“Sookie!” Tara came running from the house, her arms literally up in the air. His Sookie leaped from the car before it came to a stop and ran forward to meet her friend. Eric was reminded of a dance, a sexy dance, he had seen the two of them perform once in Jackson. They jumped up and down, rubbing against each other in an appealing way. What wasn’t appealing were the high-pitched sounds they were making. Eric could tell these sounds were happiness, but to his ears they sounded like screeching. Michele, Jason’s wife, appeared on the front porch, a baby in her arms. He could hear the baby crying, but Michele didn’t seem to be paying attention. Eric’s eyes swept around the driveway and he realized he was looking for Jason Stackhouse’s truck. ‘When did he become your ally?’ Eric asked himself, but knew the werepanther’s presence would have been comforting and with no truck in sight, Eric couldn’t think of anyplace he wished to be less than here.
“Come on in!” Michele was calling from the porch. His wife and Tara DuRone were walking toward the house, their arms around each other’s waists. Sookie didn’t turn around to look for him until she was almost up the steps. Eric was thinking about the closeness of the rooms and the way the children here would crawl on him and touch him.
“Aren’t you getting out of the car?” Sookie had walked back and now stood at the window.
“No,” Eric said shortly, “I have something I need to do.”
“Here?” she crossed her arms, “You have something you need to do here in Bon Temps?”
He didn’t. He saw Michele Stackhouse talking into the face of the squalling infant, and decided it was time to visit the Compton house. “Yes. Let me know when you wish me to pick you up,” and he started the car.
Eric recognized the way Sookie’s lip was jutting and the way her hip shifted just a bit, “Fine!” There was that word again.
“Fine,” he said in return, not bothering to hide the curl of his lip. ‘We can both use that word,’ he thought peevishly. No one made him angrier faster than the woman standing beside his car window, her eyes throwing thunderbolts. He shifted the car into reverse and looked back at her, his beautiful tower of indignant rage, “I am yours,” Eric told her. It was the truth. She didn’t move, but he didn’t need her to, so he backed up and accelerated down the driveway.
As he made the turn that would take him back to Compton’s house he felt the lightening in his chest. He could hear his Maker laughing at him. Eric realized it was the release of fear. ‘Have you become a coward?’ he wondered, and then he laughed at himself. Perhaps that was the way to deal with these humans and the temporary insanity his Sookie was embracing. Perhaps if he viewed this wedding and all it entailed as a war with a series of battles to be fought and won, it might allow him to stop reacting so emotionally. “In which case, it is Human Women 1, Northman, 0,” he grumbled to himself. He flipped on the radio and tuned to WDED, the local radio station run by vampires. They were playing a baroque piece by Telemann he remembered from a brief time he spent in France. He had been hunting the lower gardens at Versailles. The music was being performed nearer the Chateau, the notes hovering in the warm, humid air, giving his stalking the feel of an elaborate dance. Eric drifted in memories of his life before the Revelation, when he and his kind had ruled the night as the miles to Compton’s house sped by.
When he pulled up the house was dark, but the doors that opened to the upstairs gallery were open. He could smell Compton and the vampire himself made an appearance on the porch just as Eric was setting foot on the stairs.
“Your Majesty,” Compton scraped the barest limit of an acceptable bow.
“Bill,” Eric used the familiar, knowing it would grate.
The Reverend Collin’s words left Eric with an uneasy feeling. Even on his best days, Eric didn’t like Bill Compton. It was more than the Southern vampire’s past romantic relationship with Sookie, although that was enough. There was his former role as the Queen’s procurer. There was all the times Bill used his words and his influence to cause Eric problems. Then there were the personal aspects. Eric found Bill physically unappealing. Of course, Compton had been Lorena’s choice, but that she chose to bring him over made the Viking think less of her. Seeing the state of the house, Eric felt certain his coming here was timely.
“I see you struggle with mainstreaming, here in the backwoods.” Compton’s eyebrows lifted and his mouth fell open. Eric thought the vampire would say something, but instead he stood, staring stupidly, until Eric said, “Lights, Bill. If you don’t put on a couple lights, you look like an old B Horror movie. Surely you haven’t forgotten the instructions that were distributed before the Revelation?”
“There’s no one around here for miles! No one notices these things out here.” Bill crossed his arms, making clear he was in a fighting mood.
‘Good,’ Eric thought. ‘It will make this more satisfying.’ Eric walked up on the porch, stopping well within Compton’s personal space, purposely crowding him before looking expectantly at the house door. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?” the Viking said out loud.
“I wasn’t expecting guests,” Bill said quickly.
“Oh, Bill! I’m no guest,” Eric persisted, “I am your King.”
Eric thought Bill would continue to protest, but he must have realized it would only prolong the inevitable. With a quick bow, Bill gestured toward the door, “Please enter.”
The living room showed signs of entertaining. There was a wine glass tipped over on the table, the contents a messy puddle on the floor. Eric caught sight of a piece of clothing half-under a chair. Compton was dressed, showered even, so this was not recent. Still…
Eric breathed in and he could smell it, the faint smell of fear and blood. “Bill!” he smiled grimly. “Did I interrupt fun and games?” He already knew the answer. Bill couldn’t help himself. He glanced furtively at the stairway and that was all the invitation Eric needed to make his way upstairs at full speed.
The human was tied to the bed in an elaborate series of knots. He was moaning and bleeding from several places. “Playing with your food?” Eric hissed.
“It is consensual!” Bill protested.
“Really?” The Viking crooned. “Let’s say we remove the blindfold and ball gag and ask him.” Eric glanced at Bill’s darting eyes. “You don’t have a problem with that, do you Bill?”
“Of course not,” Bill said almost too quickly and moved toward the bed, but Eric grabbed him by the throat, stopping him in his tracks.
“No, don’t bother,” he crooned. “I’m sure that all your activity has left you peaked. I wouldn’t want some unfortunate accident to occur, one that might incapacitate your playmate,” and Eric moved so that he stood between Bill and the bed. “Allow me.”
Keeping a strong grip on Bill’s throat, he slowly pulled the leather strap and applied enough tension to allow the hasp to come loose, releasing the gag. The young human’s quick intake of breath confirmed he was nearly asphyxiated by the equipment Bill was using. Next, Eric peeled the mask from the human’s eyes. The bruised way the man looked up at him and the whimper he made told the tale.
“I’m not here to hurt you,” Eric said brusquely, turning back to Bill. “This doesn’t look consensual, William. This looks like something you will need to cover up. Would I be right?” Compton’s eyes cut to the bed, but then snapped back when Eric lifted him so that his feet no longer touched the floor. It felt as though something clicked in place, manhandling the smaller vampire. Eric allowed his anger to flow and he shook Compton as easily as if the vampire was a rag doll, and then threw him against the wall. Bill hit with speed, hard enough to make pictures fall and glass break. That part of Eric that desired control in all things unfurled, leaving him feeling far more satisfied than at any other time this evening.
“Get up, Compton!” he ordered. “Untie your playmate. You are going to get this cleaned up and if you do a good job and behave yourself, I just may let you live.”
Eric sat down on the chair in the corner of the room. He crossed his legs and leaned back, allowing Bill Compton to see how little regard he held for the other vampire’s fighting skills before he pulled the phone from his pocket, texting Charles. He thought to give the Weres the evening off, but this human would need a ride out of here and there was no regular taxi service this far from Shreveport.
It took time. When the man was unbound, the extent of injuries was revealed. He was too weak to stand right away. Compton confessed he had started playing with the man last night and then left him bound in a bath tub during the day hours. Eric just happened to arrive during a break. ‘Lucky for you, human,’ Eric thought as he watched Compton systematically applying blood to wounds, ‘it’s not likely you would have survived the night.’
Once the man was able to stand on his own, Bill glamoured him and sent him back to the bathroom to shower. “You will be giving him your blood before he leaves, Bill,” it wasn’t a request and Eric leaned forward to make sure Bill got the point, “and my guards will be getting his name and address. If I find he has returned here or has met with an unfortunate accident, it won’t go well for you.”
“Since when are you the guardian of humanity?” Compton snarled.
Eric opened his mouth to cut Compton down, but then he paused. The bastard was right. Something had changed. Last year he wouldn’t have given the human one thought, but now he was willing to order the use of vampire blood to heal a stranger for whom he had no tie or obligation. Eric covered his sudden uneasiness by snapping, “Pull together some clothes for your guest, Bill, and let’s get him on his way.”
Bill gathered pants and a shirt from his closet, and headed for the bathroom door. “Don’t bother, William,” Eric said softly, “You can wait out here with me. Your toy can dress out here, don’t you think?”
“Of course,” Compton growled, “Whatever you think is best.” The words were cordial, but the tone was not. It made Eric smile more.
When the young man emerged from the bathroom wearing a glassy stare and nothing else, Eric watched him progress toward Bill. When he was within inches, he stopped. In spite of the glamour, the man’s eyes were wild and Eric could see him shudder. “Bill,” Eric said calmly, “You need to heal his ass, too.”
Bill’s mouth pulled together in a tight pucker as he completed the job. When Eric nodded that he was satisfied, Bill told the human, “You should get dressed now.”
When the human was ready, all three of them walked downstairs. The human sat obediently on one of the chairs on the outside deck. Bill instructed him to behave normally until he got home. Once there, he would be so tired he would sleep for a whole day and then wake up believing everything had been an elaborate dream. When the human thought of this time in the future, it would fill him with a sense of wonder.
After about ten minutes, Charles arrived with Owen in the passenger seat. “I need you to transport this human to his home,” Eric told Charles and then he turned to Owen. “If you wouldn’t mind, I would like a survey of the lands around here. There have been reports of unusual activity, nomad vampires. Would you mind?” Eric turned to Bill, “You don’t mind if I run a quick patrol, do you, Bill?” No one thought it was a request.
Owen headed to the edge of the woods to shift while Charles and the human drove away. Eric glanced at Bill who was still standing next to his driveway. “Well, Bill, now what will we do with you?” It was a rhetorical question. “It occurs to me that what I found here is evidence of someone who must be bored. It would be hard, a man like yourself, used to study and intellectual stimulation out here, all alone. I think these are the actions of a man who lacks purpose.” Bill’s beady eyes turned toward him. ‘Good,’ Eric thought, ‘you are figuring out that you are in trouble.’ When Bill still didn’t move, Eric made sure his tone sounded caring, “As your King, I feel it my duty to rescue you from this, before you find yourself in real trouble.”
Owen returned, his clothes slung over his arm. “There are several bodies,” he reported. “They are not in the graveyard. Some are older.”
Eric allowed his eyes to go wide, “What could this mean, Bill? Do you think it could be the work of the Fae? They used to have a portal out this way.” He rushed to stand next to Compton, allowing his physical presence to overpower the smaller vampire. “Or,” he growled, “if I were to have my guard dig them up, do you think I’d find the scent of a vampire?”
To give him credit, Compton didn’t try to lie. “What do you intend to do?”
“Will they be traced?” Turning Bill over to human authorities would be preferable, but with his high profile and his ties to Sookie, Eric preferred handling things according to their code, the vampire code.
“No,” Bill was sullen. “I found them in Mississippi and Arkansas. They were drifters, no one.”
“You had better hope that is the case, Compton.” Eric took out his phone and texted Bartlett Crowe, the King of Indiana. “I am checking to see if your welcome in Mississippi still holds. It’s clear I can’t leave you out here. You have become a menace.”
“You can’t force me from my home!” Bill dropped fang, and Owen was between the King and Compton in a flash.
“Billy!” Eric chided, “But I can! I am your King! You are in my territory because I allow it, and I am rescinding your welcome.” Eric grabbed the vampire by his collar and dragged him into the house. “You have the good will of the Kings in Mississippi. For whatever reason, they fail to see the kind of slimy worm you are, and so you are going to pack your bag, Billy-boy, and you are going to get in your car and drive fast.” Eric pushed him toward the stairs. “If you leave in the next fifteen minutes, you should make it to the compound before dawn. Otherwise, you’ll be resting in the ground and hoping the local authorities don’t tow your vehicle.”
“You can’t threaten me!” Bill snarled, “I am a nationally recognized writer! My movie is premiering next year and I will be expected for interviews. If I’m not at the premiere, people will want to know why.” Compton’s lip pushed out. He didn’t look belligerent, he just looked prissy and Eric almost laughed in his face.
“What’s one more disappearance?” Eric chuckled. “But then again, I could just call Officer Bellefleur to come out here with his dogs. What do you think he’ll do when he finds out his relative is a serial killer? Think you’ll sit in a local jail cell, or will he have the local vampire constabulary retrieve you? Oh, and whose subjects are the vampire members of the sheriff station?”
“Yours,” Bill squeezed the answer from between clenched teeth.
Eric found himself chuckling again as he watched Compton squirm. “That’s right, Billy-boy. You win the prize. So…” and Eric leaned over him again, “if you don’t move soon you won’t make the state border before the sun catches you. And you now need to be out of my territory before tomorrow night. I’ll let Rubio know it’s open season on you.”
“You don’t dare hurt me! Sookie would never forgive you!” Eric could tell Bill regretted the words as soon as he said them.
Maybe it was the stress of the past few weeks. Maybe it was the familiar way Bill said his wife’s name. Eric felt his rage surge forward. His fangs dropped and if Owen hadn’t been there, he knew he would have ended Bill Compton. He pulled himself back, but only with difficulty and Eric couldn’t tell who he was angrier with, Compton for being an ass or himself for failing to control his temper. “You will never refer to your Queen in that tone again, Compton,” Eric hissed. “You will use her proper title and you will respect her as your better!”
“She would never agree to my calling her anything but her name and you know it!” Compton was moving now, and Eric followed him to the upstairs bedroom the vampire seemed to use as a closet. “You know Sookie is my… friend.” Bill seemed to fumble at words, “She would know if you did something to me. She won’t like that you are ordering me out of my own home.”
“I don’t think she remembers you’re here,” Eric saw his words made an impression. “Sookie is far too busy preparing for our wedding.”
“I thought you were already married,” Bill snarled.
“Once wasn’t enough, Bill. She wants to marry me by her own custom. I told her it wasn’t necessary, but she’s insisting.” Bill’s mouth pursed up again and his eyes looked almost hurt. The angry part of Eric decided to savor his kill, “You know how single-minded she can be, especially when she decides she can’t do without something.” Eric shrugged as if he was bored, “And she’s decided she can’t live without me.”
Bill looked suspicious again, “You’d like me to believe that, wouldn’t you?”
“You can believe it or not,” the Viking shrugged,” but she’s with her friends right now arranging favors and receptions. What is a groom’s cake, anyway?” Bill didn’t look at him long, but Eric saw the pure loathing in the younger vampire’s eyes and it felt good.
“How long do I have to be away?” Bill had a suitcase filled.
“You might want to make arrangements to sell the house,” Eric shrugged. “I have no desire to move to another state, and you have proven to me there is no advantage to your being here. I don’t foresee any circumstance where I would welcome you back.”
“You can’t keep me away indefinitely.” Bill sounded defeated.
“I am willing to forego the income I make from you,” Eric smiled, “A hardship, to be sure.” Bill walked into his garage. The Ford sedan started and there was some kind of easy listening music on the radio. “Looks like you chose well, Bill,” Eric stood beside him as Bill hefted his suitcase into the trunk, “Roomy trunk. It should have enough room for you and your luggage if you drive at the same speed as all the other old ladies who own these vehicles.”
“You think we should follow him?” Owen asked as they watched Bill Compton’s care move down the driveway.
Eric shook his head, “The Kings will let me know when he checks in. If he isn’t there by tomorrow night, a message will be sent.”
“What about the rest of the mess here?” Owen knew he didn’t need to elaborate.
“Leave them for now.” Eric considered the possibilities. At a minimum, Bill’s buried treasures were leverage against the vampire’s good behavior.
“What next?” Owen was standing loose and relaxed. Eric glanced at his watch. It had been an hour and there was no message from Sookie. Eric thought about sitting on the too small couch in the Stackhouse living room.
“I would like to tell Indira about Bill Compton personally.” His fingers moved quickly, texting. “Good, she is at Fangtasia tonight and will be expecting us.” He glanced at the Were, “Why don’t you have Charles meet us there?”
Eric knew Owen wasn’t fooled. He did not have to pass information about Bill Compton personally. There was no real reason to go to Fangtasia, except the best one. Eric thought about the squealing voices of his wife and her friend, “Get in,” he barked and he walked over to the driver’s side door. He was pretty sure he saw Owen giving an eye roll and they were in the Corvette and speeding down the road.
“Majesty!” Indira was all smiles as she straightened up, radiant in her bright orange sari. “It has been too long. You chose an auspicious evening to visit us. There are several here you will recognize. There is also news from Long Tooth Pack.”
Eric followed the petite woman through the back door of the club. He found himself looking with some fondness at the walls and halls. So many memories were made here. There had been moments of wonder and there had been moments of terror. For some reason he found himself remembering Akiro’s face as he accepted his fate. It had been a brave moment, a warrior’s moment. They walked into Pam’s old office. Eric found himself glancing at the door of the other office, the one that had been his. “What do you use it for?” he asked Indira.
She followed his eyes, “I keep it for Pam and Max, in case they want to visit. Fangtasia is theirs. I am their tenant.”
“Their working tenant,” Eric corrected.
“Their working tenant manager,” Indira grinned back. “Business is good, which is well, because the problems in the Area grow.”
“Nomads?” Eric asked.
“And their orphan progeny. The last group was worse than the one before it. Several were unhinged. There was an incident and we had to use glamour.” She shrugged, “It’s only a matter of time before something is caught and uploaded to the Internet. This will reflect badly on all vampires.”
“Under other circumstances I would suspect the Fellowship was back.” Eric steepled his fingers. Eric thought again of Jane’s empty seat just over the border. His former Sheriff spent precious little time organizing her Area, but without her, any infrastructure she had put in place would be drifting.
As if reading his mind, Indira said, “I heard from Karin. She is spending time in Jane’s headquarters assessing things.”
“I wasn’t aware of this,” Eric frowned.
“She and Thomas have been traveling across the state since their return. Karin contacted me to see if we were having the same issues, since we share the border. Karin said she wanted to have all her facts in place before updating Pam.”
Eric nodded. He had been certain placing Thomas, and by extension, Karin, in Arkansas was the right decision. It was what gave him the luxury of asking Pam to step down as Regent. Indira was waiting for him to speak. “I am pleased to hear they are working well with you. You mentioned you had news of Long Tooth?”
“You are aware Alcide Herveaux stepped aside as Packmaster?” Eric nodded. Sookie had told him and more details were provided through Emil Touissant, the Packmaster of the New Orleans Pack. It wasn’t usual for a Packmaster to step aside except in the case of illness, but these weren’t usual circumstances. Herveaux had been foolish and his actions endangered his Pack and Sookie. It was revealed Alcide’s own home was bugged, the information used by Felipe de Castro to damage the territory. Weres were killed and the former Packmaster was disgraced. Shari Decker, his wife’s former guard, had left their service to throw her hat into the ring as the next Packmaster.
“They have declared a new Packmaster?” Eric prompted Indira.
“They have and the local Weres are still talking of it. It was a traditional fight, but there are changes too and it has created uncertainty among them.” When Eric waited, Indira continued, “The new Packmaster is your former day man, Mustapha Khan.”
Eric’s eyes widened. This was not expected. “Shari Decker?” he asked.
“She was killed. It wasn’t supposed to be a fight to the death. The Pack is smaller now and they didn’t want to weaken themselves, but there was an accident. She is mourned and Mustapha has offered to pay a penalty.”
“Sookie will be sorry to hear this.” Eric dreaded the idea of having to tell her. She would cry, her tears making him uncomfortable. He glanced up to see Indira watching him. “I can understand how the Pack might be uneasy. Mustapha is not a traditional choice.”
Indira grinned, “No, he is not. Weres are not as enlightened as vampires. They may accept a female as Alpha, but they have odd traditions in other respects.” Eric couldn’t see Mustapha finalizing his ascension as Packmaster by mating with a female. Mustapha just didn’t swing that way, and he didn’t think Warren, Mustapha’s companion, would approve. Then Indira surprised him further by saying, “I am expecting Mustapha here tonight. He said he wanted to touch base as a courtesy. I think the real reason is this place holds fond memories for him.”
“I would like to stay, if that meets with your approval.” Eric said it so Indira would know that he didn’t want to interfere. He knew there were Kings who micro-managed their staff. Felipe de Castro had been one. Eric found he performed better as a Sheriff, made more money for the Kingdom when given the freedom to run his territory, and he extended the same courtesy to his Sheriffs now.
“I would be honored if you’d participate in this first meeting,” Indira assured him. “In truth, I anticipate the look on his face when he sees you. He is a good fighter. I will long remember the glorious battle that ended with Victor Madden’s death. Having Mustapha Khan in position will be welcome in these uncertain times.”
“He is a good fighter,” Eric agreed. Still, he felt uneasy. Mustapha was a good fighter and a good employee. He had saved Sookie’s life. During those last days in Louisiana, Eric knew Mustapha Khan was in turmoil. The Were had not exactly betrayed Eric, but it had been close. When Mustapha was Eric’s employee, he unlocked the back door of Eric’s home, allowing a woman named Kym, a Were tainted with Fae blood, inside. It was a fraught night, Felipe de Castro quizzing for news about the missing Victor Madden, fighting with Sookie. Mustapha’s actions set in motion circumstances that led to Eric’s being arrested for murder that night. The Were found himself caught between Fae, vampires, and his own personal code, and the result almost lost Mustapha the one person he loved most, his companion, Warren.
Eric also knew that the Were was angry about the situation with Oklahoma. Khan’s last official act as his employee was to retrieve the last of Eric’s things from Sookie in the days before he left Louisiana to be married to Freyda. When the Were dropped off the box, his face was closed. There were words that needed to be said, but Felipe’s people were too close to allow confidences. Instead, Eric had said, “I release you,” and it was done. They had not spoken again.
Since that time, Eric had had no word of Mustapha Khan. ‘Well,’ Eric thought, ‘we live in interesting times.’
When Eric exited the office, he found both Owen and Charles waiting in the hallway. It seemed too soon for Charles to be there. From what Compton told him, Eric expected returning the human to his home should have taken his guard hours. “Trouble?” he asked.
Charles shook his head, but the look on the guard’s face told Eric there was more to the story. As they walked into the club, Eric said to Indira, “I have rescinded Bill Compton’s welcome to my territories.”
“As of when?” she asked.
“Effective immediately. Bill should be in Mississippi by tonight and he has been told he is not to return.”
“Good!” his sheriff’s voice was mild, but it made Eric wonder what else she knew. They were in the main part of the club and it was a busy night. The acoustic baffles in the hallway kept the decibels to a more manageable level, but here, where the pulse of the music simulated a human heart, the sound pressed against him. They headed to the corner booth, ‘my booth,’ Eric thought fondly.
As they sat it was impossible to miss the heads turning their way. Eric could hear the buzz of conversation over the sound of music, and he heard his own name bouncing from one end of the club to the other. No sooner were they settled then two vampires presented themselves. Eric remembered them. They had been residents in this Area for almost as long as he had been Sheriff here.
“Majesty!” the one on the left exclaimed. As soon as Eric nodded they both executed a deep bow. As they rose again, the one on the right said, “Congratulations!” Eric nodded again, expecting them to move on, but they didn’t. They stood absolutely still, as vampires do, and gawked.
Eric glanced from one to the other, “It is pleasant to see you again. You look like you have done well.”
“Thanks to you!” the vampire on the left stammered.
“You gave us our opportunity,” right vampire added, “We are most grateful.”
From behind them a voice said, “Come on! You’ve had your turn!” The pair bowed once more and as they stepped to the side, Eric could see a line had formed.
“You are a legend,” Indira said quietly. “We remember when you were one among us. Now you rule us.”
There were vampires in the line, but there were humans too, and even a few Weres. All were waiting for their chance to honor the one they saw as one of their own.
From their post against the wall, Owen turned to Charles, “There will be no living with him after this.”
Charles shrugged, “Hey, he can use all the ego-building he can get. You know why he’s here, right?”
“Running,” Owen nodded.
“You bet,” Charles chuckled. “The Little Princess is at her sister-in-law’s house right now with her Bon Temps posse.”
“Makes my sac shrivel, just thinking about those weeks before my wedding. I don’t think I got to say more than two words the whole time,” and Owen smirked.
“I remember those words. ‘Yes, dear.’ Damn, just saying them gives me the cold chill.”
Owen’s eye flicked to the door, “He’s here,” and all trace of humor disappeared. Charles moved forward to alert Eric that Mustapha Khan, the new Packmaster of Long Tooth Pack, was in Fangtasia.
One of Indira’s vampires was standing before the booth. Another of Indira’s people turned to the growing line of well-wishers, “Disperse!” There was grumbling, but that didn’t stop the smiling and waving. Owen turned to find himself face to shoulder with Mustapha Khan.
“Why don’t we take this to the office?” Indira asked politely. Mustapha turned, but not before Owen saw him give the shorter Were an assessing look. “Congratulations,” Indira continued smoothly. “It is always a great pleasure when deserving people gain those things they wish.”
Mustapha didn’t turn his head as he said, “Looks like you developed a thing for Weres, Northman.”
“Once I tried black I never went back,” was the quick response. Mustapha laughed loudly and Eric Northman laughed with him. Owen glanced at Charles, ‘He is full of surprises,’ he thought.
The Packmaster sipped his bourbon and then turned the glass so the ice slid against the side with a clinking sound. “I suppose I should be congratulating you, too, Eric. Looks like you finally got your wish and it wasn’t even Christmas.”
“Which wish was that?” Eric was genuinely happy to see Mustapha. There was something about this man that rang authentic. You might not like what the Packmaster had to say, but you knew he would tell you the truth as he saw it.
“Well, it sure as hell ain’t being King,” and Mustapha raised his glass to take another sip. “Kind of nice how you folks are getting all kinds of romantic. Far as I can tell ain’t but one or two of these pledgings in anyone’s memory. I go away for a while and when I get back, it’s pledging here, pledging there, pledging everywhere.”
“It does seem I have found my luck,” Eric smiled politely.
“And my sources tell me you are booking restaurants and halls all over town. What happened? Once wasn’t enough?” There was something about the way the tall Packmaster was watching him that had Eric chuckling.
“She wants her human wedding too,” and Eric sipped his blood to hide the way his smile dropped.
“You sure about this?” Mustapha didn’t look at Eric. He looked at the amber liquid in his glass. “Sounds like old times.”
“In what way?” Eric considered asking Indira to leave the room, but decided against it. If there was an impediment in the relationship between the Were and himself, it would be best that the Sheriff of this Area understand the nature of the concern.
“She never treated you right. She never respected you the way she should,” and Mustapha lifted his glass as if to say, ‘There, there it is.’
“Sookie has changed,” Eric said mildly. He knew Mustapha was unhappy at the end and the Viking assumed the unhappiness was directed at himself. It hadn’t occurred to him that Mustapha Khan wasn’t pleased with Sookie.
“I hope so, for your sake,” the Were shook his head. “Me? I don’t believe people change who they are deep down, not really,” and he looked at Eric in that direct, hawk-nosed way he had. “You want to hear this?” Eric nodded, once. “She is good people, a good heart. But she aimed that heart at every bad-luck, shit-heel loser she could find. She threw herself at people who treated her like dirt and she threw anyone who treated her good to the side like yesterday’s news.”
“She saved Warren’s life,” Eric reminded the Packmaster.
“And I saved her from that fucked-up bodyguard, Tyrese. So what? I was there when she let her instincts kick in and her instincts picked out that worthless shifter. I told her about Jannalyn, warned her. That shifter was in it up to his eyeballs with that little psychopath. Didn’t matter. Shit went down and there she went too, on her knees and leaving you hanging in the wind.”
“She didn’t understand,” Eric said carefully.
“Them’s the times that count most, when you act most purely. No thought, just what’s true to you. And that? What she did? That was true to her. I believed it then, and I got to tell you, Eric, I believe it now.” There was a bottle of bourbon on a shelf near Indira’s desk and Mustapha rose and walked over to replenish his glass.
“You think she means to betray me in some way?” Eric felt uneasiness that was sliding to anger. He could see his Lover, his wife, as she lay open and vulnerable below him. He could see her tears and how her eyes shone when she told him she loved him.
“I think she already has. Why isn’t pledging enough? She chose you, she shouldn’t be asking you to prove it again. It’s never enough with her when it comes to you,” and Mustapha sat back down.
Eric recalled the Reverend Collins’ words, “We live in the world of humans as well. Sookie’s ancestral home is here and we’ll be spending some part of our lives here in Bon Temps.” Eric’s eyes slid to his Sheriff, “I am sorry, Indira, this is not how I would have chosen to inform you. I view it as a secondary home and I will maintain my own protection. I will not use it as an excuse to interfere. I respect your work and I trust you enough with my safety and that of my family to wish to spend time in this Area.” It was the best way Eric could think to both compliment and assure Indira that she would not be sidelined. He did value her and he understood her need for independence. He didn’t wish to cause her to reconsider remaining with him.
The Viking turned back to Mustapha, “You are right. A pledging is sacred. It means everything to our kind, but these humans? They don’t understand. They only recognize their own wedding rite. It makes sense to them and they will accept it between us.”
“What do you care what they think?” the Packmaster growled.
“My wife is a telepath. She hears every slight, every insult these humans think. You know how it is here, you have come from here.” Eric jerked his chin toward the door, “They are happy now, comfortable in their illusion that we are somehow domesticated, but it is a tricky thing, being different. One minute they love you…”
“Then next it’s pitchforks and torches,” the Were agreed.
“I wish Sookie to be comfortable living among them. This place is important to her.”
“Because of her Fae connections?” and Mustapha’s eyes were challenging. Eric wasn’t surprised Mustapha was angry about the Fae. He had been manipulated by them and it almost cost them both a great deal.
“My Fae connections too, now.” Eric acknowledged.
“So, Niall really made an alliance with you?” Indira looked down, instantly contrite.
“Yes,” Eric answered her, and then looked back at Mustapha, “the Fae are now my fair-weather friends as well.”
“Women!” the Were snorted.
“Women, indeed!” Eric agreed. As they rose, Eric asked, “Will you retain Sookie’s status as Friend of the Pack?”
Mustapha’s lip curled, “Why? That important to you?”
“You might want to give her an opportunity to demonstrate her value to your Pack,” Eric said reasonably. “You may find that her skills are of value.”
“What skills are those?” Mustapha challenged.
“She reads Weres now,” Eric shared. “It’s not commonly known but I trust you with this knowledge, as my friend.” Mustapha nodded once and together they walked back into the club. There was music playing and the crowd seemed to have grown in the time they had been in the office. “Where’s Warren?” Eric asked.
“Outside. You know this ain’t really his thing,” the Packmaster shrugged. The Were looked around, “Good memories, Hoss. Fun times.”
Eric was certain he was remembering that night long ago, the night Victor Madden and his crew were slaughtered here. “The best of times.” He looked out at the dance floor, “Interested?”
“Thought you’d never ask,” and the Packmaster led the way. The response from the crowd was instantaneous. There was a low roar of approval as the pale vampire and dark Were danced, first fast and then closer, teasing the audience. Others danced around them and they separated, dancing with women, men, singles, groups and then working back toward each other.
At one point Eric found himself face to face with Heidi, the tracker. Felipe de Castro sent her to him many years ago as a spy, but now she was his friend. “How are you?” Eric asked her.
“Happy to see you,” she replied. Eric had tried to help save her son, Charlie, from drugs and Las Vegas, but it had been a lost cause. The Viking’s willingness to help earned Eric her loyalty and gratitude. “It’s good to see you,” and she leaned forward and kissed him.
Eric pulled back, gaining a little distance. The smell of heated blood and sweet sweat was everywhere. Eric couldn’t deny the pull he felt, the temptation of slipping into fangbangers shared with companions. He excused himself and headed for the booth. He pulled out his phone and texted Sookie, ‘When?’
She called him back almost immediately and he could hear what sounded like drunken laughter in the background. There were obviously more than just a few women there now. “Hi honey,” Sookie’s voice was slightly slurred.
“Sookie, it sounds like you are having a good time,” Eric said carefully.
“Sounds like you are too!” she laughed, “Where the hell are you? It sounds so loud!”
“Fangtasia,” he couldn’t imagine she thought it was anywhere else.
“Oh, so that’s why you didn’t come back?” Her voice wasn’t so happy now.
“I was waiting for you to text me,” Eric felt the ground was shifting.
“Nice. So you leave me here and go partying? We’re supposed to be planning our wedding,” and Sookie hiccupped.
Eric could tell this wasn’t going well, “I told you I had some things to do.” He decided this was not the time to mention Bill Compton.
“And those things involved Fangtasia?” the sarcasm dripped through the phone.
“Indira is here,” Eric was getting angry, resenting having to explain himself.
“Well, I’m here!” and her tone was not reasonable, “and I think I’ll just stay here tonight. Jason’s home and he’s helping.” Eric knew this was meant as some sort of rebuke. Heidi was back at the table, her eyes laughing. Around him people were smiling and gesturing him to return to the dance floor.
“If that is your wish,” Eric answered. “I’ll send one of the Weres.”
“Don’t bother!” She was angry, although Eric wasn’t sure why. “Jason is perfectly capable of keeping an eye on little old me!”
“I will send someone anyway,” Eric persisted.
“Fine!” she spit.
“Fine,” he automatically responded. As he heard the call disconnect, Eric wondered if he could remove that word from the spoken language.