Leaving the safe house and driving forty minutes away was a test of sorts. Eric wanted—maybe even needed—to know what the effect on the bonds would be if he were not so close to Sookie. And he knew that the distance and the time away from Sookie would not be too great. Meanwhile, with Sookie asleep, he hoped that any discomfort she might have felt would be limited. And Leonie was present if the distance began to hurt his bonded in ways it didn’t hurt him.
It took only an hour to get Kuruk to the hospital, where Onawa and Tray were recovering and where Elina was waiting for him with a report.
Both Onawa and Tray were due to be released the following day, and the doctors had been glamoured not to question their amazing recovery rates. Between the fairy’s magic promoting quick healing and the vampire blood they’d been given, as well as their own capacity as two-natured beings to heal quickly, both Onawa and Tray would be fully functional again by the next full moon in two weeks’ time.
Eric didn’t bother to stay to socialize. Elina and Onawa would understand, and he barely knew Tray, though the Were had proven his worth.
In truth, Eric was already very anxious to get back to his bonded. It was clear that their bonds did allow for them to be apart from each other, for neither of them had been “physically pulling” at him to get back to her. Still, he missed her.
The Viking realized that he’d grown quite used to being with her—sharing all aspects of his life with her—and he honestly didn’t think that would be changing anytime soon. Or ever. But it was nice to know that they could have a certain amount of independence without the bonds causing them physical pain. He was hoping that neither Sookie nor he would ever think of the bonds as “limiting.”
Oh, they would clearly have to spend much time together, and they’d have to live together—both things they would have done anyway because of the love they felt for one another. But a little distance at times would help them maintain a healthy relationship, given their personalities. His bonded could visit friends and go places of reasonable distances from him during the daytime; in other words, she could function as a “normal” human. And he could sometimes leave her at home if he was faced with “bloody” nighttime tasks—not that Sookie was any shrinking violet.
Still, she hated gratuitous violence. And Eric had no doubt that there would be times when he’d have to deal out a bit of it in order to keep his family and friends safe. Sookie accepted that violence was a part of the supernatural world and would obviously participate in that violence—when needed. But Eric intended to try to balance honesty about any threats they faced with acknowledgement of her feelings. Of course, she would have to—in turn—try to understand his vampiric instinct to protect her, made even stronger because of their bonds. In truth, he did not believe that she would deny his bloodlust when it was warranted, such as when it had been in the Phoenix parking garage with the damnable Weres. After that incident, he’d felt her acceptance, not her judgment.
And he knew that he’d feel her continued acceptance of him, though he didn’t expect her “enthusiasm” when it came to his “darker” actions. And he was fine with that. He wasn’t expecting for her to suddenly transform into a blood-thirsty Viking either—though he did still plan to continue training her to be a warrior when need be.
As he pulled into the safe house garage, he assessed his surroundings. There were no suspicious scents. He could tell that the fairy was in the living room, likely eating even more popping corn. He could hear the steady heartbeat of his bonded. She was still asleep, and—if the bonds were any indication—she’d been that way since he left.
He sighed. They would leave that safe house the next night, but it didn’t matter. He was home.
“Will you come back at daybreak?” Eric asked the fairy, his kin.
Leonie smiled and nodded. “Of course. But, for now, I will visit Claude. I believe Niall will be with him.”
“I’d tell you to offer him my appreciation, but . . . ,” Eric started.
“But he was too much of an asshole last night,” she finished. “I know. But that was actually him coming around. He may do better in the future.”
“My bonded has a soft heart,” the vampire said. “She will forgive him and will want him in her life—but she will not allow him there if he cannot accept us and our bonds.”
“Yes. I think you are right. And I think that’s an improvement in her,” Leonie commented.
Eric looked at her in question.
“In the past, Sookie wanted so much to be loved that she would accept people into her life that didn’t accept her fully. In the past, she would have tried with Niall even if he critiqued her and the bonds at every turn. Now—because of your love and the confidence that she has built within herself—she won’t stand for such half-love. Such half-acceptance.” Leonie smiled. “I am proud of her for these things. And proud of you for bringing them out in her—for giving her the room she needed to find herself.”
“She has shown me that there is more to me, too,” Eric commented honestly. He’d come to trust the fairy—his relative and a woman who had become like a mother to his bonded. He marveled at the turnings of fate, for it continued to teach him lessons. He’d just gone through his darkest time in many ways, but he’d found that—when he’d called—he’d had allies aplenty.
Good allies—strong and true.
In that moment, he knew that he’d spent his life well, having lived honorably enough to earn those friends and the woman in his bed. He meant to continue earning her.
Leonie gave his arm an affectionate pat and then “popped” away.
Eric slipped into the bed behind his lover and practically purred as she moved automatically to mold herself into him.
“We are one,” he whispered.
Not wanting to wake her, he went into down-time for a few hours, just basking in her scent, her closeness.
And in their freedom.
“What has you so happy?” she asked groggily.
“It is a long list,” he sighed, coming out of down-time.
She turned to look at him. He’d left on the light in the hallway behind her, so she could see his features quite well.
“I have a long list too,” she shared.
“We are free, min älskade—free to do as we will.”
“And what would you like to do?” she asked, biting her lower lip somewhat nervously.
“Our winning doesn’t change that we are together, my love,” Eric reassured.
She chuckled. “I know. It just feels weird. I hardly let myself think about what would happen after Russell was gone—after we didn’t have to run anymore.”
“I know,” Eric responded. “It will take some,” he paused, “getting used to.”
“So what do you want to do?” she asked.
“Hide out from the world for a while.”
She giggled. “That’s what we’ve been doing.”
“I know,” I chuckled but then sighed.
“Agnes offered you a kingship. And she offered you Area 5 back,” Sookie observed.
“Fangtasia was burned down. I’m sure most of my other businesses were too. There is insurance to be claimed, but I’m sure Desmond is on that—ready to file the paperwork as soon as the war was fought.”
“How is he? I didn’t see him after the fight,” Sookie commented.
“I don’t know if you noticed the group of demons that crashed the party last night,” Eric said, “the ones that kept our fairy kin busy.”
“They were the ones with the fire bombs,” Sookie commented.
“Yes. Anyway, once the battle was over and won, Jasper Fant and Desmond went after what was left of the clan. I believe there was a fight in an alley about a mile from the hotel.”
“What happened?” Sookie asked.
“The strongest of the clan was killed during the battle—as were several other members. Duncan told me that the remaining three were killed rather quickly. Apparently Jasper had been teeming for battle, though he’d stayed at his post protecting the witches.”
“Good thing too,” Sookie sighed.
“Mmm,” Eric voiced his agreement. “But Desmond suffered some minor injuries. He will be fine, however.”
They were silent for a moment.
“I do want to go to Bon Temps—check on Gran’s house and see Jason. And Sam. And Tara—if she and Alcide go back to that area, though I have a feeling they might permanently settle in Canada with Henry’s group,” Sookie added.
“We can do that,” Eric said. “I have a couple of safe houses in the area that even Russell’s people shouldn’t have been able to find. There are,” he paused, “things in them that I would like to ensure are secure, but beyond that, I’ve no more interest in Area 5—not unless you want to live there.”
Sookie shook her head. “No. I’d like good enough relationships with my brother and friends to be able to visit, but I don’t think I’d feel at home there anymore. And I don’t think they’d accept you like they should. And that’s a deal-breaker.”
Eric leaned in and kissed her gently. “Thank you, my love.”
“So Pam’s going to be the Sheriff of Area 1?” Sookie asked after a moment.
“Yes. I think that she will accept it.”
“That includes Slidell—doesn’t it?” she asked.
“Why yes it does. Should we move there? Stay in that house and make it our nest?”
“What would we do?” she asked.
“You mean for a living?”
“Yes—silly,” she said, lightly hitting his chest.
He rumbled with a chuckle. “Whatever we want. You could go to school—either online or at one of the college campuses in the area. We could open a business.”
“What kind?” she asked.
“Any kind.” He smiled. “We both have bar experience.”
“A vampire bar like Fangtasia?”
“Hmm. Maybe something a little tamer—since I’m a married man now,” he chuckled. “But we could cater to Supernaturals if we liked.”
“I’d be a barmaid again?” she asked.
“You were never just that,” he commented. “We’d run the place together. Our roles could be whatever we wanted. Or we could open any other kind of business. It is fun to learn new ones, and I’ve already had experience with many kinds.”
“And you’ve got lots of dough,” she commented.
“Yes—you did marry into money,” he returned with a grin.
She shook her head. She had been slowly learning to accept that Eric had more money that he would ever know what to do with—even with Pam as a child. He had houses all over the world. He had investments in banks in Asia, Australia, Africa, South America, North America, and Europe. And he claimed that he would have one in Antarctica if there were a bank there. Currently, there was only a single ATM—Wells Fargo. But Eric was a visionary, and she knew it would be only a matter of time. Hell—to find more night, he might figure out how to settle them on the icy continent for half the year. She shivered and decided never to even mention that as a joke. After all, he might take her seriously.
“There is mischief in the bond, my lover,” Eric grinned.
“Hmmm,” she returned. “Maybe.”
He chuckled and leaned in to kiss her again.
“Of course, we’ve got to plan a human wedding now,” Eric said after he’d pulled away to let her catch her breath. That statement was enough to make her catch it again.
She glanced down at the ring Eric had gotten for her for her engagement ring. “What states allow vampire/human marriage again?” she asked after she’d caught her breath.
“Vermont . . . ,” Eric started.
“Not there!” Sookie said.
The Viking chuckled. “Fair enough. Massachusetts and California have ballot initiatives. We’ll know in the next week if they pass,” he commented.
“It’s November,” Sookie sighed. She brightened. “We could have a Thanksgiving gathering—for Leonie and Klymene and Duncan and Pam. And maybe Claude if he can get some more scent cover-up. Oh! And Amelia and Octavia.”
Eric interrupted her with a chuckle. “I think we’re going to need to rent a restaurant.”
“Or build one,” Sookie countered with a grin.
“Thanksgiving gathering next year then,” Eric grinned.
Sookie nodded. “Okay. Brady can come then. And we have to wait to get married till he can be there, too.”
“Why?” Eric asked.
Sookie rolled her eyes. “‘Cause I am going to have three bridesmaids: Leonie, Tara, and Amelia.”
She rolled her eyes again. “That means you need three people to stand up with you.”
“Don’t you know anything about human weddings?”
“Very little,” the Viking admitted with a chuckle.
Sookie sighed. “Duncan—obviously. And Pam. And Brady. Your groomsmen.”
“You think you know me so well,” he said flirtingly.
“Yeah,” she answered sincerely. “Just like you know me.”
“That we do, min älskade,” Eric said just as sincerely.
“So—visiting our old haunts, starting a life in Pam’s territory, and getting married,” Sookie listed. “What should we do first?”
“Hmm. How about a vacation?”
They both laughed.
“Up for a road trip?” he asked.
She giggled and suggested they start in Fort Stockton—right before she rode him like the stallion he was.
As always, thanks to Kleannhouse and Sephrenia for their hard work!