Sookie’s eyes fluttered open. She saw a beautiful blue sky above her. She sat up and noticed she was on a large quilt, the red one that she’d wrapped around Eric that day she’d pulled him out of the small lake and covered him from the sun.
A canopy of peach blossoms hung overhead.
“It is spring already, min kara,” Sookie heard a voice say―Eric’s voice.
Sookie frantically looked around until she found the source of the voice. He was standing on the other side of the tree, its branches barren except for the sprouting blossoms. Sookie was on her feet in a moment, and they led her straight into Eric’s embrace.
“Eric,” she whispered as she cried into his chest. “I thought I might never see you again.”
“You know there’s no such thing as never for us,” Eric’s rich voice said as he brought his mouth to her forehead tenderly.
“Eric,” Sookie said, looking up at him with tears in her eyes. “I’m in the fairy world, and I don’t know how to get home to you.”
“I know,” Eric said, taking her hand and leading her over to sit on the quilt.
Sookie kept hold of that hand when they sat down. “They tried to force me to eat their light fruit, but it wouldn’t go down.” She brought her hand up to his cheek. “My body rejected it because the fairy bond wouldn’t let me do something that would separate us.”
“Very true. I would never allow for us to be parted from one another.” Eric said with a little smile on his face; however, his expression quickly turned somber. “But I do not like that you almost died because of it.”
“I didn’t,” Sookie said, still touching his face as if she were afraid he was going to disappear. “I didn’t die because of you. But how?”
Eric smiled again and raised his hand to mirror her actions. “You called me through the fairy bond, and though I could not come to you in body, I was able to send you my strength―which was just enough to keep you from dying.”
“And now?” Sookie asked with hope in her voice. “Is it the real you here with me now?”
Eric shook his head sadly. “No.”
“So this is a dream,” Sookie said.
A tear slipped down Sookie’s cheek. “Is it really spring,” she paused, “on earth?”
Eric nodded again.
Another tear joined the first, “I left in November. He has been alone since then.”
Dream Eric smiled a little. “Not completely.”
Sookie tilted her head to the side in curiosity.
“Some things came through the bond as he gave you strength.” Dream Eric grinned like the cat that ate the canary. “Luckily,” he winked, “I know Eric pretty well, so I was able to pick up on some of his thoughts and emotions.” His expression darkened.
Sookie sat up straighter. “Tell me.”
Eric looked at her closely, “He is sad and is trying to bury his emotions as he always did before he knew you.” He shook his head. “It is not working.”
“He is focusing his attention on someone else.”
“Hunter,” Sookie said with certainty.
Eric nodded again. “He cares deeply for the boy.”
Sookie smiled. “So Hunter’s okay.”
Eric nodded. “He treats Eric as a father, and Eric―I―think of him as my son.”
“Really?” Sookie stated more than asked.
Eric smiled. “Hunter’s care is holding Eric together.” He chuckled. “Or maybe they are keeping each other from falling apart in grief. And Eric is resolved to find you―that I could also sense.”
Sookie shook her head. “He is the strongest person I know, but I know he is in pain.” Her voice got quiet. “I could feel his pain too—even as I felt his strength pouring into me.”
Eric looked up at the peach blossoms. “I first smelled blossoms like these in Italy. They always come before the tree even produces its leaves. In China, this fact led the people to believe that the peach tree had more vitality than any other. Even the immortals in Chinese myth were said to eat peaches to increase their longevity and their vigor.” Eric chuckled, “Of course―having plenty of vigor already—I was mostly enamored by the smell, but if there was one food that I wish I could eat, it would be a peach.”
Sookie grinned, “So no J. Alfred Prufrock questioning from you?”
Eric returned her grin, “Abso-fucking-lutely not.” He tilted his head a bit, “You do not strike me as a T.S. Eliot fan, min kära.”
“I kind of like that poem. It made me want to appreciate my life more. It’s funny, but in my head I used to always question things kind of like J. Alfred Prufrock in that poem, but I didn’t really ever live when I did that.”
Eric looked at her lovingly and recited, “Do I dare / Disturb the universe? / In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”
“Is there time, Eric?” Sookie asked with tears again in her eyes. “Will there be so many minutes spent here that I never get back to you? Even now, I’m sleeping away your life.”
“No, Sookie. You must keep your faith. Do not forget about the most important quality possessed by your vampire in a situation such as this one.” His eyes twinkled a bit.
“What’s that?” Sookie could think of a thousand important qualities about her beloved.
Dream Eric smiled confidently. “That he does fucking dare Sookie. He’ll turn the universe on its side and shake you out of this realm before he gives you up.”
Sookie nodded and smiled. “Yes―yes he would. He will.”
“And don’t forget, min kära. In this way, you are just like him.”
Sookie once again nodded. It was time to wake the fuck up and make every one of her minutes count in getting back to her husband―without the need for revisions.
Eric stood out in the night looking at the peach blossoms on the trees he’d planted before the first hard frost in December. They were his silent Christmas gift to Sookie. He’d put in mature trees. He’d nurtured them and watched them during the night for months, making sure they were covered when the weather became harsh. It was April the 20th, two weeks since the first blossom had opened from the trees’ winter buds. Now the four trees were covered with them.
He heard Hunter’s little footsteps running toward him from behind and turned just in time to catch the boy and swing him up onto his shoulders before whirling him around in circles and carrying him back toward the fire pit, where everyone had gathered to enjoy the mild April night after there had been rain for almost a week straight. Eric sat down on the wide, two-person chair that he and Hunter had recently completed for themselves.
Jesus stood off to the side, examining his friend. Eric, as always, was an attentive and loving father to Hunter. Jesus chuckled as he thought about the boy’s birthday party the month before. It had been a thing to behold as Eric had made sure to invite all of Hunter’s child friends as well as the adults that made up Hunter’s usual ‘family.’ Pam had begged and then convinced Eric to let her plan the party, and he’d agreed since he was working almost non-stop to finish the carving for Hunter’s new bed in time to make it a birthday gift.
Jesus chuckled to himself as he remembered Hunter, Emma, Coby, Lisa and―yes―even Odin playing in what Pam had called a ‘bounce palace.’ Even now, Jarod would grumble about finding another ‘damned’ ball in the yard. During the party, Eric had watched over Hunter—whom everyone now pretty much thought of as the vampire’s son, though they didn’t say it out loud to either Hunter or Eric—as the boy played.
Jesus remembered how a serene smile had crept into Eric’s eyes as he’d watched the happy boy bouncing along with his friends.
Hunter had received many gifts for his birthday, including the jeans he was currently wearing—designer jeans that Pam had gotten for him. Hunter had worn a hole into them the first time he’d worn them, much to the vampiress’s dismay. But Hunter had a special talent for putting holes into jeans as he played, so Pam’s horror had been quelled after much comforting by Miranda, of all people.
But by far, Hunter had been most excited when he went into his room that night and saw what he called his dinosaur bed, which Eric had built himself and which had a beautiful, ornate dinosaur scene carved into the headboard. Jesus had often seen Hunter in his room running his fingers over the carving or imagining it as a backdrop to his dinosaur action figures as he played during the day.
As Jesus looked at the vampire and the boy now, comfortably sitting together by the fire and chatting about Hunter’s day and Miranda’s ever-expanding belly―which Hunter was fascinated with―Jesus sighed.
He loved Eric like a brother. But he was worried about the vampire―more now than ever. In the almost-month since Eric had disposed of Bill Compton, he’d seen the vampire’s anger only compounding, though his friend kept this emotion safely hidden from Hunter. From the time Eric rose to the time Hunter fell asleep, Jesus saw Eric’s anger only in small flashes, and only when the child was not near him.
Hunter truly acted as a balm for the vampire’s rage, just as Eric acted as a balm for the boy’s sadness that often crept up on the child in the daytime. Both were much better together, and Jesus had almost suggested that they make their schedules match completely, but he knew that neither could heal without the time alone to actually deal with his pain.
Still, Jesus was grateful for the strength and harmony that the two were able to get from each other―at least part of the time. Clearly, they were both still dealing with their grief over losing their loved ones.
Jesus looked at Lafayette and smiled at him. For what seemed like the millionth time that night, he thumbed the engagement ring he had gotten for Lafayette. He didn’t want to wait any longer to get married to his beloved and had decided that a quick vacation and wedding in Massachusetts or Vermont might be in order. Even if Louisiana wouldn’t recognize their marriage, he knew that Lafayette and he would―as would all of their friends. He shifted nervously from foot to foot as he wondered how he should ask.
Then his mind drifted to the very different ring that he’d recently been burdened with, and he looked back at Eric, wondering what he should do about it.