“Two days. That’s all. I didn’t think you’d even notice I’d gone.”
We lay curled together on the couch, an old brown and white afghan thrown over our entwined bodies. Neither of us had any desire to move. I knew I should let people know I came back from time safe and sound, but when Eric tightened his arms around me, I couldn’t muster much of an argument. Or an explanation, for that matter. It would keep until the sun rose.
I twisted around so we faced each other. “I’m so sorry, Eric. I really am. I never anticipated…”
“I knew within hours.” I tried to blink back my surprise, but he must’ve caught the flicker. The eyebrows told me I should explain.
“I just…well you…I mean.” I inhaled deeply. “I just didn’t think you…”
“Cared?” Eric finished for me. He smoothed the lock of hair that had fallen forward covering my eyes, and tucked it behind my ear. “I didn’t realize myself how much you meant until you were gone. Even before you vanished, after we undid the witches curse, I wanted to see you. Though I didn’t know why.”
Winding my fingers into his, I kissed him, a gentle flutter of lips. “I thought for sure you only cared about the sex you couldn’t remember.”
A sly grin overtook the serious set of his mouth. “Oh I most certainly wanted to hear about our time together…” He inched forward, and whispered into nook just behind my earlobe. “Tell me, how would you describe the shower?” I shivered.
I felt the blush spread over my face, but as usual, Eric charmed the pants off of me. Literally.
Some time later, we surfaced for air, and attempted to keep our clothes on this time. I didn’t know how I’d last against Eric’s–well Eric’s everything. But I knew The Doctor would eventually whiz back into my life. Unless he got lost, he wouldn’t stay away for long. I walked to the back door, and slid outside into the cool night air. Glancing up at the stars, I wondered which one the TARDIS danced around.
Eric joined me, settling the old afghan over my shoulders, and pulling me to his chest. I loved his height, and the way my head nestled in the curved shadow of his chin.
“I have a vague memory of liking this Doctor. Did I?”
I scrunched up my face even though he couldn’t see it. “Don’t you remember? I thought you did.”
Eric absently rubbed circles across my forearms. “Bits and pieces. But you? I remember everything, now. Everything about our time together inscribed itself into my bones; I only needed the key to unlock the memories. Each time, I felt an inexplicable draw, a tickling of some hidden past. I knew without knowing that you were mine. But your Doctor, I fear, did not capture my attention as wholly as you.”
I could hear Sweden in his voice. “You did.” I smiled at the image of Eric and The Doctor swapping stories, tales of Time Lords and Vikings mixing into the whipping flames of the bonfire. “I’d say you liked each other quite a bit. You two yacked each other’s ears off, and then plotted together to save me from burning at the stake. Thank you, by the way. I know I said it to you before, but you’re you now, and you know everything so it seems appropriate to re-express my gratitude.”
“I will always save you, Sookie.” He paused as if unsure how to continue. “I need to ask you something. You are under no obligation to answer, but I would like it if you were honest.”
I swallowed and nodded, turning in his arms to face him. I had no idea what to expect.
Doubt skipped over his face, followed quickly by apprehension. He moved his hands to caress my cheeks. “Know that nothing you can say will change how I feel about you. You are my wife. I missed the first thousand years of our marriage; I will not waste a second more.”
The tone of the conversation began to worry me. “What’s this about Eric? You can ask me anything. I’ve got nothing to hide from you.”
He seemed to come to some conclusion. “I do not wish to anger you, but I must ask. Did something happen while you were traveling with The Doctor?”
“Plenty of somethings happened. Most of which you were there for…” I wracked my brain. “Could you be more specific?”
“I’m trying to be delicate, Sookie.” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “I am unused to this position.”
“What position? What are you talking about, Eric?” my tone stepping up the level to slightly frantic now. Everything seemed to be sorting itself out, ten-month absence and all, and here something new was already getting in the way.
It looked as if Eric fought a mental battle with himself, but instead of getting angry, his voice softened, “I know you and The Doctor grew close on your journeys. If something more developed…” He let the words hang between us.
I blinked. “Are you asking if I engaged in,” I dropped my voice to a hushed exclamation, “intimate relations with The Doctor? Seriously? Why would you even think that?”
Stepping close, he tilted up my head, bent down, and inhaled along the hollow of my throat, tracing up into my hairline. “Your scent has changed.”
With almost the worst timing ever, I heard the telltale whooshing, snow-shovel-y, scraping sound echoing from the front yard, as the TARDIS rematerialized.
“The Doctor’s back.” Wait? I smell different? I don’t get it. “Maybe I’m tainted by space?” I said, trying to lighten the situation.
I watched Eric fight against the laughter, but he couldn’t hold it in. It burst out of him. “Space?”
“What? It might be that!” I insisted, but even I realized the idea was flimsy. Eric would have already noted the scent of the TARDIS when he searched for me. That wouldn’t be a change worth noting.
He kept on chuckling, and the tension of the last few moments broke.
I focused on Eric while we still had a moment. “I don’t know what altered my scent, but I promise you that nothing occurred between The Doctor and me. He became one of my closest friends on this trip. That’s a lot, but it is strictly platonic.”
I smiled reassuringly, and kissed him with a thousand years of pent-up love—or one week—or one year—I didn’t know anymore when I first fell in love with him. If it began the first night we met in Fangtasia, despite my evident dislike, or if it started when he stayed with me during the troubles with Marnie the psycho witch. Or did it start with a secret walk to a hidden glade?
I only knew that my life changed the night I walked into the vampire bar in Shreveport, and I harbored no regrets.
I murmured against his lips, “I love you, Eric Northman.”
The words fell easily from his tongue, “I love you Sookie Stackhouse.” Pulling back, Eric studied my face. “We will discuss this again soon.”
“Promise.” Though I had no idea what changed about me, but we would figure it out. Together.
“I’m ready to see the time machine now,” Eric decided; back to his normal, jovial self.
Eric and I walked hand in hand to the front of the house. The Doctor wasn’t leaning on the TARDIS as if he owned the galaxy—which, in essence he did. We didn’t see him until we turned the corner. The Doctor sat on the front porch swing, his elbows on his knees, Rose’s jean jacket clutched in his hands. My heart immediately hugged him. What could have possibly happened in his time away?
“Do you think you could give us a few, Eric,” I asked under my breath. I didn’t think Time Lords had super senso-hearing, or anything like that, but still.
Eric simply nodded, and headed back into the house.
I joined The Doctor on the swing, tucking one leg underneath me, leaving the other to dangle, and waited. The words would come. I couldn’t begin to fathom what stilled this vibrant man.
“She never does that you know.” The Doctor started his sentence halfway through a conversation with himself. I, as per usual with him, waded forward through confusion.
“The TARDIS. The only other person ever to pilot her…”
Rose. I didn’t need confirmation to know who captured his thoughts just then.
His head bowed, his hands daggled forgotten as he spoke to his Converse, “Even she had to take in the entirety of the Time Vortex to do it. Though she did it save me…Clever girl…” He faded away, lost in yesterday.
The Doctor never sat this still for this long.
When he spoke again, his voice was soft, as if he existed in the void between worlds. “There might be a way,” the rest of the sentence remained trapped inside him, as if he was afraid to admit his deepest wish. He forced himself to speak, “To get her back, I mean. Rose.”
“Why do I feel like you’re not near as happy as I’d expect you to be right now?”
Silence. We rocked back and forth.
Finally. “I could break universes.”
“Entire planets of people could die.”
Then, his voice nearly inaudible, “I could still lose her.” Silence. “Again.”
I could only imagine the conflict that raged inside him. I considered what I might do if faced with never seeing Eric again. How much would I be willing to risk bringing him home to me?
“You say the TARDIS always takes you where you need to go. Why not put your trust in her?” I tried to catch his eyes. “I mean, surely, she wouldn’t steer you somewhere you could break the world?”
He glanced up. “Worlds.”
“Worlds. Yes.” Did his eyes brighten? Or was it a trick of the moon? He still argued with himself, but he appeared to be leaning towards one side.
Eric unlocked and opened the front door, propping open the screen door with his hip, his hands full with three thermoses.
“Sorry, I overheard. Vampire hearing and all, but I thought I’d just add one thing. As I see it, you’ve already made your choice, Doctor.” He handed The Doctor a thermos. “The only question you have now is—“
The Doctor came back to life, and cut in, a gigantic smile on his face, a rambunctious spring in his step, “Eric. Sookie.” He looked over both of us while tucking Rose’s jacket under his arm. “Would you come with me and potentially break space-time, all to help me rescue Rose?”
I mock-hesitated. “Well, we did just get back,” I began, glancing sideways at Eric.
Eric caught the look and continued, “There’s Fangtasia to worry about.” He winked at me. “Though I suppose Pam will just buy whatever line of shoes she desires.”
There was only one serious consideration. I faced The Doctor.
“What are the chances that the TARDIS will bring us back relatively quickly this time.” As if on cue, the white light atop the police box began to pulse, a tiny lighthouse in time.
The Doctor laughed outright, and wiggled the fingers of his outstretched hand. “Well I think that answers your question. Besides, I think the TARDIS has been waiting for me to figure all this out. Patiently, I might add. The TARDIS held an unusual fondness for Rose.”
“I thought you said it was impossible?” I asked, wondering what had changed.
“Was. Isn’t anymore. Maybe. Potentially.” He wandered off into his head, until he snapped back to attention. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.”
I gave into his wild release of joy, grabbing The Doctor’s hand, and extending mine to Eric. “You coming?”
Eric’s sarcasm-laced response warmed my heart. “You thought I was going to let you go off again, traipsing about space, with a madman with a police box?” His hand clasped mine. “I would follow you to the ends of time, Sookie Stackhouse. Just watch me.”
We strode across the front lawn until we reached the TARDIS.
At once, The Doctor and I swooped open the doors, bowing. “Eric Northman, welcome to the TARDIS.”
The look on Eric’s face? Pure perfection.
Eric had no idea what he was seeing. “Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw.”
He knew his jaw hung slack, but the world that opened in front of him was inconceivable to not only the 10th century Viking he’d been, but also the highly intelligent Vampire Sheriff of Area Five. He prowled around the box, reaching out, tentative as his fingers felt splintered wood grain. Fireworks and ozone filled his useless lungs; his mind grasped at impossibility. He stepped through the open doors. Sookie and The Doctor smiled in unison, leaning back on some kind of central console.
He turned and rushed back outside. Chill night air swam across his skin, his thoughts whirling around his head. He spun back around and faced the time machine head on. I am a thousand year old Viking vampire badass.
“I love this part,” he heard The Doctor say to Sookie.
Eric crossed the threshold of the TARDIS again, attempting to look like this wasn’t any big deal for him. He failed miserably.
“It’s bigger on the inside,” he sputtered out.
“Yes!” The Doctor jumped up, giving Sookie a high five.
Sookie exploded into laughter. “Oh Eric, if you could see your face right now. It’s priceless. They should put you on one of those commercials.”
He scowled in their general direction, while gawking like a tourist.
The Doctor clapped his hands together like an actual five-year-old. Eric wanted to eat him. Instead, he made do with growling, which of course made both of them laugh harder.
“So…” He drawled out. “Were we going to rescue the love of your life? Or just waste time laughing at the gobsmacked vampire?”
They appeared to be gaining control of themselves, until…Oh dear Odin. They just cracked themselves up again.
“Gobsmacked vampire,” Sookie got out in between gasps of air.
He sauntered over and planted himself in the captain’s chair, propping his feet up on the edge of the console.
He turned away from the laughter, watching as Eric sat down in the chair he never used. The Doctor preferred motion. He ran figures, calculated distances, and avoided a black hole or two, all before he even touched the controls. Sweeping the monitor around and stopping it in front of him, he studied, once again, her timeline. There seemed to be frozen cracks around the barrier between worlds. A permanent fizzure in the fabric of space.
“The way is dark, and fraught with perilous beasties…” Eric and Sookie’s eyes met his gaze. “Not really. I got rid of all the beasties. Nice bit of work, sucking them into the Void. Even if I do say so myself.” Though he’d lost Rose after all, so while he deserved a check mark in the plus column of saving the universe, a big red X scratched over the box labeled: “Travel with Rose, Forever.” Rose had given her life, and her love for him, to save the universe.
“Doctor, rambling.” Sookie warned.
Oh, I’m still talking. He beamed a manic grin at her. “Allons-y?”
Eric answered, “Absolument, Sir Time Lord.”
“Then you should probably hold onto something.” The Doctor sprang into action. He punched in the coordinates, priming the time rotor, and charging the internal compass against the magnetic pull of Rose’s timeline. He tapped open the DNA drive, and slipped a single blonde hair into the tray. As it closed, he laid her jacket down gently over the edge of the console.
The rest he left up to the TARDIS. Sometimes he thought she might love Rose even more than he did. She’d moped around the galaxy for weeks afterwards, never leading him into danger. Always, only, steering him to fish and chips. It had been their thing. Every time they finished saving a planet, the TARDIS took him and Rose for fish and chips. They could never figure out why. They just chalked it up to a quirky TARDIS thing.
He unscrewed the thermos Eric had given him, and poured himself a cup. He never even bothered to check what he was sipping. Too focused on unraveling the last thread. A strong Earl Grey tea surrounded him, clearing his thoughts.
“Eric, you made tea?” He asked the vampire pretending to calmly take in time travel. They bounced off a ripple in time and spun out, surfing the spiral edge of the Pinwheel Galaxy.
Eric nodded. “Not for me, of course. But it seemed the thing to do.”
“You are brilliant, but you already know that, don’t you?” The Doctor loved that Eric was always so full of surprises.
“Of course.” Eric smirked.
The Doctor got a chuckle from that, but then focused immediately on Sookie. “You never answered my question. How did you get the TARDIS to go where you wanted her to?”
She popped up from where she leaned against the railing, and made her way over to him. “Oh! I kinda thought you figured that out. You told me yourself that the TARDIS always takes you where you need to go. How did you think she did that?”
“I assumed she just, you know, knew things. She is my TARDIS after all.” The Doctor’s frantic hand movements stilled and he shrugged his shoulders. The monitor indicated they had swept into the Medusa Cascade, hovering just outside a rift in time. Rifts were tricky business. You never knew where’d you’d end up once you crossed the threshold.
Sookie’s earnest face peered up at him. “I think it’s telepathy, Doctor. I think she’s been reading your mind.”
He considered the fish and chips fiascos. It suddenly didn’t seem so ridiculous. After every time they got into a spot of trouble, he wished that he and Rose could just be a normal couple, out for a bite to eat on a random Wednesday night. For a moment, they both wanted normal. Ordinary. They’d eventually get bored again, and gallivant off in search of adventure. But it always came back to the two of them, sitting across from one another in one greasy pub or another.
“I just touched the console and thought about Blue Suede Shoes. I know Bubba, and I’d seen him sing before, so it wasn’t hard to imagine him as a human being, performing in front of a crowd of thousands. I’m not sure the physical touch is necessary, but my gift works better that way.”
Sookie’s valid point rambled around inside his brain. The TARDIS danced a little jig, letting him feel her excitement. He’d never actively thought about their connection, but he wondered, on more than a few occasions, whether she might be reading his mind.
Hey old girl…The Doctor let his fingers trace around bits and bobbles, knobs and nozzles; felt the heart of the TARDIS pulse against his palm. Closing his eyes, he saw the low light of Norway, her hair as the wind whipped around her, the tears he could not wipe away. Her parents and Mickey, just waiting. But he stood, surrounded by the walls of the TARDIS, both now and in his memory, a million miles away from Rose and Bad Wolf Bay.
He’d never wanted to take her in his arms more. Still Rose: still strong and brave, she held herself together. Her shoulders threatened to collapse, but she forced them back. Her voice, overwhelmed by her splintering heart, I love you. They’d promised each other forever. I’m burning up a sun just to say goodbye. The crashing waves sounded beside him, but he felt no bite from the icy wind that blustered in from the sea.
The TARDIS settled down, and The Doctor surfaced from his recollection, he hadn’t even notice they’d been moving until they weren’t anymore. Eric and Sookie waited for him at the door. He froze, terrified to check the monitor, to confirm or deny what waited beyond these walls. Rose never stopped believing in him. Even after the Void ripped her away. He didn’t want to let her down again.
She’d found him in Bad Wolf Bay, months after the events of Canary Wharf, though the battle still lingered fresh in his mind by the time she finally reached him.
Outside the safety of the TARDIS, Rose stood alone on that same beach. Waiting for him to take her home. The Doctor broke into a run. Eric and Sookie had the doors open before he hit the ramp.
Bad Wolf Bay
The wind scattered the slivers of her heart. She tried to hold them, but they sliced out of her, leaving behind a Void deadlier than the one that trapped her in this parallel world. She wanted to believe he’d found a way to reunite them, but his face was a mirage, the projection to a woman dying of thirst. One minute he was there. The next, she found herself left behind.
Her mum, dad, and Mickey, a wall of emotional support; she only wanted one man. She felt her mum moving towards her. She knew the tears streamed down her mascara stained cheeks, but she felt nothing. Heard nothing. She should be strong, she knew that. But she remembered, How long are you gonna stay with me? Forever. A promise neither one of them could keep.
The lullaby of the TARDIS echoed, so close, she could swear it was just behind her. Her body wracked with sobs, she collapsed to the damp sand, digging her fingers into a thousand gritty grains. Her mum’s arms came around her; Rose wanted to shrug her off; but her body craved comfort.
Sensations infiltrated her grief. Arms leaving. Arms returning. A lean, muscled frame. Bony elbows. The rough scruff of a cheek. She felt her body tugged into another. Brown pinstripe clad legs. White Converse trainers. Kisses mingled with tears. She dared face the apparition who knelt, his body a question mark wrapping her in a shred of hope.
She brought her face level with his, reaching up to tangle her fingers in spiky brown locks. He felt so real. Her field of view widened and her eyes lit on the TARDIS, a beacon of pulsing light.
The Doctor hallucination spoke, “You’re okay, I’ve got you. I came back for you.” Running his hands down her cheeks, her arms, “I’ll always come back for you.” So much like him. Impossibilities and that crooked smile.
Her fingers trailed down his temples, the dark hollows beneath his eyes, the stubble of his jaw.
“Are you really here?” She felt a spark of hope catch fire.
He leaned forward, his lips only inches from hers. “As I was saying, Rose Tyler, before I was so rudely interrupted by the universe,” his eyes burned the sun of his truth into hers, “I love you.”
Their lips met, and he flashed into color. Real. His lips soft, the caress of an eternity apart. Their first kiss; every kiss they’d missed along the way. There’d always been time to take the next step, until fate locked away possibility.
She clutched at his lapels; he wound his hands into her hair. Their kiss, a supernova that banished goodbye.
In the background, a cloister bell tolled.