memory I'm able to. Anything I can't experience with you will be the things I can provide for you to do when I'm at rest. I love you, my sweet, sweet girl and I want to lay the world at your feet. Will you take that from me?"

Her tears overflowed and he crushed her to him whispering sweet things until the tears lessened and once they were on steadier ground, Sookie got off the bed to grab a tablet and pen and they began searching the internet looking for their perfect first destination. The world was theirs to explore and Sookie knew deep down; that right here, in this single moment in time, they were facing a new beginning.

And that was a good thing.

 The End

Bill and Sookie's story continues in

A Miracle Redefined