Sookie and Eric were in each other’s arms before she’d even finished calling him into her dream, their holds tight and comforting at the same time. Sookie’s face was hidden in his chest, and Eric’s face was tilted down and buried in her hair.
“He hurt you again. You’re in pain,” Sookie whispered as she gripped his shoulders tighter.
“I’ll be fine. I had been stock-piling some of your healing magic. I figured he’d do something like this.” He inhaled her hair with a sigh.
“It was so hard not coming for you right away in that warehouse,” she said in a whisper.
“It’s good you didn’t,” Eric sighed. He brought his fingers to her hair and then to her cheeks. His voice was laced in emotion. “You smell so fucking beautiful. I missed you so fucking much, Sookie.”
“How long was it this time?” Sookie asked in a quiet voice.
“It’s August,” Eric said just as quietly, “early August.”
Sookie shook her head as if trying to undo the time they’d lost. “Eric,” she breathed. “Never again. I’m never gonna leave you again.”
The vampire just held her to him, unable to do or say anything else in that moment.
Finally, after a few minutes, it was Sookie who spoke. “We have to hurry. It’s near dawn.”
Eric nodded but didn’t pull away at all. He needed to feel her close after all the time he’d been separated from her; he needed to feel her close after his ordeal with Russell.
“It’s a trap,” Eric said. “When you walk into the basement where I am being held, an iron door will come down after you to keep you in. If you come in the daytime, a second will come down to keep you from getting to me or Russell. Either way, you will be trapped.”
“Well fuck a duck!” Sookie exclaimed, looking up at Eric.
Eric chuckled, “God, I missed your way with words, min kära.” He became more serious. “There’s more. Queen Mab has given Russell a talisman that will make whatever you shoot at him transfer to me. He wants for you to kill me—thinks it will be funny.”
Sookie gasped. “So if I shoot to kill him,” she started.
“You will hit and perhaps kill me,” Eric finished.
Sookie shook her head, “Anything else?”
“He plans to kill me first—preferably with you actually doing it as I said. Then, he wants to tie you to him.”
“Mab had some of his blood. Was that what it was for?”
Once more taking in her scent, he nodded into her hair. “Yes. And he wanted to be able to sense you presence.” Eric paused. “Russell wants to take your blood every day.” Eric’s voice became far away as the words he spoke seemed to harm him. “Eventually, he wants to turn you and keep you for eternity. He will order you not to destroy yourself. He wants to break you more and more through time until nothing remains of you. He wants to keep us apart forever.”
In that moment, Sookie realized that it was this thought which had almost broken her mate’s spirit. She placed her hand on his chest. “No matter what, Eric, I’ll be here,” she said as the fairy bond fluttered in him almost like a heartbeat under her hand. “He won’t destroy me because he could never destroy us.”
“I know,” Eric said, his voice passionate, “Never!”
“No one—nothing—could,” Sookie added.
Eric crushed her lips with his. When he finally broke the kiss, they were smiling at each other.
“Anything else I need to know?” Sookie asked with a raised brow.
Eric nodded. “There’s a spell on the basement. Only those who have been ‘invited’ may enter.”
“I’m guessin’ I have an invitation,” Sookie deadpanned.
Eric nodded and sighed, “He also offered me a deal. If I agree to be his new lover and to break the bond, then he won’t kill me. He says that he will tie himself to you but that he will still let us be together to a certain extent.”
Sookie contemplated. “Do you want to pretend like you are contemplating his offer?”
“Fuck no!” Eric said. “Not even for a minute. But if you think it will help, I will,” he paused, “feign affection.”
The thought of her husband having to pretend to be ‘affectionate’ with Russell sickened Sookie. She shook her head vehemently. “No—you’re not gonna do that! No for a second—let alone a minute.” She touched his cheek tenderly.
In his wife’s eyes, Eric saw everything he’d been missing for so long, and he couldn’t help but to sink into her in relief.
“Anything else I need to know?” she asked again.
Eric smiled. “I love you.”
“I love you,” Sookie avowed.
“I love being able to feel you again,” Eric added, his rough voice betraying his emotion.
“Is the healing enough? I’ll send more once I wake up again; I think I can since I’m in this realm.”
He caressed her cheek lovingly. “Sookie, you’ve saved me—already. And you are sending me your healing even now, my beautiful bonded. Do you not feel it?”
She chuckled. “Oh—I guess I do.”
He smiled down at her. “In fact, min kära, it might be best for you to stop after dawn. It will look too suspicious if I am completely healed by sundown, and I do not know if I will be able to control how your magic is used in me once I am down for the day.”
She nodded. “Okay—but expect more when you wake up.”
His expression turned serious. “You are my angel. I was almost gone—struggling even to keep my body in one piece—and then you were there in the bond and then in the building with me, and I could feel you—really feel you again.” He paused, his voice choking-up a little. “And all the while, you were healing me.” He put his forehead on hers. “Once again, my love, I am alive because of you.”
Sookie could hear the weariness, along with the smile, in her husband’s voice. “How long till dawn?” she asked.
“Just a few minutes,” Eric sighed.
“Good. You need to sleep.”
Sookie looked around for the first time and smiled. “I’m glad I dreamed us here again.”
“Me too,” Eric smiled.
Sookie took Eric’s hand and led him to the small bed in the cubby. “I want you to fall asleep with me right here, Eric, and I want you to know that by the time you wake up tonight, I will have figured all this shit out, and I’ll be comin’ for you.”
Eric sunk down onto the bed and lay on Sookie’s stomach. She played with his hair as he settled in.
“Eric,” she whispered. “I saw Russell stabbing you.” She took a deep breath. “And Niall told me that he,” she couldn’t bring herself to finish her sentence. “He told me the rest,” she said instead.
Eric wrapped his arms more snuggly around her and spoke in a tired, but strong voice. “His goal was to cause as much pain as he could in order to break me—to control me. So, yes, he inflicted many wounds, rape being among the worst of them, but the only moment that almost destroyed me was the one when I felt that he might be able to destroy you.” He was silent for a moment, and Sookie thought he might have fallen into his sleep. But he continued, “Then I realized that as long as you are in me and as long as I hold on, he will not find you in there. And I am safe inside you as well.”
Tears rose into Sookie’s eyes because of the shear faith that her husband had in her—in them—but she didn’t let them fall. Not yet. “I’m gonna find a way to get him, Eric. And by tonight, we won’t be needin’ dreams to be together.”
She could hear Eric inhaling her scent deeply. “I know you will, min kära.”
Sookie continued to stroke his hair comfortingly, and she could tell that he was trying to fight sleep. “Guess what?” Sookie asked.
“Huh?” Eric responded quietly.
“I’m lying next to Hunter right now—at least in the real world. He’s all safe and sound and tucked in.” She chuckled. “He was snoring a little.”
Eric looked up at her and smiled. “Thank you,” he said. “It’s good that he is sleeping. Will you tell him I miss him?”
She nodded as he resettled onto her. Sookie continued a steady stream of caresses to his face and hair.
He sighed and then slept. Finally letting her tears flow freely, Sookie held her husband and continued to caress him well into the morning. She made sure that she was no longer sending him her healing magic and then rested next to him, enjoying the comfort of having his body next to hers.
She knew that she probably needed to get up, but she needed to be with Eric even more. Plus, the beginning of a plan was forming in her mind. Russell was going to fucking pay for what he’d done to her husband. And the price was going to be steep.
The sun had risen a little before 6:30, and it was already after 9:00. Niall noticed that most of the members of the household seemed to be sleeping in shifts—waiting for Sookie to get up, waiting to find out the plan, or simply waiting to be with her after so long. However, based on the bleary-eyed looks in the room, Niall figured that only the vampires had been successful in finding any meaningful sleep.
The Werewolf, Tray, and the Werelioness, Miranda, were the most active among the group of seven people currently gathered in the living room. As far as Niall could tell, they were gathering forces in case Sookie needed them. The young demon, Jesus, was sunk into the couch and dozing. Claude was trying to pass the time by reading; however, he was looking pensively at the stairs every few minutes. Tara Thornton was mindlessly flipping through muted channels on the television.
The other members of the household, including his great-grandson Jason, were trying to get some sleep in their various resting places as they waited for Sookie to rise.
For his own part, Niall was thankful for every moment of sleep that his great-granddaughter got. Soon enough, she would have to face the pressures that came with leading her people; he knew those pressures well and did not envy her.
He closed his eyes and reached out his mind to the two precious beings that were sleeping upstairs. They were still resting peacefully.
He had watched over his great-great-grandson and great-granddaughter for a while after Sookie went to sleep, and a little after dawn, Hunter had moved to curl into her. With the natural instincts and grace of a mother, Sookie had accepted him into her comforting embrace without waking.
Niall had stayed a little longer as he’d become lost in his memories of Viola and Earl. His beloved had cradled his son through his nightmares—just as Sookie was holding Hunter through his fears. It was a beautiful sight and a beautiful reprieve that they both deserved.
When Niall had left the bedroom, they’d both been breathing evenly, and neither had been dreaming. Without a word, the Britlingen had handed him her phone, which contained a message from his sister.
Niall was yet to speak of that message to anyone else; he intended to wait until Sookie rose. His sister had informed him that she would arrive a little after nightfall with two Britlingens, her guard Clovache and Batanya’s child, Breeta. The rest of the message had been cryptic: “Wait for me before you seek your revenge, old man.”
Niall had no idea what “revenge” he would be seeking—though he hoped that he would have a turn at Russell Edgington. As he thought once more of his twin sister’s words, he couldn’t help but to smile at her nickname for him. She was the one they called “ancient,” after all. He’d have to remind her of that—several times.
Niall listened as pots and pans began to rattle in the kitchen, signaling that Lafayette had awoken from his sleep. From the medium’s mind, Niall heard that a large breakfast—complete with Sookie and Hunter’s favorite, pancakes—was in the works. He also heard from Lafayette’s head that he was ready and willing to “kick asses and take names” if it meant that Sookie and Eric could finally find a little peace.
Niall—too—was ready for that to happen. He hated the hardships that seemed to be hovering around every turn, just waiting to test Eric and Sookie: Bill Compton’s blood, Eric’s amnesia, long separations, looming threats, ancient enemies. Yet their love had blossomed and then flourished through all of these tribulations, and their bonds had become truly unique and powerful. Perhaps—in the end—that was the point of all the trials. Both Sookie and Eric had begun with so much magic—intrinsic to themselves. And together, they had found so much more, but would they have found it if they’d not been forced to?
He thought of the coincidence—or more likely the lack of coincidence―of the fact that it was early morning on the third of August, according to the human calendar. His sister had contacted him exactly ten years ago to tell him about the vampire who would one day become an integral part of his great-granddaughter’s life. She’d conveniently left out the part about that same vampire becoming essential to Niall as well. The fairy could not pinpoint the moment that Eric had begun to feel more like a son than a “study.” Niall had been focused on watching over Sookie in recent years, and Eric had been an afterthought at first—a part of Sookie’s story, not his own.
The Ancient Pythoness had given him a choice on August 3, 2001: He could watch as Sookie’s life and gift made her miserable to the point that she wished for her own death, or he could stand back and do nothing when vampires came out of the coffin and found her. The second option—according to his sister—was the only way that Sookie could truly find fulfillment during her lifetime. Still, it had been a difficult choice for Niall to make. His instincts had told him to claim Sookie and to take her to Faerie the first time Claudine reported that a vampire—Bill Compton—had found her. But Niall had not done that.
His sister had told him that Sookie’s hardships in life would be outshined by her happiness only if she was allowed to move among the vampires and only if she embraced her connection to a thousand-year-old natural enemy to fairies. She’d told Niall to do nothing beyond making sure that Sookie didn’t die before she accepted that connection. So Claudine had merely aided Sookie in her struggle against the Rattrays. Niall had left a conveniently placed shovel in Sookie’s path so that she could take care of the murderer Rene Lenier. Claudine had given Sookie water from the pool when she’d been almost drained by Compton. But that had been all that his sister had “sanctioned” for Niall to do on Sookie’s behalf until she had accepted her mate.
So Niall had been forced to merely monitor Sookie’s interactions with Bill Compton, though he’d done so with extreme agitation. And as soon as his sister had let him know that Mr. Compton was no longer essential to Sookie’s future, Niall had planned his demise. Sadly, Claudine had inadvertently spoiled his plans.
Northman, on the other hand, had impressed Niall immediately—despite the rough edges the Viking tried to project. Of course, his sister’s comments about Eric’s inherent honor had helped the vampire’s cause. When Niall heard about how young Eric had literally put his body between Sookie and a silver-laden bomb while they were in Dallas, he had become a true fan—Eric’s duplicity aside. Perhaps that was when his affection for the vampire began.
Niall smiled a little when he thought about the first moment he saw his Viola. Having just found out that Mab had given birth to Neave and Lochlan, the product of her long-term affair with his own brother, Niall was bitter. He had come to the human realm so that he could—for a while—escape the thoughts of pity that he was getting from his own people. Of course, they were trying to comfort him, but Niall simply wanted to forget Mab’s betrayal.
Viola was hanging up wet bedding on a clothesline when he first glimpsed her. She was singing quietly to herself and swaying her hips gently as she completed her work. In the late morning sun, she had looked more like a nymph than a human. Her dress had been cornflower blue, and it rustled in the slight breeze of the hot summer morning. Her effort and the humidity had left a slight sheen on her freckled skin. Her red hair had shone in the sunlight, and when she turned around and faced him, he was forever lost in her brown eyes. Those eyes—so loving and so strong—still ruled his memories of her.
He remembered holding Earl for the first time and seeing those eyes looking up at him. Now, Sookie, Hunter, and Hadley all shared the echoes of them. None of his human family had inherited Niall’s eye color, which was a gray-blue hue, but Niall had always been thankful for that. It was a way for his Viola to live on—a beautiful way.
Niall had not been without his own stubbornness when he first saw Viola. She’d given him an inviting smile; however—still stuck in his pain over Mab—Niall had resisted the pull he was already feeling toward her. Yes, he’d resisted it—until the next day, that is, when he’d come back and found her sitting on her porch with fresh lemonade and in her Sunday best as if she’d been expecting him. Of course, he’d been unable to drink her lemonade, but by the end of his visit, he’d confessed to her that he was “different,” and she’d laughed as if she’d already known. She’d told him to come back the next evening so that he could meet her father, who spent his days working in the fields of their farm. She told him what to say—exactly what to say—so that her father would accept Niall’s request to court her.
Yes, Niall had been lost to Viola from the start—just as Eric had been captivated by Sookie upon first seeing her. Perhaps that was the true reason why he sensed a connection with Eric from the start. Stackhouse women definitely had the capability to captivate—Niall thought thankfully.
Certainly, the vampire had had more obstacles to face in being with his mate—including his own stubbornness—but Niall had seen the memory of Eric and Sookie’s first meeting from his great-granddaughter’s head. And he recognized the looks that Eric had given her—not the predatory ones, which he was “trying” very hard to produce. No―Niall had recognized the brief moments when Eric was the prey to his great-granddaughter. Indeed, Eric had always looked at Sookie with a mixture of one who was caught and one who was doing the catching. And Niall had always liked Eric the better for it.
He could empathize.
Niall closed his eyes tightly and prayed that the vampire would face no more torment at the hands of Edgington. He remembered what it felt like to lose his three children who had passed to different planes before him. He did not want to feel that again—not with Claude and not with Eric.
The scars that the deaths of Claudette, Claudine, and Earl had left in his heart were distinct, yet all imprinted with regret. Claudette and he had never been close, and given what she had done to her own soul in the end, Niall knew that he would never meet with her in the Summerlands. He regretted not being able to tear her away from Mab’s influence.
When Claudine had been killed, part of Niall’s heart had left this plane with her. She had been so lovely, and her goal had always been to reach the status of an angel, which very few fairies could manage; in fact, Claudine was fulfilled only when she was watching over and helping those who needed it. She’d loved her assignment of looking after Sookie, and Niall knew that it had killed her inside when Mab twisted the situation by kidnapping Claudine’s husband and forcing Claudine to bring Sookie to her. When he lost Claudine to Eric’s hands, Niall regretted most that he had not found a way to protect his daughter from such a situation.
When he felt Earl die, what Niall regretted most was time. He’d left his son in the human world—had cuts all ties and severed all memories—yet Mab found Earl. Claude had told Niall of Earl’s death when the brothers had worked together to save Sookie. Of course, Earl had no idea that he was standing next to his own half-brother, and it had not been the time for Claude to say anything. His goal had been to get Sookie back to the human realm as soon as possible.
Claude had been on a regular patrol that day when he stumbled upon Sookie attacking and then running from Mab. He’d recognized her from the pool. He’d been shocked to see Earl with her as well, but he’d felt his connection to his half-brother in an instant. Claude had hoped to get Sookie through the portal and to get Earl to the pool as soon as possible. But when Sookie hesitated as she found out that Earl could not go with her, Mab had attacked again.
Claude had told Niall of Earl’s courage. His half-human son had taken Sookie’s hand and jumped with her into the portal in order to protect her. Niall’s heart swelled in both pride and sorrow.
Yes―Niall felt regret when he thought of the children he’d lost. And he felt hatred when he thought of why they were all gone: Mab. His “wife” had placed their two daughters in harm’s way due to her own greed and fanatical lust for power. And Earl had been a casualty of Mab’s breeding program—caught in her trap and separated from his own beloved wife and children.
And Niall had not kept any of them safe—despite his great power and his best intentions. With Eric and Sookie, he was again powerless to place himself between his children and death.
Niall remembered the despair on young Eric’s face—the utter desolation—that had caused Claude and him to force Sookie to awaken the night before. He had felt certain that Eric was about to let go of his own life―that he was in too much mental and physical pain to go on.
Niall had thought that he was about to lose another child while he sat powerlessly and watched it happen, but that had not happened. His great-granddaughter had prevented that outcome. Niall now prayed that she would do it again. He prayed that—this night—he would not be powerless. He prayed that his sister’s message to him meant that he would be able to help to save his hurting vampire “child” so that he would not have to add to his regrets.