DISCLAIMER: Characters Eric Northman, Sookie Stackhouse, Hunter Savoy, and Michele Schubert Stackhouse and setting from Charlaine Harris.

DISCLAIMER: Additional original characters Adele Stackhouse Lowell, Corbett Jason Stackhouse, and Susanna "Sookie" Stackhouse.

STORY: Inspired by The Band's "The Weight."

oooOOOooo

Hunter

Hunter Savoy was making good time. Initially caught in traffic, about an hour outside New Orleans northbound Interstate-49 cleared up. As he coasted along, Hunter figured his less-than-perfect observance of the speed limit was somewhat understandable considering which of his uncles taught him how to drive.

Hunter was seven when his Aunt Sookie married Eric Northman. Young enough to be the ring bearer, he was old enough to remember the wedding. It had been at the Hilton Shreveport, long since renovated and renamed. A fun party, Hunter remembered it went late into the night. There had been lots of everything. Food. Cake. Synthetic blood. Music. Dancing. Were and vamp security guards. It was also a lot of fun. It was obvious how much his aunt and uncle loved each other.

They were so happy that day, he recalled.

As Hunter drove past an amusement park billboard, an unbidden memory bubbled to the surface of his mind. Remembering, he lost himself to a smile.

Sookie and Eric had taken him to the Six Flags Amusement Park for the first time when he was about eleven. A quiet period in vamp politics, they felt it was safe to indulge in family outdoor activities. Since Six Flags had instituted a 24-hour half-season to accommodate vampires, the Stackhouse-Northman posse arrived at the park around 9:00 pm. While Hunter and his aunt spent much of the night beside themselves with excitement, Eric stood nearby watching in amusement. Aunt Sookie, though she was about 34, may as well have been a kid too. Looking back, Hunter would definitely describe that outing as one of the happiest of his childhood.

Reflecting on it, Hunter knew it wasn't a coincidence that Eric and Sookie played such large roles at the happier times of his childhood. When there was no "vampire shit" from Eric's side (according to Sookie), or "fairy intrigue" as Pam referred to problems originating from Sookie and Hunter's family, they could—and did—have fun. A lot of fun. Hunter, well into his forties now—45 to be exact—could still remember those times. Despite his youth at the time, Hunter knew they were good times, even as he experienced them.

Looking back now, it was easy to see how important his aunt's influence was in ensuring he was able to have a life. From the moment his aunt had walked into his life, she'd done her best to teach him how to be the best he could be. For him—as it had been for her—this meant being able to put up mental shields. His being able to keep the thoughts at bay was key to his having a normal life. She had been firm with him when it came to training his mind to block off others' thoughts. This, Hunter knew, had been for his own benefit. His aunt had been adamant about him going to college and having the opportunities she felt she'd missed out on.

But the telepathy, in addition to the personal struggles, brought other dangers as well.

Although Sookie and Eric had done their best to keep him insulated from certain things when he was young, all of that changed when he hit his early teens. At that point, they gave him a thorough education in vampire hierarchy and political structure. He understood it to be a necessity, as his ability to read minds would forever make him a potential pawn. While Eric's protection and claim of kin had allowed Hunter, for the most part, to lead a normal life, he knew never to become complacent. He glanced down at his pant leg. Underneath it was the ever-present stake he wore strapped to the inside of his calf.

Everyone makes adjustments, he thought. Some folks carry guns.

Hunter realized early on that he needed to be flexible if he was going to survive. When it became obvious to his father just how much was at risk, Remy Savoy had entrusted his young son to the care of his ex-wife's cousin and her husband. Looking back now, Hunter could only shake his head at how vastly different his life in Bon Temps and Shreveport was compared to his life with his father in Red Ditch.

From his quiet life with his dad, his new life involved an extended family consisting of Sookie; Eric; Jason; Jason's wife, Michele; Sookie's best friend, Amelia; her boss, Sam; Eric's child, Pam; and several other trusted members of Eric's vampire retinue.

Definitely breaking molds on the concept of "family."

Thinking of Pam, Hunter smiled. Once Hunter had gotten used to Pam and realized he could joke with her, he'd told her the Shreveport clan was like this old movie called Married to the Mob. Having never seen the film, Pam insisted the two of them watch it. She loved it. Watching it at get-togethers became a tradition.

You know you've got an interesting family tree when your long-standing holiday tradition is watching Married to the Mob with a 250-year-old vampire, Hunter laughed silently to himself.

Life with Sookie and Eric also meant growing up knowing lots of weres and shifters. Hunter smiled, his thoughts turning to one special shifter: his wife Claire.

Finally off the highway, Hunter was on local Bon Temps roads when he pulled over and took out his cell phone. He saw that he'd received a voicemail from his cousin, Del.

At 35, Adele Stackhouse Lowell was the youngest of the three Stackhouse cousins. It was Hunter, then Corbett (Del's brother, two years her senior, 37), and then Del. Del was the only one who still lived in Bon Temps.

Hunter played the voicemail.

"Hey, Hunt, good to hear from you. Got your message. Obviously. Yeah, Uncle Eric got back from Europe—maybe a month and a half ago by now. Mom's been over to see him a couple of times. She brought the kids over once. He was happy to see them. Says Laura looks like Aunt Sook. Of course, everyone else says she looks like daddy. I see him pretty regular. You know I've gone back to doing a shift at Merlotte's a few times a week, right? I figure if Ed hasn't killed the kids yet…They're good, by the way. Thanks for asking..."

Del paused.

"I just realized something he may not have told you. Uncle Eric bought Merlotte's when he got back. It was like the first thing he did. Ah, well, maybe the second..."

What else did he do? Hunter wondered. He stared at the phone.

"He moved into Aunt Sook's house, too. Full-time. He's still got the place in Shreveport. You know the main one. I don't know about the others…"

Hunter heard his cousin take a breath and then all he heard was silence.

"I don't know if it's anything to be worried about. You're the psychologist. I mean..." Del sighed. "He seems sad still, but it's not like anyone can say when you stop feeling that. My mama still misses my daddy and he was gone two years before Aunt Sook."

Del paused again. Hunter attempted to read between her words.

"I'd better get back to work. Send me a text when you pull in, and I'll come out and meet you in the parking lot. Otherwise, he'll hear every word we say." Another pause. "It'll be good to see you. Maybe you ought to consider taking a sabbatical from teaching for a bit and move back for a while. He really enjoyed you and Claire and the kids coming out to Sweden. Not sure why he hasn't been down to New Orleans yet to see you guys." She paused again. "If I had to describe it, I'd say he's kinda immersing himself back here. Guess he's not anxious to leave again. But you should have the family up for a visit. I'll talk to mama. Maybe we can do Thanksgiving at midnight like we used to. You know. Before. See you soon."

Hunter stared at his cell and didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He couldn't help but be amused by her voicemail.

Del missed her calling, Hunter thought. Girl should've been an auctioneer. She can fit 8-10 words in the time most folks can only get out one.

Del was obviously worried about Uncle Eric. That much was clear.

Hopefully, my coming in will lessen her load a bit.

Putting the car back into gear, Hunter merged into traffic and resumed his drive to Merlotte's.

Del

Del Lowell, meanwhile, was working her shift at Merlotte's. Present in body, her mind was definitely elsewhere. She kept looking towards the door and then at the clock. She wished Hunter and Corbett would get there already. She felt so guilty, and she was sure Uncle Eric would catch her looking at the door and just know she was up to something. Of course, he knew Hunter was coming, so there wasn't any reason for her to feel guilty about that. But, her uncle had no idea Corbett was coming in from Dallas.

Then there was the fact that she just felt guilty about the whole thing. About the fact that they were doing so much talking about him behind his back.

Well, it's not like we're saying anything bad. We're just worried about him is all, she reasoned.

To Del's mind, the fact that they were worried about Uncle Eric couldn't possibly be a surprise to him. He'd have to recognize that he wasn't the same since he'd gotten back from Europe. Really, he hadn't been himself since Aunt Sookie passed and that was nearly two years ago. He'd have to realize that they—his family— would worry about him. To Del's way of thinking, that was what being family was all about. If you didn't have family, who the heck else would notice when something was wrong?

All of them—Del and her husband Ed, Corbett and Alex, Hunter and Claire, mama and even Aunt Amelia—had been so hopeful that the six months in Europe might bring him out of his funk.

It hadn't. And it pained Del to see him like that.

It would've hurt Aunt Sookie to see him so unhappy, to see him grieve so much.

She would tear up whenever she thought about how unlike himself he was.

So Del was thrilled when Hunter emailed her earlier that month to let her know he was planning on coming up from New Orleans for about a week. He said he just wanted to visit, but he pointedly asked about Uncle Eric. And Del wasn't her mama's daughter for nothing. She could read between the lines. He'd left her a message earlier that day letting her know his estimated time of arrival. Del was so relieved Hunter was coming up. In addition to being a psychologist, her cousin was also the closest one to their uncle, since he'd spent a good part of his childhood with him and Aunt Sookie.

Del had tried to talk with her mother, but Michele was a bit dismissive, saying she thought Del was over-reacting. After all, her own husband, Jason, had passed on several years earlier, and not a day went by that Michele didn't miss him. Grief was natural. Eric had more years on earth than all of them put together. Michele said he just needed time.

Del and Michele rarely disagreed. Usually they saw things in such a similar light, the idea of them holding opposing views seemed like an impossibility. But this was one of the rare exceptions. On this they disagreed.

"Del, Eric's a big boy," Michele was practically laughing. "Sure, he's grieving for Sookie. Just like I grieved for your dad. He'll snap out of it when he's ready."

"Ma, I don't know. You don't see him as much as I do," Del sighed. Her mother could be thick sometimes. "He just doesn't seem the same. It's not like it's a mood he'll shake. It's like the light went out of his eyes."

Watching, Del thought that comment might have penetrated her mother's mind. She seemed to reconsider.

"Well, why don't I go over there and bring the kids? He always loves seeing them. He hasn't seen them since he left. Laura's gotten so big—he won't even recognize her. JJ's playing with the video game he got him. He can show off. How about that?"

"Yes. Please, mama," Del had felt a spark of relief. Michele Stackhouse had good instincts. Del was just going to sit tight and hope that her mama came away from the visit saying, "Get over yourself! Eric's fine. Maybe it's just his niece and nephews that are suffering from a case of neurosis."

Del wouldn't care if her mother teased her for being a worrywart for the rest of her life—if her worries were, in fact, unfounded. She really hoped they were.

Unfortunately, Michele came back from the visit with Eric two weeks earlier with an even bleaker view than Del's.

"Aw, hon," Michele apologized to her daughter. "I'm sorry I doubted you. I'm afraid you might be right. He doesn't seem like himself at all." She paused and her next words threw Del for a loop. "Have you been in touch with Pam?"

Del's eyes blinked at the question. Pam?

"Well, I don't talk to her on the phone regularly or anything like that. We email once in a while. But Hunt sees her often enough since he's in her retinue. He's got her on speed dial. He can get in touch with her if we need to."

"Yeah, Del," her always-practical mother nearly destroyed Del with her next words. "But you're here. If...something happens, you may not have the luxury of time. You may need to get in touch with Pam, pronto. You may not have time to play phone tag."

So with those words, Del knew her always calm, collected, and practical mother actually regarded it within the realm of possibility that Uncle Eric might be considering meeting the sun.

Del hated knowing her mother actually thought this.

Del, knowing her Aunt Sookie would never stand by and just watch while someone she loved was hurting, knew she couldn't just stand by and watch, either. Especially when there was a chance she could do something about it. So, she did the only thing she could: she asked her brother to come out from Dallas at the same time Hunter would be around. "Intervention" seemed a strange way to describe what she had in mind, but she figured that was more or less what it was.

Suddenly her cell-phone buzzed. Pulling it out, she saw it was a text from her brother, Corbett.

Hit some traffic. Mostly on time.

"Good," she mumbled. Looking up from where she stood by the condiment station, she accidentally caught Uncle Eric's eye. He was standing behind the bar wiping down glasses. She couldn't help thinking Aunt Sookie would've been amazed at the sight of him doing clean up. Del smiled at him.

Startled by Del's sudden smile, one that reminded him so much of his lover's, Eric was slow to smile back. But he did.

Del thought he looked more like his old self in that moment than he had in a while. It gave her something to think about while she waited for Hunter and Corbett.

Corbett

Corbett Jason Stackhouse was finally on the outskirts of Bon Temps. The traffic he'd hit outside of Dallas did slightly delay his arrival, but only by about 10 or 15 minutes. He texted his sister because she, more than anyone he'd ever known, was conscious of folks' arrival and departure times. She'd have your trip timed out for you the second you mentioned you were going someplace. Del also factored in driver preferences. She knew Corbett liked to stop twice: once for coffee and once for the restroom. She knew he stuck to the rule, even if Alex and the kids were traveling with him, but it added approximately 10 minutes to each stop.

As he pulled off the Interstate, Corbett's thoughts returned to the reason for his trip to Bon Temps: Uncle Eric. Del hadn't been too forthcoming, but Corbett could tell his sister was worried just by the tone in her voice. For that matter, he'd talked to his mama and the woman wouldn't know how to mince her words if her tongue was a cheese grater. So, between talking to the two of them in the past couple of weeks, he knew they were worried about Uncle Eric. He thought they were worried that he might try to meet the sun.

Corbett couldn't decide whether or not he thought it was possible, much less likely. But then, of the three Stackhouse cousins, Corbett knew Eric the least. Hunter spent half his childhood living with Eric and Aunt Sookie. They said it was so Aunt Sookie could teach him how to manage his "gift," but Del and Corbett always knew there was more to it. Del had never left Bon Temps so she grew up real close to Aunt Sookie and, by extension, Uncle Eric. Now she was working for him.

Thoughts of his cousin Hunter set Corbett's mind racing along a different direction. Things were really calm nowadays in the world's supe communities, but they'd been dangerous for a long time. Although it had mostly passed by the time he and Del were little, they knew from stuff they'd overhear their parents say that Aunt Sookie's "gift" had put her in danger more than a few times. Corbett figured they'd been shielded from hearing about most of it. Didn't need to be a brain surgeon to know Hunter would've been in the same danger.

Confronted by the reality of the potential threat posed to any telepath—or even a suspected telepath— a wave of fear suddenly engulfed Corbett. He and Alex shared a growing suspicion that their young daughter was a telepath. Corbett's knuckles whitened as he tightened his grip on the steering wheel.

If my little girl is like Aunt Sook, we're gonna need help, Corbett thought. Lots of help.

That was where Uncle Eric fit into the picture. Strong. Indomitable. Unwavering. The protector. Just thinking of his calm, confident uncle, Corbett felt an invisible weight lift from his shoulders. Of course, he knew his uncle was capable of horrible things. He knew Eric was a killer. As a vamp, he was a natural predator. Corbett knew all this from his father. Although Jason had grown to accept Eric as his sister's husband over time, it remained an uneasy truce. It was a truce that was borne mostly from Jason's love for his sister. As for whether it was possible Eric actually loved his aunt, Corbett had to concede things on that score.

No one could doubt for a minute how much he and Aunt Sookie loved each other, he thought.

You'd have to have been blind to miss it.

Corbett, perhaps more shades of his father's influence showing, remembered being curious as to how things would change as Aunt Sookie got older while Eric stayed the same. But, if Corbett had been waiting to see Uncle Eric go off with fangbangers or pay less attention to Aunt Sookie, he'd never seen it.

Then, of course, Corbett left for college in Texas. Wound up meeting Alex and settling in Dallas.

Though, according to Del, Eric had always stayed true to their aunt. Probably helped that Aunt Sook looked as good as she did. Decades of vamp juice kept her looking really young, like she'd had plastic surgery or something. Truthfully, the woman was notorious for maintaining a year-round tan most of her life. If anyone's skin should've been wrinkled and covered in age-spots, it would've been her.

Corbett was on the final leg of his trip.

It'll be good to see everyone. See what they think about the idea Alex and I are toying with.

Eric

Although he would have been hard-pressed to capture how he felt in one word, Eric Northman was feeling…restless. Living his life devoid of meaning, he knew he was going through the motions. Doing what was required, he'd been leading an empty existence for quite some time. Something, he thought sadly, was missing. He, of course, was painfully aware of what—who—was missing.

The first few months after Sookie...left, he'd been in shock. Apparently it is possible to be fully aware that something will one day happen and yet be completely undone when it actually occurs. That is how Sookie's death affected him. He knew it was inevitable, yet still it destroyed him.

A part of him couldn't help but be slightly bemused by how off-guard he'd been caught.

Since that day nearly twenty months prior, not a day went by that he didn't wish—at least once—that he'd been more "high-handed" with her— a wry smile tugged at his lips as he used one of her favorite adjectives for him— and turned her against her will. The sense of regret, however, was always fleeting.

The feeling always came over him at the same time: immediately upon waking, when he'd rediscover consciousness and discover she wasn't there. And that she wouldn't ever be again.

Eric would lie in his bed and remember her. He'd remember the feel of her in his arms. Her softness. Her warmth. He'd remember her smiles. Her laughter. He'd remember how happy she'd been with him. He'd remember how happy he'd been with her. Then the realization that it was all gone would hit him, overwhelming him. The pain could be unbearable.

As fiercely as he loved her, when she was still with him he hadn't allowed himself to consider how he would experience her loss. He knew it would be bad. He just hadn't realized how bad.

Sitting in his office at Merlotte's, Eric's mind traveled back to one of their final conversations. She had been in the final stages of her illness. Pale and thin, her beauty was undiminished. Still she smelled of sunshine.

"Do you ever regret my not turning you?"

Without missing a beat, she answered.

"No."

He raised a brow at her quick, decisive response. His beautiful Sookie had definitely grown up.

"Want to know why?" she challenged him.

"Yes."

"Aside from not wanting to fall out of time with my family and friends, I knew it would change us."

Eric had looked at her. He could not imagine ever not loving her—his woman—but he knew she spoke the truth. It would have changed them.

In that instance, it was she who was the pragmatic one. Over time, who could say how their feelings would have been altered by the maker-child relationship? Or, for that matter, by the influences inherent in a relationship dominated by the vampire nature?

"Eric, have you ever read O'Henry? His story, 'The Gift of the Magi'?"

"No, lover."

Looking at him, her eyes were clear. He could see the pain in them.

"It's about a man who wants to buy his wife beautiful combs for her hair for Christmas. Thing is he doesn't have money for it. So he sells his watch so he can buy her the combs."

"Oh?" Interesting enough, Eric had assumed there would be a parallel to their own situation and he wasn't seeing it.

"The wife, meanwhile, wants to buy her husband a fob—a chain—for his pocket watch. It was one of those old-fashioned watches." He swallowed his tears as he watched her gesture with her weakened hands. "Anyway, she can't afford the chain, so she sells her hair to get money to pay for it."

Eric frowned. He thought he understood the story. But he still was not clear about their own parallel.

"So their gifts are meaningless?"

"Well, yeah," she smiled a sad smile. "They do the wrong things for the right reasons. They don't know it at the time. But it's little things. Her hair'll grow back. They can save up money and buy his watch back." She paused and tried to take a breath. She was sobbing. "Even if it wasn't for my family and friends, even if I thought I'd be okay being a vampire, if my humanity is the thing that makes us possible, I don't want—I never wanted—to risk it. It's not like hair that'll grow back."

Watching him, she smiled again. It was her special smile.

He returned the smile. He understood. Her next words made him laugh.

"I loved loving you," she said slyly.

Somehow in all their years together they had managed never to exchange straightforward "I love you's." It started over her hesitation and fear and somehow had become a game in which they knew the truth but would always find new ways of not saying it. Or saying it. Thinking back on it, it amused him that they had continued the game for as long as they had. They had kept it up until the end. She was the one to break it. Lying there, weakened by her illness, she started by nonchalantly asking him a question.

"You know something?"

"What?"

"I love you."

Although it no longer beat, Eric was sure he could feel his heart expand at once, only to shatter shortly thereafter.

"I love you too, my wife. My life."

She had smiled at him and then fallen asleep. A few hours later she was gone.

Sookie's family had prompted Eric's extended vacation in Europe. Her sister-in-law Michele and the children perhaps thought sending him off to Europe might make things better somehow. So insular in his thoughts, he remained uncertain as to whether or not the theory held it was to make it better for him or for themselves. Pam had made the trip with him for part of the time. Compton had even stayed with him for a while in France. Hunter and Claire brought Hadley and Chris out to Sweden. Recalling that, Eric smiled. He had quite enjoyed showing the children his homeland.

As for Hunter, Eric was quite proud of his own role in raising Hunter to manhood. There were things—due to Hunter's unique gift, similar to his aunt—that left his own father ill-equipped to parent the boy. Not for raising him, not for loving him, but for seeing to his safety. Eric had been able to see to that. He was proud he was able to protect him. Hunter, now 45, was a smart man. Happily wed to a sensible shifter. Father to two delightful children.

Eric was looking forward to seeing Hunter. Truthfully, he thanked whatever deities had prompted the visit. Hunter indicated there was a need for him to conduct a professional interview with Eric as research for a textbook he was contributing to. Eric was proud of Hunter, of all that he'd accomplished. It was hard to look at Hunter and not see his lover's face, considering how much of herself went into the boy.

Man, he amended his thought.

In any case, whatever the cause that brought Hunter home from New Orleans, Eric was pleased. He'd missed the boy—man—since he'd moved. He enjoyed the children and felt their loss, as well. Even Claire was so accommodating, he often found himself forgetting she was a shifter.

While he quite enjoyed them, Eric had to admit that—without his Sookie—he was perplexed as to what place this family—her family—held for him. Since his return from Europe, Eric had divested from his holdings several of his Shreveport properties. He bought Merlotte's with an idea of turning it over to Del and Corbett. He was contemplating selling the Fangtasia chain and putting the proceeds into the children's trust funds.

As he considered his options for places to go once he left Louisiana, he found his mind wandering back to a conversation he and Sookie had had a couple of years prior to her death.

It was after midnight. They were making love. That was one aspect of their relationship that remained constant to the end: their seemingly undiminished desire for one another. Sookie's phone rang.

"Eric." Her hands on his chest, she attempted to push him off her. It was, in reality, ineffectual, but he got the message. "Get off."

"Not to be crass, my lover, but I believe that is what I was attempting."

Sookie stopped her movements. She stared at him. Then she burst out laughing.

"You're terrible."

He leaned down and gave her a leisurely kiss.

"Yes," his lips moved down to her shoulder. "I am so very terrible. Yet you love me anyway, do you not?"

Sookie giggled.

"Yeah, something like that," she teased. "I married you a couple of times. One time I even knew what I was doing."

"There you go." Eric nodded. Sookie's eyes were closed as she enjoyed the feel of his lips tracing along her shoulder. Finally she spoke.

"Eric, you're so distracting."

"Why do you say that, my lover?"

"You just are," she shrugged. "My phone rang a good few minutes ago. I'd intended on answering it and still haven't managed to grab it."

"Hmm," Eric's lips moved upward along her neck, tracing a path back to her lips. "Perhaps, you do not care to answer it as much as you claim."

Sookie pulled her head back and glared at Eric.

"Don't psychoanalyze me, buddy." He could tell he had said the wrong thing from her tone, as well as use of the word "buddy." In nearly four decades together—not long by his standards but a lifetime to hers—he had not been able to shake her of the habit of this word. It always brought to mind their argument on the porch, back when she dated the tiger. It remained an unpleasant memory.

"Sookie," he looked at her seriously. "I am sorry if my teasing did not amuse you. Might you tell me why you are so anxious to answer the phone at this time of night?"

Giving him "the look," Sookie responded by pointedly ignoring him as she reached over him to pick up her cell phone.

"I'll tell you AFTER I've listened to my voicemail."

Eric had lain there and watched her as she retrieved her voicemail, her animated face reacting to the news. And, of course, lying next to her he could hear the voicemail as she did. Her brother's son, Corbett, and his wife Alex, had had a second child. A daughter they named Susanna but planned to call Sookie. The child, although premature, was healthy and weighed 5 lbs 3 oz.

He continued to watch his lover. The interplay of emotions had ranged from worry at the initial news of the premature birth. Then joy at the healthiness of the child. A slight wave of disappointment that the family was in Dallas and she could not see the child immediately. A pang of sadness that her brother Jason would never know his second grandchild. Finally, she felt pride and some humility that Corbett and Alex thought enough of her to want to name their child after her, even if only as a nickname.

He knew his intimate knowledge of her emotions was greatly bolstered by the blood bond they shared. He liked to believe he just knew her very well. She was quiet. Pensive. He found himself uncertain as to the cause.

"Sookie?"

His addressing her jolted her out of her reverie.

"Yeah, honey?"

"I'll replace your phone to the table? Corbett said there was no need to call back tonight. "

Still hazy, Sookie turned her head to face her husband.

"Yeah, yeah. Here." She handed Eric her phone. "Thanks." She laid back down on the bed.

Eric didn't ask her what the call was about. She didn't offer. She knew he'd heard every word. Something was on her mind. He could tell. There was a weight pressing upon her, whereas before, she—they— had been carefree.

"Lover?" Eric propped himself up to gaze at her. "What is troubling you?"

She turned to look at him, a slight smile on her face.

"Oh, it's nothing really. Just thinking about the family."

"Your family?"

Tilting her head, her gaze became more serious as she focused on him.

"Uh, your family, too, Eric." Her tone was speculative.

"Well, of course, lover. They are important to you so that I must recognize them as part of you."

Sookie sat straight up at that. Incredulous, she looked at him.

"NO!" she replied. "That's not right."

Eric had frowned. What was the cause of this disagreement?

"Sookie, I do not understand why you are upset right now."

Looking at him, she bit distractedly on her lower lip as she contemplated what exactly she was peeved about.

"Eric, we're married." She said this slowly, as though the emphasis would bring clarity.

"Yes, we are. Several times over, under various rules and conventions."

Sookie had frowned. Whatever it was, it wasn't just that.

"My family IS your family. Hunter. Claire. Chris and Hadley. Corbett and Alex. Jack and Sookie. Del and Ed. JJ and Laura. Michele. Even Amelia. Do you get me?"

Eric had nodded. Certainly he would always do what was necessary to ensure their safety and well-being.

"Eric, I'm not just talking about helping them out with money when they need it and calling in the heavies when needed. It's also..." she paused, trying to think of how to explain it to him. "It's also waiting up at night for phone calls. It's remembering birthdays and anniversaries. It's putting cards in the mail and remembering favorite colors and songs and books." Sookie stopped talking to take a breath. "Eric, I'm not going to be here one day—"

"Lover, please, there is no need to discuss this. We have much time remaining to us—"

"No!" Her tone was sharp. But she softened it for her next words. "No, we don't. At least, I don't. I'd feel much better knowing all the people I love are going to be here—after I'm gone—and are gonna take care of each other."

Eric looked at her, his face a mask of red streaks. But for the color, it mirrored her own.

Back in the present, Eric sat reflecting upon Sookie's magi story. Eric thought he'd actually grown to understand it better in the months following her death.

Some evenings when he would awaken only to be met by the unending emptiness of another day without his beloved, he would wonder whether meeting the sun, embracing true death, would return him to humanity—her humanity— and put an end to his own pain.

But Sookie's parable of the magi always pointed to the flaws inherent in this idea.

My lover, that is not who I am. That is not the man you fell in love with. I always want to be the man you fell in love with, as that is what keeps you with me.

Reunion

Around 9:00 o'clock, Del felt her cell phone buzz. Pulling it from her pocket, she saw a text from Hunter.

Outside

Before she'd had a chance to put it away, the cell phone buzzed a second time. Corbett this time.

Ten minutes.

Showtime, Del thought.

Checking in with her tables one last time, she mentioned to Jan, one of her friends working that night, that she had to run a quick errand and to let Eric know she'd be back in a few minutes. Ten minutes, tops.

"Sure thing, Del. Your tables good?"

"Yeah, they should hold for a few. Just keep an eye out." She smiled at her friend. "Thanks."

"No problem."

Del grabbed her sweater from the closet and stepped out into the parking lot. Seeing her cousin, she felt a rush of pleasure.

"Hunt!" She launched herself at him. "You're a sight for sore eyes!"

It was true. Seeing her cousin, Del felt the weight that had been bearing down on her magically lighten.

Hunter laughed at his cousin's unmatched enthusiasm. He responded to her hug.

"Del! Really? You saw me not that long ago!" Del, Ed and the kids had made a trip down to New Orleans a couple of months earlier.

"Well, it's never too much as far as I'm concerned," she smiled. "I meant what I said. If you can come up with an excuse to be up here for a bit, it'd be real good. I'd love to have you around! Help me keep everyone else in line." Her tone was light, but Hunter knew the deeper meanings behind her words.

"Yeah," he nodded. "Let's see how today goes. I've been thinking about how I can maybe get up here more often."

Del clasped her hands together

"Great! I'm so happy to hear that."

"Well, is there anything you didn't cover in your voicemail?" Smiling, he teased her. "I still say you should've been an auctioneer."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she shrugged and waved her hand dismissively. "Who'd make sure these folks get fed," she gestured toward Merlotte's, "and Ed's books are kept up?"

"Uh-huh," he grinned at her. "Fair enough."

"C'mon Hunt, let's move a little away from the door."

Hunter followed his cousin out to where his car was parked.

"Okay, so I did something," she started.

"What?"

"I asked Corbett to come up, too. I figured it should be all of us. Mama called it an intervention. I wasn't thinking along those lines at first," she shrugged, "but maybe she's right. He's gotta realize we care about him and we're there for him. And the kids are there for him too!" She giggled. "As long as Stackhouses enjoy sex enough to have babies, that man's gonna have a family ready to love him." Laughing as she said this, her giggles were quickly swallowed by tears.

Hunter grabbed his cousin in another hug. He knew she was worried. It was different seeing it, though.

"Del, it's okay." He stroked her back. "I'm here. Corbett'll be here soon. We'll figure this out."

"Hunt, my mama's actually afraid for him. Afraid…you know...he might…" She couldn't bring herself to say it.

Hunter pondered that. Of the three of them, he knew Uncle Eric best. He also knew Pam. He didn't think either of them would ever give up on life. If nothing else, they were both incredibly stubborn.

Suddenly a car turned into the parking lot. Del looked over, wiping her tears with her hands.

"That's gotta be Corbett."

Sure enough, the driver of the vehicle pulled the car right up to where the two of them stood and climbed out of the car.

"Hey, y'all," Corbett scooped up his sister in a bear hug. "Good to see ya, Del."

"Aw, you, too." She smiled as she looked at him. "Sorry I had to light a fire to get you here, but I'm not sorry you're here!"

"Naw, that's all right. Del, I've been talkin' to mama, too. I know you're worried. Heck, she's worried, and that woman doesn't bat an eye for anything!"

Del nodded.

Yup, that about sums up mama.

"I was just sayin' to Hunt it would be a nice thing if he and that gorgeous family of his would move back to Bon Temps, we could all be a family again."

"And I was saying it's not entirely unheard of," Hunter told Corbett.

Corbett whistled.

"Ya kiddin', right?"

"No. Why?"

"Well, I didn't wanna get into this over the phone or email," Corbett glanced around. Seeing nothing, he continued in a low voice. "We're starting to think Baby Sookie has her aunt's gift," Corbett nodded to his cousin. "We're thinking it might be better for us to live in Louisiana. Best to be back here with Uncle Eric."

"Oh!" Del was shocked.

Hunter nodded. Corbett and Alex's daughter Sookie was not yet four, but he'd wondered last time he'd seen the little girl. Some of her mannerisms reminded him of himself as a child.

"So," a big smile formed on Del's face. "Does mama know about your moving back? She can't. I would've heard the scream, and it probably would still have me deaf."

"Naw, we didn't say anything to anyone yet. We've gotta figure out a few details first. Jobs. Where to live. That kinda thing."

"You know Uncle Eric would help you in a heartbeat. Especially—" she considered her words, "if you do need to be careful about the baby."

"Oh, yeah." It hit him all at once that in all his thinking about things, Corbett had never doubted for a second that Uncle Eric would come through for them. "I know."

"Okay," Del looked at her brother and her cousin. There was a full moon that night. Even with just the few outdoor lights, she could see them both pretty well. Both thoughtful, she mistook their looks for hesitation. She didn't know if they were getting cold feet or what, but they needed to get the show on the road.

"Hey," she threw them each a look. "Come on, you two," she started to laugh. "It's not like he bites..."

Hunter snorted, while Corbett, grinning, just shook his head.

"Yeah, right, Del," her brother retorted. "You mean he doesn't bite us."

Del led the way, as the three headed into Merlotte's.

oooOOOooo

A/N: Thank you for reading. I know it might seem sad at first, but really it's not. I love this song. That's why I chose it. It's always struck me as happy and sad at the same time. It's obviously not a literal story translation as much as it is a symbolic translation although I see definite parallels. For instance, if you stay true to CH's idea that Sookie remains human while Eric lives on, then, quite literally, one's "gotta go" while one "can stick around."

As for Eric…If Eric is the weary traveler pulling into town "feeling 'bout half past dead," he came into town to run a simple errand - or just remain unencumbered - but instead found himself caught up in relationships, responsibilities, and obligations to those he loves. Acknowledging a sense of responsibility to others is inherently linked to loving someone else and that's what Eric rediscovered when he fell in love with Sookie.

Many thanks to my beta, VampLover1, who is absolutely terrific.

Please feel free to let me know what you think. Thank you.