Disclaimer: The Sookie Stackhouse Series is the creation of Charlaine Harris. Don't sue me Charlaine! I love your books.



It was 8 pm. Still at least a half hour before the sun would set. Madison was so far north.

He pulled her gently into his arms, and sank back against the pillows and headboard. Where to begin? In the end, it was so much more complicated than mine and getting her back. Although outwardly, her abilities made her seem much more powerful, she had willingly shown him how fragile and short-lived her ability to sustain that power could be. She had tremendous power at her hands but it came at a heavy price. He reflected on the fact that her use of magic that fated September night had likely weakened her. And then they had fought and he had injured her. He had been surprised that her healing had appeared slower than he would have thought. The bruises on her throat should have disappeared rapidly but they had not. He recalled what she had said of her time in Eithne's care. She had been weak for four entire months and needed to recover. And Eithne was a famed healer. That kind of magic can damage her, he concluded.

In his mind, the picture was clear. She still loved him, and still needed his protection and care. He could see, however, that she also needed things he could not give her. She would need to go back to Eithne.

Letting me in this room with her when she was like that shows that she still trusts me. I know she still loves me. Those were the things I wanted most. I can take care of her. But she needs to go back to Ireland, and I'm going to have to let her. I said I'd wait, and I'll have to do it. We'll have to find a way to make it work. We just won't be wholly apart again. We can't be. But I need to let her do what she needs to be well, to be safe. There has to be a way to make her safer if she uses this power. If not, she simply shouldn't…

He would have to let her work through to the same conclusions. Sookie always did best when she felt she had the space to get there on her own.

She began to stir slightly and then she was awake.

"It's just after 8 pm," he said softly.

"You're awake early. It's still twilight."

"We went to sleep early.".

Suddenly, she seemed to realize that he could feel her through the bond. She started to pull back from him, both emotionally and physically, but he held her firmly and gently in his arms.

"No," he said in a firm low voice. "I want it back. You won't take it from me a second time." No going back to that. The whole bond. All of it, and all of you.

"It's better that way," she said softly. "Really."

"There's nothing better about it." He held her close. "You feel so… alone, Sookie. Utterly alone."

He could feel her catch her breath. She was on the verge of tears, struggling with feelings that she didn't want to share.

"I am not alone." She paused. "I have Eithne. She understands. She's patient. It doesn't affect her. "

"You have me." And I am not leaving your side unless you are safe with her. No more being alone. It isn't healthy for you. We've already seen that before. Now, more than ever, we should be together unless you go back there to her.

"I make your life more dangerous, Eric. My being apart from you might make your life safer and easier. And what channels through me is… terrible at times. It's a burden that should not be shared, even vicariously."

Well, being apart is just not going to work for me. At all. "You have made my life dangerous since I first met you, Sookie. That is nothing new. We'll protect each other. I cannot stand being apart from you again. It would not benefit either of us to even try. We will not be totally apart again. We just won't."

"You're not afraid of me, Eric?"

No, my Lover, no…"I am not afraid of you. I know you will not hurt me. To me, you have not changed in any fundamental way. I am bonded to you. I want to be with you. The only things I have ever feared with you are how much you made me feel and losing you. We are still together. We are."

She sat tensely in his arms for several minutes, and he could feel her mind racing through so many emotions. Then she sighed softly and leaned back in his arms. She was still silent for a long time.

Almost there…

Then finally, "I forgive you. It's just going to take longer for me to forgive myself for all my self-deception. I did not accept you as you are. I lied to myself. It was wrong of me. Because it was wrong to you. I hope you can forgive me for that. I love you, Eric. I never stopped loving you. It wasn't what you did, but how you did it that hurt me most. I felt you broke my trust and that made me distrust myself. I was shocked into seeing things that I did not want to see in myself, and in you. I always saw you as so focused on self-preservation. I didn't like it and I told myself that I would avoid seeing that part of you. But I have underestimated you, your commitment to me and the reasons why you do some of the things you do. I know how much it must have cost you to do what you did that night."

"You will never know how much it cost me. My only goal since has been to win you back. I have replayed that night in my mind, every night since, many times over. Even though I know I did the right thing, the fact that I hurt you to do it… I just kept hearing it. The sound of your ribs breaking against that table. I kept seeing your face. It tormented me."

She leaned into him, rubbed her head against him. "You need to let it go, Eric. What you said in the car, that I would come to understand, in the end, you were right. You were also right about Clancy and what he was thinking. I didn't want to see it, and I've tried to forget it. I have come to accept the fact that sometimes the best option is still a horrible one. I needed to trust you more, not less."

He was still for a moment. If he had breathed, he would have held his breath.

Finally he said, "You will come back to me?"

"We belong together. Eithne would say we were destined to be together. But I just know the truth of what you say. We are together, Eric. I really don't think I can ever be happy apart from you."

He closed his eyes and just savored her words.

She turned in his arms and stroked his cheek as she pulled his face to her and kissed him firmly. His hands tentatively slipped under her pajama top and held her around her waist. She straddled him and they kissed with increasing urgency. After he slipped her top over her head she held his face in her hands and smiled at him.

"No requests for any possessive pronouns?" she said softly.

"I'm not pushing my luck."

Her laughter was like music and she looked happier than he had seen her in the days she'd been here.

"I'm yours," she said softly, looking directly into his eyes.

He rolled so that he could be on top of her and he looked into her deeply into eyes. He looked at her with such yearning, such hunger. She felt him hard pressing against her and sighed with her own longing. But first she gently guided him to her breast. After several minutes of rapturous attention he bit into her left breast gently and she heard him moan with the pleasure of it. It was hard to say who felt more pleasure in it. She felt him struggle to pull himself away. Then his hands were everywhere making her moan softly, urging her on. When he bit the soft flesh of her inner thigh, which she had always loved, she stifled a cry. Finally he moved into her and she gasped, pulling him to her even more. He moved slowly at first and then with increasing intensity, while their eyes locked onto one another. He was puzzled by how quiet she was. No matter how he thrust into her, she didn't make a sound. When they were done, as he healed the bite wounds, he asked why.

"Pythia is next door," she said softly. "I know she knows, but I don't want to seem too obvious about it. It would be unkind. She has always been much more alone than I've ever been."

"She's the one you gave the blood to, isn't she?"

"Of course. She was just bored and losing her appetite. Thousands of years of the same, she said. Just thinking about what her life has been like, well... She has been kind to me, Eric. I will never be able to repay her kindness. She took care of me, with little benefit to herself. It seemed like a small thing."

Generosity has its limits. She has her handmaidens…

"Eric… Honestly. It's my blood, remember? Even though Sookie Northman is so yours." She started to rise.

He froze. She paused in the midst of getting up, realizing.

"Don't worry. It was only when you were practically shouting it or totally in my face with it. But you were right. If you'd done anything to Pam, I'd have been mad."

She kissed him on the nose and left the bed to shower. How much had she heard he wondered? He was afraid to ask. It didn't matter anyway.

She was his. They were together. True partners.

He rose to join her in the shower. The wedding ring was coming off that chain and back into a location of more prominent display.