Her eyes were closed, a fan of thick lashes dusting her cheeks. He watched as she touched the tip of her mouth with her tongue, her full soft lips parting as she moistened them and he dived in again to steal a lingering kiss. He would never tire of the taste of her. She smiled, brushing her fingers softly across the muscled expanse of chest and sighed.
They had finished the night entwined, Eric's song the finish for a day of many revelations. He listened to the cadence of her heart, her breath warming his cool chest as she lay quietly in his arms, her fingers now stilled over his Mjolnir. In the soothing lull, they listened to the morning chorus of birds waking under the canopy of trees in her yard.
Eric saw the thin ribbon of grey light slip under Sookie's shade and knew it was time. He'd need to take shelter in the panic room to keep everyone from learning he was immune to the sun's effects now. Sookie's guards would be coming shortly to relieve Han and Ivan who would be retiring too. He looked at her face, he didn't want to leave her; he was torn by the need to protect and provide for his bonded even while he acknowledged it was too soon for others to know of just how powerful he'd become. Stroking a hand through her locks, he murmured, "Sookie, dawn is coming."
She knew, and, for the first time in her life, found she hated daylight. She didn't want Eric to go. She didn't want him to leave her. She wasn't ready to leave the shelter of his arms. She wasn't ready to face the world yet. Her heart ached and she needed the feel of being surrounded by him, feeling his arms wrapped around her body, holding her close, keeping her safe. It was too soon to be separated from him. She yawned, pressing closer to his hard body and opened her eyes. Her voice was hesitant. "I'll go with you. I … I don't want to be alone, Eric. Take me with you, please. I can't be away from you right now."
Her words brought him intense satisfaction. There was plenty of room for them both, plus the added convenience of an attached small bathroom, a microwave and a mini fridge. He'd wanted Sookie to be able to take shelter in the underground chamber for long periods if the need ever arose. They could bring down some fresh food for her to eat today so she wouldn't have to dip into the emergency dry rations. She could stay with him all day quite comfortably if she desired. There was wifi, a TV embedded in the console that held the bank of surveillance monitors and even some reading material in the room, though he conceded she'd probably find his taste in literature dry compared to the romance novels she preferred.
"Very well, lover. Go to the kitchen and get yourself some food to take down with us. I need to call your guards and give them orders to collect your friends, and bring them here. I also need to speak with Pam and Bobby. While you're getting your food, I'll send Alcide an email about your friends not being permitted to leave, and reveal … what has happened. I'll make sure he understands your friends are to be protected and not to leave the house until I've risen tonight and give further orders. Thor cannot go with us; he cannot stay underground all day, so let him out and get him fed. Your friends and guards can care for him today in your absence."
"Ok." Sookie sat up and swung her legs off the bed and stood, briefly stretching before padding over to her dresser to get a nightgown to wear. That's when she saw it.
In place of the large mirror usually above her dresser, stood the large in-wall fish tank she'd asked Eric for. Last night she'd been too tired to notice of it, and seeing it now brought fresh tears to her eyes. He'd remembered. To her very deepest depth, she was moved beyond words. He'd remembered! Just one more thing, in the line of so many, Eric had gifted her. Her eyes took in every detail. The white wood trim matched the feminine feel of her bedroom perfectly. She noticed the outlet below the tank and realized it had lighting, too. She moved closer, quickly scanning for the switch and turned it on. The elaborate coral reef and anemone habitat with the many colorful fish were outlined against an underwater photo backdrop that, lit, now jumped into sharp focus.
As he stood from the bed to put on a pair of pants, she returned to put her arms around him. He turned quizzically. Her smile was radiant. She whispered, "Thank you, Eric." He was about to question her when he saw the lit tank and smiled. "You said you wanted one. It is nothing."
"To me it is." He wrapped his arms around her back and nuzzled her hair. She continued, "I wish I could give you things. I wish I could do for you what you do for me."
One moment she was looking up at him and in the next, eye to eye, as he hoisted her up against his chest. She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist as he gripped her bottom. He sat back on the bed with her in his lap, his gaze caressing. "Sookie, I am the lucky one in this relationship. You give me the sun, you give me laughter, you offer me an eternity of companionship, you will give me a family that I never had or dreamed of having, you make me live again. Sookie, your love alone is worth more than I can ever give you. What I do for you is nothing in comparison to what you give me."
"There you go again. Saying things that make me want to cry they're so sweet."
"I do not want you to cry, my Sookie; as delicious as your tears are, they do not please me."
Sookie kissed him softly, her mouth hot against his lips. His cock jerked responsively. She kissed him deeper, her hands gripping his arms, her body flooding with desire.
She felt his erection pressing into her, sending up sparking tendrils of pleasure at the sensation of the contact of their bodies. Instinctively, she rocked forward, the throbbing head of his penis lodging against her portal. Eric groaned.
"We can't do this, lover," he agonized. "Not now. Your guards will be here shortly."
"You're absolutely right," she teased, meeting his gaze boldly as she rocked her hips tantalizingly, his crown penetrating her moist softness. The hot rush of pressure made both their mouths run dry.
"DAMN woman," he growled appreciatively.
She giggled. It was wonderful to role reverse and be the aggressor. She pulled his hands away from her back and placed them on her breasts, squeezing.
"Succubus!" he bit her neck playfully.
Time stopped and she held his gaze. He made her feel treasured, taken care of, protected. Her heart soared for him as her eyes misted with tears. "I love you, Eric." She buried her face into his neck as his hand came up to tangle in her hair and stroke her scalp.
Sometimes she couldn't believe this was the same vampire she'd met at Fangtasia what seemed so long ago. There was no doubt that Eric could be cold, calculating, manipulative, and a real jerk sometimes, but in moments like these she was reminded there were so many facets of this man she could live an eternity and still be moved and awed by him. "You're so different from when we first met."
"Our first meeting was not ideal," he confirmed. "Had you come to Fangtasia alone, I would not have provoked you as I did that night. I would have instead seduced you. You were with Compton so I had a role to play, and I loathe that fact. The situations I found myself in never gave me the opportunity to draw you near, and it cost me precious moments with you. It also cost me the gift of your virginity. It should have been mine. I should have been the only man for you."
"Isn't it enough you'll be the last?" Her arms drew up against his chest, her fingers stroking upwards, her nails digging into his shoulders before she leaned in to kiss his mark.
"Yes, but I'd still feel better if you let me kill Compton. Then I'll be the only man in the world who knows the joys of your body."
"You are such a Neanderthal, and no killing Bill." She stopped, biting her lip thoughtfully. "Eric, do you think he knew? Was he lying last night?"
He kissed the notch in her shoulder, sending goose bumps careening wildly through her body. She shuddered. "No, lover. Bill may have been sent here on a mission, but he truly loves you. Had he known what Sophie-Anne was planning, he would have contacted me to stop it and probably tried to stop it on his own as well. Bill was ready to fight for you last night. I saw it. If you had attacked the queen or vice versa he would have fought with you, just as I would. I despise that fool, and wish he had been in on it so you would let me kill him, but I know he was not. He did not lie."
Sookie's eyes closed, the memories so painful. She closed the distance between them, tucking her head under his chin as his arm came up to comfortingly stroke her back. Long seconds passed before she whispered, "I'm glad. I can't stand to think he would take part in something like that. He's already hurt me so much, and after what he and I had—after what I thought we had, I … I just can't take any more betrayal right now."
"He didn't take part in it, and I truly believe he wouldn't have if the queen had tried to include him. I think that's why Sophie-Anne disappeared like she did. She knew she had spies in her court, and I think she knew if Bill caught wind of what she was doing, he would rebel. Compton was ready to die for you last night. I saw it in his eyes."
Sookie was thoughtful. Eric felt her tense a moment before she opened her eyes to ask, "What's going to happen to him when you make Sophie-Anne leave?"
"By taking over the kingdom I will inherit his debt to Sophie-Anne. He will owe me fealty. I will probably order him to leave the state."
"Why? Can't you just take away his position as area investigator and leave it at that?"
"No. As much as he was willing to die for you last night, he is not a vampire I can trust. He has made it clear he will do anything and everything he can to take you from me. His loyalty might no longer be to Sophie-Anne, but he is a threat to my ownership of you. As King, I cannot allow the threat to continue. I will order him from the state." Eric didn't mention that he would publicly exile Bill, but, in actuality, have him apprehended so he could torture the man to death. He owed the fool a brutal ending for hurting Sookie in the manner he had. She might forgive, but he would not. Sookie would think Compton gone, and that would give Eric the opportunity to kill the vampire that had not only taken Sookie's virginity under false pretenses, but had hurt her so badly. As her bonded, Eric felt entitled to the final death of Bill Compton.
Thor took this moment to remind them of his presence by coming up to them both, tail wagging excitedly, and nudging Eric's hand on Sookie's back. Sookie giggled at the feel of his wet snout against her bare skin. "And on that note," Eric laughed, giving the puppy a pet. Kissing her cheek, he went to stand, setting her back on her feet and said, "My little temptress, as much as I can think of nothing better than to hold your luscious naked body against mine, we have to get going. Don't forget to get your ice cream to take down below when you're gathering up the rest of your food."
Sookie couldn't help but grin; Eric's continued belief that ice cream made all wrongs better always made her smile.
"Okay Thor, you want to go out? Yes? You want to go out? Okay, good boy! We're gonna get you some food, too, how does that sound?"
The dog barked excitedly, snuffling into the bedcovers. Sookie lunged at him, grabbing his little body and squeezing playfully, sending the happy puppy into a surprising leap off the bed and then madly racing around the room. She couldn't help laughing at his energy, reaching out to grab at him again and again as he redoubled his speed. She dug around in her dresser for some loungewear for the day, grabbing, too, a pair of shorts, t-shirt, and under things for when they came up in the evening. Eric pulled on a pair of black track pants and a wife beater and was out of the bedroom to begin giving his orders before she even finished gathering up her clothes. By the time she headed downstairs with her ecstatic little puppy, her Viking had his laptop powered up and was typing quickly while speaking on his cell phone. His words were fast and clipped, and so soft she couldn't make them out.
She let Thor out and stood on the porch while he quickly took care of business, and when he was done they both went back inside. Since she wasn't going to be with him today, she tore up several pieces of lunch meat and sliced cheese she found in the refrigerator ('thank you, Tara!') and added it to his bowl along with the kibble she poured him. She washed and refilled his water bowl and scribbled a quick note to Tara and Lafayette promising them she'd share everything with them when she saw them (in case Eric didn't and just had them hauled here), and thanking them for their understanding.
She collected some fruit, munchies, a PowerBar and one of the individual containers of rocky road ice cream in a WalMart sack before grabbing a few cans of Coke and a bottle of tea. She was sure that would be more than enough to get her through the day. She doubted she'd eat much, anyway. She wasn't hungry, but, if she didn't take something, Eric would pitch a fit, especially now that she was pregnant. Pregnant! The very word flooded her with anxiety. She knew nothing about pregnancy but it occurred to her that her diet would need to be addressed. PowerBars, ice cream, and munchies weren't the building blocks for a forming child. She'd worry about all of that later. One day of comfort food wouldn't hurt.
She patted Thor on the head as he ate. "You be good today, Thor. You're going to have lots of company around again. I'll see you tonight, baby." Eric was in the living room finishing his last phone call, and she watched him put his laptop in sleeper mode, and slide it in its carrying case. He held his hand out to her and together they headed to the closet where the main entrance to the panic room was. Eric went down first, carrying his computer and her bag of food, and lifted her off the ladder when she was halfway down to set her on her feet. He used the keypad set into the concrete, halfway down the rungs of the ladder, to close the hatch and seal it. It only took them a few minutes to get their things settled, shed their clothes, and crawl into the bunk the shelter had. It was small, but held them both comfortably and intimately. Eric settled onto his back and Sookie fit snuggly against him, draping herself across him with her head over his chest while his arms held her tightly. "Thank you for letting me come down here with you."
His fingers smoothed a feather light trail up the sweet curve of her back. "Sookie, you never have to ask permission to be with me. Your place is by my side. You are free to join me during the day anytime you wish."
"You don't mind?"
"I prefer it," he said firmly. "I enjoyed having you locked in my lair those months ago after your collapse. I did not like the reason for bringing you there, but I enjoyed your presence, nonetheless. I went to death each day knowing you were safe and secured and no one could touch or talk to you, and I rose each night knowing you were there waiting for me. The only reason I don't force you beneath the ground with me each day is because I know you would miss your sun and the loss of freedom. If not for that, I would never let you leave my side during the day when you could be hurt and I can't be there to protect you."
A part of her stood aside, recognizing that Eric's desire and need to control her in every way was disturbing. She struggled to reconcile the man before her with what she knew him capable of. In this moment, however, his words only comforted her. She was safe and he would do everything in his power to keep her that way. And the baby! She kept forgetting it wasn't only her anymore. The baby could be at risk. She kissed his chest. "I wouldn't want to spend every day in the ground with you, but it would be nice to be with you some of the time. Maybe you can find a way to spend some days in the sun with me."
"Most definitely. I promised to make love to you in the sun, and I very much intend to. We will work out a way to do both. You will spend some days here with me, and I will spend some in the sun with you. It is brighter here than in Sweden, so it may take awhile for my eyes to adjust. It has been hundreds of years since I have seen the sun in its full glory. When we were outside at the cabin it was so much dimmer since it was winter and Sweden is so far north."
Wait. What? "Hasn't it been a thousand years since you last saw the sun?"
"No. During the vampire-fae war, I fed on many pureblooded faeries and pure faery blood can do wondrous things for my kind. I was able to walk in the sun for an extended time. I saw the sun then. Godric and I both spent many hours lying in the light together."
"There was a war between vampires and faeries? Are you guys enemies? I thought you said you and Niall were allies?"
His fingers idly traced ancient patterns of Norse protection on her skin as he replied, "We are. Our desire to see you protected unites us now. However, vampires and faeries are not compatible species. Fairies are not the harmless creatures from your storybooks, Sookie. They are every bit as fierce as vampires, possibly more so. Their acts of savagery are hidden behind the cloak of their beauty and the guise of their humanity. The war between us was vicious, but the losses so great on both sides we have come to accept the other's existence. None of the supernatural races truly cares for any of the others, but we tolerate each other in order to survive against humans. The bad blood between vampires and faeries is strong."
"Faery blood is intoxicating to vampires. The scent of it can drive a vampire mad with blood lust. Most faeries carry charms to shield their scent, and the stronger ones can actually put up a magic shield to contain it. But one drop of their blood, the slightest scratch releasing the aroma of their essence and a vampire is lost to hunger. We will not stop until we drain every last drop. Many young faeries were lost to vampires in the old days because they were foolish enough to venture into the night without the protection of a scent charm."
"But not now?"
"The fae is a dying race whose numbers have decreased steadily over the last five or six centuries. Their females are largely infertile. The purity of the race has thus been tainted by the need to breed outside their species in order to keep from disappearing altogether. There has been much division over this, with Niall heavily invested in the need," Eric said carefully, his eyes studying Sookie's. "Most have gone back to their world, and the few that remain here ward themselves carefully."
Stroking the markings along the side of his chest that signified their joining, Sookie raised her eyebrows, "They don't come from here?"
"No. They have their own realm, but enjoy this one immensely. There are portals to the fae realm throughout the world that act as conduits between here and their world. There are probably less than a few thousand faeries on the entire planet, and your great grandfather rules over most of them."
His lips brushed her forehead. "You do understand that you are a faery princess, do you not?"
Continuing to run a gentle hand over the outline of his tattoos, she asked, "Does that matter to you?"
"No. I wanted you when I thought you to be a barmaid and no title, species or familial connection can change my need for you. I thought perhaps the knowledge would make you happy. You place great importance on family and heritage. It should please you to know you are descended from royalty."
Sookie thought about it for a moment, and decided she really didn't care. "It should, but it doesn't. This Niall guy never had anything to do with me before, and, now only because I'm apparently supposed to do something great, he's suddenly around. Where was he when my parents died? He wasn't there when Gran had to hock Grandpa's pocket watch and wedding ring to buy groceries, he wasn't there when Gran stayed up all night sewing her own clothes so she could buy us kids new ones, and he wasn't there when she died in my stead. He never did anything to help us, and I don't care if being related to him makes me a princess. I was Sookie Stackhouse before I learned about him, and that's who I'll always be. Princess or not."
She lifted her head and looked at him quizzically, she asked, "Huh?"
"You will not always be Sookie Stackhouse." His eyes were intensely fixed on hers as he explained, "Northman. You will be Sookie Northman."
Eyes widening disbelievingly, Sookie gasped, "Did you just ask me to marry you?"
A pleased smile curved his sensual lips. "Do you not wish to be married?"
"To you?" Her heart was beating fast in a chest no longer able to contain it. It beat hard and merciless against her throat.
Eric gave her a long, considering look as his eyes narrowed and he growled, "You were ready to marry Compton."
Shaking her head, Sookie soothed, "Eric, I didn't mean to say I don't want to be married to you, I'm just … well … I … I just don't see you as the marrying kind. Marriage is a big step and to me it is permanent. It's a big commitment."
Eric shifted them to the side, folding his arms around her. She was achingly soft against him, her breasts pillowed against his broad chest. The juncture of her thighs notched his penis as he inhaled the fragrance he'd come to identify as uniquely her own. He dropped a kiss on her brow. "Sookie, we are bound in ways a ring and a piece of paper cannot possibly define. Our very bodies carry the marks of our joining. You carry my son inside of you. Our blood binds us together. Commitment? You say that as though it is something that is supposed to frighten me. I have been fighting to make you eternally mine from the beginning. We do not have to get married if you do not wish it. The exchanging of last names, rings, and the ceremony with the white dress is a purely human custom. Vampires do not marry in this manner. I wish to marry you because it is important to you. I want you to take my last name so that all know, human and supernatural, that you are mine."
He leaned down to kiss her faery star, his gaze dropping to her breasts as his mouth and nose flooded with the warmth of her intoxicating scent. He continued, "I know how important this custom is to you, and thus it is important to me. In my mind, we are already married. You belong to me in every way, and there is no leaving. Commitment happened between us the moment we exchanged blood for the third time and you became my bonded. Eternity was ours in that moment, and, since then, I have simply been waiting for you to accept it."
Long seconds passed when neither of them spoke.
"You're awfully quiet, my pet," Eric murmured.
Startled out of her reverie, Sookie whispered, her voice small and wan, "You really want to marry me?"
"I would be just as happy with getting some paperwork done to have your name changed and buying you the ring, but I know this is not what you would want. If you want a large wedding, you may have one. If you do not, we can simply fly to Vermont to see a judge and get it done. I just want you to carry my name. I want you to be Sookie Northman."
"Eric, I …."
Seeing her hesitation, he clarified, "If you are not ready, that is fine. Right now was probably not the ideal time to bring it up with you considering everything else, but I want you to know you have but to say the word and we will be married by your human custom. You can have as large or small a ceremony as you wish. You can have any dress of your choosing, or I will hire designers and seamstresses to handcraft your dream dress. The day will be all about you. Anything you want."
Struggling to control lips fighting to turn up into a smile, Sookie teased, "Anything? Will you wear pink spandex and bows?"
"Almost anything you want."
She laughed. The air was electric with the tension of a response she still had yet to make. Eric's eyes were dark, hooded, searching, his face hard and she knew she needed to say something. The complicated nature of her relationship with him made her want to pull back and analyze his offer. She leaned in to kiss him, her lips blooming under his like an unfurling flower in the sun. She whispered, "Ask me again when things calm down."
He was pleased. "Very well."
Eric rolled onto his back, smoothly swinging Sookie again onto his chest. He stroked her hair back from her face to gaze at her eyes, letting his fingers linger on her cheek. Her hand came over his and held it there, and he growled with satisfaction.
"And the next time you ask, it needs to be romantic. When my eyes aren't all red and swollen from crying, when we're not lying underground in a bunker while my guards gather up my friends to keep them from being hurt. You have to get down on one knee and everything. I want a picture perfect proposal, but I don't want a big wedding."
Eric's voice held surprise. "You don't? I thought all girls dreamed of their weddings being extravagant."
"Most do. I don't. I want a princess dress, but I don't want a big show or anything. Just you, me, a priest, Tara and Lafayette as my bridesmaids, a few friends, and a cake. I don't want a big party or anything like that … and I want a honeymoon."
Smirking, Eric replied, "So do I. I was led to believe the wedding day was for the bride, and the honeymoon was the groom's reward for putting up with the wedding."
Sookie laughed. "The honeymoon is for both of us, but I'll be willing to let you plan it depending on how well you propose."
They fell into silence again. Eric could hear the arrival of Sookie's guards upstairs with her friends in tow, and apparently the humans were upset and agitated at being pulled from their beds at the early hour with no explanation. Eric had told Alcide simply to collect them and keep them in the house all day. He would give explanations later tonight, though her Were guards had been informed as to what had happened to Jason. Eric simply thought that Sookie would want to be the one to speak to her friends about what had happened to her brother, and, if she did not, he would inform them of the situation.
They lay there quietly as seconds became minutes. Eric could feel Sookie's fatigue, but he knew her mind was churning with worry. She obviously had something she wanted to talk about, and he waited for her to speak. More minutes passed and he felt himself shifting into downtime when he heard her voice, tentative and strained.
"Eric, I'm scared."
"I know, but I'll take care of you."
"It's all changing so fast."
"Sometimes life is like that. We'll get past this and things will slow down so you can catch your breath and get your bearings."
"What if they don't?"
Eric reached down to draw the bedcovers up over Sookie and tucked her against him. "They will. Perhaps not as quickly as you'd like, but the momentum will slow. I've lived a millennia now and I've survived this long because I've learned to adapt to things changing around me. You will too. "
"What if I don't know how to be a mom?"
"You'll do fine."
"I might not. I might be horrible at it. I could mess up. I probably will. I can't ever seem to do anything right. I was a horrible daughter, granddaughter, and sister. How can I expect to be a good mom?"
"That's not true, and you will not speak about yourself like that. It was your family that failed you time and again, not the other way around. Your grandmother was the only one worthy of calling you kin, and I will not tolerate you denigrating yourself. We will both make mistakes raising this child, all parents do, but you will love our son unconditionally and that is more than enough. You will be an excellent mother."
Burying her head into his chest, Sookie moaned, "He's going to be hunted. We're hunted right now. If the Fellowship gets wind of this—"
Eric, of course, had already considered this. His fangs throbbed against his gums as he replied, "I will protect you and our child, Sookie. I swear it. I am aware that those fools will not tolerate the idea of a vampire baby, and I already have some plans in mind. All you need to know is that you will carry our son safely, you will birth him safely, and we will raise him in a safe and stable home. I will let no one harm either of you."
"What if the supernatural word doesn't rally around us like Odin told you they would? What if they don't want us to have this baby?"
"Then I'll kill them all."
"You can't kill everyone."
Strangely, his words made her feel better; the conviction in his voice, his steadfast belief that things would work out, calmed her. "You'll be a good father."
She couldn't help but laugh at his arrogance. "You're so cocky."
"You love my cock."
"It 's … adequate."
"Adequate? This is adequate?" He placed her hand on his penis, already large and exquisitely aroused.
"Well, it's certainly a gracious plenty."
Eric threw back his head and laughed. "Gracious plenty? Where do you come up with this stuff, lover?"
Heat blistered her face. The carnal phrases between a man and a woman still caused her to blush. She stroked him languidly and Eric grunted. "I think we're both too tired to take this farther right now, but far be it from me to stop you."
His eyes blazed with tethered sexuality. She licked her lips. She stroked him, simply enjoying the velvet feel of him, the thickness of his shaft, its hard length in her hands, its pulsing heat against her fingers. He closed his eyes against the pleasure, a single drop of precum crowning his tip, a faint pulse throbbing under his skin. She shivered with arousal, at the same time stifling a yawn. Eric cocked his head regarding her. He knew she was exhausted from her ordeal last night, but could feel her desire to please him through their bond. Her need for rest was far more important to him than his lust. He took her hand from him and brought it to his lips to kiss. He held it as they fell silent once again. His hand stroked along the arch of her back and hip. Suddenly she said, "Promise me everything will work out."
"Sookie, sometimes everything can't be ok. Sometimes we can only make the best of a bad situation. Sometimes—"
"Lie to me, Eric. Right now, I want you to lie to me."
He rolled them onto their side once more, his back against the wall, folding her body neatly into the curve of his. Eric whispered, "My älskade, everything will work out perfectly. The evil queen will be vanquished and fall to my sword. I will save your brother and return him to his human form so you can watch him settle down with a wife of his own to have 2 children and a house with a picket fence and a dog in the front yard. The world will fade away, and leave us to raise our son in harmony. The Fellowship will come to its senses and realize that peace is their true goal. The unknown enemy that attacked us in New York will magically disappear to never be seen or heard from again. Disease, war, famine, all the evils of the world will be resolved and humans will embrace tolerance and equality as will supernaturals, and we will all live together in eternal brotherhood."
"That was good."
"I thought so."
Eric could feel sleep pulling at his bonded. His lips were cool on her temple. "I can only promise you'll always have me, Sookie. I can only promise I will fight to my final death to keep you and our child safe. I can only promise to do anything and everything I can to protect our family. Those are the only vows I can give you."
Taking his hand from atop her belly, Sookie pulled it up to her lips and kissed his palm before lacing her fingers with his and holding their joined hands over her heart. "Those are the only vows I truly need."
"I love you, Eric."
"Say it again."
"I love you."
Kissing her shoulder, Eric tightened his hold around her and replied, "And I need you, in return, my Sookie."
He held her as she fell asleep, and then let death take him. Their troubles would be waiting when they rose. For now, they had each other.
- - -
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She opened her eyes. Daybreak, and she knew at once she was back in the forest again. It was a lush undisturbed landscape of massive broadleaf trees towering over 100 feet in the air, layered with flowering trees, an undergrowth of smaller plants and a base of emerald-hued ferns. The air was redolent with the perfume of magnolia blossoms and the dank sweetness of decaying and fallen trees. She gazed up into the dense canopy of leaves. Shafts of sunlight cut through the thick foliage, and she followed the trails of light to the forest floor where it dappled the gnarled limbs of ancient oaks thick with moss.
She could hear crickets and katydids in rasping chorus joined by frogs and toads. Above, roused from their evening torpor, songbirds chorused their territorial songs. A soft wind stroked warm fingers through the winter litter of leaves, stirring violets, trilliums and lady slipper orchids. Anonymous rustlings in the foliage spoke of ground squirrels, rabbits and chipmunks.
Sookie looked down to find herself once again in her fantasy gown of silk, a boned bodice of satin falling to a drop waist with a float of gossamer silk crepe from her hips to the floor. The cape and hood ... yes, all the same, she confirmed. The familiarity was comforting, the impending reunion was not. She knew the way. Beyond the forest lay the meadow, as once before. She hesitated, standing in the tranquil shade, her bare feet moist with the sponginess of the forest floor.
Her Gran's voice carried swiftly on the wind and into her mind. She was being called. It was why she was here, standing in this forest she'd come to before. She had to move forward. She took a glacial step, and paused, her stomach knotting with fear and loathing. The fear was for Gran, the loathing was for herself.
Gran called again.
She had no choice. Dutifully, she crossed lightly through the trees towards the glen, the humming of cicada thick in the bush. As soon as she stepped clear of the forest, she saw her Gran sitting amidst the tall grass and a white carpet of flowers, waiting for her just as she had been last time. Adele was again young, beautiful with long golden hair. Sookie regarded her tensely. Her Gran had to be angry that she'd allowed Jason to be taken by Sophie-Anne. She had to be angry and disappointed that Jason had become a monster and Sookie had been off on vacation when it happened.
Adele knew why her granddaughter was hurting, she could plainly see the heartache on Sookie's face. She had no bad feelings for the girl she considered her daughter. Holding out her arms, she said, "Come here, baby."
Sookie didn't hesitate. She ran headlong towards her Gran and threw herself into the woman's loving arms. She might be young again, no longer the visage of the old woman that had raised her, but she was still her Gran. Sookie's tears started the moment she pressed against the soft body of the woman she missed so much, her cape pooling around them. Heart wrenching sobs tore from her chest as grief closed over her. "He's gone! He's gone, Gran! Jason is gone!"
Adele held Sookie close to her, wrapping an arm around her back, the other pushing back the hood of the cloak as she bent to press a kiss to her forehead, "I know, Sookie. I know."
"I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry, Gran! It's all my fault!"
"No, Sookie. It's not."
Adele smoothed Sookie's hair away from her face, rocking her body against hers as if she were still a small child. Sookie's heart squeezed painfully, her condemning words rushing from her lips, about how she should have stopped it, about how it was her fault Jason was gone, about how all she did was hurt people. Through it all, Adele simply tightened her arms around her lovely child and let her cry herself out. Adele knew that Sookie was too distraught to listen at present. Long moments passed with the sounds of Sookie's cries slowly diminishing in their ardency.
Exhausted, Sookie slumped against Gran, lying with her head in her lap as Adele tenderly stroked her hair. "Do you hate me, Gran?"
Gran regarded her sadly, the poor child literally bore the weight of the world on her shoulder. She softly chided her. "Oh Sookie, how could you ever think that? Of course not, child. I could never hate you. I know you feel guilty over what happened to Jason, but you have nothing to feel guilty about. What happened to your brother is terrible and unfair, but it is not your fault. Sometimes, bad things happen."
"Gran, the things he said … what he did to Hadley … that wasn't our Jason."
"No, Sookie, it wasn't."
Sookie asked the question she most dreaded the answer to. "Is he really gone?"
"Yes, Sookie, he's really gone. You cannot save him. You cannot undo what has been done. You have to let him go."
"I can't! I can't, Gran. I have to save him. I can't just give up. I won't." She closed her eyes, steadying herself.
"Sookie, I love Jason just as much as you do, but the power of a vampire's blood is unbreakable. I hate what has been done to Jason, but there is no way to undo it."
"I have to try, Gran. If I lose him, I'll mourn him the rest of my life. I need to be able to know in my heart I did all I could to save him. I won't just let him go. I'll fight until I have nothing left in me to fight with. Only then will I admit defeat, if that's what it comes to."
Adele breathed a mournful sigh. She had known this would be Sookie's response. She had known that Sookie would not give up on saving her brother, and Adele sorely wished that Sookie would take her advice. She knew that trying to save Jason would only cause more heartbreak for her beloved granddaughter. It might very well cost her everything. Adele just had to hope that her granddaughter's vampire mate would be strong enough to do what needed to be done when the time came, no matter what Sookie's wishes were. Adele loved Jason, and it broke her heart to know what had happened to him but she knew what Sookie refused to accept: Jason was gone, and he wasn't coming back.
Knowing that Sookie would not heed her warnings about her brother, Adele said, "You do what you feel you have to do, Sookie. As much as Jason's loss pains me, he is not why I have brought you here."
She sat up, wiping her eyes and asked nervously, "This is about my baby, isn't it?"
"He's going to be ok, isn't he, Gran?"
Smiling gently at her granddaughter, Adele stroked her cheek and promised, "He's going to be beautiful, Sookie." Pointing to the slope of meadow beyond, she whispered, "Look."
Sookie turned her head to see where her Gran was indicating and her breath caught in her throat. The sight of the glen before her shimmered and gave way to a new vision. In it, a beautiful little boy about two years old with his father's eyes, and her smile. He had a mop of blonde curls on his head that bounced while he giggled madly as Eric tossed him in the air. She saw herself looking on fondly with her hands settled protectively over her pregnant belly.
Sookie whispered, "That's my baby? That's Eric's son?"
Adele smiled at the sight of her granddaughter's future as well. It was an enchanting moment of familial bliss. "Yes, Sookie, that is your first son."
As the vision faded and the image of the glen they were in returned, Sookie focused back on her Gran and remarked, "I was pregnant again. Eric and I will have more children?"
"Many more. Sookie, think on what you've been told is coming. Remember what Isis told you, Odin told you, remember all the things you have been told are coming. Your children will be far more than vampires."
Sookie looked deep into her grandmother's eyes as she pondered her words. She cast about in her memories for everything she'd been told since bonding with Eric. She rolled what Isis and Odin had told her in her mind sifting through the dialogs, considering all she'd learned. Her eyes widened, her stomach somersaulted. "That's what Isis meant by naming them … oh my God!"
"Yes, Sookie, you will be the mother to gods."
"Gran!" Sookie sobbed, her words trailed off, she didn't trust herself to finish the sentence. She could do little more than stare at her grandmother in abject shock. Adele stroked a lock of hair back from Sookie's face, her voice kind and gentle. "This was supposed to be disclosed to you earlier, but the attack on Jason set it back. However, I want you to hear it from me. The seer and Niall care about you in their own way, but their sights are set to the goal you were born to achieve. This is not news they should impart to you. I am here to speak to you as one mother to another."
"Oh God, Gran, I … I can't do this!" Sookie's eyes fell into her lap despondently.
Taking both her granddaughter's hands in her own, she clenched them fiercely. "Sookie, look at me," Adele insisted. Unwilling eyes met hers. "Yes, Sookie, you can. You were born to do this."
"It's not fair! I can't … I can't raise gods!"
"You will raise your children, Sookie. The fact they are gods reborn means nothing."
"How can you say that? They won't even be mine! I'll be just some kind of an incubator!"
"Sookie, no, these children, the son in your womb, they are yours. They are your flesh and blood. Your blood and your Viking's."
She pulled her hands from Adele and pressed, "How? How can they be mine if they're thousands of years older than I am? They're gods! They're gods and I'm just an uneducated barmaid that got tricked into all of this."
"It is only their spirits that will be old. Their hearts and minds will be new. Many of them will not even remember who they were before. They will be told in time, of course, and they will know they are stronger than other vampires, but they will not remember their lives as gods. They will truly be born anew. You and your Eric will raise them, and each of the children you bring into the world will love you as their mother, and be loyal to your Eric as their father. They will be made from your body, and nourished from your body. Just because the souls inside them are ancient, does not mean they are any less your children."
Sookie was quiet a moment, before asking, "So … it's like reincarnation, or something?"
"So they'll be babies? I'll get to hold them, and sing to them, and play with them? They'll be my babies and I can raise them?"
"Oh Sookie, yes. They'll be babies. There will be differences, as they will be vampire babies, and you and your Eric will have your hands full keeping up with your children, but they will be your children. They will be your family. Your children will be vampire gods, but they will be your children nonetheless."
"Am I wrong about God? Are my beliefs wrong? All of this goes against what I was raised to believe."
Enfolding Sookie's hand in both of hers, Adele soothed, "Sookie, there are many paths to the same destination. You believe in a just and kind God. You believe that goodness and righteousness are rewarded. You believe in mercy and forgiveness. You believe in something greater than yourself, and you believe that love fuels all. It does not matter how you practice your faith, just as long as you have faith."
"So there is a one true God?"
"Yes. There is something beyond this world and all the other realms. There is a force beyond all our imagining or ability to conceive. There is a being that loves and guides us all toward an ultimate goal of truth. This being is known to you by God, to Muslims as Allah, to Jews as Yahweh, and to other faiths by other names. As I said, the name and paths are not important. It is the destination. Believe and practice your faith, hold true to the kindness and love in your heart, and you will never go wrong."
"But my baby is a god? My babies will be gods?"
Shaking her head, Adele clarified, "God is a human term. It is just a title. Your children will have great power, but they are not gods in the way you view God. They are simply souls with the ability to harness more power than other souls. Their hearts and minds will be for you and your Viking to shape. Raise them as your children, and teach them to be good and true. The rest will unfold as it is meant to."
Biting her lip, Sookie asked, "What if I mess up? They'll have all this power, and if I mess up they could end up hurting people."
"Sookie, all parents make mistakes. All parents stumble from time to time. No one expects you to raise your children without ever faltering. All that is expected or needed from you is for you to love them. The rest? The rest you and your Eric will learn as you go. Just as all parents do. Just because your children will grow up to be mighty warriors and save the world, does not mean they will not be little boys that like to play in the dirt and wrestle. It does not mean your little girls will not like to dress up in your clothes and make a mess of your makeup. They will be children, and they will need their parents' guidance."
"How can I guide them? If they have all this power they could get out of control."
"They will grow into their power. They will be born babies, some inherent strengths and abilities will be theirs immediately since they will be vampire, but they will not have too much as to be a danger to you. They will also be born with the knowledge and instinct that you are weaker than them, and will be gentler with you than they are with Eric. They will grow into their powers as they age. As they learn truths, as they come to understand their place in the world, they will begin to access their powers. Do not fear, Sookie, you will not be given more than you can handle."
Setting her hand on top of her stomach, Sookie asked, "Who is this? Who is coming first?"
"He is whoever you want him to be. His name is yours to give."
"But who was he? What will he be like?"
Brushing warm fingers along Sookie's cheek, Adele answered, "Sookie, you need to try and accept that just because the souls of your children are ancient, doesn't mean they will not be new to the world. They will be born new. Who they were is no more. They will grow into entirely new people."
"I still want to know who he was. Tell me who my son was."
Adele settled her hand over Sookie's, pressing against her belly. "This was Odin. Now he waits for you to rename him. He will be born into the world with no memories of who he was or what his life was like. He may recognize certain things, or come to remember things of his past, but in his mind, in his heart, he will be your son. To him, he will know only the life he has lived with you, and you and your Eric will be his parents."
"What will it be like? How will they be as children? If they're vampires, how will they grow? Vampires are dead and don't age, so how will my babies mature? Will they eat food?"
She shook her head. "No. They will never eat food. They will need blood, and they will need your milk. Your breast milk will be a different construct, Sookie, and there will be no substitute for it. You are right that vampires do not grow, but your breast milk will carry powerful magic inside it. As infants, your children will need much of your milk, far more of it than they will need blood. Yet as they get older they will come to need less and less of it, and, instead, consume more blood. However, they will need its enzymes daily to continue to grow until they reach maturity. Once they are fully grown, they will survive completely on blood like all other vampires."
Sookie couldn't help but retort indignantly. "I'll have to breastfeed them even when they're teenagers?"
Amused, Adele laughed, "No. You can simply pump your milk. As teenagers and young adults they will need very little of your milk. By that time, they will be mostly grown and simply need a little each day to finish maturing. You can express each day and they can drink it from a glass, but they will need some of your milk in order to ingest the necessary magic to help them grow."
"That's a lot of milk."
"Yes. You will need to drink more and more of your vampire's blood throughout your pregnancy and while carrying for your children. His blood will give your body the energy it needs to carry these children and produce the milk they need to thrive. However, you should be prepared for them to grow much faster than average children. I'm not entirely sure how fast, but it will be faster than normal."
"I don't want to be pregnant and breastfeeding for the rest of my life. If Isis told me the truth and I'm bring all the old gods back, that's hundreds and hundreds of babies!"
Shaking her head, Adele explained, "Sookie you will have many children, but you will have an eternity to bring them back into the world. I can tell you that you will have several children quickly as they will be warriors needed to help Eric fight the battles that come, but, after that, you could go decades or centuries without having children, if that is your wish. The children will be born when it is their time to return to the world. As for breastfeeding? You will be breastfeeding for a while longer to help the children you birth grow, but, as I said, they will grow much faster than a human child and should reach adulthood quickly."
"Is my milk the only way they can grow?"
"Yes. The power inside you, the power that enables you to have vampire children at all, is needed to develop their bodies. Your milk is the only way for them to receive it."
Frowning, Sookie groused, "My boobs will be down to my waist if I'm breastfeeding for years!"
Patting Sookie's hand, Adele countered, "No, they won't. You share blood with your Eric regularly. His blood rejuvenates you. It is impossible for your body to distort. You will grow heavy when pregnant, but once your children are born, your figure will return. Your breasts will swell with your milk, but they will not sag or become misshapen. Just as your blood gives your vampire the power to walk in the sun and have immunity to silver, so does his blood give you the strength, energy, and rejuvenating abilities you'll need to have his children."
"This is all so much to take in."
Adele nodded, "It is a lot. When you wake, speak with your vampire. Take what time you need to work things out. No one is expecting you to just accept and be ready for all of this."
Sookie was silent a few moments, deep in her own thoughts. Suddenly her mind went off on a tangent and she asked, "Who is coming after us? Who attacked us in New York?"
"Those details I will leave for Niall and the seer. I brought you here to speak to you about your baby, and the ones that follow … and to warn you."
"Warn me about what?"
"In a few days Eric is going to hurt you. Not physically, but you need to know that he's stressed by everything that is going to happen, and he's going to lash out at you, like before. He's going to hurt you, Sookie, and there's no way to stop it. However, what happens afterward could be far more disastrous if you don't handle him properly. He is going to lose control of his power and lash out destructively. He could hurt many, your friends included, and you will need your power to bring him back."
Her hand went to her mouth in panic. She desperately didn't want a return to things between them as before, not when she thought they'd made such progress. How could she bear the before-Eric when the gentle Eric had won her heart? Her voice was strained as she asked, "What's going to happen?"
"That's not for me to say. I am interfering more than I should as it is. What you need to do is start learning to put up barriers, like I told you before. You need to try and connect to your faery powers. You're going to need them."
"I can't tell you that. No one truly understands the power inside you. As for the faery magic? When you speak to Niall tonight, ask him about getting you lessons on how to wield your faery magic."
Sookie plucked one of the trillums thrusting up from the grass around her and speculated, "I'm only a part faery, so will I even have that much magic?"
"Yes." Pointing to the area over Sookie's heart, Adele affirmed, "The mark on your heart helps to bind you to your Viking, but it also connects you to the power of your fae blood. It amplifies it. When you speak to Niall, he will go into this in depth."
"What are the new marks Eric and I have? The one's we got when we …." She hesitated, flushing.
Adele smiled wryly at her granddaughter's discomfort. "Those marks the seer will explain to you. Just know they are special and they bind you and your Viking for eternity. Your souls are one. Neither of you can live without the other ever again."
"You'll come to enjoy it."
They sat in silence for a moment before Sookie sighed wistfully, "I miss you. I miss you so much."
"I miss you as well, Sookie, but you have your Viking now. You are making a new family. You cannot live in the past, child. You must cherish your memories, but always look to the future. You will live for thousands of years. You will walk on new worlds and rule beside your Eric. The two of you are going to remake this world, and eventually lead the way to life among the stars."
"I can't think about that right now."
"You don't have to. The future will come, whether you wish it to or not. Right now, focus on the problems before you. Your life is changing. You are shedding layers of who you were and becoming something new."
Unbidden, a tear slipped down her cheek. Sookie whispered, "I just want to be Sookie. Just Sookie."
"You will always be Sookie. You were Sookie the granddaughter, Sookie the sister, and Sookie the barmaid. Now you will be Sookie the wife, Sookie the mother, and Sookie the queen. Life changes and you must adapt, but you will always be Sookie."
"It's getting harder and harder. I find myself having to let things go I would never have dreamed of putting up with a year ago. I find myself having to say and do things I never would have when you are alive. I'm afraid by the time everything is said and done, I won't be me anymore."
"Sookie, life can't always be what we want. Sometimes we all have to make compromises. Sometimes we all have to say and do things we don't like. That's part of life. It's the big moments, the big decisions, that are important. When those moments come, you have always done what you thought was best, you just need to continue to do so."
Uncertainty flashed in her eyes. "How do I know when the big moments come?"
"You'll know, and when they do, you just have to follow your heart. Your heart is your strength, Sookie, follow it and your path will be true."
The wind picked up around them, and Sookie watched as it lifted puffs of flower pollen to waft them away "Will Eric and I be ok? Will we get through all of this?"
"You are destined to. Stand by your vampire, Sookie. Love him with your whole heart, and teach him to love you in return. He needs you. He needs you more than you need him, and that scares him. You must forgive him the harm he does while he learns to use the heart he has kept buried for a thousand years."
The wind now lashed at her cheeks and Sookie pulled her cape around her. She could see the forest and glen begin to lose definition as they started to blur like some surreal watercolor painting. "It's time for me to go, isn't it?"
Standing, Adele pulled Sookie up with her. She hugged her granddaughter tightly. "I love you with all my heart, Sookie. I love you, and your vampire loves you. Your heart is strong. Go and live your life. Take hold of your happiness and embrace it. Trust in yourself and your vampire, and you will be happy."
"I'll try my best."
"That's good enough."
The wind blew faster and the meadow was merely a streak of green and white now, the forest a slash of deeper green in a whirling canvas. Sookie could feel her body humming. She hugged her Gran one last time and asked, "I'll see you again?"
"Perhaps. I am not sure, but if you need me, reach out to me in your dreams and I will come."
She opened her eyes.
She was still lying on her side with Eric's body curled around hers offering protection and comfort. She rolled over to face him. He was dead for the day, his face serene. She reached up to trace the smooth line of his brow. He was so beautiful to her. Gazing at him gave her a delicious physical ache she'd never experienced with Bill. She was in love with this man. Eric Northman. Vampire. Her bonded. Being with him gave her extremes of happiness that left her breathless. He was so much more than any other man she'd ever known. Strong, brave, fearless. A thousand years had not diminished his character; he was a warrior, a man dominant by nature and by the long hard life he had lived. A conqueror who strategized his every move and then relished his enemy's defeat. He was a man who came from a time when men struck an accord with nature and harnessed the seas: a time of exploration, plunder and battles to secure land, possessions and women. He was a virile male animal turned at the peak of his powers and, certainly, the peak of his beauty. He stood resolute through time. Now it was her time to stand beside him.
Her grandmother's words frightened her. She was afraid for the future. She was afraid for her baby, for Eric, for Jason, and afraid for herself. She didn't want Eric to hurt her in the coming days. She needed him too much right now, and she couldn't stand the thought of him becoming her adversary again. She needed him to be strong for her right now.
She was also worried about her impending meeting with Niall and whoever this seer woman was. She was worried about what they were going to say. She was worried about the enemy they had, an enemy that was supposedly more a danger to her than Sophie-Anne, and she was just worried that she couldn't do what so many people seemed to be depending on her to do. Her mind whirled with the incessant buzz of thoughts and concerns that she had fallen into something too great for her to be a part of, until finally she decided her only option was to take things one matter of contention at a time.
Right now she had to talk to Eric. She needed to tell him about what her Gran told her about the baby, and she needed him to hold her and assure her everything was going to be ok. She wanted to talk about their future. Their future with their child and those that would follow. Their children who would be gods reborn. She'd worry about the rest later.
Setting her hand on Eric's Mjolnir, she murmured, "Wake up, my Viking, I need you."
Eric felt her call. He always felt her call, and would always feel it. His arctic blue eyes opened to meet hers, dark and concerned. Pulling her close, he asked, "What is wrong, my älskade?"
"We need to talk."