Disclaimer: The usual, folks. I make no money, I own nothing, I'm just having fun.

Chapter 4

Placing the finishing touches upon Sookie's house, sprucing up the back porch by replacing many rotten boards, ginger bread, and applying a fresh coat of white paint, came bitter sweetly. They celebrated that evening with a fried chicken dinner, and Alcide enjoyed watching Sookie in her white ruffled apron as she worked her magic in the kitchen, as much as she enjoyed watching him bring new life to her old house. It was a relationship of mutual appreciation, a rare and special thing.

They'd co-existed together in that house together for quite some time now, and shared the space well during the day, and well into the evening, until like a gentleman Alcide would make the hour drive home to Shreveport. Sookie would watch the tail lights of his truck disappear down the wooded road longingly, knowing they'd escaped disaster once more and still wishing a little that he would stay.

Now that the house was finished, Sookie had a feeling she would be missing him something fierce. Both seemed to brood on this as they sat on the front porch steps, watching the sun go down in a post-fried chicken languor, glasses of iced sweet tea sweating rings upon the newly sanded boards. The baby chicks hopped about in a basket beside them, peeping, eating crumbles of food, and falling face first into moments of rest. They were darling, and Sookie found herself reluctant to let them out of her sight.

"I'm afraid I'll have to go back to my other job next week," he told her. It was a subject they'd avoided up until that moment. "The development I was sent here to oversee. The foreman says there's been some problems. I have to go babysit."

"What kind of problems?"

"Materials disappearing. Copper pipe. Lumber. Tools. Etcetera. It's a frequent problem, and unfortunately usually an inside job."

"Sounds like you need surveillance cameras."

Alcide nodded in agreement. There were some already but it was impossible to cover everything on their budget. Then the idea struck him, plain as day. He wondered why he didn't think of it sooner. "Or someone who could sift through the laborers' minds like a book, and find out who's behind it."

"Why Alcide, is that a job offer?"

Alcide turned his head towards the lovely telepath. He noticed her eyes glimmered with interest. Maybe it would be nice to use her talents, instead of taking shit from ungrateful diners at Merlotte's. "Does that sound like something you'd be willing to do?"

"Maybe. It's exhausting, sifting through people's minds, Alcide. You find a lot of things you never really wanted to know."

"Well, think on it then. I don't want you to do anything you don't want to. But I would wager my father would be willing to pay a handsome wage for such a rare and invaluable service."

Sookie leaned in closer to Alcide, and had he been in wolf form his ears would have perked with interest. "I could do lots of things with this curse of mine," she said. "But it just seems to get me into more trouble than good. It's bad enough that certain vampires know about my gift. Can you imagine what would happen if the government found out? They would bundle me off to Gitmo to interrogate terrorists, and it would be the end of my free life as I know it."

A low growl rumbled from deep in Alcide's chest at the thought "I won't let that happen," he promised her. "Your secret would be kept locked up tight."

"You mean you won't write Telepath as my job description in the records?" she laughed. "I guess I could pose as a secretary on the job site," she mused. "No one would be the wiser. They would look over the top of my head like I wasn't even there."

Alcide, however, was having second and third thoughts about his suggestion. "A bombshell of a girl like you on a construction site? There would be no flying under the radar. I would have to assign you a body guard. Maybe it was a bad idea after all."

Sookie smiled to herself, liking the idea more and more. "Well, we don't have to decide now."

Sookie had noticed Alcide rubbing his hands. Certain he was a man who was perpetually sore from the line of his work, she reached for his great paw without a word, her thumbs firmly rubbing the stiff muscles in the pads of his palms.

The werewolf, caught by surprise by this unexpected but sweet contact, let loose a groan of contentment.

"You have no idea how good that feels," he said, eyes half closed. Always, his hands and shoulders were sore, from work or the gym.

"You earned it," she assured him, admiring the strength and size of the impressive paw in her own. "I've watched you put your heart and soul into this project, Alcide."

She had no idea, he couldn't help but think, and hoped the telepath wouldn't pick up on it. She went on. "The house looks so wonderful—I'm not sure it ever looked so good. You have a true gift. I'm happy you brought it back to life, even if I probably won't be able to stay here anymore."

Alcide hated to hear her say it, hated to hear the pain in her voice at the thought of leaving her childhood home, even as he knew it to be a very real possibility. It seemed Sookie was quite done with laying down and rolling over for vampires—Eric wouldn't have it easy with this one.

"We'll see about that, cher. How long has your family been here?"

"Ages. The early 1800s. I'm sure you can tell, the structure has more additions than Joan River's face."

The werewolf woofed with laughter. "It's a little hodge-podge, but it flows well. I've seen worse, believe me. Its stood the test of time. After so many years, who knows what stories these walls could tell, if they could talk?"

The thought made Sookie smile a little, chased the storm clouds from her expression once more. "Births. Deaths." She giggled. "Trysts? Who knows. Legend in our family has it that my great great great grandmamma Stackhouse shot a Union soldier dead right here on this front porch when he approached with…less than honorable intentions."

"My my. I see where you must get your wild streak."

Sook laughed, and it was a lovely sound that filled the air here more and more frequently these days.

She was afraid it would leave again with Alcide, and she didn't really know what she could do about it, besides enjoy this moment for what it was.

Alcide's eyebrows raised slightly when Sook shifted to sit upon the step above him, straddling his wide torso. When the blades of her thumbs pressed into the knotty muscles of his shoulders and the back of his neck, he couldn't suppress another sigh of contentment.

"You could do this professionally," he commented, eyes sliding closed. He tried not to let the fact that her small hands were upon him drive him wild. Keep your cool, wolf, he warned himself, even while what he really wanted to do was beg her to never stop touching him.

Sookie couldn't quite claim she remained unmoved by touching Alcide's powerful body, even if with therapeutic purpose. The span of his shoulders dwarfed her small hands. She found it a small miracle she could make any dent at all—without cliché, and as she'd expected, she found he was indeed rock hard. The skin of the back of his neck was almost feverishly warm, smooth and supple. The raven curls that fell around her fingers at the nape of his neck were soft as silk—this was something she'd wanted to do since the first day she'd met him, and perhaps she fondled his curls a little more than necessary. Alcide didn't seem to mind.

"You're a little shaggy back here, Mr. Herveaux. When was the last time you saw a barber?" she teased.

"I don't remember," he honestly admitted. Being a were meant his hair grew faster than what was human—too many trips to the establishment of the striped red pole could raise questions. He leaned back against her, indulging in their proximity, and the sweet scent of her skin. It didn't quite drive him wild as it did a vampire, but the fairy scent was still a thing of unbelievable sweetness to his sensitive nose.

"Want to cut it for me?"

Sookie did not balk at his closeness, only his weight. The wolf was solid through and through; she imagined he would sink like a stone. She couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to feel this body above hers, his weight pressing her down into a soft mattress while he kissed her…

She doubted she would mind then, even if he was crushing her now.

The thought sent her heart to skitter about in her chest, and she thought perhaps Alcide was the telepath at that moment, for the way he turned to regard her, a twinkle in his lovely hazel eyes. He sensed the quickened pitter pat of her pulse, almost as a rabbit hiding beneath a hedge, hoping to go unnoticed. The thought brought out the hunter in him, instinct directing Alcide to nuzzle the curve of her cheek with the tip of his nose, daring her to bolt into his waiting mouth.

Sookie was so very tempted, trembling taut as a rabbit primed to bolt.

Yet she suspected it wouldn't be her best idea. Perhaps they played their game of To Hell With Eric, but the inevitability of his return loomed very real in her mind. The last thing she wanted was harm to come to Alcide over her.

She was surprised when her voice came smooth; at least her words didn't betray the way he unsettled her.

"I'll get my scissors," she offered.

Alcide paused, suddenly reluctant to let her stand up.

"Thanks," he answered after a lull, leaning forward, releasing the telepath from the warm line of his weight against her.

"I'm not an expert," she warned him a few minutes later, sharp shears and comb in hand, as he sat in a straight back chair from the kitchen on the porch, hair dampened for easier management.

"It grows so fast you can't ruin it," he assured her. "Curly hair is forgiving."

And so she went about giving the werewolf a trim, the jet black locks falling to the decking. Shearing them away almost broke her heart, though she knew they would grow back. It was a bit of innocent fun, to touch him this way. It smacked of domesticity; just another lovely little lie they lived in their oasis of a farm house, enjoying the peace while they could. When she finished the werewolf stood from his chair, shaking off like a dog, feathers of hair falling from his shoulders.

"That feels great," he said, running a hand through the back of his now shorter hair. Though she hadn't had the heart to cut all the curls away, it still left his face strikingly stark, all his lines laid bare. It left one unable to look away from his masculine beauty, and Sookie found herself transfixed as he unselfconsciously peeled off his t-shirt, shaking it out over the railing of the veranda.

Maybe she'd never get to see Michelangelo's statue of David, but by God she'd seen Alcide Herveaux shirtless, and she imagined the experiences to be equally glorious.

Alcide was used to being watched by women, everywhere he went. It was a thing he usually enjoyed; a thing that perhaps he'd taken advantage of as a younger man. He felt Sookie's gaze; she did not look upon him as a hungry thing that wanted to take a bite, as so many did. There was a tenderness in her eyes that left him feeling a little raw, his longing for her howling more insistent than ever.

Slowly he turned to meet her gaze, finding she did not shirk from eye contact, even as perhaps her skin flushed pink with a bit of a blush. It all stoked his bravery, and Sookie could do naught but watch, feeling as the rabbit again as he slowly approached, clasping her hand in his. It all but disappeared in his paw, and the telepath sighed as he pressed her palm above his heart. The organ in question roared beneath her touch, pounding as though furiously seeking a way out of his chest. Her fingers shook slightly as she stroked the hair of his chest, his eyes boring into her. They seemed more green now; they seemed to positively glow. Wolf eyes, terrible and beautiful.

His voice came as a low grumble, nearly a growl, a low and primal register that tugged at strings low in her gut. "You can have this, Sookie. I'm all yours, if you want me."

Her heart pounded furiously for the suggestion.

If only it could be so simple.

"Alcide…" She tried to protest the offered temptation, but it came as a breeze of a sigh. The sound of his name on her lips made the werewolf wild inside; he leaned down to kiss her, lips feather light against hers, so full and soft and sweet that she thought she might die. Almost of their own accord, her feet rose to tiptoe, hungry for more. Though the wolf inside screamed for Alcide to take her, to make her their mate as he'd wanted for years, he kept the kiss gentle, strong arms encircling her waist, pulling her close. Sookie couldn't suppress a groan as his strong hands kneaded into her sides, Alcide slowly deepening their lock of lips, his tongue a cautious explorer in these lands coveted for so long.

Even as she melted in his arms, beneath his mouth, the telepath could not quell an insistent voice within her head. You're going to get him killed.

"Oh God," she whimpered, somehow breaking away, burying her nose in the bend of his neck so that she wouldn't have to face his eyes just yet.

"What's wrong, baby?" he whispered, holding her close.

He asked, even though he suspected he knew.

"We can't do this, Alcide. Eric will hurt you. He'll kill you for touching me."

"Eric's not here right now. Remember our game?" he tried to soothe her.

"This isn't a game!" She drew back to regard him, cradling his face in her hands, looking upon him lovingly but also with great fear. "This is very serious, Alcide."

"I know," he assured her. "I've never been more serious in my life. You're worth the risk."

"I'm not."

"You are, a thousand times over. I can handle myself, Sookie. Have a little faith."

"I know you're a formidable werewolf. But he's a 1000 year old vampire. There's no shame in being afraid of that."

"I didn't say I'm not afraid. I said I'll risk it."

Sookie shook her head, backing away, sliding from his fingers, suddenly illusive as a breeze.

Alcide couldn't help but feel hurt, in heart and pride, and his darkened expression showed it all too well. Good job, his inner voice congratulated. You rushed it. You spooked her. He backed away, afraid he might grab her up again if left in proximity. He needed a shower. A cold one. The werewolf retreated for the door, and it broke Sookie's heart to watch him go.

"Alcide, I'm so sorry…"

He shrugged those mountainous shoulders, but Sookie knew she'd cut him deeper than he would ever let on. Not only had she rejected him, but she'd implied he couldn't defend himself. It was all too much for a masculine heart and ego to bear. "It's ok, cher. It's your choice. But maybe ask yourself how much you're really willing to let that fanger control what you do in your life."

On that parting note Alcide ducked into the house, disappearing down the hall towards the shower.

Sookie felt so weak in that moment she feared her legs may give out from beneath her. The telepath fell into the chair Alcide had just occupied, amidst the stray tufts of cut hair. At that moment the whole world seemed to weigh upon her shoulders; she felt powerless in her own destiny, a small and fragile ship tossed amidst towering dark waves. For the first time since her return from Faery, Sookie cried. She kept it quiet, but still the sobs gripped her whole body, as a great hand squeezing her insides. It hurt. It all just hurt, and she wondered if life would ever stop hurting so bad.

She kind of doubted it would.

As the sun slowly made its way down, Sookie quieted her sorrows, curling her small frame up in the chair. She did think on what Alcide said about Eric. As usual, she found herself caught in a catch 22 with the Viking vampire. She was not willing to give herself to that manipulative vampire for any price. And yet he still hovered, ruining what perhaps could be her healthiest relationship since Gran.

What was she going to do?

The cold shower helped somewhat, though Alcide found the memory of her lips left a decided ache in his chest, just over his heart. She just cares about you, wolf, he reminded himself. She wasn't selfish. She wasn't the type to send a man headlong into the jaws of death for her own gratification. It made him love her even more, if it was possible, even as it was all frustrating as hell.

The sound of Alcide's voice turned Sookie's head. He paced in the kitchen, it seemed he spoke on the phone. She watched him smile, laugh, hand on his hip. The smallest things about him moved her, and she wondered if maybe she should just do what she wanted, and let him take her.

At least she would die a happy woman.

When the werewolf stepped out to the front porch again he thankfully wore a shirt, and a smile, perhaps only slightly dampened by rejection. Fresh from the shower, his moist hair curled even more, and he smelled of ivory soap and old spice.

Sookie toyed with a shorn lock of his jetty black hair, sliding it between her fingers almost obsessively. It was all she could hold of him at the moment.

"You gonna keep that?" he teased, nodding at the prize in her hands.

"Thinking about it." Slightly embarrassed, she set it aside, and picked up the salmon faverolle chick, who she'd named Babette, or Babs for short. The baby craned its neck to look around, curious but content to remain in the safe haven of Sookie's hands.

"I just spoke with my father," he said. "My parents are coming in to town Friday to look over the subdivision project. They'd love to take you out to dinner to discuss possibilities of employment."

Sookie's heart jumped with the thought.

"Oh my. You were serious."

"Absolutely. How does that sound to you?"

"It sounds fabulous."

"Where should we go? I'm still new to the area, you know the best places to eat around here."

Merlotte's was the first thing that came to mind, and Sookie didn't want to go there just yet.

"Best place I know of is Sookie's kitchen. I'd be honored to fix a home cooked meal for them, if that would be acceptable?"

A mysterious little smile pulled at the corner of Alcide's mouth. She suspected it had something to do with the hominess of cooking a down home meal for his folks. It smacked of meet the parents. The thought sent a titter of nerves down Sookie's spine, but like a true Southern lady she did not balk.

"That would be lovely, cher. I'm sure they'd really appreciate it."

Alcide seated himself on the swing, and Sookie found the distance between them left a hollow feeling inside.

"Great. Can you take me to town tomorrow to get groceries?"

"Of course. Are you sure you're ready to announce you're back? You know word will spread like wildfire."

Sookie bit her lip. She wasn't, to be honest, but she knew it was inevitable. "It's been like a fairy tale to hide in the holler here with you, Alcide, but I'm afraid it's time to face reality. I've been thinking, and I don't even really know where to start to get my life back. If I've been declared dead and gone, how do I legally rise from the grave? "

"We'll drop by the sheriff's office tomorrow. They can make a report. It will be a start."

Imagining the look on Andy Bellefleur's face already pulled a giggle from the telepath. "Howdy Andy. I was kidnapped by fairies, but I escaped their realm and now I'm back. Write that down, will you?"

The pair shared a good laugh at the thought. "Maybe leave out the part about fairies."

"You think?"

A/N: I want to thank everyone who's reading, and especially reviewing! It feels so good to be back on that proverbial horse named writing again. Thanks and enjoy! -SL