Dust In The Wind/M/AU/AH/Eric & Sookie- Sookie is a misfit high school reporter sent to interview one of the most popular boys in school when he wins the National Merit Scholarship.
Dust In The Wind
“You wanna dance?” I turned, juggling my yearbook camera and butterflies the size of 747’s. Eric Northman was asking me to dance. Tara had been right. I was sure she would remind me later. “Sookie, when you gonna learn that I know what I am talking about!” She would roll her eyes, place her hand on her hip and wait for Lafayette to chime in, “Damn straight, hookah!” They were both lucky I loved them. I was lucky, too though and I knew it. They were not only my only friends but good friends to have.
I had quite a reputation for being the school crazy. Before I learned to hide behind the camera and spend my time in the yearbook darkroom I had made the mistake of trying to fit in. I tried too hard and became the school joke. It took me awhile to catch on, but soon chants of “Crazy Sookie” clued me in. After that I kept to myself. Tara and Lafayette wouldn’t take no for an answer. I was grateful for that and for them.
I had seen Eric around school. He was the smartest guy around and everyone knew it. No one bothered him about it though. They had a grudging respect for him. He didn’t have a crowd. He just mingled in and out at will wherever he wanted. He could hang with the preps, the jocks, or the misfits and everyone just kind of let him be Eric. I would have envied him if I hadn’t given up on that kind of thing a while ago.
When my social aspirations nearly hung me, I turned back to writing and photography. I attended all the school events, which made my Gran happy because she thought I had everything she wanted for me. She thought I was happy, and I suppose in a way I was. I liked photography and writing was an outlet for my teenage angst that had no other place to go. Soon I was on the school newspaper staff and the yearbook. I even had my own column in the local newspaper reporting on school activities. Eventually, all the Crazy Sookie stuff faded away. I didn’t fit in but I didn’t stand out either. I felt lucky to have that much.
I didn’t actually meet Eric until the paper sent me to interview him for winning the National Merit Scholarship. Our high school was small and it was a huge honor to have one of our students selected for this award. We met in the library during fourth period. He came while I was setting up the camera and getting my notes organized. I didn’t know he was there until I felt someone behind me, right up behind me, so close he was almost pressing his body to mine, but not quite. “Hi,” he said in my ear. I screamed and dropped the camera, which wasn’t mine, it belonged to the school.
I stood there my shoulders raised panting in fear from being startled and also because I just knew that I had broken a camera I could not afford to replace. I was on the verge of tears when I felt his hand on my shoulders and heard him whisper. “Sorry, Sookie. Didn’t mean to scare you like that.”
He moved around me and bent his tall form down to pick up the camera. I closed my eyes unable to look. “How bad is it?” I asked him, holding my breath now. I felt him stand up. He was over six feet tall so he kind of loomed over me. I still wasn’t looking but he was throwing off heat like Gran’s wood stove. I could feel him next to me.
“Not too bad,” he said. My heart crawled up to my throat and my eyes flew open.
“Oh, God! What’s wrong?” My hands reached for the camera but landed on his instead. They were warm, hot even, but I was too terrified to notice at the time.
“The flash chute is bent down.”
“Oh, no!” I pulled a chair out and sat down, tears starting as I tried to figure out how I would find the money to fix that.
“I can fix it, I think,” he said pulling up a chair next to mine. He sat down close, his long leg pressing against mine. I leaned in closer still watching his every move, flipping between praying he could fix it and wanting to take it away in case he made it worse. “Breathe, Sookie, just take a deep breath. I got this.”
“I didn’t know you knew my name,” I said not thinking about anything other than how much trouble I was going to be in if this didn’t work. He stopped and turned his blonde head to look at me, his blue eyes filled with curiosity. I thought he was going to say something but at the last minute he turned back to the camera in his hands and started digging in his pocket for something. A moment later he pulled out a Swiss Army knife and unfolded one of the blades. I watched intently as he slid the blade under the metal that held the flash attachment and started to work it up to its normal position.
“Breathe, Sookie,” he said again and I let out a strangled breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. I immediately took another one and then another and realized I sounded like I had just run the four minute mile, which was a scientific impossibility for me. I couldn’t break five minutes to save my skin. “Slow deep breaths,” he said again in a calming tone as he worked the metal in his large hands. I bit my lip in an effort to get myself under control. It seemed to be working but I wasn’t ready to stop freaking out yet. “Just about…got…it,” he said, his tongue coming out to rest in the corner of his mouth as he concentrated on bending the metal. “There!” he said triumphantly, turning to me with a dazzling smile. I let out a huge shuddering breath and closed my eyes.
When I opened them he was sliding the flash into the chute and securing it. “Thank you, Eric! Thank you, so much!” I threw my arms around his neck, careful to avoid the camera and hugged him tightly. When I sat back his cheeks were flushed and he looked uncomfortable. I remembered then I was Crazy Sookie and he was Eric Northman. He had every crowd and I had me. “Sorry,” I said feeling myself blush now. “I didn’t mean to, I mean, I…I’m just sorry for that. I was just so relieved that you fixed it that I forgot for a second.” He raised a brow at me.
“That you’re…you and I’m just Crazy Sookie Stackhouse.”
“Crazy Sookie?” he said looking confused. There was no way he had not heard that name. We had been in high school together for three years now. He was a year older than my sixteen, a senior to my junior. That’s a big gap in high school but it’s not that big. He was making fun of me. I felt my face flame up again and I dropped my eyes wanting to run away. But, I made myself take another deep breath and told myself that I was there to do a job, so I had to get it done.
“It’s nothing,” I said and reached for my papers again. I shuffled them around until I found the questions I needed to ask. “You ready to do this interview?”
“Hey, Sookie, look I’m sorry if I said something-“
“It’s fine. Let’s just do this, ok?” He frowned again.
“Sure,” he said sounding about as enthused as if I were asking to shoot him with Gran’s gun rather than a camera he had just saved.
“How does it feel to win the National Merit Scholarship, Mr. Northman?” He looked behind him.
“Sorry, Mr. Northman is my Dad. I thought maybe had come in when I wasn’t looking.” He flashed a bright smile at me again, which I refused to return and sat poised to write his answer. Realizing the tone had changed he cleared his throat and looked down at the table.
“Well, it’s a great honor to be recognized…”
Forty-five minutes later I picked up the camera that he had saved and asked him where he would like me to take his picture for the article. “This is fine, I guess,” he said looking uncomfortable as I focused in on him.
“You want to spread some papers around, open a book and look like you are studying or something?” I was snapping away. Behind the lens I was safe and I could really look at him for the first time since I had realized he was making fun of me. He was quite handsome. I could already see the ghost of the man he was going to be and he would be devastating. Some girl would be quite lucky to have him on her arm. As long as he didn’t talk and reveal what an asshole he was then it would be fine.
“If you think I should.” I stopped and set up the props then moved around to get the best angle on him as he posed at studying.
“That’s good,” I said moving and snapping at a furious pace. Finally, I had enough. I put the camera back in the bag gathered up my papers and put them away. Then I stepped up to him, he had stood while I was packing. I held out my hand to him. “Thank you for your time today, Mr. Northman.” He looked at my hand and then at my face frowning. I was just about to drop it and walk away with my head held high when he reached out and took it.
His hand was still hot as it had been earlier and it totally swallowed mine. His touch was gentle though and he held my hand rather than shaking it. I wanted to pull away, but the professional in me would not let me do it. “Thank you, again for fixing the camera.”
“No problem,” he said. Again, he looked like he wanted to say something else, but before he could I did what I swore I wouldn’t do and pulled my hand from his leaving as quickly as I could before he saw the tears on my face. Up to today I had thought that I had left Crazy Sookie behind. It really hurt to find out that I was wrong about that.
When I wasn’t in the darkroom or in class I was in the library writing. I had avoided it for a week or so after my humiliation but soon decided it was my place and I would not let anyone run me out of it. I was taking a break standing at the window lost in thoughts of the story I was trying to write at the table behind me when I felt a large warm presence behind me. “Hi,” he said in my ear as he had that first day. This time there was no camera to drop, but he startled me, so I spun around and found my face in chest.
I was flush against the window with no place to back up. He didn’t move. I looked up into his eyes and for a second I forgot what had happened a few weeks before. For a second I was lost in the fact that this gorgeous guy was almost pressed up against me looking down with a smile in his eyes and his face that seemed to have been tailor made just for me. Sookie Stackhouse. No, make that Crazy Sookie Stackhouse. That bucket of cold water broke the moment and I pushed at his chest forcing him back enough to get around him. I sat down and picked up my pencil again trying to look busy.
He plopped himself into the chair across from me and just sat there as I ignored him. After several minutes I looked up at him. “Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Northman?”
“Yeah. First you can stop calling me that. My name is Eric.” I shrugged. I had another name for him. He would prefer Mr. Northman to it, I was sure.
“And?” He leaned forward, elbows on the table, big hands pressed flat to the surface.
“The article came out this week.” I knew that. I wrote the damned thing. “My Mom wanted me to thank you and invite you over for dinner on Friday.”
“What?” I did articles all the time. No one ever invited me over for dinner because of my words. He shrugged.
“She said that she wanted to thank you in person for the wonderful things you wrote.”
“I wrote the facts. Your facts. She should thank you.” He looked at me sharply.
“She wants to thank you, Sookie. She was impressed with the article and your pictures of me.”
“Well, tell her thank you for me, but I can’t make it.”
“Do you have a date?” he asked me sounding very interested in that answer.
“As a matter of fact I do.” I stopped there, he didn’t need to know my date was taking pictures at the dance.
“With who?” he asked me frowning now. I didn’t have to tell him anything. He could go fly a kite!
“Nunya,” I told him.
“Nunya? Is that the new exchange student?” Inside I rolled my eyes. It had seemed so clever at the time, nunya as in none of your business, but as luck would have it we did have a new exchange student and his name was to my great misfortune Xiang Nun-ya. Only you, Sookie, I thought and floundered for a way to get the hell out of this gracefully. “Is he taking you to the dance?” I opened my mouth to correct him.
“Yes.” What the hell? Sookie! Frowning turned to anger on his face, his hands clenching into fists.
“I see,” he ground out through clenched teeth. No, I thought, you really don’t. Well, maybe you do. Crazy Sookie strikes again. I got angry then. The library was my sanctuary and he kept coming in here and mucking it up. If I told him I didn’t have a date he would just be back at me for dinner again and that was never gonna happen. The last thing I wanted to do was meet Mrs. Northman and have to tell her how great her asshole son was. No f-ing way!
“Was that all, Eric?” I asked him coldly. He looked at me, his face flushed and hands still clenched.
“I guess so,” he said sadly then he rose slowly and walked away with his shoulders and head down.
The dance was in full swing and I was alternating between taking pictures and dancing with Tara and Lafayette in a big circle in the middle of the floor. I was twirling around laughing at some fool thing Lafayette had said when I saw Eric. He was leaning by the door. It was dark in the gym, only the DJ’s colored lights blinking alternately through the inky black but I could see that he had one foot up on the wall and he was staring at me.
I turned quickly and danced back closer to Tara and Lafayette. Safety in numbers, right? I had not told them about what had happened with Eric. It was too embarrassing and I was afraid that Tara would punch him or that Lafayette would fill his locker with shaving cream. Best to not poke the bear so the less said the better. “Oh, girl! You got a stalker!” Lafayette said in my ear, loudly so I could hear him over the music. I tried to laugh it off, hitting him on the arm and continuing to dance, but I wasn’t having fun anymore. Like my seat in the library he was here mucking this up for me now.
Telling them I needed to get back to work I moved to the dark corner where I had stashed the camera. I was pulling it out when the temperature around me went up ten degrees. I was getting used to it now. It didn’t startle me, it only mad me angry. I turned around quickly, eyes shooting daggers up at him. “Hi,” I said snidely, mocking the way he approached me. Instead of taking a step back he came closer.
“Hi,” he said so close I could feel his body against mine. This was too much!
“What the hell do you want from me, Eric?” He just stood there, not answering me, but looking at me in some intense way that I could only see when the lights came this way. It was unsettling. He was unsettling. I didn’t need this. I moved around him and walked back to Tara and Lafayette. He wouldn’t follow me over. He would just go back to wherever the hell he had come from and leave me be.
Tara leaned in close me throwing her arm around my shoulders. “He’s gonna ask you to dance.”
“Pffft, no way!” She shrugged and resumed dancing. A moment later I felt the temperature go up behind me again and he spoke down over my shoulder into my ear. His breath hot as the rest of him making me shiver involuntarily.
“You wanna dance?”
“If I say yes, will you go away?” I turned and practically yelled at him. If he needed new stories about Crazy Sookie I would give him one just to make him stop taking up my space, messing up my life. I didn’t need a constant reminder that I was different, that I was unwelcome.
“Maybe, if you tell me what I did to make you act this way?”
“What you did?” he nodded. I spluttered in rage, he really wanted to make me say the words out loud?
“Look, I get it, Eric. I messed up and hugged you that day. I told you I was sorry, that I wasn’t thinking. You don’t need to go on with this. I know my place. I don’t need to be hit with it like a puppy who peed on the floor. You wanna dance, sure let’s dance and then you can go tell all your friends how horrible it was to dance with Crazy Sookie.” I put the camera away in the bag and placed it in a nearby chair and turned back to him.
He was still standing there looking at me like I had punched him or something. I held out my arms to him. I wanted to get this over with. He stood there looking at me another long minute and then he stepped up to me and took my hands. Just as he touched me the music changed and a slow song came on. It took me a minute to recognize it. It was an oldie, Dust in the Wind by Kansas. My Dad had listened to that band when he was in high school. He still had the cassette tape in his truck.
When he heard the music change he placed one of my hands on his waist and held the other in his hand folding his arm on his chest. His other hand went to my waist and he pulled me close to him. The first thing that hit me was his warmth, the second his cologne. MY GOD HE SMELLED GOOD! That so wasn’t fair. I had no idea what it was but it smelled perfect. Like the thing I would have filled my room and car with if I had access to it. Like the thing I would rub all over myself every morning when I woke up and again before bed. It would be the only thing I would ever want to smell. I moaned and leaned in closer, taking deeper breaths.
The scent was totally relaxing and without thinking I had my head on his chest so I could get better access to this heavenly aroma. “This is my favorite song,” he said into my hair. The gentle tones and the smell of him took me away. I forgot that he had made fun of me, I forgot that I was hurt and angry. I forgot this was a joke to him.
In that moment, that single moment I felt cherished and special. I felt like I belonged for the first time ever. I felt safe and most of all I felt like I was home. Home was the smell of turkey in the oven on Thanksgiving. Home was the smell of Gran’s apple pie. Home was the rickety old farm house we lived in. Until that moment I had not known that a person could be home, too. But that was what it felt like Eric Northman’s arms.
When the song ended I looked up at him still enveloped in his warmth and his scent, a million thoughts on the edge of my mind but none of them actually getting in. I was numb and warm and I wanted very much to stay right here in his arms for a decade or two, maybe three. Forever was negotiable. The look on his face made me think he might be open to that negotiation. Before either of us could move or speak the real world crashed into us. Hard.
“Oh, my God, Northman! How can you even get your arms around all the Crazy!” That was Travis Easton, a smart ass freshman kid that I barely knew, despite my reputation having preceded me. Laughter exploded around the gym as one by one they took up the old chant. “Crazy Sookie! Crazy Sookie.” I looked at Eric, dumbstruck with humiliation.
“Told you,” I said and headed for the door to the gym as quickly as I could grabbing the camera on the way out. My eyes were filled with tears my heart with rage and pain not thinking I headed for the girls bathroom, hitting the door with a force so hard it flew back against the wall. As soon as it closed I went into a stall and locked the door. I stifled my sobs and wished I could just die right there. Tara came in behind me and stood outside the door. I refused to talk to her or to let her in. After a while she told me somewhat angrily that I had to come out some time. That started me crying all over again.
I stayed in the bathroom for I don’t even know how long. I could hear the music pounding again and no one had dared to come in for a while. I opened the stall and looked at myself in the mirror. “Crazy Sookie,” I whispered to my face like it was someone else’s. I washed my face, washing off what was left of my make-up. Then I took a deep breath and opened the door planning to sneak out to my car. When I turned down the hall I saw Eric standing there waiting for me. I froze, too beat up to run back into bathroom and he was between me and the door. I braced. Then suddenly I was embraced. I was in the biggest warmest hug I had ever had. “You ok?” he asked me which made me want to cry all over again. Forcing it down I stiffened my back and looked up at him.
“I will be,” I said through clenched teeth determined not to add to anymore stories of tonight which I was sure were already epic. Every inch of ground I had gained had been lost tonight. I wanted to crawl in bed and never ever come out.
“Good,” he said. He took my hand and started leading me back to the gym. I locked my legs and held my ground. He stopped and looked at me eyebrow up.
“Wh-where are you going?”
“We are going back in that gym to finish our dance.” I shook my head, a tear escaping despite my best efforts.
“No, more, please, Eric. No more. I can’t take anymore tonight. You wanted a dance with Crazy Sookie and you got one. You got your story for all your friends. I can’t take any more humiliation tonight. Please.” I had been reduced to begging. My chest felt like an elephant was sitting on it and I wanted to crawl away and die, but he still had my hand. I was looking at the floor now, unable to look at him anymore I was so utterly defeated by everything that had happened.. I felt his warmth again and then his hand came up under my chin.
“Sookie, look at me.” I turned my head to the side. “Look at me,” he said again, his tone soft. When I met his eyes for a second I was back on that dance floor in his arms. For a second I felt safe again. “I don’t know anything about Crazy Sookie and I don’t care to know. I don’t want to know anybody who does. Those people don’t matter. Never did. Never will.” I sobbed when I took in a breath of air. His words were cutting me so deep I couldn’t stand it.
“Please stop, Eric. You are killing me.”
“No, you are going to listen to me, Sookie Stackhouse. We are going back in there and we are going to show them all that what they say and what they think doesn’t matter. All that matters is you and me doing what we want to do and not letting anyone or their bullshit get in the way. I want to dance with my girl.” I pulled back.
“I’m not your girl,” I said flatly.
“Xiang beat me to it again?” I looked at him to see the smile on his face. I snorted. Hell, I almost laughed.
“We’re getting married in the spring.”
“Congratulations. Is it a green card thing?”
“Red tape is important in a marriage.” This time I did laugh. I felt the elephant on my chest stand up. He led me back to the gym and opened the door holding my hand in his. He led me right back to where we had danced before and waited for me to put the camera down. When I did and turned back to him he had his arms open to me and I stepped into them. I stayed there for the rest of the night, safe, warm and at home.
*For my Daniel, one of the few real Eric Northman’s that I have been privileged to meet and dance with. You really did smell that good that night.*