The bed was emptier by a third when I woke up the next morning. Sharing a bed with Sookie for the last month was long enough for me to know by her breathing she was awake. And it was a couple’s ability we must have shared because even though I was still spooned behind her and hadn’t moved more than my eyelids, she said, “Jason went home to shower and change, but…I don’t think he’ll be back for a while. He wants to avoid the hoard.”
I assumed she meant whoever would be turning up to offer their condolences, but given the dread in her voice I could also assume she wanted to avoid them too.
“Do you want to leave for a little while?” I asked. “We could go back to Shreveport and just hang out for the day.” I planned on taking the next several days – if not the entire week – off to help Sookie and Jason in any way I could. In the eight years I’d worked at the Coroner’s Office, I’d never had a reason to use my vacation time, so I had more than enough of it banked away.
She turned in my arms so that she was facing me. And even though I’d known she’d shed a lot of tears the night before, I was still taken by surprise seeing how puffy her red eyes were. I could tell by the light coming through the window the sun was barely up, so I knew it was still early. And when she didn’t answer me right away, I leaned forward and gently kissed each of her eyes in turn before saying, “We can do whatever you want, but I don’t think it would hurt for you to get some more rest. We can stay here and I’ll turn away the crowd that shows up.”
After seeing so many people fawn over Adele like she was their grandmother the day before at the fair, I was already picturing a gathering that would require traffic cones and someone to direct traffic in the yard.
“I want…” she began and paused. I patiently waited for her to finish her thought, assuming again she was trying to figure out what it was she wanted to do. But instead of finishing her sentence she stared back at me, searching my face for the answer. And I guessed she had found it when she finally closed the distance between us and kissed me.
My little spitfire, who more often than not was playfully aggressive when it came to the intimacies we shared, kissed me like she was afraid I would break.
Or maybe that she would.
And maybe I was afraid of that too.
So I returned her kiss with equal care. Gently giving and letting her take whatever it was she needed from me in return. I didn’t know what it was she wanted. How far she wanted things to go. So I let her take the lead and was simply there for her in whatever way she needed me to be.
For a while it seemed all she needed was our kiss and I was okay with that, despite the natural effect she had on my body. But it seemed Sookie was equally affected because her hands soon began to wander. First up the front of my shirt. Then they snaked across my ribs and down my back. When they dipped into the back of the jeans I was still wearing, she hooked her leg over my hip and pulled me down on top of her.
“Are we alone?” she asked, with her hands moving to the front of my pants and opening the fly before I could answer.
Stupidly, my first thought was Jason, even though she had been the one to tell me he’d left.
Because stupidly, I had momentarily forgotten she knew about my curse.
Sookie had gotten a lot of practice in getting me out of my clothes in the past several weeks, so her hand was already wrapped around my now painfully hard shaft by the time I thought to pull away and look around the room.
“Yes,” I moaned, while she stroked her hand up and down. “I don’t hear anyone, but that doesn’t mean anything,” I warned.
For all I knew Corbett was under the bed and about to spring up through the mattress. And if he did, I could be permanently scarred with erectile dysfunction forever.
Our couple’s ability must have given Sookie the gift of telepathy where I was concerned because she pulled my lips back to hers and said, “Well then it’ll be Daddy’s own fault if he walks in to a closed bedroom. From what you told me last night it seems like he needs to be taught a lesson anyway.”
She said that now. And I would be sure to remind her of it when she was picking up my prescription for Viagra.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked, trying to hold on to some shred of my sanity. “I’m okay with stopping if you’re not up for this to go any farther.”
She held the evidence in her hand I was certainly up for this to go farther, but she released me from her grasp so she could hold my face in her hands. Looking into my eyes, I watched her own well up with tears as she said, “I need to. I need you. I need to feel as close to you as possible.” Her lower lip began to wobble, taking whatever was left of my willpower with it when she added, “I love you Eric. And right now I need to feel how much you love me too.”
I caught her bottom lip in between my teeth, unable to watch it tremble or plead for another second, and released it long enough to reassure her, “I love you too Sookie.”
No more words were needed. I understood how she felt because I felt it too. Not just lust – although it was there – but the need to connect to someone. To reaffirm my connection to her and only her because I truly did love her. I could barely even bring myself to speculate on the thought of one day losing her.
Curse or no curse. It would destroy me.
I could feel the dark cloud trying to form already from my errant thoughts, so I pushed them and it away. Taking solace in the fact I still had her there in my arms. Knowing there was nothing I wouldn’t do to keep her safe from harm. Feeling both the love I had for her and the love she had for me in return as we made love for the first time. We’d had sex more times than I could count, but that morning there was a marked difference and there was no other way to describe it.
There were no more obstacles in between us. No more secrets wedging their way in and keeping us apart – be it hiding our feelings or strange abilities from one another. For the first time we connected completely and by the time we were done, with the aftershocks still coursing through our bodies, I was more sure than ever Sookie Stackhouse would always be the only one for me.
Snapshots of a possible future flashed through my mind. A smiling Sookie walking down the aisle towards me in a white dress. My hands pressed against Sookie’s body swollen with our first child. I had no idea if she even wanted kids, but I knew up until I’d met her I didn’t. Not only had I been unable to picture a life where I would find a woman I would want to marry – or one who would want to marry me – I’d always assumed if I became a father it would be because of a one night stand coupled with birth control failure. It was why I’d always been so careful in the past using condoms. While I didn’t know of anyone else in my family who’d been afflicted with my curse, I assumed the possibility existed I could pass it on to any biological child of mine. I’d been afraid of how that child’s life would be affected, remembering all too well how difficult mine had been early on, and I didn’t think being a weekend dad would be enough to help them get through it.
Because I’d never been able to imagine a life where I had both a wife and a child all at the same time.
But now – with Sookie – I couldn’t imagine it any other way. And while she accepted my strange ability, I couldn’t be sure she would want to inflict that on her own child, but I was firmly on the fence anyway. I knew I could be happy either way, as long as I had her, and I probably would’ve proposed right then and there if the day wasn’t already marred by the fact we would be planning Adele’s funeral.
We took turns showering, so once I was done and while Sookie took hers I made her a quick breakfast, knowing the last time she’d eaten any real food had been the morning before. While the eggs were cooking I glanced at the clock on the stove and seeing the time made me realize Victor was likely already at work doing Adele’s autopsy. My mind wandered with me wondering what – if anything – he was able to find, but I was jarred from my thoughts by the sound of Sookie’s voice as she entered the room, saying, “I’ve never had eggs flambé before. Are they any good?”
“Shit!” I moved the pan of eggs now burned beyond recognition from the burner and shut it off, adding, “I’m sorry. My mind wandered.”
“It’s okay,” she said while walking over to the counter and cracking more eggs into the bowl to scramble them. “I couldn’t tell if you were lost in thought or listening to Gran praising you for being able to cook. Jason’s culinary expertise consists of having the pizza place’s number memorized.” Her eyes took a cursory glance around the empty room as she asked, “Are they here?”
“No.” I hadn’t seen either Adele or Corbett since the night before, but seeing Sookie so at ease talking about what I could do – what I’d been doing my best to pretend I couldn’t do for my entire life – I couldn’t help but ask, “Why are you so…okay with my…thing?”
Her eyes weren’t as red or puffy as before, but she still didn’t look like her usual self. But that didn’t stop her from sounding like her usual self as she glanced down at my crotch and smirked, “I am more than okay with your thing.”
“You know what I mean,” I smiled in return and couldn’t resist moving to stand behind her so I could wrap my arms around her. I suspected a big part of it had been me being able to pass her test the night before by answering questions I had no other way of knowing the answers to. But ironically, that didn’t make her acceptance any less unbelievable to me.
She stopped what she was doing and hugged my arms to her body while leaning back against me and said, “I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s because of what I believed you to be the first time I saw you at daddy’s funeral. You have no idea how much the thought of you being an angel sent down to help him comforted me that day. Even finding out later on that you weren’t didn’t take away from the fact your presence made me able to keep it together during the funeral. And then with my mom…I’ve always been on the fence. For years I’ve wanted to believe she could see and hear daddy and at the same time knowing the possibility existed he might only exist in her mind. Finding out now that he’s still around, even if she can’t really see him, is…bittersweet?”
Turning around so she could face me, she looked up into my eyes and explained, “But I’m okay with it all because as it turns out, you were everything I dreamed to be and more. You did help my dad by telling the colonel where to find his killer and you did it knowing all the while it would make you ostracized. You gave me the peace of mind knowing not only did my dad know that I still loved him despite being a shit to him on the day he died, but now I know my mom isn’t really alone when she’s talking to him because he still visits her.” Her eyes welled up with more tears as her hand reached up to cup my cheek when she added, “And you gave me back my Gran on the very same night she was taken from me. How could I not be okay with that?”
I wasn’t used to being praised by anyone – much less for my freakiness – and I could feel my cheeks heating up, so all I could do was try and make a joke by saying, “Well…when you put it that way…”
Sookie wasn’t having it and when my eyes couldn’t take looking into hers any longer, she grabbed my face in both of her hands and ordered, “Look at me Eric.” When blue met blue a split second later, she said, “I get it. I get that you’re not used to talking about it and honestly, now that I know I don’t know how I’ll ever be comfortable walking around buck naked again.” Her lips formed a small smile, but her eyes were still intense when she said, “But get this. You aren’t just the man of my dreams. You are all of that and more. You’ve given me things no other being on this planet could give me and I’m not just talking about with your gift. You’ve given me a reason to live again when before I was just going through the motions. You’ve given me a reason to smile all of the time even when you’re not around. You’ve given me the courage to take down the barriers I’d built up after my father’s death not wanting to let anyone get that close again so I wouldn’t be subjected to the pain of losing them. You’ve given me a reason to say the words, ‘I love you,’ for the first time to someone whose last name wasn’t Stackhouse. You are it for me, Eric Northman, so if you want to get rid of me you’re going to have to come up with something more than the ability to give me back my dad and my Gran.”
There we were, barely twelve hours after Adele’s murder, and she was the one trying to comfort me. And as much as that thought needled at me, I couldn’t help but be gladdened. With every word she uttered, she healed one of the many scars left behind from a lifetime of feeling alone. Isolated and ostracized by my curse. But her staunch conviction that I was exactly what she wanted and needed in her life made me grateful for every trauma I’d ever suffered. If it hadn’t been for what I’d gone through, molding me into the man I was now, I wouldn’t be the one standing before her. The first non-Stackhouse she’d ever said…
“Never?” I asked. “You’ve never told anyone you’ve dated you loved them?”
We’d touched on the subject of past relationships, but had never delved down into them too deeply. Honestly, I’d been afraid of hearing about anyone from her past knowing my own insecurities would get the better of me. But now…
“Why would I?” she asked with a small smile. “I’ve never been in love before now.”
And because we weren’t in Las Vegas where 24-hour chapels stood on every street corner, I did the only thing I could do.
I kissed her.
And breakfast ended up turning into brunch.
Thankfully Jason didn’t return until the food was ready, but it wasn’t long after that that the first of many sympathizers started showing up. I didn’t really know any of them, so I stood off to the side, fetching the occasional drinks and finding room for the ridiculous amount of casserole dishes the remaining Stackhouse family members were besieged with. My skills as a Tetris ninja came in handy, but even so I contemplated ordering another freezer from Home Depot on my phone and having it delivered that day.
But even with all of the extra people in the house, I was still restless. My mind was back on Victor and the autopsy I knew he would be finishing up with – if he hadn’t already – and I wanted to know the results. I was pacing in the kitchen going back and forth over calling him for the umpteenth time when Sookie found me. Her arms wrapped around my waist as she leaned her head against my chest and it automatically stilled not just my body, but my mind as well.
“Aside from the obvious, what’s wrong?” she asked.
The denial was on the tip of my tongue, but she knew me well because she added, “And don’t say ‘nothing’. You’re pacing like you’re waiting to hear if it’s a boy or a girl.” She pinched my side and joked, “You’re not, are you?”
“The only babies I’ll be making are with you,” my mouth supplied before my brain could catch up.
I really hated when it did that.
We were already standing still, so I couldn’t tell what she thought of my off the cuff remark until she hugged me tighter and said, “Good to know. I call the pee pee diapers. You can have the others.”
Good to know.
The idea of a miniature Sookie had been appealing to me more and more with every family that stopped by to offer their condolences. I’d found myself trying to pick out the features of the parents in their children and wondered what ours would look like.
But she was off her rocker if she thought we wouldn’t be sharing shitty diaper duty.
Considering we hadn’t even discussed getting married – much less the first names of any potential future children – I figured negotiating diaper duty could wait and admitted, “I was thinking about calling Victor. I’m anxious to know if he found anything.”
Her body tensed with my explanation, but she relaxed just as quickly and said, “Why don’t you run to Shreveport? You can hear it from the horse’s mouth and while you’re there maybe you could pick up some more clothes for us? I only packed for…”
One day. We’d only packed an overnight bag thinking we’d only be in Bon Temps for one day.
“Of course,” I agreed and hugged her tighter. Sookie kept a few casual outfits at my place along with her work clothes, but I’d have to stop by her place to get the dress she wanted to wear at Adele’s funeral. I already had a key to her apartment, so once she’d given me a list of everything she wanted me to bring back, I left for Shreveport.
I took care of the mindless errands first. Stopping at her place and picking up her things, making sure to empty her refrigerator of what would spoil and taking out her trash. I then repeated the process, doing the same thing back at my place. By the time I reached the Coroner’s Office a few hours had passed, so I figured Victor would be in his office working on the autopsy report and that was where I found him.
“Eric,” he greeted with a sympathetic smile. “I didn’t expect to see you today.”
“I…” That was as far as I could get and his doorway was as far as my feet could get when my eyes landed on his desk. His notes from the autopsy were lying there, but what halted both my words and my progress were the photos that went with them.
Adele’s eyes were closed, but she no longer looked asleep. Her skin had taken on the grayish pallor that every dead body had and even trying to recall her ‘Ta da’ performance from the night before did nothing to help ease the pain I felt in my chest seeing her that way.
Seeing where my eyes were glued to on top of his desk, he picked up the photos and shuffled them around. Breaking my eye contact with the image allowed my feet to resume their path while Victor said, “I was just getting ready to call Flood with the results.” Placing a photo on his desk showing a close up shot of the bruising on Adele’s neck, he said, “Do you see here?” He used the closed end of his Mont Blanc pen to trace the marks the killer’s fingers had left behind and explained, “Whoever did this doesn’t have the full use of the ring and pinky finger of their right hand. Either it was broken at some point and didn’t heal properly or they have arthritis.”
I’d missed it during my cursory check the night before, but looking at the photos I could see what he was talking about. The bruising was darker on all of the marks except for where those two fingers would’ve been placed with the killer standing behind Adele. It made me wonder if I had missed something on Dawn’s autopsy and I realized Victor had had the same thoughts when he pulled her file from the stack of folders on his desk. My back stiffened when he prefaced his statement by saying, “It would’ve been difficult if not impossible to notice without having the knowledge beforehand.” He pulled out the similar shots I’d taken of the bruising on Dawn’s neck and showed me the now glaring mistake I’d made in not spotting it sooner by tracing his pen over the marks on the left side of her neck, saying, “But the similarity in size, length, and strength of the bruising tells me they were killed by the same person.”
My teeth were grinding while my head reeled that I’d missed something so important. Granted, they didn’t have any suspects, but if they had it could’ve been the key in getting a conviction, short of a full confession. I hated missing any detail, but on a case as important as this one was to me, it literally made me sick to my stomach.
And perhaps seeing my impending meltdown, Victor’s voice took on a harder edge as he said, “Eric!” When my eyes met his, he placed the two photos side by side and his tone softened as he said, “Dawn Green was facing her killer when she was strangled. We’re not in a primetime TV show working with state of the art equipment. Without the capability of taking a panoramic shot surrounding her entire neck, it would’ve been easy to miss. With Adele Stackhouse being strangled from behind, it was more noticeable with the bruising on the front of her neck.”
He could tell me whatever he wanted, but the fact I’d missed something so crucial would always bother me. But there was nothing I could do to change it and could only console myself with the knowledge my fuck up had been caught before the killer was. The potential crisis had been averted, but it only deepened my desire to do better in the future.
It didn’t make me feel any less of an incompetent ass though.
“Here,” he offered, pulling me from my thoughts and pulling another folder from the stack. “I had the Pickens autopsy results messengered to me this morning. The same pattern of bruising was present and missed by their medical examiner.”
At least Mike Spencer had being drunk as an excuse.
But Victor was right. Everything about the bruising on all three victims was the same.
Only one person could be responsible.
Victor was more gracious than I deserved, but I left his office feeling somewhat better. I got back on the interstate to head back to Bon Temps and knowing his first call would be to Flood, I thought I’d fill Alcide in myself and see if they found anything out in the meantime.
But they hadn’t.
The only fingerprints they found were ours and Bellefleur’s around the door. Herveaux went on a rant about his footsteps being the ones that had been left around Dawn’s car back in the woods, with him making several remarks insinuating Bellefleur was the mentally challenged offspring of a female canine.
I couldn’t blame him one bit.
So I spent the remainder of the drive with my mind running over every little thing I could remember. Something was back to prickling at the back of my mind with the answer to what it was on the tip of my tongue, but the more I tried to force it the more it retreated.
I was almost to the exit for Bon Temps when my phone rang and I answered seeing Sookie’s name come up on the caller ID.
“Hey,” she sighed. “Are you on your way back yet?”
“I am. I’m about ten minutes away.”
“Did you learn anything useful?” she asked.
“Sort of,” I hedged, reliving my own feelings of failure. But not wanting to get into it when I could do it face to face in a few more minutes, I said, “I’ll tell you everything when I get there.”
“Okay. Jason’s gone home and so has everyone el…shit.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I just heard a…aw hell. Andy just showed up. I don’t want to deal with him right now,” she sighed again.
“So don’t answer the door,” I replied. “I’ll run him off when I get there.”
With my front bumper, if I had to.
“No. Maybe he’s got news about Gran. He’s knocking. I’ll see you soon. I love you.”
“Love you too,” I replied, but I suspected she’d already hung up before she heard me.
I sped up a little knowing she didn’t want to talk to him and knowing he couldn’t stand me right about now, I hoped my presence would increase his desire to go the fuck away. I’d just taken the ramp for Bon Temps and made the left hand turn for Hummingbird Lane when a flash of white on the side of the road caught my eye.
A white Merlotte’s shirt, I discovered.
And it was being worn by Dawn Green.
My car came to a screeching halt and I jumped out, running over to her and yelling out, “Dawn! Wait!”
She wasn’t opaque like Maudette’s ghost and she seemed to be just as excited I could see her as I was to see her.
“You?” she asked in disbelief. “You can see me? Wait! Does that mean you’re dead too?”
“Yes,” I replied and then clarified, “I mean no. I mean yes. Yes I can see you and no I’m not dead too.”
“Oh,” she answered, looking understandably confused given my convoluted reply and said, “Well then I guess Andy only gets off on killing women.”
My heart stopped before it started again in an attempt to pound its way out of my chest as she elaborated, “Andy. Andy Bellefleur, the deputy? My car got a flat that night I last saw y’all and I was about to call Jason’s drunk ass to come and get me when he pulled up in his patrol car. Who’d a figured I woulda had to worry about being afraid of the police finding me on a deserted road?”
Suddenly it all clicked. Not his motives, but at least how he’d been able to get to his first two victims so easily. She was right.
Who would question their own safety in the presence of law enforcement? Someone who was sworn to protect the citizens.
He would’ve had access to the crime scenes. Been able to explain away any trace evidence left behind by him because he had a reason to be at the scene. And remembering Herveaux’s rant on his footprints being left behind made me realize what hadn’t been sitting right in my mind. What didn’t occur to me until right now.
I’d left the door open when Sookie and I had entered the house. Wide open. There was no reason for Bellefleur to have touched the door at all in order to get into the house and yet his fingerprints were left behind.
I closed my eyes and recalled with perfect clarity the image of him clenching his fists over and over while he paced the yard, but only now did I see in my mind’s eye his right hand not being able to form a complete fist. And only now did I realize his attitude and his cagey pacing from the night before hadn’t been because he’d been upset over Adele’s death or because his position had been usurped.
It was because he couldn’t tamper with the evidence of the crime scene in order to point the suspicion away from himself.
And he was with Sookie right now.
I sprinted back to my car and jammed down on the accelerator while calling Herveaux at the same time. He barely answered the call when I yelled into the mouthpiece, “IT’S BELLEFLEUR! THE KILLER IS BELLEFLEUR AND HE’S ALONE IN THE HOUSE WITH SOOKIE RIGHT NOW!”