I had known that Sookie was hiding something as soon as she returned from Dùraig with Hunter. But I could also tell that she was trying to work out something in her head, and my wife still had the propensity to take her worries onto her own shoulders—especially if she felt that those worries affected only herself. I had not pushed her to tell me before because I already knew what had motivated her silence: guilt. She still felt unwarranted guilt for being away for all that time.
I asked gently, “Does Niall know what caused your pain while you were in Dùraig, min kära?”
She shrugged, and once more I felt her guilt sneak into the bond before she tried to shut that emotion out.
I had told Sookie many times that she had nothing to blame herself for, but I also knew from firsthand experience that she would have to overcome that guilt herself. I’d had to do the same when I’d blamed myself for her being taken to the fairy realm to begin with. It had been a painful process, but I was the better for having gone through it. Of course, I would be there beside her all the way, and I would help her as I could. That was, in fact, part of the reason why I had wanted to get away for a few nights. But I could only “tell” her that she was not to blame; she would have to be the one to “feel” the truth of that statement.
Seeing the self-doubt in her eyes, I was not about to add to her guilt by commenting on the fact that she’d not told me before now about the physical discomfort that she’d experienced while in Dùraig. I loved her too damned much for that.
Instead I asked a question for my own peace of mind. “You do not feel this kind of discomfort when I am at Fangtasia and you are in Bon Temps? Or when you are out for the day?”
She shook her head. “No. It was only when I was in Dùraig. Otherwise, I’m always able to feel you through our vampire bond, so I’m okay.”
She sighed as if in relief. I too felt relief.
“What do you feel from our bonds when I sleep?” I asked, surprised that I’d never thought to ask her that question before.
She smiled and closed her eyes. A look of contentment settled onto her beautiful face. “The fairy bond always feels the same, whether you’re awake or asleep. Even when I’m in Dùraig, it feels the same. It tells me that you are alive, that you are there for me, and that you are mine.” She smiled wider and wider as her sentence went on, and as she opened her eyes, she was rewarded with my own smile at her declaration of ownership over me. I fucking loved it when she said things like that, and her wink told me that she knew that I loved it.
Of course she did.
She continued, “The vampire bond doesn’t contain your emotions when you sleep—not like it does when you’re awake—but it feels pretty wonderful all the same.”
My eyebrow rose in question as I waited for her to elaborate.
“When you’re sleepin’, it feels like the bond has been wrapped up in a soft, warm blanket. No,” she corrected, “it feels like I have been wrapped up in a blanket, a blanket where your immediate emotions may be gone, but your love still remains.”
Her fingers were unconsciously caressing my cheek, and I leaned into her touch like a cat. Gods know—with Sookie I often felt my chest reverberating with a contented purr—I mean rumble—as she touched me.
She leaned forward to kiss my lips tenderly—the kind of reflexive kiss that she often gave me when she was happy and close to me.
I fucking loved those kisses.
“Is that how it felt before Claudette took you to Faerie?” I asked softly, hating the fact that I had to speak that fairy’s name.
“Kind of,” she contemplated, “just not that strong.”
I nodded. I too had felt our bonds growing in strength since Sookie had returned to me. And we had certainly exchanged quite a bit of blood since then. Both Sookie and I felt compelled almost nightly to take each other’s blood; in fact, the desire to do so stirred within me even in that moment.
I could sense her conflict. Sookie wanted to work with the group of telepaths that Katherine and Niall had found. In fact, I could sense that she wanted it badly, but she was also afraid—probably that the pain she had felt would get worse.
I was afraid of the same thing.
I was just happy that she had told me of the discomfort she’d experienced in Dùraig before she started her work so that I could prevent it from happening again.
I knew that Sookie would never ask me for what I was going to offer. It wasn’t her way to imagine that others—even me—would step out of their way for her. She was always willing to go out of her way for others, but I’d never heard her ask for the same. It just wasn’t her.
However—even if it took me the rest of eternity—I was determined to make sure that she understood that she never had to ask anything of me. There was nothing that I wouldn’t do for her. As I saw it, the most important job that I had ever had in my existence was to anticipate what she needed—and what she wanted—just as she always did for me. And I intended to be damned good at that job.
I gave her a smile and enjoyed her touch as she absentmindedly drew lines up and down my arm with her fingertips.
“Well,” I began, “it seems like the only logical plan is for me to travel with you to Dùraig when you go on Saturdays. The Fae sun neither harms me nor calls me to my rest, so we can travel there before sunrise here, and I will stay there until you leave each day. If I must rest, then I can do so in the home that Claude has made for us. We can also keep synthetic fairy blood there so that I can stay for as long as needed without your having to tax yourself or give me additional blood to keep me there.”
Before I’d even completed my last sentence, Sookie was in my arms. Gratefulness and love—but mostly surprise—were surging through our vampire bond. I couldn’t help the fact that my own smile widened. I loved being able to please my beloved. I loved to feel her happiness.
“You’d do that?” she asked with wonder in her voice.
I held my sigh at bay, knowing that—especially for her—our relationship was still very new. It was profound and wonderful, but also only a few months old from her perspective. And before that, she’d had only one relationship, a relationship with someone who lied to her from their very first interaction.
“You wouldn’t mind?” she questioned.
I shook my head. “Of course I would not mind, min kära,” I assured her, letting her feel my support for her in our vampire bond.
Her arms tightened around me even more. Her excitement over the prospect of helping other telepaths—especially children—learn to control their gift was palpable.
I increased my hold upon her too, though she was already wrapped into my arms and snuggly burrowed into my larger body. Ironically, having her against me like that made me feel what I could only describe as “safe.” One day, I hoped that Sookie would no longer feel any surprise when I showed her my care—when I made sure that she felt just as safe. I knew that she understood—on an intellectual level—that I would do anything for her. But she still had a difficult time accepting anyone’s devotion of her. As a matter of fact, traveling with her to Dùraig would be of no hardship for me. In fact, it would allow me more time to be awake and in my bonded’s presence, and I told her as much.
“I think this is a good thing, Sookie,” I added. “This will be noble work for you—the kind that will feed your spirit. I can feel it in the bonds.”
Her small hands gripped into my forearms as her emotions spilled from her eyes, but her tears were not from sadness.
I simply held her, grateful that I had such a wife with such a heart.
I knew that I ought not to be surprised by my husband’s willingness to support me in all my endeavors. But I was. I couldn’t help myself—couldn’t take his love for granted. The fact that Eric was so willing to accompany me to Dùraig so that I could teach was a huge deal to me. Only Gran had ever come close to giving me that kind of encouragement when I was younger, but hers was also always tinged with concern that my telepathy would hold me back. And—to be honest—my self-confidence still felt fragile in many ways. All of the negative thoughts that I had heard about myself throughout my life—beginning with the thoughts of my own mother—were impossible to “un-hear.” But the man sitting in front of me made it easier to turn down the volume when those voices of the past tried to snake their way into my mind and undermine my confidence.
Looking into his eyes, I knew that he would spend as long as it took to help me to “un-hear” all the negativity. I reached up to stroke his cheek, realizing that I loved him more than I ever had before. That had seemed impossible, but—as always with him—it wasn’t.
After all, the look on my vampire’s face was one of pure confidence—not in himself, but in me. In us.
“So you don’t mind if I go to Dùraig and help with the school?” I asked, needing to be sure.
“Of course I do not mind, woman,” Eric reconfirmed playfully.
“Thank you,” I said even though I knew that he could already feel my gratefulness through the bond. “You have a habit of helping me make every single one of my dreams come true, Mr. Northman,” I whispered, feeling the emotion thick in my throat.
He leaned forward and kissed my shoulder. “Just doing my job, min kära,” he said, his eyes glowing with sincerity.
I smiled, letting myself be truly happy about teaching in Dùraig for the first time. Knowing that Eric was supporting my choice—even to the point that he was willing to go with me so that I wouldn’t be in any pain—made the whole thing feel even more exciting and took away my nervousness.
Feeling my anxiety leaving our bond, Eric sighed contentedly as he brought his forehead forward to rest against mine. “You will have to be sure to go to sleep earlier on those nights before you work so that you get enough rest.”
He changed the angle of his face and kissed my cheek. I could feel his slight smile on my flesh.
“After all,” he continued in a whisper, “it will be a school night.”
I chuckled and pulled away from him a bit so that I could see that smile in his eyes too. “Thanks, Dad.”
He tickled my side a little and then his expression grew more serious. “You know I worry for your health, min kära. You are sleeping only five hours a day as it is—sometimes less.”
“I know,” I said, feeling Eric’s concern and devotion in the vampire bond. “But remember that I don’t need as much sleep now—not since my Fae side has become stronger. I promise that I’m sleepin’ as much as my body’s tellin’ me to sleep.”
Eric sought out the truth in my eyes, nodded when he found it, and then threaded the long fingers of one of his hands with one of mine as I took another drink of wine.
“Plus,” I said as I put the glass down, “as long as you are in Dùraig with me, I think that being near the pool will rejuvenate me even more. I needed even less sleep when I was there. I only slept as much as I did so that I could,” I paused, “dream with you.”
He gave me a devilish look and licked his lips a bit. “I did enjoy our shared dreams, lover.”
I could feel myself blushing. I never could help myself from reddening when he looked at me like that.
He chuckled and kissed my shoulder lightly, but the worry was back in his eyes. “I know you well, my love. I know you will push yourself. You already stay awake until I sleep, and then you are up when Hunter awakens—or even before.”
His hand brushed my cheek and I turned my head to kiss his palm. “Right now I feel well-rested, but if I need more sleep, you’ll be able to tell in the bond—right?”
“If that happens, I promise to make a change—okay?”
He looked a little skeptical. “So you will not be stubborn about this issue?”
I punched his shoulder lightly. “When have I ever been stubborn?” I asked in mock affront.
“Never,” he deadpanned.
I giggled and popped his arm again.
“So much abuse,” he said with a smirk.
“Poor wittle vampire,” I said in baby-talk.
He winked at me and then pulled me into his body so that I was lounging between his legs. I leaned against his cool chest, enjoying the respite from the warm evening.
As if reading my mind, he commented, “We can turn up the air conditioning if you wish.”
“Nah, it’s okay for now, especially since I have vampire-conditioning right now.”
I enjoyed the rumble of his deep chuckle and the feel of his lips pressed against my temple.
I commented, “I still can’t believe you have central heat and air in this place. I always wondered why since vampires aren’t really affected by the temperature like humans are.”
Eric nestled his nose into my hair and inhaled deeply before answering. “I admit that when I had this place built, I considered leaving it out, but once I decided to store many of my valuable books here, I knew that I would need a climate-control system.”
“You do have a lot of books,” I remarked, looking around the room.
“And many more—though not as important to me as these—in other places. I have not accumulated much in my life, but I will admit to holding on to the books that I enjoyed or that I felt were important. In addition to keeping some in almost every house I have bought over the years, I have many in a storage facility in London. I would like to arrange for them to be brought to one of the safe houses in Shreveport so that we can go through them to see what we want to take to the ætt land. Others, we can store here. I will likely donate many of them to the British Library as well—when all is said and done. Many of them are quite old, and there are some manuscripts that the scholars would probably value greatly.”
“You still want to move most of these to the house?” I asked gesturing toward the bookcases in the room.
I could feel him nodding behind me. “Now that you’re home,” he said in a whisper.
I sighed. Eric had put so many things on hold when I was in the fairy realm, and one of those things had been truly moving into our home after the renovations were complete. He’d so carefully made the ætt land into a home for Hunter and so many others, but Eric had obviously waited for me to come back before making it into a true home for himself. My heart had broken a little when I saw that the bookshelves in the office were empty and when I saw that the new closet in our bedroom was left unfilled. As far as I could tell, he’d not even moved many additional clothes to the house in the twenty months that I was gone. And I imagined that what had been added was likely Pam’s doing.
I pulled his arms around me so that they settled on my stomach and then placed my own hands on top of his. “Now that I’m home,” I whispered in response.
He inhaled again and leaned into my back a little, bringing us even closer together. We lounged against each other for several silent minutes, our hearts making gentle promises to each other through emotions that ebbed and flowed in the bond. Sometimes words just couldn’t say enough.