Eleven days after she’d arrived at the hospital, Sookie woke up.
As was his habit now, Eric was sitting on the side of her bed when it happened. Half an hour before he had finished his manipulations-turned-massage, then had returned two texts from Pam before settling in to indulge in a brief survey of her face.
That was when he noticed the change in her breathing pattern.
A few moments passed, and then as though truly waking from a simple nap, Sookie began to open her eyes.
Eric allowed her a little time to grow accustomed to the mid-level lighting in the room before moving enough to ensure her notice.
Dread had mixed with his supreme relief when she appeared to be waking, so he had prepared himself for whatever reaction she might have to his presence, but when she appeared to be only mildly surprised, he exhaled.
“Enjoy your nap, Ms. Stackhouse?”
He kept his voice purposefully light but knew his relief seeped through.
The expression her face changed from confusion to confusion mixed with surprise, but there was no fear.
When she tried to speak but no sound came from between her parched lips, he patted her shoulder and rose to grab the ever-present, ever-fresh small jug of ice water Ludwig’s aids insisted on keeping by her bed. He returned to her side and pressed the button that would raise the head of her bed so that she could drink comfortably, and held the heavy jug to ease the process as she slowly sipped from the straw in the container’s top.
“I should alert Ludwig of your return to the land of the living,” he said without conviction.
Sookie shook her head slightly, and Eric was glad to note that her expression now held more curiosity than anything.
“Where am I?”
Her voice was raspy, so he held the straw toward her and was pleased when she began drinking again.
“You’re in Dr. Ludwig’s hospital in Shreveport.”
Sookie’s face went blank in her disorientation, then she whispered, “Oh.”
A moment passed before she added, “How did that happen?”
“It’s a long story. First, how do you feel?”
“Confused,” she whispered with a wan smile. “But fine. Actually, I feel better than I have in a long time.” She made a weak attempt to scoot sideways then sighed with a low huff, “Here, move me over a little so you can sit down. You look awkward leaning over like that and I’m getting a crick in my neck looking up at you.”
Eric laughed, his tone laced with hope and disbelief, and did as she asked.
He knew he should fetch the doctor, but damned if he wanted to do so just yet. This time with his Sookie held an ethereal quality he didn’t want to lose to reality, not yet.
Once he was situated beside her with his long legs stretched out before him and Sookie’s warm arm touching his, he made to speak but was interrupted.
“You…did you come to see me? Before, at my house?”
Eric cringed internally but kept his face still.
“Yes, I did.”
“Oh, ok. I was wondering if I dreamed that. I’ve dreamed a lot of things, you know. How long have I been here?”
“Eleven days. Ludwig said you had a form of poisoning from minerals found in a nasty combination in the Arizona area.”
Not liking his current position where he couldn’t see her face, Eric shifted around just enough to rectify that situation.
“She had to put you into a sedated state to calm your Fairy side and clean your blood with a machine. You are well now.”
Sookie thought for a moment, her expression contemplative.
“Well that explains the lack of other Fairies in such a sunny area…” Her tone implied the solving of a mystery.
And then her face crumpled.
Unable to tolerate even such a small distance between them as his Sookie began sobbing as though her heart was breaking, in a blur he stood and removed the hospital bedding that separated her from him. Once he had her gently hauled up into his lap as he repositioned himself in the center of the bed, he wrapped that horrible old afghan around her bare limbs and let her cry as best he could.
It killed him, but he knew this catharsis would somehow help her with whatever had been going on in her mind. He couldn’t imagine what she had been through and according to Ludwig it had probably been a terrible experience for her. He had to know, though, so that he could help her to move past it all, but a large part of him dreaded having that knowledge.
Just as he began to wonder if maybe he should have called for the doctor after all, her sobs eased, and he used his long arm to reach for the box of scratchy generic tissues on the bedside table.
Once she had mopped her face and no longer seemed quite as overcome, he raised one hand to encourage her to rest her cheek against his chest then used his long fingers to skillfully massage her upper shoulders and the tense area behind her neck.
When he finally felt her take a deeper, calmer breath, he asked as he lifted her free hand, “So, what’s with the blue nail polish?”
As he’d hoped, she choked out a laugh. “It’s a long story.”
He grunted and moved his hand along her shoulder to rub in another spot. “As a vampire, I have all the time in the world.”
Sookie chuckled weakly, then let her head relax against his chest.
He allowed her the respite and concentrated on the feel of her in his lap. When that proved to be a rising mistake, he lowered his head and sniffed the messy hair at the top of her head. She never knew.
Just as Eric was coming to the conclusion that he would have to move the woman from his lap after all or have her accusing him of improprieties that he’d certainly like to take at some near point in the future, her quiet voice drifted up to his ears.
“Why are you here?”
Eric wanted to lift her face to his so that he could see her beautiful eyes as he spoke, but recognized that she might not be ready for that just yet, so he consoled himself with holding her minutely closer.
“Because I have only now found you.”
“You were looking for me?”
He couldn’t tell if her voice was tinged with hope, or fear considering her previous reception to his presence, but suspected both.
“If I had thought for one moment that you wanted to be found, Sookie, I would have moved hell, heaven, and earth to get to you. Nothing and no one could have stopped me. But no, I was not.”
The slumping of her shoulders could have been from relief or disappointment, and again, he suspected both.
Another long minute passed quietly as each became somewhat physically reacquainted with the other. Eric was simply savoring the gift of being able to hold his Sookie in his lap when she quietly spoke.
“We said goodbye and you were gone, Eric. You were just…gone.”
The catch in her voice hurt his heart, and he had to swallow hard. He knew exactly what she meant.
Giving in to the need, he re-situated her a little on his lap and lifted her chin. The tears gathering in her eyes again almost made him wish he hadn’t.
He raised his other hand and smoothed his thumbs over her eyelids, and lowered his head to speak against her forehead.
“Had you called out for me to stay that night, I would have gladly done so,” he admitted softly. “And I would never have left your side. But your heart wasn’t mine to claim then. Your heart wasn’t entirely your own at the time, and I knew that.”
He paused, and while she didn’t say anything, he sensed she was listening with that heart he so longed to be his.
The plans he’d made twelve nights ago, the logic he had applied to the situation, the well-considered approach…they all flew out the metaphorical window. With a deep breath he went for broke.
“When I claim you as mine, when you agree to be mine and I agree to be yours, it will be with our whole hearts. Whether you would call me your lover, your mate, your husband…you will be mine, and I will be yours.”
He kissed her forehead then added, “I cannot share you with another in that role; there simply wouldn’t be enough room. I am a large man, you know.”
Sookie had listened silently to his words but to his delight briefly laughed at his last statement.
Most importantly, she neither objected nor became upset. He breathed a sigh of relief and allowed himself to relax minutely.
Knowing that she was still processing everything, he changed the subject while simply holding her.
“What do you remember from the night I came to your home? How was I able to enter?”
She shrugged, but didn’t offer to move from his lap, instead choosing to rub her cheek along his chest as she snuggled back into his hold.
“You were able to come in? Yeah,” she said as she paused to think back. “Yeah, you were able to come in, weren’t you? Sorry about the orange juice.”
“Do not worry about it, but yes, I was able to enter without hesitation.”
Sookie started flexing her fingers into the material of his shirt and he sensed her heart starting to beat faster, and began massaging her tightening back and neck in hopes of belaying that rising tension.
“Well, I…I have a theory, maybe. See, I used to have these dreams… Most of them were nightmares, really terrible nightmares mainly about Bill and a few others. I know I’ve dreamed that you saved me from him in several situations, and I know I’ve dreamed that I’d invited you in so you could pull him off me or…or whatever, but I… Maybe I really did invite you in during one of those dreams? A lot of them were so real…so it’s possible.”
She shivered, and he immediately gathered her closer.
He exhaled deeply and smoothed his cheek against the top of her head as he strongly suspected that some things went far deeper than he knew. Maybe the mineral poisoning was actually the least of her problems…
“I would bring him back if only to end him myself.”
Sookie swallowed hard, then agreed with a nod.
“You don’t have to. Ending him once was more than enough.”
She leaned back to look up at him.
“But eventually the dreams started changing and remember that you did save me from him, and from some other things, too, every time. Every single time. Finally the bad dreams stopped completely. It took very nearly forever but they did stop. But not once during all that time did I ever have a bad dream about you hurting me, so there’s that,” she said with a bright, clear smile.
That not having bad dreams about him brought her such obvious relief told him how badly her psyche had suffered. He couldn’t help but think that most of the damage had come from Bill’s mechanization and manipulations. Certainly the damned mineral content of the Arizona soil hadn’t helped in the least, but she must have been in a highly emotional state when she first entered the region for it to have been able to affect her so deeply.
The intervening years had been far from kind to her, but she had survived…more than survived.
Still… The light in her eyes that first night had held terrors he didn’t want to imagine, and to his knowledge there could only be one cause.
He didn’t know what all the malformed coward had done to her, but regardless Compton needed to be brought back to life solely so he could torture him for a thousand years.
Instead of concentrating on the infinite number of ways he would deeply savor torturing Compton, however, he focused on the bruised but surviving lady on his lap.
“There is that,” he agreed with slightly forced cheer. With a more natural smile he added, “I can smell the meal carts approaching; are you ready to eat?”
She shrugged. “It’s ok. I’m not really hungry…”
“Irrelevant. You are mortal therefore you should chew at regular intervals. According to the smells coming this way food is coming anyway. Besides, it’s time for you to see your grumpy little doctor.”
He laughed more honestly at her resulting expression, then extracted himself so he could call for that grumpy little doctor.
You, too, are mortal and therefore need to chew at regular intervals. This could be considered a “regular interval” if you so chew…oose. Or something. I vote we go all in for a grilled cheese, tomato soup, and fries. Just because we’re supposedly not in kindergarten anymore doesn’t mean we can’t eat like it, right? Dibs on the chocolate milk.
Once Ludwig had arrived and he had been promptly shooed from the room, Eric had flown to the rooftop of the hospital to think.
He wanted, ached, to scoop Sookie up into his arms and fly away to a place where she could rest in peace and warmth and comfort. She seemed to be recovering well but the traumas in her mind and in her heart…they would take time to heal.
As he wasn’t a fairy hybrid he didn’t understand what had been going on between her human side and her fairy side and that spark no one seemed to actually know anything about, but as a vampire he did understand how the two sides of his own psyche sometimes warred. At other times and apparently just to be contrary, the one side could also provide support to the other side.
Wherever she went, he refocused his thoughts, she would need good, regular access to the sun’s healing powers. She would also need high quality nourishing food for her body, access to fresh air, gentle outdoor activities, and a soothing environment to nourish her psyche, and few readable humans in the area to soothe her mind.
An idea began to form.
Once back in the hallway outside Sookie’s still-closed door, Eric paced until Ludwig finally emerged.
When she saw him, he nodded toward the area where he knew her office was located, and together, albeit with highly mismatched steps, they left to confer in private.
I hope you ate quickly.
Sookie looked up drowsily when Eric knocked on her door sometime later. Sleepily she mumbled for him to come in, and unsurprisingly the sight of his tall, handsome form brought that curious lightness back to her heart.
She felt…weak. Fragile. Tired in a way that made no sense considering how long she’d been in various stages of sleep, but even with all that she felt better than she had in recent memory.
She just didn’t have the energy to do anything.
It was very annoying.
Things had been bad…really bad…so bad that she hadn’t even known just how far below sea level she’d fallen.
But she had tried, she had tried and fought and clung so hard, and that in the end was what had saved her.
Earlier when all the facts had been pieced together and studied, Dr. Ludwig had been frankly impressed with how well she had kept herself together all things considered even as she was supervising her patient’s tiny sips of some sort of oddly good beneficial broth.
“I didn’t know you had it in ya,” she’d exclaimed rather baldly. Her next statement mitigated it somewhat. “Fairies aren’t known for being made of sterner stuff. From what I can figure, your human side worked with your fairy side to save your hide.”
She appraised Sookie’s countenance with a sharp eye then added, “You probably feel like you’ve been put through the wringer. You’ll get better, though. It’ll just take time.”
A look crossed Sookie’s face.
Sookie shrugged, then gave into the stern look the doctor leveled at her.
“I just… It’s just that…”
Displaying surprising patience, the doctor simply waited for Sookie to spit it out.
“How did I let myself get so far down? How did I…it just galls me that I let myself get in such bad shape. I should have known better. I should have suspected that something was up or been stronger or…or something.”
To Sookie’s eventual relief, Ludwig scoffed at her misdirected self-loathing.
“You didn’t do this to you. I don’t know what was going on in your head when you ended up in Arizona, but your head apparently wasn’t on straight before you got there, and that just made the whole thing worse. It happens, though. You have to remember that you’ve always somehow managed to end up right in the middle of whatever hotbed of supe shit was going on at any particular point in time, and since you weren’t raised knowing what to watch out for or how to deal with these types of situations, sometimes it’s going to hit pretty hard. You need a damn therapist and I’ll arrange for you to start seeing someone before you leave here.”
The doctor whipped out her ever-present notebook and scribbled a note.
“Now, from what I do know about mineral poisoning, it will fuck with your spark and the way it interacts with your body and mind. You lucked out in that the human part of your system kept the physical damages at a minimum. You’ll tire more easily for a while, but if your Viking offers you his blood, don’t be an idiot. Take it.”
The doctor nodded to emphasize her words, then glared at her patient.
“And let me tell you something right now, little girl. Tall, blond, and dead is crazy about you. If you want his blood to heal you, take it. If you don’t, don’t, but don’t doubt how he feels about you. He’s barely left your side since you got here.”
Now appearing distinctly uncomfortable about having offered her unasked-for opinions on private matters, she cleared her throat and continued as though it had never happened.
“Your human side also worked with your spark in some fancy-shmancy way to help keep you more grounded than you would have been if you’d been a pureblood. Your mind, though, wasn’t so lucky. Since no one really knows how that damn spark is going to act in that type of situation, I don’t actually know the kind of miscommunications that were taking place between it and your brain. I suspect it was trying to protect you while at the same time using you to protect itself. I can tell you that your spark is fine now. Weak, tired, and probably still jittery as hell, but fine. Sunshine as you can get it will definitely help.”
She muttered a harsh-sounding expletive that Sookie was glad she didn’t understand.
“What you really need is a solid gallon of that damn light water but I don’t have any contacts in that realm at present. If I come across any in the near to far future, I’ll get you some, but don’t count on it. If anything could help that damn spark…”
She shook her head at the questions she could see in Sookie’s eyes.
“No one really knows how a Fairy’s light is going to act since they’re so volatile and reactionary. Even what passes for doctors among the Fairies don’t know a hell of a lot about their own sparks. I almost feel sorry for you guys having to deal with the damn things. You’ll be fine in time, though,” she said as she rose. “Gotta go…have a were-hyena about to whelp in Labor and Delivery. Good times!”
As soon as the doctor had toddled from the room, Sookie had set her almost empty cup on the side table and lowered the head of her bed so she could stretch out and rest. Dealing with the doctor was exhausting.
Now that she was on the other side, now that she had survived the weird assault from the damn dirt in Arizona and its weird effects on the weird spark she wasn’t sure how to deal with even now…she still had to finish recovering from Bill’s shit, from the damage he’d done to even the way she thought and felt and how she processed things.
Talk about a kick in the teeth! After all she’d been through, she still wasn’t finished!
But she could do it…had been doing it all along even against those odds.
At least the Bill-colored glasses had been virtually ground into dust out in the desert somewhere.
Now she had even more to fight for, though, and damned if she was going to lose.
As Eric now approached the side of the bed, her most fervent wish was that he would crawl in beside her and hold her as she slept. For such a simple thought to bring her such pleasure…
From what he’d said earlier, it sounded as though he wanted a relationship with her, so it wouldn’t hurt to ask, right?
“Hey. How much longer can you stay tonight?”
She didn’t know how late it was but it couldn’t be all that early in the evening.
“I can stay as long as you wish,” came his instant reply. The soft look in his eyes almost brought moisture to her own. “This room is light-safe.”
“Good. Scoot me over and get comfy?”
Eric immediately acted on her request, and very quickly found himself snuggling with his warm, soft Fairy.
He relaxed when she rested her head on his broad chest, and lightly stroked her back. He could almost feel the waves of a normal and understandable exhaustion coming from her body.
Earlier when he’d asked about it, Ludwig had agreed that now would be the time to offer Sookie his blood if he still wanted to.
As if he would change his mind…
He would broach the subject when she seemed ready to hear it, but for now having her in his arms and knowing that she was recovering was bliss. He felt her inhale to speak.
“Eric? How is it you’re able to be here so much? I’m glad you’re here, but how? Don’t you have empires to run?”
He felt her faint chuckle at her own words and smiled softly in return even though she couldn’t see him.
“Easily. I have a small army of over-paid, over-educated suits to oversee the running of everything and I’ve reinstated Pam as my Second to handle anything they can’t.”
When he felt Sookie tense at his child’s name, he felt the sore place in his heart give a twinge. Some things would just take time.
“Pam… Sookie, Pam is how I found you again. Pam, and Willa”
In surprise Sookie raised her head and blearily searched for his eyes. The confusion on her face would have been adorable if it hadn’t been for the history between his two, now three, favorite women.
He nodded and hummed in the affirmative, then gently encouraged her to rest her head on his chest once more.
“To shorten the longer story,” he somewhat misquoted the expression, “Willa had ended up in, of all places, Phoenix.” At Sookie’s start, he chuckled wryly. “Yes, Phoenix. It seems that early one evening she caught a familiar scent while in a shopping mall. She followed that familiar scent at a discreet distance until she confirmed it was you.”
Eric didn’t particularly want to admit the following, but was determined to have no secrets.
“Willa and I haven’t gotten any closer over the years. I’ve tried, but… Anyway, she has maintained irregular contact with Pam, though, so she called Pam to let her know that she’d seen you. I honestly don’t know why she thought to do this but for some reason, she did. Pam through her sources located your current information, the name of your business, etc., and then…then she set me up.”
What started out as a quiet laugh soon turned full-blown as the incredible absurdity of Pam, his child who had been so jealous and small-minded over Sookie once upon a time, now being the one who actually arranged for him to see his Sookie again.
Would miracles ever cease…
At this Sookie raised up on her forearms to search his face.
“Pam set you up to find me? Pam?”
“Yes she did! I had no reason whatsoever to attend that stupid conference, certainly didn’t particularly want to, yet she was so insistent that I go. She even brought Jessica into it and then nagged at me to get my hair cut.”
Sookie smiled as she eyed what she could see of his hair.
“I like your hair.”
He returned her smile and lightly scrubbed at the messy top of her mop of hair.
“And I like your hair.”
“It’s a mess,” she began, suddenly feeling the lack of a recent shower even though she was sure the doctor had some way of keeping her patients clean with some sort of troll magic or something.
“I could help you wash it,” he offered with a naughty warmth in his eye. “I remember a time long ago when we took good showers together.” His voice became more wistful than teasing.
“I do, too,” she replied, her own voice softly contemplative. “And it’s a real memory, not one of those things that I couldn’t tell if it was real or not. There were a lot of times where I couldn’t tell the difference between wishful thinking, nightmares, and the real thing. Most of my memories have gone back where they belong now. Some I’ve put away and won’t ever think about on purpose. Some of them I might keep them handy but probably won’t look for them. But some of them are precious to me and I’ll take them out and watch them over and over again.”
She let her gaze take in his face, the harder lines softened in the still of the night with his woman warm on his chest.
“They’re mostly filled with memories of you. If there’s one thing I know, Eric, it’s that I miss those times with you. I miss who we used to be, and I miss who we could have been.”
“Me, too,” he agreed, suddenly serious but pleased…more than pleased… to his bones with the direction of this conversation.
Logistically speaking, he knew that it was too soon, that he should be grateful for the advances he’d made with her and that she herself had made about “them”. He knew she needed time to heal and deal… It was too soon and he was grateful for how well she was doing in so many way, but by fuck it was time.
He brought his hands up to cup each side of her face.
“This…this is our chance, Sookie. This is our chance to set the past right. For once there is nothing and no one hanging over us or between us. Our paths are finally cleared and they lead straight to each other. There is no reason to rush anything, but this is our time if you will have me.”
There in that hospital bed in Shreveport, LA, Sookie leaned her forearms on the chest of the man, the vampire, the Viking who had saved her in her dreams and in her real life, and felt wholly warm for the first time in that life.
It occurred to her then that maybe, just maybe, her Viking needed to feel as though he “belonged” to someone as much as maybe she, herself, did. Just because he was big and strong and brave and had all the experience in the world didn’t mean that his heart was exempt from desiring those tender feelings and the security that came from knowing he was loved enough to be “claimed” by the one who loved him.
And she did, she realized. She did love him, had never actually stopped if the truth was known. She’d gotten lost along the way in the mires of could-a and should-a hell, had lost sight in the end of who she even was, but that place in her heart devoted to Eric had never actually…left.
The indecision she’d felt back then made no sense whatsoever in this time and space, those things had been left in a grave in Bon Temps and, oddly, in Yuma, Arizona.
Yuma really had saved her emotional sanity but it had provided a dangerous respite. Those days were over and the need to be there was gone and not just for the health of her spark. She’d have to see if Misty would be willing to branch out…
She searched Eric’s intense blue eyes and saw all her dreams unfolding and relaxing and taking that first deep breath in real time.
That lovely blue, blue color of his eyes…
Following her gut which now had the sense to listen to her heart, her mind, and her glorious, volatile spark, she placed her hand above his heart.
**A/N: THIS IS NOT THE END! I repeat: THIS IS NOT THE END. There is one more Part left in this “one shot”… That being said, what did you think?**