Sookie was climbing a mountain so tall she couldn’t see the top, she only knew she had to get there. It was a warm mountain, the ground at once both soft and hard beneath her feet. The incline so steep she was almost laying down to climb it, using her hands and her legs to move her body along.
She was hungry, the heartbeat of the mountain made her fangs descend. She wanted blood. There would be some, she just knew, at the top of the mountain. She had to get there! She felt the mountain shift beneath her, rumbling as it moved, deep in the heart of it. The sound it made caused her fangs to itch and her body to tingle.
She took a deep breath as she fought for another hold to pull herself another step closer to the top and found herself surrounded by a wonderful, comfortable, and familiar smell. It relaxed her, and also spurred her on, driving her focus into a tighter singular point. The mountain rumbled again, deeper this time than before, the vibrations starting a fire inside her that quickly moved between her legs. Her need to get the top increased almost to the point of pain as she slid her body along the mountain side.
Suddenly, there was an outcropping that hit her in just the right spot. She moaned and pressed herself against it, still wanting to get to the top, but the sensations she was experiencing here on the mountain side robbed of her will to go on. It felt so good, she lay down, grabbing at the hard mountainside, rocking on the outcropping faster and faster. The mountain rumbled again, and she felt its hands come to rest on her rocking hips. That was good. Then they moved to cup her bottom, pressing her down on the outcropping. That was so much better.
She felt the mountain move beneath her again, pushing up between her legs, taking her breath away as the hands squeezed and pressed her down harder. She still wanted to get to the top, but not if it meant moving from this place that felt so amazing. The mountain moved harder against her as she held on. Her eyes drifted shut and she lost sight of the top.
This is what Eric would feel like, if I ever dared to let myself touch him again. That stray thought spurred her on, making her hips move faster, and in turn the mountain held her tighter, as if it was afraid she would lose her grip and fall to her death back to the bottom where she had started.
“Oh, Sookie,” Eric said, causing her to awaken with a jerk and move with blurry speed away from him. She had fallen asleep again while he was reading to her and somehow she had wound up on top of him. I climbed him like a mountain, she thought, forcing her fangs back up before he awoke completely and saw her there like that.
The evidence of what their contact had done to his body was very clear as he sat up and wiped his eyes. She felt a pang of loss that the contact had been broken so abruptly, then she slipped behind her mask of detachment while he was still getting his bearings. “I’m going to check the wards and start dinner,” she said quickly, turning to go. He caught her hand before she could move.
“Are you all right?” he asked, his voice still deep and rumbly with sleep, still that deep and rumbly mountain voice. Her body was wet with need, her fangs were itching to come back down, and more than anything in the world she wanted to push that sleepy mountain back down and finish climbing it. I am the farthest thing from all right, she thought.
“I’m fine,” she said, making sure to keep her desires and needs under wraps so that they did not bombard Eric’s empathic mind. She had learned to do that after what had happened when they first met. His reaction to her had been so strong because of her strong reaction to him. He was feeling what she was feeling and he had thought it was all him.
When she had realized that, she had made an extra effort to not let her emotions spill over onto the empath any more than she could help it. She felt so much for him that at times it was hard, especially since she had to keep at least a small pipeline open to keep him to realizing what she was doing. If he could feel nothing, he would know she was hiding everything. So, she let him feel the barest amount of her feelings for him, the genuine caring and affection that had been at the core of her since she first met Eric Northman.
If he knew he would be angry. She was sure of that. She was also sure that if he did feel something for her, she needed it to be what he was feeling, and not what she was feeling. She had to be sure it was him, that he wanted her. There had been moments where she was sure she saw it in his eyes, moments when she thought he might be falling for her, but he never said anything, and she refused to look into his thoughts for fear that she would find he still found her as unacceptable as he had on the roadside that night after she had torn apart the Dark Fae who had tried to kill him.
They had their routine, it was a good routine. It gave them structure. It grounded Eric and kept him from being overwhelmed by what he had learned. She had been so afraid that he was going to snap under the weight of the information he learned when he touched the crystal, but he had rebounded. Nothing was worth upsetting that, not even her desire and need for the man himself.
“I don’t believe you,” he said, waking up more, tugging her to sit back down beside him on the sofa.
“I need to go,” she said, resisting his pull in more ways than one.
“I don’t want you to go.” His earnest blue eyes pushed at her mask and the walls around her emotions. She closed her eyes to hide from his beautiful face. To look at him would tear down all her defenses. She wanted to ask him what he wanted. She wanted to ask him if he wanted her, but, if he said no then the delicate balance that they had found with each other would be over. She pulled her hand away slowly.
“I need to check the wards.” He sighed, but said nothing else to stop her. She left, opening her eyes as soon as she turned away. “Dinner in a couple of hours,” she managed to sound cheery as she left.
“We’re all damaged. I’m damaged. Life does that to us. It does it when we aren’t looking. It does it even when we are. We are the sum of our experiences, and those experiences make us into who we are. Sometimes I long to be the man I used to be. I remember him well. I was him, but he was not me. I didn’t consciously change, it was something that happened to me, not something I did.
“I remember being new and fearless, because I didn’t know what it was to be disappointed, or rejected, or hurt.” He sat back, reaching for his cup of coffee trying to get to the heart of what he wanted to say. “I remember what being in love was like the first time. It was…perfect.” He smiled as he thought of the boy had he had been then.
“I was open to everything, to anything and I believed. I believed that the right beat the might. I believed the white hats always won the day. I believed that doing the right thing was the only choice. I believed that feeling would last…forever.
“Like the rest of you out there, time and circumstance conspired to change that. First love ended, the bad guys won more than the good and might is, sadly, more often the winner when it faces down the right. I find it harder now to believe and almost impossible to be fearless in the face of my experiences.
“Still, in every breath, in every thought, I long for that perfection, that ability to jump in and never fear the consequences because I don’t know that there are any!” He laughed and ran his hand through his hair, taking a sip of coffee. “The best I can manage these days is to sometimes convince myself that the consequences are worth the risk, and I think that is what life is about, you know?
“I think it’s about spending your time and your life looking for that perfection that life tries so hard to convince you is not real, was not real and that you are not just some hopeless dreaming fool that wakes up every day, puts on his socks and trundles out into the world waiting to get creamed.
“I think that trying to live your life as though the world were the kind of place we dream it to be, rather than how it really is, is the best and only way to make that dream come true. I think that not letting yourself be paralyzed by fear and doubt is the first and most important part of making sure the black hats don’t win the day.
“It’s not easy, in fact, it’s damned hard, and that more than anything else reassures me that it is the right and only thing to do. They can kick my ass, hand me my hat and tell me that I am a fool, and I will spit in their eye and tell them to take that clap trap somewhere else, because they can’t sell it here. Not to me, and not to any place that I am in, because here the dream wins. Here, we win because we stand together and nothing, not any one thing in this whole fucking world can knock us down except ourselves.
“Hold on tight out there in the dark, in the light, in the day and in the night. Hold on tight to who you are, what you believe and what you dream. Hold on tight to love if you find it. I don’t just mean the romantic kind, I mean the feeling itself and whoever inspires it in you. Because that is what it is, inspiration. Inspiration to be better, to learn more, to move faster and go beyond any barrier that anyone sets for you, even, no especially, the ones you set for yourself.
“In the darkest times, love will light the way. This is Eric Northman, still out here, holding onto the flickering flames of the man I was, while nurturing the new one for the man I want to be.”
“I need to leave for a while tonight,” Sookie said over dinner, causing him to stop in mid-bite.
“Oh?” he said, raising an eyebrow at her. She nodded, not meeting his eyes. “Why is that?” He noticed she wasn’t eating with her usual gusto, a clear indication that something wasn’t right.
“There’s something I need to do.”
“Tell me, please.” He said putting his fork down and preparing for something he was sure he didn’t want to hear. She swallowed, unable to deny his command, but trying to find the words that would make this more palatable. After a few long moments she realized that there was no way he would find this acceptable no matter how she painted the picture.
“My nature requires blood. It has been too long since I have fed.”
“And how do you do that?”
“I find a willing partner and take the blood I need.” His face was a mask of shock.
“Where do you find these partners, and what does it mean when you say ‘partner’?” She looked him in the eye now, her anger rising that he was pressing her to explain something that she did not care to say and he clearly did not care to hear. “Do you…kill them?”
“No, it’s not like that.”
“Then tell me how it is, Sookie.” She sat back now, folding her arms over her middle.
“Older Eric, as you call him, taught me that it could be pleasant for the donor. That I could make it pleasant if I chose, for both of us.” Eric sat back now, dinner forgotten as the questions flooded his mind. They came spilling from his lips before he could catch them and press them back down.
“Did you feed on Older Eric? Was it pleasant with the two of you?”
“Donors who were willing to teach me how to feed. There in the lab I had bagged blood, but before he would let me go he wanted to make sure I could care for myself appropriately, without causing damage to the donor.”
“And by pleasant you mean sexual?” his voice was tight now, his obvious disapproval making her defensive.
“Sometimes,” she said raising her chin at him, daring him to say the words that were hiding behind his lips but blazing his eyes.
“I see,” he ground out through a locked jaw.
“I seriously doubt that you do,” she fired back at him, her anger taking hold now over the rest of her emotions. She resented being questioned like this, but she also feared what this would do to the balance between them.
“Then why don’t you explain it to me?”
“Because you don’t really want to know,” she spat at him.
“You’re sure as hell right about that!” he fired back standing up so fast his chair slammed into the wall. She could feel how angry he was in their fading blood tie. It had been several months now since he had taken her blood. In another several she would not be able to feel him at all.
“I don’t hurt them, Eric. I can be savage if I have to be, yes, but I don’t have to be when I do this.”
He looked down at the top of her head and wondered if she was listening to his thoughts right now. Let me feed you, Sookie. You don’t have to go find some stranger! Let me take care of you. Let me take care of you the way you take care of me! When she didn’t move he was forced to conclude that she was not listening or she didn’t find his offer acceptable.
For a moment he thought back to what he had said in his podcast not an hour earlier and scoffed at himself. What do you really believe? What are you so fucking afraid of, Northman? How can you expect anyone else to listen to you when you don’t even listen to your fucking self? He remembered how they had awakened from their nap, how good she felt to him, how they had found each other even in their sleep, their bodies wanting to be together.
If he were the man he was encouraging himself and everyone else to be he would tell her that he wanted to feed her, protect her as she did him. If he were the boy he had been he would jump in and never think that she would reject him again, that she would never tell him they couldn’t be.
But he was just Eric Northman, he was just the man he was. The man who needed her. He needed her to keep him alive while he figured out how to save the world. He needed her to be there to walk with him, to let him read to her and sleep the most peaceful sleep he had ever had with her in his arms. He just fucking needed her. When stacked against the want of her, it was too much to risk.
If he pressed her for more, if he dared risk it then he might lose her all together. He could not let that happen. She was the only thing about all of this that made it bearable at all. If she had not been there to help him that day by the stream he had no idea where he would be right now. She stood while was lost in his thoughts.
“Sookie, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make this hard for you.” She nodded still not looking him in the eye. “You won’t be gone long?”
“No longer than I have to be.” He placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Hurry back, please.” She moved past him and out the backdoor shutting it quietly behind her.
Eric paced the house for the first hour after she left, his frustration and crushing disappointment in his himself scratching at his mind. He had been careful in how he accessed his new memories of the future he had yet to live. Most of it was from fear at being crushed with truths he would rather not know, but some if it was because he was still accepting the path he now knew lay before him.
The first night Sookie had taken the Tempus Key, placed it on a leather cord and hung it around his neck before she placed him in bed. When he had awakened it was still there. He took it out from under his white button down shirt now and looked it, a frown on his face. Was there something more he could learn if he let himself remember the future? Could he get past his fears and learn things that would make things easier with the two of them? Would he see that she had lied to him and that she had been lovers with him in the future?
Moved by the need to prove that he hadn’t totally lost his man card he sat down on the sofa, closed his hand around the Key and then closed his eyes, letting out a long slow breath to try and relax. Like a radio that had been playing as he slept, as soon as he let himself hear it the memories washed over him again in older Eric’s voice.
The Tempus Key and its bearer are immune to paradox. This is true for each individual piece of the Key. Time may alter around the bearer and they will be the only ones who are conscious of the change. This is your timeline, now my timeline, so almost any change made it to will be outside of the paradox. The wildcard, the thing I can’t see when I do this is what happens to my Sookie.
If this is the end of my line, as I suspect it will be the moment that 500K13 returns to the past, then the only question that matters to me is what happens to Sookie. You must save her if you can, because she is worth saving, but the paradox around 500K13 will require the Key to protect her from that moment on. Otherwise I fear she will be lost. Give her the Key, immediately. There is no way to know when Sookie, if she is still there, will cross your path.
Eric gasped, fear clutching at his heart. She was out there and she didn’t have the Key to protect her! His cowardice over being able to use the information he had been given had left her vulnerable. Jumping to his feet, every part of him screamed, calling out to her, “SOOKIE!”