Jason died on a Tuesday. A drunk driver flew through the red light at the corner of Maple and Third, crashing into Jason's car with such speed that the car was pushed a good fifteen feet off the highway into the bordering forest. It wrapped itself around a tree like a slap bracelet, the dusty truck barely recognizable among the birch and oak carnage. The paramedics assured myself and Brigette that he'd been killed on impact, as if that somehow made it better.
After all the death I'd seen in Bon Temps, I'd developed a relatively thick skin to it all, but Brigette wasn't from here. Alaska might have been cold but it escaped the mess of the Hep-V outbreak, not to mention the laundry list of other horrors that descended on Bon Temps. On Jason. It almost seemed comical that he'd survived everything else – crazed vampires, Mary Ann, the Fellowship - but not a drunk driver. It was such a normal way to die that it seemed out of place.
Brigette cried immediately after hearing the news and she didn't stop for three days. I stayed with her at the house to help her with her and Jason's two girls, cooking meals and scrubbing the kitchen. The girls didn't quite understand what happened, and when Brigette's strangled attempts at explaining why their daddy wasn't home didn't work, I went ahead and handled that, too.
I liked keeping busy. It distracted me from the reality that I lost the last bit of family I had on this Earth, save for my daughter Charlie, but she always felt like something different. A watermark on those old memories, reminding me that no matter how deeply I wished at times that things could be as they were, they never would be. And just as I couldn't bring back the people I lost in my former life with Antebellum plantations and vampire politics, I couldn't bring Jason back, either.
And so, I kept busy. I fiddled with this and toyed with that, working myself to the point of distraction because I knew if I stopped for even a second I'd lose control, and I wasn't certain I could regain it once I did.
But, eventually, Brigette gathered her strength and I returned home with Charlie who visibly missed the rambunctious presence of her cousins. I had to admit that I missed it, too. My house never really seemed the same since Gran passed all those years ago. It always felt too quiet, especially at night, save for the short time when Charlie's father, Mark, lived with us.
But then he left on Charlie's first birthday, leaving nothing but a hastily written note on the kitchen table telling me that having a family was too much for him. I burned the letter over the stove, feeling nothing as the yellow paper burned blue and then red.
The house felt even emptier now, which was ridiculous since Jason hadn't lived there for a good ten years. I put on one of my rattier pair of pajamas and put Charlie to bed, taking the baby monitor down to the living room with me. I poured myself a tall glass of wine and turned on the television, cranking the volume up to fill the silence.
I flipped through the channels, barely even noticing what was on the screen, but then I caught a familiar voice. I went back to the last channel, a surprised chuckle falling out of my mouth when I saw Eric Northman sitting across from Larry King, the latter watching Eric thoughtfully as the tall Viking spoke.
"We are very excited to share this new and improved line of New Blood with the world," Eric said smoothly. "As you might know, research has shown in recent months that a vampire's quality of life can improve immensely through the right nutrients. Before, when vampires fed from the source directly, we didn't need to worry about getting enough nutrients. But synthetic blood changed that."
"Why would you say that?" Larry King said, leaning forward emphatically as he spoke. I wondered for a moment if Eric had glamour-ed his way into the interview, but I knew that New Blood found success in its own right over the last several years. I still remember when I caught those first infomercials late at night with his cheesy smile and Pam's obvious distaste for the entire charade. They'd done well for themselves afterwards.
"While synthetic blood has many invaluable benefits it does have its drawbacks. In its mass production, the nutrients were stripped from the blood. For years we have been missing key nutrients, but not anymore. I am proud to announce that New Blood is now fortified with Vitamin A, C, E and a touch of folic acid."
"No vitamin D, I'm guessing?" Larry King joked.
Eric laughed heartily and said, "No vitamin D."
I couldn't take my eyes off of him. He looked exactly like I remembered him, but that wasn't surprising. Vampires didn't age. He was wearing a grey suit with a crisp white shirt underneath. It was open at the neck, displaying his milky white, unmarred neck. I still remembered when I saw the dark veins there, my heart slamming against my chest as I faced losing another person I cared about. I hadn't truly realized how much he meant to me until that moment. Faced with a life without him, I'd found it difficult to breath.
I watched the rest of the interview, not really processing anything that was said, but taking comfort in the familiar lilt of his voice. He'd look into the camera and I could swear he was looking right at me.
Get it together, Sookie, I told myself. He wasn't looking at me . This probably wasn't even airing live.
The interview came to an end and I scrambled for the changer, pausing the interview just in time to capture Eric's face on my television. He had one of those faces that always looked good – even mid blink. I sat there for a moment, staring at his face and wondering how it managed to make me feel better. A simple freeze frame shouldn't such a hold.
I forced myself to press play again and the camera swooped back to Larry King who did his usual sign off before the television cut to some commercial about male performance aids.
When someone close to you dies, your house is no longer your own. It becomes a place of mourning, a place where well-wishers and do-gooders come with their tuna casseroles and condolences, and all you can do is stand there, nod and smile, thanking everyone for their support when all you want to do is slam the door in their faces. But you can't do that. Society and basic manners won't allow it.
I did the next best thing and used my daughter as an excuse. I told them all that Charlie got restless cooped up in the house, and I took her to the playground. It was the only one in Bon Temps, and as I pushed her on the swings – her chubby legs kicking at the air – I thought to myself how often Jason and I had gone here when we were little. I always went on the swings and he ran around the perimeter of the playground, pretending to fight off aliens. One would always end up coming after me, and he'd tug on the chain of my swing, yelling, "They're coming for you, Sook! You gotta run!"
The swing came at me quickly and I put my hands up just in time, the seat rebounding lightly off my palms. Charlie squealed, her laughter mingling with the wind and chirping birds. I shook my head, telling myself to get it together. Reminiscing like this wouldn't do anyone any good. It wouldn't bring him back, and it certainly wouldn't help me move on.
I grabbed the seat when it flew back toward me and pulled it to a stop. Charlie looked up at me with her wide blue eyes. It was the only part of her that looked like her father. I pushed her a few more times on the swing before it was time to go home. It was there that I I found Arlene on my porch, a large casserole dish beside her on the loveseat.
"Hi Arlene," I said, eyeing the casserole dish warily. I didn't have the space in my refrigerator for another tuna casserole. Actually, any casserole.
"Hey, how are you doing?" she asked, reaching forward and giving me a quick hug. She crouched down and gave Charlie a toothy grin. "Hey there, little girl." She looked up at me. "I swear Sook, she is looking more like you every day."
"She has Mark's eyes," I noted.
"Yeah, well, that's the only good thing that asshole gave her."
She dropped her voice when she swore, which amused me given how foul her language was around her kids when they were growing up.
"I'm okay," I said. "Just trying to move on, you know?"
"Of course you are," Arlene said. "Which is why I brought you this."
She picked up the casserole dish and beamed up at me.
"Let me guess, tuna casserole?" I said, forcing more pep than I felt.
"You don't need tuna casserole right now," Arlene said. "What you need is caramel apple bourbon crumble."
"Shut up," I mumbled, peeling back the edge of the tinfoil. "Is that what's in here?"
Arlene nodded. "You bet."
"I have some ice cream in the freezer," I said. Charlie began to fuss and I immediately began rocking the stroller back and forth absentmindedly as I added, "Come on, we'll each have a slice."
"I don't want to eat your food," Arlene said dutifully, but I knew she wanted some.
"You're the one that made it. Which means you are more than welcome to a piece. Come on in."
We walked in and I pulled Charlie out of the stroller, setting her in her highchair next to the table. Arlene pulled the ice cream out of the freezer as I scooped out a nice big heap of the crumble for both of us, heating it so that the ice cream got nice and melted.
Over our matching plates of crumble, she said, "You know, you can tell me if you're not doing okay."
"He was your brother," she said. "It's okay if you're not, well, okay."
"I'm fine," I held. She gave me a look and I remedied it with, "Okay, I will be fine. But, you know me. I don't dwell. You just have to go through it. Christ knows I've been through this enough to know."
"You have," Arlene agreed sadly, reaching forward and taking my hand. She squeezed it lightly and I gave her a reassuring smile, hoping I exhibited more cool determination than I felt. Truth be told, I felt like I was barely keeping it together. The distractions weren't working anymore. Jason kept pressing into my mind, and I couldn't stop it. I had a lot of practice in blocking other people's thoughts from my mind, but I'd never been successful in blocking my own.
Arlene mercifully changed the subject, and we talked about her oldest starting high school – how did they grow so fast? – before she stood up, talking about how she had to get home in time to make dinner. I'd been happy to see her, but I was relieved she was leaving. Even the short stint of entertaining had drained me.
I couldn't sleep. It felt like weeks since I had a good night's sleep. I'd become far more familiar with my ceiling than anyone should be. I knew every line and speckle. Since Jason died Charlie had started waking up in the middle of the night, like she could sense the loss. It felt like the newborn days again, but at least I had something to do with my restlessness.
I sat with her in the nursery, rocking her in my arms as I sang one of the lullabies my own mother sang to me when I was young. Even knowing what her and my father planned to do with me on that bridge, I still missed her in moments like this. There were just certain milestones where you were supposed to have your mother with you.
Charlie dozed off in my arms and I held her for a while, feeling my own breathing settle to her slow, steady rhythm. I looked around the room, my eyes landing on the pile of books on her dresser. Jason bought them right after I told him I was pregnant, telling me that I had to start reading to her right then so that she'd come out smart. Mark thought it was silly, but I read to my stomach every night after that.
I didn't realize I was crying until Charlie stirred, looking up at me with drowsy eyes. She began to fuss and I shifted her against my shoulder, pressing my face against hers as I let the grief and pain of the week wash over me. I'd worked so hard to push it all down that now I couldn't stop it. Charlie grabbed at my face, fascinated by the tears that dripped down my cheeks.
I didn't want to upset her, so I stood up and put her back in her crib, pulling the small blanket up around her. I kissed her forehead, walked back into my room, and climbed into bed. My sobs had subsided, leaving me drained and oddly calm. It was the first time I cried, and I wondered how much easier all of this could have been if I'd just done it sooner.
I turned on my side, pulling the covers up to my chin. It was then, my eyes drifting shut, that I felt someone watching me. I stiffened, glancing around the room tentatively. Everything seemed in place. The closet doors were open, showing nothing but tidy rows of clothes. The door to my room was closed, the baby monitor set on my nightstand. I nearly yelped when I looked at the window.
Eric was floating outside my window.
I blinked once, twice, three times before I was certain it wasn't a dream. I jumped out of bed and went over to the window, pushing it up as far as I could. I thought of the last time I'd seen him – well, dreamed him - floating outside a window and flushed.
"Eric, what are you doing here?"
"Nice pajamas," he said, trademark smirk in place. I looked down at my pajamas, not remembering I was wearing my old flannel ones with little vampire fangs dotting the fabric. It'd been a joke from Arlene a few years back. I only wore them after Mark left, not wanting him to know about my vampire speckled past. It seemed so silly now. He hadn't treated me any better.
"You're outside my window," I said, stating the obvious. "Aren't you afraid someone's going to see you?"
He shrugged, always the picture of nonchalance. "I have my flying license."
Of course he did.
I knew I was supposed to say something next, that's how a conversation worked. But, I couldn't find any words adequate for the maelstrom of emotions coursing through me at the sight of him at my window. He was from a different part of my life, one that seemed as foreign to me now as pages in a storybook. I suppose I settled into a normal life, the one I always wanted.
And now that normal life had a vampire floating outside its window.
I swallowed hard and found those words I'd been searching for. "Eric, would you like to come inside?"
He flew in gracefully – much too gracefully for a man of his stature – and then stood in front of me. I could smell the night on his skin, and I reached my hands forward, laying them softly on the front of his jacket. Part of me still wondered if I was dreaming, but his leather jacket felt real enough beneath my fingers. I moved my hands in toward his grey tshirt.
"You're really here," I murmured.
"I'm here," he repeated, his low voice washing over me and leaving me with a strange sense of calm. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought he was glamouring me.
"I have to admit, I didn't think I'd see you again," I looked up at him. "Not like this."
"What happened?" he asked calmly, not commenting as I slid my hands up to his neck. Maybe it was a dream. Maybe all of this – the last few days and all the pain – had been a dream, too. I'd wake up find a message from Jason on my phone about him leaving something at my house. He was always forgetting things when he visited. His keys. His phone charger.
Eric's skin was cool beneath my fingertips.
"I'm dreaming," I murmured. "I have to be. You-you can't be here."
"Sookie, I can assure you that you are not dreaming."
"That's something dream-you would say," I held. "I need a pinch or something. I –"
He interrupted me with an execution of that something, his mouth capturing mine. I knew it wasn't a dream when I pulled away first. In my dreams, I had little qualms finishing what he started. I stared up at him, not feeling adrift for the first time since I'd heard about Jason.
"You're here," I breathed out.
He reached up and pushed a lock of hair out of my face. "I'm here. I felt that you were upset."
I looked up at him in confusion. "How can you still feel me? I haven't had your blood in years."
"Our bond does not fade with time," he said simply.
"I don't understand," I said.
"When I was…the other me…" he began, "…we became blood bonded. Remember when I drank your blood, you drank mine, and then –"
"Yes," I cut him off, feeling my blush spread all the way to my hairline. "I remember. So, you can always feel me?"
He nodded. "Yes. And you should be able to feel me."
"Huh." I thought of all those mood swings over the years I attributed to my period or lack of sleep. Turns out it was just Eric poking in my mind.
"So, tell me, what is wrong? I've never felt anything like this from you before."
I dropped my arms to my side and told him, "Jason's dead."
Eric stared down at me. "What happened?"
I went to answer when Charlie's cry echoed both from the hallway and the baby monitor. Accustomed to the interruption, I wiped at my eyes absentmindedly and said, "Stay here. I'll be right back."
I hadn't been paying much attention to Eric at that moment, but when I looked up at him, I was surprised by the stricken look on his face. I sort of assumed he knew about Charlie, but the look on his face told me otherwise.
"Are you a mother?" he asked in quiet disbelief.
I nodded slowly. "Yeah, I am."
As if to reinforce the point, Charlie cried out again, and I said, "I really should check on her. Come on, you can see her."
I turned around into the hallway and walked out, glancing back momentarily to see if he was following. He looked uncomfortable, and it occurred to me then that he probably didn't find himself around babies too often. I didn't want to think of the times in recent past where he might have been.
We walked into the nursery and I flipped on the light, going to the side of the nursery. Charlie was standing, tiny hands clutching the rods of the crib. Her face was blotchy, and when she saw me she murmured, "Mama….mama…mama…"
"I'm here, sweet heart," I said, picking her up and holding her against me. I rocked from side to side, pressing a kiss to the side of her head. Eric watched me in silence, his eyes darting from between Charlie and myself. He finally set his gaze on me and noted, "You're good with her."
I felt the years between us press heavily on me. Four years or so ago, I'd practically been a different person. He looked exactly the same to me, but I knew the same couldn't be said for me. Beyond the new lines on my face, I knew something at my very core had shifted. Whether it came from becoming a mother or simply growing older, I was miles away from the confused girl he flew back to her front porch all those years ago.
"Do you want to hold her?" I asked.
He stepped back immediately, shaking his head. The reaction seemed so uncharacteristic that I couldn't help but smile a bit and tell him, "She doesn't bite, you know. And you better not, either."
"I've never enjoyed infant blood," he said off-handedly, eyeing Charlie warily. "You can almost taste the moral outrage."
I wrinkled my nose. "You do realize I was joking, right?"
He stepped right past that and asked, "Her father…he was your husband?"
"No, we never got that far," I said. "We were engaged, though."
I took a deep breath, glancing down at Charlie and realizing she'd finally fallen asleep. I turned back to the crib and carefully laid her down, pulling the cover up around her. I faced Eric again and told him, "And then he left."
I could tell that Eric wanted more information, but he had the tact to not press it further. I hadn't offered any additional explanation, and he wasn't going to ask for it. At least not yet. Instead, he asked about Jason.
We walked back to my bedroom and I told him about the crash, and how Brigette barely kept herself together afterwards.
"You shouldn't have had to take care of her," Eric said disapprovingly. "That isn't your burden."
"I like taking care of people," I said, remembering being down with him in the cubbyhole, holding him tightly as he fought off Marlene's sun spell.
"I've never understood that," he said, shaking his head.
I smiled sadly and said, "Don't try to tell me you don't care. You would do anything for Pam and Willa."
"They are my progeny," he said. "But you care for people who have no relation to you. Where you have no duty."
"Brigette is family," I said simply. "And you help family."
"Who helps you?" he asked.
I was about to tell him that I didn't need help, but the words rang false before I could even say them. I instead told him a permutation of what I told Arlene earlier. "This is familiar territory for me, remember?"
"You don't need to be strong in front of me," he said after a moment. "I can feel your pain. I can feel your exhaustion. Your brave face doesn't fool me, Sookie."
I was going to argue that I'd fooled people who knew me better than him, but they didn't have a direct line to my emotions. Besides, if I were being totally honest he had a read on me long before I drank his blood.
"I am tired," I admitted. "I haven't slept in days."
He raised an eyebrow at that and then walked over to my bed, stretching out on one end. He laid on his back, one arm propped behind his head and the other resting casually on his stomach. He looked over at me and when I stayed rooted in my spot, he patted the empty bit of bed beside him.
"What are you waiting for?" he asked.
"I invited you into my house, not my bed," I returned with false levity. I was fairly certain lying next to him in that bed would be the farthest thing from a good night's sleep.
"Someone's being presumptuous. If you keep your hands to yourself I will, too."
I wasn't convinced, but he also didn't look anywhere close to leaving my bed. I knew I could fight him, but I just didn't have the energy. Besides, if I started something he could leave, and right now I was feeling almost like myself again. It was as if his very presence was fortifying.
Sighing, I walked over and settled next to him. I slid my legs under the covers and he tugged the covers all the way up, tucking the sides in around me.
"Does Pam know you're here?" I asked.
"Yes. I told her I had personal business to attend to."
I paused for a moment and then said, "She's outside, isn't she?"
Eric turned his head toward me. "Yes, she is."
"I didn't know why you were so upset. I thought it could have been something with the werewolves or more vampires, so I brought Pam." He took an unnecessary breath and then added, "I wanted to make sure you were safe."
Moonlight streamed in from my open window, bathing his face in its warm glow. I scooted closer to him and said, "Don't read too much into this."
He got his answer when I sidled up to him, throwing my arm over his waist and resting my cheek on his chest. His arm came around me and he brushed his fingers gently against my side.
"You and Pam are more than welcome to your cubbyhole downstairs during the day," I said. "If you have more personal business to attend to."
"Do you want me to stay?" he asked.
I thought about it for a moment and then told him truthfully, "Yes."
"Then I'll stay."
I snuggled up against him, closing my eyes and taking in the delicious stillness of the room, and the stillness of my mind. I didn't know whether it was Eric or if I'd just thought myself out, but I finally drifted off into a deep slumber.
I didn't have any dreams.
I woke up to an empty bed. The shades were thrown open, and I thought back to when a tall Viking had been floating outside that window. It still all seemed a bit surreal, but his scent lingered on my pillow. I propped myself up on my elbow and saw that there was a folded piece of parchment paper on my nightstand. I reached forward for it, idly wondering where he got parchment paper and if he just walked around with it like the ancient vampire he was, and flipped it open. His surprisingly ornate handwriting met my gaze.
I am below ground in my cubby, as you requested.
Pam is underground out back. You forgot to invite her in.
She wanted me to tell you that she hasn't missed you.
I remembered that Pam didn't like going in the ground. She preferred resting places of the boxed variety, and I knew I'd get some lip when I saw her tonight. I made a mental note to pick up some New Blood for both her and Eric. If I was going to be entertaining vampires, it was only proper to have the correct beverages.
I stayed in bed for a few more minutes, taking in the delicious silence until the usual morning pressure in my bladder turned urgent, and I skipped over to the bathroom. I noticed a few bottles out of place, and I had a sudden vision of Eric going through my bathroom, interestedly reading through all the different bottles and tubes.
After finishing my business in the bathroom, I walked downstairs and began fixing myself some breakfast. The cabinets and refrigerator were pretty bare – I desperately needed a trip to the grocery store – but I spied Arlene's crumble in the back of the refrigerator. I knew it wasn't the healthiest way to start a day, but it tasted good, and right now that seemed good enough.
After breakfast, I brought Charlie downstairs and committed myself to a full afternoon of cleaning up around the house. I'd go shopping later when I knew the stores wouldn't be as crowded. It was like a collision course when I went out now, actively trying to avoid anyone I knew who would stop me and ask how I was. I put on some of my favorite 80s hits and made Charlie laugh as I danced around the living room, duster in hand.
I was working on the bathrooms, I always kept them for last because I hated cleaning toilets, when I heard a knock at the front door. I braced my arms on the toilet bowl and pushed myself up, wondering when it had gotten so difficult to get up off the floor. I wasn't that old.
I walked to the front door, opened it on up, and Lafayette and Arlene barged in, arms filled with grocery bags.
"What's all of this?" I asked in confusion. Last I checked, I hadn't sent the convoy out for groceries.
"This is food," Lafayette tossed over his shoulder. "Because you, Sook, need to eat. And something that isn't that skanky ass tuna casserole. You need real food. So, me and Arlene here hooked you up."
"They had a really good sale on hamburger helper," Arlene enthused. "Two for three dollars. That's practically giving it away."
"Um, thank you. You both do realize I'm capable of going out on my own, right?" I asked, following them to the kitchen.
"Hooker, calm down," Lafayette said. "We know that. But, we also wanted to help. We know how you've been practically taking care of Brigette –"
"Not anymore," I interrupted.
"- and you're taking care of that sweet little baby of yours. Someone needs to take care of you."
I thought about what Eric said the night before.
"Well, thank you," I said, walking over and watching them unpack the groceries. It looked like they bought the entire store. I couldn't eat all of this by myself if I tried, but I kept my commentary to myself. It was a nice thing they did.
"You're welcome," Lafayette said with a grin. "Now, help us unpack."
I reached into the nearest bag and began pulling out the contents. It was comprised of: Twizzlers, strawberries, and Chubby Hubby ice cream. My friends knew me well.
"I got you these for Charlie," Arlene said, unpacking three small jars of mashed peas that I knew for a fact Charlie wouldn't eat. The one and only time I tried, it ended up on my ceiling. "Mikie loved them when he was her age."
"Thanks," I said. "I'm sure Charlie will love them."
"I can feed her one while we're here," Arlene said excitedly. "It's been so long since I've fed a baby. I miss it!"
"Oh, I actually fed her right before you guys got here," I lied, not wanting Arlene to get a face full of mashed peas. "But, I'll make sure to give her them with dinner."
"Damn, Sook, you do not have a lot of room in your pantry," Lafayette said, walking away from the large cabinet with his arms full with boxes. "Hey, what about that cubbyhole? Do you use that for storage?"
"What? Um, no, I don't."
"Well, shit, that is just wasted space," he said, already heading toward the living room. I went after him, not wanting him to throw boxes of Wheat Thins down on Eric. I didn't know if it could wake him, but I didn't think I wanted to find out considering how normal people without fangs would react to being awoken by a blunt object hitting them.
"Lafayette, just leave them up here. It's fine." He began to open the cubbyhole and I urgently said, "Lafayette, no!"
He looked back at me in confusion and asked, "Why are you freaking the fuck out?" I didn't answer, and it took him a moment before he glanced at the door and then back at me, the clear ending of this mystery evident. "Sook, is there someone down here?"
"Yes," I admitted.
"What are you guys talking about?" Arlene asked, joining us in the hallway.
Lafayette looked positively amused as he said, "Apparently Sookie's got someone in the cubbyhole."
Arlene gasped. "Sookie! Who is it?"
"It's no one," I said, jaw clenched. "It's just Eric."
"You're shitting me," Lafayette said. "You've got Eric Northman in that cubby? Well, fuck. I almost forgot about that name. He hasn't been here for, what –"
"Three years," I said, thinking how strange it was that he'd somehow ended up back in that cubbyhole. "It's been three years."
"What's he doing here?" Arlene asked.
"He's here for me," I said evasively. "I wasn't handling the Jason stuff well, and he was here, and I asked him to stay and…he's staying."
I didn't want to tell them about the blood bond, as I had a feeling they wouldn't take it well.
"For how long?" Arlene askd.
I shrugged. "I don't know. For a few days or something like that." Neither said anything for a moment, and I grabbed the uncharacteristic silence for all it was worth and said, "Aren't there more bags to unpack? Come on, guys, let's finish that up."
"What does he look like now?" Arlene asked.
I shrugged. "Like he always did? He's a vampire."
"I know that," Arlene said dismissingly. "But does he look any different? Does he still wear those leather jackets?"
I thought of last night, my hands ghosting over the jacket.
"Yeah, he does."
"Well, amen to that," Lafayette said, putting a few jars of yogurt in the refrigerator. He closed the door with a knock of his hip. "The mother fucker scared the shit out of me, but he knew how to wear a leather jacket."
Lafayette and Arlene stayed for a while, them peppering me with questions about Eric while I tried to not really answer. I couldn't complain too much, though, as they made my leaving my house entirely unnecessary with the box of New Blood Lafayette found in the trunk of his car.
"James must have bought it and forgot," he said.
They ended up staying for dinner, Lafayette cooking up one of his famous Cajun creations for Arlene and I. It tasted like home, and I felt more like my old self than I had in days. Arlene unwittingly faced disaster when she insisted on feeding Charlie some of those peas. She ended up leaving in one of my old shirts from high school, her green-speckled mess balled up in a plastic bag.
There was maybe an hour until sunset when they left, and I spent the entire time on the couch, reading one of those books I always said I'd read in the past with Charlie next to me turning the pages of an old People magazine with consistent glee. The book was decent enough, but my eyes kept going to the cubbyhole, waiting for him to come out.
Turns out, Pam woke up first.
There was a knock at my front door and I got up, walked over, and opened the door. Pam stood there, her pink silk blouse and tweed pencil skirt streaked with mud. Dirt clung to her hair, and a bit flew toward me as she flipped her hair over her shoulder and told me icily, "You owe me five hundred dollars for this outfit. Mud does not come out of silk."
"Hi Pam," I said.
"Just invite me in already. I might be able to salvage this skirt if I get some club soda on it."
I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from grinning and said, "Pam, please come in."
She raced past me and straight into the kitchen. Before I could tell her that it was under the sink she found it, and suddenly she was sans a skirt, standing in my kitchen in only lacy white panties and her blouse.
"Well, this is certainly something I didn't expect to see," Eric drawled from behind me.
"Oh, shut up," Pam growled.
My head snapped back with such speed that I nearly got whiplash. Eric grinned down at me and said, "Hello Sookie."
His gaze locked with mine, and I felt bits of me go all tingly as I murmured, "Hi."
"This isn't coming out," Pam lamented.
Eric held my gaze for a moment before looking back over at Pam and telling her, "I'll buy you a new skirt."
"And blouse," she added. "This –" she pointed at her blouse, "- is completely and totally fucked."
"How did you enjoy your night underground?" Eric asked pleasantly.
Pam narrowed her eyes. "I thought we were done with your fairy."
She stormed out of the room and he called out, "Pam, play nice!" He looked down at me, placid smile in place, and said, "She'll come around. She's always a little testy after an outfit is ruined."
"Why didn't she go over to Fangtasia? You know it's open again. Ginger is running it."
"We don't want our presence in town to be known just yet," he said easily. "We've gained some level of celebrity with New Blood."
I heard a crash from the other room, and then Pam cried out, "What the hell is this?"
Eric and I went into the living room to see what was going on. Pam stood on one side of the room, looking at Charlie with obvious disdain. Charlie, oblivious to the female vampire's less than warm feelings reached out toward her with a gurgle, falling forward on the couch as she crawled in Pam's direction. I picked her up and propped her on my hip.
"Don't tell me you procreated," Pam grumbled.
"Pam, meet Charlie Stackhouse. My daughter."
Pam wrinkled her nose in distaste. "She smells like you. And not in the good way."
I swallowed the sharp retort on my tongue and asked, "Do you guys want some New Blood? I have a few bottles in the refrigerator."
"What do you say, Pam?" Eric asked, wry grin in place. "Should we drink the fruit of our labors?"
Pam sighed. "Fine. But only because I'm hungry."
"Great," I said perkily. "I'll go heat the bottles up."
I went into the kitchen, hoping that her hostility would ebb as the night went on. Pam and I had never been friends, but we usually tolerated each other. I popped the bottles in the microwave and hit the minute button twice. I picked up the packaging as it heated and read all about the new nutrients put into New Blood.
"Is it true?" I asked Eric. He'd trailed into the kitchen after me and was currently leaning against my kitchen counter. "All the stuff about you guys needing nutrients?"
"Yes, it's true," he said. "The studies tend to overstate some things, but in general it's true."
I smirked. "In general?"
He flashed his perfect rows of pearly whites down at me. "True enough to represent a new business venture. Pam and I are thinking of going into supplements."
I stared at him. "Supplements?"
"Powdered blood with vitamins in a nice easily digestible casing," Pam said, joining us. She drily added, "It's going to be the next big thing."
The microwave dinged. I opened the door and grabbed their New Bloods, handing them each their own. They toasted each other and Eric said, "To the next business venture. Or are you still mad at me for ruining your outfit?"
"Just get me something nice next time we're in Europe. Something Chanel."
I watched them spar, wondering what it must be like to be together for as long as they had. The years had clearly forged a deep bond between them. Pam would do almost anything for her maker, and Eric for her.
"I'm sorry to hear about your brother," Pam said after a moment, her voice not quite warm, but less chilly than before. "He never seemed that special to me, but he was family. That's never easy to lose."
She exchanged a look with Eric.
"Thank you, Pam," I said. After a beat I added, "And I'm really sorry for not inviting you in last night. You're welcome to the cubby with Eric during the day."
She looked mildly surprised and told me, "I appreciate the offer, but Eric and I are leaving before dawn."
I felt a cold hand grip my heart, and I murmured, "Oh, you are?"
I forced myself not to look at Eric, not wanting him to see my disappointment although I knew he could feel it.
"We have a meeting in Paris," she said.
"I'm staying here," Eric said, his hand closing on my shoulder. I'm glad he put his hand there, because the sheer relief at his words nearly sent my knees buckling.
"You're what? Eric, we're meeting with Pierre Renard. We cannot blow this off for…" she lowered her voice, "…for personal reasons."
"I'm not blowing it off," he returned simply. "I'm sending my more than capable business partner. You don't need me there. The French always like you more, anyway."
"Eric, we are partners in this," she hissed.
"Exactly," he said. "We are partners. Equals. You do not need me there. I'm needed here."
Pam seemed taken aback by it for a moment. Eric choosing to stay here in Bon Temps rather than brokering some high powered deal in France. I have to admit, even I was a bit surprised by it, but the overwhelming relief tended to overshadow that.
"You're right," Pam said, straightening her spine. "I don't need you there. We both know I can strike a deal."
Eric grinned. "Yes, you can."
She sipped at her New Blood, looking remarkably out of place in her mud stained shirt and underwear. It occurred to me I should offer her pants, but when I did she said, "Synthetic fabrics make me itch. No thanks."
She left after finishing her New Blood, saying something about how she had to go and prepare for the meeting. Secretly, I thought it was because she couldn't stand the fact that Eric had chosen me over her. I couldn't totally blame her. Eric and I settled on the couch, my legs curled up beneath me, his large form comfortably sprawled on the edge of the couch.
"You know, you didn't have to stay," I told him. "I'm fine."
"You're forgetting that I can feel your emotions," Eric returned, raising his eyebrows for a challenge.
"I'm not saying I would have been particularly happy," I said, shooting him back a similarly challenging look. "But, I would've been fine."
"I wanted to be here," he said simply.
"But what about that meeting? It sounded important."
"Pam is more than capable of handling it on her own," he said. "She's a good business woman. You should have seen her whorehouse. Tightest run one I've ever seen."
I wrinkled my nose. "Please don't elaborate on your experience with whorehouses."
He chuckled. "Do I detect some jealousy from you, Sookie?"
"No," I said immediately. "Not at all."
He smiled knowingly and I reached forward, grabbing the TV remote before flipping it on. He settled back into the couch and I went through the channels, landing on an episode of Chopped. I glanced over at him, and when I heard no complaint, I put the remote back on the table.
When it was time to go to bed he followed me without a word. I didn't say anything, either. Not when he climbed into bed with me. Not when he draped his arm over my waist. Not even when I inadvertently pressed against him in the dark, and I heard the unnecessary sharp intake of breath. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears, and I knew he could feel it speed up as I felt just how close we were. If he had any reaction he didn't show it, save for a slight tightening of his arm around my waist. I covered his arm with my own and closed my eyes, letting myself drift off to sleep.
"How are you?" someone asked.
It wasn't the first time I'd been asked that question today. Not even the second or the third. I couldn't really get too ruffled at the repeated question. What else were people supposed to ask you when you just buried your brother? I would have been fine with a simple hello, but everyone seemed intent on that searching question and hugs, a lot of hugs. I couldn't remember the last time I'd hugged this many people. Probably when I buried Gran.
The funeral was nice and respectable. Gran would have been proud and Jason would have slept right through it, announcing afterwards that all of it was about as boring as Sunday church. Not that he ever went. I heard a few of the Daughters of the Glorious Dead remarking on that but one sharp glance from Lafayette silenced them pretty quickly. Of course, I could still hear them after that.
We all went back to my house afterwards for the expected funeral luncheon, a few chairs set in front of Eric's hidey-hole to make sure that no little ones accidentally found their way down there. I could just imagine the shrill screams at discovering the undead.
I told Jason's wife, Brigette, that I would handle the luncheon, and I paid Jason the ultimate tribute by bucking the normal tradition of pot luck casseroles and tears for grilling out, football, and beer. I knew some of the older biddies would talk, but I wanted something that Jason would have liked. And sitting on the front porch, sipping a beer as I watched Hoyt run around with Jason's girls on the front lawn, I knew Jason would have loved this.
But some trappings just couldn't be escaped with the funeral luncheon, and the how-are-you-questions was one of them. This time it was from Arlene, who at least had the courtesy to ask it as she handed me a hot dog. Grilled meat helped out with just about anything.
"I'm not too bad," I said, patting the seat next to me on the wicker two-seater. Arlene sat down, taking a bite of her hotdog. A bit of mustard dripped onto her orange tube top.
"Shit," she murmured, wiping at the spot ineffectively with her napkin. "I just bought this top, too."
"Club soda," I said automatically. "It's in the refrigerator. Gran swore on it to get just about anything out of clothes."
"I'll be right back," she promised, hopping off the seat and rushing indoors to tend to her shirt. A few seconds later Sam walked out. He still lived out of town with his wife, but he came back when he heard the news. It was nice seeing him again. I missed him when he was gone, taking for granted all those days when seeing him wasn't even a question. He opened his mouth, and before he could even get to the question I told him, "I'm fine."
He smiled a bit. "Well, I'm glad to hear that. But I actually wasn't going to ask how you were."
"I'm sorry. I just sort of expect it now. Everyone seems to be really interested in my mental state these days."
"They just worry about you. That's all."
"I know," I said. "But I'm okay. Really. Jason wouldn't have wanted me to mope around with all of this. He would have wanted one really good day of crying and that's it."
Sam laughed. "Yeah, I bet you're right. He moved on, that boy. He would have loved what you did here, by the way. It's perfect."
"He didn't like things that were stuffy," I said, stretching my legs out. "Or serious. He'd have hated having his girls sitting on a couch all quiet while people paid their respects like we did when our parents died."
I looked back out into the yard. Hoyt had Jason's youngest in his arms, twirling her around as the older girl jumped on his legs.
"Jason would have wanted them like this," I murmured.
"I think he would have, too."
There was a beat of silence, both of us watching Hoyt and the girls play. He was a natural with them, and I wondered if he ever regretted not being able to have children with Jessica. It was something I barely even thought about with Bill, too blinded by my feelings. But now that I had Charlie, I couldn't imagine a world without her.
"I heard Eric Northman is in town," Sam said casually.
I looked over at him and asked, "Where'd you hear that?"
"Ah. So, you've also heard he's staying with me?" I asked, a slight edge creeping into my voice.
"Hey, calm down. There's no judgment here. It's just a bit of a surprise. I haven't heard that name in years."
I didn't really know what to say to that, so I took a bite of my hotdog to fill the silence.
"Are you two together?"
I nearly choked on my hotdog. After swallowing the bite down I stammered, "What?"
"Just a friend asking a friend," Sam said, laughing at my reaction. "It's not a ridiculous question."
"We're not together," I said. "He's just here for me with everything happening. He's a friend."
"Who's a friend?" Arlene asked, reappearing next to me. She had a large wet mark on the side of her shirt, but the mustard stain appeared to be gone. "Club soda worked like a charm, by the way."
"I can see."
"Who were y'all talking about?" Arlene pressed.
"Eric," Sam said.
"Oh, right. You know he ran up here when he heard what happened with Jason and all? That's sort of romantic, right?"
"It's not romantic," I said. It was our blood bond, nothing more. My brain held fast to that, but other parts of me snickered at its obtuseness.
"That is total shit and you know it," Arlene said.
"I'm not looking for anything like that right now. I need to focus on Charlie."
Arlene smirked. "That's sweet and all, Sook, but take it from another single mother. You're eventually going to want to talk to someone who can speak in full sentences."
"She'll get back out there when she's ready," Sam said easily, sensing my discomfort. I shot him an appreciative look and he nodded slightly, grinning over at Arlene.
"Well, I should go find my wife," Sam said, standing up. He turned back to me and said, "We're going to be in town a few days extra. Let's get lunch before we leave, yeah?"
I nodded. "Definitely."
"Maybe we'll go to Bellefleur's," Sam said, winking at Arlene. "You know, for old time's sake."
"You're more than welcome," Arlene said, beaming. "But, don't expect no free meals. I have a business to run."
Sam laughed, patting Arlene's shoulder as he walked past her into the house. Arlene sat back next to me and crossed her legs daintily.
"They really are beautiful," Arlene said, watching Jason's girls play. "That's the great thing about kids. You know that whenever you do leave this world, you've still got the best part of you here."
Everyone left a bit before sundown, and I tidied up the house, throwing away the odds and ends that were left scattered around the house. I'd had a good amount of help cleaning up before everyone left, though, and it only took a good ten or fifteen minutes to get the house looking like its old self. I put Charlie to bed, taking the monitor with me and sat down on the couch in the living room. The house was quiet. Just an hour back it had been bursting with energy, and in the rush of people and food it was easy to forget.
Forget what we lost. What we would never have again. I wondered when the crushing feeling in my chest would go away. If it ever would. I picked up the pillow next to me and held it against my chest, tightening my arms around it until I couldn't press my arms any firmer. I thought of all the people who sat on this couch with me. All the people who I would never see again. Jason. Tara. Gran. Terry. My parents. Bill. Alcide. So many people lost. Too many for my thirty some years. When would I stop losing people? Hadn't I lost enough?
I could feel my breath catching in my chest, futilely trying to make its way up my windpipe as my heart slammed against my ribcage. I buried my brother. Four hours ago they put him in the ground, and he wouldn't be coming back up at dark. Pain coursed through my body like someone injected poison directly into my veins. It hurt more than all the other times I'd buried family and friends, and I couldn't understand why. This should be no different. I was used to this. I was good at this.
I felt the need for a drink, something to numb the pain but nothing in my pantry sounded good. I couldn't touch tequila after Alcide's funeral, and now the thought of beer put a big lump in my throat. I'd never been one for drugs, but I considered calling Lafayette. He was an expert in numbing pain. He practically made a business out of it.
My gaze caught on the doors to Eric's cubby, and I got up without really thinking, blindly reaching for the baby monitor next to me. My body knew where it was going and my mind was only too relieved to take some time off. I opened the door and climbed down the ladder, barely even registering where I was putting my feet and hands.
Eric was still asleep, wrapped up in a blanket. I found this irrationally funny, given the circumstances. I slipped off my shoes and lifted the blanket, climbing next to him in the bed. It was a bit small for both of us and I edged closer, hitching my leg up over his and wrapping my arm around him. It was like hugging a block of ice, but I could feel my chest loosen, and I finally felt like I could breathe again. I stayed that way until he woke up, idly thinking how over the past few days he was the only person who'd been able to make me feel remotely normal.
I felt him stir beside me and then he said, "Hello Sookie."
I suddenly felt silly for using him as my own personal pillow. I went to pull away but he held me against him.
"Where do you think you're going?" he asked lazily.
"My arm's asleep," I lied, propping myself up and scooting away from him. He smirked and told me, "You know, I can hear your heart racing."
"It's rude to tell people that," I shot back lightly.
His smirk grew into a full-fledged grin, and he sat up, the blanket pooling at his waist. He ran a hand through his blonde hair and then leaned against the wall. He studied me, and I could feel it coming. The nagging question that I couldn't seem to escape.
"We should go out," he said, surprising me completely.
"It's about time I visit Fangtasia," Eric said. "You should come with me."
"I have Charlie," I said automatically. "I don't think that Fangtasia is exactly baby friendly."
"Pam can watch her," he answered sensibly.
"Pam didn't even want to be in the same room as her a few days ago," I said. "Besides, is she even in Bon Temps?"
"She arrived last night," he said. When I showed surprise he said, "I didn't think it was relevant to tell you."
"It's not," I said. "But, why is she hanging here? I thought she was happy to be rid of Bon Temps."
He arched an eye brow and I had my answer. "She really cares about you."
"You sound surprised."
I thought of how she was when he was chained out in the sun with Russell Edginton and said, "Actually, I'm not."
"So, it's settled. Pam will watch Charlie and we'll go to Fangtasia."
"You need to ask her first."
"She'll do it," he said dismissively, getting up from the bed. He stretched, the hem of his shirt rising just above the waistband of his jeans. I looked away quickly, pressing my lips together. Focusing on more pressing matters than the dusting of hair disappearing beneath his waistband, I said, "You need to actually ask her. And I want to talk to her, too."
"That can be arranged," he said. He grabbed his phone and quickly dialed a number. I heard Pam pick up on the other line, her raspy voice extolling a dry greeting. "Pam, I need a favor."
"I'll talk to her when she gets here," I told him. "I'm going to change."
He nodded, switching the phone to his other ear as he turned away from me. I climbed back up to the house and then walked up to my room. It felt nice to be doing something relatively normal. I used to go out. I'd even made a habit of it. I opened my closet and pushed away my normal uniform to unearth the dresses I hadn't touched since Charlie's dad booked it. I went through the dresses slowly, running my fingers along the soft material. I stopped on the one I'd worn the first time I met Eric. White with cherry red detailing. I quickly changed into it. My body changed a bit after Charlie. I was rounder in places, but it worked well with the dress. I'd had to stuff the top a bit last I wore it, but now I filled it without any problem.
I ran a brush through my hair and added a few coats of mascara. On the way out my gaze caught on the framed photograph on my vanity. It was from when I graduated high school. Gran, Jason and I grinned from behind the glass. I felt a tinge of guilt for sprucing myself up and going out after such a day, but when I looked at Jason's impish grin I knew he'd want nothing less.
I went downstairs and found Eric lounging on the couch, somehow in a change of clothes that I had no idea how he obtained. He looked up at me, clearly poised to say something, but he fell silent as his eyes raked down my form. He swallowed hard and said, "I always liked you in that dress."
"I know," I said.
"Pam should be here soon."
As if on cue there was a knock on the door and I walked over, opening it up to find the other blonde vampire standing there, looking predictably put out.
"You need me to watch your little vermin?" she asked, voice dripping with sarcasm.
"I tend to call her my daughter, but yes, that is the general idea."
"I can't believe I'm doing this," Pam muttered, walking past me. She jutted her chin toward Eric and said, "You owe me."
"I know," Eric said pleasantly. "I'll buy you a heiress next time we're in Russia."
"She shouldn't be too much trouble," I told her. "She's been sleeping pretty well the past few nights. So, she'll probably just sleep the entire time we're gone. But –" I plucked the index card I'd written out previously for babysitters off the table, "-here are contact numbers if anything goes wrong. I'm the first number. See, it says Sookie right next to it."
"Oh, it does?" Pam returned drily. "I had no idea."
I ignored her and continued with, "And right under there is Arlene and then Andy and Holly. You call them if you can't get a hold of me. But I should answer. So, if anything happens –"
"Let me guess, I call you?"
"Pam," Eric said, voice light but a warning edge coloring her name.
"I'll call you," Pam said. "Do you have any New Blood?"
"In the fridge," I said. "There are a few bottles in there, so have as much as you want."
Eric touched my elbow and said, "Are you ready to go?"
I nodded, glancing up the stairs. I knew Charlie was fast asleep, oblivious to her mother leaving, but I still felt maternal guilt pull at me. Pam sighed audibly and said, "She'll be fine. Now go."
"Okay." I realized I hadn't thanked her and quickly said, "I appreciate you looking after her."
"Uh huh. Get out of here before I change my mind."
Eric's corvette somehow ended up in front of my house and we took it out to Fangtasia. The top was down and my hair flew wildly around my face as we drove. It was freeing, the wind rushing past my face. It had been months, years even, since I felt this at peace. We pulled into the Fangtasia parking lot and I climbed out of the car, thinking of the first time I'd been here in this dress. I'd been a different person. So had Eric.
We walked in together, my eyes adjusting to the dark room. The throne still sat prominently on the raised stage, although it was surrounded by rope like a sculpture in a museum. He looked around, his face showing obvious delight with how Ginger had maintained Fangtasia. It had all of its predecessor's sinister charm, with a few upgrades. He put his hand on the small of my back and guided me toward the bar. He ordered a New Blood for himself and then looked at me for my order.
"Gin and tonic," I told the bartender.
He turned his back toward the drinks to get set on our orders when a piercing scream cut through the bar. I didn't even have to look to know to whom the scream belonged. I glanced back and smiled a bit when I saw Ginger stalking toward us, her mouth open and eyes wide.
"Eric fucking Northman," she all but yelled, reaching out and grabbing his hand before shaking it vigorously. "It is such an honor to have you here! An absolute honor!" She glanced past him at the bartender and told him, "Mick, their drinks are on the house."
"Sure thing, Ginge."
"So," she began, rocking on her heels nervously. "How do you like the place? I know it's a little different, I never liked the old color scheme that much, but –"
"I think it's great," he interrupted smoothly. "You did a wonderful job."
She looked about to faint at that answer and I leaned in toward him and said, "You might want to get her to where she can sit."
"Sit!" she said loudly. "You need to sit at your throne! I haven't let anyone else sit on it! Not a single person!"
"Well. I appreciate that. But –"
"Come on! It's been waiting for you!"
Ginger bound off toward the throne and Eric looked down at me. I shrugged in response and said, "I don't think you're allowed to leave here without sitting on it."
We walked over and Ginger unhooked one of the ropes. Eric stepped up on the stage and then sat down on the throne. I could feel the energy in the room change. People looked over at him, sensing his power but not knowing exactly what to make of it. I felt my own personal sort of energy course through me and I crossed one leg over the other tightly.
"It's been too long since I've seen him on that throne," Ginger said reverently.
Eric beckoned for me and I walked up, feeling the collective eyes of the room on me. I stood beside him and asked, "What is it?"
"A proper throne always has a powerful woman beside it."
I thought about that for a moment and said, "What about a powerful woman on it?"
He raised an eyebrow before pulling me onto his lap.
We returned to my house a good two or three hours before dawn. I didn't have the stamina of my previous night-owl-days and I could barely keep my eyes open on the drive home. When we walked in I found Pam spread out on the couch, all the bottles of New Blood from my refrigerator empty on the table. She looked up at us gratefully and said, "Thank God. Staying in one place is so boring."
"How was she?" I asked.
"Slept right through."
"Good," I said, sitting next to her. "Thank you again for watching her. It was nice to get out of the house for a little."
"You're welcome," she said. She stood up and faced Eric, "I want a Russian princess now. The last heiress I had tasted like shit."
Eric smirked. "Whatever you want, Pam."
Her lips quirked. "I like the sound of that."
She didn't waste any time leaving, dismissing my offer for her to stay with Eric during the day with nothing more than a brittle laugh and flip of her hair. Eric sat down where she'd been and propped his legs up on the coffee table.
"Thank you for taking me to Fangtasia," I said. "It was exactly what I needed."
"You're welcome. I remember what it was like when Nora passed. It's easy to get lost in your sorrow. I didn't want that for you."
I'd forgotten about Nora. When it happened I was so wrapped up in my own Warlow nonsense that I'd barely taken any time to address that he'd lost someone close to him. I felt a sudden rush of shame at my own selfishness.
"I'm sorry about Nora," I said.
He was quiet for a moment and then murmured, "I'm sorry about Jason."
I slipped my arm through his and rested the side of my head against his arm. He turned his head toward me and I could feel his mouth brush against my hair.
"I can't thank you enough for being here through all of this," I said. "I don't think I can ever put into words how much it's helped me."
"I'm happy to be of service."
I could hear the smile in his voice.
"What do you have planned next?" I asked casually, although I felt anything but. Ever since we left Fangtasia I couldn't help thinking that with Jason buried all of this had come to an end, that logically meant Eric's exit.
"Pam and I are looking to expand New Blood into the African market," he said. "We have some meetings scheduled."
"They aren't until next month, though. I thought I'd stay here until then. Maybe make a few more appearances at Fangtasia."
"I think Ginger would like that," I said.
I felt my heart race, and knew full well he could hear it.
This is the final chapter. Thanks so much to everyone who read this!
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.