Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
“You look more beautiful every time I see you,” Stan assured her.
“Since I’m incapable of changing, I know you are lying,” Sookie answered, but then smiled to soften her words before adding, “but you are kind to say so.”
“Your mate tells me you’ve developed a new skill that requires his services,” and Stan winked.
“My husband’s delight in teasing me hasn’t changed, either,” Sookie replied. She was no longer capable of blushing, but it didn’t mean she couldn’t still be made to feel uncomfortable. She didn’t have to look at Eric. She could feel his unrepentant mirth bubbling through their bond. ‘Third grader!’ she thought, pushing her scolding toward him, which only seemed to amuse him further.
“I’m sure you’re both finding ruling is different,” Stan smiled tightly, and Sookie read Stan’s annoyance.
“It is,” she acknowledged, opting for honesty. Turning to Eric, she added, “Isn’t it?”
Eric did that odd shift, snapping from Pam’s prank-playing buddy back to King, “It is different than other experiences.” Sookie felt his nostalgia, but he showed no sign of it, neither in his posture nor inflection. “I have been, many times, close to the throne, but there are subtleties to ruling which I didn’t appreciate until the role was mine.”
“I think that’s everyone’s experience,” Stan agreed. “You know I shadowed my predecessor for decades, acting in his place before his passing. It still didn’t fully prepare me.”
“It’s the endless ceremonies,” Sookie shrugged.
Stan nodded, “In most ways, the role is ceremonial, but, at the same time, it’s knowing you are the mark by which everyone else sets their standard. How you express yourself determines how decisions are made. It’s that part of being King I find most exhausting, the knowledge I’m being watched every minute, my every action and word judged.” He smiled and, for a moment, the nerdy vampire with the floppy hair and pocket protector was back. “It’s why I like visiting with you. You knew me before and you don’t really care if I act kingly.” It hung in the air between them, the slight accusation, ‘Because you don’t,’ though Stan didn’t say it.
“Maybe it’s that I don’t really believe in Kings and Queens,” Sookie shrugged, deflecting things toward herself.
“Maybe your true special talent lies in your ability to accept us for exactly who we are,” Stan countered, his eyes shifting to Eric in formalized permission before he took her hand, raising it to his lips in salute. “I know you don’t take me too seriously and it allows me to trust you, Sookie,” and he dropped her hand, before adding, “and you, too, Eric, of course, above all others.”
“If that’s the case,” Sookie smiled gently, “then you’ll tell us if you really mean to move against New Mexico.” She felt Eric’s shock and then censure, but she’d already said the words and she made a point of keeping her expression kind. Stan’s eyes flicked between them and, for a moment, Sookie saw that Texas struggled with paranoia as much as she. “You don’t really need to tell us,” Sookie added, giving Stan a way out. “It’s your business after all, not ours.”
Stan made his decision. “I am,” he confessed. “There are so few vampires there and they are struggling. They’ve been stealing from me, my subjects. The King has holed up in his compound, rhapsodizing about the sun. I’m told he’s selling blood to support his lifestyle. He cares nothing for the welfare of his subjects.”
“You’re told, or you know?” Eric asked.
“I know,” Stan shrugged. “I also know which of his courtiers is yours. You should pull her out before things get started.”
“I will let her know,” Eric nodded.
Sookie wasn’t surprised Eric had a spy in New Mexico. She knew he paid for spies in many places, most rulers did. She wondered, sometimes, looking at the faces surrounding her here in Louisiana who were the paid spies of others. It made these moments, when she could just speak her mind, almost precious. She identified with what Stan was saying, about the tedium of always having to watch her words. In this world of vampires and politics, she could count on one hand those with whom she could have unguarded conversations and she realized that, as of now, the King of Texas was one.
“I appreciate you giving us advance warning,” Eric was saying.
“I like you,” Stan replied. “I always have, but there have been times these past years when you’ve made it hard to remember that.” Eric didn’t say anything, but Stan did. “You play at being King, Eric. When I pushed you in this direction, I thought you’d step into the role and make it your own. Can you say you have?”
Eric didn’t answer, there was no need. “No,” Stan continued. “Instead, you make quick fixes and delegate as much as you can. Louisiana was a disaster when you took it. Can you say it’s much better since you came?”
“Are you threatening me?” Eric asked.
“No,” Stan said quickly, “but I couldn’t count myself any kind of friend if I didn’t point out I’m not your only potential threat.” Sookie found herself staring at Eric. Her natural distrust wanted to push back at every word Stan said but, in her heart of hearts, she knew the Texas King was telling the truth. “Together, you have the potential to make this kingdom rise again, but all I hear about is petty squabbling and long-term liabilities.” Stan shook his head, “How long before some ambitious vampire shows up, whether from your own Clan or another. You didn’t start with the best reputation, Eric, and if you fail to make Louisiana financially stable, you may find yourself facing Sophie-Ann’s fate,” and Stan’s gaze shifted, “along with your mate and all your progeny.”
“It has proven challenging,” Eric conceded.
“You ran Area Five like a fiefdom,” Stan pressed on. “It was an independent kingdom for all intents and purposes. It was so lucrative that you, of all Sophie-Ann’s Sheriffs, were spared. Felipe was no fool. He knew a good thing when he saw it. I see the same potential. It’s why I aimed you here after Freyda’s death.”
“You wanted me out of Oklahoma,” Eric countered.
“You had no supporters there,” Stan countered. “I said it then, and I say it now. If you had returned and tried to rule in Freyda’s place, you would already be finally dead, and I’d have an unstable neighbor to my North. Besides, returning here saved your mate. Who better to rule by your side? I’d say I did you a favor.”
“Don’t argue with him, Eric!” Sookie warned, her teasing tone trying to make the mood friendlier.
Eric caught himself, changing his direction to match his mate’s. “And I won’t,” he answered lightly. “Any price was worth gaining you, my Sookie,” and the general sense of amity was restored.
Later, Sookie found herself reflecting on the conversation. “How bad is it, really?” she asked her mate.
Eric looked up from his book, “What?”
“The ‘royal’ bank account?” She waited. Eric tried to shrug it off, but she pushed through the bond and eventually he closed the book on his finger, his signal that he didn’t expect this discussion to take long.
“You shouldn’t let others influence you,” he told her.
Sookie recognized the dodge for what it was. “I’m not,” she said lightly. “I guess this is my ham-handed way of apologizing for not showing more of an interest sooner.”
“You’ve had enough to do,” and Eric grinned. “I do remember the difficulties of adjusting to this life. It was consuming, and I had my Maker to smooth my path. You have done well, Sookie, better than anyone expected.”
“Karin told me most orphaned newborns don’t make it. She said when a new vampire rises without its Maker it usually goes insane.” It was a piece of information Sookie had held onto for years, afraid to say it out loud and find out it was true.
“She shouldn’t have said that,” and Eric set down the book. “There are no statistics to bear out that conclusion.”
“But, you believe it.” Sookie could feel it in him. “It’s okay,” she added. “I’m better. I know I’m going to be all right.”
Sookie caught a taste of something that felt like relief. “You are my miracle,” Eric was purring, and opened his arms.
Sookie curled into his lap, still amazed at how easily they fit together. “Do you think we’ll be doing this when I’m a hundred?” she laughed.
Eric purred louder, sounding like some great, lazy cat. “Soon, you’ll no longer think of the years. There will be us and those like us, and the passing colors that are everyone and everything else.” He kissed her head, “And yes, even then, we will do this.”
It was good, sitting here, holding each other. It was something she’d dreamed of in her human time, sitting in her kitchen in Chester. She’d daydreamed of one day reuniting with Eric Northman and his open-armed return to loving her. Now it had happened, and she realized her dreams never ventured to what lay beyond. “I want to know about the kingdom,” she whispered. “I’ve been selfish.” When he protested, Sookie pushed back, “It’s true. I’ve left you alone in figuring out all the problems you took on when you became King. In fact, it’s worse. I’ve been one more worry in the sack of worries you’ve had to carry.” Sookie leaned back to gaze into her vampire’s eyes. “I’m ready, Eric. I’m better than I’ve ever been. I have skills, let me help you.”
“You’ve never shown any interest in vampire politics,” he reminded her.
“Look who’s talking! You’re not all that much different from me,” Sookie reminded him. “I haven’t been vampire so long I don’t remember how things were! You did just as much as you needed to do, but you resented it. You think I don’t remember how you complained when Felipe took over? You were miserable! You played the game, but not well, not that I can talk. I pushed the idea of killing Victor and you jumped for it. We were both happy to take the shortcut, but now you’re King. There’s no one to kill to make it all better, so I’m thinking we may both need to learn a new way of dealing with our problems.”
“You may decide these worries bore you,” he warned.
“You feel my restlessness,” Sookie pushed. “I’ve worked my whole life. I’m not saying I haven’t been working these past years, I’ve been working on myself, but, Eric,” and Sookie smiled for him, “I think you could use another pair of hands.” She nudged him, “You’ve said it yourself, I’m clever. You already have any potential partners spend time with me first. I’m good for more than softening people up. I’ve run businesses and managed households. I’ve charmed and maneuvered and made opportunities. What do you have to lose?”
“You really want to do this?” She didn’t have to be telepathic, Sookie could tell Eric was surprised.
“Why don’t you believe me?” she challenged.
Eric rushed to head her off, “I do, Lover! I do, it’s just…” and Sookie could see he made a decision. “You were never interested. There were times I tried to tell you about our world. I tried to…” and he looked away, at the same time pulling her closer. “I find myself wondering how this happened. You are here, living with me, rising every night beside me. I suppose I keep waiting for you to regain your footing and remember who you were.”
“What do you mean?” Sookie asked.
Eric smiled wryly, putting a happy face on his words. “You never wanted to share my life, not really. You were happy to be with me, but happier to see me go. You need me now, Älskare, but one day you will find your feet and when you do, you will decide to return to your independent life.”
Even though Sookie’s heart no longer beat, it still ached in her chest. She saw him look away, interpreting her unhappiness as proof. “No!” she protested, placing her hand on his cheek, turning him back to her. “No, Eric. I did feel that way and I’m ashamed for it.” She stroked his lower lip with her thumb. In all this time, he’d never confronted her about their past. “I am so sorry you carried that,” she told him. “I’m sorry for how I acted and how long it took me to figure it out.” She used the bond they shared, the one that once upon a time she’d resented, to pour her happiness and devotion into this man. “I’ve changed in more ways than just becoming a vampire. I am yours and you are mine. I’m not going to get tired of you or get restless. You’re stuck with me, Northman, and that’s not going to change.” She held up the hand that wore his gold band, “Sookie Northman. Mrs. Eric Northman. Ms. Stackhouse, wife of Eric Northman. I’ll have it tattooed on my ass if it makes you feel better.”
“Well, since any tattoo would fade within months, it’s a safe vow to make!” Eric growled, playfully tickling her. They wrestled, but after a few minutes, he quieted, leaning back, and just holding her. “You mean it?” he asked.
“I do,” she told him. “I love you, Eric, in a whole heart way. Only final death could make me leave you now and maybe not even that. Maybe I’ll come back and haunt you from the great beyond.”
“There would be no need,” he told her, the bond so wide open it made her gasp. “The day you leave this world, Lover, I will come with you,” and he twined his fingers through hers. “Forever.”
“Forever,” she agreed, a single red tear spilling over her cheek.
Eric remained still, savoring this moment, filing it away. ‘Forever,’ he thought, knowing this word meant different things to them. Until she’d existed as long as he had, Sookie couldn’t understand. He breathed in, savoring her. She still smelled of wheat, but the sunshine was gone from her flesh. He could remember how it smelled vividly enough to pretend it still existed, but when he was feeling reflective, like now, he felt the loss deeply. Still, the fact she remained in this life and with him was as he had said earlier; a miracle.
Since the day she’d risen, Eric had been waiting for her to leave. He knew her, had known her well. Granted, there were those years she’d lived away from him, raising their son, but in Eric’s experience, people never really changed, not about fundamental things. Sookie had often protested otherwise, but her actions in those years during their first pledging made clear how much she disapproved of the particulars that came with being a vampire.
At first, he worried she’d succumb to her despair over becoming vampire. Rick had protested, claiming his Mother felt differently and Sookie said the words as well, but Eric felt her depression. When her struggles sent her into increasingly erratic spirals, he taught her downtime. She embraced it, sometimes for nights at a stretch, placing herself in limbo, drifting further and further away. She would come out of it to speak with their son, but as Rick became more involved in his own life, her time in the present, with Eric and those here in New Orleans, became less. It hurt him, but he refused to confront her. When Sookie drifted, she was at peace and he couldn’t deny her that comfort. It was an escape many of those abandoned at first turning took, drifting and drifting until one night, they never returned.
Pam teased him about it, but when one year became three, she stopped. ‘Fight for her!’ she’d scolded, but Eric knew the useless pain that would cause. Sookie might choose to try harder for a while, but he was sure she didn’t really want this life, didn’t want him. She never had and the night she realized that for herself, he would lose her forever.
Then, in Rick’s sophomore year in high school, they were visiting Chester. It was Parent’s Weekend and as they had in past, they attended the opening festivities at the school, shaking hands, and taking their family portrait, but at the end of the evening, they escaped across town to the Annual Town Dance. Karin was there, dancing with Peter, Rick’s friend. Rick was on stage playing fiddle, filling in for Peter, and Sookie seemed content, but then, she slipped into downtime. It was the first time Eric remembered her doing it when Rick was around. Maybe she thought it would go unnoticed, but Rick saw it right away. He stopped playing, walking off the stage.
“Mom?” he’d called, and he was afraid. “Does she do this often?” he demanded from Eric.
“She finds it restful,” Eric tried to explain. Rick wasn’t having it.
“Mom!” he called more forcefully, and he shook her arm. Sookie hadn’t gone far and her eyes snapped back into focus. She was a little disoriented as she always was when she returned, so she didn’t react quickly when Rick started to cry.
Eric was stunned. People were staring and Sookie looked stressed, so he wrapped his arm around Rick and did his best to escort them past the dancers and out the open doors. Sookie was more herself by the time they’d reached the benches that lined the walkway outside. “Why did you do that?” Rick sobbed at his Mother.
“What?” Sookie stumbled.
“Why didn’t you stop her?” he demanded of Eric, all angry words. “Why would you let her do that?”
“It’s just downtime,” Sookie stammered, reaching out to touch Rick’s arm.
“It’s not and you know it! You don’t think I can tell what you’re thinking? Mom!” and when Sookie opened her arms, he stepped into them. It was Rick who was the taller now. He wasn’t as tall as Eric, not yet, but he was so thin Sookie’s arms easily met around his slim waist. “You need to stop that!” he scolded, “You need to try! I thought you were happy.”
“I am,” Sookie protested, “It’s just adapting to this way…it’s so hard, Rick.”
“Why aren’t you helping her?” he spat at Eric. There were times Eric almost saw Rick as his son, but then there were times like this when Rick reminded him that, in many ways, he was still an outsider in his son’s life.
“I can only do so much,” Eric shrugged. “I…” and he stopped talking. He felt his despair and Sookie gasped, making him cover his lapse as gracefully as possible.
“Eric!” she groaned and he saw he’d revealed too much. Eric turned to assure Rick he’d try harder, only to find Rick using the same face he’d used on his Mother a moment before.
“I didn’t understand,” Rick told him, and his too-old eyes let Eric know his son could now read him, too.
Things changed that night. Rick’s attitude toward Eric shifted. In some way, Eric felt his son, at last, had accepted the place Eric held in his Mother’s life. More importantly, Sookie declared she was done with downtime, vowing to Rick, and then, later as they lay together, to him she would stop looking back and instead focus on looking forward. She had kept her promise, being in the moment, interacting with her new world. Eric knew it wasn’t easy for her, but she tried and, when she became discouraged, she opened up instead of shutting down, inviting discussion until she found the courage to try again.
Eric watched her slow, yet steady progress as she rediscovered parts of herself she’d locked away. He saw her kindness return first, and then her sense of humor. She showed moments of confidence that triggered memories of the brave, foolish girl who welcomed him into her house and stepped forward to accept their bonding. It was one of the failings of being vampire, though. You couldn’t remember the good without remembering the bad and it didn’t slip Eric’s attention that as Sookie regained her self, she never asked about joining his work. That is, until now.
Her hand crept up to rest on his chest, “Is that why things here aren’t better?” she asked. He wasn’t sure what she meant, but she clarified it after kissing his shoulder, “Were you waiting because you figured I’d commit suicide?”
“Or leave me, yes,” he said, deciding the time for hiding was over. “I haven’t entirely ignored my duties here. I have people in place, business is being done, it’s just the time it would demand would mean leaving you alone…”
“If I wasn’t helping,” Sookie nodded. “If I continued to be one more thing for you to do.”
“You are the only thing worth doing.” He didn’t protest or try to convince. Eric simply said the words as truth.
“Good grief!” Sookie laughed, “I’ve broken you!”
Eric chuckled, “That is what Pam says, yes.”
“I really have been selfish,” Sookie repeated. He could feel the damp on his shirt and figured she was crying. It wasn’t like before. Sookie’s tears now smelled of Sookie. “I want to start over,” she whispered. “I can’t say I really know what it means to be a wife, but I’m guessing it isn’t what I’ve been these past few years and it sure as hell wasn’t what I was doing before I left for Boston. When I think back on how I behaved?” She turned her face to him. She was crying, her eyes rimmed with red. “I’m ashamed of myself, Eric.”
“You have nothing to be ashamed about,” Eric shrugged.
“You’re wrong,” Sookie told him. “I promised myself, all those years we were apart, if I ever had the chance to be with you again, I’d do things differently and look at me! I’ve made all the same mistakes. I got so wrapped up in my problems I stopped thinking about you, what you needed.”
“The witch told me once that the day you realized Rick was my son, it was your best day,” Eric told her.
“It was,” Sookie replied, a smile dancing over his lips. “It gave me a chance to have a little part of you back. He is such a wonderful person. I am so proud of him…”
“As am I,” Eric assured her.
Sookie sobered, straightening up, and sliding so she could sit beside Eric. “But this isn’t about Rick,” she told him. “This is about us. I realize I don’t have a great idea of how we should move forward, but I know how we’ve been doing it is wrong.”
“I have no complaints,” Eric laughed, making light of it.
“Well, you should,” Sookie stated. “You should demand more from me, Eric. You deserve a partner and a work mate. I’ve been your Lover, but not your friend, and you deserve that, too. I am your wife, and you deserve every part of what that means.”
Eric couldn’t help feeling amused. ‘Big words,’ he thought, even though it touched him that she was using them.
“And I have complaints,” Sookie continued. “You have failed me, too.” Those words were not amusing, and Eric felt his pride twinge. “You should have called me out on my shit a long time ago. You let me wallow and you didn’t respect me enough to demand I get over myself.”
“You have been fragile,” he protested. “I was happy to have what part of you I could.”
“Do you really think me that weak?” Sookie demanded. “By feeding my self-pity you kept me this way.”
Eric growled. He was angry, and he wanted to be angry at Sookie, but some part of her words felt too close to the mark. “Fine,” he sniffed. “Although I don’t think you have any idea what you’re asking.” He picked up his book, walking the few feet to their bed chamber, and set it on the nightstand, needing distance between them. “If you wish me to do this, I won’t stop, even if you beg and whine.” It hurt, this certainty that by pushing her, he was sealing their mutual doom.
“I’m made of sterner stuff,” she told him, and rising, followed to stand behind him, pressing her hand to his back. “Trust me, Eric. Believe in me, believe in us.”
‘So, what would you like to do first?” Eric asked, refusing to turn. “What task do you think real married people should address to be true to themselves?”
“Finances,” Sookie answered.
“I’d suggest another,” Eric replied, and turning, he said the word that hovered daily around the palace, “Rebellion.”
For the first time that Eric could recall, Sookie Stackhouse sat next to him and paid attention. For the two hours they had left until the sun rose high enough to take her, she remained engaged. She asked questions. She was stressed, he could feel it, but instead of fighting him, she agreed to feed again to neutralize her distraction. What’s more, she didn’t insist on the extra time it took to arrange a donor in her private feeding space. Sookie asked him to accompany her, but she used the communal feeding area in the palace basement. She continued the conversation the whole way down the elevator ride and she didn’t fidget or balk before she fed. Eric had called ahead and there were two donors waiting, so she’d have a choice. She moved immediately to the male and bit and, although Eric felt her arousal, she was able to ignore the urge until they were together on the elevator and headed back upstairs. She tried to continue their conversation, but her need pushed at her. “I’m sorry…” she stammered.
“No need,” he conceded, and swept her forward as soon as the elevator doors opened. He took her, hard and fast, against the wall of their chambers, satisfying them both, but although he could feel her interest in continuing, she held back.
She kissed his nose, slid down his torso to her feet, and asked, “What do you think needs to change first to fix things here?”
Eric wasn’t sure how to start. Felipe de Castro had used his time on the throne to destroy Sophie-Ann’s way of ruling. Instead of supporting each other, De Castro’s philosophy was to pit one Area against the other, rewarding Sheriffs for damaging each other, encouraging double dealing. ‘Survival of the Fittest,’ he called it, and it was a culture that had taken root. Outsiders were attracted to Louisiana, many little more than mercenaries, because if they proved ruthless and lucky, De Castro, or his Second, Angie, rewarded them. Now, Felipe, his Second, and all of his Sheriffs here in Louisiana were finally dead. Those who came to serve the dead King fled back to Nevada. The fights for that Kingdom were the fodder of vampire gossip and Eric was grateful his own kingdom wasn’t experiencing that level of unrest.
That didn’t mean things in Louisiana were well, though. It was hard to root out bad apples once they’d established themselves and it was even harder changing attitudes. Rubio Hermosa was doing a credible job as Sheriff of Area Five, Eric’s old stomping grounds, but most viewed him as little more than a glorified accountant. Heidi, the tracker, also remained in the North. She was no leader either, but her support helped solidify Rubio’s hold. There was new money in that part of the state, oil money, and it made humans boastful and stupid.
Vampires weren’t the only ones being targeted by stupid humans with more money than sense. The Two-Natured community, both Weres and Shifters were having problems too. For Rubio, and by extension, Eric, the saving grace was there weren’t more than a handful of vampires left in Area Five. Fewer souls meant the challenges of administering to their needs was easier. An additional help was that in some human circles, Heidi’s skills were prized and that allowed deals to be struck and extra money to be made.
The same couldn’t be said of the remaining Areas in his Kingdom. When Sookie first met Eric, the border between Louisiana and Mississippi was supervised by Gervais and the border with Texas by Cleo. Both were killed by de Castro when he staged his takeover. Aside from Area Five, Felipe installed his own people in every management role, often reaching far into the hierarchy, pushing out those who had been here longest. Now with de Castro gone, Eric struggled with vacancies and not enough loyal followers left to fill them.
Eric tried to find replacements, particularly for key positions, but seven years later, he was still searching. There were many he interviewed, but for each there was some reason to turn them down. There were vampires who believed him the same as Felipe. These were cruel, selfish vampires. They held humans and Weres cheap as dirt and trusted their instincts above everything else. Eric had refused his own daughter, Karin, promotion for just this attitude, but still these believed the days of de Castro remained and they stepped forward. Then, there were others, vampires he knew from other places or vampires who simply didn’t have the proper attitude for governing. The first he dismissed for fear they might be spies and the last he dismissed rather than set them up for failure. Eric believed the reason he hadn’t found the right candidates was because those who were worthy didn’t step forward. He knew he was an unknown quantity and those with experience knew better than to risk tying their future to Louisiana and Eric Northman.
Of course, the needs of his state didn’t diminish with time, they grew. With unrest, many vampires chose to leave, seeking better opportunities outside his borders, abandoning their businesses or selling them on the cheap to others. Eric understood. He had walked away from his restaurants and other ventures in Oklahoma, receiving pennies for their value. He still had wealth from his days as Sheriff of Area Five, but it was eroding as he reached into his own pocket to pay the debts of the kingdom. Felipe had systematically stripped the wealth of Louisiana, siphoning the greater part of its tithes and income to Nevada.
Money wasn’t the only issue. Even with the defections, there remained vampires living here, vampires with disputes and businesses and requests to be addressed. Aside from New Orleans, the greater part of his vassals lived in the abandoned territories, and so Eric needed representation there. Initially, Eric rotated the duties between Pam, Thalia, and Karin, but then Karin left to move North to Chester. Eric couldn’t deny his child. He had freed her centuries ago, so it wasn’t his decision to make, but he knew if he asked, she would delay. She would also resent him, so he gave both permission and blessing. She was better, happier. Eric couldn’t explain it, but on some level, he knew of both his progeny, Karin was the most like him. The irony wasn’t lost on him. Karin, who had resisted the attraction of humans, proud in her vampire heritage, had lost herself to a human as Eric had lost himself to Sookie Stackhouse.
While she had been here, Karin’s participation in supervising the two Areas allowed some respite for the others, but now with her gone, the full weight fell on Thalia and Pam. All their nights were spent holding things together. Every few months they traded, shuttling between the territories. The problems of these vampires were different and Pam and Thalia explained that trading the Areas back and forth was less stressful on them. He didn’t ask, but Eric suspected their shuttling was purposeful, not allowing him to become too comfortable with them settled in one Area or another.
If that was their purpose, they needn’t have bothered. Eric missed their strong presence in New Orleans to back him up. There was no one Eric trusted to step into the King’s place when the distraction of protecting Sookie meant he missed important dates or meetings and those lapses had not gone unnoticed. His Second was Pam, but Pam wasn’t here to be Second. His strong arm was Thalia and Thalia was too far away to protect him.
Aside from Rubio Hermosa, Eric had one other Sheriff spot filled. Maxwell Lee, the tall, elegant vampire who had made a reputation for himself in Sophie-Ann’s court, proving himself a trustworthy lieutenant, was now Sheriff of New Orleans. The City was, in itself, considered an Area. Only here did Louisiana vampires thrive and their population was larger than in most states. Part of it was the opportunities available, but Eric really credited their success on the people of the city. The citizens of NOLA loved their supernatural neighbors. From the time of the Great Revelation, New Orleans had opened its arms, celebrating vampires, and then Weres, with the same familiar love they’d reserved for Marie Leveau and zombies. Within weeks there were shops dedicated to them, tour guides including the Palace into its ‘Routes of New Orleans,’ and a complimentary, if pesky, cadre of news people who followed, reporting their celebrations and activities. Maxwell was the perfect face of vampire society. He used his personal wealth to support the arts and showed up at enough events to keep the public in love with their new, supernatural stars. There were other cities that hosted large populations of vampires, but only New Orleans celebrated them, and Eric and Sookie learned what it was to be followed and photographed.
The choice of Maxwell was made within Eric’s first year on the throne and it was perfect for the first few years, but recently, Eric wasn’t as certain. It wasn’t anything Maxwell said, but Eric noticed a certain, simmering resentment. When he asked, Maxwell covered himself in his usual, smooth exterior. It was enough that Eric had friendly reporters spend more time with Maxwell and they confirmed something was amiss. Eric remembered his days as Sheriff. It was natural to complain about the Monarch, chafing under the yoke of being subservient. Eric’s safety valve had been his fellow Sheriffs. He knew they were in the same situation and they spent some time carping back and forth. Maxwell didn’t have that safety valve.
It wasn’t that Maxwell didn’t like Rubio, he liked him well enough, but Rubio had reported to Maxwell long ago and that presented an obstacle. Maxwell was proud. He couldn’t bring himself to complain to someone he viewed as subordinate, and so Maxwell had no one to confide in, no one to tell him he was being an ass and his solitude was starting to affect his attitude.
Eric told Sookie everything. He’d never said most of this aloud before and several times he stopped, amended his words, and started again. For her part, Sookie listened, her feet tucked under her, and when he’d finished, she said, “Well, first things first. You need to get at least one more Area settled under a Sheriff you trust.”
“Those who come here to Court aren’t known to me,” Eric shrugged. “I could ask for recommendations from my fellow Kings, but the candidates they send us will most likely have their loyalty compromised. No one sends a potential rival their best and with what has happened, I have no favors to trade.”
Sookie didn’t say anything for a while and Eric wondered if she had lost interest, but then she seemed to snap back to attention, suggesting, “Then, what about someone from our past? You haven’t mentioned Indira…”
“I exiled her,” Eric said shortly.
“Pam told me,” Sookie nodded, “but she didn’t tell me why.” Sookie waited and when Eric didn’t say anything, Sookie pressed, “I know Indira did a good job as Sheriff here. Area Five was a problem and she was able to hold it together. Pam trusted her. People still speak well of her. Maxwell Lee respects her, she seems the perfect candidate, and…” Sookie swallowed before saying something she worried might be betraying a confidence, “and I know she and Pam and Thalia are still in touch.”
“She is no longer welcome here,” and Eric’s lip curled. “I can’t forgive her and if you knew of her failure, you wouldn’t forgive her either.”
Sookie’s eyes narrowed and she leaned forward, her face taking on that stubborn look Eric had come to recognize, “Well, Buddy, let’s say you tell me what she did and let me be the judge of that?”
It was something in Sookie’s tone that pissed him off, so Eric stood, crossed his arms, and looking down at his mate, said his truth, “She failed to save you.”
Eric watched her puzzle it out. Her eyes cut away and her lips pursed, but after a moment, she asked, “Do you mean she didn’t save me from being made vampire?” and when Eric nodded once, Sookie shrugged, “Why would you say that? Bill Compton turned me, not Indira.”
Eric told her. He reminded her of that last night at Fangtasia when Sookie had found herself with Felipe de Castro’s retinue. It was a night off during their audit assignment. No one knew that within twenty-four hours most of those in the party would be dead, or Eric Northman made King. Sookie had been nervous to see her former friends, Indira had been particularly kind. “Indira knew you were with de Castro’s people. She knew as soon as the takeover started you would be a target, but she chose to save Rubio Hermosa’s wife instead. She could have found you. She could have hidden you away, but she didn’t. If she had done the right thing, you would never have been attacked at the warehouse that night. You wouldn’t have had to escape, you wouldn’t have…”
“Wouldn’t have ended up with Bill Compton, which means I wouldn’t have ended up here, with you…” and Sookie rose to lace her arms around him, “like this. Tell me,” Sookie whispered, kissing Eric’s chest, “if I’d remained human, would we be bonded like this?”
“Yes,” Eric said, and then, “Maybe.”
“Liar!” Sookie laughed. “I’d be five years older and nearing fifty. Think about that, Eric. As it stands, I can see the crow’s feet when I smile…”
“Laugh lines,” and Eric traced the slight creases with his finger. “They are beautiful. They tell the story of your life, my Lover.”
“And that story has led me here, to be with you. Eric, Indira is our friend. She fought alongside us when others wouldn’t. She’s talented, she knows how to run an Area. It’s time to let it go and invite her to come home,” and Sookie waited, her eyes calm.
It occurred that of any of them, it was Sookie who had the right to this grievance, but she wasn’t angry. For the first time, Eric considered his mate might be sincere in her wish to accept her state and he felt filled with hope. “If you are sure,” he checked once more before saying, “I will ask Thalia to reach out to her.” Sookie opened her mouth and Eric knew she would ask why he was sending Thalia, so he answered. “Thalia won’t let Indira accept out of some sense of obligation. If Indira’s loyalties have changed, or if her exile has soured her, Thalia won’t be blinded by sentiment. Pam would have her friend back under any circumstances.” He found himself looking out into the night beyond their window. The idea of Indira guarding a border was adding to his new sense of optimism.
Sookie was beaming in that way she had, and then, just as quickly her light seemed to dim, and he felt her drawing away. The sun was close. “Enough problem solving for one night,” Eric soothed. “Come, Sookie, let us go to our rest together. I would have you drift away in my arms.”
“I don’t think I even have the strength left for a shower,” she apologized.
“It must be all that thinking,” he teased her.
“Watch it!” she scolded, but her smile was open and easy as together, hand in hand, they lay down to let the sun take them.