The Better to Love You With

Disclaimer: All publicly recognized characters, images, lines of dialogue, and plot lines are the sole property of their creators. I own only my own imagination as it involves the characters I love; however, even my imaginary constructions would be impossible without True Blood and the Southern Vampire Mystery series. My work is not-for-profit and intended only for the enjoyment of the writer and readers. No copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: (Chosen 1st place in Seph’s Fall Writing Contest for banner 2) Set after Season 3 of True Blood—What if Sookie wasn’t able to leave the fairy world when she did? Three hundred years have passed in the human realm, and life has gone on for Eric Northman. Time has changed many things, but has it changed his feelings for Sookie Stackhouse?

Beta: The fabulous Kleannhouse

Inspiration Banner: Banner #2 Sephrenia’s Fall Banner/Writing Contest

Award!!!

hit-me-with-your-best-shot-2nd-place-the-better-to-love-you-with-by-californiakat


Time continued to pass – the oldest trick in the world, and maybe the only one that really is magic.”― Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption


The Better to Love You With title

What a big heart I have—the better to love you with

Little Red Riding Hood

Even bad wolves can be good

Hey there Little Red Riding Hood

You sure are looking good

You’re everything that a big bad wolf could want

from “Lil’ Red Riding Hood”—Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs


ERIC POV

It had been more than three centuries since Sookie Stackhouse had torn through the barriers of my heart, but my life had moved on—as it always did.

The last time I’d seen her I’d been covered with a thin layer of cement dust—after doing my damnedest to get most of it off of myself during my fast flight to her home.

But then she’d disappeared. I couldn’t feel her. When I went to her home as soon as the sun set the next night, there was no thumping heartbeat to be heard. There were no saucy retorts to cause endless smirks from my lips. There was nothing but a trail of her scent—leading to her grandmother’s gravestone in the cemetery next to her home. But, then, her intoxicating scent—like her—disappeared too.

Much sooner than I would have wanted, Sookie’s blood in me had died its natural death—after its ability to nourish my body had been exhausted. And then she was completely gone from me.

I sighed and looked down at my desk. I pushed an almost invisible button, and a virtual screen appeared before me. Paper was hardly ever used anymore, as humanity—and, therefore, vampires—had transitioned to VOs, or virtual offices; however, the concept of paperwork was more alive than ever.

I began the inane task of writing my last sheriff’s report for Bill Compton, who’d become king of Louisiana—even as Sookie was disappearing from it.

Pam interrupted my thoughts by poking her head into what would soon be her office.

“All is ready for tomorrow night,” she said, though without her usual snark. She was likely feeling a little nostalgic—as was I.

Fangtasia had been rebuilt twice since the last time that Sookie had stepped foot into it. The first rebuilding was completed only a year or so after her disappearance. Russell Edgington had gotten out of his concrete grave with a little help from some fanatics in the Vampire Authority—including my own vampire sister, Nora. The Followers of Lilith, or Sanguinistas, had decided that they would use Russell as their poster-boy and muscle. They figured he’d go along with them. After all, he, too, was a big proponent of vampire superiority, and he certainly believed that humans were mere cattle—or, if they were exceptional humans, then chattel.

But Russell was no one’s puppet, not even for a group that had rescued him from a slow death and installed him as their figurehead. Indeed, as soon as he was able, Russell downed all of the remaining “blood of Lilith” and transformed into a more maniacal and powerful monster than he’d ever been before. At that point, he’d come after me. I wish that I could say that I faced him heroically and triumphed over him. But I can’t. And I didn’t. I wasn’t even at Fangtasia when he came to kill me.

The old adage proved true in that case. When it came to dealing with Russell, it truly was better to be lucky than good.

As “luck” would have it—less than a week before Russell’s “resurrection,” Bill ordered me to deal with a coven of witches that included Sookie’s old friend, Lafayette. One of the witches was actually quite powerful; among other things, she had the ability to channel another even more powerful witch, a necromancer.

During my first “meeting” with the coven, a spell was cast against me, and I lost my memories. I ended up at Sookie’s home, which I owned by then. I found the light-tight room I’d made for myself, as well as some blood I kept there. Through our bond—Pam found me the next night. Seeing the state I was in, she wisely decided it was best that we get the hell out of Dodge for a while, so she took me to my “windy shithole” in Öland, Sweden. There—we were well out of the range of the necromancer’s spell, as were most of “my” other vampires, whom Pam had told to “lay low” for a while.

“Lay low” was our signal for clearing out of the area. From what I’ve heard, Bill tried to control the situation himself and kept things quiet—not even telling Nan or the Authority what was happening. However, when his spy in the coven told him that a necromancer was at work, he did order the vampires left in the area to place themselves into silver chains each day so that they wouldn’t meet the sun when the necromancer cast her spell.

This situation went on long enough for Russell to remake himself as Lilith, and—not surprisingly—he found his way to Fangtasia not long after that. When he didn’t find me, he burned my club to the ground.

But—again—I was very lucky because I was on the other side of the earth.

And I was even luckier when Russell was compelled to walk in the sun the next morning by the necromancer. It seemed that even Lilith’s blood couldn’t win against the sun.

Bill finally figured out that the best way to beat a witch was with another witch, and he called in Octavia Fant, who was the most powerful witch in Louisiana back then. There was some kind of battle: Bill and his witch against the necromancer’s coven.

Again, I was on the other side of the world and blissfully unaware. But—at the end of the battle—Marnie/Antonia was killed. And, with her death, my memories were restored—except for the fact that I had no idea how I’d ended up in Sweden and had no recollection of what I’d been doing there.

I didn’t remember my twelve nights in Öland until a few months later.

After the spell was broken, Pam explained about the witches, and I called Bill to tell him where I was and why I’d been there. I think he was disappointed that I’d not been one of the necromancer’s victims. And I’m positive that the dumbass enjoyed telling me that Russell had burned down my club.

Whatever.

After that, Pam and I returned to Louisiana to deal with the mess. All in all, however, I have to say that it wasn’t that bad for me. The money I’d hidden within the walls of Fangtasia’s basement survived the fire, and a little of that—plus the insurance money—enabled me to build a much more structurally sound club.

One that wasn’t an old video store!

And—again—life had moved on, though Sookie never returned.

There were bumps along the road, of course. A New Authority had to be formed after the old one was razed. And I was sad to learn that Nora had been among the causalities when Russell turned on his “keepers,” but—then again—she had become a Sanguinista. Thus, though I was distressed by her loss, I was glad that Godric hadn’t lived to see her insanity.

Another “bump” was the concentration-camp-style “Vamp Camp” started by the vampire-hating governor of Louisiana, Truman Burrell. Sarah Newlin, apparently, was his muse. I’d contemplated turning the governor’s daughter to help him “understand” why vampires shouldn’t be fucked with. But I decided to turn Sarah instead. Her blood tasted like shit, but being able to command her made my pungent meal worthwhile.

My first command to my new child?

To tell me how to best infiltrate and “liberate” Vamp Camp.

My second command?

To “pretend” to be human well enough to get back into the governor’s mansion and then to kill him.

My third order?

To meet the sun as soon as possible after Burrell was dead.

Not surprisingly, Bill took credit for the liberation of Vamp Camp. In addition, he also claimed that he’d been the one to discover and thwart Burrell’s plan to unleash a virus that would have ravaged the vampire community. I didn’t give a fuck, however. By then, I was interested only in reestablishing my quiet life.

With Bill’s status as hero firmly in place, the head of the New Authority, Nan Flanagan, let him stay king of Louisiana. And Bill became a “darling” on the talk show circuit. However, even I must admit that his genteel behavior and demeanor went a long way toward convincing humans that vampires still had their “humanitah”—as Bill pronounced it.

The dumbass still hadn’t learned how to speak correctly.

But it seemed that the general public was charmed by the man, his accent, and his antiquated sideburns. Thus, less than a decade following Russell’s “heart-theft” on live television, vampires had regained the footing they’d once had in society. No—that’s not giving Bill enough credit. Vampires were actually better off than they had been—when it came to having equal rights.

We got the right to marry humans the same year that the Same-Sex Marriage Amendment was added to the Constitution. Fifteen years after that, we were even allowed to legally adopt human children—as long as one parent was human.

In the meantime, other supernatural groups “came out.” Initial outcries by those on the radical right of the political spectrum were weathered. In time, there was acceptance.

And the world kept right on spinning. Time kept right on going.

I evolved with the times, learned new technologies, and invested in new industries that intrigued me.

But a part of me didn’t move past Sookie’s disappearance. It’s funny how time shifts certain things and leaves others alone.

Mostly because of my enduring affection for Sookie, Pam became frustrated with me and left Louisiana about twenty years after we rebuilt Fangtasia.

In an odd twist of fate, Tara Thornton had become Pam’s child by then. Pam had come across her in New Orleans, a year after the Vamp Camp debacle. Not surprisingly, Pam decided to attend a cage match between two women. One of them turned out to be Tara.

Pam and Tara hadn’t known each other before, though Tara recognized Pam from the time she’d gone with me to the shifter’s bar to collect Compton following Longshadow’s death. Any acrimony Tara had felt toward vampires was taken away by the talents of Pam’s tongue—or, at least, that’s what Pam liked to say. They were lovers for about a year before Pam sought out my advice and permission to turn Tara.

I told my child that she didn’t need my permission to do as she willed anymore, and I formally “set her free.”

Despite this, Pam stayed by my side until her own frustrations with me caused her to begin a “new life” with her child somewhere else.

Vampires often did this—beginning anew. We evolved or died like Godric, meeting the sun. Pam’s frustration with me was that I was stuck in a dream that had a name she hated: Sookie Stackhouse.

Simply put, Pam didn’t understand why she still felt such emotion from me when I thought about Sookie.

She didn’t understand why I bought Sookie’s home when her brother gave up hope less than a year after Sookie had been gone. She didn’t comprehend why I would painstakingly restore the home and build myself a resting place there (though even she saw its value when I was under the influence of the witch’s spell). She certainly didn’t understand why I took up permanent residence in that home after we returned from Sweden.

She didn’t understand why I continued to check in with all the contacts I’d collected over my long years in order to make sure there had been no trace of Sookie.

She didn’t understand why I talked of Sookie using present tense verbs when all others had placed her firmly in the past. She didn’t understand why I ripped the tombstone that had been marking an empty grave meant for Sookie out of the ground.

She couldn’t fathom why I remained celibate for five years after Sookie had disappeared—except for my time in Öland when Pam made sure I had willing donors to feed from. Not remembering the vow that I’d made to Sookie, I’d fucked them as well.

I have forgiven all of my child’s faults and errors over the years, but it took me a century to forgive her for making sure that I fucked many, many women during the twelve nights I had no memories. Even before this, she’d known about my vow, though she’d not understood it.

When I finally remembered those nights—and the way that Pam had encouraged the amnesia-stricken me to participate in debauchery the likes of which I’d seldom experienced before—I didn’t speak to Pam for several months.

She’d wanted to “cure” me of my fixation with Sookie. Eventually, I understood her impulse to “help,” though she’d never even tried to understand my own reasons for being celibate back then.

No. Even though Pam eventually found love of her own, she just didn’t understand mine for Sookie. And it wasn’t as if I could explain it to her. I didn’t understand it either.

I still couldn’t explain the enduring nature of my affection for a woman I’d kissed only once. But three hundred years after that affection had begun, it remained.

Indeed, it had strengthened.

Oh—eventually, I had given up my celibacy. And—despite what Pam liked to say—I didn’t stop “living.” In order to survive, vampires eventually became involved in environment protection, and we infused billions and billions into the world’s economies in order to force them to transition to cleaner forms of energy. I was the first vampire to invest heavily in—ironically enough—solar power. Many others followed my lead.

For a while, instead of the Fellowship of the Sun, the greatest enemies of vampires became the oil and coal industries. However, we were smart enough to put the “regular” humans who had once earned their scant livelihoods from those industries to work in our new solar and wind industries.

And we paid them more.

Vampire money and the human majority spoke louder than the cries of the human billionaires who clung to their gilded existences until the bitter end. But it didn’t matter—time moved on, and the world evolved. And the environment, like any living system given the opportunity to heal, eventually began to thrive. However, global warming had taken too firm a root to be squelched altogether, and some low-elevation places near bodies of water did flood. Millions of human lives and many vampire lives were lost to great storms that finally decimated and permanently covered once great cities like Calcutta, India and Guangzhou, China. Islands disappeared, and huge populations of people were displaced.

Some cities—like Tokyo, San Francisco, and New Orleans—were buffered by permanent sea walls that were designed to withstand the pressure of rising oceans.

A vampire invented them.

Still other cities were partially saved. Lower Manhattan was given up, but Upper Manhattan still thrived. Many parts of Miami were determined to be too expensive to save, but part of the city was protected. Indeed, the map changed a great deal due to the world warming up because of fossil fuel over-usage.

However, even the world itself evolved and settled a century or so years after that usage was all but stopped.

I thought it was ironic that the earth itself could recover faster than a heart that no longer beat. But it did.

The very landscape of my part of the world shifted again in 2201—even as my heart remained fixed in place—when a 9.1 earthquake on the New Madrid fault line shattered the lives of many. I was sitting on my throne in Fangtasia when the natural disaster occurred, and I watched with almost child-like fascination as a crack rumbled into place behind the bar. In the midst of shattering glass and bending wood, I am proud to say that my vampires and I acted quickly—following our initial “what the fuck” moment. We quickly got all the humans out of the building. And then—until dawn came—we helped to save others who had been trapped.

When night fell once more, we continued our rescue efforts. Ironically, our acts during those days did more to destroy the latest incarnation of the Fellowship of the Sun than anything else ever could have. After that, vampires were more accepted worldwide.

Thousands died and millions of homes and businesses were damaged or lost, including Fangtasia, which was deemed to have too much structural damage to be salvaged.

So I rebuilt again. By then, building technology had evolved enough to allow for much better structural integrity anyway. So it was a good investment.

Sookie’s home—my home—survived the quake unscathed since I’d already had it retrofit after a smaller 6.0 quake had rumbled along the northern part of the fault line the decade before. Sometimes it paid to be preemptive.

I was pleased when I’d learned that the quake had caused “his majesty’s” foundation to crack.

That is not to say that Bill Compton and I hadn’t reached a kind of détente by then.

We had.

It just took about a century.

Eventually, I didn’t mind King Bill so much—after he finally let go of the fact that I “made him” tell Sookie the truth. It also helped that he stopped speaking about her. In fact, the last time I heard him say Sookie’s name—incorrectly, of course—was at her brother’s funeral. Surprisingly enough, Jason Stackhouse ended up being a decent human being. He’d become a policeman, and he was quite tolerant of vampires and the two-natured. Maybe that was because his sister was “different.” Or maybe it was because he had a fifteen-year relationship with Jessica.

Regardless, his funeral was held at night so that vampires could attend. Pam and Tara flew in for it, and it was nice to see my progeny after more than three decades. But they didn’t stay long. They never did.

Ironically enough, Jason’s gravesite ended up being the one I wouldn’t allow to represent Sookie.

Bill, of course, had been at the funeral. And, feeling nostalgic, he mentioned Sookie. But he’d moved on years before that—just like everyone who knew her, save me.

After an unfortunate dalliance with a human who turned out to be related to him, Bill found his lovers in cities well away from Bon Temps. And he had many during the first years after Sookie’s disappearance. I didn’t judge him for it.

I, too, had considered trying to fuck away the pain of losing her.

But, instead, I’d chosen to let the loss of her truly sink into my very marrow. And—determining that—I’d also decided not to fuck or feed from anyone for five years. That time period had been arbitrarily picked. But it had been one that I’d determined almost as soon as she’d disappeared. Except for my nights in Öland, I took only synthetic blood. And I had no lovers.

Compared to my now 1,332 years, those five were over quickly. Only 0.003753753 percent of my life.

A blink.

When I started to fuck and feed again after my period of celibacy, it was just as pleasurable as I’d remembered—and just as devoid of feeling.

A few years after that, Bill found a “permanent” partner, whom he claimed was the love of his life. He bonded with her and watched her die of old age—because he refused to take her “humanitah.” The talk shows ate it up.

Twenty years later, another woman stepped into his life as “soul mate.” She, too, was lost to time. But—I had to hand it to Bill; he kept right on finding new soul mates every decade or two after he lost the previous one.

I guess that my definition of the concept of a “soul mate” was a little different from his. But, then again, Bill needed humans to spend human lifespans with. It appealed to his enduring sense of tragedy. On the talk shows, he claimed that “experiencing love and loss with a beloved human” reminded him of the preciousness of life.

What-the-fuck-ever.

I had always felt that human lifespans were the cruelest things of all, and I was glad that my own had failed to be applicable because of my maker’s interest in me.

And, of course, the human lifespan took from the earth most of those whom Sookie valued.

Her coworker, Terry Bellefleur, was the first to die.

Others followed, and I kept track of them, writing short histories about each of them—just in case Sookie ever returned and wanted to know more than their obituaries would tell her.

Arlene Bellefleur had gone on to marry a vampire, though she was never turned. She died at age fifty-three. Car accident.

One of Arlene’s children—once one of the “tea-cup” humans who had so amused me—was driving the car when a drunk driver had struck them. He died in the accident too. Coby was his name, and he’d been a deputy sheriff. Jason had been a pallbearer at his funeral.

Andy Bellefleur married Holly Cleary, another of Sookie’s co-workers. They had a child, whom they named Clarence Cleary Bellefleur. I’d felt a little sorry for him. Andy lived to the age of ninety-five and died only two weeks after his wife. Theirs was a true love match. Sookie would have liked that.

Hoyt Fortenberry died in a construction accident in Alaska about ten years after Sookie disappeared. He’d married two years after he’d left Bon Temps. He and his wife had twin daughters.

Lisa, Arlene’s daughter, lived a long life and became a successful attorney. Mikey, Arlene and Terry’s son, followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a soldier. He was a career military man, married, and had eight children.

A few years after Sookie disappeared, Lafayette moved to the Caribbean island of Martinique. He died when he was fifty—from an overdose of the “trendy” recreational drug at the time: heroin laced with V. He’d been married to a vampire and had continued to live life to its fullest until he left it. He’d wanted to be cremated, and—in a beautiful tragedy—his husband had held the corpse of his beloved close to him as he’d met the sun on the beach near their home.

Authorities had found only ashes in the sand. One of Lafayette’s friends, a poet, had written a poem about them. It was beautiful, and I copied it into the history I wrote for him.

Jason succumbed to cancer at age 83. After his relationship with Jessica fizzled out when he was 45 years old, he married a woman half his age and fathered three children with her—all boys. When he became a widower at age 62, he married a woman thirty years his junior and fathered three more children—all girls. From what I could tell, he lived a good life. And there were still Stackhouses around the world. I kept track of them all.

The two-natured tended to live longer lives than humans, but they, too, were mortal; thus, I recorded the histories of the ones Sookie knew as well.

Sam Merlotte was not blessed with long life. Less than three years after Sookie disappeared, unsavory people from his past caught up with him and shot him in the head.

Ironically enough, Alcide Herveaux and I became something akin to “friends” after I hired his company to rebuild Fangtasia the first time. Out of everyone else, he was the one who seemed to understand and appreciate my enduring affection for Sookie—though we never spoke of it.

He died at age ninety-six.

Jessica, sadly enough, died during one of the few attacks Louisiana has faced over the centuries. The takeover attempt by Felipe de Castro, the King of Nevada, was put down, but Jessica was a casualty.

Tara and Pam lived on and thrived, though Tara left Pam’s side after a century. Every decade or so they would meet up for a few months, have sex like rabbits, and then separate again. But I knew from my bond with Pam that they continued to love each other. It’s just that they couldn’t live with each other without cages being rattled.

And, of course, I still lived on.

But I’d not “moved on.” I wondered if I ever would. I had given serious consideration to the notion of meeting the sun about twenty years before—though my consideration had been “academic” in nature more than anything else.

I was not enough like my maker to regret my past actions. They fit the times I’d lived through.

And—truth be told—my love for Sookie didn’t make me want to end my existence either. My heart ached when she disappeared. And it continued to ache. But the love had never left it. So my heart never broke.

And I lived on.

Over the years, I found more businesses and pursuits with which to amuse myself. With vampires “out,” many avenues that were closed before eventually opened. I earned several college degrees over the years. And I’d taught languages and history at the university.

I’d also made another child, a young man named Kyle who was, ironically enough, a descendent of Andy and Holly Bellefleur and, therefore, related to Bill. Kyle had been a student of mine. He was smart and well-worthy of becoming a vampire. He’d asked me to turn him, and—after some deliberation and a courtesy visit to inform Bill—I did.

Kyle and I went through the “obligatory” fucking stage that most makers and children go though. Kyle had been gay as a human, and my long life had found me with men from time to time. But—simply put—I preferred women. And Kyle preferred men who preferred men. So our sexual relationship fizzled after only a couple of weeks. I found that I enjoyed having his company, however. Unlike Pam, Kyle was even-tempered and full of consideration for others.

But Pam did return for about a year after I’d made her brother. Kyle amused her. But—eventually—she moved back to Manhattan, where she’d been living for a while.

After a few decades as a vampire, Kyle asked me if we could travel the world. I’d been in Louisiana most of the last three hundred years, and the Viking in me liked the thought of exploring once more, so I agreed.

Surprisingly, Pam had asked if she could take over Fangtasia while I was traveling; apparently, she didn’t trust it in the hands of anyone else. The club was more popular than ever. Though vampires were now an “ordinary” feature of day-to-day life, humans still sensed our potential danger. So we’d never gone out of fashion.

Pam would also be taking over as sheriff of the area, an irony considering how much she used to hate Compton. But time had a way of turning hate into ambivalence.

Indeed, Pam would even be overseeing the upkeep of my home—Sookie’s home—until I returned to it, which I knew I would eventually. Thankfully, though she still didn’t understand, Pam had learned not to undermine the things I still clung to because I’d once met a mostly human girl named Sookie Stackhouse.

“You are thinking about her, aren’t you?” Pam asked, though there was no judgment in her tone.

I nodded. In truth, there had been only twelve nights that I had not thought of Sookie—my nights under the witch’s spell.

“Some things shift with the times, and some things do not,” I said quietly.

My eldest child nodded and changed the subject. “I got your ‘costume’ arranged,” she said sarcastically.

I smiled. Halloween was the next night, and I had always liked the holiday. But I’d stopped wearing costumes when I honestly couldn’t think of a good one that I’d never “been” before. Thus, I now enjoyed Halloween in my “standard” uniform—though I always pulled out one of my now vintage leather jackets for the occasion. It was, I suppose, a kind of costume.

As of November 1, my tenure as Area 5 sheriff would end. And that same night, Kyle and I would begin our travels. Since I’d invested quite well, I had a private jet—run by a battery that was fueled by saltwater, which was, in turn, desalinated in the process so that the “waste” could be used to water crops.

A vampire had come up with that technology too.

I looked up to see Pam looking back at me. She gestured toward my VO. “Make sure that you don’t leave me any bullshit to have to deal with,” she said snarkily.

I grinned at her. She was a grade-A bitch, but I’d missed her over the years, and I’d miss her again.


SOOKIE POV

I sat down on the ground heavily. I was truly spent in every way I could imagine. Hell—even my bones hurt.

To say that all hell had broken lose after I’d zapped Mab with my light would be an understatement. My grandfather had tried to get me out of the fairy realm, and Claude and his people had also tried to help, but—at the last second—the chasm that would have taken us back to the human realm closed.

So we had to turn and fight. My grandfather gave his life to protect me not twenty seconds later, as he put his body between mine and Mab’s deadly blast.

After that, many things seemed to happen incredibly fast. Claude ran to get me before Mab could regain enough strength to fire at me again. And we’d literally teleported to the headquarters of the “army” Claude fought for. Its leader was Niall, a fairy prince and my great-grandfather. It turned out that my grandfather had been his son.

To say that I was flabbergasted was an understatement. Niall explained that I had found myself in the middle of a war between Fae factions. Mab, his enemy, was trying to bring part-Fae humans to the fairy realm in order to breed them and boost her numbers. Apparently, the birthrate among full-blooded fairies was low.

Meanwhile, Niall disagreed with Mab’s policy of entrapping humans by using the light fruit, which I’d—thankfully—not eaten.

Unfortunately, it didn’t really matter much. Niall also explained the major time difference between the human and fairy realms. For every twenty minutes that went by in Faerie, a year would pass on earth. Thus, by the time he was done with his explanations, I’d already “missed” five years. Moreover, Niall couldn’t return me to the human realm right away since Mab controlled the only remaining portal!

The only good news? Niall was determined to capture that portal so that Mab would no longer be able to send fairies to the human world so that they could breed and—in turn—return with their adult part-fairy children so that her numbers could be increased even more, which was, apparently, her “new” plan.

It wasn’t long before I was “helping” Niall and fighting with his army—fighting for time itself.

During the four days, four hours, and twenty minutes I spent in the fairy realm, I learned a lot from Niall and Claude. I learned how to conceal myself from other fairies by eliminating my scent and completely shielding my thoughts. I also learned how to alter my appearance using what the fairies called linatinan, which literally meant “changing the air” in the fairy language. It was one of the few fairy words that I could actually pronounce.

I was just glad that most fairies could speak English pretty well—since so much mixing with humanity had occurred throughout the years!

While in Faerie, I also learned to call up my balls of light on demand, and I learned how to kill with them—when self-defense was called for. In those few days, I learned how truly far from human I was.

I learned to be a soldier.

From the moment I stepped into the fairy realm to the moment that Niall killed Mab and took control of the portal, four days, three hours, and twenty minutes passed.

During my last hour in Faerie, I made the decision that I knew I’d eventually need to make if our side won. Would I stay in Faerie or return home?

After the fighting, I gave myself an hour to make my decision, despite knowing that that additional hour would bring my total tally of time lost in the human realm to three hundred years—give or take a month.

I’d already given my options a lot of thought during my time in Faerie—at least when I wasn’t in the middle of a battle.

And I’d grieved.

For I knew what wouldn’t be waiting for me if I returned. All the humans and Weres I had loved would be gone. Less than a day after I’d gotten to the fairy realm, it struck me that Jason would already be dead—even if he’d had a very long life. I’d wept for an hour before I’d been needed to fight when Mab had tried a frontal assault on Niall’s headquarters.

Over the next two days, I mourned for almost everyone I knew: Jason, Lafayette, Tara, Arlene, Terry, Coby, Lisa, little Mikey, Andy, Holly, Hoyt, Sam, Alcide. Hell, even Maxine Fortenberry elicited a tear or two.

I also mourned the loss of Bill, though not his death. He was vampire, after all. But I mourned the fact that—no matter what he might have felt in the end—he’d pursued me as part of his job. He’d had me beaten within an inch of my life, and then he’d fed his blood to me so that I’d be beholden to him—and so that he could control me, even if only by having me dream erotically of him. Hell—from what Niall told me—Bill could have done even more than that to influence me with his blood.

However, just the dreams would have been enough for a twenty-five-year-old virgin who’d never—and I mean never—”enjoyed” the touch of a man before Bill came along.

One “good” thing about being in Faerie was that the vampire blood inside of me no longer held any sway, especially not after Niall literally removed it from my system by using fairy magic.

Any lingering love that I’d had left for Bill following my knowledge of his betrayal left with his blood.

However, I was surprised to realize that I did have positive feelings about the other vampire whose blood I’d had.

Eric.

At first, I simply found myself glad that he’d still be around if I did return to the human realm. Later—after I’d been involved in a couple of battles—I began to appreciate some of his actions a bit more.

He’d let Lafayette live, despite the fact that my friend had broken “vampire” law. He’d also let Jason go, though he’d been involved in the death of a vampire. I had “heard” that little tidbit from my brother’s head in the days following our return from Dallas.

Eric had proven himself capable of great emotion when Godric had met the sun.

He had also shown me respect and affection on more than one occasion. Though he could be infuriating, he also made me laugh. Though he’d tricked me into taking his blood, he’d also protected me from a bomb. Though he’d initially refused to help me find Bill, he’d eventually relented, even sending Alcide to help me. Though he’d been completely forthcoming about the fact that he wanted to have sex with me, he’d looked like he was ready to re-kill Gabe when he saw my state in the Fellowship basement. Though he’d chained me up in his “dungeon,” he’d done so in order to save us all and to prevent me from becoming Russell’s blood slave.

Though he’d probably been happy about hurting Bill, he’d made sure that I’d learned the truth about Bill’s job for the queen. And—after I’d had a bit of time—I recognized that Eric had been telling the truth when he said that he’d not wanted to see me hurt.

And then there was that kiss in his office—so full of passion and promise. It had resonated with tragedy and with Eric’s sorrow. He truly had thought that it would be our goodbye because he was already counting on meeting his true death in order to try to save his child and me.

He’d once offered himself to save his maker and me too.

Minutes before I joined with Niall and his army to begin what would be our final battle with Mab, I realized something very important—something I would have never grasped if I’d not been facing my own death.

If there had been one thing I could have asked for in that moment, it would have been a final kiss from Eric Northman.

Did that realization mean that I loved him? No—it was too soon for love. My heart was still reeling from Bill’s betrayal and manipulation. However, I realized that I liked Eric. I really liked him. I was attracted to him—drawn to him.

I found myself wishing that we’d had more interactions—more time. If I would have met Eric without the taint of Bill’s negative words about him, things might have been different. If I could have trusted that Eric liked me for the woman I was and not for the scent of my blood or my telepathy, things might have been different.

I had many “if’s” in my mind before I went into battle.

But there had been one thing I’d been certain about: whatever my own “if’s,” Eric loved me. The expression in his eyes on my porch the last time I saw him was the expression he’d had when he’d gazed at Godric. No—that’s not quite right. It was even more powerful.

Those eyes had told me that he loved me, but feared that he would lose me.

I suppose he had lost me. I’d been gone for three-hundred years, after all.

As I thought about whether or not to go back to the human realm, I considered what Faerie offered me: family, a place where I was already respected, a world where I “fit in.”

A fresh start where I wouldn’t be faced with the endless reminders of what I’d lost.

If I went back to the human realm, I would face graves. My home would probably be in ruins thanks to the savagery of time. And who knew what shape the earth would be in?

I began to understand why fairies like my great-grandfather had once gone to the human realm. They could spend lifetimes there—and miss only a few days in the fairy world. They could have families with humans and watch them grow.

But—in reverse—time was not so favorable.

Four days, four hours, and twenty minutes.

Three hundred years and one month.

I don’t know why exactly that I asked my great-grandfather to take me back to the human realm, but I did.

And that’s what he did, though he suggested that I cover my Fae scent until I knew what I would be facing. I thought it was good advice.

We arrived exactly where I’d left from—the graveyard. I looked down at Gran’s now slightly eroded headstone and let out a sob. Niall had brought the remains of my grandfather Earl—fairy dust—and together, we buried what was left of him with Gran.

And then Niall did something that surprised me. He looked at me with kind eyes and made me an offer. He told me that he would stay in the human realm for a month before returning to Faerie. He made the excuse that he wanted to spend a little time in the realm where he’d found love, but I knew that he was staying in case I changed my mind. Since he didn’t want to influence my decision by staying with me, he decided to travel a bit. He said he would see me in thirty days’ time; only a couple of minutes would pass by in the fairy realm.

I thanked him and hugged him before he popped away.

The sun was low in the sky, though it was rising as the morning passed. I spent about an hour wandering the graveyard. I found my brother’s grave and the graves of most of the other people I’d cared for. To me, it had been only a few days since I’d last seen them, and I wept once more for them. And then I took the path toward my home.

Returning there was a shock. It looked the same, but not the same at all—a disjunction that was hard to explain. My home had obviously been repaired and rebuilt—not at all the ruin I’d expected after three hundred years.

Not knowing what else to do, I knocked. An automated voice greeted me.

“You are at the home of Eric Northman, vampire and Sheriff of Area 5. This home is equipped with a Zeta-63R security system. If you are authorized to enter, you may do so by following standard entry procedures. If you are not, you are encouraged to fuck off. Have a nice day.”

I took a surprised and shaky breath at hearing that Eric owned my home, but didn’t have time to do much more than that before I heard a buzzing noise. A sensor of some kind came out of the door.

“Place your thumb onto the pad,” the automated voice commanded when I did nothing but stare at the panel that had emerged. I internally noted that the feminine voice sounded almost frustrated with my inability to “follow the standard entry procedures.”

I tentatively reached out and was completely shocked when the house said, “Welcome, Miss Stackhouse,” even as the door unlocked and opened by itself.

Eric must have gotten my thumbprint from something in the house after I’d gone to Faerie.

Again—not knowing what else to do—I walked inside.

“House system available,” the voice said. “Is there anything you require this morning?” “she” asked, sounding much more polite now. I looked around the room.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“10:30 a.m.,” the voice said. Just then my stomach growled.

“I would be happy to order you some human food,” the voice said, “though there are also protein packets in the kitchen.”

I shook my body a little. Somehow, I’d found myself in a world that made me feel like I was trapped in an episode of the Twilight Zone. I took a deep breath and decided to just go with it.

“What’s a protein packet?” I asked the voice.

An explanation came. After that, I decided to try one and went to the kitchen. There were about twenty in the drawer. I picked the one that said chicken and dumplings.

“Um,” I said tentatively, “there aren’t directions.”

The computer, whose name I learned was Buffy, directed me to get a glass of water, which was—surprisingly enough—safe to drink. Next, she instructed me to pour the contents of the pouch into the water. I was then directed to recycle the pouch and wait one minute as the powder mixed itself “thoroughly” with that water.

I was floored when the liquid tasted exactly like Gran’s recipe.

“How is it that this tastes like Gran’s chicken and dumplings?” I asked Buffy.

“Mr. Northman used the recipe books in this residence to have human sustenance prepared after the advent of protein packets in 2107. The shelf-life of a protein pack is 5 years. Every four years, new protein packs are ordered, and the old ones are donated to charity,” Buffy further explained as if rattling off a memorized and much followed set of directions.

“Is—uh—Mr. Northman here right now?” I asked after I’d finished my “food.” I felt surprisingly full.

“No,” Buffy responded. “He did not spend the day here today.”

“Where is he?” I asked.

“Please say your authorized code for this information,” Buffy instructed.

I sighed. I definitely had no idea what my authorized code was.

“Do you require a hint?” Buffy asked, her tone sounding almost amused.

“Sure,” I said with a little roll of my eyes.

“What—other than clothing—was Mr. Northman wearing the last time you saw him?”

I laughed out loud. “Cement,” I responded.

“Mr. Northman is at the home of Kyle Bellefleur in Shreveport,” Buffy responded immediately. “He stayed the day with his children Pamela Swynford De Beaufort and Mr. Bellefleur.”

“Um—when will he be back?”

“Mr. Northman does not plan to return to this home until after his travels are over. I am to work with Ms. Swynford De Beaufort to ensure the proper running of things until he returns.”

“His travels?” I asked, my voice a little shaky.

“Mr. Northman will be traveling for the foreseeable future with Mr. Bellefleur.”

“When was he last here?”

“He woke up here yesterday twenty minutes before sunrise and left one hour later.”

I took a deep breath and looked around the kitchen. All the appliances had a space-aged look to them, but other things were as they’d always been. The old kitchen table, which had somehow survived the Maenad’s reign, had also survived the centuries. I smiled a little and then found myself walking through the house. Room after room, there was a convergence of the new and the old. Eric was ever-present—his taste mixing harmonically with the simplicity that the house had always offered. Artifacts of his many years mixed with a few knickknacks left over from Gran’s collecting. I walked into Gran’s old room and saw the headboard she’d always used, though it had been broken in half the last time I’d seen it. I smiled again. Eric must have had it repaired. I picked up a picture of Gran and my grandfather, which was on a dresser that had obviously been gotten because it “matched” the headboard in style.

Next, I ventured into my room. It hadn’t suffered as much at the hands of the Maenad as Gran’s room had, but all of the damage it had incurred had obviously been repaired. I smiled. My room looked as it always had in many ways.

I opened the closet to find a small amount of women’s clothing in there.

“Who does this clothing belong to?” I asked.

“To you, Miss Stackhouse,” the computer said.

“But—how is that possible?” I asked, mostly to myself. Still Buffy responded.

“Every five years, a limited wardrobe of clothing and shoes is purchased for Miss Stackhouse based on last known sizes. Miss Stackhouse prefers casual clothing, including jeans and T-shirts. Sundresses are also a must, as is a bikini since Miss Stackhouse enjoys sitting in the sun,” the computer said as if reciting another set of directives. “All discarded clothing is donated to charity.”

I sighed loudly and a tear slipped from my eye.

“Doesn’t Eric think I’m dead?” I asked in barely a whisper.

Apparently Buffy had good hearing. “Negative. Mr. Northman’s current theory is that you were taken to the fairy realm and are being held there against your will. From what he has learned of that realm, he has hypothesized that the chances of you one day returning are 1.3%.

I took a very shaky breath and decided that a shower would do me a lot of good.

Of course, Buffy had to explain how things worked with the newfangled toilet and then gave up explanations and operated the shower “herself.”

I scoffed as I lathered up my body. How was I to know the exact water temperature I wanted?

“Hot but not too hot” had been the best I could offer before Buffy scoffed and decided to give me the “average human-preferred temperature based on data collected from 20 sources.”

The water temperature felt really good, actually. So Buffy “stored” the data.

After I was done, I dressed in blue jeans and a Fangtasia T-shirt, glad to see that some fashions hadn’t changed too much—or maybe they’d just come back in style. But the bra was the most amazing part! Somehow in three hundred years, someone had figured out how to make them comfortable. Thank God for progress!

I felt relaxed when next I talked to my new “companion.” During my shower, I’d resolved to ask Buffy what had happened to my family and friends. I was directed to bookshelf 3 in Mr. Northman’s room.

I had to ask for directions to that. It turned out that Eric had added a “cubby” for himself under the house. There, I found a bed, a desk, and several bookcases—mostly full of first editions. Buffy explained that physical books were becoming more and more rare, but that all of the books that had been in the house upon Mr. Northman’s purchase of it had been added to the virtual library.

After helping me find bookshelf 3 by literally putting a spotlight on it, Buffy directed me to a large volume that looked like a history book. As it turned out, it was.

I spent the next several hours reading about the lives and the ends of most of the people I’d called family and friends. Eric had obviously painstakingly written their histories and had collected applicable newspaper articles, before literally transforming all the data into a book—complete with photographs—for me.

I had to mourn the loss of someone I hadn’t mourned when I was in Faerie: Jessica.

But I got to celebrate the continued life—or un-death—of someone I had mourned: Tara.

I also learned about some of Bill’s doings, as well as Pam’s. I learned about some of the things that had occurred in my absence: witches, Russell with superpowers, the toppling of the Vampire Authority, the reestablishment of the same, Bill being king, global warming, earthquakes, the two-natured coming out.

When the scrapbook was exhausted, Buffy helped me to operate the VO, which I learned meant “virtual office.” Thankfully, the VO pretty much ran itself, and I just watched as snippets of history, now narrated by Eric’s voice, filled the air.

Tragedy was intermixed with Eric’s own particular—and peculiar—sense of humor, and I found myself laughing my ass off many times.

It took me much longer than it should have to realize that he’d done all he’d done for me. For a 1.3% chance.

It was almost sundown when I felt the rumblings of hunger again. I ate Gran’s fried chicken—all of the taste, but none of the preservatives.

Still, I missed the texture of “real” food. Buffy informed me that human food was still readily available since “the mastication of solid food promoted dental health.” I chuckled at that, but was thankful nonetheless. I was also told that most humans ate “actual foodstuffs” once per day.

It was as the sun was going down that I asked Buffy the most important question I’d had that day. “Where will Eric be tonight?”


ERIC POV

Pam had picked the music for the party. Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs filled the club.

Who’s that I see walkin’ in these woods?

Why, it’s Little Red Riding Hood.

Hey there Little Red Riding Hood,

You sure are looking good.

You’re everything a big bad wolf could want.

I chuckled. “Li’l Red Riding Hood” had managed to stay a popular song for Halloween, despite its originating in the 1960s.

I looked around the crowd and found myself bored—as usual—though I saw a few potential meals.

As the song ended, I noticed the one I was going to choose. She was, ironically enough, dressed as Little Red Riding Hood. She wore a long red cloak with a hood pulled down so that I couldn’t see her eyes. I caught a glimpse of brunette hair, and I inhaled deeply. She was human, though it was difficult to determine her blood type. I figured that she was O+, for that type had become more dominant over the years. As if she knew I was looking, she pushed her hood back so that her face was visible, though her eyes were turned downward so that I couldn’t see them.

I realized that—unlike my usual choices for meals—nothing really stood out about the woman’s scent. In fact, except for the fact that she happened to be wearing the costume of the fictional character that had just been sung about, nothing stood out about her at all.

But there was something about the way she walked. It seemed familiar. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on why that was.

One of the new vampires to the area moved to approach her, so I hissed, effectively staking my claim. Only the king could overrule me.

I glanced over at Bill, who was dressed as a Southern Civil War era gentleman. I believe he recycled that costume every year. Upon hearing my hiss, he—and every other being with supernatural hearing, for that matter—looked at the object of my desire.

It was our instinct to do so. The stronger the being who staked the claim, the more interested the others would be. I could hear all supernaturals, including my own progenies, inhaling. It was natural. An older vampire had staked a claim. The others in the room wondered why. It was their choice whether or not to try to fight me for the “prize.”

Almost immediately, the supernaturals in the bar judged the woman to be of little interest. And, soon, all but three pairs of eyes went back to what they’d been doing.

Kyle looked at me with interest, having never felt such interest from me before. He gave me a slight nod, and I could feel that he was happy that I was intrigued by someone. His chief emotion was what I would label as “supportiveness.” He turned back to his current conquest, a young Frenchman, who would be traveling with us at least as far as our first destination—Paris.

Pam’s eyes were also on me as I looked at her. She seemed curious, and she gave Tara—whom she’d called to help her run Fangtasia for a while—a “look” before turning back to her conversation with Chow.

Bill was the third person whose curiosity was truly peaked by my interest in Little Red Riding Hood. He looked at me with a tilted head before looking back at the brunette. He seemed interested for about half a second, but I could tell that it was only because I was interested.

He looked back at me, smirked, and then turned back to his newest “soul mate,” a lovely, blond actress who had recently starred in the fifth remake of Gone with the Wind.

I’d met her a few times before, and I thought that she was the perfect choice for Bill’s next “life-mate.” After all, she’d come to him for elocution lessons so that she could get the old Southern accent just right.

But I didn’t dwell on Bill or his lovely companion. I focused on Little Red Riding Hood, who was now walking toward me.


SOOKIE POV

I felt both ridiculous and nervous as I walked toward Eric.

Ridiculous that I was dressed like Little Red Riding Hood in a club full of Big Bad Wolves.

Nervous because I wondered what our interaction would be like.

I thought back to a few hours before.

After she had told me where Eric would be later that night—a Halloween party at Fangtasia—the helpful Buffy had promised not to “interface” with Eric to let him know of my presence back in the human realm. Apparently, she’d been told to “obey my orders.”

I smiled at that thought.

After we’d gotten that straight, she’d “interfaced” with a costume shop rental place and arranged for me to get the only garment left—Little Red Riding Hood.

It felt strangely appropriate.

A fairy walks into a bar full of vampires dressed as Little Red Riding Hood . . . .

What could go wrong?

Of course, I decided to continue covering the scent of my fairy blood. My human blood would still be smelled, but that was okay. I figured that Eric wouldn’t recognize the A without the B—so to speak.

Even though my blood type wasn’t AB—or any other human type—I hoped that I wouldn’t stand out too much. But I had to smell like something; otherwise, Eric would have been even more suspicious of me.

My costume came within the hour, delivered by a vehicle without a human driver; the car seemed to hover a little above the ground.

That reminded me that—even with a costume—this “Cinderella” had no way of getting to the “ball.” I was 100% sure my yellow piece of shit car had given way to time. Luckily, however, Buffy quickly volunteered to arrange for my transportation. She “interfaced” with someone named Deacon, with whom she seemed to flirt.

Whatever.

Using Niall’s lessons, I could alter everything about my physical appearance other than my eyes. I made myself brunette. I gave myself a few more inches of height. I lessened my chest size a little. Because it was funny to me, I gave myself a tiny chin cleft to match Eric’s. I elongated my throat a little, which would also—I’d learned—alter my voice.

As I looked in the mirror, I already didn’t recognize myself, but to be sure, I made my lips a bit fuller and heightened my cheekbones.

In the end, I looked like a completely “normal” brunette—not too beautiful, but still pretty.

I was taking a big chance. Without my scent and my usual appearance, it was very possible that Eric wouldn’t even give me a second look, but that would be an answer of sorts too.

In Faerie, I’d wondered what would have happened if I’d wandered in Eric’s bar without my scent. I considered myself pretty, but not beautiful. So—I made myself a version of that kind of “ordinary pretty,” only with another hair color.

I didn’t plan past that night. I wanted to see Eric—to see if the chemistry between us was innate—if it could exist without my blood or his blood in the equation. And—if it did—I’d go from there. If it didn’t, I figured I was still pretty lucky. Buffy seemed ready, willing, and able to help me out with anything I needed, and it didn’t seem like money was an object. I figured that if things didn’t work out at Fangtasia, I’d plan out my next step tomorrow, and I could always hold up in Gran’s—I mean Eric’s—house for a month, learning about all of the changes to the earth. There were plenty of protein packs to hold me over for a while, and I’d learned that anything else I needed could be delivered.

I hated the thought of spending Eric’s money, but I’d already asked Buffy if I still had my bank accounts, and I didn’t. Buffy, it seemed, was a wealth of knowledge. She told me that Jason had closed out my accounts after I’d been legally declared dead, which was—now that I thought about it—really too bad! The morning after I confronted Eric following Bill’s disappearance, I’d had just enough time before my shift to go to the bank and open a savings account with the ten thousand dollars Eric messengered to me not two hours after I’d left Fangtasia. The account didn’t have a huge interest rate, but—after three hundred years—that ten thousand dollars could have turned into a hefty sum indeed!

However, that money wasn’t waiting for me. I’d “died” almost three hundred years before. I just hoped that Jason got good use out of the money. I sighed, knowing that I didn’t have much of a choice but to accept Eric’s “help” for the time being; maybe it helped that he didn’t know he was giving it.

No matter what, I did intend to tell Eric that I was back—though after my experiment was over. It would be unfair and ungrateful of me not to, and I didn’t want to be either of those things—especially not with him. But I had to know if Eric could like me for—me.

And in a month’s time—if I’d not figured out a plan for my new life—I could always go back to Faerie with Niall. And I was pretty sure that Niall could help me pay Eric back too.

I put on my costume and then my cloak. In the mirror, I saw a nervous stranger, and I said a quick prayer as I applied the deep red lipstick I found in my bathroom.

In the classic fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood was told to go straight to her grandmother’s house, but—being a curious child—she’d wandered into the woods before delivering her wares to her sick relative. There, she’d met a wolf. But, instead of attacking her in his domain, the wolf had toyed with her and had learned of her destination.

Then, according to some versions, he’d raced through the woods to beat Little Red Riding Hood to her grandmother’s house. Then, he’d killed her grandmother, after which he’d toyed with the girl further by deceiving her in order to draw her to her grandmother’s bed. Then he had—with actions that even someone who’d never heard of Freud before could understand—”devoured” her.

In some versions, the girl was saved by a woodsman. In some, she wasn’t.

All of the “classic” versions had been written to warn little girls not to disobey their elders. Ironically, after I’d finished getting ready, “Little Red Riding Hood” walked alone through the woods in order to visit her grandmother’s grave. This time, I took her flowers from the yard. I’d smiled as I’d noticed that the rose bushes looked almost the same as they always had.

Thankfully, I had no run-ins with wolves.

The letters of Gran’s name in her gravestone were a bit worn by time, and I imagined that her body was in a state of decomposition below me too—despite the fact that her body had been embalmed. I sighed. The muck of vampire remains was horrifying, but at least it reabsorbed into the earth quickly. And—if they burned into ash—the process was even faster.

Fairy remains were even more “tidy.” Just dust. Shiny dust.

I wondered what might eventually become of my corporeal body and then laughed as I remembered where I’d learned the word, “corporeal.”

It was from a word-of-the-day calendar I’d gotten from Arlene last Christmas.

Three hundred years ago.

I shed a tear, took a flower from Gran’s grave, and delivered it to Arlene’s, which I’d found that morning. “Thanks for the word,” I whispered, still not quite knowing how I was going to accept the fact that almost everyone I knew was gone.

By the time I got back to the house, the vehicle that Buffy had ordered for me was there. “She” had also told me where there was some money (people were now using what was called WC or “world currency”). Like my delivery “driver” earlier, my car was a robot. I chuckled as I climbed in as I thought of Jason’s excitement over the movie Transformers. We’d watched it together only a month before.

Three hundred years before.

The car, whose name was—indeed—Deacon, actually asked me if I was in the mood for talk, music, or silence. I opted for conversation and then asked Deacon to tell me about Louisiana history for the past three hundred years. It turned out that the car was an excellent history teller. He was also receptive to my request that he “slow the fuck down” when it seemed that we were going over a hundred miles an hour.

I have to say that it was disorienting to travel over roads when no physical contact was made between the tires and the asphalt most of the time. The car told me that “hovering technology” had been developed in 2115 by Martin McFlemming, a vampire. I chuckled, thinking of Marty McFly from the Back to the Future movies.

From the “history book” Eric had written for me and the VO in the house, I’d already learned that Bill was King of Louisiana. From Deacon, who was one of Eric’s “usual” drivers, I learned that the Viking had been more-less unbiased in his account of Bill. Deacon also gave me information that Eric hadn’t—gossip. The car actually chuckled as “he” told me all about Bill’s reputation as “the king of great love.” That was the Media’s nickname for him, at least. Bill was known for finding a human woman, marrying her, and then being faithful to her until her death. Then, a decade or so later, he’d repeat the process. Bill had been married six times in the three hundred years that I’d been gone. He was currently courting an actress named Principalia Pitt, a descendent of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie—funnily enough.

Deacon told me that automotive and household “units” in his “interface group,” which included Buffy, had taken bets on how long it would take Bill to declare that Principalia was the “love of his undead life.” Deacon was confident that he was going to win.

The car also told me that Eric had remained unmarried, but no other personal details of his life were available without a special access code, and Deacon—unlike Buffy—didn’t offer a hint about the code. Nor did I ask for one. In truth, it felt wrong finding out about Eric’s life from someone other than Eric.

It seemed that the Viking was still extremely private. However, his “histories” had offered me some insight about his life.

The car stopped in front of Fangtasia—which Deacon reported had been rebuilt following the “big earthquake.” The club was now two stories, and it stood as a solitary structure, rather than being part of a shopping center. Architecturally, it was lovely. There were high, elegant arches and rounded curves. When I asked about it, Deacon told me that this kind of structure had proven to be the most resilient against natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, fires, and hurricanes. After thanking Deacon for the history lesson and the gossip, he assured me that he would be waiting for me and “opened” my door for me. I took a steeling breath as I exited the car and a few others as I neared the front door.

I was let inside the club after being given a quick once-over by the vampire at the door. Buffy, as it so happened, had been able to make me a ticket, so no questions were asked about who I was, and my I.D. wasn’t asked for, which I was happy about—since I had only my now very expired Louisiana driver’s license, which I’d found in the dresser in my room.

Fangtasia used to be gimmicky, playing on every vampire stereotype. Now it was much more elegant—almost stark. I could see Eric in it.

The décor was in various shades of gray and blood red. The club was also much larger. Booths, upholstered in a charcoal gray material, framed the space with tall round tables with red bar stools several feet from them. The large central space was open. There was a bar to the right with winding staircases on either side of it.

I didn’t stop to wonder what was on the second floor, for I spotted Eric immediately.

I smiled. Time had changed so much. Hell—my two “closest friends” in this time were a car and a house!

But time hadn’t changed Eric. And it hadn’t changed his throne either.

I watched him scan the room, even as a rather dumpy-looking vampire approached me. Suddenly the vampire stopped in his tracks, and—using my telepathy—I could recognize that many vampire and Were minds suddenly focused on me. I tapped into a Were’s head, using all of the telepathic skill and control that Niall and Claude had taught me during the past few days.

I let a smile creep to my lips as I heard the Were thinking about how the sheriff had hissed out his preference—and, therefore, his temporary claim—of me.

The Were waited to see if anyone would challenge the Viking for me, but—when he saw that none would—he turned back to his own companion. He certainly wasn’t interested in the likes of me and wondered why the sheriff was, even as his thoughts drifted back to what they’d been before: how to get into the pants of the woman he was with.

I rolled my eyes. I guess the motivations of the club-going male hadn’t changed so much with time either.

Pulling my eyes from Eric and my telepathy from the Were, I scanned the rest of the room. I was surprised when my breath didn’t catch when seeing Bill with his current girlfriend. She was lovely—tall and elegant. And I felt no jealousy at all. In fact, I felt only bitterness toward the man who had stolen so much from me. Bill looked my way and then looked back at Eric before shrugging. I suppose that was the king’s way of letting the sheriff have me.

I also saw Pam and then Tara. Seeing my best friend made me want to run to her, but I didn’t want to give myself away. I practically “felt” Eric’s interest, so I removed my hood, letting him see my “current” face, but I kept my eyes downward.

And then I found myself moving toward the throne where Eric sat in all black. I recognized the jacket; I was glad it had survived the years.

When I was several feet from the dais, I stopped moving.

“Do you wish to feed me?” Eric asked.

I was sure that he could see the smirk of my lips. “Not tonight,” I responded.

“Do you wish to fuck me then?” I could hear the playfulness in his tone, but I kept my eyes down.

“Not tonight,” I repeated.

“Are you a tease?”

“No, I’m a lady,” I replied.

“A lady,” he commented in a faraway voice. I’d yet to see his eyes or show him mine.

“Yes,” I said.

“Would the lady care for a drink?” he asked.

“What would you suggest?” I asked in return.

Eric motioned for a waitress to come over. For a second I was reminded of Ginger—not because of her looks, but because of the Swiss cheese of her thoughts.

“Gin and tonic,” he said smoothly. “And a Real Blood for me.”

She nodded and darted off toward the bar, where Chow was working.

“Why that drink?” I asked, trying to stay composed.

“Because I once knew a lady who enjoyed them. You remind me of her.”

I inhaled sharply. “I look like her?”

“No,” he responded. “But you walk like her. And you have a spirit that reminds me of her.”

“Is she here?” I asked.

“No—I’ve not seen her in centuries.”

“She’s a vampire?”

“No—I don’t believe so.”

“So—she’s dead then?” I asked after taking a deep breath.

“Perhaps,” he responded, his voice etched with emotion that very few would have recognized for what it was. “Perhaps she is just lost in the woods.”

I looked up at him then, and, as soon as our eyes locked, he was the one to inhale deeply—to breathe in my scent rather than to breathe.

Still, I used the opportunity of his long, noisy inhalation to ask a question. “I thought vampires didn’t breathe—or do they?”

“I take air in to speak,” he responded. “My lungs don’t need it for respiration, but I can feign breathing if I wish.” He motioned toward the seat next to him. “Will you sit?”

“Won’t the others get angry?” I asked, looking at the Fangbangers around me. Many of them had the same thoughts that similar crowds would have had centuries before.

“They will be jealous of you,” Eric answered.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“I rarely converse with humans.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I find few worth conversation,” he said.

“Am I worth a conversation then?”

“You are,” he responded, even as my favorite drink was delivered to me.


ERIC POV

A casual conversation was not something I normally had—though, my child, Kyle, liked to converse in such a way every now and then. However, I found myself greatly enjoying my conversation with Little Red Riding Hood, whose name I’d yet to ask. I told her about my plans to travel, and she asked me to tell her about my previous times in places like Paris and London. I found her easy to talk to—and funny. And—before I knew it—last call was announced from the bar.

“Can I see you again tomorrow night?” she asked.

Suddenly, I wished that I wasn’t leaving the area. But I was.

Instead of answering her, I asked. “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m between jobs,” she replied after a moment’s pause. “I used to be a waitress.”

I closed my eyes and remembered the last waitress who had captivated me. Like Sookie, this woman made me feel at ease—made me feel like I could be honest and still be accepted. Even her eyes made me think of Sookie—brown warmth and immeasurable depth. I’d been lost in them over and over again—as she’d laughed.

My heart fluttered. My memories of Sookie were still in there—ever-present—but I began to wonder if I could find a bit of contentment in companionship with a woman who made me laugh—a woman who reminded me of my love without making me mourn it.

I acted on impulse.

On instinct.

“Would you consider traveling with me and my child?” I found myself asking.

Her breath caught. “But—uh—you hardly know me,” she stammered. “I could be a danger to you.”

“Don’t worry,” I grinned. “I will be careful. And I’m a good judge of character.”

“I’m not gonna just fall into bed with you, Mr. Northman,” she said in a challenging, though teasing, tone.

“I’m not going to expect you to,” I returned. “But—my child, Kyle, has a traveling companion,” I said, pointing at the man who was now practically dry humping my progeny. “And I would like someone to show the world to as well—for as long as you wish. Should you get tired of my company, I will immediately buy you a ticket straight back to Louisiana.”

“I won’t be a kept woman,” she said almost stubbornly.

I closed my eyes and remembered Sookie. Little Red Riding Hood didn’t look anything like my beloved. And she didn’t smell anything like her either, but my heart still seemed to catch and then release at her words.

“And I would never ‘keep’ a woman,” I replied. “I have much money.” I opened my eyes and lifted my bottle of blood. “This is from a company I own the majority share of—and I heavily invested in the protein powder humans like so much these days as well. And I’m one of the founders of Northern Sun, Inc., which provides solar power to most of the homes in Louisiana. I have more money than I could likely ever spend, and I am a man of simple tastes. But good company is a treasure to me—priceless. I will not ask for more than that—unless you are comfortable with more.”

“Would you claim me? So that other vampires wouldn’t try to take me?”

I thought for a moment. Nothing about her blood called to me, but—still—I knew my answer. “Yes. I don’t give my blood often. In fact, other than to my progeny, I’ve not given it for more than three hundred years. But—if it would make you feel more secure—I would give you my blood in order to keep others from trying to claim you.”

“What would that do to me?”

“Oh—the things now sentimentalized in the movies,” I chuckled. That popular one—Twilight Once More—captures it well enough.”

“I haven’t seen it,” she said. “Will you tell me?”

I nodded. “If you are currently attracted to me, you would dream of me and become more attracted. Also, I could sense your location and find you if you were in trouble.”

“Could you affect my emotions?”

“Only if I knew your blood,” I replied honestly.

“Knew my blood?” she asked.

“By taking it as well,” I clarified.

“So if you don’t take my blood too, you couldn’t affect my emotions?”

I looked at her with a little confusion. What she was asking had become common knowledge long ago. Still, I humored her. “No. I must have your blood in me in order to understand how I could affect you—beyond the dreams, of course.”

She was thoughtful for a moment.

“What if I asked you not to drink from me?” she asked.

“Then I wouldn’t,” I responded.

“What about sex?”

“Not unless you wanted it,” I said, though—for the un-death of me—I wasn’t sure why I was giving into demands she hadn’t actually voiced yet. But then I realized “why.”

It all came down to a simple thing really: time.

I wanted to spend time with her. I’d truly enjoyed her company—as I rarely enjoyed anything anymore.

“And others?” she asked. “Would you drink of them—have sex with them? If I wasn’t willing?”

I contemplated for a moment. “If I had your company, I would refrain from doing so if it made you uncomfortable.”

“But—uh—why? Why would you do that? You—uh—don’t even know my name,” she stammered.

I took a moment to look around the room. Several pairs of eyes were back on me, interested in my conversation. Bill and Pam were looking at me with a twinge of disbelief. Tara was looking at me as if she were ready to kill me for betraying the memory of the friend she’d thought of as long-dead. Kyle was looking at me with curiosity.

I looked back at my companion, and—once again—I got momentarily lost in her beautiful brown eyes, so reminiscent of another’s. “Do you want the truth?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

“You remind me of a woman I love,” I answered, even as I noticed even more vampires looking at me—listening to me. I didn’t care anymore—to be frank. By the next night, I’d been gone from the area anyway.

“What woman?” she asked.

“One I knew three hundred years ago,” I answered, feeling my lips twitch upward into a soft smile. “She, too, made me laugh. She, too, made me think. I didn’t have enough occasions to simply speak with her—and never did I have the pleasure of speaking with her casually—but, despite that, I always felt,” I paused, “lighter after each of our encounters. She was excellent company—as are you.”

“And you’d really give up sex and fresh blood in order to spend time with me?” she asked disbelievingly.

I chuckled. “I am 1,300 years old. And—thanks to my company—bottled blood now tastes almost fresh. As for sex,” I shrugged and looked around at the gyrating humans in the room, “not many partners are ultimately satisfying. Maybe one or two a decade. But good company? That is rarer.”

She sat silent for a moment and finished her third gin and tonic. I could tell that she wasn’t a heavy drinker, but she’d paced herself—unlike so many humans, who lost themselves in alcohol.

“Okay—I’ll go with you—uh—if you still feel the same way tomorrow night.”

“I will,” I said with certainty.

“Maybe,” she replied. “Um—where do you want me to meet you? When?”

“9:00 p.m. There’s a private airfield south of Shreveport.” I smirked. “At the gate, just tell them you are Little Red Riding Hood. They will be expecting you.”

“You don’t want my name?” she asked.

“If you come, I will ask for that,” I responded. “Otherwise, you will simply be a girl in a costume who managed to remind me of,” I paused, “the most significant moments in my life.”

She gave me a little smile and a nod. Then she got up and left the club. Despite their curiosity at my own response to the young woman, none of the vampires in the room paid her much attention. They all had meals that smelled better.

I stayed on my throne until the last patron had left. Then I oversaw Fangtasia’s books for one last time before returning to Kyle’s home—which Pam and Tara would be staying at for, at least, the short term.

I went to the room Kyle kept for me and met my day-rest with thoughts of Sookie in my mind. Most of all, I thought about the friendship we might have had—if things had been different.

“In a different life,” I whispered, before dying for the day.


SOOKIE POV

Deacon, once again, asked me if I wanted conversation, silence, or music when I got back into the car. This time, I opted for music—at least to start. I asked him to play the most popular song of each decade, starting with now and going backwards.

Some of the songs—I liked. Others were so full of dissonance (thanks for that word too, Arlene) that I asked Deacon to turn to the next song almost immediately. Every once in a while, I asked about the fate of someone in “my day’s” popular culture. George Clooney, it seemed, had been turned. George Lucas had been denied. I wasn’t surprised. He should have stopped before the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

I kept my thoughts light on the way back to the home that Eric now owned—the home I’d learned had been his primary residence for three centuries. It still felt like it was mine—and Gran’s. But I recognized that Eric had been in it longer than all of the Stackhouses.

Combined!

It was a difficult fact to fathom since—to me—only two weeks had passed since Tara and I had decided to become roommates there. Now she was a vampire and I was—displaced.

Once I was “home,” Buffy welcomed me with directions about how to make Gran’s warm milk without real milk. I closed my eyes, and it tasted the same as always. And I slept in my own bed for the first time in six days—give or take a few centuries.


ERIC POV

“Do vampires get nervous?”

Once I’d been interviewed by an “evening show” (a type of variety entertainment show that had replaced the “morning show” once vampires were better accepted), and that had been one of the questions.

“Rarely,” I’d responded.

The lovely, female hostess of the show had asked, “Would you give me an example of when you have been?”

I’d answered honestly. “I once told the woman I loved that her life was way too valuable to waste. She looked at me as if she didn’t know what to say, for she loved another man at the time. I let her off the hook. But—later—she cried, begging me to help her save her beloved. Her tears made me nervous. My discomfort made me anxious.”

The host followed up. “Did you end up helping her?”

“Of course I did,” I responded.

After the show, the hostess had practically begged me to fuck her. Not being in the mood, I’d refrained.

I found myself nervous once again.

Incredibly nervous.

Would she come?

Since I’d arisen, I’d thought of little else but her—Little Red Riding Hood. Did that make me the Big Bad Wolf?

Was I “bad?” Did I deserve happiness—even a little?

Sometimes I wondered. Vampires were blessed with immortality—as long as they kept their heads on their shoulders and wood away from their hearts. Did we “deserve” more than that gift? Or was relinquishing true happiness—or, rather, contentment—our price to pay for immortality.

I’d had only one moment in my many years when I had truly felt that I could die a content man—if I died right then. Sookie had been in my arms, and I’d been kissing her in my office.

Not kissing her would have been my biggest regret.

Kissing her had—in some ways—become my greatest torment. How could I recapture so perfect a moment without the one who had given it to me?

I sighed, wondering if I could get close with the woman who had provided me companionship the night before.

And then I wondered if I should let myself get close. Wouldn’t that be “cheating” on Sookie? But—then again—she’d never been mine.

Never.

Again, I wondered if sustained contentment had never come to me because of the many deaths that stained my hands. I sighed. There was no way to atone for killing an innocent; that was a lesson my human father had taught me.

And I had killed innocents—before I’d learned control as a vampire and, also, in times of starvation.

I shook my head. Despite the way I’d viewed her since before her disappearance, Sookie Stackhouse hadn’t ever been mine. She’d been Bill’s. But for my interference, she’d been well on her way to becoming Bill’s “second” soul mate (since his wife when he was a human had been his first). She would have lived her human lifespan with him and would have been buried next to Bill’s first love, Caroline, for he kept his human wives in a row.

I wondered if she would have been happy with him. Or, better still, content.

It was a thing I had wondered many nights. If I’d not gone to Sookie’s home to tell her the truth, what might have happened?

Sookie would have reconciled with Bill and would have been with him the night she disappeared—probably having make-up sex until dawn.

Thus, she would have never gone to the graveyard that night.

Nan, anxious to have Sophie-Anne removed because of her association with Russell, would have still helped Bill to kill her.

Bill and Sookie would have bonded—and married.

Unable to watch Sookie live out her life atop a foundation of lies, I would have left Area 5.

Sookie would have lived and died a human lifespan. In her ignorance, she might have been happy. Perhaps, she and Bill would have adopted children—as Bill had done with some of his other human wives.

If it hadn’t been for me—invading Sookie’s porch decked out in the season’s finest cement—Sookie might have lived and died in happiness.

Contentment.

Based on a lie or not—wouldn’t that have been better for her?

“What troubles you?” Kyle asked.

“The irony of life,” I responded with a mirthless chuckle.

“What is that?” he asked.

“The fact that we are often cursed to hurt most the ones that we love most.”

“Are you speaking of Godric?” he asked.

“Yes. I responded. And all others I have loved, except for you.”

He looked at me in question.

“But one day—I will hurt you too. It is inevitable,” I said somberly. “I won’t intend it, however. I hope you will remember that.”

He nodded. “I will. I promise.”

“Tabitha,” I called out to our robotic plane. There was also a Were pilot in the cockpit, but only as backup—or if he decided to fly “for fun.” That impulse was why I’d hired him over the others who had applied for the job as my private pilot.

“Yes, Mr. Northman,” Tabitha responded.

“Go ahead and begin take-off procedures. All passengers are on board.”

“But . . . ,” Kyle began before looking at the pain in my eyes. He nodded. Somehow he knew that I didn’t care to risk the possibility that I might hurt the girl who had wandered into the woods—only to meet the Big Bad Wolf.


SOOKIE POV

“Miss Stackhouse,” the voice of Deacon said smoothly, waking me up from the sleep I’d drifted into during the ride to the private airfield. Because of my nervousness and excitement, I’d gotten very little sleep the night before.

I’d been certain that I wanted to go with Eric on his travels. The only question had been whether I’d reveal myself to him right away.

In the end, it had been my exploration of the attic that had convinced me that honesty was best. Boxes full of the clothing I’d worn before going to the fairy realm, as well as all of my personal items, were all there—protected in plastic bags. I opened one bag, which contained one of my favorite sundresses, only to feel the fabric flake into pieces in my fingers.

Age, plus fresh oxygen, plus human touch.

Apparently, that combination could kill an old garment from Walmart.

Still—Eric had preserved all that had once been me—as well as he could.

Our easy conversation the night before had taught me that my “like” of Eric was certainly real.

Seeing how he had attempted to “save” what he could of me made me realize that I loved him.

Thus, I decided that I would go to him as Sookie—and hope like hell that he would forgive my “test” of him, given the fact that he’d been passing that test over and over again—with flying fucking colors—for more than three centuries.

I packed all the clothing he’d gotten for me—on the off chance that I might turn up one day.

A 1.3% chance, he’d figured.

I ate heartily of Gran’s recipe for grits—in powder form—before being assured by Buffy that she could “interface” with any system in the world in order to have them reproduced for me. She also directed me to the modern equivalent of a phone that Eric had had specially made for me. It was a little fairy-shaped pin.

Buffy said that if I needed anything—anything at all—I need only speak her name while I was wearing the pin, and she and I would be “interfacing.”

I chuckled, wishing—strangely enough—that I could hug her goodbye.

I climbed into Deacon exactly forty minutes before I was supposed to meet Eric. I didn’t disguise who I was this time, and—as we got closer to the airfield—I also lifted the cloak on my scent. I was ready.

I was nervous.

“Miss Stackhouse,” Deacon repeated, breaking me from my reverie.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“Tabitha, the airplane you are to meet, has contacted me. I have been asked to tell you that Mr. Northman is no longer asking for your company.”


ERIC POV

The plane was taxiing when Tabitha spoke.

“Mr. Northman, your home, the Buffy system is requesting to speak with you. It is quite irregular, given that we are in final take-off mode, but she insists. She refuses to break our interface so that I can concentrate on taking off.”

I sighed. That house, like its owner before it, always insisted.

“Fine. Put Buffy on.”

“I will have to pause our final take-off mode,” Tabitha informed, as if frustrated.

I smirked. I loved it when computer systems “fought.” And Tabitha and Buffy seemed to hate each other. Though it didn’t seem quite possible, I felt that they were fighting over Deacon—a car in my employment.

“Fine, Tabitha. You may pause.”

“Very well,” she said with almost a sigh.

I chuckled.

“Mr. Northman!” Buffy’s voice said, sounding a little frantic.

“What is it, Buffy?” I asked, suddenly frightened that Sookie’s home—my home—was on fire or something.

“You cannot let that bitch—I mean plane—take off!” the computerized female practically yelled.

Kyle and his paramour looked at me with amusement.

“Computer problems?” Kyle asked.

I smirked. “Why shouldn’t we take off, Buffy?” I asked.

“Because—there is someone who really wants to join you!” Buffy said.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“I will put her on,” Buffy said.

I rolled my eyes a little, wondering if Pam had decided she “needed” a trip to Paris and was using Buffy to get one. But the voice that came over the speakers left me speechless.

“Eric Northman, if you take off without me, I am gonna be extremely pissed off!”

I gasped.

The voice continued. “I know it’s been a while, and I know that I should have told you who I was instead of pretending to be some brunette with a wolf fetish last night, but—goddammit—I was scared! I wanted to make sure you wanted me for the me that was inside—not the pretty blonde package with the sunlight-fresh scent!”

“It can’t be,” I muttered.

“It is!” came Sookie’s voice again. “Now—don’t get me wrong. I’m not plannin’ to join the mile-high club today . . . ,” she started.

“Actually, our projected altitude is approximately 45,000 feet,” Tabitha interrupted. “That is 8.522727272 miles.”

“Shut up, Tabitha!” I yelled, even as Buffy yelled out something even more derisive.

“Fine. Be that way,” Tabitha pouted.

The Sookie voice chuckled. “I’m not promising anything more than I did last night, Eric. I wanna get to know you. And you need to get to know me too—like for real. I’m more than just a pretty scent.”

“I know that,” I managed. “I’ve always known that.”

“Well—then don’t you dare take off, you jackass!” she said with a smile in her tone. “If you do, I’ll kick your ass!”

Kyle gasped.

“You seem to have a fixation with my ass,” I returned, feeling a wide smile touch my lips. It felt good.

Damned good.

“You do have a fine bottom, Mr. Northman,” came the reply.

“Sookie?” I asked, needing her confirmation. Her voice was one thing. Her word was another.

“Yes. Who else?” she asked even as I heard brakes squealing outside.

“Thank you so much, Deacon,” Sookie said to her car. At that point, I knew it was her. Only Sookie would thank the car.

“Tabitha, open the fucking door!” I ordered.

“I’m going to have to depressurize,” came her exasperated voice.

“How long?” I asked as I looked out of the window, waiting to see if the door opened.

“Forty two seconds,” Tabitha responded. I looked at Kyle’s human lover and realized that I’d have to wait. Had it just been Kyle and me on the plane, I might have just opened the door anyway—since the alternate pilot was a Were, who would “likely” survive and heal quickly even if the cabin was suddenly depressurized. But the human would suffer much more greatly, so I paused.

I kept my eyes on the car as Tabitha called out thirty seconds.

The door of the car opened, and Sookie got out. She looked up at the plane and then toward the car and then at her fairy-shaped pin.

“Miss Stackhouse desires for me to tell you not to open the door until it is safe for the human inside the plane,” Buffy said with a strict voice. “She also informed me to sound stern,” Buffy added, “because Kyle’s boyfriend is currently scared shitless.”

A laugh escaped my mouth. I looked at Kyle and tears were streaking down his cheeks. I felt that he was happy for me. I, too, was happy.

“You may tell Miss Stackhouse that I had already decided to wait,” I told Buffy.

“Twenty seconds,” Tabitha informed.

“Mr. Northman, now might not be the best time to tell you, but Tabitha is truly a bitch,” Buffy said.

“I know,” I returned. “So are you.”

“Agreed!” Tabitha scoffed. “Ten seconds.”

“Buffy!” Sookie yelled. “Don’t be rude!”

“Thank you, Miss Stackhouse,” Tabitha said. “I knew I would like you. Five seconds. And I have taken the liberty of lowering the stairs—though Mr. Northman won’t need them.”

Sookie’s “thank you” to my plane was drowned out by the sound of the door opening. Tabitha was right. I didn’t need the stairs.

I was in front of my beloved less than a second after the door had opened.

But once I was there, I had no idea what to do. So I asked her.

“What do I do?”

She laughed a little. “Kiss me hello, you idiot.”

So I did.


TWENTY-NINE DAYS LATER


NIALL POV

“This is Eric Northman,” Sookie said excitedly.

I looked at the smile on my decedent’s face. The vampire looked at me warily.

“You are married?” I asked.

“And bonded and pledged,” the vampire said.

“Eric!” Sookie said in an admonishing tone. “You said you’d be nice.”

“I have not tried to eat him yet,” he snarked.

I chuckled. I already liked him. “That is true, Sookie.”

She rolled her eyes.

“You are happy,” I stated. I didn’t need to ask.

She smiled even wider and nodded her answer.

“I will miss you in my life,” I said.

She hugged me tightly. “I’ll miss you too. But come see me. I’m gonna be living for a long time.”

“You’ll turn her?” I asked the vampire.

“As soon as she says, ‘go,'” he responded.

I chuckled. “Then I will see you again, my kin.”

She hugged me even tighter. “Tell Claude hello—and tell him, ‘thank you.’ Oh! And tell him that he’s welcome to visit too—any time.”

“I will tell him,” I said.

“Goodbye, Niall,” she said.

“Farewell,” I replied. “Enjoy Salzburg.”

She grinned impossibly wider, her eyes the very definition of light.

“I have. Tomorrow, we’re going to Sweden. Eric’s showing me where he grew up.”

I sighed. While Sookie had been busy reconnecting with the Viking vampire, I’d been making sure that no foolhardy actions by her ancestors would come back to bite her in the ass. She thought that I was her grandfather’s father, for that had been the easiest way to explain things to her. But—in truth—she was many generations removed from me. Her biological great-grandfather had “sold” her to a fairy-vampire named Warlow. But he would no longer be an issue now.

Warlow had been difficult to kill; it had taken me fifteen earth days to track him down and find a way to eliminate him. But—he was now no more, and Sookie need never know of her ancestor’s idiocy. And—she need never know of the repercussions that idiocy had caused with her parents.

The only thing Warlow had ever done right in his life was killing Sookie’s miserably unworthy parents.

No—my descendent was happy and blissfully ignorant. And, sometimes, that was best.

I said my final goodbye and handed Sookie her legacy—the investments I’d made in the human realm when I’d live in it.

She would be as wealthy as her vampire.

I felt great satisfaction that they would be equals in all ways.


ERIC POV

Sookie and I were twined together—limbs twisted in limbs, hot twisted with cool.

“I still can’t believe that aliens haven’t found us,” Sookie grinned. “I figured that Star Trek would prove true.”

I laughed heartily. “I bet Pam a thousand bucks that aliens would bypass this planet—if they ever found it. We have a running bet. Every century, she pays up.”

Sookie giggled. “A thousand dollars used to sound like so much. But, now, a pair of tennis shoes costs that much, so I guess it’s not that much anymore.”

“It’s the principle of the thing,” I grinned, pulling her closer, wondering if she could ever be close enough to me.

I thought not.

Her laughter intensified as she tried to tickle me. I humored her by pretending to be rattled.

“Hey—are fairies aliens?” she asked after she’d finally granted me “mercy.”

“Being from a different realm does not an alien make,” I grinned, reciting the explanation I’d given to Pam thousands of times.

Sookie giggled and tickled me again. I’d learned that that was just what she did when her own happiness spilled over.

I loved it.

“Do you want to go back—to Louisiana? To home?” I eventually asked, after she’d settled back into my arms.

“One day,” she sighed. “But—for now—I’m content with just our family knowing that I’m back.”

I grinned. Only Sookie would call a group of vampires a family. One week after we’d been together, our mutual attraction had become too much for either of us. We’d made love for the first time with a view of the Eiffel Tower.

One week after that, I’d proposed—on one knee. Only for Sookie, would I bow.

Sookie had dropped down to a knee to accept me. Only for me, would she bow.

We’d not made it off of our knees before our clothing had been ripped off—for which I got a stern tongue lashing later when she scolded me about waste. She could deny it all she wanted, but she’d been the one to rip the buttons off of my shirt! Still, I didn’t mind taking the blame and the scolding; I’d take a tongue lashing from her any time—just as long as it followed a tongue bath like the one she’d given my cock that night.

Not quite a week after I’d proposed, we’d married in Paris. Sookie had decided upon Salzburg for the first stop on our honeymoon, not that we’d seen a whole lot of it.

Pam and Tara had come to the wedding. Not telling Pam why, I’d summoned her to Paris, and she’d—at my request—brought Tara. I gave Tara and Sookie a night alone to deal with whatever they needed to deal with, even as I’d explained everything to Pam. To my eldest progeny’s credit, she didn’t question me.

Now we were in Öland, and—given the truths that the bond was telling me—Sookie loved it, despite the fact that winter was now upon us.

But she liked the long nights.

So did I.

They brought me happiness.

They brought me comfort.

And I reveled in both.

I made sure she did as well.

And I would keep making sure—because some things shifted with the times. And some things did not.

The End.


A/N: Thanks to everyone who voted for this story in Seph’s Fall Writing Contest! It took me a while to get into it, but I ended up loving writing this story, and it was wonderful to see that y’all loved it too! I had a fantastic time writing the computers-Deacon, Buffy, and Tabitha. Many of you mentioned them over on Seph’s site, and I was smiling every time I saw a shout-out to them!

Happy_Computer happy-computer happy-computer-screen-md

So many thanks to Seph for running the contest and for making the banner. I was honored to be in the wonderful group that competed for banner 2. If you haven’t read their stories yet, I hope you will!  Just click HERE!

And I just have to give a special shout-out for the wonderful Kleannhouse, who beta’d this work-despite the fact that she had her own story to enter. That-to me-is the definition of a generous spirit.

Again-thank you! I’m honored you chose this story for 1st place.

XOXO,

ckat

 

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20 thoughts on “The Better to Love You With

      1. It’s on “the list”. AKA – don’t hold your breath for anytime soon.

        I’m not like all the rest of you – one at a time is all I can do, with one-shots maybe being sprinkled in. I’m having a tough time as it is since I’m taking a writing class and have original writing to work on for that (so I’m calling my new protagonist Rina Sookie and Sookie Rina – you get the point – even though Rina doesn’t even look like Sookie or have telepathy. Must be my old fart brain). I’ve needed to explain to my class when I do readouts that say Sookie (incorrectly) that it’s cause I’m writing two at once. They laughed at me.

        I don’t know how many of you do multiples at once.

        1. LOL–well, if it makes you feel better, I sometimes lose track. Once I wrote a lemon for my all-human story, and in the first draft, Eric sunk his fangs in her. Glad I caught that one before posting.

  1. Congratulations to you once again Kat! You deserved it! Your story was so good and hopefully you will continue it or an epilogue would be nice too. Eric in this story was amazing… he waited 300 years for his soul mate to return! Really really great ! Until the next update take care

    1. Thanks so much, Jackie! It’s funny, but I wasn’t that excited about this one until I got about 10 pages in, and then I started to really like it. I’m thinking about putting together a series of stories, like the Gift Horse series, for this Eric and Sookie.

      We’ll see what happens in my brain.

      LOL–I wonder whether Buffy or Tabitha wins Deacon’s “engine.” 🙂

  2. you know i love this story and saved it in rough draft, i don’t know how many times i have read it but my favorite kine is :”Kiss me hello, you idiot.” that is our couple through and through and your welcome on the Beta work, always a pleasure. KY

  3. Eric commanded me to come and thank everybody for entering the blood awards and thank you for sharing your talent. I have read all your stuff for quite some time but I stayed in hiding about it. Eric tells me that is not acceptable and I am to review and leave feedback so you you wonderful gals know how appreciative I am. yes, I do everything that Viking tells me ❤

  4. Delightful story. Impressed how you changed POV and each giving the background of the passing years. Smart to introduce automated interfaces with personalities. Really enjoyed reading this. Thankyou. 🙂

  5. I so loved this story! It was so fun to read what went on while Sookie was in the fairy realm! So much time passed but it was really enjoyable to read what Eric faced and how he dealt with things. Sookie’s encounters with all the new technologies had me laughing until I was in tears! It was hilarious to read about their encounter at the club, from both their points of view. So nice to see things work out for them.

  6. Re-read this today too. Such a fabulous story. I loved it when you posted it in the contest and I still love it now. I especially loved the Buffy “character”.

  7. A good story is a gift that keeps on giving.. I loved this just as much re-reading, as I did when you originally published it. Buffy, Tabitha, and Deacon were perfect addtions to the cast of characters in the SVM/TB world.

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