Sookie sat up quickly—too quickly―and her dizziness threatened to take her right back into unconsciousness.
She heard Niall’s concerned voice above her and then felt his arm steadying her head. “Drink, my dear.”
Sookie obeyed and opened her mouth, taking in the cool, healing water.
Her eyes focused a little, and she saw that they were next to the fairy pool. However, in her grogginess, she didn’t remember how she’d gotten there. She looked at Niall with confusion.
Her great-grandfather spoke gently, “A little while after the ritual was complete, you collapsed. Claude and I brought you here so that you could heal.”
Sookie tried to sit up again; this time the effect was full-pledged nausea before she dropped back into Niall’s arms. “Eric,” she whispered.
“Soon,” Niall said as he gave her more water. “For the moment, you need to keep drinking,” he said firmly. “And you need to listen to me and try not to argue.”
Sookie’s eyes moved to the pool. There was no image in it. “Let me see him,” she begged. “Please.”
“Soon,” Niall said again. “First, you must drink some more and go into the pool for a little while. We took you into it several times today, but now that you are awake, its effects will be greater. After that, you will be prepared to see young Eric.”
Sookie wanted to protest, but then she really took in her great-grandfather’s appearance. He looked worried―even haggard. He also looked exhausted. Claude was sitting on the other side of the pool; he was gazing into it even though there was no image inside. Her tanu’s expression was a mixture of anxiety, guilt, and worry. They were both in agony, and her arguments would do no good. Plus, she had to acknowledge that she was incredibly weak and needed a booster of whatever the pool could offer her.
She took a deep breath and nodded. “Okay,” she relented. “I’ll get in the pool.”
Niall looked a bit surprised that she’d not resisted the idea, but helped her to move into the pool as quickly as Sookie’s body would allow.
“How long do I need to stay in here?” Sookie asked.
“Ten minutes,” Niall said pensively, looking at Claude. “Longer would be better, but we,” he stopped.
Sookie closed her eyes and heard Niall’s sentence finish in his head, “. . . we need to check on Eric.” From the expression on her great-grandfather’s face and the anxiety that was seeping into her from Claude’s thoughts, she wondered if Eric had even ten minutes. She took deep breaths and tried to stay calm. Her first impulse was to get out of the pool and demand that they check on Eric right then, but the water was already doing its work to strengthen her, and Eric didn’t need her weak. He needed her stronger than she’d ever been before.
She took a deep breath. “Tell me everything you can about what’s been happenin’.”
Niall stiffened and took a deep, steeling breath of his own. “Your bonded mate is near death even now—not just physical death, but mental death. The vampire that has him has inflicted great physical damage onto young Eric’s body—for the last three nights.”
“Russell’s had him for three nights,” Sookie murmured. She closed her eyes. She remembered working to make sure that Eric survived his initial blow from Russell, she remembered being slowly pulled back to the fairy bond, and she remembered bond-Eric comforting her as she rested and got a handle on the new knowledge that she’d been given during the ritual. But she’d had no idea that she’d been unconscious to the world for so long.
“Yes,” Niall said softly. “Tonight, your foe has been injuring young Eric with a silver blade, and he also deeply cut him with words, though we do not know what they were. Eric is,” he paused, “losing hope. That is why we woke you. You need to prepare yourself for what you will see, and you must be strong when you see it.”
Sookie let out a sob but then nodded. “What else can you tell me?”
Niall answered, “My sister came here soon after we returned from Faerie; she warned us that if we tried to help Eric that we would be signing his death warrant.” He paused. “Still—I almost went to him many times in order to try to save his life, but your enemy has done his homework—and,” he nodded toward Claude, “my son rightly held me back.”
Sookie looked at Claude, whose guilt was even more prominent than before. “She told us that we could not go to him, Tanah. I am so sorry; it is my fault that he was taken.” Claude’s voice was agonized, and his eyes were trained onto the ground.
“Claude,” Niall said forcefully. “You could not stop what has come to them any more than you could stop the turning of the sun.”
Sookie slowly swam over to where Claude sat and took his hand. “Show me what you did that was so wrong, Tanu.”
Claude was a little surprised by Sookie’s request.
Niall spoke, “Show her, Son. It will be a good way to see if the ritual strengthened her telepathy.”
Claude’s surface thoughts were centered on his concern that Sookie might be too weak for such a test, but he nodded.
Feeling stronger and stronger due to the water, Sookie delved into his mind without hesitation. He held back from her only the horrendous sights he’d witnessed during the last two nights.
Almost immediately Claude realized that Sookie was now in full control of her telepathy and could have broken down the walls he’d erected around those graphic thoughts in a second, but she didn’t.
Her eyes were closed as Sookie quickly went through Claude’s thoughts. She spoke aloud of what she found there. “You’ve become a real part of our family in Bon Temps.” She was smiling at this. “Every Sunday, you spend the day there, and you love it. You love your work and the people.” Her smile widened. “You especially love spending time with Hunter, and you’re teaching him how to make things grow.” Her expression became more serious as she sifted through more of his thoughts. “You and Eric made a good plan to keep him safe, and you two have become friends. You were always with him whenever he left the protection spell to go to Fangtasia. You would teleport him and stay just out of sight during his meetings.” Her tone became darker. “Until your mother tricked you into coming here. It was a diversion so that you would not be there to teleport Eric home. Russell wanted him in the open. Once you realized you mother’s duplicity, you were planning to return to Eric’s side immediately—especially when I called for you to help him—but you saw Russell in the pool. And you knew that you could do nothing to stop him, so you came to Niall’s home, and you brought me here as quickly as possible. Now you feel tremendous guilt because you couldn’t keep Eric safe as you promised me you would if I went into Faerie.”
Her eyes opened. “Where’s the vampire blood that Mab had?”
Claude answered. “I have it.” He pulled the vial out of his pocket. “It is under the lock of my magic, so if someone tries to take it from me without my permission, it will be destroyed. I think it belongs to Russell, and I think that my mother was going to try to make you drink it so that he could track you.”
Sookie nodded in agreement and then looked at Claude intently. “You protected him as well as you could, Tanu,” she said passionately.
“Then no more guilt—please,” Sookie said, squeezing his hand. “I don’t blame you for what happened.”
Claude nodded again and gave her a little smile, though it didn’t reach his eyes.
Niall looked at his great-granddaughter proudly. “Sookie, you have gained much more control over your telepathy. I have more that I need to tell you, but it will be faster and more efficient if you look into me as you looked into Claude. Do you feel that you are strong enough to do this?”
Sookie assessed her strength. Truth be told, using her telepathy had seemed less taxing than “speaking,” and she’d been able to get more information very rapidly. She swam over to Niall, taking his hand. “I’m okay,” she assured him.
Just like with Claude, Sookie closed her eyes and dug into Niall’s head quickly, examining the data that her great-grandfather wanted to share with her. She found that Niall—too—had some shields still in place, but she did not try to see behind them. Instead, she concentrated on the information that he had already organized and grouped for her.
She spoke aloud as she went through his thoughts. “Eric is bein’ held by a foe that you couldn’t kill no matter how many fairies you took with you, and that’s killin’ you inside because you love him like a son.” Upon saying this, Sookie sniffed, but went on as she took in more of the information her great-grandfather wanted her to have. “You would’ve gone to get Eric during the daytime, but he’s in a space that has been re-enforced with iron, a place that you can’t pass into—though you think that I’ll be able to go in there since I’m part human. You are sorry that the ritual affected me more than you predicted it would, but you think it’s worked to do what was needed. You already feel the magic of the Sky Fae flowing smoothly through me, but you’re worried because I’m still weak.”
She paused to take a breath; she had to stifle a sob as she did. “You thought I was gonna die too. You felt so guilty when you were keepin’ the connection to Eric open because you knew that I was sendin’ most of my strength to him, so you just kept givin’ me more and more of your own. You couldn’t choose between us, and you feared most that you would lose us both.”
Sookie was weeping now, but she went on. “You are scared that you woke me up too soon; it was dangerous to do so. But you are also glad that I seem stronger now that I’ve been in the pool. It makes you sick to think that you can’t help me to face Russell, and you would die to protect me and Eric if you could.”
She opened her eyes. “Oh Niall,” she cried.
“There’s a little more you need to know so that you can be prepared,” he said in a strained voice. “It’s about Eric.”
She closed her eyes again and spoke out what she was getting from his thoughts. “Eric has been stabbed over and over again for the last two nights, and yesterday, Russell,” her voice caught, “raped him.” Sookie came up to a locked door in Niall’s mind, and she knew that if she forced it to open, she would see Niall’s memory of what had happened. She turned away from that door. She didn’t need to see that; anything else she learned of Russell’s foul act would be what her husband needed to share with her.
She pulled herself from Niall’s head and moved to pull herself out of the water. Neither Niall nor Claude commented about the fact that it hadn’t quite been ten minutes. Truth be told, they were both praying that Eric was still holding on. Sookie knew from the fairy bond that he was still alive, but she also felt a darkness gathering over the bond, and she was frightened by it.
As she stepped from the pool, she felt dizzy, and she teetered a little on her feet. However, she tried to speak firmly. “I’m ready to see him now.”
Claude was already by her side, steadying her. His expression betrayed his disquiet as he helped her to sit.
Niall sighed. “My dear child,” he said somberly, “you must put your fear away now. Despite what you are about to see—you must put it away.”
She steeled herself. “Show me,” she said.
Niall looked at Sookie with a mixture of anxiety and apology in his eyes as he took her hand. Claude took her other. In that moment, Sookie was so grateful for them both. They felt like blankets covering her on her coldest day. She took a deep, cleansing breath and then looked into the pool.
In the water, she saw Eric―his face in anguish, his form struggling against thick restraints. Over him stood Russell Edgington, the vampire that frightened Sookie more than any other. Sookie shivered as she saw the three-thousand-year old lazily stab her bonded with a small silver knife. She saw what seemed to be hundreds of angry gashes littering the beautiful skin of her mate. But she was most disturbed by Eric’s face, which—though unmarked by the cuts—looked defeated.
Sookie gasped in fear. She pulled against Niall and Claude’s grips, wanting only to dive into the pool and get to Eric.
“No!” Niall yelled. “Do not rush to him in fear, Sookie. If you do, he will die, and you will wish you were dead.”
“But,” Sookie said. “I have to go.”
“I know,” Niall said gruffly. “And we will not stop you—no matter how difficult that will be. This is the time my sister told me of, and I believe you have what you came here to get. But she also told me that if I allowed you to leave this place with your fears driving you, then you and Eric would be lost to us forever. If you do that, you will face the misery of seeing your mate die before your very eyes. You will also face uncountable years of torment in Russell’s hands, Great-granddaughter. I cannot allow either of those things to happen. I will not. I,” he paused, “love you both too much, Sookie. Please.”
“Tanah,” Claude said gently, “you must take control of your powers and yourself. You can no longer wait. You can no longer go half way.”
Niall continued Claude’s thought, “To save him and yourself, you must be ready to use your magic with the confidence of one who knows that the outcome will be victory before the battle is even fought, and you cannot be ruled by your fear.”
Sookie shook her head, not knowing what to do. “I can’t just stop feeling afraid!” she yelled. “I can’t just become a robot when I see him like that!” She looked at Eric in the pool. He had stopped moving, stopped struggling against his restraints and Russell’s blows. The elder vampire stabbed him again, a maniacal grin on his face.
But Sookie focused on Eric, afraid that he was dying, afraid that his lack of movement would quickly be followed by his body breaking apart into remains. She closed her eyes and tried to tame her fears. She could feel herself sending healing and assurance through the fairy bond, but Eric seemed to be blocking her out.
She looked back into the pool and watched as her husband’s eyes flew open for a moment. She had never been able to read his mind, but she knew those eyes and the gray that had overtaken them. She’d seen that shade one other time—right before he’d let Russell feed on her at Fangtasia. She knew in that moment that he was thinking about giving up. And that she would not allow.
His eyes closed. She felt fear trying to grip her heart like a vice, but she pushed it away.
“No!” Sookie said loudly even though she was addressing neither Claude nor Niall. “Don’t you fuckin’ do it!” she said to Eric through the pool. “You get your ass in gear and come to me right-fucking-now, Mister!”
Neither Niall nor Claude said anything out loud to interrupt Sookie’s chastisement of her husband. They both sensed that her fear had been replaced by resolve. And she seemed to be calling Eric as magic swarmed around her.
“She will weaken,” Claude said telepathically into Niall’s head.
“Yes,” Niall agreed, “but if she doesn’t pull him from the brink, we will lose him now.”
Claude sighed and then mustered his own healing powers to send into his tanah.
It escaped neither Claude nor Niall’s notice that a dim white light was emanating from Sookie as she looked at her mate in the pool, but—again—neither of them spoke of it out loud.
Sookie closed her eyes, and for a few moments, she felt lost inside the pool—inside of her mate.
Suddenly a figure came into focus in front of her. She would know him anywhere.
“It’s about fucking time you listened to me and came to me,” Sookie said. “I thought I was gonna have to kick your ass and stake you myself!”
Unable to speak, Eric gasped in surprised.
“Now, get your cute ass over her,” Sookie said as she reached for him and gave him a smile. In the bond, he looked perfectly fine, but from watching him in the pool, she knew better. However, she was not going to comment about that fact now. Right now, she needed to touch him.
“How?” Eric stammered as he took her hand. Sookie could tell that he was having a hard time speaking.
“I don’t know, and I don’t really care,” she shrugged. “But I don’t think I can stay here for long.”
As if touching her hand wasn’t nearly good enough, Eric pulled her into his embrace. “Be careful—Russell,” he said with a warning tone as he buried his face into her hair.
“I know who has you,” Sookie said. “I’ll be there soon.”
“Don’t let him hurt you,” Eric begged as he drew her even closer.
“Eric,” she began, looking up at him, “I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come to you, but I needed to heal.”
“Heal?” he asked with concern in his now very blue eyes.
She didn’t answer him directly. Instead, she reassured him, “I’ll come as soon as I can, and we’re going to be okay—both of us.”
He pulled her closer.
“You have to promise me that you won’t go back into the dark, Eric.”
He smiled into her golden and shining hair. “I swear it.”
“I have to go,” she whispered, “but the bond me will still be here with you.”
“I’ll never be alone again, will I?” Eric asked reverently.
“Never,” she said as she felt herself disengage from her husband.
A little dazed, Sookie came back into herself and looked around. Claude and Niall were both staring at her in awe.
“Sookie?” Claude said her name like a question.
“Huh?” Sookie asked inelegantly as her eyes jetted back to Eric’s form in the pool. Russell was no longer cutting him. The ancient vampire seemed to be shocked by something. And Sookie wished that she could hear what was happening.
“Sookie,” Niall said, pulling her attention to him. “How are you feeling?”
Sookie tilted her head in confusion. “Fine.”
Claude spoke. “Compared to before you ‘visited’ Eric―Sookie. How are you feeling compared to that?”
Sookie was still a little confused, but then she grasped Claude’s question. Before she’d gone to be with Eric inside the fairy bond, she’d felt weak as if she were sick. Now she felt fine.
“What happened?” she asked.
Niall smiled and then looked back at the pool. “You are both incredibly stubborn, my dear—often to your own detriment.”
Sookie followed Niall’s eyes, and her own welled with fresh tears. “Eric,” she said quietly, “you silly vampire.”
“Yes,” Niall said. “He must have healed you somehow. Or perhaps just being with him in the fairy bond was enough to get you to take care of yourself too.”
“But he’s too hurt to be healin’ me,” she said as more tears fell from her eyes.
“And too stubborn to do anything else, I’d venture,” Niall said kindly.
Claude squeezed her hand. “Look at his eyes, Tanah. Try to look only into them.”
Her husband lay naked, his body broken—a gruesome patchwork of blood, both dried and free-flowing. However, it was not hard for her to focus on his eyes. And somehow they seemed to be looking just at her. His beautiful blue orbs now exuded confidence, confidence in her and in them together. There was no fear in them—not even a hint. There was only life—the life they had together.
Sookie took in her warrior, and she felt her tears stop falling and her pride for him swell. His eyes spoke to her as they always had—he loved her; he believed in her. However, this time she felt that belief to her very core. She felt the power that they would always have together. She could feel his strength and confidence as if it were her own.
It finally was.
She watched as Russell began to feed Eric a TruBlood, and she was thankful when she saw some of her husband’s physical wounds stop bleeding so profusely. She knew that Russell’s act was not about benevolence, but she was happy for it nonetheless.
As she gazed into her husband’s eyes, Sookie realized that it wasn’t fairy Sookie that she should look to now for strength―no matter what Niall might have thought before. And it wasn’t human Sookie either. No—it was Eric’s Sookie. As if in approval of her thoughts, Eric’s eyes became even more confident—if possible. She spoke out to his image in the pool, “I’ll never be alone either, will I?” Eric shook his head a little, and Sookie had her answer.
“That’s my fucking vampire,” Sookie said, forcefully, dropping both Claude’s and Niall’s hands. The image of Eric in the pool did not fade away, however. Sookie kept it there this time—kept it in front of them without making any real effort. She felt her power—no their power, hers and Eric’s—flowing inside of her.
“Then go get him,” Claude said earnestly.
Sookie didn’t hesitate a moment longer. She dove headlong into the pool.
As soon as she was gone, Claude let a few tears slip from his eyes. “Will she be alright?” he asked, knowing his father didn’t have the answer to that question any more than he did.
“Their fate is no longer in our hands,” Niall said pensively. “We did all that we could.”
Claude took a deep breath. “They will be okay.”
“They have to be,” Niall agreed.
They both looked into the pool, knowing that they could not watch Eric without Sookie’s help since he was in an iron-encased room.
Claude stood up. “I am not going to just wait here.”
Niall stood as well and chuckled. “I never thought you would.”