Disclaimer: All characters in the Sookieverse belong to Charlaine Harris.
This story is set after Dead and Gone, and the first part of Chapter One of Dead in the Family, which Charlaine Harris published on her website long before the book was published. So that's why this chapter, the first chapter, is called Chapter 2.
Thanks to RubySun03 for being such a wonderful and supportive beta! And thanks for taking the time to read my story, people. Hope you enjoy!
Although I was happy for Tara and JB, and looking forward to being a kind of aunt to their baby, their blossoming family unit also reminded me just how alone I was.
On Monday, I woke up late feeling grouchy and miserable from lack of a decent sleep. Most days it was the same. I tried to avoid sleeping as much as possible, to dodge the nightmares which still plagued me night after night. I slipped on my robe and padded into the kitchen to put on some coffee.
I sat outside on the porch swing, sipping from my cup, my eyes staring out vacantly and my mind empty for some time. I often found myself staring, my mind unable to formulate any coherent thoughts. Finally, I stopped staring and shook my head, trying to bring myself out of my zombie-like state. I looked to the chair beside me and pictured Claude, who had appeared at my house only a couple of days ago. He'd not been back since, and I was kind of glad about that.
I stared into the woods and thought of Bill, and wondered how his recovery was going. Eric had told me that he had been sent to some special vamp hospital where they could give him the best care and help him heal. I had asked if I could visit, but Eric thought that wasn't such a good idea right now. I guess I had to agree. It would still be some time before he was back to himself, and the same could be said for me.
Eric had been around to help with my physical healing, but I'd not seen or heard from him for a few days. He'd been visiting me regularly to give me his blood, which he would rub directly into my wounds, as well as having me ingest it. I was healing fast, thanks to him. But mentally, I was unable to give anything over, and we really hardly spoke. It was too hard for me, and Eric seemed to get this, and was willing to give me time. He would stay with me often, when he could, but I knew I was hardly very much fun to be around. I would mostly just curl up against his body, clinging on, until I passed out.
Though Eric had been around a lot after the incident, his recent absence had affected me more than I realized. The last time we spoke he told me there were still many power struggles in the area since the new King came along, and since he didn't seem to want to talk about his place in all of it, I didn't ask. I guess it was still keeping him busy. I was reluctant to call him. I didn't want to seem too needy.
I was getting better, though, every day. I could feel myself piecing back together, slowly feeling more like my old self.
As I took another sip of coffee, my mind wandered to Amelia. I wondered how she was doing back in New Orleans. I missed her.
I was still barely speaking with my brother, Jason. My boss, Sam, stepped softly around me since I'd been back at Merlotte's, and we hardly spoke. My great-grandfather, the fairy prince Niall, who had only recently burst into my life, had quickly retreated straight back out of it. There were others I would never see again. Tray, Claudine... I felt the tears welling. People kept dying all around me, and it scared me to wonder who might be next. I stood and slowly shuffled back inside the house, ditched my coffee cup, and stepped into the bathroom. While I stood underneath the shower and let the hot water roll down my back, the tears began to flow. I finally had to brace myself against the wall, as I let myself sob out loud.
I spent the day scrubbing my already clean kitchen, and before I knew it, it was time to get ready for work. I put on my uniform, and prepared for the short drive. I grasped the wheel and took a deep breath. Even small things like driving to work seemed like such a huge task some days.
The bar was quiet. I smiled at Sam on my way to stow my purse, and pulled on an apron.
"Hey Sookie, how you doin'?" Holly smiled at me, as she picked up a tray of drinks.
She looked at me doubtfully, but didn't say anything more. I put on my best forced smile, and did my rounds. It was a night like any other in Merlotte's, and for that, I was thankful. I delivered drinks, burgers, and fried pickles, did my best to be helpful and attentive, and only twice did anyone have to touch my arm or shout their order at me to wake me from my daze.
Suddenly, I felt a warm rush inside me, and turned to the door. Eric stood there, scanning the bar, until his eyes caught mine. I couldn't help the wide smile that spread across my face, and he sat himself at one of my tables. I picked up chicken strips from Terry at the serving hatch, and took them to Catfish Hennessey, before warming a bottle of TrueBlood for Eric and taking it over.
I placed a napkin and the bottle in front of him. I considered using the greeting "hello stranger", and decided to keep my snarkiness to myself for now. I decided to go for something more neutral.
"Sookie." He eyed me, cautiously. "Thank you."
As always, he looked wonderful; handsome, strong, powerful. Tonight he was wearing a leather jacket over dark jeans. His long hair was slightly tousled, and I wondered if he'd flown. I resisted the urge to fawn over him, and turned to return the tray to the bar. Eric quickly but gently caught my wrist in his hand. I flinched and he immediately let go. Any pressure on my wrists was still painful.
"Sookie, my love, I'm sorry I haven't been in touch for a few days. Victor has been here on business, and I'm afraid he's kept me very busy. How are you? How is your healing?"
I looked away from his eyes, knowing it was more difficult to lie to someone I had shared blood with so many times than it was to lie to someone like Holly. But I didn't think now was really the time.
Eric gave me a stern look, sat back, and took a sip from his bottle. I went back to my other tables, and continued working while Eric sat there, reading a paper, talking on his phone, and occasionally glancing over at me with concern in his eyes. Then, at some point when I looked over, he wasn't there, and I felt a slight panic rise within me. I looked around the room, and relaxed a little when I saw him appear from around the back.
Sam beckoned me from behind the bar. "Sookie, could I see you in my office please?"
Eric gave me a brief smile before he went and sat back down at his table. What were him and Sam doing? What had they been talking about? I began to worry.
Sam closed his office door behind us.
"Sookie, I don't know exactly what happened, and I understand if you don't wanna talk about it. But whatever it is, well, I think maybe you need some time off."
I opened my mouth, but nothing seemed to come out.
"You're not yourself, chere, and I think maybe you need some time off, to, I don't know, recover."
A jolt went through me. "Was that what Eric said? Because I didn't put him up to it, Sam. I need to keep busy, I need to come to work."
"No, Eric's worried about you, is all." He paused. "I'm worried about you."
I looked down, forcing the tears back. "Sam..."
"Just take a couple of days, if you like, see how you feel. I can arrange cover, it's OK. I want you to know you can take as much time as you need."
I thought about my empty house, my loneliness, my miserable sobbing episode earlier today. "Sam, I like coming to work. I... I don't much like being at home right now."
He looked at me sympathetically, and I could tell he was deciding whether to hug me or not. "Well, you just think about it, and let me know. And Sookie, I'm always here for you, if you wanna talk, you know that, right?"
I smiled at him. "Sure." I took a deep breath and went back out to the bar to finish my shift, which was thankfully nearly over. Eric had vacated his table, leaving me a hefty tip as usual. My heart sank a little further.
When all the patrons had left and I'd cleaned up, I grabbed my purse, said goodbye to Sam and headed slowly for the door. I thought about the prospect of Sam's offer, but now wasn't the time for more brooding in my quiet house. I didn't want time to think. I wanted time to not think.
Outside, Eric stood, leaning against my car, his hands in his pockets, and his legs crossed at the ankle. He held his hand out to me. I took it, reluctantly, and he pulled me towards him, into an embrace. I let myself be enveloped by him, my exhaustion and need to be held suddenly taking over, and squeezed him to me tightly. Whenever I was around him some of the tension ebbed away. I felt my shoulders relax, and let out a loud sigh. I felt my need for him.
He stroked my hair slowly, and kissed me lightly on the head. After a moment I pulled away from him.
"What did you come to see Sam about?"
"I didn't actually come to see Sam at all, I came to see you."
"So what were you talking about?" My tone was a little accusatory. I was being unfair, but I couldn't seem to help myself. I didn't like the two of them having discussions about my current mental state.
"The possibility of you having some time off."
I pouted at him. "I don't want any time off, Eric. I'm fine."
"Hmm, so you keep saying, but of course, we both know that to be untrue." He placed a finger under my chin and forced me to look into his eyes. "You cannot lie to me, lover."
I snapped my head away. I felt resentful at his absence, and now his sudden high-handedness, consorting with Sam behind my back.
"Eric, it's cold, and I want to get home. I'm exhausted, I haven't slept properly in days. I know I probably need time to recover, I know I'm not myself, and I'm whiny, and needy, and fucked up. I know I probably shouldn't be at work. But Amelia has gone back to New Orleans, and I don't want to be alone in that house any more than I have to. Plus I haven't heard from you in days." I realized I was almost shouting and my voice had cracked as I started to cry. Eric pulled me close and held me again.
"You should have told me about Amelia. When did she leave?"
"A few days ago."
Eric pulled away and stroked the tears from my face. He looked into my eyes, and seemed to be sizing me up, figuring out what to do next.
"Come, let me drive you home."
We drove in silence. When we reached my house he parked, and we both got out.
"I want to stay with you tonight."
"OK. But, I don't think... you know."
Eric simply nodded, and took my hand. I knew he understood. Though I cared for Eric, and wanted him here, my body was just still not able to want him that way, right now. We'd tried, but it just wasn't happening.
I took off my coat, and went to the refrigerator to get a TrueBlood for Eric. Without me realizing he came up behind me, putting a hand on the refrigerator door, his other hand lightly on my shoulder. His cold cheek brushed mine, and then his lips, tenderly.
I looked down at my feet, tears welling in my eyes once more. He turned me to face him.
"Sookie, when I was in need, you took me in, and looked after me. I remember what you did for me, in this house. I will always remember, and will always be grateful. Now it is my turn to care for you."
I looked up at him, into his blue eyes, which were staring back at me, intent and decisive. He kissed my cheeks where the tears had run, and gently stroked my face with his thumbs. I let my forehead rest on his chest, and let the weight of everything rest on him for a moment. Then my legs seemed to give way, and before I knew it, Eric had scooped me up and we were heading for my bedroom.
He laid me down gently on the bed, and I let him undress me while I was in my exhausted state. Then he pulled the covers over, and I heard his shoes fall to the floor, and he lay down behind me. He propped himself on one elbow, stroked my hair back from my face, and then ran his hand gently up and down my side.
"Let me take care of you, my love," Eric whispered, and he continued stroking me.
I drifted sound asleep, and didn't dream.