I’d died for the day relatively mind-fucked by Sookie’s sleepy confession, but otherwise as content as I could ever remember.
But the way I rose left something to be desired…
For lack of a better way to describe it, the bed was spinning as my senses came back to me.
An unrelenting pain in my chest and a bizarre dizziness were all that existed for several minutes until I could open my eyes…
Sookie was curled up with her back to me and her knees drawn up. She hadn’t pulled my arm back over her. Her hair was damp, her night gown was different from the one she fell to sleep in… The television was tuned to the History Channel again and Sookie was sleeping through a special about sex in the Bible.
I put my hand on her hip to try to rouse her, but it didn’t earn any reaction, but she finally groaned when I pulled her back to me.
She whimpered, “Yeah?”
“Everything.” She sounded more weak and broken than she had the night I met her.
“Not everything. You’re safe. You’re free. You’re with me… What happened to upset you?”
“He can’t hurt you anymore. Anything that’s happened today is residual… Talk to me.”
She began crying as she choked out, “I couldn’t leave.”
“You can now, Sookie. Whenever, wherever… You have choices now.”
“No… I couldn’t leave… I freaked out. I tried. I really… I really tried… I couldn’t do it.”
“This… this… this morning. I took a bath… and I… I met Brandon… I ate breakfast… I ate and I… I barely made it… when I saw the car…”
“You couldn’t leave the hotel?” Fuck… One step forward, two steps back.
She rolled over and clung to me, quietly weeping against my chest, “Yeahhhh… I couldn’t… I panicked and… I was okay and then I just lost it.”
“Lost it how?”
“I couldn’t breathe. The lobby was spinning… I couldn’t… Willis brought me back because I…”
“When did you panic? What triggered it?”
She sniffled and whined, “When we got to the door… the driver was waiting and…”
I put my finger to her lips when her breathing became shaky. “I think it was my fault… We bonded very quickly… I don’t think you were afraid to leave the hotel. I think you were afraid to be so far away from me. You didn’t have a reaction when we went to find Charlie and you’ve already proven that you feel safe with me.”
She held her breath for a moment before she pulled away to ask, “Yeah?”
I nodded and thumbed away her tears. “When we leave tonight, I doubt you’ll have another reaction… Perhaps once you realize our bond is why you don’t want to leave me, you’ll be able to identify it as attachment instead of panicking about the unknown.”
She rolled to her back, putting her hands to her forehead and gasping, “My God… I ate every freakin’ brownie I had and it barely chilled me out. I sat in the tub until I was out of candles… It was the bond?”
“I think our bond intensified how safe you feel with me.”
She let her arms fall to the bed and stared at the ceiling for long enough I thought she was beginning to regret bonding.
“I’d rather focus on the good news since we can work to prevent a recurrence of the adverse affects.”
“What’s the good news?”
“You left the room without me, Sookie. You should be proud of yourself.”
Her chin trembled and she whimpered, “I was.”
“You woke up. You showered. You dressed. You walked through the door to our room. You stepped onto the elevator. You braved another hallway. You sat in your brother’s room and ate your breakfast. You made it all the way down to the lobby. You did it all of your own volition. And the only thing to stop you from leaving the hotel was seeing the car that would take you to a new location without the one you trust to protect you from variables… I’m very proud of you… You should be too.”
She cringed and rolled back towards me to put her arm over my shoulder and hug my neck. She sobbed, “I’ve been thinking… since this morning… Bill… I thought…”
“You aren’t broken, Sookie. If we could have seen that coming, you probably wouldn’t have felt much more than mild uneasiness… It would make sense the spell wouldn’t help because it was our bond rather than your trauma and the pot might have been more effective if you weren’t consumed with a very rational concern.”
She shook her head slightly. “It wasn’t a real concern though… I thought…”
“It was. As far as you knew at the time, you were crippled by the idea of being agoraphobic as a result of your imprisonment. You’ve made several strides over the past few days and you panicked over the assumption that you were more affected than you thought… You’re improving, Sookie. Every night I see something new. More independence. More personality. More smiles… You’re a far cry from the tragic Sookie who wanted to die rather than enduring further torment. Think about it… just a few nights ago you didn’t feel safe unless you were by my side. Today you hated, more than anything, that you couldn’t leave me…”
She lurched away from me. “God! No… Not like that, Eric. I didn’t want to leave you… My panic attack, it scared the kids and worried Brandon and Ema…”
I shushed her gently and finished, “It wasn’t that you wanted to leave me. You wanted to enjoy some time with your family. I understand that… Did they still go to the zoo?”
She cringed and asked, “Are we changing the subject?”
I nodded. “We’ve established a theory about why you panicked. We’ve established you should be proud of yourself. And I don’t want you to think you have to defend your reasons to want to enjoy an outing with your family.”
“You aren’t pissed?”
“Do I feel pissed?”
She studied my chest for a moment before her eyes met mine again and she shook her head. “No… no, you’re worried and proud and… Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Did Brandon opt to stay at the hotel?”
“He tried… I made him promise to go so the kids wouldn’t try to read my mind. It was pretty ugly for a while.”
“I’m sure. Have they returned yet?”
She shrugged. “I’ve been hiding… Willis must’ve checked on me a dozen times the first hour. I didn’t want to deal with him.”
“Then how was your visit over breakfast?”
“It was good… the kids are chomping at the bit to see Pam. They want to thank her for their iPods. Pam had Willis pre-load them with Disney movies and soundtracks… And he filled a rolling suitcase with all kinds of craft supplies. And there’s a huge box of snacks and even Brandon approved. Willis woke his sister up to have her help him.”
“How was Brandon’s mood?”
“It was alright.”
“You aren’t very convincing.”
“I think he’ll be fine with some time… maybe an ass-whoopin’ or two.”
“Are you suggesting I ‘whoop’ your brother?”
She giggled, “Oh no… not you. He might need a special sister whoopin’. He’s never had one of those.”
“What would a sister whoopin’ entail?”
She bit her bottom lip and her eyes rolled up while she thought. “Ummm… Noogies, wedgies, Indian burns… that kind of thing.”
“I have no idea what noogies or Indian burns are.”
Her eyes lit up. “Really? Were you an only child?”
“No. I had brothers and a sister.”
She nodded knowingly. “You probably did something similar… a noogie is when you ball up your fist and rake your knuckles over the other person’s head really fast. And…” She took my hand and wrapped her hands around my wrist and twisted in opposite directions. “You’d hold tighter so the friction could hurt like hell, but that’s your basic Indian burn. Did y’all screw around like that?”
“No. We actually hurt one another… Couldn’t Brandon retaliate?”
“Yeah… that’s where you come in. If I call ‘uncle’, you hold him down so I can wet-willy him.”
“Do I want to know what that is?”
The evil twinkle in her eye was nothing if not sexy… seeing her rub her finger over her tongue was something else entirely. I couldn’t bring myself to care she ran her wet finger over my ear. She waited for moment before she began giggling, “I just wet-willied a Vampire King.”
“Why is that something that would be grouped with noogies and Indian burns?”
She reached over again and tentatively wiped my ear… the gentle tugging made my eyes want to roll back. “Well, it’s usually more aggressive and slimy.”
Her nose crinkled as she shook her head. “More like heavier juicing of the finger.”
“That’s disappointing. I was hoping for another demonstration.”
She blushed and smirked as she offered, “A wet-willy usually involves more of a fight and someone gets pinned.”
I let myself imagine that scene for longer than I should have. By the time I realized I was licking my lips, Sookie was giggling into her hands. I struggled to recover from my little fantasy with a change of subject. “Did you establish dinner plans earlier?”
No sooner than I realized how direct the line was between my mental wrestling match and dinner, Sookie began cackling, “It’s not funny, but it IS… You have a buzz because of me, don’t you?”
“I might. It’s my only excuse…”
She was still trying to stop laughing when she asked, “Is it a problem?”
“No… I’m sure the effects will wear off soon enough.”
Her grin was still stretched when she put her fingertip to the corner of my mouth. “Too soon. I like your smile.”
“Do I not smile often enough?”
“I don’t think you could possibly…” She ran her finger over my bottom lip. “No… I couldn’t get sick of that.”
The situation was beginning to spiral again. Her eyes were fixed on mine and she was wearing a blissful little grin on her lips. As her mood lifted, recovering from her miserable day with every giggle and smile, mine went with it.
“It’s a good thing I’m free to smile whenever we’re alone.”
“I’m not going to get to keep you to myself as much when we get to Eijsden, am I?”
“That’s funny… I thought I was the one coveting you.”
She shook her head and breathed, “No. I like being alone with you. You’re so sweet to me… You’re like my happy place.”
“Then being King might prove to be useful for once… There aren’t many reasons you couldn’t be at my side if that’s what you want.”
She smirked, inching closer. “That’ll probably pacify me.”
“It won’t be long before you want your space.” I was trying… doing my best to keep talking…
“Eventually, but for now…” She inched towards me, resting her hand on my cheek. “That sounds perfect.”
She lifted her chin, more sure than the last time she kissed me.
So began another free-fall…
Pulling her closer and forgetting everything surrounding us…
Resisting the urge to climb on top of her when her hand fisted into my hair…
Charged by every whimper she gave…
And tempted by every move she made…
Something other than Sookie, and the way she made me feel, finally worked its way back into our cocoon…
A droning pounding on the door to our room, interrupted by annoyed cursing, finally brought me back to reality.
I much preferred the dream.
Sookie rested her forehead against mine and grumbled, “Brandon,” as though I couldn’t hear his belligerent tirade.
“I could be angry at his timing, but we would have needed to calm down regardless. He’s here to check on you, yes?”
She rolled away from me, leaving me with nothing but a haunting of her on the bed, and slid her arms into her robe. “Yeah… I guess I need to order dinner anyway. We decided we should probably do room service so we can pack and everything.”
“You could go to his room and dine with your family while I pack.”
“I already did that… I tried to keep myself busy. I packed everything except what we’re wearing tonight…” She was interrupted by another, more aggressive, round of door pounding.
She huffed as she walked towards the door…
The door to our suite was opened, then closed, and after a long moment, there still wasn’t any conversation to be heard.
The only clue I had about the tenor of the silent brother-sister conversation was Sookie’s growing irritation. She was offended by something Brandon thought to her… If I had to guess, more of his confusion was surfacing…
At least, that would have been my best guess until I heard the slap…
Sookie slapped him hard enough I felt the sting in my own palm.
By the time I was at her side, her hands were balled up into tight little fists.
She growled, “Brandon, you need to go. I’m not doing this.”
He didn’t seem to mind his cheek was glowing as he shook his head. “Sorry, I’m not leaving you alone with him.”
When she raised her hand to slap him again, I caught her wrist. “Explain.”
She snarled in her brother’s direction. “I tried explaining about what happened earlier and he thinks you’re controlling me! He didn’t wait for any details. He jumped right to thinking you’re no better than Bill and you’re just better at hiding it.” That would explain the slap. He was lucky I wasn’t telepathic.
“Brandon, it would probably be best if you let Sookie calm down. She’s had a long day…”
He snorted, “So you can program her to think I’m the bad guy? Not a chance. She’s been through enough. She doesn’t need to be your new toy.”
“I think, more accurately, she’s been through enough and she doesn’t need to suffer your assumptions. She isn’t now and never will be considered a toy. I’m not programming your sister.”
“Right, except you missed the part where she told me you’re the reason she couldn’t leave the hotel this morning.”
Sookies mood only darkened as she gave up, crashing against my chest to mumble, “I told you. He didn’t let me finish.”
I put my arms around her automatically. “He needs a bigger picture, yes?”
“No! He needs a gag and a roll of duck tape. He could medal in Olympic conclusion jumping!”
He shouted, “If I’m wrong, explain it! You just got upset and slapped me.”
“Because you’ve got no reason to think of Eric like that! He’s been nothing but good to either of us! He doesn’t deserve that!”
“I’ve got no reason to think otherwise, Sookie! You freaked the fuck out in the lobby and nearly passed out! You kept thinking about getting back to Eric and when I got off the elevator, you were practically fucking! What that says to me is he’s controlling you and your moods!”
“I WANTED TO GET BACK TO ERIC BECAUSE I FEEL SAFE WITH HIM! And you need to stay the hell out of my head. Whether we were having sex or not is none of your damn business!”
“After what you just went through, you’re going to just pick up with him… because your last Vampire boyfriend was a good move?”
I let go of her, hoping she’d hit him again… She didn’t disappoint. Thanks to my blood, she moved too quickly for him to block the slap that would leave a welt on his cheek.
He hissed, “And you’re defending him! Go online, Sookie! Look it up! This whole scenario is straight out of a domestic abuse handbook!” That was just brilliant.
I’d reached my tipping point. “She WAS abused, idiot!”
He yelled back, “And what do you call the controlling and manipulating you’re doing now!? Humans have a word for that!” Who the fuck did he think I was controlling or manipulating? He was dangerously close to being slapped through a wall.
“Sookie, I’m going to shower. Where is the clothing you set aside?”
She huffed, “In the bathroom already… You’re leaving me alone with him? I don’t want to be alone with him when he’s acting like this.”
Brandon’s jaw dropped and he stared back and forth between Sookie and me for a moment before bellowing, “I’M YOUR BROTHER!”
Sookie countered, “WHO I JUST FREAKIN’ MET 24 HOURS AGO!” She walked towards the door and opened it. “Look, I know you don’t know anything about him… but I know plenty. He saved my life. I literally came to him without as much as a stitch of clothing and he took me on as a chore. I’ll never, even if I live forever, EVER be able to pay him back for everything he’s done for me… or let him know how much he means to me. Yes, I’m defending him… You’re being an ass. It’s unwarranted. It’s unfair. It’s more jaded than you have the right to be. You don’t have to get on the plane with us, US, but I do want you to. I want you to get your head out of your ass and realize what he’s done, not just for me, but for our whole family so I can get to know my brother and my niece. No matter what you’re thinking, Eric Northman is a good man.”
He stepped closer, leaning over to nearly put their noses together and seethed, “Just like that? You’re picking him over your own family?”
She shook her head. “I haven’t heard any ultimatums. Are you giving me one?” She couldn’t have been more confident about her response, their debate, any part of it…
“I don’t guess I am… Are you ever going to explain?”
“I saw the car and got anxious. I thought I was generally broken and flipped out from there… When I explained what I did to Eric, he theorized it was probably our bond. We bonded really quickly and we haven’t been very far apart since then… So my anxiety was probably because of that and he thinks if I had known that ahead of time, I wouldn’t have spiraled… Anything else?”
He studied her for a moment and judging by Sookie’s biding mood, she wasn’t reading his thoughts, just waiting for his answer.
“What if I did give you the ultimatum?”
She raised an eyebrow as quickly as she answered, “Then I’d miss you and Julie.”
He folded his arms and walked out, grumbling, “I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t issue any ultimatums then.”
She simply said, “Yup,” and swung the door closed behind him.
As soon as the door was shut, I lifted her over my head, pushing every bit of pride I could muster. She giggled as her legs dangled against my chest.
“THAT was phenomenal!”
She blushed. “Or stupid. He could have…”
“You stood up for yourself. You rejected his opinion.”
“And I hit my brother twice.”
I lowered her slowly to put her on the floor when I realized being near the ceiling made her dizzy. “Something tells me if you two had been raised together, there would have been a prolonged biting phase. He’s done his share of hitting since he’s been here.”
She snickered, “Good point.”
“I’m proud of you… You could have been fighting over apples and oranges, but you had it in you to argue and hold your ground.”
Her eyes misted just from hearing it. “Don’t you make me cry.”
“Happy tears are allowed. You didn’t even back down when his posture was more threatening.”
“We can blame the pot for my lack of sense.” Not when the more common side effects of pot were fear and paranoia.
“No. Take credit. That was the Sookie I followed onto the plane from Amsterdam. She’s sneaking back.”
She squinted her eyes impishly. “She is, isn’t she.”
“She definitely is… she’s sneaking back when you don’t realize it… and she’s forceful. It’s very sexy.”
She cackled and swatted my shoulders. “Go get your shower… do you want me to order your dinner when I order mine?”
No. I wanted her.
Before I could concede to needing to feed, because starving wasn’t a viable option, Sookie stepped towards me again, sweeping her hair away from her neck to offer, “Or do you just want to find something here in the room?”
I growled at the temptation and let my fangs down… She smiled and lifted her chin to the side, genuinely happy to have me feed from her.
I kissed her instead, nicking her lips just enough to take a few drops. “When you begin gaining weight… I don’t want to stall your recovery by taking your blood.”
She pouted, “How much?”
I stepped back. “Let’s set the goal of 3 kilos… When you call room service ask for a B+ donor. At least there will be a reason for it to be disgusting.”
Sookie clearly enjoyed her meal more than I did.
She’d jokingly asked to be carried to the car because she was ‘too stuffed to walk’.
As the elevator doors slid open in the lobby, Pam was waiting.
She volunteered. “I told him. He cried. I glamoured him. Right now, he thinks it’s last night so he’s out shopping for junk food again.” He… cried?
Sookie tilted her head and cooed, “Awwwww…” When she put her arms around Pam’s shoulders for a hug, she actually returned the gesture. “I’m sorry. This has to be rough. He’s such a sweetheart… It was really nice of you to glamour him too. This way he’ll be mad when he gets his wits back… that’ll distract him from how devastated he’ll be to lose you.”
Pam stepped back and lifted a suitcase. “I kind of just wanted him to stop crying. There’s only one excuse for a man to cry… Death, and even then it has to be a close loved one.”
Sookie added, “And when their children are born.”
Pam nodded to agree. “Aaaaaand… we’re done talking about ‘it’.”
“Yes ma’am… I love your boots.” That was the perfect subject change for Pam…
She looked down at them and smiled. “Valentino, for the win… and you two are quite the pair. Everyone is present and accounted for. Charlie took Rosalie to the restaurant to raid the desserts. Apparently, chocolate is the only thing she loves more than her son. Ema, Brandon and the children are on the curb. It’s just started to snow and you’d think it was raining diamonds.”
Sookie giggled, “Don’t make fun. You were in Louisiana long enough to know snow is right up there with unicorns. All of Raynard Parrish shut down for a week because of 2 inches once.”
When we reached the front desk, I put my arm out to stop them. I answered their confused looks by saying, “Sookie, you should join them. Pam and I will collect Charlie and Rosalie.”
Sookie tensed, but forced a grin. “Yeah? Are you sure?”
I nodded. “Positive. You’ll be fine.”
She nodded slowly and inhaled deeply several times. As she slowly walked away, Pam leaned closer and breathed, “What’s this about? The panic attack?”
I nodded. “She didn’t panic when we went to the hospital to meet Charlie… I’m sure it was our bond causing her fear of leaving.”
Once Sookie was through the rotating door, she turned to beam from the sidewalk. She was timid, but excited to have proven me right.
When Julie realized Sookie had joined them outside, she lunged and squeaked, “Aunt Sookie! It’s snowing!”
Sookie laughed as she lifted her niece. “Yes ma’am, it is.”
“You’re outside… You feel better?”
Sookie nodded. “I feel much better. Eric gave me an awesome pep talk. I’ll get my act together eventually.”
Pam raised an eyebrow to interrupt my eavesdropping just as Hunter joined the girls’ conversation.
“She seems alright. How far did she get this morning?”
“She collapsed inside. She didn’t make it to the door… I’ll get Charlie and Rosalie…”
She volunteered. “Oh, I’ll go…”
I shook my head. “I want her to feel me walk away, see that I’m not where she left me. I’ll go.”
I felt a sudden spike of fear from Sookie while Rosalie greeted me as cheerfully as humanly possible, but by the time I left the restaurant with the Loves (and a large bag of Double Decadence cake) Sookie’s fear had reduced to only a slight undercurrent of tension…
I winked as I passed her to take Rosalie’s bag to the trunk and she followed me to wrap her arms around me…
She hummed against my chest, “Thank you.”
“What are you thanking me for?”
“I thought I was going to lose it again when I saw you walk into the restaurant… But as soon as I got that feeling, it stopped… Thank you.”
“If you’re assuming the bond is responsible for it… I didn’t do that.”
She gasped and stepped back, “No.”
“I was testing you… proving the point. You did that on your own.”
I nodded. “The old Sookie must be sneakier than you thought.”
Her throat clenched and her eyes filled as she nodded. Happy tears. “I’m… I’m getting there, huh?”
I kissed her forehead. “You are… Just don’t let the old Sookie take over completely. You like me more than the other one.”
She giggled and took my hand as we walked around to side of the car. “No… this Sookie loves you.”