The ride to the orphanage was filled with more teasing and laughing, the two of them in their own private world. Which, if he was honest was starting to be his favorite place to be. The Queen of Oklahoma had been a dreaded experience that he had done everything he could avoid. Gods, what I would have missed, he thought, as he watched her tilt her head back and laugh at some wicked thought that had just crossed her mind. He could hardly wait for her to share. Would that I could read her mind!
“Nah, you would be shocked right out of your jockey shorts.” She winked at him. He heard himself assure her that under no circumstances would he be caught dead in jockey shorts, sending her into giggles again. “I can see you in red ones,” she continued to tease and he felt his grip on reality slide away from him. Never in his long existence had he been free to speak like this to a woman who was unglamoured and something about taking their will had always lessened the experience for him. He wondered for a moment if vampires had been the race to do the Great Reveal if things might have been different for him, if he might have been allowed something like this with a woman who knew of his true nature and did not turn from him in fear. A woman who dared to tease him about imagining him in tiny red underwear.
There was nothing here in this moment that he found familiar, but somehow it still felt right, like he belonged. He belonged here with her, feeling this. Whatever this was. He knew that he didn’t want it to end, and that rattled him even further because the one thing that he had been forced to accept over again were that all things ended. The good things usually few and far between were usually the first to go.
This realization made him want to pull back and close off, to protect himself. If he allowed himself to become used to this, to count on this feeling and it was taken away, he would …he couldn’t even process what it would do to him. He should stop this now. He could still protect her and protect himself at the same time couldn’t he? He could leave, she had released him. He could just get out of the car and fly away. Hide away from her and Appius and let them handle their own issues. That would best he thought.
“No,” she whispered, leaning her head on his shoulder, all her humor now fading. “That would be easiest. If you want to go I would let you.” She reached down then and took his hand weaving her fingers through his, caging his hand, while her words reminded him he was free, her actions begged him not to take her up on it. Reality slipped further when be raised their entwined fingers and kissed the back of her hand, reassuring her in that moment with his action as no words could have.
“I have never had this before either, you know?” her whisper so low he had to strain his supernatural ears to hear her. “In all my life people have wanted me for my lineage, my fortune, my telepathy, my beauty. None of them ever wanted me, and taking a chance that you would see me, the real me and be my friend and ally in a world where I have had neither is scary for me, too. Even making the offer was scary. You might have left before you heard me out, as soon as I released you. Gods, what I would have missed,” echoing his thoughts from earlier. They were quiet for a few moments and when the car came to a stop he heard her heart rate kick up and saw her smile return.
“This is my favorite place to be,” she told him as she clambered over his lap and out the door closest to the entrance of the orphanage. He followed close behind her, going on alert as he took in the building, the entrances and thought how this would be a perfect spot to take her. She had ran into the building like it was on fire, no caution whatsoever. They were going to have to talk about that later.
When he found her she was surrounded by little ones, hanging from her arms and wrapped around her legs. He heard them whispering that “Fairy Godmother is here!” and he could feel their tiny hearts pounding in excitement as she tried to open her arms and hug them all close to her. She had a look of pure joy on her face that surpassed anything he had ever seen, she seemed to light from within, and perhaps she did, as she had with her guard earlier. Only this time it was love and not pain that she passed out to the toddling masses around her. Some of the magic in the air must have touched his long dead soul as well because he felt it swell with some of what those around him were feeling. Everything would be well now, Sookie was here. Or perhaps he had been thinking that all along and just never acknowledged it until her heard it echoed over and over like a Gregorian chant.
When she turned to look at him, they turned en masse to see what held her attention. “Everyone, this is my friend, Eric. Can you say hello to him?” He expected them to run but they trusted her implicitly and if Sookie declared him friend, then friend he was. She named them to him and he nodded to each in turn, trying to smile and finding that all his practice with Sookie on the ride over and greased his rusty tin joints, making it easier than he could have imagined it would be. No one ran away, no one cried, and he considered that a victory for some reason.
Bad ass vampire here, right? She turned and winked at him again, letting him know that she found him just as stunning and sexy surrounded by tiny children as she did naked flying into the heart of a storm. What can you say to that? Accept it, his mind told him, a mocking paradoxical reminder of all the things had told himself to accept the night before. Pushing those thoughts away he refocused on the room and looked for entry points where she might be taken from her adoring masses for nefarious reasons. He had no doubt that the devotion of her toddling masses would slow them down, but sadly they would not save her should danger appear. That was his job, and while he had always taken it seriously it was taking on deeper tones for him now.
Now it felt more personal.
Like he was protecting himself, as much as he was protecting her. That calmed him because he had always been excellent at taking care of himself.
He watched as she followed them into their large dorm room and tucked each one in with a kiss on the forehead before taking a seat on the floor in the middle of them. “Story time!” they whispered excitedly.
“Yes, story time!” Sookie confirmed. “Tonight I have a story that I was told when I was small like you guys.” She paused dramatically, and he saw that she held them enraptured. “It’s a very old tale about a great warrior, a man of great honor who found himself in the clutches of an evil master.”
“Scwary,” a little girl in the bunk next to Eric whispered, pulling her covers up and peeking out.
“No,” Sookie reassured them. “It’s about how sometimes you will find yourself in the company of those of want you to be someone you aren’t. They will tell that it’s ok to do bad things, but in your hearts you will know what the right thing to do is, and if you are strong like the warrior you will always do what your heart tells you to do. It won’t always be easy, and sometimes the fact that it’s so hard will make it seem like it’s easier to give in, but you must remain true like the warrior.”
For the next twenty minutes Eric was as entranced as the little ones around them while she told a drastically modified version of his life with Appius, they were children after all, but she focused on him and how he had held on through all the darkness of that time to the man he was inside, because to let that be taken away from him would be the true darkness. She painted him a knight of old, a man of virtue and honor who stood fast in the face of the dark and not only survived but triumphed to find his lady fair, and they lived happily ever after.
“Were they slaying dragons together or kissing happily ever after?” a tiny boy asked in a very sleepy voice. Sookie smiled and stood to go kiss his head and tuck him in tighter.
“What do you think?”
“I think the kissing part would be ok, as long as they slayed some dragons sometimes, too.” He yawned then and slipped off to dream land. Eric looked around and saw that all of them were now slumbering peacefully. She came toward him and took his hand, leading him out quietly to the car. He was in awe of her story, of her and had no idea what to say. He remained silent as the car started to move and she tucked herself up against him, accepting his need to process.
When they arrived at the hotel she looked at him and smiled softly. “Ready?”
Finally finding his voice he asked, “For kissing or slaying dragons?” Quick as any vampire he had ever seen she leaned over and kissed the end of his nose.
“Both. If we’re lucky. One’s no good without the other. Weren’t you listening?” she teased.
“To every word.” He exited the car and extended his hand back for her, she smiled and stepped out beside him like she belonged there. They entered the hotel together, and headed to their suite to don their armor for the evening.
Kissing and dragons. He really couldn’t say which one excited him more.