“You dreamt us here again, lover?” Eric asked playfully.
She slapped his naked chest and then settled against it in the small bed. “Hey—this is an important place for us, after all.”
“Yes,” Eric agreed, stroking her bare back lovingly. As always, almost as soon as he’d been pulled into her dream, he’d—no they’d—been unable to control themselves. And even in the small cubby bed, they’d managed to achieve mutual satisfaction—a couple of times, in fact.
He chuckled, “I love making love to you here, actually. The little bed means that you cannot get away.” He growled and tickled her a bit.
She giggled and then sighed. “How much time ‘til you go to sleep?”
“Sixty-two minutes until sunrise, min kära,” Eric said quietly.
Sookie shook her head and sat up a bit. “I’m sorry. I had trouble going to sleep again tonight.”
Eric too sat up and ran his fingers tenderly along her jawline. “It is fine. You know that I love the time you give me. And you must not pressure yourself to give me more. All that you give is perfect, Sookie—it’s perfect.”
She shook her head. “It’s not, Eric. It’s not perfect for me.” She sighed even louder. “I miss having all of you.”
“I know,” Eric said pulling her comfortingly into his arms. “But I love what you have given me in the dreams.”
Tears rose into her eyes as she thought about the fact that she would soon have to leave the ‘in-between’ place. Then, Eric would be left without both the dreams and her healing magic. The thought of her husband hurting brought her tears down her cheeks. She tried to comfort herself with the fact that her going into Faerie again had always been an inevitability. However, she felt responsible—blamable—because she’d not been able to master her abilities—that it was she who would once more be leaving him for so long. Feeling frustrated and guilty, she pulled herself away from Eric’s soothing embrace. She knew that she didn’t deserve his comfort.
She spoke angrily, “Stop it!”
“Stop what?” Eric asked with concern.
“Stop bein’ so damned nice and understanding when every night I give us less and less time together.” She shook her head as more tears fell. Soon, she’d be unable to given him any time. “Just stop bein’ nice to me!”
“I can’t!” Eric said, his voice turned up a notch too. They didn’t fight like this a lot, but he knew immediately that this fight needed to happen—for both of them. He could feel their pent-up emotions swirling around the room like a tornado ready to strike. He knew that she needed to express her anger instead of trying to hold it all inside. And—God help him—he wanted to see her fire at least once more before he told her of his plan, which would cause them to be separated again.
“You are the one that needs to stop, Sookie! You need to stop putting all this pressure onto yourself. You need to stop doubting yourself.”
Sookie was at full-tilt now, her anger at herself spilling onto her husband. “What are you talking about? How am I supposed to turn off the pressure on myself when I’m the one that’s ultimately gonna be responsible for saving your life. And if I fail, I’m the one that’s gonna have to watch you turn to goo and ashes!”
Eric shook his head. Ever since Sookie had told him what Niall had said about her having to save him, he had felt the tension within her building―even as her fear had built. He knew that this was the emotion she needed to let go of so that her skill could improve. And if it took her getting angry at him—rather than being angry at herself—to get her to see that, then he’d fuel her ire. Come to think of it, he was pretty fucking pissed off about his own ineffectiveness as well.
He stood up and spoke more loudly than before. “Yes, Sookie. You are the one, and it’s not goddamned right! I’m the fucking vampire—supposedly the strong one—and I find out that I will once again apparently be powerless!”
“Don’t pull your macho shit on me, Northman!” Sookie seethed.
Eric growled. “I am a thousand-year-old Viking warrior who cannot even protect his bonded wife! It’s not ‘macho shit’ that I’m trying to pull here! Again—I will be too fucking weak to do anything in the face of danger! Apparently, I won’t even be able to send you my fucking strength through our bonds. I will be even less able to help you than I was when fucking Debbie Pelt was holding you, and I couldn’t get into that goddamned house!”
“Hey, Mister! I said―don’t pull that ‘I’m supposed to be the strong one’ bullshit!” She mimicked his voice as she said that. “We’re partners—remember! And I’m a fuckin’ fairy! And you watch your fuckin’ language!”
He was shouting louder now. “You are the fucking fairy who cannot get her shit together, Sookie! Is that what you want me to say to you? Do you want me to be angry that you cannot be here with me all the time? Because if that is what you want, you are too fucking late! I have been fucking angry about that for more than fourteen months now. You have only had to do this for one!”
“Oh—so that’s it!” Sookie shouted back. “Don’t you know that I would have gladly traded places with you—that it makes me feel like shit that you had to experience all that time with us apart?”
Eric growled. “No! I would not have you suffer like that, Sookie—not even if I had to do it all again a thousand times would I want you to suffer like that!”
“Maybe I’d prefer it!”
“No! Never!” Eric yelled.
“I’ve missed so much, Eric—so much! I’ve missed another year of my own ‘F’-in life, but this time around, I missed so much more. I missed being with Hunter! I missed being with you!”
Eric growled louder. “No, Sookie! I would not have you alone like that.” His voice lowered until she could barely hear him. “I would not have you feel the pain I had to feel. I cannot bear the thought.”
Sookie let out an exasperated yell and balled her fists. “Maybe I can’t bear the thought either!”
“See! This is exactly what I’m talking about! We talk about Hunter, we talk about my training, and we talk about de Castro, but you have never told me about what you went through when I wasn’t here, Eric—never! Why won’t you fucking just tell me?
He started to pace along the side of the bed. His steps were so long and the room was so small that Sookie lost track of how many turns he made before he finally stopped and looked at her. “You want to know what it was like? Fine! Well—wife, I’ve been a lot more than fucking angry about your being gone for all these months—months that felt longer than the thousand years that I lived before them!” He seethed but lowered his voice. “At first, I spent time in denial about it—closed off and bitter. I was willing to sell my fucking soul to get you back, but nobody was buying! And then there was the period when I was so goddamned depressed and miserable that I wanted to meet the sun every morning.”
A sob escaped from Sookie.
Eric went on, “Do you want me to admit that when I couldn’t fucking feel you through the fairy bond, I almost broke in two? Would you like to hear about how I used to cause myself damage with that silver you took out of my body just so that I could feel some other kind of pain each night and so that I could fucking function for Hunter? Do you want me to tell you that it was that pain that jumpstarted me each night, and without it, I couldn’t have gotten out of bed?”
He paced the room again. “Or maybe you would like to hear about how I used to spend my mornings before the sun rose staring at those fucking new French doors in our fucking bedroom—doors that you haven’t even seen yet—doors that I have not been able to,” he paused, his voice thick with emotion, “open yet.” He stopped and looked down. “Perhaps, I should tell you that I imagined how much easier things would be if I just opened those doors and let the morning light in.”
Another light sob escaped from Sookie as she listened to him.
“Do you want me to tell you that most of those mornings, all I could hear was Claudette’s voice in my head telling me that you were being raped and that once pregnant, you would never come back to me? Never! Maybe you would like to hear about the years I imagined spending not knowing—never knowing—what had happened to you.”
His volume rose again, “Do you want to know about all the days when I wasn’t even sure Hunter would be enough to make me stay alive without the feeling of the fairy bond to tell me that you were alive too? I couldn’t feel you, Sookie! It felt like you were dead! And I felt truly dead for the first time!”
Sookie jumped to her feet and yelled back at him through her tears, “Yes! Those are exactly the things that I need you to say to me, Eric! I need to know what I did to you. I want to hear how I’ve failed you! I want to feel guiltier than I already do! I want to feel worse!” She started pacing on the other side of the room.
They glared at each other before she continued. “I know you have been stuck without me longer than I have been stuck without you, and I know that you didn’t even have the dreams for a long time, but gosh darn it, Eric, this is no fucking cakewalk for me either! I’m not improving enough! Every fucking day you ask me about my training, and every day you tell me it’s okay when I’m not improving, but I know that you must feel even worse than I do. I know that you must be angry at me. Why can’t you just let me see the fucking truth? You know I hate it when you lie, Eric. You know it, yet you do it every day!”
He was in front of her in a flash, his fangs glinting in the light of the cubby. “Wife―don’t you fucking dare put words into my mouth. I haven’t told you one fucking lie since I told you that I didn’t care about you in Russell’s mansion! You will not invent lies from me now! I am not lying when I tell you that I love every fucking minute of our dreams—even this minute! I am not lying when I tell you that I know you will be able to save my ass from whatever happens in the future! I am not lying when I tell you that you need to give yourself a fucking break from all this pressure that has been building up inside of you! I’m not lying when I tell you that I was a fucking disaster area without you! And I’m not lying when I tell you that none of this clusterfuck we are in the middle of is your fault! You are letting yourself sink further and further into insecurities―just as I did when you were gone. And it fucking worries the hell out of me because I see the fire in you dimming by the day.” His voice quieted and his fangs retracted as he lifted his hand gently to run it along her cheek, where tears were also running.
His voice was soft now. “I am not lying, min kära, when I admit to you that part of me feared you were dead or broken—that until I felt the spark return to re-ignite the fairy bond, I also wanted to die. I know the kind of pain that exists in feeling powerless to help save my mate, Sookie. I felt it. I could do nothing. I felt—nothing. And I wanted to die, but Hunter wouldn’t let me. Don’t you think I feel guilty for counting on him like that? Don’t you think that I feel guilt that you now have to imagine yourself in the same position that I was in—knowing that you might die without being able to do anything to stop it?”
“Eric, I won’t be able to go on if you die,” Sookie sobbed.
Eric took her into his arms and held her tightly to his bare chest. “Apparently, min kära,” he said softly, “I was wrong in the past.”
Sookie looked up at him in confusion. “Wrong about what?”
He gently sat her down on the bed and pulled the red quilt that she’d dreamed there over her shaking body. He then got down onto his knees before her. “I have not lied to you, Sookie, but I have kept things from you, and for that, I am sorry.” He sighed. “The day that I know you are dead will also be the day of my true death.” He shook his head. “If I had had confirmation that you were no more, even Hunter could not have stopped that―as much as I hate to admit it, as much as I wish that I could have made myself stay alive for him. But I find that I am weak in this way, my love. And I would have been just a shell—useless to my son. And I love him too much for him to see me withering away because of the bonding sickness.” He paused, “Seeing me broken and dying would have broken Hunter, and I did not want that to happen.”
There were several moments of silence as they just looked at each other.
“Losing you completely would break Hunter more, Eric,” Sookie said quietly. “You have to know that.”
He nodded. “I do.” His voice took on a faraway quality. “But I had a plan to take away Hunter’s pain—if I had to follow you into death.” He looked at the floor and sighed.
He raised his head and locked into her eyes. “I am still a Viking, my love. And my soul would have been restless to track yours and find Valhalla with you. I planned to glamour Hunter, and then I planned to seek you.”
“But Hunter is like me. He can’t be glamoured.”
Eric shook his head. “It is not easy, but it can be done.” He paused. “After I could no longer feel you, I did want to die, but I would never have left Hunter feeling abandoned. I would have endured the bonding sickness until it took me—just so my son,” he paused and a red tear rolled down his cheek, “would never feel abandoned again.”
Sookie brushed his tear away.
Eric continued, almost mechanically, “That is when a plan, which would have allowed me to protect Hunter, came to me.” He paused. “The idea of glamouring him began as an intellectual exercise, and I posited that if he let me in, then I could do it.”
“How did you even come up with that idea?” Sookie asked.
“You almost let me in once, Sookie. Do you not know when?” Eric got his faraway look again. “I could have glamoured you that night—easily. I am certain of it; I am as certain of it as I am that I love you and would never do it.”
“When?” Sookie asked with shock in her eyes.
Eric’s lips raised into a slight smile. “Can you not tell me? I was positive that you felt yourself slipping into my influence that night.”