Ever had the feeling that some things are not quite the way they should be?
Did DEA give you a sinking feeling inside?
Do you believe that it should have ended differently?
So, with apologies to CH , and as my old teacher used to say, "we're going to do it again, and this time we're going to do it right!"
Hope you enjoy.
It had been a week since I'd heard from Eric.
In some ways it had passed quickly; there was so much to do. Now I was a genuine partner at Merlotte's, Sam wanted me to get even more involved. We spent a lot of time in the office, going over things that I already knew, but I could tell he needed to keep busy. Being busy stopped him thinking about Jannalynn and her betrayal of him, of me, of her pack. Of all of us, really.
We'd discussed the night he'd died, just once, and he'd thanked me for saving his life,even though he had no memory of actually dying. He told me he could remember the shock of the attack, the pain and then nothing but darkness until he woke up the next morning, but even then he didn't mention her name. It reminded me of when Alcide abjured Debbie Pelt - Jannalyn might never have existed as far as Sam was concerned. That afternoon I saw him dropping some stuff into the dumpster out back of the bar and later, when I heaved some old cartons in there, I saw a pair of shoes I knew I'd seen her wearing. I looked a little closer, and there was a hairbrush in there too, and a jacket that seemed familiar...
Then there was my home. Dermot and Claude had gone for good, so I'd hired Terry Bellefleur to come in and finish the improvements in the attic, but while he was up there he'd found some dangerous wiring. Dermot hadn't understood such things, but it turned out the house wasn't up to code, and if I didn't want a fire I'd have to spend some of my hard-earned savings on a complete re-wiring job.
Well, I didn't want a fire (been there, done that) so the floorboards were up, the furniture was mostly in the yard (lucky it was a dry spell) and when I was at home I was kept busy supplying the work crew with cold refreshments. I didn't grudge it them; it was hot as hades up in the attic, but I wished I didn't have to spend my off hours carrying trays of drinks - I did that enough at work.
Jason and Michele's wedding was looming large now, too. I was glad they were keeping it simple. Second time round for both of them, they neither wanted a big affair, but as bridesmaid I knew I had certain duties. My house wasn't in a fit state to host the shower, so I'd borrowed Halleigh and Andy's place. It was big enough, but it had meant a lot of time on the road between my house and Bon Temps.
Halleigh had offered to help, but she was pregnant and the heat was taking it out of her real bad. I know Tara was very happy the twins had arrived safely and she didn't have the internal central heating which she would have been glad of had it been winter. And of course, visiting and supporting her was another call on my time. JB was great, and so was his mom, but I was Tara's best friend and I needed to be there for her.
So, all in all, I had precious little time for sitting around and thinking. During the day.
At night, it was a different story. Then, the time dragged. I'd tried watching old movies, doing chores, filling the freezer ready for the bridal shower, but sooner or later I'd found my attention wandering from the TV screen or the cookbooks and I'd be thinking.
Where was he? What was he doing? Was he thinking of me at all? I wished I knew, and, not for the first time, I quietly cursed the day I'd let Amelia talk me into severing my bond with him. It had seemed important at the time - like I'd had to know if my feelings for him were real or not - but once I'd figured out that they were, somehow we hadn't got around to re-establishing it. He'd never offered, and I'd never asked, and when I'd asked myself honestly why that might be, I hadn't liked the answer I'd come up with.
Although part of the reason was that I was afraid he'd say no, I had to admit that it was also because I was too stubborn to admit that I'd been wrong to do it in the first place. That had been kind of a feature of my relationship with Eric - we were both stubborn people, and we didn't communicate as well as we should. If we'd talked more, I might have had had a better handle on vampires in general and Eric in particular.
I wished I knew more about how vampires operated. I was beginning to realise that it might have been sensible to have used my opportunities to learn more about Supes and their culture while I'd had the chance, but I'd been too busy trying not to be a real part of it. I'd wanted the connection with Eric, but hadn't really committed to being a part of his life - his world. I'd learned the minimum I needed to know, and tried to ignore the rest of it.
Thinking about it now, that probably hadn't been the smartest move. There was so much more to the Supe community than what I'd seen, but most humans would never even have the chance to experience what I had. Yes, there had been some truly hideous moments, and I'd spent a lot of the last few years horrified, shocked, scared spitless and dealing with far more corpses than any girl should have to, but I'd also seen and done some amazing stuff.
I'd seen vampire weddings, Were tribunals, witch rituals and fairy wars; I'd taken part in dances, funerals, trials and royal receptions; I'd flown with Eric, splashed through swamps with tigers, seen my brother become a were-panther, listened to a private performance by the world's most famous singer, helped the shifters reveal their existence to the world, met long-lost relatives ...
So, if I had a do-over, I would have paid more attention to Eric when he tried to teach me. I'd have asked more questions and listened more carefully, but it was probably too late to do anything about it now. The Queen of Oklahoma was in town, and hell bent on marrying Eric.
And if I was honest, that was the main reason I hadn't wanted to renew the bond. I didn't want to know how he really felt about her. Cowardly, I know, but it seemed as though not knowing for certain that he would be leaving meant I could pretend for a little while longer that he wasn't. That the offer of wealth, power, influence and a beautiful, immortal wife wouldn't draw him from me.
Of course, there was also the little matter of Felipe's reaction to the death of Victor. Although it had been very convenient for him to allow us to take out the late regent, his threat of disciplining Eric was a very real one. Marriage to Freyda would make Eric immune to that as well. So, all in all, he had every incentive to go, and almost none to stay.
Except, I wanted him to stay…
Two nights of that going round in my head and I felt like I was as close as I'd ever been to becoming the Crazy Sookie the good folk of Bon Temps called me. I couldn't stand being alone in the dark with my thoughts any longer, and I'd called Holly and offered to switch shifts with her. She was on nights this week, and had been fretting about not being able to see Hoyt when he got off work, so she was more than happy to swap the slightly better tips for more quality time with her honey.
I was glad to be occupied. Merlotte's had been crazy busy recently, and I'd been so tired when I got home that I'd barely taken the time to remove my makeup before falling into bed and letting the blackness suck me under.
But I'd had to go back to days eventually - I couldn't take advantage of the other waitresses just because I was one third of their boss, so I had to be fair with the rotas (and the tips). And so, this evening, I found myself sitting on the porch swing, listening to the katydids, watching the fireflies dancing under the trees, and trying not to think of Eric.
I wasn't having much success.
I remembered our last time together, at the fight out at Alcide's farm. He'd held my hand as we watched She-who-must-not-be-named and Mustapha battle it out. Then, when Sam had been caught in the crossfire and I'd saved him, Eric had disappeared without even saying goodbye. I figured that he'd been mad because I'd 'wasted' the cluviel dor on Sam when he'd wanted me to use it to get him out of the hole his maker had left him in.
Now, that was a thought. If Eric was so willing to go to Oklahoma and the fabulous prospects that awaited him there, why would he be so pissed that I hadn't bailed him out? That didn't make sense.
Maybe there was a ray of hope after all. Perhaps he genuinely didn't want to go…
Almost as though thinking of him had conjured him up, there was a faint rush of air, a crunch of gravel, and Eric landed softly in front of me, his long hair settling about his shoulders. His arrival triggered the motion-detectors and the security light came on, flooding the yard and silencing the katydids.
I sat up straighter and watched as he sprutted towards me (it was difficult to find a word that described how Eric moved; it was like a cross between a strut and a prowl, but it definitely wasn't anything as commonplace as a 'walk'). He flicked a stray insect off the lapel of his suit and I wondered briefly if he had the same problem motorcyclists did, with flies getting swatted against him as he flew. I brushed the thought aside as he drew near. He was all in black, but his blue eyes were very bright in the paleness of his face.
"Sookie." His deep voice was slightly hesitant - he was probably remembering the terms on which we parted last.
"Eric." I tried to keep my tone neutral, not giving away my desire to leap off the porch and into his arms. I didn't know if I'd ever get to do that again.
"Why is there a heap of trash in your yard? Isn't it a little hot for a bonfire?"
He knew it wasn't trash - he just hoped I'd react to his rudeness like I usually did. He knew how to handle my temper and sarcasm, he'd seen it often enough. But part of my recent self-examination had included a careful look at our relationship, and my responsibility for at least half of its success or failure. So, tonight I was going to be reasonable, even if it killed me, and if he had anything important to say, I was going to listen. So, I responded politely, "it's my furniture - I'm having some work done on the house and the floorboards are up."
"Hmm." A pause. "May I sit down?"
"Sure." I thought he might join me on the swing, but he chose to sit on the step instead, his forearms resting on his knees, his hands hanging loose as he gazed across the yard to the surrounding trees.
Silence fell again. I waited him out, although I was desperate to know where he'd been. This wasn't the first time he'd been out of touch for a while, but we hadn't been a couple the last time. Still, if he was here now that probably meant he wanted something or needed something from me. It usually did, and he'd tell me, given enough time.
At last he spoke.
"Dearest one … Sookie, I have some news for you."
Oh crap, here it came. I didn't need the bond to know this wasn't gonna be good.
"I know I haven't been in touch recently, but there have been good reasons." I wondered if I'd consider the reasons good too. "My cell phone was … sequestrated."
"Felipe demanded I hand it over. He claimed he wanted his technicians to check it for evidence of my involvement in the death of Victor." He snorted with contempt - a surprisingly vulgar sound. "As if I would be stupid enough to leave anything so damning where it could be found. No, it was Freyda simply wanting to reduce my ability to communicate with you. I didn't dare refuse - if Felipe knew our bond was severed, it would be very dangerous for both of us."
"Couldn't you have sent me a message through Pam?"
He sighed. "He has kept her busy running errands or dancing attendance on Freyda - we've barely been allowed to see each other, and even then it was in the presence of others." A muscle in his jaw flexed, and I could tell he was grinding his teeth.
"But things are moving now. Tomorrow night Freyda is leaving for Oklahoma. I will be going with her."
I'd been expecting this, but I hadn't expected the pain that squeezed my heart when he finally said the words. And I certainly hadn't expected that it would all be over between us so soon. Was this it? The last time I'd ever see him? Had he come to say goodbye?
I couldn't say anything - all the air seemed to have vanished from the world. But he continued before I had a chance to find my voice.
"Not for the reason you might think, but because it will buy us more time. She has been urging me to make a decision this last week, and the more reluctant I've shown myself, the harder she's pushed. By agreeing to visit her realm I am showing willing - she thinks - and she believes that once I am there she can entice me by showing me what I would be gaining from the marriage."
I cleared my throat. "And is she right?"
He smiled, slightly. "She believes she understands me, what motivates me, but she is mistaken. She foolishly chose to negotiate with my maker rather than with me, and she has taken his estimate of my character as an accurate one."
I thought of Niall's description of Eric as Ocella's finest hour - he had created the perfect vampire, whose only flaw was me. It seemed like Eric was about to erase that flaw, and then he'd be everything his maker had intended. He continued, "It is many years since Ocella spent any length of time with me, and I am not what I once was."
"So … what's changed?"
"Enough." Damn it, I hated it when he was cryptic.
"Enough to make a difference?"
"I think so."
This was like pulling teeth, but I wouldn't give in. I made encouraging 'tell-me-more' noises.
"Ocella always desired power, influence, wealth, and he taught me to do the same. As a young vampire I wanted what he did, but when I began to make my own way in the world I found there were limits."
It surprised me that Eric would acknowledge he had any limits, and I said so.
He smirked. "I'm not speaking of limits to my abilities - I've never found those. If I wanted something, I took it - always. I mean, there are limits to my desires. There are some things I simply don't want, or I'd already have them." His belief in himself was radiating off him. He genuinely believed what he was saying.
"Do you really think I would have remained a Sheriff in a small, backwater Area if it wasn't what I wanted to do? If I craved a kingdom, I would take one. Sophie-Anne ruled because I respected and liked her, but I was stronger than she was and we both knew it. In Area Five I have as much authority as I want, and plenty of time to pursue my own interests." His expression darkened. "Or I did until Felipe took over."
"So why did you let him?"
He swatted a bug and glanced across at me, clearly considering his reply. Then he said, "it's complicated."
"That's not an answer."
"It's part of an answer. I don't have the time to give you a complete one now, and to understand fully you'd need a much better grasp of vampire politics than you have, but I know you will understand that sometimes survival is more important than victory."
Well, that sure rang true. Eric was nothing if not a survivor, and we both knew it.
"So, is that what you're trying to do with the marriage - playing it Freyda's way for a while, just to buy some time? You really don't want to leave?" I clung to that hope as the one bright spark in a dark future…
"Of course not. I told you - I will not be forced into leaving you. I shall go to Oklahoma and appear co-operative for the time being, but there is nothing there to tempt me. As I said, she will try, but she will be using the wrong bait and she will fail. And when it comes to the contract, I will insist on Cataliades acting for me."
"Well, I know he's a good lawyer, but I haven't seen him for a while. Is he available?" Last time I'd seen the Demon he'd been helping me dispose of a dead antiques dealer.
"I don't know, but I have the right to have the contract scrutinised by a lawyer of my choice, and he is the only one I trust. If he's not available, we'll just have to wait until he is. And then he will take a great deal of care, and as much time as is necessary. He understands how important it is to be thorough - he may have to spend weeks crawling around in the margins with a magnifying-glass. There is no-one like him for disputing minor points of law - he will have Freyda's lawyers tied up for months." Eric grinned cheerfully, and for the first time in days I felt a little better.
"So, the wedding won't be happening any time soon?"
"No. Or at all, if I can help it. I love you, I have no feelings for her, and I'm not interested in what she can offer me."
"Oh, thank God." This was what I needed to hear. After listening to Pam, Freyda and my own worries for way too long, I finally had it from the man himself. He didn't want to leave me, and was finally letting me in on his plans. He had no idea how much that helped. I got up and came and sat next to him on the steps. For the first time in weeks, I was feeling a closeness with him which I'd really missed. I hadn't realised quite how much I'd missed it, until I started to sense it again.
He took my hand and we sat in silence for a few minutes, just enjoying the night and cautiously re-establishing our relationship, which had taken way too many hits of late. His cool fingers were stroking circles on my wrist, just above my pulse. It was kind of distracting …
I cleared my throat. "So, you think there might be some wriggle-room in the contract?"
"There may be. I haven't read it very thoroughly yet, but Ocella told me he had made sure it was not as restrictive as some. I would have a certain degree of autonomy in Oklahoma, including unrestricted access to Freyda, the right to attend her audiences and a seat on her council. I would be allowed to take Pam with me, and up to twenty followers provided Felipe agreed to let them go."
"Would he do that?"
Eric grinned again, but this time there was a lot less humor in it. "He'd agree to almost anything to get me out of his kingdom. After the coup he wanted to keep me, as I'm very profitable, but now he sees me as a destabilizing influence, and I have too many loyal followers. I'm more trouble than I'm worth, apparently."
"But I don't understand why Ocella would negotiate those things for you. What would it matter to him how you were treated, as long as he got whatever he wanted out of the contract?"
"This is what he wanted from the contract. He knew he would never be granted a kingdom of his own - he was a loner, and had very little political influence - so he decided he would exercise authority through me. This is why he wanted me to be more than a trophy consort - he intended to be the power behind the power behind the throne."
His tone was neutral as he spoke of his late maker. I knew he had mixed feelings towards Appius Livius Ocella - he had been drawn to him at the same time as hating what he could do to him. A maker's authority over his child was absolute; this contract was a perfect illustration of that.
"The power behind the throne, huh? Can consorts have that sort of influence?"
"Sometimes. It depends on the individual vampire couple."
"So you wouldn't be some sort of sex slave, then?"
He was scornful. "A sex slave? Can you really imagine me in that position?"
"I can imagine you in any number of positions where sex is concerned." My tone was provocative, and he reacted precisely as I hoped he would. His fangs dropped and he turned to face me.
"Can you really? That's good to know... " He glanced back at the yard, thoughtfully. "Hmm. I don't see your bed out here."
"Nope. They finished my bedroom yesterday and put everything back."
"Were they careful?"
"I'm not so sure." He stood up, towering over me where I sat on the step, and held out his hand. "Workmen are notoriously careless. As your husband, it is clearly my duty to inspect your bed and make sure it wasn't damaged at all when they moved it."
I took his hand and let him haul me upright. "Your duty, huh?"
"Yes. I suspect the mattress may need careful and prolonged testing."
"You may be right."
He lifted me into his arms and strode into the house, saying, "I usually am..."
So, he's off to Oklahoma, where the wind comes whistling down the plain, but all is not lost.
Sookie has faith in her Viking, so I guess we can too.
Thanks for reading - let me know if this works for you.
All About Eric (because it just is...)