**A/N: Lots of questions will be answered in this Part. Snow sucks.**
“Eric? What the…? Is it really…” Her eyes darted around the room in fearful confusion. “Where the hell did you come from?” She then glanced down at her healed finger anxiously then back up to his face. “You were the void at the door! Wait…how…how did you get in?”
Eric stood, bowed grandly hoping to lighten the mood, and picked up the glass of juice as he pretended he hadn’t heard the trembling in her voice or saw the fear in her eyes.
“At your service, and I was wondering that myself,” he answered softly with a gentle smile.
The fear and confusion was rolling off her in acrid waves and he didn’t understand it and certainly didn’t want to add to it.
Sookie sat up and with a shaking hand scrubbed hard at her forehead before tossing off the afghan. With a too-wary glance she accepted the glass of juice Eric held out to her.
He’d thought it was a good sign when she had taken the glass from him without complaint, but was momentarily stunned when she suddenly doused his chest with the contents and made to run for the door.
Had her aim been better, his face would have been flooded.
With gratifying ease he blurred to her side and in one move he had her scooped up into his arms, and in the blink of an eye he was sitting on the couch with her firmly ensconced on his lap.
The disappointment in his eyes didn’t register to the hybrid now sitting frozen in terror in his arms. The abject fear in her face stabbed at his heart and gentled his touch even further as he stroked her back and softened his voice as he crooned quietly in her ear.
Eric used all the experience he had gained during his years in existence to soothe and reassure his terrified Sookie as he wondered what the hell had caused her to fear…him.
Of all people, why would she fear him?
The knowledge broke his heart.
As she slowly calmed from immobilized terror to violent shaking to, finally, exhausted stillness, he never once stopped singing or, when the words failed him, humming softly into her ear. His hands never stilled either, working continuously to gently ease first frozen then shaking muscles, muscles he now figured were probably sore from such violent tremors.
At least her heart’s beating was no longer reminiscent of a terrorized rabbit.
When he felt her relax his worry began to abate…until she went limp in his arms, and would have slid off his lap had he not already been holding her.
He quickly placed her comfortably on the couch again, but there was something about this stillness that bothered him.
Her previous faint was just that – a regular passing out due to shock. This, however…
This was different…subtle, but different.
She was too still. Her heartbeat, her respiration…both were a little too shallow and a little too slow.
Once he covered her again with that old afghan, he whipped out his phone.
“How’s your delicious little hybrid?”
While he had previously thanked Pam for her intervention, this was not the time.
“Not now, Pam. Get me Ludwig’s number. Now.”
“Eric?” Pam’s will-hidden concern was easily discernible by one who knew her so well.
“Not me, Sookie.”
Pam rattled the number off having stored it in her highly touted “vault” for some reason, and Eric disconnected to immediately dial the querulous doctor who thankfully answered on the second ring.
“Ludwig, this is Eric Northman. Something is wrong with Sookie.”
“Sookie? Sookie Stackhouse? You know where she is?”
“Yes. Can you recommend a doctor in the Yuma, Arizona area?”
“What in the hell is she doing in fucking Arizona?! What’s wrong with her?”
Eric’s keen hearing immediately heard the sudden seriousness in the doctor’s voice.
“She collapsed. Her breathing and heart beats are slow and shallow, and she reeks of extreme fear.”
It galled him to admit it to the troll, but it was so out of character for the Sookie he knew that he had to mention it.
“Damn… I’m…I’m on my way.”
The doctor disconnected the call and in the time it took Eric to curse, pocket his phone, and check on Sookie, he heard a voice behind him signaling her arrival.
“Out of the way, Northman. This could be bad.”
He stepped to the foot of the couch and didn’t bother questioning how the doctor had managed to pop directly into Sookie’s living room.
The fact she’d said this could be “bad” was his sole focus.
After placing her medical bag on the table and checking Sookie’s pulse and respiration, the doctor opened her patient’s closed eyelids and checked her pupils’ response to the penlight she held in her hand, then sniffed Sookie’s skin in several places.
Moving quickly, Ludwig dug through her bag and, after apparently not finding what she needed, barked, “Northman, drop a fang and nick her finger. I have to test her blood.”
At any other time Eric would have questioned the hell out of anyone wanting anything to do with Sookie’s blood, but he sensed that time was of the essence.
Moments later a dark drop of blood pooled on the tip of Sookie’s finger which the doctor promptly let drip onto a glass slide she’d readied from her bag.
“I need another drop,” she demanded urgently after securing the sample then withdrawing an oddly colored wooden object from a small case.
Eric squeezed out an additional drop which the doctor caught on the tip of the thin wooden object he thought resembled a large drink stirrer.
The red blood slowly turned a murky blue as it soaked into the multi-hued wood.
“How long has she been here,” she demanded with an accusing glare directed at Eric as she sniffed the blooded end of the stick.
“Around nine years, according to her friend. Why?”
“No wonder she’s crashed. She can’t stay here.”
“I can take her to my suite…”
“No, Northman, I mean she has to leave this fucking region.”
The tiny doctor clasp her chin with her hand and paced a few steps. When Eric started to speak, she held up a finger to silence him.
An agonizingly long minute later, she spoke. “Do you know where my hospital in Shreveport is?”
Eric nodded, suddenly getting the idea that all this had something to do with Sookie’s heritage. Questions could wait, though. Ludwig never acted as though a situation was serious unless it was well beyond worrisome.
“Good. Bring my bag. I can’t pop both that distance.”
Ludwig placed her hand on Sookie’s shoulder, and they disappeared.
Eric never blinked. He whipped out his phone, called his pilot, and then called Pam.
“I will be entering your state. Additional security will be needed for Ludwig’s hospital.”
Less than three hours later and with two bags in his hand, Eric looked out of the opened door of his highly customized mid-sized aircraft. The familiar night view of Shreveport greeted him with a burst of ill-timed nostalgia.
With a nod to the pilot he rose to fly over that skyline, what there was of it anyway, straight for Ludwig’s supe hospital.
In no time he landed before the magically camouflaged facility in an economically depressed area on the outskirts of the city. Humans would see nothing more than an old warehouse and feel an urge to walk on by, but supes wouldn’t be fooled.
He blurred to the secure door which opened at his approach. Once inside, he spotted two vampires he recognized from the palace just inside the door and, in the middle of a long hallway, he saw Ludwig waiting for him. Two more guards were stationed at another entrance at the end of the hallway, and if he knew Pam, there were more guards stationed throughout the facility.
At his glance after he’d blurred to meet her, she replied, “I saw you on the monitor.”
Eric handed her the medical bag. “Sookie?”
“Alive. I’ve induced a strong-sedation state to help her recover.”
“Strong sedation? Why? And recover from what, exactly?”
“There’s a reason the Fae don’t congregate in the beautiful sunny southwest,” she whispered for Eric’s ears only. “The dirt out there is positively teeming with minerals that wreck havoc on their delicate constitutions. Humans aren’t affected but the right mixture will fuck up a Fairy because of their magic.”
“Some, yes, but in its natural form it’s not too bad for them so long as it’s not rusted and they don’t go playing with it, and it would take an astronomically high concentration of natural iron for hybrids to even notice its presence in its natural form. No, it’s the concentration of wulfenite and its buddy stolzite mixed in with the rest of it that’ll affect both purebloods and hybrids.”
At Eric’s look, she continued as they walked down the hallway toward a door with a guard on each side.
He nodded in acknowledgment of the vampires whose presence he knew would soon be replaced with qualified Weres for the daylight hours.
Thank you, Pam.
“She and their ilk are affected by more minerals than just iron, Viking. Iron’s effects are just the most deadly and the most obvious of the lot.”
They halted before the closed door and Ludwig indicated the guards. Eric recognized them from Pam’s personal security detail and knew them to be eminently trustworthy.
“Is this necessary?”
“Yes. How bad is her condition? What has it done to her? Can she be cured?” Eric gripped the bag of items he’d gathered for Sookie in one hand and dragged the other through his hair.
“I’ve had to put her in that damn coma-like state to get her other side to calm the hell down,” she snarled with another sideways glance at the vampire guards, then opened the door and entered.
After Eric followed through and closed the door, she continued. “These rooms are spelled to prevent the wrong ears from hearing the wrong things. Now, the effects of that mineral combination are different for each Fae depending on their magic and the volatility of their spark. Even though she’s a hybrid, it would have interfered with her Fairy side which in turn would mess with the ways it interacts with her human faculties.”
She walked over to check on some machinery hooked up to the covered form in the bed. Eric’s gaze was focused on Sookie’s pale, too-still face.
“You said she’s been there over nine years?”
At Eric’s nod, she continued.
“That little gal’s damn lucky she’s got so much human in her then. For lack of a better name we call it “mineral poisoning” but frankly non-Fae healers don’t really know all that much about the condition. It generally attacks either the Fairy’s body or their mind, but sometimes both.”
She gestured at Sookie.
“Her body is stressed but since it’s not nearly as deteriorated as it could have been after that amount of exposure, I would guess her mind caught the brunt of her distressed Fairy side. It would have been even worse if she was under mental or emotional strain. The more emotional the Fairy, the harder it’ll affect them, and if this has been going on for so long, she was past due for a crash.”
Ludwig stopped speaking at the look on Eric’s face and gave him a moment to adjust.
“At least judging by her tan she had enough sense to let the sun help her even if she didn’t know what was going on. This poisoning is slow-acting, so she probably had no idea. The sun wouldn’t have done all that much for the fugue if that was her main problem but every little bit would have helped.”
Eric stared down at his Sookie so still and wan against the too-white sheets. A plastic blood-filled tube ran from her lower arm into a complicated looking machine and another tube returned her blood to…he had to look away for a moment.
It was so barbaric.
Other machines held plastic bags of fluid or showed moving graphs or beeped…his Sookie didn’t deserve this.
He cleared his throat and indicated the machine that accepted then emitted her life-blood.
“It’s scrubbing her blood. She wouldn’t have accumulated a large amount of these minerals since they’re generally soil-bound, but this will filter out what little manged to get into her system from the water and wind. The real problem is getting her spark and the way it interacts with her human side to stabilize and then figuring out what sort of damage has been done and if it’s reversible. This is a long-term case, Northman. Pull up a chair.”
“Would,” he started, then had to clear his throat. The compassion in the normally bitchy little doctor’s eyes burned. “Would my blood help her?”
“Yes, and no. It wouldn’t help yet,” she replied brusquely even though vampires were not known for offering their blood to assist her patients. “Let the machine do its job for now, but we’ll revisit the suggestion later. I have rounds,” she finished with a nod before checking the largest bag of fluid then shuffling from the room.
Eric stood at the side of the bed not occupied with automated machinery that did things with her blood and body, and stared down at his Sookie.
He reached out a shaking hand and lightly stroked his thumb across her cheek, then smoothed her hair before tucking it behind her ears. After remembering what he held in his other hand, he placed the bag on the nearby table and withdrew that old, horrid afghan, shook it out, and placed it atop her covers.
Long minutes later he started when his phone rang. The ringtone indicated the caller was Pam, so he answered.
“What is going on, Master?”
Pam’s unusually serious tone revealed her concern on his behalf.
She had never truly liked Sookie, didn’t like her now, either, but her loyalty to him was far stronger than her understandable dislike. Sookie had never left his life in peace, something his child would always hold against the hybrid.
In her place, he’d have felt the same.
“Sookie is in an induced coma-like state. Ludwig said that the minerals in Arizona affected her Fairy side somehow so she had to put her to sleep to help with the cure.”
“Minerals? Fairies are such pitifully delicate creatures,” she snarked but without much bite. “So there is a cure,” she went on more forcefully.
“Yes, but I don’t know how long it will take.” He pulled the chair Ludwig had indicated over to the bed and sat.
“Well, your quarters are readied for whenever you wish. Do I,” she cleared her throat and asked briskly but with far less distaste than Eric would have ever thought, “do I need to prepare the telepath a safe place too, or will she be staying with you once she’s recovered?”
Pam’s matter of fact implication that Sookie would recover along with her willingness to assume that she would be protectively housing Sookie in the royal residence almost brought a line of red to Eric’s eyes.
“I don’t…know,” he replied, the memory of the terror in her eyes burning in his mind.
“Well, I’ll have the chambers beside yours prepared just in case. That’s what minions are for.”
When silence followed her offer, she said in a kinder if still strident tone, “Ludwig is an opinionated, grumpy little bitch, but she’s the best at what she does. If she says Sookie will heal, then she will heal. Did you get your hair cut?”
(Writer suggests a pee-and-snack break since there’s still a bit to come yet. Wash your hands between the two, though. Yes, it’s probably still snowing depending on your location so don’t bother looking. It’ll only make you feel cold.)
The first two days and three nights he didn’t leave her side. The room was light-safe, and while the doctor would grumble and shoo him away during some of her examinations, she surprised him by having a larger, more comfortable reclining chair brought in for his use.
With only slightly more grumbling she even had quite several bags of high quality blood sent to him…to replace what he lost due to the bleeds. The most he would allow himself was half an hour of downtime here and there, and even then he timed it with an alarm.
Pam, with no comment whatsoever, sent over more than a week’s worth of clothing and personal items…as well as some personal grooming items for Sookie, to Eric’s bemusement.
The brush and comb had come in handy, as had something called “dry shampoo” in a spray can that Ludwig had thoroughly investigated before giving her shrugged approval for its use. It’s “unscented” scent was stronger than expected.
He assumed Pam would take care of the Arizona business, most likely by contacting his company dayman, but he didn’t care enough to ask. His entire world was abruptly focused only on the happenings in this small hospital room.
The removal of the too-large, in his opinion, tubes from her body on the second night had been a relief. By then Sookie’s system had been cleared of the faint mineral accumulation, such as it was, for a while but Ludwig hadn’t wanted to take any chances. The treatment was now deemed as successful as possible. His elevated senses easily detected the faintly brightening tint to Sookie’s skin and the slight “cleaner” difference in her scent.
Just prior to the removal of the tubes, Ludwig had performed another test with the strangely colored piece of wood during which Sookie’s blood remained the proper color, and she had taken another sample off to her lab. Within minutes she had pronounced Sookie cured in all but mind, and stated that the following night she would begin slowly bringing her out of the now lighter sedation.
Afterward, Sookie would wake when she and her Fairy side chose to do so.
He spent countless hours staring at Sookie’s face, memorizing her current features and identifying the minute differences, then watching as the signs of stress faded most of even the faintest changes from her preternaturally young face. He watched as that strange tenseness slowly eased from her body, watched and listened to every improvement that took place in the function of her heart and lungs.
Toward the end of that third night, after his second day spent awake, the doctor stared at him for a long moment with squinted eyes then ordered him to get his tail to his child’s glorified house, that he needed a real day’s rest and not to return until he’d had it.
Her glare at his objections was magnificent.
“And just what good do you think you’re going to be to that little girl if you’re a blood-soaked, zoned-out mess when she wakes up? Yeah, yeah, you’re a mighty vampire, I get it. But even the damn Vikings needed sleep. Now take your hulking frame out of my hospital and get a decent day’s rest. Go on, get out of here.”
The day’s true rest had been noticeably restorative, but the moment it was safe to do so Eric returned.
That evening – evening because Ludwig knew the protective instincts of her patient’s permanent visitor would require him to be present – the doctor had a Were trained in the manual aspects of physical therapy come by to tend to Sookie’s lax body. She wasn’t entirely convinced that her patient hadn’t suffered physically from the negative effects of the mineral “poisoning” and thought some therapy wouldn’t hurt.
Eric’s low growl at the thought of anyone touching his Sookie’s body brought a gleeful look to the doctor’s eye.
“This has to be done, Northman. I don’t want to risk any…”
“Show me. I’ll do it.”
“I thought as much.”
The Were, thankfully female, was familiar enough with supe possessiveness to easily understand, so she took her time very carefully showing Eric how to massage and manipulate different aspects of the patient’s muscles and joints, then had him repeat her movements under her watchful eye. When she left, she gave him her professional number in case he had further questions. As a smart vampire he’d been a quick study, but things could still happen.
Eric realized there was a chance he might possibly be overreacting, maybe, but the sight of his Sookie resting so still, so vulnerable, brought his instincts to the fore. After the good Were left, as he continued his guided movements he told Ludwig to give the kindly woman a bonus and to add it to his bill.
“Oh, I will.”
Too busy gently massaging the backs of Sookie’s calves, he missed the knowing smirk in the doctor’s gaze as she watched his gentle movements.
When Ludwig brought Sookie out of the last vestiges of the strong sedation, he breathed a sigh of relief as Sookie’s heart and lungs responded in kind by slowly increasing in both strength and speed.
Eric maintained his vigil as he waited by or on her bedside every night and during the rare days that Ludwig gave up trying to get him to “take his giant self home already”.
He faithfully continued following the therapist’s recommendations to the letter and easily spent hours first massaging and manipulating Sookie’s joints and muscles, then after a while his attentions would give way to simply stroking her skin and rubbing her feet and hands as he contemplated times past and future.
Seeing her in the flesh had loosened something in his heart, setting free the knowledge that she was what he had been missing all along. There was no denying it, and he had no intention of losing her again even to her own mind.
Naturally he wondered how things would go once she was healed and her life was returned to a true normal, and it would be, damn it all.
And she would be healed. As querulous and unpleasant as Ludwig tended to be, her expertise in the supe medical field was legendary. Sookie would be fine…eventually.
But would she choose to remain in Shreveport? Her now former life and what few friendships she had were based in Yuma, but she couldn’t return there.
That Misty was nice enough in her own way, and he wondered if she would be willing to branch the catering business…
Sookie’s phone, which along with her purse and afghan he’d grabbed before leaving her home, had been instrumental in bringing a surprising new acquaintance into his unlife. During his first day awake keeping watch over Sookie, it had started ringing almost non-stop, and he had impatiently grabbed it to silence the device, but had somehow displayed the incoming call log instead. All listed calls had been from Misty.
Realizing that Misty must be worried because of her co-owner’s absence from work and deeming the woman worthy of at least an explanation because of her caring attitude toward his Sookie, he answered her next call, and soon enough an acquaintanceship between the two began to emerge.
Although Misty’s scent had been purely human, Eric quickly realized that she held neither fear nor awe of vampires. While his own supe status would be revealed in due time, he felt no need to expose Sookie’s otherness to the woman. As for an explanation of the “medical problem”, he had handed the phone over to a fortunately nearby Ludwig. She had then concocted some believable story to explain Sookie’s return “home” for whatever emergency medical reason then, in her gruff way, had dismissed the caller and returned the phone to Eric.
He admired the doctor’s ability to lie without actually lying.
As time passed and Misty called regularly for updates, he began to not mind so much keeping the woman current on Sookie’s progress. It seemed, in fact, oddly nice to have someone real and completely unimpressed with his name to discuss the situation with, someone who thought more of Sookie than just a favored patient or her Maker’s barely tolerated “plus-one”.
During her frequent calls Pam had gracefully kept her opinions about Sookie to herself, and even her voice lacked most of its usual flare when “the telepath” inevitably came up in conversation. Eric appreciated Pam’s new-found friendship with tact and hoped his child wasn’t biting her own tongue too often.
Then, during his fourth night by Sookie’s side, the miraculous happened: Willa called.
Eric didn’t recognize the number but something urged him to accept the call.
“Hi, Eric. It’s me, Willa,” she said, her voice more uncertain than friendly. She quickly asked, “How’s Sookie?”
Eric walked over to the window opened to the night-time view. If it hadn’t been for Willa contacting Pam…
“You saved her life.”
“I…what? Pam said that she had a bad reaction to something because of her genetics but that she was going to be ok,” Willa stated, her choice of words notifying Eric that their conversation might be overheard. Her discretion was noted and appreciated.
“Come see her, and we will talk then. You are welcome here.”
A long silence followed on the other end of the call which gave Eric encouragement. The background noises hinted that she was in a crowded place, perhaps a mall of some sort.
“My pilot can easily pick you up at the nearest airstrip of any size within the next three hours depending on your location, and the plane will be light-tight. Just tell me where you want him to land, and he’ll be there.”
He paused so as to not give the impression of rushing her. Even if she chose to remain where she was, her call indicated at least the beginning of a wish to resume contact with him.
It was a start.
“I…I don’t know, Eric. There’s a lot of…you know.”
“Yes, there is, but we have time. Come home, Willa. Come see Sookie, and see your Sister’s “Palace”. You know she’s dying to show it off.” Eric smiled slightly as he thought about Pam’s ill-concealed delight when showing off her sometimes questionable decorating skills, and Willa unknowingly echoed his thoughts with a corresponding snort.
“I bet she is,” she agreed.
Eric heard her exhale with a gust, and waited.
“Phoenix. Tomorrow night. Call me with the details,” she said before disconnecting the call.
Eric immediately contacted his pilot, returned Willa’s call with the details, then resumed his vigil.
Though the effects of the sedation had long since worn off, her moments were still minute and limited. He would watch as her eyes moved behind her lids and wonder what she was dreaming, for surely dreams were what caused the rapid eye movements.
As time progressed, he found himself more and more tempted to go into downtime curled around her warm, still form, to draw her into the circle of his arms and protect her from whatever was in her mind. The need to remain alert and aware by her side would always win, however, and so he would sit for hours on the side of her bed keeping watch as he chatted briefly with Pam or visited with Willa who had dropped in several low-keyed, tactfully polite times.
(You could get a coffee refill if you wanted to, I mean, why wouldn’t you? Or tea. Or, you know, whatever. Butterscotch pudding is nice, too. Snow still sucks.)
Dark, thick fog…
Nowhere in all and nothing…
At first there had been nothing, dark empty nothing filled with dark for the longest time, then a small something had been felt, somehow.
The small something had been on the periphery, untenable but she knew it was real which made it real.
Then there had been nothing but along with the nothing came some sort of comfort, the feeling of comfort being nearby, empty but real.
The comfort had been the something, the nebulous thing she didn’t want to leave when she went back to the dark safe place.
Then there had been nothing again but this time it was thankfully a little more than nothing, softer somehow, but that same comfort was nearby and caring for her, tending to her in some way.
The comfort, the something she thought maybe was familiar but she wasn’t sure, it never left her, never left her alone as she drifted between the safe dark place and the place that was also starting to feel safe.
The something that wasn’t nothing was waiting for her.
Something inside her that felt dim and damaged and tired relaxed as though for the first time in years, something inside her let loose and inhaled and exhaled and slowly started trying to feel brighter and lighter, finally, something inside her rested, was able to rest, wanted and needed to rest.
Gradually the nothing kept becoming more than nothing, less dense and empty, more spacious but warmer, and the comfort became more real and not just because she willed it to be so.
The comfort seemed to heal the still dim but not so damaged thing that should have been bright but was lighter and now able to rest.
Impressions began returning to what she thought was another part of her during the less dense nothing times, impressions that she knew to be real in a way that had escaped her for so long and the dim thing grew brighter and its wings seemed less folded, but then the impressions would fade and leave her alone again for a while.
Finally she could breathe, could feel the air in her lungs while she dreamed the foggy dreams but knew them to be mere dreams and not memories because the memories knew themselves to be real memories.
The dim thing that should have been bright and light and filled with a beautiful energy began to grow more and more and would remain brighter and lighter and…peaceful.
Peace was a ball of light in the sky, a ball of light in her hands, a glass of light to drink, a light in blue orbs that came with a warmth she couldn’t name.
There was a peace found in the less dark and dense times now, a peace she remembered having felt once upon a time but it had faded away and she had missed it but hadn’t known she had missed it but it was back, and she could rest.
Her head and her heart and even something she thought maybe was…she couldn’t name it…they all felt clearer and easier to know and feel and be, and then she slept… A restful, natural, often dream-filled time where she knew there was light shining just around the corner.
**A/N: So, there’s that. What did you guys think?**