The one month slipped away faster than I could have imagined and then, to my surprise, he asked me to come with him for his meetings in Kenya.
"Nairobi is beautiful in the summer."
"Eric, I can't go to Nairobi with you," I stammered.
"Why not?" he asked easily, tucking my hair behind my ear. It always infuriated me how nonchalant he could be, but I felt it even more acutely now.
"I have Charlie. I can't just go off to Nairobi."
"You can take her with you." He sounded so reasonable, like he was proposing taking her to a trip to Disney World.
The problem was, it wasn't just the distance that was stopping me. It went deeper and to a place that I had struggled with ever since I found Gran on our kitchen floor. I didn't want to ruin our last day together, but Eric read into what I wasn't saying.
"I see you're still holding on to your charade of normalcy."
"I don't just have myself to think about anymore," I returned. "I want a different life for her. A better one."
His eyes flashed, and I knew what he was thinking even without reading his mind.
"I'm sorry that I have been such an imposition on you all of these years," he said icily, stepping past me.
"This normalcy you're seeking, Sookie. It doesn't exist."
Bristling, I lifted my chin in defiance and said, "Well, it seemed to work pretty good the past three years. At least no one's tried to kill me."
Eric grinned, but it wasn't a pleasant sight. "And how do you think that happened?"
I blinked rapidly. "You've been spying on me?"
"Oh Sookie, always the dramatic. No, I haven't been spying on you. But, I've ensured you were taken care of."
"What do you mean, taken care of?"
"It doesn't matter."
I stepped toward him, hands balled into fists at my sides. "Eric Northman, you tell me right now what you did."
His tone met mine, hard and unrelenting, as he bit out, "I kept you safe."
He seemed frustrated at my reaction, but all I could think about was how even when I was trying to lead a normal life, he was meddling. It opened old wounds about people not trusting me to take care of myself that I thought were healed, but apparently not.
"Whatever it is, I want it to stop," I said angrily.
"You know, you being protected also protects your child," he said, and my anger reached new heights.
"I can protect my own child. I am her fucking mother. So, you are going to stop whatever it is you were doing and stop butting into my damn life!"
Eric's face shifted to something colder and he said, "I didn't realize I was butting in."
"Yeah, well, you are," I shot back.
"I think I'll head out early," he said coldly and pushed past me. I didn't move until I heard the front door slam.
I never knew what Eric and I were, so I had no way of knowing where we stood after our fight. What I did know, is that I missed him. I was still pissed that he had apparently stuck security on me without my knowing, but when the anger receded, I also could see where he was coming from. My track record wasn't the best for danger.
He didn't come back after our fight, and after a few days, I went down to the cubbyhole to straighten up. I found his leather jacket folded on the bed. I took it as a sign of hope, and then shut it up in the upstairs closet, forcing myself to close that chapter of my life with the close of the door. It was futile wasting any more headspace on it. If he came back, he came back. In the meantime, I had a life to get back to.
I picked up a job waitressing at Bellefleur's a few weeks after Charlie's dad left, and while Arlene had urged me to take time after Jason's death, it was time to go back. I had one of the local girls, Mary, babysit Charlie. I liked her because she was polite and when I first hired her fervently promised without any provocation that she didn't smoke, drink, or watch any of those dirty shows on HBO.
"My attention will be one hundred percent on Charlie," she'd told me emphatically.
I liked waitressing. I'd had the opportunity to take some classes at the community college a few years back, but I never ended up going. Classrooms were always difficult for me. Too many thoughts rushing at me. The bar wasn't any different, but they didn't seem as out of place there. Granted, hearing someone's thoughts about the shape of your derriere wasn't particularly pleasant anywhere. The current thoughts were from one of St. Joseph's supposedly most devout parishioners.
I wouldn't mind getting my hands on that ass. I wonder what it looks like after a few slaps.
"You stop that right now," I snapped disapprovingly. His eyes widened in surprise. Most people in the town knew about my ability by now, but there were always those few stragglers who thought it was more talk than anything else. "My bottom is none of your business."
He blinked rapidly and stammered, "What…I…-"
I refilled his water and stalked back over to the bar, setting the pitcher down noisily on the counter. Arlene looked up and asked, "Everything okay?"
"Just people being stupid."
"I've grown really tired of hearing people's thoughts about my ass."
Arlene looked back at the table I just left and her eyes went wide. "Michael Harrison? Isn't he the church guy?"
Arlene shook her head and said, "Just goes to show, they're all the same at the core."
"And I think he likes weird things," I said, frowning. Arlene gasped and then said in a low voice, "That is something I did not need to know, Sookie."
"Yeah, well, welcome to my everyday life."
"I don't know how you do it, Sook," Arlene said, resting her elbows on the counter. "Hearing everyone's thoughts all the time? It has to be exhausting."
"I can tune it out most of the time," I reminded her. "But, yeah, it's a bit much sometimes. A lot."
I saw Jessica and Hoyt walk in at the front of the restaurant. Jessica clung to his arm, laughing at something he said. It was such a domestic scene and I felt a pang of jealousy. I wanted that. As much as I fancied myself superwoman – able to handle everything myself – it didn't mean I wanted to do it myself. I wanted a partner. Someone to come home to and go out for dinner with.
My mind went to Eric and that month we'd spent together, not an uncommon occurrence as of late. Despite how it ended, for all the time before it felt real. It felt like something.
I looked over at Arlene, pulled from my tall-Viking-shaped thoughts. "Yeah?"
"I don't know where Holly's gone off to. I think she might be on break. Can you seat them?"
I went over to the couple and Jessica smiled wide, waving at me. We'd grown closer after Bill died, both of us bonding over our shared grief. We didn't see each other as much now, what with me taking care of Charlie, but it was always nice when we did.
I led them over to their table and Jessica asked, "How've you been?"
"Good. It's been nice getting back into the swing of things, you know?"
"Sure," she said. "How's Eric?"
I stiffened immediately, realizing that Jessica was probably one of the few who didn't know he left. I told most people close to me a few days after it happened, but I hadn't seen Jessica for a good while. In a level voice I told her, "He's out of town. Nairobi, actually."
"Wow, that's exciting," she enthused. "Is it New Blood business or something?"
I nodded. "Yeah. Him and Pam are both there."
"Cool. Do you know when he'll be back?"
I pulled my notepad out of my apron and said, "Nope, I don't. So, what can I get you guys to drink?"
Jessica and Hoyt exchanged a worried look before she ordered a New Blood and him a beer. I went over to the bar and filled their drinks. When I went back Jessica said, "I didn't mean to be insensitive asking about Eric like that. I just figured he was still here."
"It's fine," I told her with a tight smile. "I knew he had to leave from the start. So, it's fine."
Jessica nodded. "Definitely. I just…since Eric isn't here…there's a new vamp pack in town. They've been laying pretty low, but they aren't on the bottle, so just be careful. I doubt they'll attack anyone, they'd be stupid to, but with your Fae blood…"
"I'll be careful," I said. "Thanks for warning me."
When I left that night it was just shy of midnight, the streets illuminated by tall streetlights. A few were out by my house, and the only illumination came from my headlights. I swore I saw a figure on the side of the road, but nothing happened when I drove past. I told myself that I was just off-kilter from Jessica's warning. Just because I had Fae blood did not mean that every random vampire who was in Bon Temps would come after me. If I just minded my own business I'd be fine. Normal people didn't get mixed up with vampires, and I was determined to be normal.
I pulled onto my driveway and killed the engine, climbing out of the car. When I closed the door I felt someone behind me. I turned around quickly, poised to run, scream, or do something.
Turns out, I didn't have to do anything. My formidable foe gazed up at me from the grass. A small rabbit with speckles on its fur. It tilted its head to the side as it appraised me.
"You shouldn't sneak up on people like that," I said glibly. I hiked my purse higher up on my shoulder and walked into the house. Mary sat on the couch, reading a book with a bowl of popcorn on her lap. She looked up at me and smiled.
"How was she?" I asked. "Is she sleeping okay?"
"She got up an hour or so ago, but she fell right back asleep," she chirped. "She also ate her entire dinner. Including the peas."
"That's quite the achievement."
She beamed. "I thought so. Do you need anything else from me?"
"No, I think we're good." I pulled her money out of my purse and handed it over. "Thank you again for watching her. You're a life saver. Literally."
"I don't mind," she said with a shrug. "I like Charlie. She's cool."
"Well, I'm glad to hear I have a cool child."
"You do," she agreed with a grin. "Same time tomorrow?"
"Yeah, that would be great. Thanks."
"I'll see you tomorrow, Sookie."
I knew something was off when Mary didn't show up the next night. She was always punctual, and she never just completely didn't show up. I called her, and grew increasingly anxious when there was no answer. Not wanting to miss work, I put Charlie in her carseat and drove out to Bellefleur's, figuring I could keep Charlie in the back office.
When I got to Bellefleur's there was an all too familiar energy in the bar, and when I went over to Arlene, my worst fears were confirmed when she said, "Did you hear about the attack?"
My stomach dropped. "What attack?"
"Last night. They found a drained body out by Route 80. They said she was young, too. It's just terrible."
Charlie squirmed in my arms and I absentmindedly rubbed her back.
"Mary didn't show up to babysit tonight," I stammered.
Arlene stared at me. "Well, maybe she forgot."
"She doesn't forget. Besides, I just told her about it last night."
The bells clanked on the front door and Arlene looked over my shoulder. She grabbed my arm and said, "It's Andy. We should ask him."
A large part of me didn't want to say anything, preferring to stay in the unknown where it was as likely that Mary was alive as she was dead. I knew the minute we talked to Andy we'd have an answer that I didn't want. But, I went with Arlene, anyway.
He sat with Holly, and the moment he saw us approaching he put up a hand and said, "Don't ask me about the attack. It's police business right now."
"Sookie said that her babysitter, that sweet Mary Crawford, never showed up tonight."
"We still have it under investigation," Andy said, voice on autopilot. "We should have more information by tomorrow."
"What do you mean it's still under investigation? How much can there be to investigate?" Arlene said.
"Like I said," Andy began, sounding beleaguered by the questioning. We probably weren't the first, and certainly not the last. "It is still under investigation. When we know more, we –"
"Oh, for the love of God," Holly hissed, her eyes filling with tears. "This isn't just an investigation, Andy. It's a person's life."
She looked up at Arlene and myself and said, "It's her."
Arlene brought a hand to her mouth and I held Charlie closer to me. "The attack happened last night, right?" I asked.
Andy sighed. "Yeah. Probably a little after midnight."
She'd left my house at midnight. That would have put her on that road probably 12:05 or 12:10. She was driving home from my house when she was killed. That sweet, unassuming sixteen year old was driving home from my house when a vampire drained her.
I should have warned her. I knew there was a group of vampires out here. I hadn't known they were this dangerous, but I should have known that vampires swearing off synthetic blood only meant one thing.
"Arlene, take Charlie," I stammered, handing her over and rushing to the bathroom. I was only able to make it to the trash before the contents of my stomach came up. Arlene came in after me and when I asked her where Charlie was she told me, "Holly has her. Are you okay?"
"She was so young," I said.
"I know," Arlene said gently, taking a hold of my arm and tugging me toward the sink. She took a bit of paper towel and wet it, dabbing at my mouth.
"I knew about the vampires," I said. "Jessica warned me when she was here. She said there was a new group in town."
Arlene threw the paper towel in the trash and set me with a stern look. "Sookie Stackhouse, this is not your fault."
I knew she was right, but I couldn't shake the guilt. "I'm really tired of people dying around me."
"I know," Arlene said, pulling me into a hug. "I know, sweetie. Do you want to take tonight off? You and Charlie can go home."
"No, I'm already here," I said, pulling away. "Besides, you know I like keeping busy."
"Yeah, you do."
"Can I put Charlie in the back office? I brought some toys she can play with."
"Of course you can."
I went back out and took Charlie from Holly, thanking her to taking her for the short time. I went in the back room and made a makeshift playpen for Charlie, taking out the few toys I'd brought with me. Charlie, oblivious to the tragedy that befell Bon Temps, cooed happily and reached for a red block. She held it up to toward me and then went to put it in her mouth. I stopped her hand, shaking my head. "That doesn't go in your mouth, silly."
She looked up at me with her wide blue eyes.
"No mouth," I repeated.
"Hey Sook," Arlene said, peeping her head into the room. "How is everything in here?"
"Good," I said, standing up and wiping my hands on my shorts.
I crouched down and gave Charlie one more kiss before leaving. We went back out into the bar, and Andy's table was surrounded by people. I could tell by his pinched expression that they were asking about Mary.
"I can't reveal anything else," Andy said loudly. "So, all of you…just go back to your damn tables."
"I thought we were done with this shit," Arlene said, sniffing unhappily. "And where there's one body, you know there'll be more."
My shift crept by slowly, the talk of Mary and what this meant for Bon Temps catching me at just about every table. As the former resident vampire liaison, I was asked a lot of questions that I had no way of answering. I didn't know why they were in town. I didn't know if Mary's draining meant more would follow.
"I know as much as you all," I snapped at one customer.
"Well, no need to get in a huff," he returned. "I was just curious."
I was relieved to finish the shift, gathering up Charlie and her toys and heading out to my car. I drove on home, looking nervously at my mirrors as I went to make sure that no one was following. I found out during the shift that the group had caught Mary in her car. They figured they hijacked the car after killing her. It was found abandoned a few miles away from her body.
We made it home without any incident and I parked on the driveway, hopping out of the car and going to the side to get Charlie out of the car seat. When I reached for the car door handle I heard the crunch of gravel.
"You smell amazing."
I looked up, already knowing what I would see. A slender vampire wearing jeans and an open leather vest stood opposite me on the driveway. He had straggly black hair wrapped into a bun at the back of his head. He licked his lips, eyes sparkling in the moonlight.
I knew I couldn't run. And even if I could, I still had Charlie in the car. I positioned myself in front of the back window, hoping he wouldn't see Charlie. There wasn't much I could do if he killed me, but I'd be damned if I was going to let him get to her now.
"We're sharing her," a short redhead said, walking out from the darkness. She bared her teeth and ran her tongue along the sharp edges.
One by one the rest of the group appeared, all walking slowly toward me. There were five in total. The vest and red head were joined by a medium build male vampire with a goatee, a tall dark skinned woman dressed from head to toe in leather, and an unassuming blonde who I wouldn't have looked twice at had she not been stalking toward me with a group of blood thirsty vampires.
Knowing I couldn't fight them, I did the only thing I could think.
"You don't want to drink me," I said. "I-I'm Hep V positive."
"We have that New Blood, darlin'," goatee said. "That's just fine."
"This is a new strain," I lied. "New Blood won't work."
Vest laughed heartily. "You know, I used to think them begging was my favorite thing. But this is even fucking better. There's no such thing as a new strain."
I racked my brain for something else, and weakly said, "Eric Northman. You guys know that name?"
The blonde twitched, and said in a sickeningly sweet voice, "Every vampire knows that name."
"I'm his," I said. It wasn't true, but I was also fairly certain Eric wouldn't object to the white lie. "If you kill me, he'll come after you all. He'll rip you apart limb by limb."
The dark skinned woman snorted. "You are Eric Northman's? Then where is he?"
Half-way across the world after I practically threw him out of my house, but she didn't need to know that.
"He'll come for me," I held. "And you'll be sorry."
Of course, I knew this wasn't the case. Even with him sensing my fear – which I'm sure he was right now – he was across the world. He was fast, but not that fast. I was on my own, and I needed to get a better plan than mouthing off about a vampire who wasn't here.
I looked down at my hands. My fae power wasn't always reliable, and even less when it wasn't used. I hadn't used my light in years. I willed something to happen. I could feel the slightest tingle, but nothing more. My attention was pulled back when one of them loudly said from the other side of the car,"Holy shit, we got a double tonight!"
The vested one quickly grabbed me and pulled me away from the car. I watched in horror as he opened up the car door and reached in for Charlie. Louds screams filled the air, and it took me a moment to realize that it was me.
"Don't you touch her, you mother fucker!" I screamed, fighting against the strong arms holding me.
It happened suddenly. I faced my palms toward him, panic coursing through me, and the white light beamed out toward him, knocking him to the ground. The vampire holding me looked down and said, "What the fuck was that?"
In the moment of confusion I was able to pull away from him. I ran toward the car, but was easily intercepted by the dark skinned vampire.
"She's a fairy!" the small blonde squealed. "We got a fucking fairy!"
The dark skinned vampire clamped my hands together painfully behind my lap. With vamp speed the goatee vampire took Charlie out of the car. He stepped back onto the grass. I watched in horror as he brought his nose to her neck and breathed in deeply. Charlie squirmed, screaming loudly.
"There's no fairy blood in her," he said.
"I don't care," the vampire holding me said. "It's been too long since I've had an infant."
I fought against her and she hissed, "You try any of that fancy fairy shit again and we'll kill her right in front of you."
I shook with fear, watching Charlie scream in the vampire's arm. I couldn't let her go this way. This wasn't supposed to be her life. She was supposed to grow up and have a family, far away from all the shit I went through. I couldn't let this happen to her. I wouldn't.
I felt a strange energy course through me, and suddenly the vampire holding me began to gag. I looked up at her. Black veins were spreading on her face, and blood spilled out of her mouth.
"What are you doing to me? What-"
She broke off as her skin burst, blood and guts bathing me. I didn't waste a moment before spinning toward the vampire holding Charlie and blasting him with my light. Charlie dropped onto the soft grass.
The small blonde lunged for me, but was caught partway by Jessica, who tackled her to the ground. I stumbled back in surprise, but quickly regained my senses and ran toward Charlie. The redheaded vampire from before came toward me, but I quickly blasted her away. My light was getting weaker. This time it only made the redhead stumble, but it was enough for me to get past her and grab Charlie, who clung to me tightly.
I ran toward the house but then stopped for a moment, looking back at Jessica. She saw my hesitance and yelled, "Get inside!"
I didn't hesitate another moment and ran inside. The redhead followed, running straight into the barrier of the house. She glared at me from the doorway, breathing heavily. Without warning, Jessica plunged her hand into the vampire's chest from behind and pulled out her heart.
"Close the door," Jessica bit out.
I shut the door quickly, not wanting to leave Jessica out there on her own, but knowing that I had nothing to contribute. My light was fading. I'd be more of a liability than anything else.
I put Charlie down on the couch, trying to clean as much blood off her as possible. She was crying with loud piercing screams. I prayed she wouldn't remember any of this. All the while, I anxiously waited to hear from Jessica. I didn't know why she happened to be at my house tonight, but I was glad she did. The scene outside would have gone very different if she hadn't.
After a good while there was a knock on the door. I walked over and looked through the peephole. Jessica stood there, bloody but alive. I opened the door and pulled her inside, hugging her tightly.
"Thank you," I said. "How did you know to come?"
"I didn't," she said, breathing heavily. "I wanted to check on you with the body found and everything. I figured it's what Bill would have wanted. And on my way I heard you scream. I'm just sorry I wasn't here sooner."
"You were there soon enough," I said, letting out a shaky breath. "You saved us. I…I can't thank you enough."
"No need to thank me."
"Are they dead then?"
"Two of them. The other three ran off. How'd you kill the first one?"
I thought back to the unusual incident. "I don't know, actually. I felt this strange energy go through me, and then she just…burst. Like a water balloon."
I nodded. "I don't know I did it. Or if I even did it."
"Do you think it's your fairy blood?"
I shrugged. "Maybe."
"Do you want me to stay the rest of the night?" Jessica asked. "I don't think they'll be coming back. But…"
"No, go home to Hoyt," I said. "Charlie and me are fine."
"Are you sure?"
"There's nothing else you can do here. Go home."
She wiped a smudge of blood off her cheek and said, "I'm just going to do a quick run through the woods before I leave. I'll tell you if I find anything."
"Jessica, you don't –"
"I really don't mind. It'll make me feel better."
She slipped out the front door and vamped away. I stayed standing in the foyer for longer than I can actually remember. I was too keyed up to sit down, and also still covered in vamp blood. After I came to my senses, I took Charlie upstairs and took a quick shower, washing my would-be-killer off of me, before I gave Charlie a bath and put her to bed. I didn't want too be far from her, so I took the comforter from my bed and settled into the rocking chair beside her crib, pulling the blanket up to my chin. I always used to feel safe when Gran would do than when I was a kid, but now, I had never felt more alone. I fell asleep to the soft noise of Charlie snoring.
Somewhere in the night, I woke up to someone gently shaking me awake. I opened my eyes slowly, the room coming into focus, and then his face. Eric knelt in front of me, his hands on my thighs. He looked frightened, his jaw tense and eyes wild.
There was a moment's pause, a maelstrom of emotions passing through his eyes, before he leaned forward and crashed his mouth against mine. This kiss was desperate. It was hard, and frantic, and my body responded without any consultation with the rest of me. I wrapped my arms around him, letting him lift me from the chair as we stumbled out of the nursery. I grabbed a fistful of his jacket and pushed it over his broad shoulders. It fell to the ground, but we kept moving, haphazardly making our way down the hallway to my bedroom.
He dropped me down on the bed unceremoniously, but when he blanketed my body, his mouth on my neck, his movements were gentle, reverent almost. I held his mouth against my neck, wrapping my legs around him to pull him closer. He followed my cues and then I couldn't track where his hands went, or where mine did, but it didn't matter. Through all the confusion and hurt, we'd met somewhere in the middle, and I didn't care to think about the why or how. I just wanted him inside me.
He propped himself up on his forearms, but I wrapped my arms around his torso, pulling him down against me. I needed him close. I felt him enter me, and I arched my back, taking him as deep as I could. He began to move and I matched his rhythm, letting him take me to the edge, and then over.
Afterwards, he held me against him and although I couldn't hear his heartbeat, mine beat loudly in my ears.
"What happened before?" he asked me.
I told him all about the vampires. I told him about how they took Charlie, and the unusual death of the vampire holding me. I told him about Jessica. He held my gaze as I spoke, and I could see the fear creeping back into his face. The only time I'd seen him like this before was with Godric.
"I could feel your fear," he said, voice small. He sounded lost, like that time I found him on the side of the road with his memory wiped. "I left immediately. But, I was so far away-"
"It's okay," I said, reaching up and laying a hand on his cheek. "I understand."
"No, it's not," he said harshly. "You could have died. You almost died. I should have been here. I should have protected you."
"I'm not your responsibility," I returned stubbornly.
"Damn it, Sookie, don't you get it?" he said, pulling away from me. "I cannot lose you. Do you understand that? Ever since I returned, you…you are more than important to me. You are indispensable. You are necessary."
His words stunned me, but I wasn't necessarily surprised. It had been a long while since Eric had guarded his feelings for me. I stared up at him, thinking, not for the first time, that he was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. I even thought that when I hated him. Suddenly, I was filled with an overwhelming feeling to make this right. To smooth the worry away from his face. I leaned in and kissed him softly. His arm slid around my waist, pulling me closer again.
Against his mouth, I murmured, "I'm sorry for what I said before."
I didn't have to specify further. He knew without me saying.
"I told Pam she needs to handle the rest of the meetings in Nairobi."
I looked at him with surprise. "You didn't have to do that."
"Yes, I did. Do you know what it did to me when I felt your fear but I was too far away to do anything?"
I thought of Bill dragging his burning self through a graveyard and murmured, "I have an idea."
"Then you understand."
"I don't want you giving up your life for me," I said softly. "I can't have you do that."
"I can run New Blood operations from here," he said reasonably. "Pam won't like it, but she'll come around."
I propped myself up on his chest. "Eric, what are you saying?"
He brushed my hair away from my face. "I'm saying I want to be with you. If you'll have me."
"If I'll have you? Eric –"
"While I think your quest for a normal life is futile, it still is want you want. And I can't give you that."
I thought about that for a moment, and then realized that he was right. But, what even was normal anymore? Vampires had mainstreamed and more supes came out into the open each year. All these years, I had been dreaming of a normal that no longer existed.
"I don't want normal," I said.
"Really? Because you've been throwing that in my face pretty much since the day I met you."
"I don't want normal," I said fervently. "I've tried it and it sucks. When I was trying to be normal, my fiancée left me with a one year old. My brother died because of a stupid drunk driver. I was just attacked by a group of crazy vampires! Normal sucks. I don't want it."
"This can be my normal," I said. "You. Me." He still didn't look convinced and I said, "Look, my life is just better with you in it. Normal or not, that's the truth."
He didn't respond for a moment, and I almost thought he was going to fight me more, but then suddenly I was on my back, Eric hovering above me with a wide grin on his face. He crashed his mouth against mine and I kissed him soundly, reveling in the simple joy of the kiss. It wasn't a hello. It wasn't a goodbye. It was somewhere in between, and I couldn't wait to see what came next.