**A/N: This is a real one-shot – it’s just told with a dash of humor in places. Enjoy with a kind, and possibly aww-ish, eye!**
Eric Northman, Viking vampire extraordinaire, and Sookie Stackhouse, telepathic single mother of one, stared at each other in stunned silence.
It had been almost ten years to the day, well night, since they had last beheld the other in person.
Sookie had seen Eric, of course. His face along with his exploits had fronted most newspapers and popular magazines, not to mention most news channels and internet sites, so he’d been virtually impossible to miss during the intervening years.
Not that she’d wanted to.
Eric had seen Sookie, of course. After all, that’s one of the reasons he paid the big bucks to his surveillance staff.
Each was more than mildly aware of the basic contents of the other’s life – Eric with his travels, new business ventures, and model-of-the-week habit, and Sookie with her half-were daughter, the multi-faceted home school dealio she’d gotten a degree to create then licenses start in her home for not just her daughter but the scions of other supe families as well, where she shopped for groceries and paid her power bill, who her best friends were now that she’d kicked the riffraff from her life, when she received her large deliveries from Amazon at least once a week…
Eric had been aghast at the amount of bubble bath, chocolate, color markers (some scented, others not), cat food, craft paper, cleaning supplies, and bandages Sookie went through in a normal week.
His surveillance team was simply that thorough.
When notice had been forwarded from his team of the grant Sookie was requesting to bring her ancient farmhouse up to the standards needed to pass inspection to house her home school which would apparently also be used to help members of the local Were population learn how to home-school their own brats, he had done as any extremely wealthy community-minded antique vampire would do – he had set up a foundation.
The foundation’s sole function was to grant…grants.
Sookie, armed with not only her degree in early childhood education (with a minor in business) but with various and assorted town/parish/state/ etc. certificates, licenses, charters, and other forms of legal papers (as well as the names of some parents willing to help out), had naturally applied for the grant and, naturally, she had been granted that grant.
Eric, vacationing and opening a facility in lovely Bangladesh at the time, had seen to it personally.
After all, that’s why the “foundation” had been created.
As time progressed Sookie continued seeing evidence of Eric’s public life and Eric continued receiving updates about Sookie’s not-so-public life.
Sookie knew that he had dated pretty much…everyone; Eric knew that Sookie hadn’t bothered actively dating anyone after having dealt romantically with two rogue dogs (Weres to anyone but Eric), and a particularly charming if flighty fairy hybrid who hadn’t lasted more than a couple of months (aka: about a year and a half to anyone who wasn’t Eric who happened to be counting the chronological duration…down to the hour…of their hot romance that had simply burned itself out over time at some point shorty before said fairy hybrid had to return to Fairy because of a nasty bout of lemon poisoning).
Neither was particularly ecstatic with their private life, but both were more or less content.
Over time Eric, who had eventually sold his interest in an Indian lemon grove, had watched in pleasure as Sookie’s chocolate tendencies, as well as her knack for making various and assorted nut and fruit pies, had rounded her delightful figure in very nice ways…ways he strongly desired to sample, as it were.
Sookie was both sad and pleased to note that Eric, naturally, hadn’t changed a bit no matter how many models he went through.
Not that she enlarged online photos of him on her wide-screen monitor or anything.
Finally it came that time of year when home-school teachers – and those who ran community schools held within their home – were to gather together to exchange new or tried-and-true concepts, ideas, allergen-free recipes, and techniques for removing markers, paints, ink, and body fluids from all manner of materials.
Wine, cleaning solution samples, and gossip were known to flow freely.
That year’s conference was being held in New Orleans. The honor had been supposed to have gone to Charlotte, N.C., but that state’s political climate had put a sudden stop to that plan.
“Maybe next year”, everyone hoped. Charlotte was actually a very nice, very pretty city.
Sookie freely admitted to anyone who would listen that she was actually glad the conference would be held semi-locally. It cut down on travel time and expenses and would also allow her to indulge in her love of and for beignets.
And chicory-laced coffee.
She didn’t like chicory-laced coffee enough to buy it and brew it at home, but it was a nice, local thing to do when in New Orleans.
Eric, of course, knew the conference would be being held in New Orleans. He, after all, had been the one to order one of his minions to glamour the head of the Conference Committee to veto the Charlotte location and suggest the New Orleans location instead.
He had been in Cypress at the time.
When the date finally arrived, he landed in New Orleans a full three nights ahead of the convergence of home-school teachers and principals/administrators of schools held in their homes. Eric, being himself and never being one to miss an opportunity, had business to discuss in the nights leading up to the conference.
Sookie drove down. She arrived hot and sweaty, and more than a little tired, the evening before the seminars, expositions, and other fancy words meaning “here, look at and hopefully buy/do this” meetings and wine-tastings were scheduled to begin. She parked where signs and GPS told her to, checked into her double occupancy (that she wasn’t sharing with a soul because, you know, telepathy), splurged on room service, took a shower, then hit the bed.
The next day she enjoyed the hotel’s not-too-bad version of breakfast, then with her free time wandered downtown until she smelled the chicory and beignets. She promptly parked her posterior at an outdoor (but shaded) “2-top” table barely large enough for one person, a cup with saucer, and an order of three luscious powdered goodies, and thoroughly enjoyed her coffee and beignets.
As she sat watching and rolling her eyes at pedestrians oohing and ahhing over “reconstruction efforts” – like they were shocked that strong, resourceful people could do what they had to do to survive? – she did something unusual for herself.
She decided that a “f*ck it” (she could barely bring herself to use that curse word even in her thoughts – many of those words were fine but not that one, or that other phrase) attitude was in order for the day and so she happily skipped all the day’s scheduled events. She would haul her butt in for the conference-provided lunch and dinner if she felt like it – she’d paid for them, after all, but that was a huge maybe.
Her daughter (Erianne Adele Stackhouse – yes, it’s possible she’d…maybe…named her dear darling daughter somewhat after some vampire she’d used to know…maybe. She had also steadfastly refused to burden the child with the surname of the sperm donor who had disappeared just after Thanksgiving before the birth of said dear darling daughter…) was in great hands with her best friend, a Were who was also the mother of two of the students at her school. Eri, as she was affectionately called, was best friends, this week at least, with the woman’s son. Next week she would probably be “besties” with the boy’s sister.
Unfortunately Eri had, indeed, inherited her mother’s gift/curse, but with Sookie’s help she had learned how to mostly shield herself…and how to fake it when those baby shields sometimes failed.
After enjoying her second breakfast, Sookie decided to take a nice, long stroll around the city and just see what all she could find, do, explore, and otherwise get into.
Much, much later she thought to check the time and realized that not only had she missed lunch, but that she wouldn’t be able to get back in time for dinner, either.
Mentally she considered the available credit on her personal credit card. The trip itself was paid for by the school’s official card but she didn’t feel right charging a non-event dinner to it.
Thanks in large part to the yearly grant – she hadn’t known it would be a yearly thing when she’d first applied for it, but had cried with relief when it had been mysteriously deposited in her school’s account again the next year and so forth – she was able to splurge on these annual conferences, but personal things always went on her personal accounts.
She felt bad enough for not attending a single school-thing that day and resolved to attend every meeting the next day to make up for playing hooky. She owed at least that much to the grant committee whose financial kindness was footing the bill.
Conscience now clear, she took herself to the first nice restaurant that she liked the looks of and enjoyed a nice, sedate, delicious dinner in vibrant surroundings that wasn’t accompanied by squeakily incessant questions asked by her ever-curious and highly beloved but sometimes exasperating daughter.
After stuffing herself, she checked her watch and was surprised by how little time had actually passed. Silence did, as it happened, encourage a faster meal. A walk was in order, she decided, even if her feet were starting to become a bit sore. The waitress had helped her to orient herself so she knew which direction led back to her hotel.
The sidewalks weren’t quite as crowded as she’d thought they would be but the warm, steamy New Orleans evening was still lively and fun as she made her way to her three-night home.
Along the way she passed several bookstores, “everything under the sun” mercantiles, and antiques stores that she didn’t dare enter (she’d have spent way, way too much), but finally she saw a small antiques store that she simply could not pass by without at least peaking inside.
And so she did. The gleaming treasures displayed to best advantage in the old store-front windows beguiled her into opening the door – she was sure of it.
The freedom to come and go as she pleased, to explore a place at a moment’s notice simply because it looked inviting was heady. She took her time looking around, picking up small curiosities, gasping at the price then setting them back down quickly but carefully…
And as she rounded the second aisle to the right, she ran, quite literally, right into the big, broad chest of one Eric Northman, Viking vampire extraordinaire.
Eric, for his part, had been wasting time until the dinner scheduled for those attending the conference was due to end. He had the route back to both the conference’s restaurant facility and Sookie’s hotel memorized, of course, and knew it would take him approximately eight seconds to get there.
He had completed all his scheduled business (quite successfully, of course) the previous night and was free for the remainder of his planned stay in New Orleans.
Since arriving in the city, dinner had been freshly provided by the service he had created about seven years ago during a fit of boredom. The latest model-of-the-week had tasted a bit…gamey, but it had been so close to sunrise on the outskirts of Seattle that morning that he hadn’t wanted to risk finding a true entree.
If only room service had carried the quality of blood he’d wanted…
Thus, the idea of a “local delivery service for selective vampires with discriminating taste” had been formed.
New branches were gearing up in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales; those in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland had been thriving for the past four years. Discussions with Latvia had stalled for some reason but Bulgaria seemed enthusiastic enough.
New Orlean’s local population smelled as delicious as usual, but the thought of partaking of any living being at the moment didn’t appeal for some reason.
Eric shrugged. He figured it had something to do with his plans to “accidentally” run into Sookie in…he checked his watch…a little while, but didn’t wish to delve too deeply into the subject.
Time would be at hand soon enough.
With about an hour or so to kill after downing his dinner and returning some calls, he had decided to visit the little store where he had shopped often in the past. At least this visit wouldn’t have to be cut short due to a whiny teenage brat-queen’s summons or model-of-the-week’s whining although the crowd of now-sweaty tourist bodies was a little annoying.
Most items in the shop were new inventory but several were well-dusted bits and pieces he remembered from past visits. He picked up one little piece in particular, a small music box with a tiny ballerina on the top which reminded him a little of Sookie, and smiled fondly.
During past visits to the store, he would always eye the piece, picking it up to view it from all angles, sometimes winding up the little music box portion just to watch the blonde figure “dance”, but he had never seriously considered buying it.
He was a vampire well over a thousand years old – what need did he have for a small golden music box with no drawers in it? It was in no way a true antique, either…just an old metal box that had been painted gold with a tiny blonde ballerina on the top.
Yet he was inevitably pleased to see the piece whenever he happened to make time to visit the small store.
Hope for the night’s plans soaring strong, he opened the box and, sure enough, the tiny dancer took a few slightly jerky turns around and around before the music stopped and she stood still once again.
Suddenly he knew he couldn’t leave the little box behind again. What if it wasn’t waiting on the shelf whenever he happened to visit next? Regardless of how things might go later, his little box would be going home with him that night.
He grasped it securely in his hand and had taken two steps away when he sensed a presence approaching.
“Finally gonna take her home, I see,” came the heavily accented words of the old store owner who had nosily shuffled over to stand beside him. They had exchanged both pleasantries and money many times over the years and Eric still had to concentrate to decipher the man’s chewed words. “She’s been waitin’ long enough, I’m thinkin’. Here,” he held out his gnarled, age-spotted hand. “I’ll take’er to the register for ya an’ get her ready t’go.”
Inclining his head in both acknowledgement and gratitude, Eric handed the small golden box over, then perused his way over to the opposite end of the aisle. The air shifted and something smelled sublimely sweet…
When he rounded the corner, he suddenly found himself with his arms full of…
Eric’s vampire senses recovered immediately and so he was aware of the moment when Sookie realized what had just happened. There was no mistaking the delight that instantly brightened her eyes when she recognized him – a delight that soothed fears Eric hadn’t even acknowledged to himself.
She didn’t back away and break the hold he still had on her (as a walking giant, through the eons Eric had acquired much experience in keeping bodies from bouncing off his hard form and landing in undignified positions); to Eric’s great surprise, Sookie quickly completed their embrace.
Instead of squealing inanities about them being in a public place, acting overly flustered, or otherwise breaking the golden glow of a blissful if somewhat accidental reunion, Sookie beamed up at him.
He gladly returned her smile and hoped his momentary shock at her reaction hadn’t shown through.
“Well imagine running into you here of all places,” she commented happily. “Come here often?”
He looked closely into her eyes to be sure this actually was Sookie. All evidence seemed to suggest this really was her – her sweetly luscious scent, her lusciously curvy figure…the hair, the eyes – so he decided to go with the flow.
“As a matter of fact, yes, I do,” he replied with a twinkle in his bright blue eyes. He had allowed his hair to grow a bit longer than it had been the last time he’d seen her, and judging by the way she surveyed it, she approved.
Eric was suddenly questioning his previous decision to remain quiet about his knowledge of and hand in her life. On the one hand, he didn’t want to be screeched at, but on the other, he wanted to begin anew with a foundation of honesty between them.
Many times in his past he’d found the concept of honesty could be overrated, but this was Sookie…and all signs pointed toward maturity.
Eric decided to take that chance. He wasn’t a Viking warrior for naught…
“I would ask what you’re doing playing hooky in here instead of eating dinner with your group, but instead I’ll ask if anything in here has caught your eye.”
His eyes glinted with brief humor when Sookie’s jaw dropped, and for a second he stoically prepared himself for a screech-fest…which thankfully never came.
Sookie did narrow her eyes at him in suspicion, but said instead, “Yes, something tall, blond, and Viking has caught my eye, and if you buy me a coffee you can explain how you knew about the dinner.”
Eric laughed, and to Sookie’s squeaked surprise, he pulled her into a real, true hug. He closed his eyes and savored the fact that she immediately returned his embrace.
His hands begged to explore the new, curvier contours of her body but he somehow managed to keep his hands still on her back.
“I’ve missed you,” she whispered, and something burned behind his eyes at her words.
“As I have missed you, Sookie.”
Truer words, he knew, had never been spoken.
Boisterous laughter from another aisle jerked their attention back to their surroundings and so they mostly parted.
Her eyes noticeably moist when she leaned back to gaze up at him, she asked with a grin, “Are you here in New Orleans to see me?”
He made a point of looking anywhere but at her. “I, um, had some business to tend to…” he began, then flicked his gaze back at her, “but yes, in the end, I am here for you.” He glanced quickly away.
“As I’m beginning to suspect you’re well aware, I still live in the old house in Bon Temps. You know you’re welcome to come by anytime you want, Eric. And you can meet my daughter.”
At those words, time stood still for the old Viking warrior. He gazed long and hard into her face before answering.
Sookie’s eyes and smile softened in the ancient way of women who love.
Eric held himself still for a moment as he struggled to focus then cleared his throat.
“I know an excellent restaurant nearby that serves primarily supes. Would you…?”
Sookie answered his open-ended question.
“I’ve already eaten dinner but I could go for a coffee and maybe some more beignets?”
Eric smiled in relief and, to her amazement, drew her into another hug as other shoppers were completely ignored. He eventually released her only to grab her hand as they ambled to the register.
The old man smiled at the new couple as they approached and straightened up from the counter where he’d been hunched over studying items in a box. At the register stood a much younger man who strongly resembled the owner.
“My grandson,” he said with a nod toward the younger man as he slid the nicely boxed purchase over to the register. “He’ll be takin’ over the business sooner’n later,” he explained to Eric then glanced knowingly toward the woman who was obviously his lady. “Find what’cher lookin’ for?”
Eric’s lips spread in a slow smile as he grabbed his wallet and fished out a credit card.
“I most certainly have.”
In short order Eric and Sookie arrived at and were seated in a private alcove of the supe restaurant he preferred visiting when in town. Their conversation, sometimes lively, sometimes more serious, over “coffee and beignets”, with several sides of blood (AB-), lasted through the early morning hours.
Throughout their evening – a small meal had eventually been ordered and consumed at around midnight when he’d heard her tummy beginning to grumble – she had caught enough small clues here and there to suggest that her suspicions were warranted but things had been going so well that she hadn’t wanted to worry about verifying anything.
She had wanted to ask…a thousand questions had been circling her mind at any given point, but the current pleasure of getting reacquainted with the Eric who acted so much more like her Eric of old took vast precedence.
But she did suspect…
Thus when he unerringly drove to her hotel without asking for either the name or directions, she simply grinned and without comment allowed him to escort her up to her room.
As they came to a stop outside her hotel door, Eric took her into his arms with a grace and instinct that surprised and pleased them both.
He reluctantly released her a few moments later.
“Meet with me come first dark tonight?”
Sookie’s tired features perked up happily. The question hadn’t been exactly unexpected but still, it was absurdly nice to be asked.
“I’d like that but there’s an evening seminar I really should attend.”
The ensuing disappointment in her expression both heartened and displeased him.
“Is this something that you are interested in attending?”
“No, not really, but I should attend it anyway. Grant money paid for me to attend this conference and I wouldn’t feel right just wasting it. If I’d paid for it out of my own money it’d be different, but I didn’t.”
He had dropped hints and tidbits during their dinner and was sure that she’d picked up on his clues, but it appeared that the time had come to lay out the truth.
He’d have gladly done so earlier but things had been going so very well…
She looked up into his eyes and grinned the smuggest grin he had ever seen on her beautiful face.
“Yes Mr. Grant Person?”
He squeezed his eyes shut in the handsomest grimace ever for a moment then barely opened one to squint at her.
To his everlasting delight, Sookie laughed.
“I knew it! I knew it was you! When I saw you in that antiques shop, I just… I knew it had to be you! But why? Why did you do it? And why didn’t you tell me then?”
He shrugged, and if Sookie hadn’t known it to be impossible, she would have sworn the barest tinge of pink suffused his cheeks.
“Because I wanted to.”
Another shrug accompanied his next words.
“You were doing a good thing, providing a necessary service, and if the grant would also make your home sound and more comfortable for you and your daughter…”
A third shrug ended his explanation.
Sensing his obvious discomfort with the subject, she just shook her head as she continued smiling at him.
“So what you’re saying is that the grant committee wouldn’t care if I skipped today’s upcoming meetings, that it would be totally fine if I slept the day away and met up with you come first dark?”
Eric’s expression changed from cringing dread to disbelief to utterly serious in the blink of her eyes.
“You aren’t angry?”
She shook her head then glanced beyond him in thought.
“There was a time when yeah, I probably would have been, but… No, you’re a sneaky brat but I’m not mad, not at all. That money has been put to very good use. Shifter kids who might not have done so well in public school are able to be taught at either my house or in their own homes by moms, and a couple of dads, who learned more about how to home-school because of that money. My own daughter will be able to get a great education at home for a long while because of it.”
She refocused her gaze on Eric.
“She’s so young yet…but there’s the possibility that once she comes into her full telepathic powers and then learns how to use equally stronger shields that she might go into regular school, maybe…I don’t know yet. But in the meantime that grant money is buying me the chance to make sure that my daughter receives a much better education than I was ever able to get, so hell no I’m not angry. I wish I’d known from the start that it was you, but things sometimes work out the way they do for a reason.”
With that she raised up on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek, then whispered, “Thank you.”
His greatest fear soothed, Eric gathered her back into his arms and rested his head in the crook of her neck.
Minutes later, his voice muffled a bit by her hair and skin, he asked, “So, we’re on for first dark then?”
***A/N: Ok, I felt weird describing that music box but I could just see Eric happening upon one in an antique store and the little blonde ballerina figurine atop it reminding him oddly of Sookie… Ok, so, what did you think?**