Chapter 4: Sparks Fly
It didn’t take long for me to unpack the clothes I had with me, so I was on my way to Nora’s quarters shortly. As the guard escorted me to my sister’s chambers, I was aware of the number of surveillance cameras discreetly positioned in all hallways. Evidently, one didn’t do anything in Authority headquarters without the risk of someone watching.
“Chancellor Gainsborough, I’ve brought Sheriff Northman as you requested,” the guard announced as he led me into a spacious room. It was more elaborate than the guest room I had been given and I couldn’t help but notice a familiar piece of furniture to one side of the room. I repressed a smirk. One could take the girl out of Plantagenet England, but one couldn’t take the Plantagenet England out of the girl: Nora still had her much beloved, massive oak bedframe, with her human family’s crest carved into the ornate headboard. She had been delighted when she had located it in the 1700s and been able to obtain it for herself and although it periodically had been placed in storage, I knew she had kept it with her as often as was practical.
I had fucked her many times on that bed over the centuries. I felt a pang of nostalgia for our shared past. In many ways, Nora and I were too much alike to always get along, but there had always been attraction between us, and I did love her. Now more than ever, as she was one of the few remaining links to my history with Godric. Despite my affection for my vampire sister, it had been a few years since Nora and I had actually seen each other face to face, largely due to her desire to keep our relations discreet due to her political position. Instead, we generally kept in touch by phone and our conversations were often convoluted tangles of innuendo, code and mixed languages in order to remain opaque to listeners.
Fucking vampire politics. While I knew Godric had chosen Nora because of her political talents and that she loved her role in the vampire power structure, I still hated the posturing and game playing that was inherent in that world.
Nora had tortured me endlessly once she knew I had been expected to succeed my father’s role as king in my human family, insisting that I could still fulfill my destiny as a ruler among vampires. I had tried repeatedly to explain to her that while I might eventually have embraced that role in my human life and led the small tribal kingdom of my father, times had changed and the requirements of rule over a people had changed. Modern rule was too impersonal and too irritating. I had no interest in taking responsibility for an area larger than I had as an Area Sheriff. Being a king like Compton or, worse yet, someone involved in the national or international power structure of vampires simply required kissing too much ass.
My disdain for politics aside, I wasn’t above using my political connections to get what I wanted, however. And what I wanted right now was to keep Sookie the fuck out of whatever might come out at this trial.
Nora was curled up in a chaise lounge with a book when I arrived. She put the book down and stood to greet me, her behavior cordial but not overly warm with the guard still nearby. “Sheriff Northman,” she said politely. “Please come and have a seat with me. I would like to hear your account of Nan Flanagan’s death since you were a witness. Nan was a dear friend.” She nodded her dark head at the guard, who closed the door behind him as he left.
As soon as he was gone, she twined her arms around my neck and pulled me down for an affectionate kiss, slipping her tongue between my lips for just a moment and then pulling away. “Bror,” she murmured in greeting before continuing. “There is a white noise generator in the room, so we don’t need to worry about the guards overhearing us here. And Chancellors are exempt from having cameras in our rooms as well, so we can speak – and act – freely here.” She smirked at little at the last bit and I knew she was hinting that we could enjoy our reunion as we traditionally had, with a vigorous round of sexual acrobatics.
Well, fuck. I hadn’t thought about the problems seeing Nora would present.
Of course, Nora was going to expect our interactions to be what she had been used to for the past six hundred years. And “old Eric” would have been happy to fuck her stupid.
But being in love with Sookie had changed something in how I viewed sex. For a thousand years, it had never been anything more than an extremely entertaining diversion. But with Sookie, sex had been … a revelation. There had been an emotional component I had never experienced before that had, for the first time, made the act transcend beyond simple fucking. And as trite as “making love” sounded, that was the phrase that best captured what the difference had been: sex with Sookie had been about my expressing my love for her, not just using our bodies to get each other off.
And now, for the first time, I was faced with the choice of being offered a fuck when making love with Sookie was the only sex I really wanted.
The problem wasn’t that I couldn’t say “no” to Nora – but that if I said “no,” my sibling would insist on an explanation. And that might not have been a problem if Nora had simply been the little sister of an Area Sheriff, with no power and few connections. But my sister – my lovely, ambitious and very powerful sister – was a fucking Authority Chancellor.
No, if I said “no” and she managed to get the real reason why out of me, I didn’t entirely trust her to protect Sookie from the rest of the Authority.
Not only should I have expected that, I should have thought up a reason to decline Nora’s advances before I ever entered her room because my mind now seemed frozen in coming up with anything – besides the truth – that would sound even faintly plausible to excuse such a sea change in my usual behavior.
“But, business first,” Nora said, to my relief as it bought me time to think. She took my hand and led me to the chaise seat. “So, tell me what has really been going on these last few days. Compton told us you had been sent to clear out a nest of necromancers and then had disappeared for several days. He claimed you were hiding in a human home?” As we seated ourselves, Nora continued to hold one of my hands and let her other hand rest familiarly on my thigh.
“The witches had erased my memory,” I conceded, trying to ignore the pale hand as it began to move in rhythmic little strokes against the fabric of my black jeans. “I managed to find shelter with a human who recognized me and could be trusted not to betray me.”
“But then Compton found you anyhow?” Nora’s eyes were fixed on my face, her worry for me evident. “You very nearly met the true death at his request once he had you, brother. What on earth have you done to make an enemy of that pompous little twit?” Then, with a shake of her head and a grimace, Nora took her hand from my thigh and held it up. “Never mind, stupid question. Nan said the two of you had a bad habit of letting personal issues interfere with common sense. Although she was never clear about what those personal issues were.”
“You know how it is,” I said nonchalantly. “Compton has been a thorn in my side since he and Lorena made messes in my area in California. That Nan made him a regent is fucking unbelievable.”
“And I don’t imagine you bother to hide that sentiment,” Nora said with a chuckle.
“I’ll hide it tomorrow night, don’t worry,” I reassured her. “I’m well aware of where we are and what is expected of me.”
Speaking of which…
Nora’s hand dropped again to my lap, this time directly on my crotch, where she began to run her fingers lightly along the length of what she found there, as I tried to ignore her action. She raised her chin and smiled teasingly. “You know you owe me for saving your life from Compton,” she said in a mischievous voice. Through the material of my jeans, she squeezed my cock, which had begun to harden purely from the physical stimulation. “I was able to persuade the Authority that until we were certain of the influence of the necromancers, it was worth keeping you alive.” A thumb rubbed across the tip of my partial erection and I jerked reflexively. “Of course, I told them your value lay in your business acumen,” she said with a half-smile. “Since ability to wield a broadsword isn’t as appreciated these days.”
This was our old dance of seduction, but I was going to have to change the steps, and quickly, before my body started to lead my will astray.
I casually pulled Nora’s hand from my lap and held it, distracting her by rubbing my thumb in the center of her palm in a way I knew she liked. I leaned over and pressed a chaste kiss to her forehead, saying lightly, “Then thank you for saving my life – especially with such a bullshit answer. You know that Pamela is the one with the better business sense.” I smiled lopsidedly at her. I genuinely appreciated her effort to protect me and felt a rush of love for my sibling, grateful that she had been instrumental in saving me from the stake. “Given that the witches subsequently did capture me and try to use me as a weapon at the tolerance rally, I’m surprised the Authority hasn’t shown their regret at following your recommendation. Or have they?” I raised an eyebrow at her.
Nora grew serious again and held onto both my hands, buying me a brief respite from the sexual tension. “Honestly, there is more discontent that the Guardian’s current policies didn’t allow Compton to put the coven leader down while she was still in his custody. It would have saved all of us a lot of trouble. But the Guardian –” Nora shook her dark head. “He’s very devoted to the mainstreaming cause. To the point of taking foolish risks in order to protect our reputation with humans.” I could hear the bitterness in Nora’s voice.
“What about Nan Flanagan’s death?” I asked curiously. “How bad are the repercussions?”
Nora snorted. “Personally, I don’t think anyone misses Nan and her sharp tongue, but she was the public face of mainstreaming, so we have to go through the motions. Not that her killer will receive a just penance for the taking of a vampire life.” Nora’s lips pursed. “Obviously the human who killed Nan should simply have been executed immediately, but Roman has this idea that we have to make a show of respecting the human’s rights.” Nora rolled her eyes at the last bit before tilting her head at me. “Since you were there, why don’t you tell me exactly what happened? You know that there is still some suspicion that it wasn’t the human at all, or that she might have been acting on someone else’s orders. Perhaps Compton’s.”
“Oh, because Bill Compton is obviously a secret Sanguinista,” I said sarcastically. “He may have been a ruthless bastard in his younger days, but I think he has truly bought into the mainstreaming agenda, Nora. And while Nan was a bitch, I can’t think of a single reason for him to want her dead.” Any reason besides Sookie, that is, but that was one reason I had no interest in sharing. “No, Tara Thornton was solely responsible for Nan,” I said definitively.
I filled Nora in on the details of what happened – leaving out Sookie’s role beyond having brought the medium and his boyfriend into the equation. As far as my sister was concerned, Tara had killed Nan as a political statement against vampire kind in general.
“Who the hell is this Thornton girl, anyhow? The necromancer told us before we killed her that the girl wasn’t even a regular part of the coven, but had just wandered in on the night you were bespelled. I found that ridiculously convenient.” Nora’s hand began to stroke a certain spot on my side gently as she spoke – one she knew from experience was particularly stimulating for me – and I could feel a tingle of arousal growing again. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
“She is a cousin to one of the other witches and I find it credible that she was just there by coincidence,” I said. “From what I have heard, Ms. Thornton has extraordinarily bad luck. Wrong time, wrong place.” I added drily, “Wrong vampire. Apparently, Franklin Mott took a ‘romantic’ interest in her for some time last year before he vanished.”
“Ah,” Nora sighed with understanding. “Her luck can’t be all bad if she made it through such ‘interest’ alive. Although I have to wonder how she did. Franklin’s obsessions don’t usually survive his attachment to them.” She made a face. “Perhaps he met the true death with a wooden bullet at this girl’s hands, too. No loss there, though, if that’s the case.” Her hand had slipped under the back edge of my shirt and was now running slowly across the skin of my back in smooth, even circles.
I hated to admit it, but it was making my cock start to twitch again. Was sexual response always this hard to control? I tried to remember if I had ever tried to resist a woman before only to quickly realize that I had never had a reason not to follow my dick’s impulses before – until Sookie.
“Mmmmm, enough business talk,” she murmured, leaning forward to run her tongue along the soft skin beneath my ear. “You mustn’t stay the day, but we have a little while before sunrise. Enough for a good, hard quickie at least.” Nora’s blunt teeth nipped at my earlobe. One hand continued to wander more purposefully across my back while her other hand had once again begun to explore the front of my jeans. “I have to say, brother, I hadn’t remembered you smelling quite so enticing in the past,” Nora said thickly. The hand moved from my lap to my jaw and she turned my head so that she could kiss me in earnest. As her tongue slipped between my lips and sought out mine, I could feel my body betraying me as it began to hum with remembered lust for her porcelain skin and silky dark hair.
Well, so much for having bought time by talking business or hoping Nora would lose interest. Time was running out on my thinking of an excuse not to fuck Nora that didn’t involve revealing my bond with Sookie. While I wanted more than anything to announce to the world at large that Sookie was Mine in the most significant way another being could belong to a vampire, making such a pronouncement to an Authority Chancellor while in the depths of Authority headquarters was neither the wisest time or place. That I had created a blóðfesta bond with a human was going to be controversial at best, and if anyone knew about Sookie’s true nature, it was likely to create a true threat for min blóðfrig. No one could know; not even my sister. No. Especially my sister.
Nora seemed to notice that my response was somewhat distracted and grew more intent than ever on holding my attention, leaning into me to press her breasts against my chest.
I had loved Nora for so long as a friend, as a brother, and as a fondly remembered lover that it seemed strange to not follow the instincts of centuries and screw the hell out of her. For a moment, as my body reacted to her touches, I wondered if I was being a fucking idiot to even hesitate. As angry as Sookie was about the bond, as little as she seemed to value it, maybe the practical solution was to just do what I would normally have done. Maybe holding back with Nora was just a meaningless waste of energy and will.
I was still torn over the temptation to just give in to the seduction of Nora’s lips and hands as they continued to roam over me or to think up a convincing excuse not to when I felt Sookie wake up.
The realization that Eric was with someone else and experiencing a mixture of love and lust was like a knife in my gut. And while I felt a strange hesitancy and anxiety from him amidst all the sexual tension, what I fixated on was that he was having feelings like that for someone – anyone – who wasn’t me. Yes, I had told him I wasn’t ready for what he had done to bond me to him, but I had told him I needed time and space, not for him to run off and fuck someone else less than 24 hours later.
Especially if I had to feel his emotions while he did it.
As Lafayette would have said, fuck no, he didn’t!
And fuck no, he wouldn’t, if I had anything to do with it.
For all that I had been angry with Eric at the unexpected consequences of the bond, I was reminded as the hurt swelled up inside me that on some deep, primal level I had come to feel over the past few days that Eric – whoever he was – was mine. And while I might not be comfortable yet with the idea that Eric saw me as his, I was not ready to give up what was mine so easily.
I had made a point of stifling my emotions the last few hours by purposefully distracting myself, but I let rip with what I was feeling at that moment. If he was going to fuck someone else, he was going to know how I felt about it. I was not going to play “the good –” The good what? Girlfriend? Wife? I couldn’t remember the funny Norse name Eric had used for me, but whatever it was, I wasn’t going to lie here being a good whatever-it-was while he deliberately screwed someone else.
Jealousy, fury and outrage poured through the bond at him. Mine, mine, MINE! And then, because I couldn’t help it, hurt. Tremendous, deep, painful betrayal. If he really loved me, how could he do whatever he was doing, knowing I could feel it?
I slammed him emotionally with everything I had. And as I did so, in the pre-dawn darkness of my bedroom, a ball of light burst out of my chest and vanished with a pop, making me yelp with surprise. What the fuck had that been?
It was like being hit with an avalanche. The feelings tumbled at me faster than I could process them – jealousy, fury, possessiveness and a raw, primal hurt that cleared my mind instantly. At once, the hazy lust for Nora evaporated as if had never been. I needed to pull away from her, even if I didn’t have a lie ready to cover my motivation. I slid my hands to her upper arms, finally moving to push her away –
Just then, every point where Nora was in contact with me – my back, my mouth, my chest where she pressed against me and the back of my head where one hand had slid into my hair – suddenly flared with a brilliant flash of light that burned as it snapped and sparked.
In an instant, Nora had scrambled away from me with a shriek, even as I jumped up, equally shocked. “Eric, what the fuck!?!” she squealed at me, fangs out, the back of her hand pressing protectively against her burn-reddened mouth.
The door slammed open and the guard was inside at vamp speed. “Ma’am, sorry to intrude, but I heard you scream. Is everything okay in here?”
Nora was still trembling and I had thrust my hands into the air as soon as the armed soldier had burst into the room, trying my best to look harmless.
My sister was still staring at me in shock, but she quickly regained her composure. “We’re fine. Sheriff Northman simply…startled me. I’m fine.” She waved her hand at the guard dismissively. “Thank you for checking, but you can go.”
The guard looked at both of us doubtfully and then withdrew, quietly shutting the door behind him.
I dropped my hands. “White noise generator?” I looked at her skeptically.
She frowned in annoyance. “Enough of one to cover most normal conversational levels, yes. The guards are also trained to ignore anything they should happen to hear – unless it sounds as if we’re in danger, of course.” She approached me warily, studying me. “But, Eric, what the fuck was that?” She was staring in bewilderment at the lightly burned areas on her hands, which I could see were already starting to heal.
“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “It’s never happened before.”
Even before the sparks of energy had hit Nora and me, I had been considering how to tactfully break our embrace, but apparently, the bond – or Sookie – was impatient with my slowness to act. I pressed carefully on my bottom lip with a fingertip, still feeling a buzzing tingle where it had been in contact with Nora when the flash occurred – but, surprisingly, I felt no pain.
“It didn’t harm you,” Nora pronounced as she frowned at my unburned mouth. “Lift the back of your shirt,” she commanded. I did as she requested and from behind me she muttered, “Not a mark. What the hell?”
I gnawed subtly at the inside of my lips, trying to think of any reasonable explanation besides the truth, but I was distracted by Sookie’s still irritated feelings. Somehow I suspected that explaining I didn’t intend to let things get that far wouldn’t have calmed her down much.
Nora circled me cautiously, sniffing the air with a scowl. “And you really do smell different.” Suddenly she snatched at my hand and in unknowing mimicry of the same movement with which I had bonded with Sookie, nipped at my palm with her fangs and then licked the blood that welled up. I tensed, wondering if another bolt of light was going to zap her, but this time, nothing happened. Instead, a small frisson went through her body and she ran her tongue over her lips. “My God, you even taste different. Sweeter… What is this? Is it something the witches did to you?”
Well, shit, that was an explanation that just might work, I thought rapidly. It was a logical, easy possibility that could cover almost anything that the bond brought about in me. Who knew what strange ways a witch’s spell could manifest?
Although it would be odd to lie so blatantly to Nora, with whom I’d always been honest before. She was my sister. We had been siblings and sporadic lovers for nearly six centuries and she was on the very short list of those I could say I had loved since my turning. Family – both human and vampire – had always come first with me.
The truth was, I simply wasn’t sure yet how much I could trust Nora when it came to Sookie, and I wasn’t willing to chance it.
“I don’t know what else it could be but something the witches did,” I lied, meeting her eyes. “I just know that I haven’t been the same since the spell. But the necromancer is dead, isn’t she? So I’m hoping that whatever was done to me isn’t a danger to others, just an annoyance to me.” I tried to sound slightly worried but still confident that I was safe to be around.
Well, “safe” unless you touched me with lustful intent, anyhow. I was still baffled at how Sookie’s light had made me “untouchable” from afar but I had no doubt that was what had happened.
Nora let out an exasperated sigh. “I wish we had known this before we executed the witch. Now how can we find out how to undo what she did?” She looked at me with consternation. “And we can’t really be sure there isn’t something dangerous about your state. We have to bring this to the attention of the Council –” Nora began, her hand reaching automatically for my arm, only to stop dead mid-air, no doubt thinking twice for fear more sparks would suddenly appear.
“No, Nora!” I said forcefully. “Give me some time to seek answers on my own first.” I raised my eyebrows at her. “You know that the Authority doesn’t have patience with…unexpected developments. You know I can’t trust them to give me time to figure this out once they know. They’ll just give me the True Death without hesitating. I know it and you know it.”
My sister frowned in uncertainty. She knew I was right about the likely attitude of the Authority if they thought I had lingering effects from the spell.
With a sigh, she crossed her arms in front of her chest. “So, your blood is changed and – what – you can’t be touched? At least not for very long? Or in certain ways? I’m confused, Eric. This makes no sense.”
“I didn’t know about the touching problem until tonight,” I said truthfully. Or the change in my blood, but that seemed like a dangerous admission to make. “I have no explanation for that whatsoever. Perhaps it is some sort of …curse?”
“Intended to do what? Keep you from fucking?” Nora asked skeptically.
Errrr…evidently. And I felt uneasy to think Sookie must be assuming I fully intended to do just that.
I never hated my quickly responsive dick so much as I did at that moment and almost wished it had been cursed.
“Well, it wouldn’t be a curse if it didn’t fuck up some aspect of my life, would it.” I pointed out reasonably. “And fucking with my fucking is pretty effective as far as a curse goes.”
Actually, I should file the concept away for future consideration. It was rather diabolical.
“You’re awfully sanguine for someone who might be forced into celibacy because of some wretched sorceress who is now dead,” Nora grumbled. “My God, I thought witches were all about ‘acts of passion showing devotion to their goddess’ or whatever,” she continued irritably. “Evil fucking crones. We should burn the whole lot of them the way we used to.” She regarded me with wariness. “So, if this untouchability nonsense is new, what made you think you might still be affected by witchcraft?”
“I had simply noticed – as has Pam – that I seem more…” My voice trailed off as I tried to think of an acceptable word that wouldn’t set off alarm bells. ‘More in love with a fairy hybrid’ and ‘more inclined to be, well, good,’ wasn’t going to cut it. “More human, perhaps. In the way I feel…perhaps in the way I think.”
In an administration where mainstreaming was the ideal, being more human should be a good thing, right? At least, not cause for alarm. Or potential imprisonment.
To my surprise, Nora’s face wrinkled with disgust. “Oh, Christ, I do hope not,” she said with a grimace. She quickly smoothed her face as if to hide her initial reaction and regarded me with pitying eyes. “Eric, you have always been the – the epitome of what a vampire should be because of the way our father raised us. Even if he lost his way towards the end of his life.”
I stiffened. When we had last spoken of Godric, Nora had not expressed anything less than deep love and admiration for our Maker. Had her views changed since then?
Nora’s eyes were reddening with unshed tears and she tentatively clutched at the material of my shirt, careful not to contact my skin beneath. “Whatever is wrong with you, Eric, we’ll fix it. I promise you,” she said earnestly. “I won’t let you turn out like father.” She spoke the words like a vow.
I frowned at that, but Nora didn’t notice. A bloody tear slipped down her cheek and she wiped it brusquely away, leaving a pink smear behind. “I won’t say anything to anyone. At least, not unless I truly have to. And only if it will protect you.” She looked at me with compassion.
Apparently, my “feeling more human” was a tremendous mood-killer to Nora. Too bad I hadn’t realized that a little earlier.
“Thank you, Nora,” I said, looking suitably grateful for her silence about my “curse.”
I felt like shit lying to my beloved sister. But not enough to tell her the truth, not when it could expose Sookie and our blóðfesta. And until I was certain that Nora wouldn’t let that information slip to the wrong person, I was going to keep my own counsel about why I seemed…different.
“Well…this was not the way I hoped our reunion would go.” The corner of Nora’s mouth turned up in a wry half smile. “You should go back to your room. We’ll be facing a long night tonight.”
“I’m sorry, Nora,” I said with genuine regret. I was relieved that things hadn’t gone further between us than I had wished, but I was not used to deceiving family this way. “I had hoped you wouldn’t notice anything amiss with me until I could…resolve things on my own.”
Granted, the only thing I had to “resolve” was convincing Sookie that our bond was a good thing, but I still needed time to accomplish that.
“Eric,” Nora said gently. “I’m always your sister first and Authority second. You should know that.” Her blue eyes met mine and I could see that she believed what she was saying.
I wished I believed it as completely as she did.
“Although I would appreciate it if you don’t repeat that while you’re here,” she added wryly. “Trust no one while here, brother. Except me, of course.” For a moment, Nora looked sad and I felt a pang of guilt that my trust in her was weak enough for me to be withholding information from her.
I hoped that, if she ever realized I had not been forthright with her, she’d understand the need to protect those you love and forgive me for this deceit.
She approached the door and opened it before turning to me and saying smoothly, “Thank you for your account of Miss Flanagan’s untimely demise, Sheriff. And I am sorry that I reacted so emotionally to your vivid recounting of how…unexpected the unjustified attack against her was.” The guard stepped through the doorway, his eyes still wary as he regarded the two of us.
“And I apologize that my account of what happened distressed you so strongly,” I replied. “My condolences on your loss,” I said formally, bowing.
Whatever the guard thought of what he’d seen, he didn’t say anything as he escorted me back to my guest room.
Once I had stripped my clothes off and slipped between the smooth sheets, I let myself feel for Sookie. As I had been talking with Nora, I’d felt Sookie’s anger and outrage fade, to be replaced by worry and, ultimately, remorse. I wondered if she had any idea what had happened. I felt for my cell phone and discovered that, as Nora had warned, I had no service in the Authority bunker. So much for talking with Sookie, which I suddenly wanted to do desperately. I wanted to at least try to explain what had been happening and why her…disruption…had been welcome.
With nothing but our bond to keep me company, I pondered what exactly Sookie had done. The blast of light had to be something to do with her fae powers, but I was baffled as to how she could manifest such a thing at a distance. Feeling her increased concern for me – perhaps she had some clue that something spectacular and unusual had occurred, even if she wasn’t sure what – I sent her a wave of reassurance that I was fine. That I loved her. That I was hers – even if she wasn’t sure she wanted me.
As I lay there, I remembered the expression on Nora’s face after her touch had resulted in a very different sort of “spark” than she had expected, and my mouth twitched. That my feisty blóðfrig had made her own distinctive claim on me, even from hundreds of miles away and despite our current discord, struck me as so quintessentially Sookie that I had to laugh out loud. And as I shifted in my lonely bed – content not to have anyone there if it couldn’t be Sookie – I realized that the fact she could make me laugh even while negotiating the deadly threats of the snake pit that was the Authority was one reason why I loved her so desperately.
A/N: I’ll try to get another chapter up, if not this weekend, than by next Tuesday, since I will away for a few days after that. Thanks for the reviews and all the favorites despite the angst and crazy-making behavior of our favorite couple at this point in my story! XOXXOXOXOX