I pulled back from her, picked up the wooden locket I had made, and motioned for her to put the silver pieces inside of it before I closed the locket and put it into her hands.
“I love these pieces of silver, min kära,” I said again quietly. “They are and will always be tokens that show me your love for me.”
“Are you giving me this?” she looked at me in confusion as she held up the locket.
“Not quite.” I shook my head and got up from the bed. I opened the safe that was above the desk. “The code for the safe is the same as the code for the cubby―plus Hunter’s birthday.” I looked over my shoulder and saw her nodding in understanding.
“When I was here the other day―bringing food and supplies for our trip―I added to what was in here.”
“Okay,” she said.
“There are passports and documents under several names for Hunter, me, and you—just in case we ever have to run.” I felt a little fear coming from her and quickly turned around to reassure her. “I don’t think we will ever need them, but I have learned over the years to account for all contingencies.”
She nodded. “What about the others?” she asked.
“Jesus and Duncan already know what to do,” I said, sending both comfort and confidence into the bond. In fact, I had similar travel documents for everyone who lived on the ætt land, as well as Jason and Jessica. I knew that Thalia had her own contingency plans, and she would have accounted for Bubba, but I had paperwork for him too.
“Okay,” she said, not needing to question me about it. I loved that she trusted in me.
“There is also some money in here, and Cataliades is the one to call if you ever need access to more.”
She sighed behind me. “Is there a reason why you’re showin’ me all this now?”
I shook my head. “No—not beyond the fact that you are my partner and need to know all that I know in order to make sure Hunter, you, and I remain safe.”
She smiled at that. “Okay. I assume there is a similar safe at home somewhere?” she asked astutely.
I nodded. “There’s an access panel under the bed in the cubby. All of our safe houses and residences have a similar cache of items.”
“Exactly how many houses do we have, Eric?” she asked a bit hesitantly.
I turned around and looked at her. “Do you really want to know?”
She sighed. “You know how I grew up, but I’m tryin’ to remember that you’ve had a lot of time to accumulate stuff—including homes―and we need to stay safe, so I’m makin’ myself get used to the fact that you’re Daddy Warbucks and I’m your trophy wife.” She giggled a little.
“You are so much more than that,” I growled as I moved to sit next to her.
She grinned playfully. “What? Are you sayin’ I’m not a trophy? I seem to remember you winnin’ me.”
I leaned in and gave her a kiss that left her breathless. “Perhaps, I am your trophy husband, min kära,” I suggested, resting my forehead against hers.
She giggled. “Best. Prize. Ever,” she said, kissing me on the lips lightly with each of her words.
I grinned and leaned back so that I could gauge her reaction. “We have fifty-two homes around the world,” I said quietly. “I can have Mr. Cataliades send you a list of them if you want.”
Sookie shook her head a little. “That’s one for every week of the year—you know that right?”
I chuckled. “I had a few more in this area before I sold them off.”
She sighed. “Okay,” she said as if coming to an internal decision about something, “have Desmond send them to me so that I know where you can take me and Hunter on vacation.”
I chuckled. She had only met the demon lawyer once, but—of course—they were already on a first-name basis.
“Well―you already know about the one in Massachusetts,” I said.
“How do you pick where to buy houses?” she asked, genuinely curious.
“Simple. I buy residences in places that have monarchs or sheriffs that I like,” I answered. “Or I buy in places where there is no significant vampire population. So—I have bought and sold many residences over the years as the leadership in regions has changed. For instance, an old friend of Duncan’s just became king of Western Australia, so I am looking into getting a place near Perth.”
“Oh.” She smiled. “I’ve always wanted to go there.”
I smiled back, already picturing her in a red bikini on the white sand of Cottesloe Beach. Unconsciously, she took my hand and started playing with my palm.
I continued, “I used to buy under an alias or one of my companies’ names so that the ownership of the residences was not known. But now they are all in your name so that the protection spell will work on them. Of course, I used aliases for that too so that no one could trace the ownership back to you.”
She shook her head. “I have aliases?”
“Several,” I responded.
“My crafty vampire.”
Her eyes brightened, and I saw a carefree smile on her face for the first time since she had gotten back to this realm. I sighed and felt a tear suddenly burn into the corner of my eye. I was coming to understand what Sookie meant by happy tears.
“Do you have a place in Italy?” she asked.
I nodded. “We have two. One in Florence and one near Naples.”
“How about France? Ooh! Paris?”
I chuckled. “Sorry. The vampire king in place right now is a prick, but he is so reviled that it is only a matter of time before he is slain. But we do have a residence in Barcelona, Spain.”
She shook her head, but smiled. “England?”
“Yes—and Scotland too. Pam and Duncan also have residences in both those countries. We have a couple in my home country as well—a farm on the land where I grew up and a residence in Stockholm.”
“Anywhere with a beach?” she asked enthusiastically.
I was reveling in Sookie’s childlike anticipation and excitement over the prospect of visiting new places.
“One in Hawaii. One in Barbados. One in Tasmania. One in Greece. One in Taiwan. One in Thailand. Those are all on the beach. The residences near Naples and Barcelona are also near the Mediterranean Sea.”
She grinned happily. “We’ll have to have a vacation somewhere warm soon. Hunter would love the beach!”
“I agree,” I said, feeling infected by her enthusiasm. “We will go when it is winter here. Barbados would be quite warm, and Petra, the queen of several Caribbean islands, is so laid back that she does not really care who goes in and out. You would like her.”
I got up, and from out of the safe, I grabbed the box that I wanted to show Sookie.
“Should I even meet other vampires when we travel?” she asked.
I shrugged. “It will depend on the case. As you know, few of us hold much trust for others, but your gifts are—unfortunately—already pretty well known because of Felipe’s and Sophie-Anne’s boasting. I think that it would be to our benefit to have others on our side. However, we could travel to most places without it even being known that we were there. And that would be the most prudent course of action most of the time.”
She nodded. “Good. I don’t really want Hunter meeting many other vampires.”
“Agreed,” I said with a nod of my own.
“What’s that?” she asked as I put the box in front of her onto the bed.
“You have a keepsake box; this is mine,” I said in a low tone.
“May I?” she looked up at me, asking my consent to open the box.
“It is one of the reasons we came here, min kván,” I said. “In this box are most of the material things that I would grieve to lose.” I pointed back to the open safe. “I had this safe specially constructed in order to preserve these things through time.”
Carefully, Sookie lifted the lid of the box. She looked almost frightened as she did so.
“It is okay,” I assured her as I sat down next to her on the bed. “The safe is airtight and will kill any germs that may be on our skin, so it is fine to touch these things. I want you to know about them, Sookie. They are a part of me, and since you are the biggest part now, you should know of them.”
She nodded and picked up a picture of Hunter and her that I had placed into the box on my last trip to the cabin. I had enclosed the photograph into a museum-grade glass cover so that it would survive the test of time. In the photo, Hunter and Sookie were both smiling brightly. The best part was that I was the one who had taken the photograph, so those smiles were for me. A copy of the image also sat on our dresser now, but I wanted to make sure I always had a copy of it. Sookie smiled at me and then picked up a second photograph. It was the one of Hunter and me next to the pool.
“My boys,” she observed softly.
“That we are, min kära,” I returned just as quietly.
She placed the two photos onto the bed and picked up a small piece of wood.
“That is a piece of redwood,” I smiled. “I used it to teach Hunter how to sand and treat wood before we began work on our first project together.” I moved my thumb over the smooth edge of the little piece. “He was such a small boy then—so unsure of himself and missing his mother. But he took to the woodwork naturally. See this edge?”
Sookie nodded. There was a tear in her eye.
“This was the first piece of wood Hunter ever worked with, yet he sanded it perfectly. He was patient with the work and moved slowly so that the integrity of the wood was strengthened and not weakened by his actions. The master who taught me how to work with wood had a much harder time with me.” I chuckled. “I destroyed most of the first little projects he gave to me because I was impatient.”
“I can imagine that,” Sookie said as she traced the patterns of the wood with her fingers.
“Hunter is much more skilled than I was at his age,” I said truthfully. Indeed, my son’s work made me very proud. “This work is perfect.”
“You’re a good teacher,” she replied as she leaned up to kiss my cheek.
“The time we spent working on this was also perfect,” I smiled a little. “It felt like my whole world was falling to pieces because I did not know how to get you back. Hunter was also very sad, but all that went away for a little while as I taught him how to work with this piece of wood—as I saw his little face relax into his work. That moment with Hunter was perfect.”
“It was the moment you became his father,” Sookie observed perceptively.
I nodded, once more feeling the burning of a tear in the corner of my eye. I had not recognized it at the time, but that had been the moment that I began to see Hunter as much more than just a child who needed to be cared for.
“The way you took care of Hunter,” she said and then stopped for a moment as she looked up at me with brightened eyes. “Eric, no one else—not me, not Gran, not anyone—could have given that little boy what he needed in those days. He needed his father, Eric. He needed―you.”
A red tear made it from my eye, but Sookie immediately wiped it away. I sighed as I felt her love and pride for both Hunter and me in the bond.
“And we both need you, min kära,” I said before leaning down to kiss her softly on the lips.
She smiled and carefully placed the wood to the side before pulling out another item from the box.
“Your father’s crown,” she said.
“Yes,” I answered, the emotion thick in my voice. I felt myself leaning into her for comfort, even as I felt her love and support flowing into the bond.
She placed the item down and took out a tiny vial of blood. It was another new addition to the box.
“Mine?” Sookie asked.
“Niall’s,” I said, shaking my head. “A little of the sample he gave me.”
She looked up at me with confusion in her eyes.
“The business that Niall and I are starting means a lot to me, min kära,” I said, answering her unspoken question about why I would have her great-grandfather’s blood in my box of keepsakes. “And Niall has come to mean a lot to me.”
“Like a father,” Sookie stated as realization replaced her confusion. She knew me too well sometimes.
“I’ve been lucky to have two strong fathers in my life—Ulfrik and Godric. Niall does feel like a third to me in many ways, and this blood proves that he trusts me.” I looked down at the vial. “Neither Ulfrik nor Godric ever trusted me like that. Ulfrik—because I had not earned it. And Godric—because he could not give it.” I sighed. “Niall could have hated me for killing his daughters, but he has shown me nothing but understanding and confidence.”
She smiled at me. “Niall loves you too—you know. He does think of you as another son.”
I leaned over to kiss her forehead.
She placed the vial onto the bed and pulled out a brooch.
“This is beautiful,” she said, spinning the piece of jewelry in her hands.
“Ah—Pam’s,” I informed her.
“I’m surprised she let you have this. It’s gotta be worth a lot.”
“She wanted nothing of her human life once she was turned,” I said. “She was wearing this when I first saw her and then again on the night that I made her my child.”
I thumbed one of the pearls on the brooch. “I saw these pearls shining out into the night.” I chuckled. “Do not tell her this, but it was the crescent shape of this brooch—shaped like the moon was shaped that night—that first drew my attention to her. Of course, the second thing was her rebellious nature, which I admired. And the third was her slapping the hell out of the man she had been secretly meeting when he got a little fresher than she had wanted. Of course, she immediately went back to kissing him after that. I knew from that first night that she would make an excellent vampire.”
Sookie laughed a little. “But you didn’t change her that night?”
“No. I tracked her several nights after that before deciding to make her my child. I could tell that she did not like her cloistered life from the way she continuously tried to escape it. I did not want to turn a virgin, however, so I waited for her to give herself to the young gentleman she kept meeting. It was simply a matter of time, and I wanted her to have that experience.”
“Did she love him?” Sookie asked.
“Maybe,” I answered truthfully. “She thought he would help her to run away. If he had, I would have let her be.”
“But he didn’t?” she asked.
I shook my head. “She placed her faith in him. And it was obvious that she did feel lust for him; however, after he took what he wanted from her, he left her in the alley where he had taken it and went home to his nice upper-class wife. All that he left in his wake was a string of empty promises.” I paused. “Do not tell Pam I told you this—she does not even know that I saw her that night—but she cried for many hours in that alley before she pulled herself together and went home. I approached her the next night. Three nights after that, the first person she fed from—at her request—was the man who had broken trust with her.”
“That sounds like Pam,” Sookie said. She took a deep breath. “She didn’t kill the man―did she?”
“No,” I chuckled. “Though she was very angry at me for a long time because I did not let her drain him.”
“That sounds like Pam too,” she said with a little laugh.
“I did allow Pam to seduce the man’s wife, however. She did not even need glamour to do it! That was Pam’s first woman, though she had wanted to explore that side of her sexuality before. It turned out that the man’s wife was as unhappy in her marriage as she was beautiful. So I gathered enough information to ruin the man socially and put it into the hands of a well-placed member of society. We also gave the man’s wife enough money to become independent. She divorced her husband, left him in ruins, and moved to America.”
“Jeez!” Sookie exclaimed. “Remind me never to piss off Pam’s daddy,” she added playfully.
“The man did deserve it,” I justified. “Pam was still bitter that I would not let her kill him, however.”
“She probably still is,” Sookie deadpanned.
“Indeed,” I returned.
“We should find some Dear Abby for her,” she giggled.
“That we should,” I looked at her, loving the twinkle that a saw in her eyes.
I ran my finger down the curved line of pearls which followed the crescent shape of the brooch. “She does not know that I kept this. I had thought that she might regret leaving behind everything from her human days, but she never has. Now, I keep it as a reminder of the first night I saw her.”
Sookie smiled at me, put down the brooch, and then picked up a very different brooch from a very different time.
“I was wearing this when Godric turned me,” I said quietly.
“Is it bronze?” Sookie asked, thumbing the brooch carefully.
“Yes. Godric made sure to bring my father’s sword with us after he turned me, but he also let me keep what I was wearing. This brooch was given to me by my mother. And I had this in a pouch at my side.” I pulled out a small horse carved out of linden wood. “During my journeys, I made toys for my children. I had just started this one when Godric turned me.”
Sookie carefully put down the brooch and took the small wooden toy from my hand, gently thumbing the worn mane of the horse.
“You finished it,” she said softly.
“Yes,” I answered. “Once I learned how to control my new strength, I finished it.”
A tear dropped from Sookie’s eye for the children I had lost so long ago. We had talked about them a couple of times. So she knew that I had never really wanted children back then—that Aude and I had had them out of duty. Still, I loved all three of the children I fathered. Our first, a girl, was stillborn, and I interred her wrapped up tight in one of my mother’s cloaks. It had made me feel better to know that her tiny body was as warm as I could make it. The two sons Aude gave me were both very young when I was turned. But I was proud of them. They were strong, healthy children, and I hoped they lived into their adulthoods.
I watched as Sookie turned the horse over in her hand. “My youngest son,” I said, “was named Åsmund for Aude’s father. As I have told you, he was less than a winter old when I died my human death, and I had seen him only once.”
“But you were making this for him?” Sookie asked as she leaned her body into mine, taking comfort from me even as I was being comforted by her.
“What was your older son’s name?”
“Ulfrik after my father,” I answered.
“And he was three when you died?”
“Yes. His fourth birthday would have come right around the time I returned.” I chuckled. “Ulfrik already had a little herd of these toys, though many of them were marked by his teeth. He always had one in his mouth.”
Sookie chuckled next to me, though unspent tears were shining in her eyes. “A Viking teething ring?”
I smiled and sighed. “Yes. I always hoped that Ulfrik shared his toys with his brother after I died. I always hoped that they knew from these small things that I loved them and had thought of them.”
“Did you ever find out what happened to your sons?” she asked. “You told me once that Godric did not let you see your family after you were turned.”
I sighed. “The place where I was turned was across the sea from my homeland, and my people thought me dead. And though I learned control quickly, a newly-turned vampire can be dangerous to humans, especially children. Godric gave me the choice, but I did not want to risk their safety. Or their sanity,” I chuckled ruefully. “The last thing I would have wanted was for them to think that their father had become a ghost. It was better if they thought I was taken away by the Valkyries.”
She nodded, though I felt her sorrow through the bond.
“Many years later,” I said, “I tried to research what had happened to my line. My sons had both been named for kings, so I am not certain if the information I found refers to my boys or to their grandfathers. Either way, my line seems to have passed from this earth not long after my human death.”
“Until now,” Sookie said with both sadness and strength in her voice.
“Until now,” I agreed. Now I had Hunter to carry on my line.
We were silent for a few minutes as we both looked at the little toy in her hand.
“I regret that I was not as invested in my human children then as I should have been,” I admitted. “After my parents and sister died, I thought only of revenge and of doing what my father had wanted me to do. So I married, became king in his stead, and fathered children. I did all I could to make sure his line carried on, but I did not know how to be a good father then, and I was away much of the time.”
“I know,” Sookie said, curling into my side a little more before placing a kiss onto my chest. She sighed. “I can feel your regret.”
It was my turn to sigh. “I do feel regret—and loss—now. I did not regret what I lost out on before Hunter came into my life, though I did wish that I had been able to see to my children’s care. However—before Hunter—I never knew the kind of joy being a father could bring to me. As bad as it makes me seem, Hunter has felt more like my child—even from the first day he was with me—than any of my biological children ever felt.”
“It doesn’t make you sound bad,” Sookie reassured me. “It makes you sound human.”
“Human?” I could not help but to chuckle a little.
She scoffed. “You know what I mean.” I could almost hear her eye roll before her voice turned serious once more. “Eric, from everything you’ve told me, you were a good father to your children back then. You thought of them when you made things like this.” She turned the toy in her hand again. “You planned to teach them to be strong warriors—just like you. You fought wars to protect them and to build up their legacy. And you hunted so you could feed them. I know that if you would have lived, you would have become closer and closer to them.”
“I was afraid to be close to them,” I admitted quietly, as I ran my fingers through my wife’s hair.
“Yes—I was afraid that the marked wolves would come again in the night. I knew that I could not protect my children or my wife from them. So I was afraid to,” I paused, “love them too much. If I did, then I knew that their loss would break me.”
She placed a soft kiss against my cheek. We both knew that the truths I was speaking right now had never been and would never be spoken to another.
“You are a good man, Eric Northman.”
“You have a great deal of faith in me, my love,” I said quietly.
“For good reason.” She sighed. “With me, you are the best husband I could imagine. And with Hunter, you are the best father, and that’s all I need to know.”
She laid down the toy horse carefully—lovingly even—right next to the little piece of redwood. And that was when I knew that Sookie loved my human sons and my human daughter, even though she had never met them—even though they had died a thousand years before she was born. She loved them even though they had a different mother. She loved them because they were mine.
“And you are the best wife,” I whispered into her hair as I pulled her fully into my embrace. We stayed like that for a while—until I noticed that there was only one more item in the box, an item that I was nervous about her seeing.
“What’s up?” she asked, having felt my nerves through the bond.
“I may have done something a little creepy when it comes to the last item in that box,” I confessed.
She looked up at me in question before taking a folded piece of denim from the keepsake box. “What’s this?” she asked as she unfolded the scrap of fabric and saw the golden lock of hair inside. I had tied the little lock with string at both ends.
“In my human days, a young woman would give the man she loved a lock of hair—a lokkr is what we called it.”
“Is this my hair?” she asked.
I nodded and closed my eyes even though I felt her trying to look into them.
“Why do you feel ashamed for having this?” she asked.
“Because I took this before I should have—without asking. Because I took it before you would have been willing to give it.”
I ran a finger over the denim. “The garment I took this from—all except for this small piece—was covered with your blood.”
She gasped. “The night the Maenad attacked me. My denim jacket?”
I nodded. “Bill brought you to Fangtasia when his blood made your condition worse. Ludwig removed your clothing that night so that she could tend to your wounds. Do you remember?”
She nodded. “Yeah. She made Bill and you leave the room before she took off my clothes.” She chuckled a little.
“That she did,” I chuckled as well. “It was close to sunrise by the time you were on the mend, so I called in Ginger and gave her Ludwig’s number in case your fever spiked again. I let Bill sleep in Longshadow’s old coffin.”
“So you stole this that night?” she asked as she thumbed the curl.
Thank the gods I felt only curiosity and amusement—rather than anger—from her end of the bond.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Bill was already dead for the day, so I sat with you until Ginger arrived.” I sighed. “You were out cold, so I got a warm rag and bathed the dried blood from your face and your back.”
I could not prevent a mischievous grin from forming on my face. She, of course, noticed.
“What else did you do?” she asked, her free hand flying to her hip.
“I thought about lifting the towel Ludwig had covered you with and sneaking a peek at your beautiful bottom,” I admitted.
“As tempting as it was, lover, I refrained. But I did,” I paused, “run my fingers through your hair a few times. It was so soft and smelled so good.” I sighed. “I was almost certain that I would never get to touch it again.”
“So you stole this?” she asked holding up the lock. “I never even noticed.”
“I took it from here.” I moved my hand to the nape of her neck and played with the soft hair I found there.
“And then what?” she asked.
“Then Ginger arrived, and I went to my day-rest. I had her dress you in the T-shirt you found yourself in when you woke up.”
“I saw the worry on your face that night—when Bill said that his blood had not helped me to heal,” she said. “Of course, you were still being an asshole too.”
I chuckled. “I know. But Bill just brought that out of me.”
She shook her head. “I was so confused about you then. You saved my life that night. In my heart, I knew that, but I felt so hazy that I thought it was Bill who had done everything. I couldn’t even see you then,” she said with sadness.
“He’d just given you a pint of his blood, and what had I done for you?”
“Other than calling Dr. Ludwig and arranging for my life to be saved?” she asked, with regret in her voice.
“I had Lafayette chained up in my basement even then,” I reminded.
She punched me lightly in the arm. “I know. But you would’ve already killed him if he hadn’t been connected to me.”
I sighed. “Probably.”
She shook her head. “That whole time was just effed up.”
“When did you bring this up here?” she asked me.
“I cut off this piece of your jacket the morning after you were attacked―before I went to my day-sleep. Ludwig had left your bloody clothing on the floor, and I did not want you to have to see it. Plus, although the scent of the Maenad covered your scent to a certain extent, I did not want anyone to have access to something with your blood on it. This piece still smelled of you, but it did not carry your blood. I burned the rest of your clothing in the small incinerator in the basement of Fangtasia. I wrapped your hair into the denim cloth and went to sleep with it in my hand. After our confrontation over Lafayette, I brought it here.”
“That was the night I agreed to go to Dallas to help find Godric.”
I nodded. “Yes. I was,” I paused, “anxious about Godric’s disappearance and happy that you were coming to help.”
She looked at me like she was seeing my very soul. I had no doubt that she was. “You should have just told me why you needed me there. I would have been there for you—even then.”
“I know that now,” I said quietly. “But I thought you hated me then—because of Lafayette.”
She gave me another soft kiss on the cheek and then wrapped up the hair and placed it into the box before adding the other items―piece by piece―handling each of them protectively. The last item she put into the box was the locket with the silver inside.
I no longer needed it with me, and she would no longer be subjected to seeing it each day. But it was still important to us—to our story together. I was glad that she understood that.
“I’d like to put Gran’s engagement ring in here. And I think we should put Godric’s shirt in here too,” she said as she closed the lid.
“We will bring them the next time we come,” I agreed before taking the box from her and putting it into the safe. I placed the smaller box which housed our two daggers on top of it and then engaged the lock.
She looked up at me with shining eyes. “Would you have kept my hair—even if we would have never gotten together?” she asked.
“Yes,” I answered without hesitation. “I needed a piece of you to be with me forever—even if it was only that small part and even if I was not admitting to myself at the time why I had taken it.”
“Klepto,” she teased, even as she brushed a tear from her eye.
“Said the woman who pocketed the silver fragment with my blood on it a few days later,” I teased back.
She giggled. “Sorry I ruined another of your shirts,” she said, looking at my tear-stained T-shirt.”
“You did not ruin it. Your tears always come out in the wash,” I said sagely.
She laughed again. “Now you even sound like Dear Abby.”
I joined in her laughing.
“Vampire?” she asked, her eyebrow rising.
“Fairy?” I responded.
“We haven’t had cubby sex in a while―have we?”
I shook my head. “No, I do not believe we have.”
“Well?” she asked with a little challenge in her eyes.
“Well?” I said right back as I took off my shirt. She was taking off hers at the same time.
“Well—I need a little cubby sex,” she said friskily.
I jumped on top of her playfully, though I was careful to bring down my weight onto the bed and not onto her. “I got your cubby sex right here,” I growled as my lips met hers.
A/N: Well—that’s it for Sojourn! I hope that you enjoyed reading this angst-free interlude as much as I enjoyed writing it. I know it really didn’t have much plot in-and-of itself, but it was a nice break for me and let me fill in a couple of blanks from Come Back to Me. So thanks for your indulgence.