He looked around and saw that the door labeled The Child was standing open. He looked back down at his leg and saw a tiny blond girl, barefoot in a pink nightgown, holding a stuffed turtle and staring up at him with giant brown eyes filled with adoration. She still had her baby teeth he noted as he looked at her smile, though a few were missing.
“Hewo, Ewic!” She chirped, still smiling up at him like he had hung the moon itself.
The eyes told him who she was, the smile only confirmed it. ‘Tea Cup’ Sookie. He smiled at her, he couldn’t help it, she was adorable, and her smile was infectious. Considering all the ways to get her off his leg in a dignified manner, she trumped him as usual, by stepping back, brushing the bangs from her eyes, placing a hand on her hip and using the other to hold up her stuffed turtle by one leg. “Ewic, dis is Missa Jones, my turtle. Missa Jones, dis is my Ewic!” She held the turtle closer as though he might be near sited and needed to be closer to truly see the six feet plus of ancient vampire standing before him. When in Rome, Eric thought.
He stepped back and bowed at his waist in his courtliest manner and his most auspicious tones, “Mr. Jones, a pleasure to meet you.”
There was a tiny pink volcanic like eruption of giggles from Tea Cup Sookie. She then proceeded to demonstrate a vamp like speed by taking advantage of his courtly bow to launch herself at his neck and hold on for dear life. His arms came around her automatically and he found himself locked in her embrace as he returned to his normal height.
She hugged him tight, making an “ugh” sound when she let go at the end and then pulled her face back to look him in the eye. She scrunched her face up at him and then planted a very big, very wet, very sincere kiss on his stubbly cheek. “Scratchy!” she said rubbing her lips when she pulled back to look him in the eye again. Mr. Jones’ leg was still clutched in her tiny hand, causing the turtle to rest against Eric’s chest when she sat back in his arms and looked at him thoughtfully.
“Sorry, I guess it is, scratchy.” He closed his eyes, concentrating for a minute and then ran a hand down his face. Smooth as if he had just shaved. “Better?” He leaned his cheek toward her for another kiss, wiggling his eyebrows at her. Again, she giggled at him.
“Pixie was wight, Ewic likes Sookie kisses!” Again he felt the bond between he and Sookie give a tug. Still not as strong as it had been when he was out there, but in here it seemed to be tied to the tiny bundle in his arms.
“Who is Pixie?” Eric asked. Tea Cup Sookie nodded at the door behind him that said The Pixie, but didn’t offer anything else that could be of use. She began to wiggle then, indicating that she wanted to get down. Gently, he set her on a bare feet in front of him and waited. A thought suddenly hitting him.
“Sookie, how old are you?” She smiled again, shyly, shifting on her feet as if embarrassed. Then she took Mr. Jones and placed him in a death hold between her knees so that both her hands were free.
Looking at him out of the corner of her eye, head cocked to the side she said “Dis many”, and held up six of her tiny fingers. Even at six she managed to slay him, he was utterly charmed, and once again, utterly hers. If he didn’t feel so pathetically warm all over his insides he would be looking for a stake to fall on and end this whole thing. He sighed dramatically, unconsciously imitating Sookie. “Come on, Ewic!” she demanded grabbing his hand and pulling him toward the open door that was labeled The Child. Eric hesitated a minute, it had not occurred to him that he could go into these places, these rooms. “Come on!” She insisted doing her best to drag him to the door. He let her pull him in that direction. “I gotta show you somefin’, Ewic!”
When Eric stepped through her door he was expecting something dramatic to happen. The CIB to jump out and grab him, thunder, lightning, yodeling, something. All that happened though was that he found himself in a little girl’s room. It was the room that he recognized from her house. The pink room with wallpaper flowers. It was smaller, with the bed not full sized, but Tea Cup sized. He let her pull him to her desk, seeing paper spread out there and a box of crayons mostly empty as all its occupants were strewn out over her workspace.
She picked up a piece of paper from her desk and held it up to him, tilting her head all the way back to see him above her. It was quite a haul since the top of her head barely reached above his kneecap. He took the paper from her and she reached for his hand, again, far above her head. “’S’not done, yet. I couldn’t find the right blue.” He looked at the paper and saw two figures, holding hands. One of them seemed to be Sookie, with her long blond hair and she was standing beside what he thought must be him. Again the blond hair, and were those fangs she drew there? Yes, they were! That little minx! Pressing back a smile he asked her why she needed such a special blue. She tugged his hand, and he let her pull him down and cup his face with her tiny hands. “ I gotta make ya eyes just right, Ewic, it’s ‘portant!”
Oh, this is fucking killing me, he thought. I have fought wars, killed thousands with my bare hands, and swam in and drank oceans of their blood and I am ready to sit down here and beg her to brush my fucking hair. He hung his head, partly in shame, partly to hide is big dumb besotted grin, and because he didn’t know what else to do with the tiny Tea Cup Sookie in front him. He wanted to squeeze her, tight. He wanted to keep her safe. He wanted to eat her up, figuratively, literally. Eric, already kneeling, folded his legs and sat down on her floor.
“What do you want from me, Sookie?” he asked, feeling all will of his own just drain away as he faced her. He didn’t expect answer.
“Take off de mask, Ewic.” Completely trusting she flopped into his lap, leaned back and reached up her tiny fingers. He expected to feel her caress on his now smooth jaw but instead felt her tiny fingers sliding under the edge of a mask he didn’t even remember was there most of the time anymore. Suddenly he was afraid. Tea Cup Sookie felt that and stopped, frowning at him. “Don’ be ‘fwaid, Ewic. I gonna saves you! You haffa lemme see!”
“No!” he brushed her hand away, denying her plaintive request to strip him bear in her mind. She was a child! Who knows what it would do to her to see him, the real him under that mask? He couldn’t bear it of Tea Cup Sookie were scared of him. “No, I don’t want to scare you!”
“You won’t, Ewic.” She sounded so sure.
“Why do you want to see this, Sookie?” Looking him dead in the eyes with the passion of the CIB, minus the heaping dose of crazy that came with her, and the adoration of the real Sookie who was asleep in his arms in another world she answered him.
“So I can kiss it, ‘n make it better!” Her words stunned him. When she reached up again though, he still pulled away from her touch.
His denial of her request evoked a sight that was at once familiar and heart breaking. Tiny Tea Cup Sookie, angry at him. It was like a miniature version of what he had faced in his bar when she confronted him about her friend in his basement. She stood, crossed her arms, still clutching that turtle for dear life, and frowned at him. Then she stamped her tiny bare foot. He knew his laughter would only make her madder but he could not contain his smile at the tiny vision of fury before him. Best to take control here and redirect things if he could.
“What do you do here, other than draw, Sookie?” He stood, glancing around seeing shelves of children’s’ stories and pictures all over her walls that she had drawn. Was that Bill over there in a drawing next to the window? The window? He moved closer and looked through her window to the outside. It was a sunny and beautiful day right outside. For a moment he forgot that he really was not there, and susceptible to that sunlight. Then he got a grip on himself.
“I sweep, I sing, I dance, I hide.” She counted them off on her fingers one at a time until she run out of things to add, and the remembered one more. “Oh, and I talk to Missa Jones.” She held him up again, so that either he could see Eric or Eric could see him, he wasn’t sure which. “Missa Jones knows de best secwets!” Dismissing her commentary about a stuffed turtle he focused on her previous statement.
“Hide? From who?” He was looking out the window at all that safe sunlight and trying to suppress his longing to go to it so he wasn’t looking at her, but he felt the bond jump with fear. He turned to her, alarmed at her response. Her lip was out, and big tears were pooling in her eyes. “Sookie, what’s wrong? Who do you hide from?” He dropped to knees again beside her and took her in his arms. She snuffled in his shoulder, and whispered in his ear.
“De Bad Man.”
“Who? What’s his name?” Eric pressed her, wanting to kill whoever had made her feel this fear. No one would ever threaten her again!
“Dunno,” she snuffled again. “Dey hide me fwom him, and won’t tell me nuffin’ ‘cept to be careful, hide, and stay inside.” She hesitated then, “If dey knowed I had come out to see you they would be mad at me! But I don’t care!” She stamped her tiny foot again. “When I felted you here, I had to see you! I wanted to show you my picture.” She held him tighter, “I had to tell you that I would get the blue wight, Ewic.”
“Of course you did,” he soothed her, picking her up and sitting on the side of her bed. He placed her on his lap and she curled into his chest, sighing, and he could feel the tendrils of her contentment in his embrace. She looked up at him again and ran her fingers along his jaw again.
“You haffa show me, Ewic.” He didn’t want to know what she meant, but of course he did. He shook his head, angling away from her touch again. “I won’t make you, Ewic, but soon we will need you to show us.” He shook his head again. She gave a soft sigh and clung to him tighter for a few minutes. “Ewic, you need to go ‘fore I go t’ sweep.”
“’Cause,” she yawned and snuggled deeper into him, “when I sweep, someone else wakes up.” Oh, he thought, OH! Softly, he kissed her forehead and then began to disengage from Sookie’s mind.
When he opened his eyes he was momentarily confused by what he saw. She was still in his arms, only she was no longer Tea Cup size. He was holding her the same way out here that he had been. He hugged her tighter making her sigh and snuggle closer as the little one had just done.
So, another door had opened for him, and rather some psychotic demon that wore his lovers face, he found her, as a child. Well, he thought back, she looked like a child, and spoke like a child, but her comments and the things she said had been anything but those of a child.
And let’s not forget, he thought, she loves me, completely and totally. My Ewic, she called him. He smiled, and then his smile slowly faded as he thought about what she wanted to do. She wanted to get his mask off, to see underneath. Wait! The CIB had wanted that, too! To get his mask off and see if he were “bad enough for her”. What the hell? The CIB wanted to judge him, The Child wanted to heal him, what would The Pixie want? Or Bill or Adele for that matter, and the million dollar question? What was behind the door labeled Eric?
Sookie wanted him to teach her how to survive. Which meant that he had to remember how he had done it from the beginning. Following those thoughts back, he realized he had always believed that he had started with making masks when he was made Vampire. He saw now that was wrong. He had started making masks when he was still human.
What had been the first one? Ah, the mask his father had forced him to create with his expectations of a son who would follow in his footsteps, and marry. Eric had loved his father a great deal, but in his heart he knew his destiny was not to be king. There as something else out there for him, and he believed it would make itself known to him if he waited. His father had insisted though and they had had so many fights about his lack of wife and interest in the daily affairs of being king. Torn between his love for his father and mother and his need to follow his heart he made his first mask. The Mask of Acceptance.
On most days he wore it and made himself appear the dutiful son, while his mind schemed to figure out ways to delay his marriage, and duties that took him away from the tediousness of court his father held to judge the troubles of his people.
He had always regretted that he had let his mask slip the day his father died. That he had allowed his father to see that no matter how accepting he had appeared he was still rebelling against the idea that this was to be his life and how uninspiring he found it all.
His father had reacted as expected, with rage that what he found so fulfilling his son found unworthy and a fight ensued. Then Russell had ended all their fighting forever and Eric had had no choice but to be king. He made a new mask then, he had to. Kings did not Accept, Kings Led, and so The Mask of Leadership was made, and it replaced the Mask of Acceptance. Eric forced himself to be confident when he was clueless, and realized that if he could make his men believe that they would be victorious they would be. The power was in the inability to accept any other outcome than victory. If you could close out all other the thoughts the universe itself would bend around you and manifest your will.
In a thousand years, Eric had honed this to an art, and at his touch was a mask for all occasions. She wanted him to strip away all his masks, to show her his true face. To drop a thousand years of deception and show her what even he feared to see. She asked too much! He thought angrily. Too much!
Sookie shifted in his arms, feeling his emotions through the bond they now shared. They needed to talk about this. Their bonding had been a glorious experience that he wouldn’t trade for anything, but they still had much to learn about each other. Much that needed to be understood so this bond did not become a danger to them.
He was a survivor and she wanted him to teach her how to be one, too. In his opinion this new connection was a huge vulnerability to that survival that they needed to master as soon as possible. The greatest weakness was more often than not the greatest strength as well.
He kissed her forehead and placed her on the couch, going to find his phone and set up new plane reservations for their flight to Sweden, he would also need more food for Sookie since they were staying another night here in Shreveport. Just as he put his hand on his phone he felt a stabbing pain from his bond with Pam and Ain’t We Got Fun? began to play.
“Pamela?” he answered, asking with just his tone what was causing her such distress that she could feel through their bond.
“You’re supposed to be dead right now,” relief in huge waves came to him now through their bond.
“How?” he and Pam had known each other long enough and intimately enough to infer a great deal, and do it accurately in just the few words they had spoken already. She was very upset and very relieved that he had answered.
“Your plan went down over the Atlantic. Exploded in mid-air, you were listed as being on board.”
“Get me a list of passengers.”
“Sending it to you now. Eric, I think you were the target.” He checked his email, skimming the short list of passengers and agreed that he was the most likely target of all of them.
“I will give some thought as to who would have done this.”
“I recommend you stay dead, until we can gather more information.”
“Where are you going?”
“Uppsala. I will be in touch. Be careful, Pam.”
“You as well, my Master.”
After hanging up he went to pack a few things of his and also gathered up what little Sookie had unpacked and put it back in her bag. They could get more things where they were going.
Gently, Eric woke her up and told her that they had to get moving. He told her what had happened to their plane, and that he was likely the target. The fierce look that came over her at the thought of him being in danger made him feel way better than he should have under the current circumstances. Pushing himself to focus he asked her to dress quickly.
When they exited the house it was just before 2AM. He took her immediately in his arms and flew south. After about ten minutes he touched down in the warehouse district of Shreveport, opening a door to one of them by putting a long string of numbers into the electronic keypad beside the door.
When the door went up a light came on automatically showing a number of covered cars parked inside. He moved swiftly to the back wall and grabbed a light tight travel coffin before heading toward one of the bigger covered lumps. When he jerked the cover off, she saw a new black Chevy Suburban. He moved to the back, and laid down the seats, putting the coffin in the truck. She couldn’t tell for sure in this light but she thought that the car had tinted windows for privacy. No would be able to look in and see the coffin. Smart. Plus the car was big and roomy but not really ostentatious enough to attract unwanted attention. Smarter. She watched him open the travel coffin and take out several large stacks of cash. Smartest.
This guy knows how to amscray, she thought. She saw more money in the coffin before he closed it again and felt her respect go up another notch. She watched him walk to her, his movements focused and determined, and she could tell from how he was glancing around that he was on alert. She took her queue from him and made herself look around as well, listening with her telepathy and feeling for anyone or anything that might be around.
When he got to her, looking anxiously in her eyes, she smiled at him and shook her head, indicating that no one was around, there were no blank spaces either, which would have indicated vampires. He returned her smile and kissed her swiftly on the forehead before handing her the cash. “Decide where you want to stash this for easy access in the car as we travel.” She wanted to ask more questions but he didn’t seem open to discussion as he immediately started to guide her toward the passenger seat.
He stashed their bags in the back with the coffin and then climbed behind the wheel, driving out. After closing and resetting the door lock to the warehouse he drove them out of Shreveport, playing tag with the speed limit. She could feel his tension and knew he was fighting between wanting to get them away as quickly as possible, and balancing that against drawing unnecessary attention.
He drove north into the night, reaching over for her hand after the first few miles had passed. She took it and brought it to her lips for a minute, then rubbing her cheek with it. She smiled when she heard him make that Swiss Army sound again, and in the bond now she could tell it pleasure and contentment he felt at her touch. She let a small smile out in triumph of figuring out how to understand him a little more.
“I love you, too,” she whispered to his hand, knowing he heard her, as they raced into the unknown of the night.