Summary: Set 3 years and two months after Dead Ever After, Sookie learns many truths about herself and about Eric. This is a companion piece to “Enduring,” which should be read first. (Spoilers: All Books)
Note: If you need to read “Enduring” before delving into this, click the banner to do so.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, lines of dialogue, titles, etc. are the property of their respective owners. Only the original plot is the creation of the author; however, no profit has been made from this work. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of the source material. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in this story have been inspired by The Southern Vampire Mystery series. Charlaine Harris is responsible for the people and places that I play with in my story.
Spoiler Alert: If you don’t want to know about the events in the books (including the last one), wait to read this.
Beta: Kleannhouse and her eagle eyes! Thanks for lending them!
Artwork: The banner for this story (and all the stories in the 3-part Enduring Series) was made by the incomparable Sephrenia!
WARNING: Potential Kleenex Alert
verb (used with object)
1. to lay bare; disclose; reveal.
2. to remove the cover or covering from.
3. to find something.
4. to reveal, as in a mystery.
Set two months after “Enduring”
Pregnancy had done some very odd things to my body. When I found out that I was pregnant, I’d had a long talk with Karin, who had—ironically—become my closest friend during the last several years. I’d learned that Karin had been a mother in her human life, though her children had died from one of the “mysterious plagues” that had ravaged whole villages in early modern Europe. Karin had been spared; she’d found a way to move on and had become a midwife—until Eric made her a vampire. Karin—with her odd mixture of pragmatism, defiance, and mystery—had given me a lot of good advice about what to expect from pregnancy.
I’d also checked out tons of books from the library: What to Expect When You’re Expecting, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn—to name a few. Sadly, there wasn’t a book called What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Human-Fairy-Shifter, but I had talked to Sam’s mom, Bernadette, a few times. Unfortunately, she’d never warmed to me much, so the information she’d volunteered was a bit sparse.
However, all of those sources put together had given me a lot of insight about the physical things that had been happening to my body over the past eight and a half months.
My first physical symptom was sore breasts—and, oh my God, when they got sore, they really got sore! And then they got bigger and even sorer! Initially, Sam had been captivated by them, but after biting my tongue through the pain during one session of sex when he fondled my breasts nearly to the point that I cried, I had to tell him not to touch me there again.
Sam had been disappointed. Sadly, that hadn’t been the only time I’d had to disappoint him during the twelve months of our marriage.
My next physical symptom was the feeling of being bloated—all the time. My ankles swelled—and then my fingers and then my toes. Heck, my ears even seemed bigger, though—thankfully—they’d not gotten pointy!
Most women seemed to glow when they were pregnant, but I just sweated. Dr. Ludwig said that it was likely because my body was trying to deal with a fairy/human/shifter mix, and she told me that if I hadn’t wanted to deal with that, I should have stayed on birth control.
As a matter of fact, I had been on the pill when I got pregnant. But it seemed that life found its way through the chemicals that had been trying to prevent it. Despite the fact that my child hadn’t been planned, however, he’d been loved—loved from the moment I first suspected that he was inside of me. All of my cravings for a ‘normal’ life aside, I’d always been reticent about having a child biologically because I didn’t want to pass along the complications that came with telepathy.
On the other hand, the thought of being a mom was appealing, especially since it had seemed that I was now safe from vampire politics. So Sam and I had discussed adoption before we got married, for there were a lot of kids in the world—including two-natured kids—that needed families.
Dr. Ludwig—for a fair bit of money, I might add—had agree, somewhat begrudgingly, to be my doctor throughout the pregnancy. And I’d agreed to be her patient, though her bedside manner was exactly as unpleasant as I’d expected it would be. I’d left my first appointment reassured that she was my doctor, given the unusual lineage of my child. She’d also left me scared as heck when she told me that my pregnancy would likely be the opposite of a pleasant experience.
She’d been right. Now at eight and a half months along, I was miserable and couldn’t really stay on my feet for longer than ten minutes at a time.
I also couldn’t see my feet, couldn’t sleep in a bed (since I couldn’t get out of one by myself), and had to go to the bathroom so often that I’d thought about sleeping on the blasted toilet!
Other expecting mothers have had similar experiences, of course. But Dr. Ludwig had made clear to me that all of my physical symptoms had been compounded because of the baby’s shifter DNA “fighting” with my fairy DNA—whatever the heck that meant! Luckily, throughout it all, the baby stayed healthy. So learning how to deal with my physical discomfort wasn’t that much of a hardship.
However, the side effect that I’d not expected—and the one that I’d had the hardest time dealing with—was the dreaming. I’d started to have incredibly vivid dreams that were actually relived memories. They’d started about three months into the pregnancy. At first, they were harmless, though a bit odd. I’d have a dream where I’d relive a shift that I’d spent at work or a recent conversation I’d had with Tara or Karin or Sam.
Then the dreams had moved to memories from the more distant past. In the early days, the dreams would often be wonderful! Once I’d dreamed that I was making a pie with Gran, and I’d gotten to relive and “re-feel” a wonderful conversation we’d had—when she’d recalled things about my father’s childhood.
However, eventually the dreams had become debilitating nightmares that would make me frightened of sleep. In one, I was forced to relive everything that Neave and Lochlan had done to me and the utter terror and pain I had felt. In the midst of that one, I’d also felt my desperation for Eric to come and save me. After I woke up, I realized that I had never gotten over the fact that he hadn’t ridden in on a white horse to rescue me.
I had always prided myself for being a realist and a survivor. I had always thought of myself as a strong Stackhouse woman. But—in that case—I’d been a Brigant woman in a manner of speaking. At least unconsciously, I’d been hoping to find myself in the middle of a fairy tale, and I’d cast Eric as my knight in shining armor. And when he hadn’t come, I think I was disappointed in the both of us—him for not being there and myself for wanting him there to begin with.
And when I’d woken up, I’d also recognized the harsh fact that I wouldn’t have been in that situation to begin with—if only I’d gone to live with Eric, at least until the immediate danger had passed.
Unfortunately, the dream about Lochlan and Neave was not the worst of them. There was the one when I found Gran lying dead on the kitchen floor; that had been worse and had visited me for many nights in a row.
I’d felt like Lady Macbeth. I’d wake up screaming and—still partially trapped by the dream—I’d run to the bathroom to wash Gran’s blood off of my hands. But it never seemed to come off.
Then there was the dream when I relived Sam’s death—though that one turned out okay because of the cluviel dor.
There was the one when I thought I wouldn’t be able to wake up Eric to get him out of the hotel in Rhodes, though that one turned out okay too. He always woke up enough to fly/sled out of that hotel with Pam and me.
And then there were the dreams about Uncle Bartlett.
It was only when I woke up screaming from those that I realized that his thoughts had seeped into me and stayed with me—for every single day of my life. His mind had told me that the wrong he’d been doing was “all my fault.”
All my fault.
After that—I just began to believe that everything was all my fault.
All my fault.
My parents’ deaths. Gran’s death. Claudine’s death. Tray’s death. Longshadow. Chow. Rene. Lorena. Victor. Appius. Claude. Sophie-Anne. Andre. Sigebert. So many others. Enemies and friends and family members. So many dead.
All my fault.
My failures in relationships. My inability to protect those I loved. My inability to protect myself.
All. My. Fault.
My dreams continued until they haunted me even when I was awake. They would capture me, forcing me to dwell on a few moments of a memory—again and again and again.
In the end, the one that affected me the most was a memory from when I was in the hospital the last time I was shot—when Sam, Eric, and Bill were there and I learned that Eric had tried to keep Sam from pursuing me romantically. Despite my foggy state at the time because of the pain killers, a part of me had broken because of that knowledge. I had wanted—desperately wanted—to believe that Eric wasn’t all bad.
That he still loved me—wanted the best for me—despite everything.
I’d wanted to believe that part of him wanted me even though he was being forced to be with Freyda. I had wanted to believe that he sent Karin to guard me because he still loved me. But after Bill told me about that selfish act on Eric’s part—to rob me of possible happiness with Sam—at least a part of me had begun to hate Eric.
Even back then I’d known that being with Sam would be “settling” in a lot of ways. I knew that I would always see him mostly as a friend, but—not being able to have Eric—I had reconciled myself to that which I could have: a man who loved me as a friend, a man who would accept the fact that I couldn’t give him my whole heart, a man who wanted to build a life with me based on mutual respect and affection.
At the time, all evidence had pointed to the conclusion that Eric wanted to keep me from having even that much—despite the fact that he was going to be married to Freyda for longer than I would be alive.
I had known that Eric could be secretive, highhanded, and manipulative. I’d known that he could be cruel to his enemies and that he didn’t feel any remorse when making them suffer. But I’d never thought he was petty before. And I’d never thought that he would deliberately do something that would cause me unhappiness. As I lay in that hospital bed, I had appreciated Bill’s honesty. And I had been touched by Sam’s declaration that he wanted me. Coming on the heels of my “divorce” from Eric, it had felt good to be wanted—even if the man who wanted me was not the man my soul ached for.
However, my dream hadn’t focused on what had happened in the same anaesthetized way that I had experienced it. In fact, most of my dreams included some kind of shifting or sharpening of focus.
But this one had sharpened things even more than usual. In the dream, I was fully awake and aware, as if there wasn’t a pain killer in my body. And I looked from one set of eyes to another. First, it seemed as if Eric and Sam were having a conversation with each other with just their eyes, and I knew that something wasn’t right. I’d picked up on the fact that they’d been hiding something from me even at the time, but their eyes—when I studied them in the dream—told me even more. Sam was looking at Eric with bitterness and jealousy. Eric’s eyes seemed to be telling Sam to wait for something. And the moment Bill began speaking, Eric’s eyes showed a flash of resignation and then acceptance. It seemed that he had known that Bill was going to speak—that Bill was going to indict him for crimes of a petty nature.
Eric’s eyes had told the whole story.
Foreknowledge. Waiting. Resignation. Acceptance.
He always had a plan; he was always ten steps ahead, waiting for the rest of us to catch up, even when we didn’t recognize that we’d been behind to begin with.
Yes. Eric had been waiting for Bill to speak as if he’d given him the script. The dream had frozen in that moment, and I’d turned to look at Bill’s eyes, which I’d not seen at the time. They’d shown triumph—a flicker of bloodlust even—as if he’d been thirsting for years to get back at Eric for some supposed wrong he’d committed.
But what wrong had Eric ever done to Bill? Wanting me? Telling me the truth about Bill’s mission? Or just being the better vampire?
Somewhere in the midst of that dream, I’d realized that it was all three. I also realized that Bill had no right to be bitter toward Eric. His own actions—and not Eric’s—had been the reason why I’d stopped loving him. His eyes had been the reason why I’d stopped liking him. I never trusted him again after that dream.
As the dream had replayed the next night, I’d looked back into Sam’s eyes. When he announced that he wanted me and had only agreed to go along with Eric’s conditions in order to save me, Sam’s eyes had held equal parts disdain for Eric and hope for me. I’d focused on the hope at the time, ignoring the other emotion because that was the one I always saw when Sam spoke of Eric—or any other vampire, for that matter.
In real time, I’d glanced at Eric only once more before he’d left—my last look at him. My dream, however, froze that fleeting moment, and I was trapped in Eric’s eyes. They were so full of emotions—so full that they seemed to get larger with my study.
Sorrow. Regret. Resignation. Duty.
Those eyes stayed with me when I woke up.
In another dream, I relived being staked. And I remembered letting myself fall under the spell of Eric’s glamour. He’d been so desperate to take away my pain then.
Why had I allowed myself to be glamoured by him?
It had been his eyes that had convinced me.
In them, there had been sorrow and regret that he’d not done more to protect me, resignation that I might reject him even amidst my great pain, and duty that he would watch over me even if I did reject him.
There had been fear that he might lose me.
There had been love.
That was why I’d let myself fall under his glamour—even though I later second-guessed everything I’d seen in those eyes.
Why had I ever allowed myself to entertain the idea that Eric would purposely want my pain?
Why hadn’t I trusted my own eyes—instead of my insecurities and second-guesses?
Perhaps because I never thought that eyes like Eric’s could be turned toward me.
The more dreams I’d had, the more my waking life had suffered—until, finally, Sam had called Ludwig. The doctor had chastised me for not telling her about the dreams earlier, but how was I to know that they were a side-effect of being pregnant.
I’d thought that my fairy spark had given me another lovely “gift!”
Dr. Ludwig told us that full-blooded fairy women often had vivid dreams during their first pregnancies. According to the doctor, the dreams were called “the cleansing”—though she’d given the process a Fae title that I couldn’t pronounce before she’d offered the translation. The dreams were meant to “help” a mother achieve a more complete understanding of the “significant” things in life—things that needed to be passed on to her offspring. Ludwig seemed surprised that I would have the dreams since I was only one-eighth fairy. For the millionth time since she’d died, I couldn’t help but to wish that Claudine was around.
However, I saw her only in a nightmare—knitting away moments before she and her unborn child were to be slain.
I did ask Dr. Ludwig if I could take something to help me sleep better—so that I wouldn’t dream. She had—in her “lovely” gruff manner—told me to suck it up and to deal with it. Then, she’d handed me the name and number of a supernatural shrink who made “house calls.” Ludwig had warned that if I tried to take anything to prevent the dreams, including something cooked up by a witch, it would hurt the baby.
Before that warning, I’d been tempted—for months—to call Amelia to cook something up for me to help me sleep; only my fear of hurting the baby had stopped me. I’d never been so grateful for fear in my entire life!
So—yes—pregnancy had literally made me miserable.
Don’t get me wrong. I also loved the fact that I was pregnant. Truth be told, having a family was the chief reason I’d decided to accept Sam’s proposal of marriage the third time he’d made it—though I’d expected that we would adopt any kids we had. I admit that I was worried about passing along the fairy spark and having a telepath. It was actually Karin who had helped me to realize that the experiences I had as a child wouldn’t happen again. If I had a telepathic child, I would know what to do; I would know how to train him.
Yes—it was a “him,” a little boy that I called Finn in my head. When I’d first learned about Fintan—my grandfather—I’d had mixed feelings about him. After all, he was the one who had hidden me from the rest of my fairy kin. And Gran had cheated on “Grandpa” with him. I suppose it was easier to blame him for that than it was to blame the person who had taken me in when my parents had died—the woman who had loved me more unconditionally than anyone else I’d ever “heard.”
But when I thought about baby names in my head, “Finn” was the one that seemed right.
“How are you?” Sam asked, startling me and interrupting me from my thoughts. He was standing rather awkwardly at the door of the nursery where I was sitting in the rocking chair. I’d discovered earlier that week that it was easier to rock myself up to my feet than to try to get up under my own power.
“Okay,” I responded as my hand rubbed my ever-expanding belly.
“And the baby?” he asked.
“Still taking up permanent residence on my kidneys,” I said, trying to sound a bit light-hearted.
“Sookie, I . . . ,” Sam started but then stopped.
“I know, Sam,” I said soothingly. “I know.”
Sam gave me a slight smile. “So—uh—did you need a ride to see Dr. Smith?”
I shook my head. “No. I’ve been feeling better, and—anyway—she’s coming here again.”
“Okay then. I’ll be headin’ out then. Don’t wanna leave Terry alone for too long.”
“Thanks again,” I said, “for bringing dinner by and for fixing the washing machine.”
He nodded and spoke uncomfortably. “Oh—the washer was an easy fix. And—well—I know it’s been hard for you to cook lately.”
“Well your help was a godsend,” I replied, trying to muster up a smile.
“Don’t mention it,” he said as he turned to go.
The fact that I’d had no more nightmares since Sam and I had filed for divorce was left unsaid.
“Will you ever tell me your real name?” I asked Dr. Smith.
The psychologist chuckled. “I doubt you could pronounce it.”
“Are you Fae?” I questioned. I’d asked her that question every time we’d met, and we’d been meeting twice a week for the past ten weeks.
“I’m this and that,” Dr. Smith responded enigmatically.
I rolled my eyes. “I’m supposed to trust you. How can I do that if I don’t know anything about you?”
“And yet you do trust me.”
I sighed. She was right. I did trust her. I’d trusted Dr. Smith from the first moment I’d walked into her office—despite the fact that I’d not been able to read her mind. She didn’t “feel” like vampire or daemon or Fae or Were. She “felt” a little like all of them—and a little like Dr. Ludwig too.
But—for some inexplicable reason—I’d never doubted her or the fact that she would help me.
And she had helped me. Since our first meeting—at the end of my sixth month of pregnancy—it had been Dr. Smith who had helped me to understand the dreams. And understanding them, instead of trying to escape them, had changed everything.
Since the strongest image that had stayed with me had been Eric’s eyes, the doctor had made me start with them and end with them during each of our sessions. She called it a “guided meditation exercise.”
It hadn’t taken long for me to begin to understand why it was Eric’s eyes that seemed to be framing my whole life—and not just my therapy sessions.
Where others had found a freak, he’d seen a desirable woman and then a beloved.
Where others had seen a victim, he’d seen a warrior.
When others had lied to me for their gain, his lies had been for my benefit.
He’d loved me. He’d protected me.
But he’d also stayed away from me and kept things from me. But when I thought about his eyes, I began to understand why. What he’d done was to keep me safe.
And to keep himself safe—from me.
He’d always let his actions tell the hardest truths of all; I just hadn’t been listening.
The Neave and Lochlan episode had changed both me and Eric. Looking back, I wondered who’d been more damaged. Yes—they’d tortured me, ripped my physical being to shreds. But what had Eric endured? The calls of his bonded when he’d been powerless to come to me. The doubts of his beloved when I’d wondered why he’d not protected me.
What had my eyes told him?
Eric had failed at so few things during his thousand years. I wondered—now—if Eric’s feelings of failure had drawn Appius back into his life after the Fae war. A vulnerable Eric would have been just the kind of thing that would have beckoned Eric’s fucked up maker.
A single choice—or lack of choice—on my part had sealed our fate.
Eric had asked me such a simple thing: to live with him—at least until the danger of the fairies had passed. My reasons for saying “no” now seemed mystifying to me.
My ‘I don’t want to be a kept woman’ notion was idiocy. Eric had never tried to “keep” me; he’d never made me feel cheap—until, that is, he’d been trying to push me away by asking me to be his mistress in Oklahoma. However, I now knew that that action was designed to spur me to move on after he was gone. But his eyes—in the vivid dreams I had about that night—had pulled me back to him.
My fear that Eric had asked me to live in his home only because of the danger didn’t hold much water either. And so what if that had been his motive?
There was danger!
I’d come to realize—again through my dreams—that Eric had asked me to move in with him for several legitimate reasons.
First, it had been to keep me safe.
Second, he’d thought that it would be what I wanted; it was, after all, what others had wanted from him before. He’d been trying to give me what human women wanted because I’d always insisted upon denying my supernatural status.
Third—it had been what he’d wanted. Another dream—during which I’d been forced to focus on his eyes when he’d asked, instead of turning away like a chicken-shit—had convinced me of that uncomfortable and undeniable truth.
“I believe you’ve just made a breakthrough,” Dr. Smith said with a smile.
I rolled my eyes with such verve that even Pam would have been impressed and then chuckled. One of the perks and downfalls of having a fellow telepath as a psychiatrist was her ability to listen into the thoughts our visits elicited from me. It was likely her speaking those thoughts back to me that had made me recognize a lot of truths.
I sighed. “Yeah.”
“If you had gone to live with Eric when he asked, what would have changed?” she asked sitting forward a little.
“I don’t know for sure,” I responded.
She scoffed. “Of course you don’t know, but what do you think would have changed?”
I sighed again, this time imagining the exhalation rolling through every part of my body, including the toes that I could no longer see. “I think that Neave and Lochlan would have never gotten to me. So Victor wouldn’t have seen Eric’s desperation to get to me, and Appius wouldn’t have felt Eric’s guilt when he couldn’t help me.”
The doctor sat forward a little more. “You think Appius might have left Eric alone if you’d moved in with the Viking when he asked you?”
I shrugged. “Maybe.”
Dr. Smith shook her head. “That doesn’t stand to reason. Appius had already begun his negotiations with the queen of Oklahoma by then.”
“You might be right, but I can’t help but to think that it was either Eric’s happiness or his feeling of powerlessness that brought Appius to Louisiana.”
“You think Appius wanted to stifle his happiness or celebrate his helplessness?”
“Yeah,” I responded. “And my choice might have accelerated his plans with Oklahoma.”
“Perhaps,” Dr. Smith said. “Or, perhaps, the happiness Eric would have felt at your moving in might have done the same.”
I put my hands over my belly when my child kicked. “I’m not sure any of it matters anymore. Eric’s gone anyway.”
“Learning from one’s errors is always a good thing,” the doctor observed.
“Yes. But dwelling on what might have been is not!” I returned.
It was the doctor’s turn to shrug. “You’ve told me how the Fae and vampire politics might have been different if you’d moved in with Eric. Can you tell me what else would have changed?”
I closed my eyes. Would Eric and I have been happy living together? Yes—I think so. But so much would have needed to change—in both of us—for our relationship to truly “work.” I would have had to quell my stubbornness, and he would have had to stifle his urge to keep things from me. We would have needed to do something radical—like talk!
Dr. Smith chuckled. “Yes—very radical. What else would have changed?” she pushed.
I thought for a few moments. If I had moved in with Eric, I know that I would have eventually quit my job at Merlotte’s. “Maybe I would have gone to work at Fangtasia,” I mused, “just to keep paying my bills. I could have used my telepathy to help Eric.”
“Speaking of telepathy,” Dr. Smith said, looking at my baby bump. “Have you felt any signs from him yet?”
I shook my head.
She winked. “Sometimes it takes boy children longer to manifest the gift. If it were a girl—and if she were telepathic—you would certainly have heard from her by now.”
I nodded, thankful for any kernel of information that my enigmatic telepathic psychiatrist let slip about the baby. She wasn’t able to hear him at all; she’d told me during an earlier session that that gift would belong only to me as long as he was in my womb.
“I don’t think he’s a shifter,” I said. “Or—at least—I don’t think he’ll ever shift.”
“How can you know that?” she asked.
“Well,” I volunteered, “his mind doesn’t sound snarly like Sam’s. I mean—it’s not like he has clear thoughts or anything—but what I can feel from him is more like a human than a shifter.”
Dr. Smith nodded.
“Have you had any more vivid dreams since we last spoke?” the doctor asked.
I smiled. “Yeah. But they’ve been nicer this past week.”
“Since Sam moved out?” she asked with a twinkle in her eyes.
“Yeah,” I responded with a frustrated air. It had taken me a while to reconcile the fact that the presence of Sam’s child in me had spurred dreams that would lead to my needing to break things off with Sam. It seemed that the most difficult lesson from the dreams—and the one I’d had the hardest time accepting—had been the one about not lying to myself.
“So your dreams have been good this week?” Dr. Smith pushed.
I nodded in affirmation.
“Show them to me,” she requested.
I felt myself blushing.
The doctor laughed. “Okay—just tell me about them then. I’ll keep out of your mind so that I don’t see the sex ones.”
“They haven’t all had to do with sex,” I defended.
She chuckled. “Even so—you can just tell me about them.”
“Well, since I last saw you, all the dreams have been based on good memories. In the first one, Daddy taught me how to fish.”
“I good lesson for your little one,” Dr. Smith smiled.
I nodded. “In the next one, I remembered how Gran and I talked about my telepathy. It was about a month after my parents had died. She sat me down and told me that she knew what I could do and that it was okay.” I sighed. “It was the first time anyone seemed to accept me.”
Dr. Smith nodded. “Another fine lesson—especially if your little one turns out to be a telepath.”
“Finn,” I said.
I nodded. “Yeah. The baby’s name.”
She smiled. “I like it. What other dreams did you have?”
“I remembered the time Aunt Linda came over—before her cancer was too bad. She and Gran spent the day cutting up and jarring peaches. They also made peach preserves.” I chuckled. “After that dream, I had such a craving that I went into the root cellar—in my condition—and found a jar of Gran’s preserves. It wasn’t the peach though; it was blackberry—from the last batch she made before she died.”
The doctor nodded.
“The next night, I dreamed of a time when I asked Eric to take me to an orgy.”
Dr. Smith chuckled. “That doesn’t sound like you.”
“I went to try to help an innocent man prove he didn’t kill my friend, Lafayette. Eric took me for safety. But he was also . . . .” I stopped for a moment and smiled. “He was actually really great that night!”
“And the others?”
I could feel myself blushing again. “I think that I’ll keep those to myself,” I said, even as I tried to bolster my shields so that I wouldn’t inadvertently send her any broadcasts of my X-rated dreams with Eric. The doctor had actually been helping me with my shielding and now smiled approvingly at my obvious progress.
“But I can say one thing about them,” I said, changing my mind.
“Well,” I started tentatively, feeling that telltale blush again, “when you have sex—you don’t always notice everything. You miss the little things—like small, tender touches or the way someone might move his arm to a certain spot just so that you’ll be more comfortable or the look in someone’s eyes when he knows he’s made you—uh—feel good.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” she said softly. “So—how is work?” she asked, instead of pushing the previous topic past my level of comfort.
“Fine. As you know, I haven’t been into Merlotte’s for a couple of weeks because of Dr. Ludwig’s orders, but it was time for me to stop working anyway. People were starting to be scared that I’d go into labor before I could fill their pitchers! So I’ve just been doin’ the books from home.”
“And money?” she asked. She always seemed reticent to accept payment for the sessions we had.
“I’ve told you before that money’s not a worry. In addition to what I get from Merlotte’s, I have the money from my cousins’ estates. So I have more than enough; in fact, I was even thinking about being a stay-at-home mom until Finn’s ready for school. Or—if he’s telepathic and it’s an issue—I could home school him until his shields are strong.”
Dr. Smith sat forward again. “What of de Castro?” she asked, her eyes showing worry. “Have you heard anything from him?”
I frowned. Dr. Smith had never asked about the king before. “He’s not contacted me since Eric left. Why do you ask?”
“You tell me,” she said.
I closed my eyes for a moment. “Shit! Because if I have a telepath, he’ll think there’s a loophole in the agreement Eric made to keep me safe.”
Dr. Smith shook her head. “No—I have seen the document the Viking signed. There is no loophole—for any of the parties involved.”
“Wait! You’ve seen it?” I cried out.
She nodded casually.
“What? Well—what’s in it?” I stammered out.
“Don’t you already know?” she asked, looking truly curious.
“No. I mean—I know a few things,” I answered. “Eric didn’t tell me much, but I learned a little from Pam and Karin, and then,” I paused, “Bill told me some things.” I sighed.
“So what do you know?” Dr. Smith asked.
“I know that Eric is to stay married to Freyda for two hundred years. I know that Pam and Karin can’t have any contact with him while he’s married. I can’t go to Oklahoma, or I’ll be killed. Eric can’t see me alone, or I’ll be killed. And I think that de Castro has to leave me alone—beyond offering his protection.”
Dr. Smith raised an eyebrow, her bright green eyes narrowing. “You seem to have the bullet-points right. But do you know any of the details?”
I shook my head. “No.”
“Do you want them?”
“Yes,” I said somewhat fearfully.
She nodded gravely. “For two hundred years, Eric is to be Freyda’s consort.”
“Yes. And he has to sleep with her once a year,” I added, recalling what I knew of vampire marriages. After I’d gotten over my initial bitterness at Eric leaving me and marrying another, I’d hoped that he had—at least—come to like Freyda a little. God knows, Bill had tried to tell me all about Freyda’s attributes and “charms” a few times. And she had—certainly—been beautiful.
I shook my head. Especially since Gran had died, I’d not been one for saying a lot of prayers. But—as an expectant mother—that had changed. I now prayed every day—and always for two things, two people. I prayed for the health and happiness of my child. And I prayed for Eric—that his current life with Freyda was nothing like his past with Appius.
Having been listening once more to my thoughts, the doctor spoke sadly, “I’m afraid that prayer hasn’t been answered, Sookie. The Oklahoma queen has a reputation for fairness only because she has bullied others into spreading that message. In truth, she is selfish and spiteful—a child dressed in queen’s robes and angry that her favorite toy has no affection for her.” She scoffed. “As if a toy could ever have true affection for its owner!”
My stomach seemed to drop to the floor. “Eric. How bad is it?” I managed.
The doctor sighed. “According to the first draft of the contract, Eric would have had to fulfill a physical obligation to Freyda only once per annum. The final contract gave Freyda access to Eric’s body whenever and however she chooses. He is now little more than a sex slave.”
“No,” I whispered. “Why would he have agreed to that?” I asked as a tear streaked down my cheek.
“The question you should ask is what the Viking bought with his body?”
Bile rose in my throat. “What did he buy?”
“The safety of your friends and family—including your brother’s progeny and any offspring you might have.” She paused. “Eventhe shifter was to be protected.”
I felt more tears falling, even as Finn kicked my ribs. I felt myself dry heaving and was thankful that I’d not eaten during the last several hours.
“I’ve upset you,” the doctor said after a few moments, though there was not an apology in her tone—only observation.
“And you think I need to be upset,” I responded.
She nodded. “Yes. I’m sorry, but I do. Keeping you in the dark might have been the best option before, and it was—I believe—done out of love. However, perhaps it is time to allow you—and not your godfather, your great-grandfather, or your ex-husband—to make your own decisions with your eyes wide open.”
“Why would Eric protect Sam too?” I asked.
“You are fully capable of answering that question for yourself,” she returned.
I nodded, acknowledging that I already knew the answer. “Eric’s eyes,” I said. “When he came to the hospital. The last time I saw him.”
Dr. Smith had heard all about how those eyes had haunted me. She’d also seen them in my head.
“You told me yourself that he was always many steps ahead of others,” she said. “It stands to reason that the others wouldn’t always be able to recognize those steps.”
My lip quivered. “Eric made Sam agree not to pursue me. He wanted me to hate him for that. He made sure Bill knew of his deal with Sam too.”
“Yes. Your ‘friend’ Mr. Compton is predictable in his desire to be the better vampire in your eyes,” she said.
“So Eric basically made sure I’d get together with Sam,” I said with realization, even as I began trying to wipe my tears away.
Dr. Smith handed me a box of Kleenex. “I believe the Viking would have seen Mr. Merlotte as the best contender for making you happy. Given your desire to stay out of supernatural politics, the other men you had relationships with were bad candidates. Plus, there would have been clear evidence of your love for Sam.”
“The cluviel dor,” I sighed.
“Impossible evidence to ignore,” she returned.
“Could’ve the cluviel dor gotten Eric out of the arrangement with Freyda?” I asked. “I was never certain how it could have worked to do that.”
Dr. Smith contemplated for a moment. “It could have been used as a negotiation tool. It was—of course—priceless. Yes. It likely would have worked to free him. Freyda would have been able to sell it for a very large price indeed. Or—Eric might have offered it in trade to de Castro.”
Dr. Smith nodded. “King de Castro could have denied Freyda at any time during the final contract negotiations. Eric was—after all—his sheriff, and Appius was dead. So King de Castro took precedence in the situation. I believe that Eric offered him a great deal of money—as well as his continued fealty as Sheriff of Area 5 for the next two hundred years—in exchange for his freedom from the contract with Freyda. However, the king decided not to free Eric for a variety of reasons—the larger sum of money Freyda offered and Freyda’s vow to be an ally being some of them.”
“And the others?”
Dr. Smith shrugged. “I think that de Castro has always been intimidated having a vampire who could—should even—be a king as one of his sheriffs. The only reason Eric wasn’t consistently approached by the supernatural council to be a king was that Appius was still undead and could, therefore, command him.”
“And now Freyda can,” I said quietly.
“Yes,” the doctor said just as quietly. “The council would have helped him get out of the contract his maker had negotiated with Freyda if doing so wouldn’t have undermined their own laws. But certain members of the council—including the Ancient Pythoness—have already begun putting things into motion for when the Viking is truly free.”
I looked at her in question.
She smiled. “Let us just say that Mr. Northman would have the council’s endorsement if he removed Freyda and de Castro from existence after his contract was up. I imagine they would allow him to keep whichever of the states he wanted—all of them if he desired. It will be good to see two of the more corrupt monarchs in the United States eliminated.”
“You’ll be alive in two hundred years?” I asked.
She smiled. “If the gods will it.”
“How old are you? And how do you know all this information? What are you?” I fired, asking questions that I figured she wouldn’t answer. She never had before, after all.
She sighed and her face clouded over with an expression that looked like pity and guilt mixed into one.
She was silent for several moments.
“This will be our last official session, Sookie,” she said evenly. “I have been called to do other work.”
“What?” I asked. Emotionally raw, I suddenly felt very alone and very afraid. “But I don’t know if I can deal with the dreams and all the other stuff without your help!”
“Just because I’m no longer going to be your therapist doesn’t mean I cannot help you. Plus, you now know what the dreams are for,” she said gently. “And you have learned that their nature altered when you accepted that they were lessons to you as much as they were lessons for you to pass along to your child.” She paused. “And you will not be alone. The one in your heart may not be with you, but he has done much to ensure that he never abandons you.”
I closed my eyes. “But he probably feels abandoned by me.” I paused. “Because that’s what I did; I abandoned him. I broke our bond. I didn’t believe in him or in his love for me. And now I’ve learned that he’s sold his body for me.” I opened my eyes to let more tears free. “He’s selling himself for me—prostituting himself so that I won’t be exploited! He’s the kept man,” I whispered. I rubbed where Finn kicked me again. “And I can think of only one thing.”
“What’s that?” Dr. Smith asked.
“The last time I saw him. His eyes—and how vivid they are in my mind.” I paused and took a deep, shaky breath. “Do you think he remembers that moment as clearly as I do?” I shook my head in anguish. “Because if he does, then I was looking at him with hate.”
Dr. Smith spoke calmly. “The Viking knows that you—you who are so slow to hate anyone and so quick to forgive almost everyone—would never hate unless you had truly loved.”
I shook my head again. “I was not quick to forgive him!”
Dr. Smith looked at me in question.
“I forgave everyone but Eric.” I sighed. “Even Bill. I forgave him for so much lying and manipulation. He tricked me and had me beaten in order to give me his blood—a lot of it! I forgave that. I also forgave his infidelity. I even forgave him for almost draining me and raping me because I blamed that on his nature! Hell—I wouldn’t even call it rape until one of the dreams was about it!” I paused. “Only then was I forced to acknowledge what had truly happened in that trunk.”
I took a breath. “But what were Eric’s sins? What did he do that was so unforgiveable? Was it that he killed a vampire who was trying to kill me? Was it that he got me to take a tiny bit of his blood—after he saved my life in Dallas? Was it that he stayed with me when I was staked in Mississippi, making sure that I was healed in a den of vampires that would have probably drained me otherwise? Was it that he gave me his blood to make me strong enough to rescue a vampire he despised? Was it that he took care of me after Bill raped me? Was it that he protected me from Mickey, came running when I was kidnapped, and saved me from Andre and then from Victor and then from Felipe? He’s done all he could to protect me from Weres, humans, fairies, and vampires. And—yet—I treated all of his actions with mistrust! What kind of person does that?”
“So then what is the Viking’s unforgiveable sin, Sookie?” Dr. Smith pushed.
“He couldn’t remember loving me after Hallow’s curse was lifted,” I admitted shakily. “I didn’t think he could be that Eric again. I blamed him for the fact that ‘my’ Eric was gone,” I finished, closing my eyes in shame.
“The Eric who wanted to turn his back on supernatural issues and simply be with you,” she added astutely.
“Yeah,” I responded quietly. “The more human one.”
“And why did you want that one?” she asked.
“For the same reason I tried so hard with Sam,” I responded, opening my eyes.
She nodded. “Because you wanted normalcy.”
“Yes,” I confessed.
“Why?” she asked.
“My own mother didn’t like me,” I said, still quietly. “She hated that I was different. And—though my dad didn’t dislike me as she did—he wanted me to be normal. Everyone has always wanted that of me! Even Gran, who came the closest to accepting me, still wished in her hearts of hearts that I could be normal. She pitied me.” I sighed. “All my friends and my brother wanted me normal. Sometimes, they felt jealousy that I was somehow ‘special’ and they weren’t. Other times, they just thought about how they couldn’t keep their privacy around me, so they all kept me at arm’s length to a certain extent. Maybe that’s why I was always so reckless when it came to tryin’ to protect the people I wanted to accept me.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Payment,” I said simply. “I always felt like I needed to somehow ‘pay’ for the people who sacrificed to be my friends—or, even, my family. It’s why I didn’t tell Gran about Uncle Bartlett for so long. I didn’t want her to be hurt, and I hoped it would stop. I only told Gran when I saw in his head that he was planning to rape me the next time she was at one of her meetings. He’d decided that those lasted long enough for him to,” I paused, “have enough time to do things properly.” I shook my head as more tears fell. “But—even then—I hated having to ruin Gran’s relationship with Uncle Bartlett. He helped her out so much around the house. And he’d been planning to put a new roof on the house after the rainy season was over. Gran was happy about that; she didn’t know that he was doing it just to have more time to . . . .”
“To come at you,” Dr. Smith finished my sentence when I couldn’t.
I trembled at my memories and nodded. “Yeah. Gran wasn’t angry at me about Uncle Bartlett bein’ out of our lives though, and since I hadn’t told her that the abuse had been goin’ on for a while, she didn’t even feel too much guilt about it.” I sighed. “But she never did get her new roof. There are so many patches in it now that it’s a wonder that it’s even still on.”
“So you would have ‘paid’ for your grandmother’s new roof with your own discomfort at the hands of a pedophile,” she observed.
I shrugged. “Looking back, I know that’s screwed up, but I thought that Uncle Bartlett’s actions were my fault too. In my mind they were connected to why no one really thought about me in ‘normal’ ways.”
“Which is why you wanted to be normal,” she observed.
“More than anything. I tried to hide my telepathy when I could, but everyone still knew I was different—abnormal. When vampires came into my life, I thought I might have a chance.” I shook my head. “It’s ironic—really. Since I couldn’t hear them, I thought they were the answer to my childhood prayers—the key to my normal life.”
“But they don’t exactly fit into the mold of normalcy—at least not by human standards,” Dr. Smith observed.
I nodded. “Bill acted the part of a normal human—at least for a while. But he was literally doing that as part of a performance.”
“And Eric seemed to fit the role when he had amnesia.”
I nodded. “Yeah. And part of me wanted him to stay that way—even though I knew it was wrong and I didn’t let him when he offered. I was,” I paused, “irrational. And then, once I learned that Bill had just been pretending, I realized that I had just been pretending that I had ‘normal’ with ‘my’ Eric too. But part of me still wanted that, even as I lost hope for it. Like I said—irrational.”
“Given your past, your feelings were understandable, and I hope that you are beginning to forgive yourself for them. Do not forget that this is one of the reasons Fae women dream when they are pregnant with their first children. It is considered a rite of passage—a step toward becoming all they can be without the past encumbering them. It is healing for the women—though also taxing, as you’ve learned.”
“What of the men?” I asked, changing the subject a little so that my frazzled emotions could have a moment to settle down.
She chuckled. “It does seem quite unfair—doesn’t it? But—if the fathers are to do any soul searching—they are stuck doing it the old-fashioned way.” She leaned forward. “But—even as painful as the dreams have been for you—they have helped you to change your perception of things. And your life.”
“Yes,” I sighed. “They helped me to see that the ‘normal’ I was going for was just as big of an illusion as my early relationship with Bill was.”
Dr. Smith nodded approvingly.
“And I just couldn’t continue to do that to Sam—or to my baby. They deserve more than a lie,” I said.
“And are you at peace with that decision.”
I sighed again. “Marrying a friend wasn’t a bad thing in and of itself. Wanting a peaceful, quiet life also wasn’t a bad thing. But lying to myself—that was the bad thing. And—lying to Sam was just plain cruel.”
“But he has always been aware of your lingering feelings for Eric,” Dr. Smith observed.
“Yes. But that didn’t stop Sam from hoping that my feelings for Eric would go away in time, and I let him keep that hope. But whether I loved Eric or hated him at any given moment, my feelings for him have always been the strongest I’ve ever felt.”
“So Sam was wrong to hope at all,” Dr. Smith said.
I nodded. “Yes. I should have told him that, but I had no hope left for myself, and I thought that one of us should have some.”
“Your impulse to let Sam keep his hope doesn’t make you a bad person, Sookie,” Dr. Smith soothed.
“Maybe you’re right. I don’t know anymore,” I admitted. “Most days I feel like a really bad person. And I can think only of the things I wish I would have done differently. But,” I paused, “I cannot build a time machine. If I could, I would.”
“And where would you go?” she asked.
I closed my eyes, indulging in a fantasy for a moment. “I’d go back to a moment in Dallas.”
“I’d been hurt in the Fellowship of the Sun church. In fact, I’d almost been raped,” I started. “A werebat named Luna had helped me to get out, but there was a car accident too. Anyway, I eventually got back to the hotel. Eric was there.” I chuckled ruefully. “I looked like a mess! I was limping, and I had glass shards in my skin and bruises all over.” I shook my head. “Eric called Bill to tell him I’d turned up. He told Bill that he’d take me inside and start taking care of my wounds.”
“What happened then?” the doctor asked when I paused.
“Something that I didn’t recognize as important at the time. I heard only Eric’s part of his phone conversation with Bill, but it was clear that Bill argued when Eric said he was going to begin tending to me.” I shook my head again. “Looking back, I can see things so clearly. Bill would have let me suffer longer—just to keep Eric away from me. Eric was—so different. Despite my beat-up appearance, he tried to cheer me up. When I fell apart, he picked me up. And—when he took care of my wounds—he was so tender, so careful. Even when Bill finally got there, Eric finished pulling out all the glass and then put antiseptic on the wounds.”
“And what would you do differently—if you could go back to that moment?” Dr. Smith asked.
“I would ask Eric to get me my own room—since Bill was being a selfish asshole.”
The doctor chuckled. “What else?”
“I would ask Eric if he wanted to go on a real date with me sometime,” I responded. “I would never lose sight of the fact that Eric was the one who was always the quickest to take care of me, even though he never seemed to doubt my own ability to live through what life handed me.”
“That would be a good moment to go back to,” she observed.
“Yes. But—like I said—I’ve yet to build that time machine.”
We were both silent for a few minutes.
“So you truly have no hope?” the doctor finally asked.
I rubbed my belly. “For Finn—yes.”
“But not for yourself?”
“No—not anymore,” I said somewhat bitterly. “How can I have hope? I can’t go back and change a damned thing! And now—there is a vampire who is stuck in hell for almost 197 more years!” I closed my eyes and felt more hot tears collect in them. “I get that Appius is responsible for a hundred of those years, but Eric ‘paid’ for my safety with another hundred years. He’s paying with his own body—suffering more than I can imagine, just to keep me safe.”
“I do not believe that the Viking would use the word ‘just’ in that sentence,” Dr. Smith said.
I opened my eyes and looked down at my swollen belly—at the life I’d helped to make with Sam. Even though I had finally recognized I couldn’t stay married to Sam, I knew that he would be a great father to Finn. And my priority had to be my son. Plus, it wasn’t as if I could just run to Oklahoma and “save” Eric. I may have been tempted to try just that if I wasn’t more than eight months pregnant. I’d gone to Mississippi to try to rescue Bill, after all. I’d even killed his maker. But Eric had been helping me. And Alcide. And there certainly hadn’t been a baby involved.
I sighed. “I feel so helpless.”
Dr. Smith leaned back with a sigh of her own. “Yesterday, I made the concerted and conscious decision that I was going to tell you some things today, Sookie.”
“What things?” I asked, a little confused by her word choice.
She smiled. “The kinds of things that I was instructed NOT to tell you.”
“But you’re going to tell me anyway?”
She nodded. “Yes. I made my decision yesterday in order to allow the person who sent me here to have the chance to stop my tongue from wagging.”
“Who sent you?” I asked, automatically putting both of my hands onto my stomach in a protective gesture.
“The Ancient Pythoness,” Dr. Smith informed. “My real name is Aphra. I am one of Pythia’s handmaidens, though I was not at Rhodes with her. That was one of the reasons I was chosen—so that you would not recognize me.”
“But Dr. Ludwig gave me your card!”
“And whom do you think knew you would need it?” Dr. Smith—or Aphra—asked with a twinkle in her eyes.
I sat dumbfounded as the handmaiden went on. “When I said that I was a little of this and a little of that, I was being truthful. I am actually a cousin to Niall; his mother and my grandmother were sisters. So you and I are distantly related. My father was a daemon; my parents met in this realm long ago.”
“How old are you?” I stammered.
“Older than your Viking,” she said with a wink, “but not by too much. I have been with Pythia for over 800 years. Before I went to her, however, I had my own family. In fact, I went to serve her after my husband was killed. The descendants of my children include Desmond Cataliades.”
“Really?” I asked, thinking about my own connection to the demon.
She nodded. “Telepathy is rare. It was the combination of Fae and Dae blood that brought it forth into me. That combination is likely what sparked the ability in Desmond too—and, by extension, you.”
I sighed. “Is that why you’ve been helping me?”
“That is part of the reason why I volunteered,” Aphra said. “However, when I heard what had happened to you—what had happened to the Viking—I wanted to help you for another reason too.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
She sighed. “I first heard of you and the Viking after Rhodes. My mistress had already left before the bombs went off. Sadly, her visions had not told her of their existence. Her visions did tell her something of you, however.”
“Me?” I asked.
“Yes—she saw you helping many people following a disaster. She just didn’t know that that disaster would occur the day after she left.” Aphra sighed. “But—though I admired what you did—that is not the part of the story of Rhodes that struck me so.”
“What struck you?”
She smiled. “Having lived with my soul mate for more than two hundred years, I can recognize the lengths one would go to in order to keep such a person safe.” Her smile faded. “My husband died to save me while I was carrying our fourth child.” She sat forward a little. “Why did you go to Eric in Rhodes when you knew the bomb was about to go off. Why not Bill? Why not Quinn? Why not just save yourself?”
“I don’t know,” I stammered, having not been expecting that question. “I just wanted to get to him. I didn’t think about it. I just went. I later thought it was because of the bond.”
“I know that wasn’t why,” I said.
She smiled again. “So you gave no thought to your own safety?” she asked.
“No,” I answered.
“If it were just you and not the baby to be considered and giving yourself up to de Castro would mean that Eric could go free, would you do it?” she asked.
“Yes,” I responded without hesitation.
“Would Eric want you to do such a thing?”
I shook my head as a sudden realization hit me. “Eric would have had that option before—wouldn’t he?”
Aphra nodded. “Yes. He could have offered you to de Castro in exchange for his freedom, but he did not. Remember, Eric risked his life in Rhodes too. When you were holding the small explosive device in your hands, he came to you.”
“He wouldn’t leave,” I said, recalling the look in Eric’s eyes that night. I’d not had a vivid dream about that night, but I still remembered those eyes very well nonetheless.
Stubborn. Passionate. Obstinate. Loving. Unafraid. Steadying.
“Niall meets with your vampire once a year in secret—to tell him news of you. They last met two months ago,” Aphra said.
“What?” I asked, not immediately grasping all of the implications of what she was telling me. “But Niall closed the portals!”
Aphra rolled her eyes. “Yes—they’ve been ‘permanently’ closed so much during the last thousand years that I’ve gotten whiplash from the swoosh of them closing,” she paused dramatically, “over and over and over again.”
Sookie opened her eyes wide. “Would Niall help me? Would he help me help Eric?”
Aphra nodded. “You have many allies, Sookie, including a vampire prophetess who can see a future where it will take much less time than 197 years for you to reunite with your beloved.”
Sookie gasped. “What? What do I need to do?” she asked, right before a sharp pain hit her and doubled her over.
“Fuck!” Sookie yelled.
Aphra looked at Sookie’s belly, even as Dr. Ludwig popped into the room.
“Right now, you need to have a baby, little girl,” the diminutive doctor intoned.
“But it’s not time,” Sookie said with fear in her voice.
Dr. Ludwig rolled her eyes. “Yes it is. Your child is ready to be born.”
Aphra grinned. “Yes. And do not worry about the rest right now. My mistress is on the job.” She winked. “Just remember—you are not alone.”
Check out the 3rd installment, “Resolving,” by clicking its banner.
This is who I see as Dr. Smith / Aphra.