Title: Never Runs Smoothly
Author: Cat Chester
Disclaimer: Not mine, but I've started saving to buy them. Current total: £4.15p.
Spoilers: All 8 books
Summary: The Fellowship is growing more militant, everyone is in danger, not least Sookie. Can her and Eric's burgeoning relationship survive?
AN: Thanks and cookies to lj user="jess_lyons" for betaing this.
Sequel to An Understanding a href="." Part 1/a | a href="."Part 2/a
I woke up in Eric's arms, his fingers teasing and caressing me. This beat an alarm clock any day.
"Good morning, Miss Stackhouse," he smiled down at me.
I laughed, his formal speech was so at odds with what his hands were doing. His very talented hands, I might add.
Eric could do this all night, and suspecting he would given the chance, so I bit hard on his nipple, exciting him into hurrying things along. He was on top of me before I could blink and thrusting into me with all the expertise he'd learned in his 1000 years.
It isn't that I have a problem with taking my time, in fact having sex is one of my favourite ways to spend time with Eric, but tonight we were supposed to be at Fangtasia. The languorous love making could wait until later.
I lay in his arms after that, examining one of the hands that had just brought me so much pleasure.
"You should be a pianist," I told him.
"Why is that, exactly?" he asked, trying to figure my thought processes out.
"Because you have very talented fingers."
He laughed. At times like these I could almost believe Eric was human. Granted, he wasn't breathing and there was no heartbeat, but while we lay together with no agendas and no vampire politics to get in the way, he was completely unguarded and I loved that.
He scooped me into his arms and carried me into the bathroom.
"I can play," he told me.
I rolled my eyes. "Why does that not surprise me." Damn vampires, they could do everything.
He shrugged. "I got bored once and decided to learn but that doesn't mean I can play well."
"Right." I was willing to bet he was brilliant by almost anyone's standards.
He set me on my feet in the shower stall and stepped in after me.
"Out!" I ordered, pointing at the door.
"Sookie?" he almost sounded hurt.
"No, we have work and we're never going to get there if you don't leave me to shower in peace."
He gave me the puppy dog eyes. Ever since he'd remembered our time together, he'd realised how effective those eyes were at wearing me down.
"Uh, uh, no. Out! Now!" He turned away, doing his best to look forlorn.
"You are a hard hearted woman, Sookie."
I just glared, but I wasn't really upset. This was almost becoming a weekly ritual with us but I suspected if I began giving into his demands, he would stop making them. Eric was nothing if not professional. I liked that he teased me.
I pinned my hair up, turned the shower on and washed quickly.
Eric's bedroom was basically a top of the range panic room. It was a decent size, being about 15 feet by 15, and it had been decorated to look as much like a normal room as possible, but the tell tale signs were still there. One corner held a bank of small TV screens that monitored the cameras surrounding the house. It had an independent phone line and internet connection, an air and water filtration system. The bathroom (it had obviously been designed for duration as well as safety) was tiny but fully functional and the main door (like the rest of the structure) was a 3 inch thick sliding metal plate, it could be opened only from the inside. It door was also hidden behind a fake wooden panel in his library.
I enjoyed spending the night (or day would be more accurate) with him and being able to wake up with him still beside me, but I had to admit I sometimes felt a twinge of claustrophobia in that room.
His home was beautiful, as you'd expect, but I hadn't been prepared for it the first time he brought me here. In fact it had depressed me. Not because there was anything wrong with it, but because it was too big, too perfect. It suddenly hit me that Eric was much wealthier than I'd ever imagined.
I hadn't wanted to say anything as we'd only just come to terms with our previous differences, but he sensed my unease and asked about it.
I wouldn't tell him and he didn't press me until it became clear I was avoiding going to his home. Eric didn't really mind staying at my place but my behaviour was puzzling him and, typical Eric, he hated not knowing something.
I felt embarrassed to say what was wrong and tried to reassure myself that nothing had changed between us, and truthfully, it hadn't.
"Sookie, does my home upset you?" he'd asked one evening as he cradled me to him. "I can change anything, you know, all you have to do is say." I probably would have denied it again, but he sounded so earnest.
"Eric, your home is beautiful. I love it."
"Then why won't you sleep there? Are you worried?"
"I'm sorry," I sighed into his chest. "I just…"
He kissed the top of my head. "You can tell me anything, you know that."
"Promise you won't laugh?"
I pictured Eric as a boy scout. That was even funnier than as Sheriff of Nottingham.
Having used up all my escape tactics over the last week, I sighed in resignation. "I didn't realise how rich you were until I saw that house."
"And that makes you uneasy."
"Because it just highlights how different we are, Eric."
He gripped me tighter and gave a warm laugh. "Oh, Sookie. We are entirely different species and my money is what upsets you?"
"Not exactly. And you promised you wouldn't laugh," I grumbled.
He wiped the smile from his face. "I'm sorry."
I tried to explain how I felt. "It's just that we are so different and I feel like the odds are already stacked against us, to say the least, and this just makes it worse. I mean you're a freaking millionaire and I'm just a barmaid."
"Never say that!" He sounded angry. "You are Sookie Stackhouse, the bravest, kindest woman I know." He kissed the top of my head. "If it makes you feel any better, I'm not actually very cash rich. I have a lot of assets, true, but I don't have a fortune in the bank. The house is grand, but it's a good investment more than anything. The money in the house is useless to me unless I decide to sell."
I had a feeling his idea of cash rich and mine varied greatly, but it did make me feel better. Partly because of his reassurance but mostly it felt good to admit my fears. And he was right, if I could date a dead guy, I really shouldn't worry about dating a rich guy.
The next night he brought me to his home again and I asked him to show me around, which he did. The interior was recently decorated, semi-minimalist in its style and everything was new. There was a gas fireplace in the lounge but no fake logs, instead the flames shot through large white stones. It was very pretty. The sofa was basically an L-shaped unit covered in oversized cushions and it looked brand new. I was pleased to realise Eric didn't use this room often because that meant (I hoped) he hadn't had too many other women here.
Obviously I realised that when your honey was over 1000, there were more than a few exes piled up, but that didn't mean I wanted reminding about them.
Back in the present, I stepped from the shower and quickly dried off and dressed. Eric wasn't there and I realised he must be using another bathroom. I applied a little makeup and went to find him.
On the way to Fangtasia that night he asked me how I was feeling and I assured him I was fine. He was always very careful to make sure he wasn't wearing me out, both by making love and drinking from me. I liked that he worried about me.
As for making love, my muscles finally seemed to be coping. One thing was for sure, while I was with Eric, I would never need a gym membership.
The blood wasn't an issue either, Eric enjoyed drinking from me, but he took so little each time that I rarely ever felt weak or anaemic. He also healed the tiny wounds with his own blood most times, worried that I would get too many scars.
As he helped me from the car, Eric looked my dress over.
"I wish you would let me choose your outfits for these nights." He sighed dramatically.
"Yeah yeah," I laughed, "and then you'd be all over me like a rash and that kind of negates the point of my being here." My dress was nice, but demure, a light blue, knee length off the shoulder cocktail dress from Tara's with a matching shawl. Eric's choices for me were beautiful, but tended more towards the tight, short and figure hugging. In other words, things he couldn't wait to remove.
He took my hand and led me into the back door of the club. Pam had opened up tonight so we went straight into the bar and sat at Eric's usual table, in the centre. A new waitress, Kelly, took our order and tried not to stare at me. She had heard a lot about me and, seeing as I had snagged my very own vamp, wanted to learn from my example. I was flattered, most of the fang-bangers here didn't like me much.
A few weeks ago one such fang-banger had made the mistake of saying out loud what she was thinking. It wasn't very charitable but I would have ignored it. Her real mistake was saying it within Eric's earshot. Said fang-banger was promptly scared out of her wits before being thrown out and barred.
Vampires have a tendency to overreact.
As our drinks arrived, Eric pulled me onto his lap and began caressing me, but as enjoyable as that was, it wasn't for pleasure. Eric was freeing me up from conversation so I could concentrate on exploring the thoughts of those around me.
The Fellowship of the Sun was becoming more militant, as Eric and I had discovered when we were attacked by them two months ago and there was now a local cell of their underground movement, the American Evangelical Army. My job was to listen in on patrons thoughts and make sure none of them were AEA spies.
I had discovered a fellowship member here three weeks ago, but when we questioned him he just turned out to be a curious. No one had sent him, he didn't know of the AEA and so, after having his memory wiped, he was sent on his way.
Pam was upset that we'd let him go, but he was innocent. Besides, killing fellowship members would only incite more hatred against vampires.
"Nothing," I whispered to Eric.
Thoughts are like voices in that the closer they are, the louder they sound, so we moved around the bar throughout the evening to give me a better chance of listening into everyone. Our movements were carefully choreographed to look natural. Knowing that I had found nothing so far, Eric had obviously signalled to Felicity because she appeared at our table seconds later.
"Master, there is a problem on the door," she said, bowing her head.
Eric nodded and together we followed her to the door. Eric kept a protective and possessive arm around me. I didn't hear what tonight's excuse for the interruption was, I was too focused on the people around me.
After fixing the "problem" on the door we headed to the bar where Eric spoke with Matt, the new barman, we then toured the booths, speaking to the vampire patrons and their guests while I scanned the crowd.
As though he could no longer resist my charms, Eric then kissed me passionately and swung me into his arms, carrying me through to the back offices.
It was another ploy, of course. Not that I didn't like being swept, but we needed to check outside the building as well as inside. We walked the length of the alleyway and around the sides of the bar, checking to make sure no one was watching from the surrounding buildings.
With my first sweep over I was feeling pretty tired. I was getting better and better at using my gift, but keeping it up for any length of time was still draining. It also didn't help that the thoughts of most Fangtasia patrons were all about sex, and a lot of it very, uh, unusual sex.
It seemed to me that vampires sexual preferences varied as much as humans did, but humans expected all vampires to be kinky. BDSM, leather, latex, bondage and chains featured a lot in their fantasies, and looking into those thoughts wasn't something I enjoyed.
To make matters worse, I hadn't even had my coffee, which was completely Eric's fault, as far as I was concerned. He had bought me an espresso machine, but very rarely gave me enough time to use it on the nights we came here.
I erected my mental shields and we went back to his office for a break while and Eric rang down to the bar to order me a coffee. I smiled, pleased he knew me so well. Of course the coffee here is awful, but caffeine is caffeine.
Fifteen minutes later we were heading back to the floor. We had just stepped out of the Staff Only door that led through to the bar when I "heard" my name. I turned and buried my head in Eric's chest.
"Sookie?" he asked.
"Someone here just thought my name," I whispered, knowing he'd hear me. Eric swept us back through the door.
"Can you tell who it was?" he asked.
I shook my head. "I'm trying to get a fix," I explained. "I don't think he was close to us, I only picked up on him because he thought my name."
"Did you recognise the thoughts? Could it have been a staff member?"
I shook my head. "No, it wasn't a voice I recognised."
"Can you tell where in the bar he is?"
I thought about that for a moment. "I think he was close to the door, between the door and the dance floor."
Eric nodded. "What do you want to do?"
Run and hide, I thought, but much as I might like that now wasn't the moment for cowardice. "We should go back out there. If he sees me he'll think about me again, then I can get a fix on who he is and maybe what he wants."
Eric hooked a finger under my chin and titled my face up. "You will be safe, Sookie," he promised.
I nodded. Sure, tonight I was safe in a bar full of a dozen vampires, but what about Merlotte's? Sam was great, but he was no vampire, he couldn't really protect me if anything happened.
I shook my head. It didn't matter what was happening, I wasn't going to hide in the shadows, that wasn't my style. I needed to find out why someone had thought my name and what exactly it was that he wanted.
Eric took me straight to the dance floor and began guiding me around as I listened to the thoughts of those surrounding me.
I didn't find his mind again until he noticed me, then I got a good enough look to understand why I had trouble finding him.
"He's a shifter," I whispered to Eric.
Already tense, Eric gripped me tighter. "Who?"
As looking directly at him would give me away, I slipped into the minds of the people around him. "Ginger hair, about 5 foot 8."
The stranger was now standing at the edge of the dance floor, watching us, waiting. If he was here to harm me, he wasn't doing a very good job of being stealthy. I examined his mind again. He was anxious, tense but I didn't think he meant me any harm, and I told Eric.
Moments later we were standing right in front of him, although Eric stood in front of me, Pam and Gerald also appeared from no where to flank the stranger. The vamps were on the ball tonight.
"You're Sookie Stackhouse?" he asked. I nodded. He looked to Eric. "Eric Northman?" Eric also nodded. "I'm James South. Sam Merlotte told me where I could find you. I've been sent by the shifters of Dallas, they have a message for you."
Eric gestured for him to follow us and, keeping himself between James and me, led him through to the back.
As soon as the door swung shut, Pam pinned James against the wall as Gerald patted him down for weapons.
"He's clean," Gerald said.
Eric nodded. "Thank you Gerald, you can return to the bar." So Pam, James and I went with Eric to his office. Eric gestured to a seat in front of the desk for James. Pam stood by the door, Eric sat me in his chair, standing beside me. Obviously the desk between James and I wasn't enough of a defence.
Overprotective, that was my Eric.
"What can we do for you, Mr South?" To anyone else Eric sounded perfectly polite, but I could hear the undercurrent of tension. James better be on the up and up or he wasn't going to live long.
James was wise enough to realise this and swallowed. "You remember Luna?" he asked me.
"Yes," I told him. Eric looked blank. "The shifter who helped me escape from the fellowship in Dallas." I explained for him.
"She wasn't the only one in there, we had a few of others. Though the group was hurt by what happened, it didn't die out. The organisation went more underground but it's still the powerbase of the fellowship in America. Two of our members managed to stay in the group and have been working their way into the inner circle."
I nodded, wishing he'd get to the point.
"The group has gone military, even hiring mercenaries to train some members, they're getting organised for an attack on many fronts. The specifics haven't been worked out but the attacks will be big and simultaneous."
Again I nodded, wondering what this had to do with me.
"They know a little about you, Miss Stackhouse, they think you're psychic. I don't know if it was when you went to the Fellowship, or if they figured it out after Rhodes, but they know you played a big part in saving vampires at the hotel. They've decided you'll do it again and that's why, before they launch these attacks, you are their first target. They're coming for you this weekend."
Wow… That was a lot to take in.
"Why have the shifters decided to warn us?" Eric asked. Good question, shifters didn't really like vampires.
"One, because Sookie is human, and other humans will doubtless be harmed as well. Two, because when our existence is revealed, they'll be coming after us as well. They are our common enemy and many feel that we should work together on this."
Eric nodded. "This weekend?" he asked. It was Friday night already.
James nodded. "I'm sorry we couldn't come earlier, but news of this plan only now got back to the Dallas fellowship. They've been talking about taking you out for some time," he looked at me, pity in his eyes. "But it was up to your local cell to come up with the plan, and it then took a few days for us to hear of it."
"Sookie?" Eric turned his gaze to me.
I knew what he meant. "He believes he's telling the truth." Eric nodded. "What about Barry?" I asked James. If I was a target, surely Barry was too.
"We know of him, fortunately they don't know who he is yet. They have pictures from the Rhodes bombing and you two helping find people, but his face is covered in soot and debris. It's only a matter of time, though, so his employers are being warned too."
"Do you have any details?" Eric asked.
James shook his head. "Not much. We know when, and we know it'll be a surprise attack, but because they think she's psychic, they're leaving the final decisions up until the last minute, in case she predicts it."
I picked up the phone and called home. Amelia answered.
"Amelia…" Where did I begin.
Was it better to scare her? "Amelia, listen. Someone is looking for me, they want to kill me."
"Vamp or Were?" She asked.
"Human. I'm not there so that may protect you, but please, please be careful. They might use you to get to me. And don't let anyone in unless you're absolutely sure they're okay."
"Gotcha. We'll check the wards and get the shotgun out, too."
She was taking this seriously. Good. "Thanks Amelia. And I'm sorry to drag you into this."
"No problem. Life with you is never dull."
I said goodbye and hung up. Eric and James had been talking while I was on the phone.
"I'd be useless as a guard," James was explaining. "I'm just supposed to watch her in the day time and call for reinforcements."
"Call who?" Pam asked.
"The Long Tooth pack, here in Shreveport."
Alcide's pack. Well, he owed me a favour or two.
"And you cannot protect her because…?" Pam left the sentence unfinished.
James looked embarrassed. "Because… Because I change into a cat." I didn't think that was so bad. Sam had changed into a lion once, and Quinn was a tiger. They both packed a punch. "A house cat," he explained.
Oh. No, not really a lot of help against an assassin.
"They use me mainly for reconnaissance," he went on to defend himself. "I've lived with Steve Newlin and some other high up's in the past. No one notices a cat, they speak freely in front of me and it's normal for cats to disappear from time to time and come back."
I could see where he would come in handy. Sam liked to turn into a collie because while big, they weren't threatening. No one would feel threatened by a cat, either.
Of course Sam was a genuine shifter, meaning he could become whatever he chose. James was a Werecat, meaning he had no choice. Despite his usefulness, I doubted he was very well respected in the shifter community.
"I will handle Sookie's protection," Eric sounded firm. "You can return to Dallas certain I will keep her safe."
James looked unsure. "I was supposed to stay and help."
Eric was about to say something, probably that he didn't need a shifters help, only he wouldn't phrase it so nicely. I touched his arm to stop him and he looked down at me.
"I think we should cooperate with them, Eric. I think this is an olive branch."
Eric scowled. "I don't know if we can trust him."
"I can find that out, and you can still protect me yourself. Like he said, a cat isn't a lot of protection."
"Make sure he is truthful."
I rounded the desk and took James' hand. He didn't object. Eric then began questioning him again. As far as I could tell (and that was pretty far, really) he was genuine and again, I told Eric as much.
Pam and Eric began making plans for my safety, they didn't consult me much, and that bothered me. James wanted to stay with me, but Eric assured him his services would not be needed overnight (he was very private about the location of his home, I assumed he didn't want James knowing).
I suggested James sleep in my porch, as a cat to watch over Amelia and Octavia. James seemed okay with that idea and, after a lot of convincing, Eric saw my point of view. Pam arranged for someone to drive him there and I called Amelia again to let her know that a cat would be sleeping outside but that she wasn't to let him inside.
Hey, my gift isn't infallible. Better safe than sorry.
Eric and Pam then talked about who would take which shifts watching me. I felt like a child with no say. Basically they wanted to put my life on hold. I tried intervening but to no avail.
When they had decided my life for me I stomped back towards the bar. Eric caught up to me quickly. "Where are you going?" He didn't sound happy.
"To do my job," I snapped.
"No, it isn't safe for you out there. We'll go straight home."
"Eric, it's safer than anywhere else. There are over a dozen vampires here tonight and if someone out there is planning something, I'd rather have forewarning of that."
His face was like stone. "Fine."
We went back into the bar and I tried to read the thoughts around me but controlling my gift wasn't easy when I was upset. I tried to keep my focus, but I couldn't help but think about my life, all the things Eric wanted to take away from me in his overzealous drive to protect me.
I knew that I was only a waitress, I knew that if I quit, Eric would not only keep me, he would keep me in a much better style than that to which I was accustomed. I could be a lady of leisure, except for using my gift for Eric occasionally. You might think I'm crazy for wanting to hold onto a crappy bar job, but I liked that job. I liked being around humans, I liked my boss, I liked the independence of having my own income.
If I did give in and stay with Eric indefinitely, I'd surely lose contact with my human friends. I don't have many but I value the few I do. Pam was my only vampire friend, and we weren't exactly best buddies.
Besides, being a kept woman just wasn't me and no one, not Eric, not the fellowship, not anyone was going to scare me into giving my life up.
It must have been clear to everyone in the bar that we'd had a fight. Eric was stone faced, I looked pissed off and I was sure there must be waves of anger rolling off the both of us.
However I was here to do a job, and I intended to do that job even though Eric was constantly trying to shield me from the patrons and block me with his body, which didn't make it any easier.
As we approached the bar I heard the fang-bangers thoughts. Most of them were enjoying our tiff, but only one was foolish enough to comment on it. She was thinking that he was upset with me, that he would be looking for someone else now, and that he would gladly ditch me as I was nothing special. She thought that showing she was on his side by insulting me would win her points.
She couldn't have been more wrong. If Eric had truly been through with me, then he would have cut me completely out of his life, or flirted with the other women here, or said and done some truly vicious things to me. But he wasn't doing any of those things. Eric was mad at me, true, but he still loved me, or he wouldn't have been trailing around after me, shielding me at every turn. She obviously didn't know Eric (or vampires in general) very well.
As we passed her at the bar the fang-banger smiled sweetly at Eric. "Hey baby, isn't it time you ditched that slut and found a real woman."
Eric's arm moved too quickly for me to see but the next thing I knew, he had her by the throat, his fangs were showing and the girl looked like she was suffocating.
He sounded venomous. "Never speak of my lover that way!"
I gulped, terrified he was going to kill her. "Eric, Eric, put her down." I grabbed his arm and tried to pull him off her, but he was much stronger than I was. "She didn't mean it. ERIC!"
My words made no impact and all I could think of was to kiss him and divert that anger down another path. So I did, throwing myself on him and kissing him like my life depended on it. It worked. His free arm encircled my waste and his other arm slowly released the girl to hold me even more firmly to him. Pam stepped up to the girl and began to drag her outside. I wondered why she hadn't intervened before.
"Be more careful who you insult," I heard her chide the girl. "That slut, as you so tastefully put it, just saved your pathetic life."
At least Eric had the good sense not to fuck me in the bar and moments later I found myself being laid across his desk. There was nothing loving or tender about our coupling. It was hard and animalistic as we tore, scratched and bit each other into a frenzy. He entered me hard and thrust deeply. As I came, I bit down on his shoulder, drawing blood and he came seconds later.
My arms were still around him and I was panting heavily. Eric and I had never done anything like that before. I mean he wasn't always Mr Sensitive in the bedroom, but we'd never had such angry sex before.
"Sookie, are you okay?" he asked, softly. I felt like I should snap back at him, but I didn't have the energy.
"I'm fine. That was…"
"Yes, it was."
My breathing was returning to normal and he pulled out of me, his eyes sweeping over me, looking for damage.
"I'll have a few bruises, but I'm not hurt," I assured him.
He took me into his arms, holding me too tightly, but I didn't complain.
"My dress will never be the same again though," I said, looking sadly as its shredded remains.
Eric let go of me and looked down at his own shirt. Yep, I'd done a pretty good job of tearing that up. That pleased me.
"Let's call it a night. We'll talk at home." He was calm again, or calmer, at least.
Leaving sounded like a good idea to me. Eric handed me one of his spare shirts and I realised I didn't have any underwear on. I hadn't even felt them come off.
He removed his tattered shirt. I noticed the scratches I'd made on his back were nearly healed. I wouldn't have minded him feeling those for a few days.
"You bit me," he commented, noticing his shoulder.
I shrugged, I hadn't really been thinking about it. Then I blanched, the third exchange had tied me to Eric, what would a fourth time mean?
"It's okay, I didn't take enough of your blood to turn you." He assured me.
"Nothing else will happen?"
"No. We are already bonded. You'll just have the usual effects."
I put his shirt on, and some spare underwear I kept there and we headed for the back door. I checked the vicinity to make sure there was no one intent on harming me in the area, then we rushed to his car.
We drove home silently and ran inside just as quickly. I didn't feel safe until the alarm had been reactivated.
We then headed into the lounge and Eric put the fire on as I sat on the sofa.
"I'm sorry if I upset you," he said, sitting beside me. There was no IF about it, but for Eric, that was actually a pretty good apology.
Besides, I knew he hadn't been angry with me, not really. He was angry that anyone would dare try and hurt me, and he was mad that I wasn't cooperating, but mostly he loved me and it was that love that fuelled his anger. I wasn't making excuses for him, thanks to our bond, I knew this was true.
I wasn't sure where to begin. "Eric, I just can't give up work. I won't."
"It's just for a little while," he assured me.
"No, it's not. If this attempt fails, they aren't just going to give up. They'll keep trying until they succeed."
"I can't be there to protect you during the day."
"And you shouldn't have to be. You're my boyfriend," Okay, wholly inadequate word for what Eric was to me, but that's all I had, "not my bodyguard. I love you, but I'm not letting you or the fellowship stop me from leading my life."
Eric wasn't happy, I could tell, but he wasn't arguing, which was good. He was thinking and I hoped he was coming up with a compromise.
We spent the rest of the night making plans and making love. There was an air of desperation, on my side at least, when we made love. I felt like I had a ticking clock over my head, counting down to Armageddon (well, my own personal Armageddon) and I needed to connect with someone, to feel something real.
I couldn't remember ever having much of a warning when I'd been attacked before. Helpful as it may be, I wasn't sure I liked it. Ignorance was bliss.
We went through to the bedroom just before dawn and I collapsed into a restless slumber.