Three Weeks Later
Sookie found Eric sitting by the small stream that cut through his parent’s farm. He had his knees pulled up, his arms around them trying to be as small as he could be. It was a good indication where his thoughts were.
He had slept for three days and nights after touching the crystal and had said very little to her since he had awakened. She tried not to feel hurt, shoving it down and focusing on the wards and their surroundings looking for signs they had been discovered. At night when he rested safe inside the house and the wards she changed into a bird and circled high and far above the property on alert. If anyone had asked her where she wanted to be she would have said that it was exactly where she was, on guard and ready for whatever might come next.
She would have been lying.
She wanted to be closer to him. For all the years that she had spent at a distance or in some other form that was near him, but not with him, she had in that single day become addicted to being with him, around him. She wanted to talk about the song and the kiss and the good things that had transpired before the accident that had somehow put a wedge between them.
She also wanted to talk about what Eric had seen when he touched the crystal but she did not pressure him on any of those topics. To pressure him might make him try to send her away. If he did that she would have to obey him. Did he know that now? Did he find out that she was bound to follow his every command as law or was that secret still hers?
For Eric, while he slept he had continued to process the massive upload of information that he had received from the future. Some of it was about him, most of it was about the war, but some of it too was about 500K13. How she was made, what she could do. This information was mingled with what had gleaned from taking her blood.
It was all too much.
A short time ago he had been a carefree guy with a job he loved saying whatever came to his mind and talking about things that interested him. Now he was an Empath with a genetically engineered protector that could do things he couldn’t even wrap his head around. Now his life was in danger from a Dark Fae King that he had never seen and didn’t know. Now the world hung on his shoulders.
“Telling you this changes everything, and nothing,” older Eric had told him in his dreams after he touched the crystal. “Knowing the future will paralyze you in some ways but you have to fight past that. You have to remember that to get there you just have to do what you do.”
“What do I do?” he had asked his older self, but no answer had been forthcoming. It was now the question that haunted his every waking and sleeping moment. It was so heavy it made it hard to breathe and nearly impossible to rest. It echoed through his dreams chasing him through long dark corridors with heavy footsteps. Every night for the last three weeks he awakened several times covered in cold sweat, his heart racing.
What do I do?
Having seen the devastation that Warlow would bring in his rise to power he also felt terrible guilt about how he had treated Sookie after the accident. She was doing what she was made to do with a level of skill and perfection that humbled and traumatized him. She walked the path before her knowing the future as well as he did, maybe better since she had lived there, but she did not hesitate to do what she was called to do. She made it look easy. That made him feel even more inadequate to the task.
“You’ve always been empathic,” older Eric had told him. “You have always been able to sense the needs of others and you have used that gift to speak to the masses, to calm or incite them with your words alone. This is not new, this is what you are. Now you understand it, but labeling it doesn’t change what you are or what you can do.”
Except that it did. Now that he knew he was supposed to be talking to people, that he was supposed to be using his gift to speak and prepare them for what was to come he found himself almost incapable of speaking at all. The weight of every word not spoken pulled at him like the size of the task in front of him.
He was supposed to save the world and he couldn’t think of what to say that would make that happen. He looked deep inside himself to find the words that would do that but they were not there. How do you find the words to make the world roll backwards and change the fate of millions? Obviously, he could, he had done it before, but he had no idea how to do it now.
What do I do?
Sookie sat down beside him in the warm sun, careful not to touch him. He waited for her to speak, but if he had been at a loss for words these past weeks she was a veritable statue. He knew she was doing what she was made to do, without question and without fail. Sometimes when she was close though he could feel her swirling emotions. Anger, pain, uncertainty but most of that seemed to center around him.
He could empathize, he thought sarcastically.
He had been so certain of her, of wanting her outside the Sunshine Bar and Grille before the Dark Fae had come and shattered his certainty. Before Lafayette had died just because he was friends with Eric and had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The sting of that, the guilt cut at him. Had he been so wrong to trust her? Had it been some magic that made her so irresistible to him? He had taken her blood by accident when he took he bullets, did that affect him in some unknown way? Who was he kidding? If it did affect him, it was still affecting him. It was only his fear of everything that kept him from apologizing and reaching out for her again.
It was only having her remain close to him that kept him from flying off the ground in a flurry of crazy.
He needed her. Too much.
She was here because she was supposed to be. That didn’t mean she wanted to be. To press on her for more would be unfair. His needs were her needs. She would not deny him, but to take advantage of that would be wrong. Now that he understood, now that he had seen some of it for himself, he heard her words about how she needed to be focused to protect him and they carried so much more impact than they had when he chased her through the door of that little restaurant determined to show her that she was wrong, that it didn’t matter if he couldn’t have her.
Had she been right?
These were the mind traps that haunted him. Repeating loops of fear, powerlessness and uncertainty. He could not find his way through them. The sense of time passing, slipping away only added to his tailspin. He needed to be doing something other than sitting on this little farm in the middle of nowhere.
What do I do?
“I envy you,” he said to her, breaking the silence of a week. She chuckled.
“This I gotta hear,” she said, turning toward him and crossing her legs as she picked at the grass around her.
“No, I mean it. You know exactly what you are supposed to do and you do it. You don’t hesitate. You don’t waver. You don’t doubt. You make it look easy.” He turned to look at her then.
“I don’t think about it really.”
“Exactly. It’s all so clear to you.” She chuckled again.
“It used to be.” His eyebrow went up.
“What do you mean?” She bit her lip and leaned forward her head down.
“It’s not as simple now as it was before.”
“Before I revealed myself to you.”
“How did that change things?” She looked at him like he was crazy. In that moment he realized how important her opinion was to him. He saw that was why he had not shared his spinning uncertain thoughts with her.
“It is harder now.”
“In what way?”
“In every damned way,” she snapped at him. “I knew my place before.”
“And you don’t anymore?”
“No!” she snapped again. He felt his own anger and frustration boil up. Before he said something he was sorry for he saw older Eric again in his mind. She was my whole world, he had said about his Sookie. The pain in his eyes still made Eric shiver. Was part of his problem that he was afraid this Sookie would become his whole world only to lose her in the end as the older Eric had? Did he fear that so much that he was letting that paralyze him, too? He let out a long breath.
“Tell me what you want, Sookie.” She looked up sharply, knowing that she had to respond to that command. He saw the hesitancy in her eyes and added. “Truth, Sookie. Tell me the truth of what you want.”
“I want to explore what you offered me in the kiss we shared.” His heart sped up. The loud sound of his blood pounding in his ears did not mask the unspoken but.
“But…” he said pushing her on to finish.
“But, your reaction to my actions and the truth that I can’t let myself be blinded to the danger by my feelings make me unsure of the right path to take. It used to be easier.”
“Why?” he pressed her, maybe because he wanted someone else in the hot seat with him, maybe because he felt like he was on the edge of something at long last.
“Before you just did what you do.” There it was again.
“What do I do?” She looked at him raising a brow in confusion.
“You lived your life. You did your broadcasts and talked to people. You went home, you went out, you met…women. Sometimes you took them home with you, sometimes you didn’t. You just did what you do.” He felt her pain when she said women and he was certain then that she had indeed had feelings for him for some time. He winced as he thought of all she had seen in her time in the shadows carrying that unrequited desire for him.
“Now, you don’t do those things. Now, for a moment at least I was that woman who thought she was going home with you. Nothing is simple anymore.”
“For a moment?”
“Things changed when you saw what I really am.”
“Not really.” She looked at him, not sure of his meaning. “I mean, I handled it badly that night, I was in shock from the accident and everything and I said…some stupid things. I didn’t understand then.”
“It doesn’t matter now.” She stood up to leave but he grabbed her hand holding her in place.
“Maybe it matters now more than ever.” He pulled her back down, his other hand coming up to guide her into his lap. She let him, even knowing she had had better ideas she still let him. Having given in she snuggled into his chest and let out a long sigh of pleasure when his arms came around her and she felt his chin on the top of her head.
Nothing should feel this good.
Any thoughts of ever leaving his embrace melted away. She could keep him safe from right here so much better than she could from even a foot away.
“Is it just me or does it feel like you belong right here in my arms?”
“It’s not just you. It is why you shouldn’t envy me.” He held her then, and for the first time since the road side he felt the tension inside him lessen enough to let him take a real breath.
“I’ve been trying to figure out what I am supposed to do next,” he confessed to the top of her head.
“That’s easy,” she told him, turning her head and leaning up to place a soft kiss on his stubbly cheek. “You just do what you do.”
That night, sitting in front of his new laptop, microphone and podcast account Eric “The Northman” returned to the airwaves. His first podcast was about following your dreams and doing what you felt like you were meant to do with your life and how scary that could be.
“People are going to see you chasing or holding your shiny special dream to your chest and most of them are going to immediately set about planning ways to take it away, throw it on the ground and stomp every last bit of joy out of it. They will tell you that you are a fool, that you dream is stupid or that you will never make any money doing it and a million other things whose sole purpose is to make you let it go, walk away and never look back.
“You know what you tell those people?” He smiled at the microphone and reached for his coffee, feeling that old ghost of a need for a smoke rise up assuring him that he was indeed himself again. “You tell them fuck off, and to make it really hurt, you smile when you do it. Then, you go out and do what you do.
“This is The Northman, coming to you from somewhere out here in the dark. Got a story you want to share about your dream? Email me at the address I will give you at the end and I will share your story in my next podcast, because this is me, Eric Northman, still out here, still doing what I do.”