Pam looked at her maker worriedly. He was walking next to her, standing upright like the warrior he was; however, her bond with him told her a different story. He was―sad. No―he was heartbroken. Since Sookie had been gone, Pam had felt her maker struggling against his feelings, she had felt him angry, and she had felt him resolved. But now, he just seemed empty—almost broken—almost giving up.
The vampiress was not able to focus on her maker, however. She was too busy trying to hold up an apparently drunken Jessica, who was singing something about a Macarena―whatever the fuck that was. Unfortunately, there seemed to be some kind of motions required when singing about this Macarena—actions which were causing Jessica to lose her already rickety balance.
At least―Pam thought, as she pulled her child to her feet for the fourth time in the last minute―Jessica was alive. Pam spared a smile of pride as she thought about the way her child had drained the fairy without mercy, but that smile faded as she thought about Eric on his knees in the grass with tears streaming down his eyes for everyone to see. Pam had never seen her maker cry before―especially not in public―and the sight had freaked her the fuck out.
The only thing that she’d been able to get from him was that the fairy bond between Sookie and himself had somehow been turned off because of Claudette’s magical blast and that he did not know whether Sookie was alive or dead. Sensing her maker’s misery, Pam had not asked questions beyond that.
The three vampires―along with Thalia, Tray, Sam, and Alcide Herveaux―arrived back at the house.
Eric looked at Thalia wearily, “Bubba is with Jesus and Lafayette on the third floor. If they have not already done so, ask Jesus and Lafayette to replace the protection spell. Tell them that it worked,” Eric paused, “better than could have been hoped. Tell them that it took much fairy magic to overcome it.”
Thalia nodded and zipped up the stairs to convey the message and to see her own beloved, Bubba.
Eric turned to Tray, Sam, and Alcide. “Once again, you have my thanks. And I am sorry, Tray, that I could provide no kills for your group this night.”
Tray shook his head as he took in his friend’s somber mood, “It is nothing, Northman. We’ll always come to your aid.”
Eric nodded his thanks and then went over to the cubby. Pam could tell that her maker was marshaling his mental strength as he paused in front of the cubby doors for more than a minute. If she didn’t know better, she would have thought that he was steadying himself with deep breaths.
Finally, Eric tapped in the code for the cubby and flew down into the small room. In moments he was back with Hunter, holding his son closely to him. Eric was telling Hunter that everything was okay and that the bad fairies were gone. Pam could feel Eric’s love for Hunter and his relief at seeing the boy, but she could also feel his desolation like a weight covering everything else.
Batanya and Jason climbed out of the cubby next, each one carrying an animal. When Jessica saw Jason, she hiccupped and then threw herself into his arms before attaching herself to him like an octopus and searing him with a kiss. Pam sighed loudly and pulled the two apart.
“Jason Stackhouse,” Pam said, snapping her fingers in front of his face. “Now you listen to me carefully.”
With difficulty, Jason dragged his eyes from Jessica’s lips and tried to focus on Pam.
“Good boy,” Pam said. “Now―Jessica is very drunk on fairy blood and not quite in her right mind. And you are NOT to take advantage of her. Do you understand? If you don’t understand, Stackhouse, I will glamour you until you do.”
Jason nodded, though his eyes were still a bit glazed over by the passion in Jessica’s kiss.
Pam sighed, “Good―now the fairy blood is probably going to help Jessica stay up past daylight, and I am counting on you to keep yourself together and make sure she doesn’t fry―okay?”
Again, Jason bobbed his head, almost looking drunk himself.
“But if she is okay, let her experience the sun for a while. She deserves that,” Pam ordered.
Jason nodded once more.
“She once told me that she missed the color of the sky in the daytime,” Pam said. “You are to make sure she sees her blue sky. Do you understand, Stackhouse?”
“Yeah,” Jason said, finally finding his voice.
“Excellent,” Pam said. She focused on Jessica. “And Jessica, you are NOT to feed on or,” she paused, looked at Hunter, and censored herself, “copulate with anything for the next twenty four hours, whether it be man, woman, Were, shifter, solid, liquid, or gas―understood!?”
Jessica nodded, hiccupped, and then giggled.
“Good,” Pam said. “Now—you two can go have your fun.” Pam watched as Jessica pulled Jason outside, knowing that heavy petting was about to ensue but also confident that nothing else would happen and that Stackhouse, for all his flaws, would keep Jessica from harming herself.
Pam turned her attention to her maker, who was now busy preparing a meal for Hunter.
Eric was concentrating for all he was worth. However, the minutes slipped by like quicksand, pulling him under one at a time.
He focused on Hunter―on making sure that the boy knew that his Uncle Eric was safe and alive. Eric prepared the boy a dinner—his favorite, a grilled cheese sandwich—and then later he told him his bedtime story as always. Eric focused on his love for the boy and tried not to sink into the sorrow he’d felt for two hours, twelve minutes, and forty-two seconds―which was the length of time that he had been without either bond. He tried with all his might to hide his desolation from Hunter, though he couldn’t hide from it himself.
Eric watched over his son until he was asleep and then rose. His legs felt heavy as he walked slowly downstairs, where everyone―except Miranda, Jarod, Jason, and Jessica―was assembled in the living room and talking quietly. They all could tell that something was very wrong with Eric—even Amelia, who barely knew him—but they’d not spoken of it while Hunter was awake.
Pam was sitting in the corner of the room, contemplating whether to shut down the bond between Eric and herself again. The emptiness emanating from her maker was hurting her as much—maybe even more—than his all-consuming anger had a few months before.
Eric looked around the room, “I will return in fifteen minutes to explain to you what has happened.”
Jesus looked at Eric with worry. “You okay?” the brujo asked in a whisper.
Eric turned his gaze to Jesus and shook his head in a barely perceptible movement. Then the vampire turned, left the room, and walked outside.
He went to the small shed out back where the gardening tools were kept and picked up a pair of pruning shears. Most of the gardening was now taken care of by a landscaping company owned by one of Scott’s cousins. But Eric was the only one who touched the peach trees and Adele’s roses.
Eric tried to focus on pruning the mature rose bushes. They were already in excellent condition, but the activity had always calmed Eric before. This time, it did not.
Eric sighed deeply. He’d still not visited Adele’s grave since Sookie had been taken. He felt ashamed for not going, especially given how important his visits to her graveside had become to him when Sookie had gone to the fairy realm the first time. But this time, he felt wholly responsible for losing her, and he’d not been able to face Adele. And now, he felt wholly responsible for losing their bond. Sookie had chosen him—had trusted him with her very essence. He had let his bonded down. He’d offered Claudette mercy instead of killing her immediately and protecting himself and the bond from whatever magic she’d directed at him.
He shook his head as his fifteenth minute rolled by. He quickly returned the pruners to the shed and then joined the others inside.
Eric steeled himself and then spoke to those gathered in the living room. “The fairy threat is over for the present―I think. However, because of Claudette’s spell, I no longer know if Sookie is alive, or dead, or,” Eric paused, “unwell.”
After giving those in the room a moment to absorb what he’d said, he continued, “We will go on as before. The fairy Niall has told me that he will no longer grant me admittance into the fairy realm, but we will continue trying to find another way in. It seems that I cannot pass into the fairy realm proper, but perhaps we can send Weres in. Meanwhile, we will continue to look for an antidote to the light fruit. And we will go on,” Eric paused again as his voice cracked, “living.”
With that word, Eric turned and went up the stairs to his room. Jesus looked after his friend with concern and then at Pam. The two exchanged a mirrored look.
Pam spoke up, “I don’t know what the fuck to do about this one.”
Jesus shook his head, “Me neither.”
Eric heard the dialogue downstairs, but he didn’t blame his child or his friend for their worry. He was fucking worried too. He felt like he might succumb to his despair at any moment—as the hollowness inside of him threatened to consume him. A very large part of him wanted to go to sleep and to never awaken again.
Eric went over to the dresser that Earl Stackhouse had made and that he had repaired. He pulled out Sookie’s purse from the top drawer.
Feeling like he was on automatic pilot, Eric dumped the purse’s contents onto the bed and ran his hands over them. He smiled at seeing Sookie’s things—still so rich with her scent—but he did not feel the emotion behind the action of his lips. He couldn’t feel anything, except the physical sensation of the materials against his fingertips.
He inhaled deeply, trying to will himself to feel his wife through her scent. He opened Sookie’s lip gloss. The color was called Blossom, and Eric was reminded of the pink of the peach blossoms that had been on their peach trees in the spring―the trees that Sookie was yet to see.
He closed the gloss and put it to the side.
He opened her wallet. The license in it had expired on July 1 of that month―her birthday. He’d bought her a blue computer/messenger bag for her laptop. He figured that she would be able to use it when she started college. Of course, the gift lay unopened in the corner of their new walk-in closet, which was otherwise bare. Eric had not yet moved their clothing into it, opting instead to keep using the old wooden wardrobe Earl had made.
He closed his eyes. Would there be stacks and stacks of birthday and Christmas and anniversary gifts piled in that closet before he felt his wife again—if he ever felt her again?
He pulled her license out of the wallet and looked closely at the picture. Even in the cheaply produced government document, she was beautiful. She was tan in the photo―tan like the first time he’d seen her at Fangtasia. Her license read “Sookie Stackhouse,” and Eric couldn’t help but to think of one of their last days together―when she’d told him that she was going to legally change her name to Northman. Now―he feared―that would never happen. There were thousands of things that he feared wouldn’t happen now―maybe couldn’t happen.
He shook his head. What if she were dead or dying? What if someone tried to feed her the light fruit again, and he couldn’t feel her calling him through the fairy bond for help. What if? He hated those words—fucking despised them! But now they seemed to be the only ones he could think about.
He placed Sookie’s license back into its holder and unzipped the little pocket in her purse. He opened it up wide and gazed at the two silver fragments he knew would be inside―one which Sookie had sucked from his body in Dallas and the other which she’d removed from him after Debbie Pelt had shot him. Of the two, the second meant the most to him, for it had been Sookie’s choice to take it from his body. She’d known he’d heal without her help, but she had wanted to spare him physical pain.
He picked up the bullet and kissed it, not caring about the physical pain that it now caused him. No―he was happy for that pain. It meant that he could feel, after all.
He placed the silver bullet reverently onto the bed. The fragment from Dallas was also meaningful, for Sookie had saved it―stolen it away in her pocket even though she had been with Bill Compton at the time. She’d cared for him even before he’d tricked her into taking his blood, and her instincts had told her of the fragment’s significance. It had been Sookie’s token of love to him before they’d started their vampire bond for the second time. She’d shown it to him the night that she’d chosen him to be hers. That had been one of the most glorious nights of his thousand-year life. Of course, all nights with his Sookie seemed to fit into that category. He wondered if he would ever have another one.
Eric picked the fragment up, again ignoring the sizzle on his flesh. He brought it to his lips and kissed it as well and placed it next to the bullet on the bed. He stared at the two for a while and then picked up both silver pieces―almost enjoying the fact that they could make him feel pain that was different from the bereavement he felt at the loss of the fairy bond. He opened the little drawer in the nightstand and pulled out the handkerchief―Adele’s lace handkerchief―which had once housed the pendant he’d made for Sookie. He wrapped the two silver pieces inside of it. Eric looked down at his hand and numbly watched it heal.
As he went to put the handkerchief back into the drawer, he saw a piece of string which was about five inches long. He picked it up and looked at it. A large, red tear streamed down his face as Eric wrapped the string around his finger. He knew that it had been last touched by his wife; he knew that she’d used it to measure his finger for the ring that now was residing on his left hand. He lovingly placed the string back into the drawer next to the handkerchief and shut it.
He replaced the other contents into Sookie’s purse and put it back into the old dresser.
He then went to the closet and pulled out the plastic bag that held the sheets that he and Sookie had used the night before they’d left for Santa Fe, the night before she’d been taken to the fairy realm. He quickly stripped off the sheets that had been on his bed and remade it with the others. Having been in plastic, they still smelled of Sookie and of the love they’d made together―the last time she’d been home with him. All that was missing from the set was Sookie’s pillowcase, which he’d kept out after she’d first disappeared and which had long ago lost his wife’s scent.
He inhaled deeply—almost desperately.
Having made the bed, Eric quickly showered and then returned to it. He lay in the sheets and closed his eyes, taking in the scent of his wife throughout the rest of the night―inhaling her because he could no longer feel her.
Ten minutes after the sun had risen, Eric looked at the French doors; he knew that if they were opened, the sun would greet him and end the hollowness he felt inside.
But he didn’t get up to go open them. Instead, he concentrated on Hunter’s soft snore from the other side of the house. He told himself that Sookie wasn’t gone and that it had only been Claudette’s magic, which had hidden his wife from him. He reminded himself that he’d felt her so strongly only the night before. He reminded himself that Niall had told him that Sookie and he would face a separation.
Yes—it was these thoughts that kept him from allowing the sun to pour into his room.
But none of his assurances to himself lessened his pain. When he died for the day, he felt only the raging ache of his two empty bonds.