I’d grown accustomed to the pleasant sensations of rising with Sookie, but this time was almost too much.
I was high on her adrenaline. Energized. Eager to rise fully…
I could sense she was with me, but it took some time to realize she was on me, straddling me…
When I opened my eyes, she smiled from ear to ear, scooting up and drumming my stomach excitedly. Damp hair and a clean robe, robbing me of hints about what she’d been up to…
But the sight itself was spectacular.
I couldn’t help but smile back at her. “What’s this?”
Her eyes rolled up to ceiling and she cooed, “I had an awesome day. I hated that you missed it, but I thought I’d save some of my good mood just for you.”
Given how miserable we’d been the night before, she deserved it. Even though we tried to put our scare behind us, retiring early to enjoy some lazy time, we were both still reeling when I died for the day.
“What made your day so awesome that your Master couldn’t stop smiling if he wanted to?”
“It all started with grits.”
She nodded. “Technically it’s polenta, but once you add bacon and cheese, it’s the same thing. Saskia is feeling really proud of herself for that discovery. It was so good, I had leftovers for lunch and we’re making shrimp and grits for dinner tonight, but I guess it’d be called polenta and prawns here.”
“Are grits completely responsible for your mood?”
She shook her head. “No, but it started the roll…”
She leaned sideways almost laying down on the bed to show me she’d filled the picture frame Pam bought to make our room stand apart from the others. She’d hung it next to the door and it was large enough there was no way to miss it.
“Brandon and the kids helped scan the Stackhouse albums and fill the frame from Pam. Now we all have a slideshow on our computers. I’m going to need some help going digital, but the kids have been playing all day… Except for when…”
She bit her lip and pulled Brandon’s cell phone out of the pocket of her little robe to display a photo of her. She was sitting atop one of the dormers on the roof of the fucking castle.
She scrolled to the next photo of her leaning against one of the chimneys.
In spite of how proud she was, I was still unhappy. She was still so frail… If something happened to her while I was dead…
She was still smiling as she turned the phone around to begin toying with it. “Shhhhh. Let me explain before you worry too much… Saskia joked that I might want to pace myself with the rich food so I don’t get fat. I told her I’m actually trying to gain some weight… Brandon suggested I start exercising to build muscle… one thing led to another and… I climbed the castle!”
“You climbed it? I think I preferred being anxious over the idea of you climbing out of the window to take a walk on the roof…”
“Hold on…” She handed the phone to me and continued, “Brandon’s been climbing for a few years. Julie too. They went to a rock gym in Bossier. Some of the guys at work turned him onto it because it doesn’t just build muscle like weightlifting. It helps with agility too. Technically, I was ‘buildering’ because I climbed a building. Gerrit went onto the roof to secure the safety line for us. I was wearing a harness so if I slipped I wouldn’t have hit the ground.” Hearing that there were safety measures was somewhat of a relief.
“Who held the safety line for you?”
“Anja. Gerrit had her do it because she has really good reflexes… If you hit play, you can see it.”
“How many times did you slip?”
“None. I did really well. It was such a rush.”
My thumb hovered over the button, not wanting to see her in danger.
“The only reason I’m going to watch this is because of how proud you’re feeling.”
She smiled as she repositioned to put her head on my shoulder. “I know you’re worried, but I was safe. That’s why I had them record it.”
She tapped the button and watched with me…
A rope was woven around a wide leather belt as a makeshift harness. Charlie was acting as cameraman while Brandon stood next to Sookie at the wall of the castle, instructing Sookie on footholds and handholds… explaining that the stone bricks made the wall perfect for beginners because all of the ledges she’d be clinging to were uniform.
I couldn’t help but wonder if her brother was being so encouraging of her as a way to irritate me after I’d told him I’d never hurt Sookie.
Sookie ran fingers through my hair trying to sooth me. “You don’t need to be so tense when you already know how it ends. I’m fine.”
Brandon went along with Sookie, scaling the first meter alongside her…
She didn’t seem to mind when he pushed himself away from the wall to run over to secure the safety line with Anja…
One stone at a time, Sookie climbed while most of our guests and guards cheered her on. I even heard Swaantje offering encouragement in the background.
She didn’t actually slip, but she came close due to a laughing fit when a lizard of some sort scurried up the wall and stopped to look at her. The only thing that could be understood was when she shrieked at Miles for sneaking up on her.
“Can you hear their thoughts while they’re shifted?”
“No. It’s more like Vampires. Feelings mostly. Occasionally an image. We can tell they aren’t animals though… So like if a ‘cow’ tried to wander onto the property from the farm to the south, we’d know like the guards would.”
“Good to know.”
She didn’t say anything else, eager to have me watch the video that would test whether I could have a heart attack.
The cell phone’s camera had been zoomed in on Sookie, but Charlie took a moment to zoom out to show that Sookie was nearing the third story windows…
I probably would have felt better if Sookie was climbing one of the faces of the castle that would have allowed her to fall into the moat instead of the hard stone surface of the courtyard.
The camera zoomed in again when Sookie reached the roof, taking hold of the lip and letting her body dangle for a moment.
As she pulled herself up, she laughed to her spectators, “This is all Eric, right here. I couldn’t ever do pull-ups before.”
Swaantje yelled back, “That just means we need to work on your upper body strength!”
While the video centered on Sookie as she seemingly admired the view from the roof, she explained, “Dinh mentioned that he found a trainer for me, but Swaantje wants to do it. We talked while the guys looked for ropes. She knows what happened and that I’m not really up for going out to Maastricht… She says the gym equipment in the barracks and the land here is enough to help me get healthier.”
“If Domina says she can help, it’s as good as done.”
She giggled, “I kinda got that vibe from her… So…” Sookie cued the next video and pressed the play button. “This video is just of me rappelling back down after Brandon came up to take some pictures of me…”
“Rappelling? Why didn’t you just use one of the windows?”
“That wouldn’t have been any fun… I climbed again too… and then Swaantje took me to the barracks and her and Gerrit made a list of things for me to do. I worked out and weighed myself. I LOVE the metric system… I weigh 45 kilograms. That means my short term goal is 48. Long term is 58, give or take.”
“You’ve already gained some weight back. Your face has already begun filling out.”
She giggled, “Are you willing to spot me a kilo?”
I wanted to, for my own selfish reasons.
“No. I think 48 is a good goal… No more climbing though…”
I practically choked on the rest of what I was going to say when Sookie frowned… That pouty face… those misty eyes…
“But I’m okay.”
“Just until we can have proper safety equipment… And I want to see you do it. Live, not in a recording.” I wanted to actually feel her rush, not just the after effects… I wanted it all.
Her nose wrinkled when she smiled. She cooed, “Thank you,” and kissed my cheek. “So Majesty, do you want to observe quiet time tonight even though we holed up in here for hours last night?”
“I don’t count last night and… we have plans tonight.”
“Tomorrow night is Ramstein… What’s tonight?”
“We’ll have a visitor.”
“Ooooooooh, you’re intentionally being vague. A surprise or someone you’re sure I’ll want to steer clear of?”
She giggled before I opened my mouth to answer.
“You already used my mind to get your answer, didn’t you?”
“Don’t be mad. I’ll stop so I don’t spoil anything.”
“I’m not mad… proud of you for being sly, but not mad. Don’t get your hopes up though. The company will be a bit of a chore.”
She hummed against my side and tightened her arm over my ribs. “Then I’d best not think about it… Ummm… Would you like to hear the topics of the day? It’s been pretty busy.”
“As long as you’re the one giving my update. I’ve had time to reconsider Dinh as spooning material.”
She giggled, “Okay… the kitchen gossips have raised a few eyebrows at the whole Ema and Dillon thing… She’s crushing on him hard.”
“But you can’t read her mind.”
“Neither can Rosalie or Saskia, but Ema’s showing all the signs of being eat-slam-up. If you want proof, just mention his name. Increased heart rate, blushing, stammering… It’s an advanced case of swoonitis. It’s adorable and sad at the same time. She didn’t get out much. Her parents made dating about as convenient as my ability did for me.”
“Is he giving her a reason to swoon or is this going to become an unrequited nightmare?”
“We don’t know yet, but I’m looking for my first chance to get into that head of his. They spent most of the day together again.”
“As protective as your brother is, he didn’t have anything to say about that?”
She laughed, “He was too busy memorizing Luus’s butt, counting her freckles… and that’s the G-rated stuff he let slip.”
I’d be lying if I tried to say I hadn’t noticed… Luus was anything but hard on the eyes.
I chuckled, “That gossip will be much more fun. She’ll eat Brandon alive… When did Princess Rutger arrive?”
“She’s here to meet her nephew… Once her mom told her about all the excitement out here, she volunteered to stand in while Swaantje and Jaya are busy with the baby.”
“Dillon is being chased by Ema and his sister is being chased by your brother…”
“Between that stuff and the discovery of polenta, the kitchen’s been buzzing all day except for when we were outside climbing.”
“Is Luus still here?”
She laughed through her nose and shook her head. “You’re gonna mess with Brandon, aren’t you?”
I shrugged, “Maybe a little.”
She pushed herself up to sit on her knees next to me again. “Shields are up. What’s the plan?”
“I think it might be fun to fuck with his opinion of me. I don’t think I’ll involve you though…”
“You can. He’s pissing me off too. He’s trying to chill out, especially since Klaasje and Pam blew up on him for being such a shit, but he’s still being a bit of a tool.”
Making the accusation I wouldn’t allow Sookie to go with the children to the barn and visit the puppies last night had been the last straw for them. Pam and Klaasje acted in unison to pin him to the floor and explain that we’d all had enough of his negativity, there was more happening than his little mind could comprehend, and the details of what had ‘crawled up our asses’.
“What did he do today?”
“Nothing really… It was innocent, but since he knows why we were all freaking out last night, he had a couple of thoughts that should have been flattering… While we made breakfast, he thought it might have been a good thing if I was pregnant because it would be my only chance to have kids since I seem stuck with you.”
“Asshole.” That was all that came to mind.
“Which part? I mean, it was sweet that he thought I’d be a good mom… but it’s not like he asked me if I ever wanted kids. He just assumes I’m settling and that you wouldn’t let me go if I wanted to leave.”
“Do you want children?”
She shrugged. “No. I never wanted to pass on the genes that made me so miserable. I love kids and I’m going to have fun raising Hunter, but my ability was always a problem. It interfered with everything and I wanted to be normal.”
“You know how many Sookies there are who changed their mind. Sookies who had children who weren’t haunted by their ability because their mother could nurture it.”
“And there are Sookies who didn’t. None of them went through the nightmare I did because of being telepathic. I’d be terrified the same thing could happen. I might not let poor Hunter out of my sight as it is. Besides, according to the journals, Sookies don’t glow while they’re pregnant, they seethe… I’ll get to visit with little possibilities, babies that could have been, but if I was going to change my mind, I’d only want one. Hunter gets to be my one. No stretch marks. No potty training. Just a sweet little man who needs someone to love him. I can do that.”
She meant it… every fucking word of it… but I couldn’t help but wonder if it was just too soon after her ordeal or maybe just our scare the night before…
“If you change your mind, if you decide you want to have a baby every year until I bring you over, I’ll make sure that happens. Don’t let your fears keep you from what you want. You’re safe now.”
Her chin puckered as she nodded and she leaned over to kiss me. “That’s very sweet. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Of course she would.
“I’ll believe that when you shave.”
Her eyes lit up and she blurted, “I did! Is it weird that it helped me feel Human again? I guess I’m just a creature of habit.”
Perhaps it was just because she knew the choice was entirely hers to make.
“Then we’ll have to consider that before I bring you over. I’m sure you’d hate to have stubble forever.”
She giggled, “That would suck. A lot. I mean, it’s not dark, so it doesn’t scream for attention, but it feels rough.”
She stretched a leg out and pulled my hand to her thigh, inviting me to feel the difference.
“I was so excited, I nicked myself a few times… well, excited and out of practice. It has been a few months.”
She nibbled her lip and shifted to straighten her other leg and show me a large scrape along her Achilles tendon.
“That isn’t a nick. You flayed yourself.”
I pricked my thumb to heal her wound while she offered, “If you think that’s bad, you should’ve seen what I did to myself the first time. I was fourteen and didn’t know how important a fresh razor was. I used one of Jason’s. I looked like I shaved with a cheese grater. He teased me about needing a transfusion and to make matters worse, I only shaved because I was going to a friend’s pool-party and she said something about the hair on my legs to make me self-conscious. After I tore myself to ribbons, I didn’t go.”
“You said you nicked yourself a few times. Where are the others?”
It didn’t matter that she wasn’t in any discomfort. Just the idea of her being injured, no matter how, needled me to no end.
She grinned tensely and cooed, “I didn’t hurt myself. You worry too much.”
She sighed, “Higher up. As soon as I realized I was bleeding, I grabbed a fresh razor.” She leaned back and pushed her robe and panties out of the way to show a small nick and a case of razor burn.
I had to prick my thumb again and as I healed that tiny blemish on her skin, I asked, “Are there more?”
She said ‘few’. She could have said ‘couple’, but she said ‘few’.
She raised an eyebrow. “Just one, but I’m tempted to make you look for it… You shaved while you were alive. You know I’m fine.”
She was arguing.
She was arguing and making a valid point… and she didn’t instantly regret disagreeing with me.
When I stared up at her, she didn’t retract her suggestion to make me do anything.
Even if she pleaded with me to allow her to climb just a few minutes before, she wasn’t backing down.
I stared, giving her time, testing if she’d withdraw… Nothing.
I finally curled my finger, drawing her closer… she shifted again to put her legs under her and lean, but I pulled her down to lie on top of me.
“I won’t have to look for it if you take my blood.”
She sighed, but remained otherwise quiet for a moment as she stared back at me. She finally asked, “Is this because you didn’t realize you had an opinion about me shaving until after I shaved?”
“No. I just don’t like knowing you’re injured.”
“I love you… but you’re worrying too much. I understand about the rock-climbing, but… shaving nicks isn’t worth getting worked up over.”
“You think I’m being irrational?”
She thought about her answer for a moment before nodding. “Yeah… I want to be me again. Independent. This would smother the old me.”
“Then tell me to shut the fuck up because I’m smothering you.”
She nibbled her lip and rolled her eyes up before offering, “Shut the fuck up. You worry too much.”
She didn’t playfully repeat what I’d said verbatim. She didn’t refuse…
She told me to shut the fuck up and gave me her genuine reason…
I couldn’t have been more proud of her.
She didn’t give me the chance to say as much though… before I could concede, abandon my attempts to heal every blemish and irritation, she kissed me.
I couldn’t resist and I was sure Klaasje would be knocking on our door any minute… her interruption would save us from ourselves… I could enjoy it while it lasted.
But as the kiss deepened I thought of Klaasje more and more… hoping her nightly visit would keep Sookie from pushing me, and keep me from pushing Sookie.
Sookie pulled one of her knees up slowly, then the other to straddle me again…
I’d taken hold of her thighs, holding her as though something was trying to separate us.
I tried to distract myself by listening for Klaasje, but the silence of the rest of the floor was offering nothing… I tried to find some sort of activity happening in the rest of the house, but the only sounds to be heard was faint music, probably one of the children’s iPods… When nothing else helped, I concentrated on the flavor of Sookie’s kisses.
The new sweetness did nothing but spark my imagination… but I didn’t want to slow down to ask questions…
As much as I tried to just be on the receiving end, not seem too eager, I couldn’t stay completely still.
As I sat up, Sookie untied her robe, shrugging the sleeves away, one shoulder at a time…
What the fuck was keeping Klaasje?
It could have just been a kiss, a long powerful encouraging kiss, but still just a kiss if we’d only been interrupted. An interruption would have spared Sookie from feeling pressured or guilty for not being ready for more.
Even if everything about her mood said she was perfectly happy to be with me, spiraling as we were, I was sure there was only so far she’d be willing to go.
Still no interruption… and Sookie moved, I thought to make a retreat, but she was trying to pull the sheet from between us…
Before I let myself spend too much time thinking about it, that there was nothing but a thin lace barrier between us, I pulled away.
Tried to pull away.
Sookie only let me move far enough away for her to whimper, “Please don’t,” holding my face, resting her forehead against mine…
“We should stop.”
Her chin trembled as she left my legs to sit on the bed and hug her knees. “K… sorry.”
“You don’t have anything to be sorry for, but we should calm down…” Before her options were reduced to fucking me or silvering me.
She mumbled, “Right, the company,” against her knees and stared at the sheet.
She was… disappointed?
I leaned towards her and kissed her temple. “The company doesn’t have anything to do with it. I’m afraid my breaking point and your boundaries were very close to a conflict.”
She felt surprised, but didn’t show it. “I guess.”
“What is that? ‘I guess’… I don’t want to push you.”
She sighed, feeling a well of emotions, but looking perfectly content.
I waited for something verbal, struggling to decide what everything meant… If she was refusing to answer me, she wasn’t feeling resilient. If she was wary of my reaction, she wasn’t anxious enough.
She finally whispered, “My skin should crawl. The idea of being touched should make me sick.”
“I wouldn’t know, Sookie. I’m sorry… I am surprised I haven’t scared you, but…”
She interrupted, “It’s perfect,” still speaking softly, still staring at the sheet on our bed as though she was snow blind…
“What is? What’s perfect?”
“The way you touch me… It doesn’t matter what you do, nothing feels better than you.”
“I was worried you haven’t felt any hesitation because you don’t fully realize how difficult it is for me to hold back.”
She sniffled, “I don’t want you to. I’m surprised too… Because of what I went through? In spite of it? I don’t care, but it’s like… when you touch me like you do, it’s like that’s all there is. Nothing makes me feel safer, more loved.”
“I don’t want you to feel pressured or obliged, Sookie.”
She reached back and unhooked her bra, and then shifted to slide her panties down. When she turned to come back to me, straddle my legs again, I regretted that I hadn’t moved, left the bed, covered myself, something, anything…
She draped her arms over my shoulders and offered, “I feel cared for and protected.”
“Is this a seduction or are you offering yourself to me?”
Of course she picked then to maintain eye contact with me, while she considered her answer, the loaded silence.
My fucking hands twitched, reminding me they were much happier anywhere on her body than resting on the mattress.
“I’m just being honest, maybe still feeling my rush from earlier, but you told me to tell you what I want… I don’t want you to hold back anymore.”
Where the fuck was Klaasje? Pam? Of course the first time I wanted to be interrupted, was the one time everyone decided to leave me the fuck alone.
“Be that as it may, I still have to hold back for the time being. We’re expecting company…”
The disappointment she felt only made refraining more miserable. Refraining… vile concept. Why the fuck did I choose now to refrain?
“But given that you seem to feel neglected…”
Idiot that I was, I leaned over, rolling my tongue over her nipple… then being foolish enough to lick the other too.
She hugged my head and whimpered… as quiet as she was, the little noises she made left my ears ringing.
“We’ll have to see about retiring early tonight.”
She let out a ragged breath as she nodded… and finally the interruption I’d been hoping for…
The door leading downstairs opened and Miles’s voice echoed through the hallway. “Oy, Majesty… Baastian’s back from that errand.”
It was probably the first time I’d ever been happy to hear his voice…
But when he left, he walked through the house singing Barbie Girl.
His interruption was exactly what I needed to calm down, but I wasn’t sure if Sookie was going to stop laughing.