She was in my arms exactly where I wanted her to be, but not like this. Not in these circumstances. It was seconds after impact and we were already all secured in Pam’s entourage of armoured vehicles. The identical cars were speeding off in opposite directions while Sookie sobbed all over my formerly pristine white cotton shirt. I felt like sobbing myself as she pried herself from my grasp and sought Pam for comfort. It wasn’t personal, whatever it was between us we lacked the familiarity that she needed for solace. It stung regardless.
Most of all she was upset for her home. We already had it confirmed, everyone had been safely escorted out, which had been her primary concern. The tears came afterwards, the fire was yet to be contained. Pam’s security staff had been slack in their protection. At Sookie’s insistence they had allowed themselves to be comfortable in the festive atmosphere. We were at an informal social event, there had been no necessity for Pam’s usual overwhelmingly large entourage. Sookie’s team of weres had proved more effective, having already caught two of the perpetrators. They had stopped listening to Sookie’s disregard of her own safety long ago. Pam’s security detail had finally caught the third, from Sookie’s mind we knew exactly how many we were looking for.
“I only just got it back,” she whimpered between sobs. Her fears for the possible loss of her family home for the second time was gut wrenching. Sookie had shown it to me with such pride just two nights ago when I had sought her out at my grave as she bid goodbye to the other me below the ground.
We had walked down that same dewy path of green grass to her car just as we did those many weeks ago. It seemed a lifetime had passed us by in between now and the moment that I had returned as vampire. A comfortable silence had fallen between us as she led me back to her newly reacquired home.
“I see you have upgraded your car,” I said with a smirk I couldn’t contain. It seemed to be growing on her, Sookie expressed she was already beginning to hate and love the sight of that particular facial expression in equal measures. She informed me Jason’s former truck used to be named the pussy wagon but in the state it was now she’d be lucky to attract a reluctant stray cat. I laughed with her knowing it was how she diverted attention away from conversations that should be had.
“Why didn’t you take the Corvette?” she asked of me instead.
“It didn’t feel like me anymore,” I answered honestly. I had enjoyed reuniting with the horsepower at my feet but I didn’t like revisiting the man I was back then. Nor did I want to hold Sookie in the same regard as the women who had sat in her seat. “Why aren’t you driving it?”
She gave a small shrug before opening the rickety old door and inviting me in. “Didn’t feel like mine anymore,” she replied before hesitating.
I knew where her mind was headed, she still wanted to return everything to me. I didn’t have need for it but she had thus far refused to accept what was once mine should continue to be hers.
Cataliades had warned me she would be resistant and stubborn but time would make her agreeable. She had fought every legal battle to the bitter end, refusing to settle till she felt justice was served. She never understood that Freyda wasn’t fighting her for the money, she was fighting for recognition as my true wife. Freyda only relented when she found another man that would do just that.
“I still remember all the things my Gran taught me to cook in here,” she said as she led me into the kitchen. I knew she missed Adele Stackhouse. Like Lovisa and I, we both had held onto our last remaining grandmother longer than our parents.
“Maybe you can teach me some,” I offered. I had a basic grasp of cooking but beyond my student years I had barely spent time in the kitchen cooking anything beyond breakfast.
“That sounds nice,” she returned noncommittally. Every time I sidled in behind her she would step forward and out of my reach. “Do you still enjoy eating solid foods?”
“Blood is best,” I confessed. Hers was proving to be beyond enticing whenever she blushed, I was convinced it came up to greet me at the sight. “I miss human foods when I don’t eat them. It’s more the sharing of the meal than anything else.”
“Yeah me too,” she responded no doubt missing the presence of her grandmother at her nightly dinner table. “Listen…” we both said at the same time and after some back and forth she conceded to go first.
“I think we need to discuss your estate,” she started in a cool business like tone. I recognised it as one I had used quite often in my working days. I tried to stop her from expanding the conversation any further but she persisted. “We need to start fresh, as the people we are today. I don’t want this weighing down upon us.”
She had her point and I hated to admit it. I had taken Cataliades’ council and decided to simply ignore broaching the subject it till she accepted that it was ours together. Now I understood Sookie Stackhouse wasn’t going to dance around the elephant in the room with me. Blissful ignorance was a state a telepath never had the luxury to indulge in.
“If I take it back, we can move on?” I asked wanting the business over and done with. I had already made it clear I’d be pursuing her. I found recognition and acceptance of that in her bouquet of apologies and tearful farewell of the other Eric that had rested in the ground with my absence. If it all had to move back and forth on paper twenty times I didn’t care as long as it was ours or hers in the end.
“You’re just humouring me,” she said, the annoyance clearly present on her face.
The evening’s events had left her emotionally raw and for once that formidable poker face of hers was finally legible to me. It was an accurate truth, money was the least bit of importance to me when alive. It was always a burden and never a prize. It all meant even less to me now.
“Give it all away if you’re so desperate to get rid of it,” I responded a little more callous than I intended. “I don’t care either way.”
“You should care!” she expressed in exasperation. She launched herself into the air on the backs of her hands to settle on the high counter behind her. Our eyes rested upon each other almost at an even level and it only made me inch closer to her. Sookie’s menacing tone was not unlike Louvelle’s when she was impassioned like this. “It’s the legacy of your family.”
It shouldn’t have taken me by surprise but it had. We were discussing our families throughout the tour of the house. She had indicated every little spot in her home where a momentous occasion for their family had occurred. The house was a testament to the generations that had occupied the modest home. It was how Sookie kept them close, it’s why the return of the house meant so much to her.
In her view I was simply throwing away the ties that bound me to my human family. I wasn’t sentimental like her. I loved my sister dearly. I held the memory of my grandparents with great affection. My relationship to my parents had been turbulent but close to their individual deaths we had made our peace.
I had considered Sookie part of my family from the moment she accepted my presence back in her life. Lovisa, or Isa as I had always called her when I was unable to enunciate it coherently as a child, had already been referring to her as ‘lilla syster’, little sister, before my return. I had laid claim to her without her knowledge and with that thought I cupped her cheeks in the palms of my hands. For once she didn’t retreat, she faced me head on.
“I care,” I whispered as our lips were so close I could feel the heat from hers as my own. “I care for you. You are the reason I chose for an existence beyond mere mortality.” My lips moved to the tip of her nose as my thumbs smoothed the skin of her cheeks. “Every time I see you I am reminded all over again. This life that animates mine.”
Her eyes never wavered as her hands moved to hold on to my wrists. Every step I took towards her another shield was drawn. She never pushed me away despite her cautious stance and when I felt her capitulate, the distance between us was lost. I had not given a kiss this chaste since I answered the first one I received. My fear that she would not respond and once again fortify her defences was false. It was she that deepened the kiss, pulling our hands and wrists down freeing us of our collective confines.
Her lips were softer than I had conjured up in my imaginations, they were full and giving not unlike the woman herself. Momentarily mine. She gave way for my hands to rest atop the curve of her hips. I knew I was a man lost then. Nothing would ever feel this good in its innocence and simplicity. What I felt for her ricocheted between pain and pleasure and if this was all she would ever give, it would be enough. I would mourn the loss of it for every single day of my existence in the same way she had grieved for me.
“I don’t need you to be mine,” I breathed out against her lips. “I simply want to be worthy of you. Tell me what to do. Anything you ask, my answer will be yes.”
Her warm hand rested on my cheek as she sought out the oxygen I had deprived from her lungs. The way her eyes pierced sharply into mine made me fear the worst and for once I was right.
“That’s the problem isn’t it?” she said to me, though it seemed mostly directed at herself. “I have to go. Stay as long as you like.”
I let her leave and I stayed as she ran. I toyed with the spare key in my hand as I walked from room to room. I wanted to understand Sookie from the tangible memories that still resided in this house.
I spent the longest time in the soft yellow papered room that was her childhood bedroom. The pictures that had been removed from the wall showed how much the sun had ebbed away at the brightness of the original colour. It reminded me of Sookie. The brilliance that was there when I had first laid my eyes upon her had faded in my years of absence. It was not to be explained as a loss of youth, it was the embodiment of her battle scars.
She had fought in my name, she was my champion when I was unable. The sum of my inheritance was a pittance to what she deserved in reward. She did not need a ‘yes’ man, her newfound wealth had undoubtedly surrounded her with plenty of those. Sookie was never meant to be a kept woman. She needed a warrior by her side not a man who indulged her every whim. We needed to fight in order to understand the other, before we could ever hope to make up.
I couldn’t help but smile, she went to the end of the earth and back for me. Why should I not be expected to do the same? She needed someone to fight on her behalf for once. Luck would have it I was quite adept with a sharpened blade. I had locked down her house and returned to Pam’s estate minutes before the first rays of the sun crested over the horizon.
I lay in bed, rest evading me as I strategized my next move. As ever, Sookie surprised me by reaching out to me before I could. Not with the symbolic gesture of flowers or gifts. It was simply the beauty of her voice as it travelled down the telephone line slightly higher in pitch than her natural tone.
Her waking hours of the day had been more conducive than mine as she proposed the concept of the unfuneral to me. In all honesty I liked my headstone, it was her undying belief in my continued existence. I knew, however, that physical things were important to her. The upbringing she enjoyed had been filled with metaphors and myth and I knew this would be healing to her. She wanted to celebrate my life, the one I lost but also the continuation of it in my altered state.
With nothing between us but an electronic line we spoke with greater ease. She was excited that I had agreed and she informed me of her plans. I replied by telling her what I truly wanted, to be surrounded by the people that mattered most to me. I wanted a large round table so everyone could look at one another. I had no desire to sit at the end of a lengthy table as if it were a throne where I had to enthral my guests. For Sookie I wanted her home to smell of the cooking scents of her grandmother. A homecoming of sorts, the recognition that the banner of the Stackhouses had taken residency once more.
On the drive back to Pam’s residence I counted my blessings that she had left me behind in her own home to take in every important nook and cranny in great detail. I knew nothing could replace the bumps and dents impressed by time but I was determined to do so regardless.
The evening had been everything I had hoped for, till the unfortunate interruption of the flames. When she had spoken of me in the past, it proved to me she understood that at my core I stood unchanged. The way in which my character had always been publicly portrayed failed to convince Sookie to hold any truth of who I really was. The brief insights into my mind had told her more of me than I had ever shared aloud with anyone else.
For the first time she had expressed her gratitude for what I had bestowed on her. Sookie’s telepathy had given her insight into my inner musings but her immersion into my life had allowed her to know me beyond that. Had our situations been reversed I had no doubt her home would have read to me like a storybook of who she was.
Pam soothed her as best she could but she was too long gone from human touch to remember how. Sookie had finally quieted some despite that, as we approached the heavily secured gates of Pam’s estate.
I would have preferred to have flown here with Sookie in my arms knowing it was the safest place we could be. Duty lay with the Queen, Godric had already disclosed to me that her royal highness would always have to rely on human modes of transportation.
Her rule had never been under threat, she was fair and progressive. Aptly suited to the new world. That is what my maker had told me but I had to admit I was grossly uninformed on the intricacies of the political playing field at large.
Our high speed was only halted momentarily as we awaited the opening of the monumental double sets of cast iron gates. The forced stop turned into our blessing as the left wing of the impressive mansion exploded filling the night air with noxious gas and surmounting flames. Pam’s driver was thoroughly trained and before a piece of rubble could descend onto our vehicle we were backed out on the public road, testing the limitations of the vehicle’s velocity to the nearest safe house.
It was then that I stood witness to the fact that Sookie was no ordinary human. The beast that fuelled the warrior inside her emerged. Tears forgotten she looked me straight in the eyes mirroring the fire I had just witnessed in the towering flames.
“We’re going to our house,” she commanded before pulling her gaze from me to Pam. Apparently these circumstances had halted our ‘yours and mine’ conversations. “The security is as good as yours. You have the added protection of a human owner who can’t be glamoured.”
While Pam’s safe houses were surely in the name of mortals the secondary attack had confirmed to us this was no longer a random act. They were all just houses now, the safety no longer intact. I had been informed that the tension between the humans of Bon Temps and the recently migrated Impurus had caused relations to strain. Knowing it had been our presence that had possibly torched Sookie’s beloved home to ashes was an induction of guilt I never wanted to feel again.
“Do it,” Pam instructed the driver without pause.
The area around my former home was deserted in the late hour of the night. At Sookie’s request the driver slowed down as she scanned the area for anything hostile, human minds or voids, but she found all was as calm as the empty street. She gave a hesitant look to Pam as we neared the gates of the property. The wards were defined up until the property lines unlike the standard wards granted to a human home. Understanding her hesitance Pam gave an approving nod at which she invited the Sanguine driving the car, Shahbaz, into her home.
Despite Sookie’s mental reconnaissance we stayed in the car till the door of the garage was fully down. Our driver scanned the perimeter physically before he gave Pam the all clear to move into the rest of the house. Pam’s annoyance with the security protocol was clearly legible on her face.
In the time that I had come to know Pam it was evident she struggled with the restrains that her position placed upon her. Being a queen gave her as much direction over it as one could be afforded but it imposed new ones alongside it.
Sookie and her home were like a Petit Trianon* to her. A refuge from the demands of court life. Though thankfully she left the milkmaid costumes at home. Pam seemed to move around the home with more ease than even Sookie. I dutifully followed into the basement that in my absence had been transformed into a full-fledged vampire approved bunker.
Sookie had set herself to work fitting sheets to the beds. At the apparent lack of help from my fellow vampires I moved in to assist. She smiled at me in gratitude as together we tucked and tightened the corners of every single bed. Fresh towels were placed on top of the newly covered duvets while I strangled the pillows into their fabric hold. At the sight of them she fluffed and straightened them. A small gust of air escaped her nostrils with a poorly contained smile as I caught her guilty face while I had regarded her scrutiny of my ill work.
“Thanks,” she said, her eyes no longer haunted with caution. “You’re different from them.”
“How so?” I couldn’t help but ask. There was no denying I was young and had been raised Sanguine in sheltered confines. By appearances I followed suit as expected but her assessment was accurate. I belonged with them by blood but I had yet to shed the skin of my past. I doubted I ever would.
“You’re not scared to get stuck in,” she said appreciatively before lowering her voice to one that spoke of conspiracy. “Pam thinks manual labour is a disease.”
I couldn’t help but laugh despite our dire circumstances and she joined in. As I stood disarmed by all that was happening around us she moved. Into me and her arms around me. As our revelry quieted down we held each other for comfort in our house. I couldn’t care for what tomorrow would bring, this was home to me.
A/N: The driver Shahbaz has been added to the character banners below. Whenever a little asterisk (*) is in the text you will find an explanation of a term or knowledge that perhaps might not be commonplace.
*Petit Trianon is a small chateau on the grounds of Versailles where Marie-Antoinette resided in her spare time escaping from the formality that her station demanded of her. She was known to re-enact the simplicity of rural life in exaggerated fashion, most famously herding heavily perfumed sheep and goats in milkmaid outfits. It was something she did in the spirit of the Enlightenment, it is a common misconception that the Royal French Court disregarded or discouraged the movement. The young Royal Couple and their court were avid followers of the literature and pursuits that ironically rang in their demise. Antonia Fraser’s biography is an especially good one on the subject as well as Sofia Coppola’s cinematic interpretation of the same book.
Next chapter will be SPOV in the confines of the basement where it’s going to be hard to avoid conversations that need to be had…
Special thanks to VAlady and treewitch703 for taking the time to pre-read and their invaluable feedback.