When Eric awoke the next morning Sookie was not there beside him. He sat up and called her name. When she did not answer he reached into their bonds and connections to find her. At first there was nothing and he felt the adrenaline spike through his system making his heart race. He pushed out further and dug deeper searching before he found the tiniest spark of her. Quickly, pulling on his shoes, he rose and followed the feel of her like a fish on a lure.
He was halfway to the barn when he heard thudding and grunting coming from inside. The doors were open, reassuring him that she was inside in addition to the small internal sense he had of her coming closer as he moved. When he reached the doorway he stopped and leaned against the frame, just watching.
She had brought his old punching bag down from the loft, cleared out the main floor and hung it up. She was currently giving it hell, but he suspected that she was holding back a lot. She could cream that old bag if she really let go. She was wearing only a white tank top, black shorts and sneakers. Her hair was up in a ponytail that bounced with every punch she threw into the bag. She had been out here for some time judging from the sweat that covered her body.
He watched intently as her muscles bunched and released while she moved, the way her chest heaved as she took in air to repeat the moves over and over. She danced around the bag then and he caught a glimpse of her face. Her expression was fierce and angry. Her fangs were down and her mouth curled into a snarl. He tried again to feel her but she was still only barely there. She had closed down from him. He frowned, she had never done that before.
He didn’t like not being able to feel her beating next to his heart. It was only when it was gone that he realized how much she had become a part of him. “Wanna talk about it?” he asked her, not moving from the doorway.
“Not now,” came her terse reply, her punches picking up more speed and landing so hard it made him wince. She was angry, and the odds were good that she was angry at him. He didn’t care for that either. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what had her spitting angry. She was pissed about what he had done the day before.
For just a moment he tried to slip into her shoes, see the events of yesterday through her eyes. “When you are ready, I will be inside,” he told her, waiting a moment to see if she would say something. The only sound was her increased punches.
She came in two hours later, her clothes soaked and the sour expression still on her face as she walked by him sitting on the sofa reading a book. She passed him not saying anything and a few minutes later he heard the shower come on. She still had their connections closed, so he waited rather than trying to join her.
Twenty minutes later she came out and sat beside him on the sofa. He closed the book and turned toward her. She turned so she could look him in the face. She assessed him, noted that he still had dark circles beneath his eyes, that his skin was still pale. Slowly, she opened the bond and felt for him. His essence swirled around her, moved through her causing her to sigh in pleasure before she again felt the bone deep weariness that still rode him. “You are not well.” It wasn’t a question.
Eric knew what he was feeling, and she was right. Yesterday had been exhausting and painful and glorious and he wouldn’t change any of it except for the fact that she had been hurt by it in some way that he couldn’t truly understand. That he would change if he could. He needed her to help him understand what it was that he wasn’t able to see on his own.
“I have no wish to fight and upset you, but I know that you will not like what I have to say,” she told him. He reached out for her hand, his thumb caressing the back of it, encouraging her to speak what was on her mind.
“I can’t stand that you put yourself in harm’s way,” she said quickly as though admitting her feelings was something she would rather not do. “I can’t stand that you refused to let me do what I was made to do.” Her anger and confusion swirled around him.
“I can’t imagine,” he told her, still stroking her palm. “The last time you stood in front of danger for me was when the Dark Fae came in to get us in Tennessee. Even then, when I barely knew you, it was almost more than I could do to drive away and leave you there. We are one now. I know that eventually we will find ourselves in a place like that again and I can’t imagine how I will be able to stand down and let you do what you need to do.” He raised her hand to his lips, kissing the palm softly, closing his eyes as he savored the feeling of her skin on his lips.
“When we face this unavoidable, unimaginable moment I will not even be able to help you as did me yesterday. I know that you helped me set that boy free from the pain and anger that blinded him. I know that you grounded me, and even took some of it yourself, from me as I took it from him.” He looked into her eyes then so quiet and so serious she forgot to breathe for a moment. “I didn’t know any of that was going to happen. I didn’t know I could do that. I didn’t know you could do that with me…for me.” She took a shuddering breath, her words catching in throat.
“If you didn’t know, then why, why did you do it, Eric? He could have killed you!” Both of his eyebrows went up and a ghost of a smile floated across his beautiful face.
“Yes, he could have. I was pretty sure he might before I just…” he stopped, now bringing his other hand up to cover hers, sandwiching it between both of his. “I thought I could feel how bad he was hurting as if it were my pain and the next thought was…then let it be mine, there is no need for both of us to feel like this.
“I thought about it yesterday, while you were in the store and I realized that maybe I had always done it before and never realized it, though never quite like that. As I look back at the people I have known and the places I have been I can see that when those around me were hurting I would do something that made them feel better. I think now for the first time I did it with conscious thought. I think now I see it for what it is.”
“And what is it?”
“I can’t fix them. That is the trap for me, I see it very clearly. I can’t make the boogey man get out from under the bed and apologize before he strolls away. I can’t erase the scars that remind them of where they have been and that sometimes guide their choices in which path they take next. I can’t pilot them around to better circumstances or better decisions. I don’t want to do that anyway.
“We make our greatest mistakes when the pain is so great that it is all we can see and all we feel. We fall off the edge of the world as we stumble around and scream for someone, anyone at all to come and see us. To come and save us. What I can do for them is offer them a moment of peace and clarity in that pain. For just a moment, the space of single breath I can make it stop, and allow them to truly see what is around them. Maybe, just maybe then they can take a step further away from the edge rather than one closer to it. That’s all.” Sookie laughed bitterly, pulling her hand away from his grasp.
“That’s all,” she said, her anger rising again. “You act as if that is so little and then bet your very life on that little thing.” He looked at her, his eyes so filled with compassion that tears rose up blurring her vision.
“What did you think was going to happen, Sookie? Did you really think that my life was mine any more than yours has belonged to you?” She rocked back, his words hitting her with the same speed and power that she had used on the punching bag. The pain he caused in her burned him like cuts on his own flesh. He moved, faster than he thought he could, to catch her and pull her into his embrace. She was so stunned she didn’t fight him. “I’m sorry,” he whispered in her hair. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, but you must understand that from the moment you entered my life that this is where we were headed.
“This is my life, and you have helped me accept that. I don’t think I could have accepted it if you had not been here to help me. You are my chicken and my egg, Sookie.” Her hands clutched his back, the desperation in her touch killing him softly. “Tell me,” he said in her ear. Her face was buried his chest muffling her words slightly.
“I…I never thought about it like this. I never thought about what it would be like if you died before me. All this time I was sure that I would fall before you. That Warlow or the war would take me and that I would never have to see you hurt.
“Before we met in Shreveport, you were always uppermost in my mind, your protection, your safety. You were always more than a duty but I knew with absolute unshakeable certainty that if you died I would be dead already.”
“And now, yesterday, I blew the certainty of those foundations away, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you fucking did! And you didn’t even think about it!” Her hands came around now to bunch the front of his shirt in her fists, pushing him away and pulling him closer all at once. She was fighting him, but not really. If she wanted to fight him, or get away there would be nothing he could have done to stop her.
“I can’t think about it, any more than you can. I was made to do this, just as you were made to do what you do,” he told her as he rubbed her hair, soothing her. “You told me the other night that you wouldn’t change anything that had happened because it brought us here. Remember?” She nodded her head, and he felt a small flare of anger at his reminder of her words to drive home his point. “I heard you and I believed you when you said that, Sookie. We are in this together now, more than ever. We just have to do what we do and remember that we are in this together.”
“I’m scared, Eric. In all my existence I have never been scared of anything! But I am scared of losing you, of being left here without you and I don’t know what to do!” she screamed into his chest, bunching her fists tighter in his shirt and pressing herself closer to him. He held her tighter trying again to imagine what this must be like for her.
Being scared was nothing new to him. It was a natural part of the human existence, and had been something that he had felt on a regular basis for months now. It was beyond him to find the memory of the first time he had experienced this maddening futile emotion. He closed his eyes and looked deeply into himself, seeking something, anything that would help her through this. Finally, in the deepest part of himself he saw a glimmer. Sighing he placed his lips next to her ear and spoke from his heart.
“You were so brave yesterday, Sookie. When I kissed you and told you that I loved you, my wife you stood at my back and when I needed you, you set aside your own pain and anchored me. Your bond, the gift of your love to me helped me more than I can ever express. They helped that boy to take a step away from the edge. You saved four lives in that bank yesterday, Sookie. Maybe even more, because if I had failed everyone in that bank may have died.
“You are a great warrior. You fight. You bleed. You kill. Those have been your weapons since the beginning, but yesterday you added a new weapon to your arsenal. You loved. You loved me and in turn you loved them, too. You were a marvel to behold before, more than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams, but yesterday your strength and beauty brought me to my fucking knees!
“Thank you. I haven’t said that yet, but thank you so much, Sookie. Thank you for helping me and for helping them and for knowing, for just knowing that what needed to happen next was to set up that trust for Tommy and his family. I love that you did that.”
“There was no point in any of what happened yesterday if he had no better choices to make,” she said into his chest.
“And I love that you saw that.” She pulled her face back then to look at him. Her eyes were swollen and her nose was red from the silent tears she had shed while she held him close. She looked at him, really looked at him and he could feel the anger she had because of that fear lessen a little inside her.
“I’m always going to be scared that I am going to lose you,” she told him, searching his eyes, begging him to understand. He smoothed the hair back from her face.
“And I am always going to be scared that I am going to lose you,” he told her. “But I am going to shove that down and remember that loving you, having this chance to love you even for a second is the most important thing I have ever done, that I could ever do.”
There was more that he planned to say but she kissed him then, replacing words with gestures as she loved him, opening her veins to heal him and her body to make him whole, restoring him as she always did not because it was what she was made to do, but because it was the only thing she wanted to do.
Later, as she slept beside him exhausted from her workout and her emotions he immersed himself in the journey of the woman who rested in his arms. He wondered if Older Eric had known what she could be, that she could grow to become all that she now was. He remembered then, what Older Eric had told him on the day he touched the crystal.
…if you can find it in yourself to bury your natural prejudices, your fear and your anger you will see the woman at your side will make differences in your life that you never dreamed possible…
There was another memory, too. Sookie’s first memory that she had shared with him the day they met.
…You’re going to feel things. You will feel them more deeply and more exquisitely than any being in history ever has. At first it will seem like a liability but if you can find a way to embrace it, then it will make you stronger than you can imagine. You will be able to do anything, my little 500K13…
On that day so long ago when he sucked the bullets out of her back and ran away with her into the night there was no way he could have understood those words, but now, they were crystal clear. He remembered her sobbing into his chest, angry that she was afraid for the first time.
As he drifted off himself he wondered what it would be like to be as certain as she was about things, and to be in a position only now after everything she had seen and done to feel fears paralyzing embrace for the first time ever. He was marveling about her bravery when he slipped under.
In his sleep he reached for Sookie but she wasn’t there. Frowning he sat up and found himself sitting on tree branch, his feet dangling below him. He looked around and saw that the branches of this tree were so large they extended out beyond what his vision allowed him to see.
Looking around he saw that galaxies spun in its branches, stars shining brightly as planets orbited them. They seemed close enough to touch but when he extended his hand they were so far beyond his reach that he saw the illusion for what it was.
Where am I? He asked, not really expecting an answer.
Where you have always been.
He jumped and looked around. He was positioned at the place where the limb he was sitting on met the trunk of the tree. He looked down for the ground but there was none below him. There was only the inky blackness of infinity below his hanging feet.
Eric looked around, again, his eyes wide with wonder. A sense of peace filled his entire body as he sat there, legs dangling. He knew this place, these limbs that ran forever, together. His heart jumped and he knew that this place was the more he felt around him sometimes. This was the more, and here the more knew him as he knew it. In his dream he leaned back against the massive tree trunk, swung his long legs up and crossed them at the ankles. He smiled as he looked around, awe and joy stamped on his features. He could feel it in his bones and in his heart. He was home.