**A/N: “This space intentionally left blank.” Don’t you hate that shit? Anyway, my intention with this and all my stories is to provide you with a well-rounded, pleasant, hopefully interesting, non-stressful reading experience. I hope I’m succeeding?? Enjoy the chapter…**
Arms folded around her middle as though trying to contain the excited butterflies swirling in her stomach, Sookie smiled and stepped into Eric’s foyer.
She glanced curiously around the sedately decorated space and wondered how much of his personality was revealed in the tasteful wall art and low lighting, and how much wasn’t. Somehow he just didn’t seem like a beige carpet type of vampire.
Knowing Sookie’s visit was primarily to give him Godric’s reply but hoping it was also for more personal reasons, Eric quickly overrode his traditional vampire tendency to get down to business as quickly as possible, and invited Sookie on a brief tour of the house.
Vampires naturally wanted to know where all the entrances and exits were, where potential threats could hide and so forth – fairy hybrids couldn’t be that different, right?
“Would you care for the, what’s the expression…the five-cent tour?”
Sookie thought he was cute as he stood there with his hands now shoved into his pockets as he rocked on the balls of his feet. His back and shoulders were straight but his head was tilted down toward her, and his slightly longer hair was resting in a fringe over part of his forehead. This wasn’t the “Thousand Year Old Viking Vampire”, and this wasn’t the “Bad-Ass Vampire Sheriff”, either. This was just… Eric, and she thought he had never seemed so real before.
Certain she was lightly blushing as the whole situation had a kind of “awkward teenagers on a first date” feel to it, she made an effort to loosen her hold on her waist and nodded.
“I’d pay all the way up to a whole quarter for the full tour, Mr. Northman.”
Startled into outright laughter by her unexpectedly lighthearted reply, Eric gallantly extended his arm, and felt as though he had won a minor battle when she accepted it without hesitation.
“But first,” she added after taking his arm, “here, this is from Godric and I’d like to go ahead and give it to you.”
She handed him the thick envelope with a soft smile knowing how much he valued this renewed connection with his Maker.
Eric gladly accepted the missive and automatically held it to his nose. The comforting scent of the father, brother, and sometime-son he’d had in his life for over a thousand years served to relax him in a way he would be hard-pressed to explain but reminded him vaguely of the effect Sookie’s unique fragrance sometimes had on him.
Another inhalation of the envelope brought a different scent to his attention…the kind that made his fangs ache.
After ensuring he had Sookie’s attention, he sniffed pointedly at the paper in his hand then leaned very slowly toward her, sniffed audibly at her hair, then gave a slightly exaggerated pout.
Surprised by how easy she felt in his presence especially considering how close he was, Sookie laughed a little.
“I washed the Fae away after I got back home,” she explained. “No sense taking nose sense chances,” she punned badly with a teasing light in her eyes.
Once again surprised into laughing aloud, Eric lightly popped her head with the thick envelope in ‘retribution’ for the horrible pun, then shoved it into his back pocket.
Still smiling, he directed her attention to the painfully acceptable hallway.
“Well, then, Miss Stackhouse-Brigant,” he drawled teasingly, “what you see before you is the foyer complete with subdued lighting, appropriately boring wall decor, and carpeting selected for it’s sedately neutral tone.”
As he leisurely guided her through the usual rooms found on the main floor of the typical human house, both made a concerted if pleasantly easy effort to keep the mood light and amiable.
Once he had led her back to the more comfortable den, he invited her to have a seat while he then offered to get her a drink. He’d had Pam go shopping for whatever humans would normally have on hand for visitors and made sure she included the gin and tonic and sweet iced tea he remembered that Sookie used to drink. Assuring her comfort in his home was of paramount importance, and once he knew more about her and her specific likes, he could tailor the selections accordingly.
He’d been surprised to find out that the sweet iced tea apparently came in large, faintly sticky plastic jugs. Didn’t tea used to come as dried leaves in boxes at some point? He knew ice was made in the freezer compartment of the rarely used but state of the art appliance in the kitchen and he hadn’t seen any chunks or cubes floating around in that jug, but one never knew.
Very curious as to what he would bring her as she also found comfort in the familiar hospitality rituals, Sookie said, “Yes, please, anything is fine.”
Relieved that she hadn’t asked for something he didn’t have on hand, Eric blurred back to the kitchen and, as he poured the sticky liquid from the jug into one of the new glasses he now owned, he thought back to her reaction to that room. He knew it was a silly thing to find such pleasure in the mere fact that she’d liked his kitchen, but he was.
Her tone of voice, no matter how kindly her words, had suggested she was just as unimpressed with the professionally decorated parts of the main floor as he had always been, and that pleased him as well. One could easily go into downtime from boredom with that decorator’s uninspired but painfully acceptable notions of “home fashions”.
He was strongly resisting the urge to show Sookie the underground area where he actually lived – and which displayed much more of his personality. It was too soon for that sort of familiarity and he certainly didn’t want to rush anything and risk set-backs.
Although he suspected she would adore the colors and styles he’d chosen for his master bedroom and was certain she would want to move into the master bath he had designed himself, he’d have to wait to show them off.
No one said anything about enjoying the wait, though, he groused as he heated a blood to keep her company.
He grabbed the drinks and was pleasantly surprised when he returned to the den. She had chosen to sit on one side of the large and unnecessarily beige sofa that dominated the center of the spacious yet cozy room. It faced a bank of faux windows, appearing as normal windows on the exterior yet only draped spaces on the interior, and a suitably large fireplace situated perfectly between them.
She was also sitting in his favorite seat. He generally spent little time on the main floor of this house but when he did…it was where her fine little bottom now rested.
“Thank you,” she said graciously when he offered her the iceless cold “iced” tea, and sipped obligingly as he sat with assumed casualness a cushion and a half away.
So far things were going quite well and he sternly ordered himself not to fuck it all up. She was not only in his house, but in his house willingly and of her own initiation. He couldn’t help but wonder if Godric had anything to do with her seeming desire to spend time with him, and correctly concluded that the old man probably did. His most heartfelt wish at that moment was that he could send his Maker a flood of gratitude.
Sookie hid her grimace well. She had an idea that Pam must have been the one sent on a shopping errand for human supplies, and considering how long she’d been a vampire, Sookie wasn’t surprised that the woman had no clue about sweet iced tea. That the jug was probably red and had the words “sweet tea” on it was all she’d have seen.
With subtle magic that was in no way discernible she replaced the overly-sweetened tea that was about three minutes away from souring with something her grandmother would recognize, and proceeded to enjoy her beverage.
A glance at Eric had her wondering what he was thinking about since the expression on his face was a bit more serious than before, but she didn’t want to pry. A suggestion wouldn’t be out of line, however.
“Eric, you can go ahead and read Godric’s letter if you want. I know you’re probably dying to and I really don’t mind.”
“No,” he negated instantly, then softened his voice. “No, I can wait a little while. I find I’m enjoying my present company.”
Just a hint of the sensual heat that usually warmed his eyes seeped into his gaze which served to reassure Sookie in a way she didn’t want to think too much about at that moment.
Deciding to take life by the horns and be brave and daring and some of those other words modern women were supposed to be, Sookie surprised them both by kicking off her shoes and pulling her legs up under her as she made herself more comfortable.
Some conversation would help make them both feel less awkward so she blurted the first questions that came to mind.
“Have you lived here long? Did you know that Mr. C was going to buy that house for me? What’s the area like? From what I can tell it seems like mostly supes live here?”
Smiling at both the sudden deluge of questions and Sookie’s obvious desire to be comfortable in his home, Eric sat his barely sipped blood on the nearby table, and replied.
“I’ve been in this house for almost 10 years now but I’ve owned the property for well over 25 years. The area is a quiet, mainly supe community as you can tell, and I guess you could say that Cataliades and I have both played a hand in that.” He couldn’t resist raising a smug brow at which Sookie laughed as expected.
Eric waited a moment but when Sookie didn’t interrupt, he resumed his explanations.
“When I say that I’ve owned the property I mean that I had acquired the entire development and then some a while back and had these properties developed, built, and sold to the people who now own them. All of these houses were sold to vampires, Weres, weres, and witches who I knew well enough to deem trustworthy, and others were sold to a small number of Dae and humans, and possibly a few others, hand-chosen by Cataliades.”
He paused as any good storyteller from eons gone by would, then continued.
“He is my primary attorney and representative, but he is also the more, shall we say, visible partner in this venture, and as I trust him, he can also make individual sales. Here would be the most appropriate place for you to live, so it doesn’t surprise me that he bought you into this neighborhood.”
In truth he was torn between being a bit miffed at the Dae attorney for keeping the transaction understandably but annoyingly secret and simply being glad that his Sookie had such a safe place to live…that was so close to his own house in the area.
With a more serious expression, he added, “This is as safe a place as it can be without the safety measures being far more visible. Witches both hired and local to the neighborhood have added an impressive number of wards, and security companies I’ve researched extensively and invested heavily in have installed their wares in the homes, too. As a group we tend to leave each other to our privacy but we also look after our own. If you live here, your neighbors will know before they even scent you that you’re a member in some way of a close-knit supe community.”
“Even the few humans here have strong times to whichever community. Privacy and security are assured.”
Sookie’s eyes wandered around the room as she digested his words. This truly was the perfect place for her. She’d long desired to be part of a close-knit community but at the same time didn’t necessarily want visitors dropping by without calling first either. She’d had enough of that crap with Jason.
What was she going to do about him? She didn’t really want anything to do with him, but he was her brother, but then, she was his sister and look how he’d treated her?
Tara…she and Sam weren’t much better. It didn’t matter, really, if people were family or not – what mattered was how they treated you.
She fidgeted with the hem of her jeans for a moment as she thought about what to do.
Eric was smart…he’d had over a thousand years of experience dealing with all kinds of people in different situations…
Eric had watched with concern as Sookie’s expressions had flitted across her face too quickly for him to decipher but the end result wasn’t a happy one.
“Can I ask you something?”
He didn’t like the quiet vulnerability in her voice and would do what he could to bolster her.
“Of course, anything.”
Once the word had left his lips, he knew it to be true. She was the one person on the planet who could ask him anything, and he would answer. His answer might not be entirely complete, but he would answer, and he would not lie to her.
Never again…and even lies of omission counted now.
“It’s about Jason. And Tara and Sam, too. They don’t know I’m back yet, and I’m not so sure I want them to know. I feel like I should reconnect with them somehow, but, that’s not what I really want, either. I’m just…confused. I feel like I should feel bad for not wanting them around, like I’m supposed to want them in my life, but…”
“They’re a habit,” he answered immediately, fully understanding her meaning despite her disjointed words. His heart ached a bit at what she was going through, and what she might have to endure for a little while as she eased past this, but he was so proud of her for finally seeing beyond the illusions. “The past is a comfortable place to rest sometimes. Not because it was so pleasant or even because of how it truly was, but because it’s known. Those people, and probably many others, were in your past, they were in your former uncomfortable but known history. You know how those people think, how they act and react. They’re something from back then that you knew; they’re a habit, but nothing more.”
Sookie nodded into the silence after he’d stopped speaking, and considered his words.
They were true.
She’d grown up with Jason, knew far more in some ways about him than she ever wanted to, and honestly… It hurt to admit it but she didn’t like him all that much.
“I don’t…I don’t really even like Jason, you know? I love him, he’s my brother,” she mumbled as though she were required to feel that love solely because of the familial ties. “I grew up with him so I know all about him, well,” she paused then her expression hardened a bit. “Well, I used to know all about him, but these days, before I left I couldn’t tell you much about his life now that he moved out and started living on his own. I know that he likes pie and fried chicken and potato salad because if he came over to my house his first stop was always my fridge. I know he likes to get me to wash his dirty clothes if he’s not seeing someone he can con into doing them for him. I know he likes to raid the tool shed at the back of the house but he doesn’t ever remember to bring anything back. I also know that if I needed wood chopped to heat the house in the winter he never found the time to do that, though.”
Eric leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees and fought the urge to teach that boy some respect. It was an effort but he remained quiet and allowed Sookie the time she needed to work though the “re-staffing her life” issues.
If it had been up to him, he’d gladly tell the lot of them to go fuck themselves. Jason was a useless blow-hard, Tara was a jealous sanctimonious bitch, Sam was a horny dog with a bone, and Lafayette… Eric silently sighed. Out of all of them, he was the least judgmental; he’d have to give him that.
“I already know that I’m not planning on looking up Sam or Tara either one. I miss who Tara used to be when we were kids and I’d give anything to have that person back, but she’s gone. For all I know she was never “that” Tara in the first place. And Sam? Don’t even get me started on that horny dog!”
Eric snickered at Sookie’s unwitting echo of his own feelings regarding that soft-minded shifter.
“Hey, what are you snickering about over there? You’re hornier than any five of him!”
He froze for a second at the unexpected bawdiness of her words – not to mention the truth in them – before her teasing tone seeped into his brain, and then he smiled slowly and devilishly.
“True, but I never hid it,” came his silky reply.
Stretching his long legs out before him and flexing his well-defined abs while he was at it, he enjoyed showing off his perfectly proportioned body to best advantage. The shy appreciation in her eyes would make him grin for nights.
Seeing through his subtle antics for what they were, Sookie enjoyed the sight before her with a laugh.
It felt good teasing with him, not having to worry that he was going to take her words in a way they weren’t meant and also knowing that they were using this new freedom to mouth at each other to get to know each other better.
That she could have these more serious conversations with him meant just as much.
He grinned at her in shared humor, waggled his brows a few times, then going on instinct, pulled her over to snuggle into his side before returning to the previous conversation.
“I’m glad you’re going to keep some of the trash swept out of your life, Sookie. You deserve to surround yourself with people you can trust to have your back if you need them just as you deserve to have people around you who you can laugh and relax with. Tara, Sam, even Jason, they were part of your old life. They’ve changed, and you’ve changed, too. When people bring more strife and stress into your life than help and joy, it’s time to let them go.”
Sookie, still a bit surprised at finding herself cozying into his hard side and chest, nodded her head. As she inhaled his disturbingly familiar scent, she realized that, bluntly, neither Sam nor Tara, nor even Jason really, was worth the amount of herself she had to give them to keep them in her life. It hurt to let them go, hurt along the lines of having a bad tooth extracted because they were such a huge part of her history, but they weren’t worth the pain of keeping them, either. As Eric said, they were just a habit.
Sensing that she might still be struggling over her decision, he asked, “Who did you miss while you were gone? Who did you want to see when you first returned? Who brings you comfort in times of sorrow and who willingly shares your successes? Those are the ones you keep in your life.”
Eric took a deep breath knowing that his next words were treading upon a very serious subject, but a subject that couldn’t be ignored at that moment even for the sake of the new peace.
“In the past I have treated you very badly, and I have treated you in a way I mistakenly thought was fair but was wrong.”
He felt her breath hitch, and forged onward.
“I can’t swear I’ll never hurt you again, Sookie, but I vow to never hurt you on purpose.”
She trembled slightly and he drew her even closer to his chest, all the while ignoring the sudden prickling sensation in his eyes.
“If you’ll let me, I’d like to get to know you. We,” he paused to clear a sudden lump from his throat. “We never had or, well, made the chance to get to know each other before and I’d like to fix that.”
He started to say something else then changed his mind figuring he’d already probably said too much as it was. And then he smelled it.
Without even considering what he was doing, he lifted Sookie and placed her willing body on his lap. When he raised her chin and saw the tear streaks on her face…
“No, no, no…why?” He hated sounding moronic but there were tears…and there shouldn’t be!
With stilted movements he hurriedly wiped her tears away with his thumbs, his eyes all the while begging her to stop crying.
When she covered his hands with her own, his whole body stilled.
This was it.
Her smile just then might have been tremulous and watery, but it was a smile and he felt as though he could breathe again.
“That’s it exactly,” she whispered. “We never knew each other before. We knew a little bit about each other and I was told a bunch of manipulative lies, but mostly we made assumptions about each other, and most of them were wrong.”
She sniffed then smiled again, and popped a box of tissues next to where they sat on the unnecessarily beige sofa. After she blew her nose and, Eric felt with amusement, showed off her ability to pop her glass to and from her hand, she turned once again to look up into his now much more contented face.
“I, Sookie Stackhouse-Brigant, powerful Fairy-Hybrid Princess of the House of Brigant, like you, Eric Northman, powerful and ancient vampire Viking. I would like the opportunity to really get to know you, to know who you really are inside where you don’t have to be anyone but who you are. I think we damn well deserve this chance, don’t you?”
The slow glorious smile overtaking his handsome face made her brave heart beat faster, and she was glad when he gallantly ignored it.
“I, Eric Northman, powerful Viking Vampire, First-Turned of Godric known far and wide as Death, want you in my arms, in my bed, and in my life,” he said solemnly, his tone more a vow than a confirmation. “However,” he added far more lightly, “I will be temporarily satisfied with just getting to know you.”
Sookie reacted instinctively to his teasing and in mock outrage demanded, “Oh you will, will you?”
To Eric’s eternal shock, she then instigated a laughingly ferocious tickle attack and before he knew it he found himself flat on his back failing miserably as he tried not to laugh.
In short order their positions were flipped and his large hand was happily exploring the now exposed area between the back of her shirt and her jeans.
As Sookie sought to calm her slightly labored breathing, her eyes roamed over his face as though memorizing every detail of his brightly smiling eyes and wide, happy smile.
“Eric,” she asked a moment later when her breaths were finally calm, “what are your plans for this weekend?”
He quirked a curious brow and asked instead, “Why?”
“I want you to help me end Bill,” she answered with shockingly calm seriousness. “The sooner, the better. That lying, manipulative, evil bastard needs to die and I could take him out by myself quite easily, but we both deserve a piece of him.”
**A/N: Wait, what? (I heard you…sorry…) Yup, she said it and she meant it. Methinks Eric’s going to have his nicely large hands full. So…what did you think?**