Sweden was disturbingly cold and she hadn’t even made it outside yet, only sensing it through the thin walls of the air bridge when she’d disembarked the plane. She stared briefly at the departure screen checking for the next flight home, avoiding the issue altogether gaining all the more appeal with the shortened distance to just forget she ever made this tiring journey. She knew, though, that avoiding the issue as she had so far wouldn’t solve a thing and was the reason she’d ended up here in the first place. Besides, Pam was waiting for her and she couldn’t wait to see the babies and, more intriguingly, Pam as a mother. Sookie’s estimation of her friend’s maternal capabilities still hovered somewhat between worrisome and terrifying, and it was that which made Sookie determined to stay, at least for the sake of those babies.
She was tired after the especially long journey and multiple stopovers, happy to heave her suitcase onto a trolley and roll into Pam’s car, and sleep for days. It had nothing to do with facing Eric she assured herself, but even she knew that was lie. She scanned the small crowd, looking for Pam’s brighter than bright head of blonde hair only to find the one face she’d been hoping to avoid for at least another twenty-four hours instead.
He smiled at her carefully, beckoning her to the spot where he stood waiting as if she’d been able to miss that giant stature of his. Her pace slowed, breathing heavier as she did, dreading how to react. They hadn’t spoken since she hung up the phone on him, and in the time preceding her departure she’d contemplated calling him many times, but was at a loss of what to say. She was grateful for the opportunity Landon afforded her to figure out whatever it was that kept her from moving on in one direction or the other; however, explaining her motives to the man before her might encourage some kind of hope in Eric, or worse, a plan to capture her heart when all she wanted was to figure it out on her own first, thus Sookie had made it expressly clear to Pam that she was coming to visit her, not Eric. Pam had merely shrugged and was happy to host her.
Eric greeted her cautiously, his hands never leaving his pockets, unsure to what her response to him would be. She blamed it on the fact that she was exhausted, cold, and twenty other feeble things that would never make rational sense as she moved in to hug him, whispering her apologies about their last phone call. Only in that moment did she come to understand how much she’d missed him, how much she had missed a part of herself that she was with him before any of this had happened, that had disappeared along with him.
“I was being an ass,” he tried to console, his hands moving cautiously over her upper body, unsure what was an appropriate response.
“You were always an ass,” she replied with a small laugh. “At least you’re consistent.”
“Good to know,” he grinned. “I still shouldn’t have said those things.”
She tried to protest, wanting to take all the blame because he hadn’t said anything untrue at the time, she just wasn’t willing to hear it then, but he effectively shut her up, “We should probably talk about this somewhere else.”
“You’re probably right,” she sniffed. “I’m really tired.”
“I can imagine,” he replied with a small smile, taking charge of the trolley while still holding her close to his side and in unfamiliar surroundings she didn’t dare stray far. For whatever reason, it just felt comfortable have her there and whether it was fatigue or compliance, he was unsure, but she didn’t fight him on it and surprisingly, when they moved to the underground tunnel for the train into town abandoning the trolley as they did, she’d slipped right back by his side while he pulled her suitcase along.
He’d felt bad for refusing Pam’s offer of sending him out with a driver to pick her up, knowing the journey would take twice as long because of it, while she shivered in the cold tunnel waiting for the train to arrive.
“Where’s Pam?” she finally asked.
“One of the twins is sick,” he shrugged. “She sent me in her place.”
“How is she handling being a mom?”
Eric remained pensively silent, forcing her to raise her brows in demand of an answer. “I don’t know what she was like before, but I fear she’s not really motherly material.”
“She can’t be that bad?”
He snorted before elaborating, “She cusses them out all the time for crying putting seamen worldwide to shame, refused to talk to one of them for puking on one of her shoes, and then forgot which one it was. She’s taken to calling them Hashtag and Hashbrown because she hates the names her husband insisted upon and she knows it grates on him, and given that he refuses to hire a nanny, the names got pretty crazy till she settled on these.”
“She thought a symbol was easier to tattoo on them rather than a name so she can keep them apart, and she didn’t like the ‘Asterisk,’ so she went with Hashbrown.”
“Those poor kids,” Sookie sighed, knowing that it probably wasn’t as bad as Eric made it out to be, however, there was no denying that by the sound of it, for the first time in her life, Pam was a little out of her depth. He shared her worry, “I’m dreading to know what she’d name the next one.”
“Ampersand?” she grinned, causing them both to fall to laughs as they boarded the train.
“Thank you,” he said once installed in their seats, where much to her relief it was blissfully warm.
He pulled her to his side once more, allowing her to rest her tired head against him, her eyes already weary with sleep. “For making me laugh,” Eric explained softly, as if sharing a shameful secret, causing her to look up at him with surprise. “It’s been awhile.”
“Yeah,” she smiled. “It has.”
It was still dark when she awoke in the guest room, finally coming to understand the displeasure of jet lag. It made her think of Landon, who’d often be grumpy for no reason after a business trip, trying to adjust to an old rhythm that had continued on without him. Guilt rushed in at the notion that she hadn’t given him much thought from the moment she had landed, or had, as promised, let him know she’d landed safely the minute she did, the sudden sighting of Eric leaving her completely unprepared. She checked the time difference, settling on a text message instead of a call knowing he’d be asleep by now.
Despite the early hour of the morning, she heard some noise from the ground floor accompanied by the cries of one of the twins. She crept downstairs figuring she might as well keep Pam company, only to be surprised once more to find Eric in place of where she expected to see Pam.
“It’s easier this way,” Eric shrugged while bouncing the complaining infant in his arms. “Pam’s a nightmare if she doesn’t sleep. The old man only seems to be interested in them as soon as they’re fully grown.”
Something stilled in her. The sight of Eric with a baby in his arms was a thing of daydreams that had sustained her through a difficult time. Now to see it in the flesh, in such close proximity, made it all the more disturbing as well as the ease at which he had taken to the little boy’s care, whereas Pam had been demonstratively struggling through it all.
“I’m going to put him down,” Eric offered when soft little snores started to fill the room.
“Goodnight,” Sookie replied from her perched seat by the kitchen island.
“No, I’ll be back,” he assured.
“Ok, sure,” she nodded, moving to the outrageously shiny coffee machine that appeared to belong in a high-end coffee shop rather than a domestic home. “Do you know how this works?” Sookie asked when Eric returned.
He shook his head, “That thing terrifies me. I don’t even think it’s ever been used. I usually just go out.”
“You don’t like it much here, do you?” she asked, remembering some of the not so subtle hints Pam had dropped. “I mean the house.”
“Pam’s great and all, even her husband. It’s just,” he sighed, unsure what really was the cause of it.
“It’s not home,” she supplied and he gave a little nod. “Want to go out?” she asked, hoping to cheer him out of his melancholy mood. “With me?”
“On a date?” he asked with a waggle of his brows.
“For coffee,” she corrected with a poorly contained smile.
“Sure,” he grinned, “I know a place that’ll be open now. Dress warm.”
“Still miss the heat?” she asked once they were outside, rubbing her upper arms desperately seeking some warmth in the cool winter air.
He chuckled, making smoke appear from his mouth in the process, “Not so much anymore,” he paused, catching the words, since you’re here, just in time. “You were right, I like the cold.”
“Well, I don’t,” she complained with a tease, nudging her body against his, catching him off guard and subsequently watching him tumble into a snowbank. It nearly brought her to tears, fumbling haphazardly as he did in surprise, finding his legs unsuccessfully. It had been the most endearing quality back when they first met, to have such an assured personality stuck with a body that in its clumsiness betrayed any sense of that giant ego he sported so proudly, his charm and good looks had been useless on her but when he revealed this side, it didn’t take long for her to fall. It had brought her so much amusement then, just as it did now, with the indignant scowl that settled on his face while she laughed at him.
“That’s it!” he announced seconds before her bare neck was assaulted by a pile of fresh snow, causing her to shriek as it moved down her spine with her involuntary spasms, only making the sensation of extreme cold worse. His laughter didn’t help and in her poor attempt at retaliation she shoved a pile of fresh powder snow towards his head. His height, however, was making it impossible with her stature and it ended up nowhere near the target of his evil face, rather the majority of it fell back on her in a powdery cloud. She spluttered rather inelegantly with the sudden inhale of powder and the second wave of cold while he roared with laughter. “You big meanie!” she whined while desperately trying to offload the snow stuck on her gloves, shivering even worse than before.
“Sorry,” he chuckled, coming to her aid by gently clearing her face of freezing moisture, rubbing her cheeks till they were dry and ruddy. She inhaled sharply as his gaze settled on her, body leaning into his while the pull of their faces had their hips hovering close.
He stepped back.
“Sorry,” he mumbled again, this time in a tone of remorse while she regarded him with confusion. “Shouldn’t have done that. Come on, the coffee shop isn’t far.”
She nodded, following his lead, unsure what to say in that moment, whether to protest and demand a promised kiss or to sensibly agree. She still hadn’t made up her mind by the time they made into the warmth of the coffee shop where she continued to shiver with a residual chill on her body.
Sookie looked up at Eric in confusion when he set down the giant mug of coffee, exactly as she would order it, except she hadn’t told him what to order. She’d gone off to the bathroom to dry herself as best as possible before telling him what she’d wanted.
“Did you want something else?” he posed with concern.
She shook her head, “Eric, how did you know how I like my coffee?”
“Umm,” he replied lamely.
“Eric!” she cried out, alerting the small crowd around them, forcing her tone to a low hiss, “Exactly how much don’t you remember?”
A/N: Right more next time which will be… when I take my merry old time 😀 Yell at me all you want below, and about the chapter too.
Thanks to msbuffy as ever, although I tinkered a little more than usual post-editing with this chapter so don’t blame her for anything still lingering.