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Hi guys! Hope you all had a Merry Christmas / Happy Holiday this year and got and gave some lovely stuff! I come bearing some gifts too, this is the first of two updates. One day, and one tomorrow of War at Heart. If you’re still with this story don’t forget to tell me what you think, you know it’s always appreciated!

Sookie:

The priest was wonderfully polite, and very surprised to see Mr Northman show up at his door asking to marry the girl he knew to be the maid of the Estate, but nonetheless he was sweet, but ultimately unhelpful.

We needed a license, and witnesses, and more time.

Nevertheless, with a wink and a nudge, literally in Eric’s direction as we mentioned our need to be in London the next day, he suggested Gretna Green. He also heavily suggested how once there, we could do what we liked if we could manage to find two people to witness it.

We sat in the car, outside the church in silence then for a few minutes, both of us clearly thinking things over.

“Maybe it’s a sign we should wait.” I said exasperated. I was somewhat annoyed at myself for being so spontaneous only to have it halted.

“Or… maybe it’s a sign to go to that village in the morning before we head off for London, and do it.”

“You think so?”

He shrugged.

“I don’t know, but I know I want to do it our way, and your idea of just…doing it like that… is very appealing to me.”

I nodded.

“Because… we’ve both done the big white perfect wedding, and look where that got us.”

I married a basket case liar and Eric ended up a widow before he was thirty.

I hoped this time would be different.

“So we just… go… before we go?” I probably was not making any sense, but he nodded anyway.

“Only if it’s what you really want, Sookie. If you want the whole,” he gestured with his hands, “big white wedding all over again, I’ll do it, if you want to get married somewhere else, some other time, I’ll do that too. It doesn’t matter much to me where we do it, as long as I’m doing it with you.”

I grinned I could not help myself. I had keep reminding myself that it really was okay to feel this happy, it was okay to let it in to let him in.

“I just want to make sure that you are sure…” I added making him look at me a little funny.

“Love, if I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t have asked, you know me by now enough to know that I rarely do what I do not want to.”

“I know, but just in case…”

“Just in case nothing, unless you are not sure.”

I shook my head. If I was sure of anything it was that I wanted us to be together, everything else I would simply take as it came to me.

“No, let’s do it like this, let’s just go there tomorrow and make it all official.” I decided leaning over to kiss him excitedly. That was it, we had decided.

That time tomorrow, we would be husband and wife. I could not wait!

********

“And you’re just going, just like that?” Ames asked as we travelled down one of the hallways together. I had asked Eric if there was anything we could give them for their new home, he suggested we look in the attic. So we were on our way to root through to see what treasure we could find.

“You inspired us, what can I say.” I smiled as I stuck the large key in the large lock that unlocked the door to the attic. There were thirty-seven steps before we got to the space, and I for one really did not fancy being the person that had to haul anything up here.

“Wow…” Amelia said looking around, and I had to agree with her reaction. It was as if time had stood still up there. That and I now knew where all Lady Sophie’s things had gone.

I sighed.

“Is it just me or is this all incredibly eerie?” She asked as we took in our surroundings. “I mean these are Lord Niall’s wife’s things too, look… it’s like a shrine up here. A shine to two dead women…and a lot of old coats.”

There were a lot of clothes, paintings, tables, chairs, all manner of things hidden underneath dustsheets; some if I had to guess had to have been hundreds of years old at this point.

“Um, Amelia?”

“Hmm?”

“Could you… I mean if it is okay, could you go and ask Eric to come up here? Just for a little bit?”

She looked at me, probably either sensing or seeing my discomfort at all of Sophie’s things just slapping the reality back into my life.

She nodded.

“Of course.”

“Thank you.”

Everything was now up here. Her clothes, her jewellery, pictures, portraits, and her whole life just hidden away like that, it made me rather uncomfortable to say the least. I tried not to touch her things but in a weird way, it was as if I could not help myself from looking. There was a picture of her and Eric and they both looked so young, even though by my estimation it would not have been any more than five years before now. It was before they were married for there were no rings, so I assumed it was just before he shipped out to war. She was beautiful, I knew that much from seeing the things in the locked room some time ago now, but to see her up close like that in such clear quality, she still had that mischievous look in her eye; she looked like she would have been pleasurable to be around.

I heard his footsteps before I saw him, and seeing me up there must have stunned him for he said only one word.

“Oh.”

I did not face him; instead, I sat where I was, on the seat by her old dressing table, the photo still in my hands.

“What was she like?”

“I forgot this is where they put her things; I thought they would have moved them to storage.” He said standing behind me, and then I faced him.

“No, it’s all here.”

“I see that.” He sighed, taking a seat one a discarded chair next to me. “I didn’t know, if I had I wouldn’t have sent you –“

“I’m not assuming you sent me here to see her things, I asked you for ideas remember?” I was not angry at him, but I was still curious about her.

We sat in silence for a few seconds before he answered.

“She was kind, but she longed to break the monotony of life here as much as she could. When I came here, she was full of ideas, plans, for what she wanted out of life. And living a secluded life on the Estate to please her father wasn’t one of them.” He sighed, taking the photo from my hands and looking over it, encased in a small silver framed that had a lid to protect it. “She wanted to really live her life. I think when she died, that fact hurt me more than any other, her personality was so filled with life in general, so much excitement and wonder. To see her in her coffin like that for the last time… it wasn’t how I wanted to remember her but it was all I could see when I closed my eyes, for a long time.”

He put the photo back on the desk, and took my hands.

“You aren’t replacing her, I hope you know that.”

I nodded. I might not have known much of the nature of their relationship, but I knew that. If I was replacing her, it was a sign for me to run and not look back, I refused to fill a void for anyone that was not cut out for me and me alone.

“I know that. At least, I hoped that that was the case.”

“I’ve just tried to ignore all this, you know? In the hopes, it would all just disappear, but, it hasn’t and it won’t until I do something about it. The furniture, it’s in the other room by the way.” He said standing up, taking me by the hand to the next room through another door. The attics of the house were huge, and several rooms large. There must have been decades or more of items up there, many things looked a lot older, and given how old the house was, that was no surprise.

He found some end tables, some chairs, and some artwork too. He stacked them neatly by one of the doors before he turned to me again; I had sat and watched him put it all together.

“You can talk about her you know? And you can remember her, and love her, and still love me and us.” I said as gently as I could. “You loved her once; she was a huge part of your life, and this house.” I looked around. “This was her home, Eric; the idea of her being erased is just unthinkable really.”

“You don’t think that strange?”

I shrugged.

“I’m not saying we hang her picture in our bedroom once we wed or anything.” I smiled. “But, it would be wrong, I think, to try and forget her entirely just because you grieve for her.”

He took a second, just looking at me before his face broke into a small smile, and it reached his eyes, so I knew it was genuine.

“Why are you so amazing?” he asked quietly.

I just smiled deciding to do my best to keep the conversation lighter than it had started.

“Oh, you know, just born with it I think.” I rolled my eyes before I reached over and gave him a much-needed hug, which one of us needed it more though, was difficult to say.

“I’ll have Bobby and Trey help Sam and Amelia tomorrow, since we’ll be gone.”

“I was hoping they could come with us, since we need witnesses and everything, and if we take the car, they can drop us off at the train station and drive it back here for you for when you… when we come back.”

We. We were coming back, this time as a married couple.

My heart leapt at the thought of such a reality.

“Oh, that is a better idea. Amazing and smart and beautiful, I really hit the jackpot with you didn’t I?” He commented before kissing my temple.

“Sure, if you ignore the less than stellar occupation, and crazy cakes ex-husband… I’m a catch.”

He just hugged me tighter.

“I wouldn’t have you any other way, Sookie.”

We stood like that, just us, together in a unplanned intimate moment in a dusty old attic that held the ghosts of his past, and I let it just wash over me.

The past was what it was for both of us, and as much as I fought it, there was no changing it, not now. It didn’t matter how far you ran, it was always there and I realised then I couldn’t change where I came from not for myself or for these people I was so afraid of.

However, I could, would, and was going to change my future starting with finding my wits as Pam had suggested and facing my fears head on.

I was going downstairs.

*****

I had summoned up all the nerve that I had left in me as I descended the long and seemingly never ending staircases that led to the downstairs living areas.

I took one last deep breath and walked down the common hallway that led to the kitchen, dining and bedrooms. My first left, the dining room, where I knew at this time they would all be.

I opened the double doors and every face at the table stopped what they were doing to look directly at me.

Trey, Sam, and Amelia stood up, the others looked on for a second.

Mrs Fortenberry stood, and then Mr Dearborn.

I could feel the sweat start to form at the back of my neck, my cheeks were surely as red as cherries and my heart was going a mile a minute.

“Sookie, dear. Look at you.” Mrs Fortenberry said as she left her seat and came to my side, a friendly smile on her face. “After all that has happened to you… being taken an all things…” she smiled again before patting me on the shoulder. “Well, you’re looking wonderful for having been through such wars, isn’t she Mr Dearborn?” She looked to the usually crotchety old man and he nodded, still crabby looking though.

“Yes, you are looking well I see, and it is good news that you are well and you know… not dead.” He said his voice low, his accent as thick as ever.

“Thank you Mr Dearborn.”

“And we hear that yourself and Mr Northman are to be married…” Mrs Fortenberry stated uneasily, the rest of the table now seated sat enthralled.

“I… Yes. Yes we are to be married, and it is that that I have come to –“

“Come to invite us to the weddin’ then Sookie?” Trey asked with a smile, Maxine just shh’d in his direction chastising him right away. I found it funny; we were all so scared of this little white haired woman.

“Um, well, no. Not exactly… I just came to… thank you all.”

“Thank us for what exactly?” Mr Dearborn asked still no real expression on his face so I had no way of knowing if he was mad, happy, sad or just Mr Dearborn.

“Well, Mr Nor… Eric tells me that when I was taken there was much… well there was concern from here and that you were worried for me.”

“We were.” Maxine nodded. “Such a horrid thing for anyone to go through, I mean, kidnapping!”

I nodded.

“Yes… it’s not something I would wish on anyone, and I was also informed that he… Eric I mean, told you of my circumstance?”

She nodded again and I decided to focus in on her, one face was less intimidating than a dozen.

“He did.”

“Good. I’m sure there has been much talk, and realistically there isn’t much I can do to correct any wrongs being said at this stage, but I can just thank you for your concern and worry and for whatever help you all might have provided for Eric while I was… gone.”

I smiled, forced as it was.

“Well, Lass you’re welcome. You were a valued part of the house before and I see from that ring on yer finger that you’re about to be an even more valued part now.” Mr Dearborn added and it was more words than he’d said to me since I had actually first arrived.

“Oh, well… I… thank you.”

“From Housemaid to Lady of the House,” Dawn added and I knew she would. I knew she could not go one conversation without getting her piece said. I just held my tongue.

“You’re an inspiration to us all, Miss.” Dawn said even if everyone at the table were giving her evil eyes to shut her mouth, she, I realised, just could not help herself.

“Dawn, you know how I have really tried with you, even when I worked here. But you are an impossible woman and I for one will be glad when you’ve moved on, you’re a toxic person and I think this house has had enough of that for one lifetime.”

Everyone looked at her, then back to me.

I was past caring about her, and frankly the sooner she left, the better for everyone.

“Well look, I just wanted to show my face and say thank you to you all for everything. We’re heading back to London in the morning, and Mrs Fortenberry I was hoping I could speak to you and Amelia alone, if that is okay?”

She nodded and nodded to Amelia to come with her, I said my goodbyes and we headed out the hall and up the stairs where I knew we would be alone.

I asked if Eric and I could borrow Amelia and Sam the next day for a while, and she was suspicious but she said nothing on the subject other than to agree to it. When she left, I told Amelia the plan and she couldn’t stop smiling at me.

“I can’t believe this! I am so honoured Sookie that you would want us there.”

“Well you did inspire us after all, and we do need witnesses and I can’t think of anyone nicer to come with us tomorrow than you both, besides it’ll give you both the afternoon off too, and I’m all for that.”

She giggled.

“You won’t be saying that when you’re the Mistress of the house and it needs running!”

“Perhaps not, but for now that’s not my concern, it might be later, but for now, let’s just have a good day and a nice meal out before we leave for London huh?”

“I wouldn’t nor couldn’t agree to this faster if it were possible!”

That was that sorted, the morning could not come quick enough!

Eric:

“I think this is silly, Sookie we aren’t some virginal –“

“Indulge me then, hmm?”

“Really? You really would rather spend the night in the room down the hall; cold and alone instead of all … snuggled up warm next to me?”

Okay so I was pushing it with the guilt trip, but her sudden announcement that we weren’t to ‘be together’ until after the wedding threw me a little, it seemed a silly notion considering how many time we had in fact ‘been together’ that week alone.

“It’s not that I would rather that at all, I simply would like to at least pretend tradition a tiny bit.”

“Yes, because you and I truly are the poster children for tradition.” I added laughing as she packed up a smaller bag to move to down the hall for the night.

She chuckled.

“I know that too, but humour me, it will make tomorrow night in London that little bit sweeter then.”

I conceded. She had a point.

“Fine, fine.” I sing-songed. “Leave me all alone in this big old bed if you must, but when it comes time for the fire to die out and you’re cold toes are even more icy than normal don’t think you can sneak back in here… oh no. My shop is closed!”

She just laughed to straighten her face. She failed.

“I’ll have one of the girls make up the room.”

“It’s already made up.”

“Who made it up?”

She looked guilty.

“Sookie, you know you don’t have to do that anymore… in fact it’s frowned upon.”

“Making a bed and adding fresh linens? Please.” She dismissed.

“As Lady of the –“

“As Lady of nothing, not yet, and even then, what is to become of us, of you even once these titles are fannied about? Will you suddenly lose all power of your senses and brains and be unable to do a tap for yourself? I sincerely hope not!”

“All I mean to say is that there are people here that, that is their job.”

“Don’t I know it, I was one of them until very recently.” She added her tempter not getting any kinder as we conversed.

“Sookie… I don’t mean to –“

“All I did was make a bed and air out a room, let’s not make a fuss. Besides the others worked hard today and I didn’t want to bother them, what is the harm?”

I walked over to her and wrapped my arms around her tightly hugging her to my chest.

“There is no harm at all; I just don’t want you thinking that because it’s what you did before that it’s something that is still expected off you. Because, you know, it’s not.”

She said nothing, instead tilted her head up to kiss my chin then smiled wide.

“I know that my love, I do. However, you are a kind man to point it out, but really; it’s not a big deal. What is though? We’re saying some rather important things to each other tomorrow aren’t we?”

“We are indeed… what are those things again?”

She huffed and slapped my shoulder playfully as she pulled away from me.

“Well if you have to ask, Mr Northman perhaps we’re not –“

“Don’t you dare!” I laughed, stopping her mid-sentence.

“Right, well, you think on what you’re to say and I’ll do the same. See? My little experiment does have a larger purpose. Method to the madness and all that.” She kissed me once, quickly but sweetly before she pulled back with a wink.

“Goodnight Mr Northman, I shall see you in the morning then?”

I smiled again, unable to help myself.

“You shall, Miss Stackhouse.”

With that, she grabbed her bag and sashayed out of the room.

The bed seemed so big and lonely without her, and I found I was not tired either. Therefore, I decided to check on Niall before I would turn in.

Our conversations usually lasted longer than we meant them to, and tonight I would tell him of our plans. I felt I owed him a little notice, at the very least.

“Tomorrow? That seems rather hasty; I mean I was sure you’d want to do it properly.”

“We are doing it properly, there will be witnesses and everything, and we’ll take care of the paperwork in London then, perhaps after Christmas even.”

“Oh. I see. Still… a proper wedding…”

“It’s not what either of us wants. We have both done the traditional wedding before and well, we have never really toed the line in that regard now have we? It would seem somewhat hypocritical really, and Sookie agrees.”

“Is she pregnant? Is that why the haste?”

“No. She’s not.”

At least not to my knowledge, she was not.

“I see. Well then, congratulations from me. I’ll have time to find a suitable wedding gift before you return for Christmas. I mean, you are still –“

“Oh yes. I do like Christmas here, even if you aren’t feeling up the usual hoopla.”

“I think we should have something though, to mark the occasion, for the staff too, with gifts and music.”

They did gifts every year, it was usually clothing or money or both, you could not really go wrong with nice leather gloves or some expensive scarves or extra money, right?

Maybe this year Sookie would know what they would want more than I would, I was awful at shopping for people.

“I think so too, it might lift your spirits a little too no?”

“It’s not my spirits that need lifting, it’s this damn heart of mine, failing me when my body is just fine.”

That was the long and short of it really, his heart was giving out on him when the rest of him was more than willing to fight on. It was an awful situation all around, and one I tried my best to push out of my mind, as I was sure he did too.

I went to bed that night full of hope and excitement and a healthy dose of fear. I knew the road ahead would not be smooth, but I also knew I wanted to drive down it at an unhealthy speed, and I wanted Sookie by my side as I did so. She was the constant, in all my visions of the future, whatever was to come, if we stayed here, if we moved, if we left altogether, she was always there with me.

I put down my latest book and switched off my lights at a little past one, and I must have fallen asleep fairly quickly, or at the very least I wasn’t tossing and turning but I was awoken sometime later by some weight on the bed, and some cold skinned person crawling in next to me.

Her lips were on my neck instantly and without opening my eyes in the dark, I smiled.

“I knew you couldn’t resist, I knew you’d get all cold and lonely in that bed and come around. I thought I told you I was closed for the night?” I said chuckling as her lips moved from my neck to my chest.

She said nothing.

“Someone certainly is eager!”

It was when my hand went to her naked body that I realised why.

It wasn’t Sookie.

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