Chapter 29: Ever-Fixed Mark
from Sonnet 116—William Shakespeare
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken.
As cliché as it might have sounded, the master bedroom was Eric and Sookie’s favorite room in their home.
Of course, a lot of their time in that room had been spent making love, but it was other things that truly set the room apart for both of them. Their bedroom was where they would read aloud together—almost every night after dinner—whether it was on their bed or on the large lounge chair in the room.
In addition, they often curled up in bed together in the half-hour before they went to sleep. Their customary spot was her lying on his chest as she read a book or her Kindle. In turn, he would prop up his book on her shoulder. The configuration, though perhaps odd to some, was comfortable to them—and comforting.
The bedroom was also their favorite place to talk, and when they did so, Ned would perch himself with them, take a very long bath, and then fall into his sleep with a flourish. Eric and Sookie had termed his “patented and perfected” move as “flopping.”
In their bedroom, they had discussed many things: the pain of their pasts, the happiness of their present, their plans—now seemingly lost—for the future. They had spoken of mundane things: dinner plans, the weather, little Ned’s antics, the grocery list, movies. They had spoken of serious things: the number of children they wanted to have and the kind of parents they wanted to be. They had spoken of places they wanted to visit together. They had talked about redecorating the “gray” area of the house in warm creams and browns and blues. They had talked about converting at least part of that space into a nursery when the time came for them to have children. There was not an important subject that they hadn’t talked about in their bedroom.
Yes. The room had become their private sanctuary, and they had filled it with moans and laughter and cries and every noise in between.
“Will you wait for me in our room?” Eric asked when they got home from their dinner. Appius’s unintentional gift of extra time had allowed them to take their time at the restaurant, and both were full.
Sookie nodded. “Should I get comfy?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said, a twinkle in his eyes. He knew that Sookie’s version of “comfy” was putting on her flannel sleeping pants and a camisole, and, though her dress was lovely, he wanted nothing more than to see her in her “favorite” outfit one last time.
A few minutes later, he joined her in their bedroom with a bottle of their favorite red wine just as she was climbing into bed, Ned jumping up right after her. Eric handed Sookie the bottle and two glasses.
“Pour us some?” he asked.
She smiled and nodded as he went into the closet to change into his own flannel sleep pants. As he hung up his suit jacket, he pulled a little black box from inside of it. He breathed a sigh of relief as he looked into the box. He’d feared that it wouldn’t be ready in time, but—thanks to Bobby’s seemingly never-ending bag of tricks—it had been delivered to him in the restroom of the Japanese restaurant by the intrepid Mr. Burnham.
Bobby had informed Eric that if he had to have one more meeting in a public restroom that week, his retainer was going to have to go up. However, Bobby had looked almost as happy as Eric that he’d been able to complete the errand he’d been asked to attend to.
Eric hadn’t asked Bobby about his plans for Sookie’s exit from New York. He knew that Bobby would handle everything perfectly, and he trusted his friend, even more than he trusted himself at that moment. Eric was pretty positive that “badass motherfucker” had been retired from the dictionary the day that Bobby Burnham had been born, and he was more thankful than ever that Godric had introduced him to his son. Sookie’s very life was now in Bobby’s capable hands.
Eric placed the small box into the pocket of his flannel lounge pants and hurried to the bedroom, where Sookie was playing with Ned with an old shoelace.
Eric stopped and memorized the moment, but then he pushed aside the thought that this would likely be the last time that he would catch his two favorite beings in such a way.
“I love this wine,” Sookie said, taking a drink of the Malbec that Eric had introduced her to many months before.
He grinned. “I know.” He plopped down onto the bed and took his own glass as he rubbed Ned’s round belly. “He’s getting fat—you know.”
“I am not the one that gets the treats,” she said.
“I’m not either,” he grinned impishly.
“I’m not the one who puts the treats on the list of things for Thalia to get either,” she added.
He shrugged. “But he likes them.”
“I know,” Sookie said grinning at her two boys, even as she pushed back the thought that this would be their last night together for what would probably be a long time. “And you like spoiling him.”
“Yep,” Eric said, with just a touch of nostalgia in his tone.
They were silent for a few minutes as they petted their cat and sipped on their wine.
“We said we wouldn’t talk about your leaving,” he said after a while. His voice was barely audible.
“Do you need to?” she asked.
“No,” he said firmly. “No goodbyes.”
“Okay,” she responded. “No goodbyes.”
He breathed a sigh of relief. “But there is something I need to talk to you about—before you go—something Gran asked of me.”
Sookie sat up a little straighter and put her wine glass onto her nightstand. “Okay,” she said a little tentatively.
Eric set his glass next to hers. “Before she died, she wanted to speak with me,” he began.
“I remember,” Sookie said quietly. Gran’s death had been less than a month before, but it already seemed like so long since she had been gone.
“She was the one who told me about the box that I found under the floorboard in her room,” he said.
“The one with Gran’s letters from Grandpa Earl?”
Eric nodded. “There was a ring in there too,” he said.
“Yes. Gran told me that it was last worn by Earl’s mother, but it actually goes farther back than that,” he said. “There was a letter with the ring that explained the ring’s history.”
He reached into his nightstand and then handed her an envelope, inside of which was the letter, penned by multiple generations of her family, each person recording the travels of the precious ring through time.
“Tell me?” she requested, even as she held the envelope tightly.
Eric nodded. “The story begins with your grandfather Earl’s grandfather around the turn of the twentieth century. He was from a wealthy family in Boston, and he fell in love with one of the maids in his home, a girl named Ruby. She was the daughter of poor Irish immigrants and was, therefore, deemed unsuitable by the young man’s parents. Ruby got pregnant and Earl’s grandfather was determined to elope with her. But his father found out, and the girl was sent away in the dead of the night. The young man was desperate to find her and begged his father to let them be together, but his father refused.”
Eric sighed and went on, “Two years went by before the young man was able to find Ruby. She’d been sent to Georgia by Earl’s great-grandfather; there, she was employed as a scullery maid. She’d had a son, and had been told that her child would be taken from her if she tried to contact her beloved. So—for the sake of her child—she worked hard and said nothing.
“It was actually the young man’s grandmother who told him where Ruby was. The grandmother saw the sadness that had settled into her grandson, and she knew that no amount of time would heal his wound. So she found out where Ruby was.”
“What happened next?” Sookie asked, captivated by the story of her ancestor.
“The young man bided his time and planned,” Eric reported. “Though his family was extremely wealthy, the young man’s father had punished him after the incident with Ruby by taking away his access to that wealth and making him work in one of the family’s textile mills—so that he would have to live as a commoner and so that he would come to appreciate the differences between the classes.” Eric scoffed, but then his tone gentled. “However, the young man managed to save some money, and his grandmother gave him some more; it was enough to buy him a new name and a fresh start. She also gave him a ring, a family heirloom that she had brought from Europe. She’d meant for her grandson to sell it to help with his new life, but he couldn’t part with it.”
“He gave it to Ruby,” Sookie ascertained. “And that was the ring that was passed down?”
“Yes,” Eric nodded. “The ring has many small diamonds around its center, but at the heart of the ring, there is room for a larger stone. The ring originally had a ruby in it, but after his wife died during the birth of their third child, Earl’s grandfather took that stone out of the ring and buried it with his Ruby.”
A tear fell from Sookie’s eye. “That’s an amazing story—and tragic. Is there more?”
Eric wiped away her tear with his thumb. “Yes. But I should go back a little.”
Sookie nodded in understanding.
Eric took a breath. “After Earl’s grandfather—your great-great grandfather—found Ruby and his son in Georgia, they ran away together and got married. They ended up in New Orleans first and then Bon Temps a couple of years later.”
“How long did they have together?” Sookie asked quietly. “How long did they have before she died?”
“Around ten years,” Eric said just as quietly. “But—from what the letter says—they were happy ones.”
Sookie nodded, but didn’t speak as she wiped another tear away.
Eric continued the story. “Using the money he’d saved and the money from his grandmother, your great-great grandfather bought the farmland Gran’s house sits upon, and he and Ruby eventually made a successful life for themselves in Bon Temps. They became Stackhouses and never looked back to their old life.”
“What were their names before?” she asked.
“The letter doesn’t say,” Eric responded. “It didn’t give the first name of Earl’s grandfather either. It just gave a letter, ‘N.'” Eric shook his head with regret. “I’m sorry to say that I haven’t been able to trace the Boston family that this ‘N. Stackhouse’ came from, though—honestly—there’s not a lot to go on. Plus, a fire in the 1920’s burned most of the public records from that time period.”
Sookie smiled a little. “Thanks for trying.”
Eric nodded and went on with the tale from the letter. “As I said, Ruby and her husband had two children who survived. The third was born alive, but died an hour after his mother. The other two children were the firstborn, whom his mother had named Fintan, and a daughter, named Katherine.” He smiled. “Fintan, or Finn as he was called, was given the ring by his father, and he had a purple amethyst put into the center of the ring when he gave it to his bride, Iris.”
“I’ve heard the names Fintan and Iris,” Sookie said. “They were Grandpa Earl’s parents.” She looked regretful for a moment. “There was a picture with me—as a tiny baby—with Iris, but it was among the photos Michelle made me burn.”
Eric squeezed her hand in comfort.
“At least Gran had some pictures of them,” Sookie said, thinking of the family albums she’d found among Gran’s possessions. Sookie had taken a small box of pictures with her from Gran’s and had left the others for Hunter. A picture of Iris and Fintan was among the ones she’d taken.
Eric leaned in and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek.
“Is there more to the story?” Sookie asked.
He nodded. “A little. Since Iris was still alive when Earl and Gran married, Earl chose a new ring for Adele.” He chuckled a little.
“What is it?” Sookie asked.
“In the letter, Gran wrote about her experience with the family ring. After Iris passed away, the purple amethyst was removed and laid to rest with her. The ring was then passed to Earl, but Gran said in the letter that her fingers were too fat to risk resizing it for her; plus, she liked the plain wedding band she wore.”
Sookie smiled. “That sounds like something she’d say. I never saw her without that ring.”
Eric smiled back and lifted her free hand to kiss her palm. He took a breath and continued the story. “Gran and Earl considered giving the ring to your father, but—as you know—your parents were already married when Iris died, and Michelle had begun to show her true colors and her greed by then. And your aunt Linda was divorced by then. Gran wrote that she and Earl decided to hold onto the ring. They hoped to be able to pass it to Jason—eventually.”
“To keep up the tradition of Stackhouse men giving the ring to their brides,” Sookie said thoughtfully.
“Yes. That’s what the letter said, but Gran changed her mind, and last summer when she was in Sweden, she decided that she was going to give the ring to someone else.”
“To you,” Sookie stated. She didn’t need to ask.
Eric nodded. “At the hospital she told me a little about the ring and asked that I use it when I asked you to be my wife—when we got married.”
A tear fell from Sookie’s eye. “But we can’t do that now.”
Eric brushed the tear away. “No. Not like I want to.” He pulled the little box from his pocket.
Her eyes immediately went to the object as he opened the lid.
“Sookie,” he said, “the second I saw this ring, I knew exactly what I needed to do with it. The center was empty—just like my heart was empty before you filled my life. And I had to fill it for you—to put a stone in the heart of this ring that stood for what you had brought to my life. You brought me the sun, Sookie. You brought me light.”
Sookie gasped as she looked at the beautiful and intricately designed ring. In its center was a small, beautifully-cut yellow diamond.
“Eric?” she said his name like a question.
“Sookie, I love you, and I would like nothing more than to legally marry you, but that’s not possible any more. However, this ring is yours by right. And maybe—one day—you can find a man who will be able to offer you a home and a family.” His voice broke a little as he went on, “I can give you only my heart, and no matter what happens in the future, you will always own it.”
Sookie looked up at him, the tears now streaming down her cheeks. “I love you, Eric.” Her eyes stayed locked into his, even as she took the ring from the box. “My heart will always belong to you too.”
He shook his head. “No. You need to move on, Sookie. You need to find a man who deserves you. You need to be happy.”
She sighed. “I promise that I will do my best to fight for happiness. And I hope that you will too, Eric, but what we have isn’t something that could be lessened by distance or time.” She put the ring into his palm. “Ask me.”
“I can’t,” he said in an agonized voice. “It would be too selfish.”
“Then let’s be selfish together, Eric,” she said. “Let’s have what we want tonight. Ask me.”
A tear dripped from his eye as he nodded; he could not deny her or himself in that moment. “Will you marry me, Sookie Stackhouse? Now and in this place—our place. Will you marry me?”
She put the letter down and held out her left hand. “Yes.”
He slipped the ring onto her finger.
“Does it fit?” he asked. “I measured your finger with string, and the jeweler said it would fit.
She raised her newly alit left hand to caress his cheek. “It fits perfectly, Eric. So—what now? How do we do this?”
He smiled a little nervously. “I’m not exactly sure how to go about getting married. I’ve never been to a wedding.”
“Me neither,” she said. “But I know that we should make promises to each other.”
“Love, cherish—obey?” he said the last item with a little smirk even as he wiped away another tear from his eye.
She chuckled. “Why don’t we make up our own promises?”
“Okay,” he said, sitting cross-legged on the bed and taking both of her hands into his. Ned chose that moment to get up, to walk around in a tight circle, and then to flop down again.
They both chuckled at him.
“Our best man sucks,” Sookie said with a grin.
Eric nodded, but then bit his bottom lip nervously. “Do you want to go first? Or me?”
“I will,” she said. “If I don’t, I’ll be a blubbering mess.”
He chuckled and grasped her hands a little harder, though not uncomfortably so.
She took a deep breath. “I, Sookie Stackhouse, take you, Eric Northman, as my husband. I promise that I will love you for the rest of my life, even as I love you in this moment. No matter what happens in the future, you will be the husband of my heart.”
Another tear fell from his eye as he began speaking. “I’ve always thought of my love as being unlucky. If I loved something, it went away or it died—like my mother died. Like my grandfathers died. Like Godric died. And like my father’s love just went away. And I was so afraid, Sookie. But I’m not scared to love any more, and that’s because of you. I’ve realized that I can never really lose you; you’ll always be part of me—the best part.” He took a deep breath. “No matter what happens, I will always belong to you. I love you, Sookie. I’m sorry that I didn’t say it before Appius took away our future together, but I promise that I will say it every day of my life from now on. I, Eric Northman, take you, Sookie Stackhouse. You are the wife of my heart, and I swear that nothing will ever change that.”
The two looked at each other silently for a moment, as tears continued to escape from their eyes.
“Kiss your bride,” Sookie said with a slight sob.
A ghost of a smile came to Eric’s lips as he leaned forward and sealed their promises to each other. Both of them understood that their words held no legal power. Their marriage wouldn’t be recognized by the government or the church—or anyone else, for that matter.
However, that didn’t make the “wedding” any less real to Eric and to Sookie, and it certainly didn’t lessen the sacredness of the moment for them.
Or the tragedy of it.
But they pushed back the sadness that would be coming to them both the next day, and they lost themselves in each other and their kiss. The clever Ned, as always, intuited that his humans needed alone-time, and he jumped off the bed to go and find somewhere more peaceful to lounge for a while.
Eric and Sookie kissed for a long while, their tongues caressing and tasting, their lips moving slowly and softly together. Eric had moved them so that Sookie was lying on her back and he was lying half next to and half on top of her, though he kept most of his weight off of her.
Her hands moved over his body, as if her fingers were recording everything: the broadness of his shoulders, the length of his neck, the ridges of his collar bones, the smoothness of his chest, the softness of his hair.
His hands were eager to chronicle her body as well, and he turned them over so that she was lying on top of him. He loved the feeling of her body on his as she moved her legs to straddle him without breaking their kiss. His hands, now more free to explore, touched every bit of her that he could reach before becoming greedy and slipping under her camisole; it didn’t take them long to draw the garment up her body. Sookie broke their kiss so that she could remove the thin fabric that was separating their flesh, and Eric stared up at her, his eyes need-filled and raw with emotion.
“I love you, min fru,” he said.
Guessing that “fru” meant “wife” in Swedish Sookie smiled. “And I love you, my husband.”
His hands, having found purchase on the silky planes of her back, pulled her against his body. The flesh of their chests now touching, they both sighed into their renewed kisses.
They kissed and they shared sweet caresses for what seemed to be hours, content to enjoy each other’s bodies unhurriedly and to the fullest. Eventually, the rest of their clothing was discarded, and their hands and mouths explored further. They teased and tasted and then teased and tasted some more, giving pleasure as only two lovers very familiar with each other’s bodies could do. And both had already enjoyed sweet release from their partner’s ministrations when they finally joined their bodies together fully.
Making love to Sookie had always felt better to Eric than anything he’d ever experienced, but making love to his wife eclipsed all previous experiences. He poured all of the devotion he felt for her into every movement he made, and he celebrated each move that her body made in response. Having already had one release due to Sookie’s mouth and hands, Eric had more stamina as he thrust in and out of her body, bringing her to several releases. He would bring himself to the brink, but then would slow down and change their position so that he could give her more pleasure.
Finally, as the first rays of the morning sun crept into the room, Eric couldn’t hold back anymore, and he came with the yelling of Sookie’s name, even as his orgasm drew out one more from her.
Sweaty and exhausted, he fell to his side so that he wouldn’t crush her and then pulled her to him. They both panted, looking to catch their breaths after the hours they’d spent making love.
Eventually, his arms tightened around her.
“Don’t let me fall asleep,” she said, even as she began to trace circles onto his chest.
“We should at least have a nap,” he said.
“What time do you have to leave for the brunch?” she asked, looking at the clock, which read 5:30 a.m.
“I have to go at 11:00 a.m.,” he said, his voice unsteady.
“Okay, we can sleep, but only for an hour,” she said, reaching over to grab his phone from the nightstand so that she could set the alarm.
“Two?” he asked, wanting nothing more than to curl into her and rest. Something told him that his insomnious ways would come back with full force once she was not with him. Of course, he felt conflicted about sleeping too. He wanted to spend every remaining minute they had together awake, but there was truly nothing he gained more peace from than sleeping with her.
So they compromised and slept for 90 minutes, her head resting against his heart and their hands interlaced.
A/N: Hello all. Thanks for all the well-wishes about my health. Thankfully, the migraines I have been experiencing seem to have exited the building, though I’m continuing to take it easy as far as computer work goes. Thus, I edited this chapter just once—rather than my usual twice. I hope that I caught all the errors or that you will forgive me (as always) if I didn’t. It’s impossible to catch everything (but you know I try my best).
I continue to be so grateful for the overall response to this story. A BIG THANK YOU to those of you who are still reading and even more thanks to those who take the time to comment. Some of you have been pointing out that Appius seems almost obsessed with Eric in the way he wants to hurt him. That is exactly what I’m going for. Appius is definitely displacing his own unhappiness onto his son in a way that shows us that Appius is not completely mentally “sound.” We’ll see Appius slipping more and more into both alcohol and “insanity” as things don’t go his way. When I conceptualized this story, I tried to think of how to make Appius both tragic in a sense and completely scary. For me, one of the scariest types of people is someone with tons of money and power who thinks he has the right to “rule” others and who believes that he can get away with anything he wants. Add a little instability and obsessiveness into the mix, and you have Appius. I’m so pleased that many of you are loving to hate him. That’s exactly what I feel when I write him.
Up next: The goodbye scene.
This is what Sookie’s dress looked like (forgot to show it in the last chapter).
And this is how I’m seeing the ring: