We'd been living in Eric's house in Shreveport together for two months before Eric started getting restless. I'd been waiting for it to happen, or for the vampire elite to contact him. The restlessness happened first but the contact wasn't long in following.
He'd began micromanaging Fangtasia, annoying his staff with trivial things formerly left to their own discretion, such as when they took their breaks, something Pam had never fussed about. That the restlessness was mixed up with missing Pam wasn't a surprise either.
It did surprise me that he shut me out, though I guess it shouldn't have. He'd always been the type to rely on himself, to keep his deepest emotional needs private. I missed him, which was funny since I'd never been closer to him. I did his laundry when I did my own because it was convenient and a small way to pay for my room and board, though he never mentioned a thing about that. No more anxious to be a kept woman than I'd ever been, I separated whites from darks and folded his tee-shirts, taking pleasure in the small tasks I could do for him.
Living with Eric full-time had more good to it than bad. When dark fell, we'd spend some time together, dinner for me and breakfast for him. We fell into shades of our old routine from when I'd stayed with him in the past. That I didn't go home anymore pleased him; he liked knowing where I was and having that kind of security about my well-being. Then too, he wasn't home much, spending a lot of the nighttime hours at Fangtasia. Before he'd leave, we'd get in our together time, watching old movies, talking and, well, playing in the bedroom.
The bedroom play was… sweet. With Eric, I hid nothing. We were playful as puppies, taking our time to try out all sorts of things we'd never slowed down enough to enjoy before. Sometimes I felt like the only cure for Eric's edginess was the hours we spent together naked and busy. It was when he seemed to be the most vividly alive.
When the call came, it was from a friend. Pam had been occupied with her new responsibilities in ways I'd tried not to know much about, not wanting to pique Eric's interest. He had gone cold turkey on vampire politics and on non-Fangtasia-related vamps in general. Even Bill, who'd chosen to stay in Texas with Judith to help out Stan, had been on the non-communication list. After all he'd done for us, it didn't feel right but I didn't want to open that door. We'd seen too much together, Eric and I. We needed a rest and time to see who we were together apart from the constant threat of danger amping up the intensity.
And we' d found that despite my financial misgivings, despite Eric's boredom, we were pretty much amazing when it came to the relationship stuff.
Pam's call didn't topple the planet from its axis, as I'd feared. Eric talked with her for a long time, spread flat on his belly on the living room rug. I paced in circles around him, reading an open sort of hesitation through the bond, itching to know what was being said. Not for the first time, I wished I could take a peek at Eric's thoughts, as a cheat sheet so I could be prepared with the right answers when the talk was done.
And then it was done. No sooner did he hit the End button than he began to laugh. He laughed and laughed until his cheeks were streaked with pink. Then he fell silent, staring off into space.
"So?" I poked his rib with my toe.
He did that cool thing where he undulated on the floor enough to jump to his feet. "So … they are requesting my assistance."
I folded my arms across my chest. "Requesting? Huh."
"Alright, demanding," Eric amended, taking up my pacing path where I'd left off. "It seems that Felipe's death was something of a financial blow to Nevada and Louisiana. Not that they are paupers, with the ability to take advantage of the human's advertising of Las Vegas as an adult playground. But they have felt a pinch, or so Pam tells me."
"They want you to give them money?"
He paused long enough to give me a wicked grin. "They want me to make them money. Pam is requesting my business experience. Joseph and his people want me as a business consultant. Apparently, Felipe was fairly hands-on with the casinos there while neither Joseph nor those he brought from Texas know anything about it."
I felt like I'd swallowed a brick. "They want you… to move to Nevada?"
"No, though some amount of travel would be required." Eric stopped and took my hands in his. His fingers felt warm so mine must have been freezing. "They simply want me to make them money. If I do that, Sookie, they will continue to leave us in peace."
The brick in my stomach began to crumble. "That's what Pam said?"
"Word for word." He cupped my face between his palms. "It's not politics but in a way, running a business is not unlike running an Area. And this is… larger. They are talking an empire of businesses. I would be in charge of everything to do with making money, which is…" He kissed me, hard and fast. "Everything."
He kept on talking but I couldn't hear anything more. I sank down onto the couch, a smile wide on my face but a heart torn between happiness for Eric and anxiety for our future. As glad as I was for him, I couldn't help but think that every word he spoke about his plans for this future empire was a step he took away from me.
I kept that smile in place and he kept right on talking.
He left at sunset the next evening for Nevada, radiating joy and purpose. Our good-bye was similarly purposeful: brief, intense and entirely between the bed sheets. After he left, I showered and put on my brightest sundress, the one with big sunflowers that laid over my chest like extra boobs. I needed the cheer. I needed to get out of Eric's house as well. It felt lifeless without him there, without knowing when he'd be back.
I'd never been the type to wait around moaning when my guy had to work. I wasn't about to start now. Driving back to Bon Temps, I pulled into Merlotte's in time for a late supper, which I served up myself in the kitchen, unable to bear being waited on like a customer. I needed all the familiarity I could get just then. Sam was nowhere to be seen but I was surprised to see Claude at the bar, sitting alone.
"Cousin," he greeted me, standing up and kissing my cheek. "I wondered when you'd be back."
"I've been in Shreveport," I said, surprised. "And I called you but you never called me back. And why are you here anyway? I figured you'd be moved back to your old place. Not that I'm not glad to see you."
"I am back in my old place. I came here to talk to you." Reaching into the back pocket of his jeans, he handed me an envelope. Inside were photographs. "I was asked to bring you these."
Looking at the top one, tears sprang to my eyes. Gran. She was so young in the shot, maybe my age or even younger. The next was of Jason and I as babies, propped up on a picnic blanket. His arm was around me in a gesture of protection I remembered as typical from back before anyone realized how different I was. The third showed my parents with the both of us, a portrait of a family that no longer existed.
I pressed the stack to my chest. "Claude… I… I don't know what to say. Thank you!"
He shrugged in typical Claude fashion. "Our grandfather doesn't forget you."
Wiping at my eyes with one hand, I held the pictures safe with the other and tried to think of something less emotionally wrought to talk about. "How is Dermot?"
"He gets by. I gave him a job at the club."
My mouth fell open. "You made Dermot a stripper?"
Smirking, he laughed. "Not a chance. The man can't dance. He takes tickets, sweeps up… mostly hangs around and studies the humans and learns."
Not wanting to think about what Dermot would learn from observing humans at a strip club, I said, "And how are you?"
Claude's eyes narrowed on me. "No, I think a better question is, how are you, cousin?"
"Do you care?" I sucked in my lips, a little ashamed of myself but the words had popped out before I could stop them.
He didn't take offense. His face actually softened, just a bit. Maybe he was thinking of Claudine. "I care enough to ask," he said finally.
"I'm… I'm fine," I said, thinking of Eric, wondering if he'd gotten to see Joseph yet, if Pam was with him, if he was happy. "I've been watching a lot of movies. Eric's… he's good. We stay home a lot."
Claude leaned back against the bar. "He was bored at home with you. He needed more."
The pictures nearly dropped from my grasp. "You have a lot of gall to say something like that to me!"
"I say it because it's the truth. Right?"
I started to yell at him but no sound would come out of my mouth.
"But Sookie, have you thought about yourself? Were you bored too?"
I wanted to say no. I wanted to tell Claude that being with Eric was all I needed. That as long as he and I were together and safe, the world was a good place. It wasn't all a lie. But Claude's blunt appraisal opened a window in me. I thought about all the times when I'd sat in Eric's living room, tapping my toe on the floor, waiting for him to rise for the day. Waiting for my day to begin, with him.
Tilting his head, Claude gazed at me sideways. "You were bored because you need more and so does Eric. And that is something frightening to you. Look at you, shaking in your little shoes."
"Bad things happened, Claude. We lost almost everything but each other."
He pulled a tragic face. "Oh no! Shutter the windows, lock Eric in the basement, bar the door. Trouble may come!"
Gritting my teeth, I began to count to ten in my head, slowly. I reminded myself that he was one of the few remaining members of my family. Then I counted to ten again.
He watched all this, the corner of his mouth twitched up into a smile. But he didn't look cruel. He looked amused. That bothered me more than cruelty. I missed Claudine more than ever right then.
Finally, he sighed and took my arm. "Come with me. There's something you should see."
"Huh?" I let him lead me out to my car.
"Just drive." He got into the passenger seat and closed the door, waiting expectantly for me to join him.
I did, slowly. "Where are we going?"
"To piss off your husband." He patted my hand. "Don't look so worried. We're going home."
I hadn't been back to my ruined house since we'd returned from Nevada. It had been too much for me, the idea of seeing the burned-out wreckage of everything tangible I'd loved on this planet. Seeing it would have felt too much like seeing Gran's body dead on her kitchen floor. Eric hadn't mentioned it and neither had I. Though I'd thought of it, ghostly as a grave, and pictured it as a silent monument to all that was wrong in the world.
Claude wouldn't let me deflect from this, though I tried. He all but took the wheel from my hands. Once we were on the familiar gravel drive, I slowed way down, buying myself time. Muttering under his breath, Claude patted my shoulder. There, there.
The night was very dark but as we came around the bend, I realized gradually that there was nothing to see. The land had been swept clean, with only the foundation of the house remaining. It looked awful but clean, like bleached bones.
Getting out of the car, I walked around the outside of the foundation, rebuilding the house with my eyes. There was the kitchen, I imagined, and there had been the bathroom. Claude trailed along behind me, whistling a tune I didn't recognize.
"Who did this?" I asked, leaning down to touch the edge where my bedroom had once been. "You?"
"Not me," he said. Taking hold of my shoulders, he turned me gently to face the woods. Then he disappeared.
At the woods' edge stood Eric, running towards me with something small in his hands. I took a step back, fear boiling inside me. "What… what went wrong?" I stuttered as he neared, wanting to cry. I knew it, I knew it!
"This is all wrong," he said, embracing me. The folder he held brushed the back of my hair. "I asked Pam to wait another day. I had to meet someone here."
"This is wrong?"
He frowned, a line furrowing between his blond eyebrows. "It's all wrong. Claude knew better. This was a surprise for you."
He handed me the folder. Opening it, I saw house plans. "You… you are rebuilding?"
"For you," he said. "I'd planned to wait until the walls were up to show you. It would look… less sad, with walls instead of just this foundation."
I looked up at him. "You are rebuilding my house?"
"Pam is rebuilding your house." He turned a page to show me the sketch of the outside, looking just as it once had. "I convinced her to minimize the upgrades. I knew you would want it to be just as it once was."
"She doesn't have to do that. It was Victor's fault." Numb, I turned pages. I didn't know what to think.
"Pam has plenty of money and she wants to do this. Allow her to assuage her guilt. Think of how good it will feel to see this house as it once was, to sleep in your old room again."
A tiny warning bell went off in the back of my head. "Don't you want me with you in Shreveport?"
Taking the folder from me, he tossed it to the grass and drew me back in against his chest. "My lover, as bored as I have been these last eight weeks, it hasn't escaped my notice that you have been just as lacking in direction. Shreveport is too far from your work.
That sounds like a no to me. "You don't want me to live with you." I had to see his eyes. Breaking away from him, I sat on the edge of the foundation. "Isn't that right?"
Eric tipped his head way back and looked up at the stars. His chest rose and fell as he took deep breaths. Then he started to laugh. "Sookie, you really think I've been working to surprise you with this house only to dump you into it and leave? Is that what you really think?"
With one hand, he caught me by the back of the neck and shook me, gently. "I will live here too, if that meets with your approval. Those minimal upgrades had to do mainly with creating light-tight spaces. For me. So that I could be here. With you."
I closed my eyes, feeling a blush spread from my cheeks all the way down across my chest. Oh. "Well… that's good, then. That's… that's fine."
He kissed my forehead. "Not your wisest moment, is this, my lover."
"Uh, no. Not really." I thought of the possibilities, raced through each one. "What about Fangtasia?"
"It will benefit from my absence, I think. Pam received a call and gave me a long lecture about trusting those I hire to manage rather than taking over everything myself. Besides, I'll be traveling. Which means you will have your space, your time to work, to see your friends, to watch that boy, your cousin's child…" Brushing my hair from my face, he said, "To have your life. The rest of it. Just as I have mine. Just as people everywhere do. This isn't a fairy tale, Sookie. This isn't a novel like those Claude poses for. We can have more than each other and have each other too."
I thought of Bill, how I'd always worried if we went more than a millisecond without some sort of affirmation of love. And of Quinn, who could never have given me the attention I needed, even though it shamed me to think that he would have had to abandon his family to be with me. I thought of how much Eric and I shared, all the humor and understanding, the good and the bad of it. Of us.
There might just be room to breathe here, I thought, locked in on his eyes, which were patient as he waited for me to consider all of this.
The night was wide and clear above us. I smiled at Eric. It was a real smile.
Finished! Thanks for the support. I appreciated all of your comments during the writing of this fic.