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.
It seemed hard to believe that only a few years ago, Sookie Stackhouse was standing where she stood right now, thrilled that a vampire finally walked into Merlotte’s. Sookie remembered thinking that Bill Compton sitting at her table signaled the beginning of her whole new life.
If she was being perfectly honest, in most ways Bill Compton walking in that day had signaled a beginning of things. After Eric Northman had left her, a little over a month ago, Sookie remembered thinking that his departure signaled a new beginning, too. Instead of being the start of her ‘exciting’ life, though, she was sure Eric’s leaving was the start of her ‘normal’ life. She had crossed her arms and declared that she was Sookie Stackhouse and that Bon Temps was where she belonged.
Now, she wasn’t so sure.
Everything that happened over the past month unfolded the way she imagined it would. Sookie opened her arms to Sam Merlotte and they had slept together. The first couple times were nice, even exciting. Sam didn’t demand her full attention in bed, the way Eric Northman had. He didn’t expect her to perform oral sex or flip around in multiple positions. He was pretty much happy any way he got it, and he was grateful afterward in a way that made Sookie feel just a little bit uncomfortable. It wasn’t that Sookie didn’t like suggesting things, but, after their third time together, Sookie realized she knew a lot more about sex than Sam and it made her feel kind of cheap.
The last time Sam came out to her house for dinner, Sookie could tell he expected to spend the night. He walked into her front parlor after they ate and sat close to her on the couch. He dropped his arm across her shoulders and toed off his shoes on the floor. As he leaned toward her, that look in his eye, she told him she was really tired and sent him home. Sookie realized she wasn’t interested in having sex with Sam again. Truth be told, the more time she spent with him, the more she wondered what she’d ever seen in Sam aside from the fact that he was her friend and reliable. ‘Husband material,’ her sister-in-law told her.
Everyone liked Sam. People seemed to like her more because they thought she was with him. Every day stretched out in front of Sookie like every other day. Sookie got up and went to the restaurant in the morning. Sam walked in through the back from his trailer and got cash registers filled and the bar stocked. Waitresses arrived and side work was done. When Sam finished with the bar, Sookie started counting to three, knowing before she got to four he would look up and call her “Cher” and smile his happy smile.
At first, when he slipped his arm around her in the hallway and pulled her close to kiss her, she felt special. She even felt a little thrill when he did it in his office or someplace folks couldn’t see, but last week, he pulled her forward across the bar and tried to kiss her on the lips in front of everyone.
For some reason, it upset her. She turned her head and pushed Sam away. She could see his confusion and she mumbled that she just wasn’t ready to be so public. “Okay, Cher,” he’d frowned and walked away. Sookie couldn’t explain why she felt relieved.
When she turned her head the next time, Sam asked her what the problem was. Sookie wished she could explain it.
In so many ways, she and Sam fit the picture of how Sookie thought a couple should be. Sam was the perfect height. He never did anything that caused problems with people. When he said he’d be somewhere, he was. When he said he’d do something, he did. No one was looking for him, and he wasn’t interested in being anything other than what he was. It wasn’t that Sam wasn’t ambitious, he was hard-working. He just didn’t seem to need to stand out in any way.
“I think I’ve made a mistake,” Sookie told her friend, Tara, over the phone last night.
“I don’t understand you,” Tara sighed. “Sam would give you anything you asked. He thinks you hung the moon! You don’t ever have to worry about whether he’s coming home or going to show up with some kind of crazy complication! No one is going to be jumping out of the shadows trying to kill you anymore, Sookie Stackhouse! How is that wrong?”
“You’re right,” Sookie told her, “Sam is so… predictable.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Tara replied.
“It’s not,” Sookie told her friend, but she knew that in her heart, it was. Somehow, somewhere, Sookie had become used to vampire adventures and unexpected trips. While there were times in her past when she was terrified, as Sookie considered the life that awaited her now, her ‘normal’ life, she realized it didn’t feel safe. This life that stretched out before her with Sam Merlotte felt flavorless.
There was more.
Eric Northman and she had bonded under strange circumstances. There was never any time for them to talk about it, what bonding meant. One emergency piled up on another. They went from bonded to pledged, and the next thing she knew, Eric was in deep trouble. The tension of their last year together was crushing. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. Sookie was so angry and so confused, and when he humiliated her by divorcing her in front of his future wife and his boss, so heartsick.
The last time she saw Eric Northman, she had been injured. She was lying in that hospital bed and Sam Merlotte was standing beside her. Eric offered her his blood to help her heal. Any vampire offering you his blood is a pretty big thing, and thinking back on it, knowing Eric had signed all kinds of contracts and agreements about not seeing her, Sookie figured if she’d taken it, it probably would have gotten him in trouble. But that wasn’t what she was thinking about that night. She threw his offer back in his face because she wanted to hurt Eric the way he made her hurt.
Sleeping with Sam after that felt fine. Sookie told herself Sam was her next logical step to happiness. Now that time had passed and her emotions weren’t so ragged, she realized that Sam wasn’t about running to something. Taking Sam Merlotte into her bed had been about punishing Eric. ‘At least I wasn’t stupid enough to have angry sex with Bill Compton,’ she thought morosely.
“Would you like to go out for a late supper, Cher?” Sam had walked up behind her without Sookie even realizing it. He touched her shoulder and she flinched.
Catching herself, Sookie shrugged, “I’m sorry, Sam. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but no. I think I really need some time alone.”
“Sure, Sook, I understand,” he smiled back, but Sookie could see he didn’t understand, not at all.
When she pulled up the driveway to her house that night, Sookie caught sight of the flash of white along the tree line. Karin the Slaughterer was still out there, but Sookie didn’t bother waving.
When Eric left to marry Freyda, the vampire Queen of Oklahoma, he made certain demands. The first was that Sookie Stackhouse would be able to live out her natural life without being molested, bit, or bothered by any vampire. The second demand was that his own vampire daughter, Karin, stand guard over Sookie for a whole year. Karin was commanded to patrol the grounds of Sookie’s house every night, making sure that Eric’s first demand was honored. Sookie knew Karin was sleeping in the dirt of the cemetery that adjoined her property during the day.
Sookie had heard Eric mention Karin once before, although not her name. She didn’t actually meet Karin until those final, dark days when Eric stopped fighting the contract that would bind him to Freyda and take him away from Sookie. Even now, Sookie couldn’t understand why Eric felt duty-bound to go along with it. The contract was drawn up by Eric’s Maker, Appius Livius Ocella, a psychopath if ever there was one, and finally dead to boot, but Eric insisted. He told Sookie he’d tried every way to have the contract set aside, but to this day Sookie couldn’t see why simply saying ‘no’ wasn’t enough. Eric never signed it until the end, and even Sookie knew that a contract you didn’t sign couldn’t bind you.
Sookie had made an effort in the weeks following Eric’s departure to speak with Karin, but Eric’s child was blunt in her discouragement. “I’m only here to fulfill Eric’s promise. We talked about this. I’m not doing this out of friendship and he didn’t do this to be romantic.” Karin had pulled herself up to her full height and looked down her nose, even though she wasn’t any taller than Sookie. “I’m here to impress Freyda that Eric understands loyalty and takes care of his vassals, nothing more. Believe me, Sookie, he’s moved on, and I can see you have, too.” Karin ran away then, and the next time Sookie waved to her, Karin purposely turned and walked into the trees, and that’s where things stood.
Sookie walked into her house and down the hall to her Gran’s bedroom, the one that was hers now. With efficient, automatic gestures, she pulled off her work uniform. The shirt stuck a little, clammy with sweat and humidity, and the scent of burgers and chicken fingers clung to her.
Almost unconsciously, Sookie pulled open the second drawer of her little nightstand. It was where she kept the mementoes of her life. There was the velvet bag that held the drained cluviel dor. There was also a photo of her taken with her Gran and Jason. Once upon a time, the drawer held other things; her keys to Eric’s house and the bullets she sucked from him. Sighing, she stood up and dropped her clothes in the laundry basket. Sookie padded naked across the hall to the bathroom and turned the water on hot. She stood under the spray and reached for the soap, but, instead of taking it, she balanced her hand against the wall, lowered her head, and started to cry.
This was her life now, the one she wished. She would walk from restaurant to house, from house to shower, from shower to bed. She would have a safe, boring lover who would slobber on her and she would never know another moment of mystery or intrigue or danger ever again. Sookie sank down into the tub, wrapping her arms around her legs. Never again would she feel his cool hands on her body. Never again would he lick and nuzzle and bite. Never again would she feel the long length of him as he breathed in her ear.
She used to tell Eric that she couldn’t tell if she loved him; that the bond screwed her up too much to tell, but now she knew. “I love you!” Sookie sobbed under the running water, and the emptiness of her heart let her know how true it was.
When she got up the next morning, Sookie barely made it to the bathroom before she was throwing up. Her head hurt and her stomach turned, and then turned again. Almost as quickly as it came, the feeling passed, and Sookie turned on the sink faucet. Holding her hair with one hand she leaned over, swished the mouthful of water, and spit. Standing up, she looked at her reflection. She had dark circles under her eyes and she caught a glimpse of the blue box behind her. “No,” she said. Walking out of the bathroom, Sookie headed to the kitchen and flipped up the calendar. She had her last period shortly before Eric left. She counted back, looking at the appointments and events she wrote down, and then flipped back to today’s date. In all her life, Sookie Stackhouse hadn’t missed one period, not since she was fourteen, but now she was late.
Sookie’s stomach dropped again, but differently than earlier. She felt hollow as she walked to the old kitchen table and sat down. Leaning forward on her arms, Sookie stared out the back door where the sun turned the backyard into a bright canvas of greens and golds. “What am I going to do?” she asked no one in particular.
The future played out across Sookie’s imagination. Sam would insist on marrying her. He’d want to move out here, thinking it would make her comfortable, but every day that she walked through these rooms seemed to make her memories crowd closer. ‘Trapped,’ the word took root and wouldn’t leave.
Sookie got up and made coffee, and she thought. When it was past time for her to be at the restaurant, Sam called her cell, the same phone Eric bought her long ago. “I’m sorry, Sam,” she heard herself say, “I should have called earlier. I’m just not up to coming in today.” It wasn’t anything the old Sookie Stackhouse ever would have done. The old Sookie Stackhouse would have already called around until she found someone to cover her shift. The old Sookie Stackhouse would have called Sam first and told him she wasn’t coming in, but that was then.
Something was happening and to Sookie, it started to feel like a beginning.
The new Sookie Stackhouse, the one sitting numbly at the table, knowing in her heart of hearts that she was carrying Sam Merlotte’s baby, could see a crossroads. Down one turn was everything she had been telling herself she wanted; a stable, normal life complete with husband, acceptance, and Bon Temps. Down the other road things were less clear, but it looked like a life that wasn’t comfortable all the time, but, in exchange, it gave her the freedom of knowing there were always possibilities. When her head started hurting again, Sookie got up and brought back the yellow pad of paper and drew a line down the middle of the page. On the left, she wrote every reason she should stay. On the right, she wrote all the ways she could leave.
The sun went down by the time she picked up the phone and called Amelia Broadway. “You said one time you owed me,” she told her former roommate. “I need to call in that favor.”
Two years later….
Eric Northman moved easily through his new restaurant, shaking hands and kissing cheeks. Once he’d accepted there was no way to honorably escape the contract that obligated him to marry Freyda, things here in Oklahoma became pleasant.
Eric’s Maker, Appius Livius Ocella, had a well-earned reputation for cruelty. He turned up in Bon Temps after over a hundred years of silence. Eric had only been recently pledged by the knife to Sookie Stackhouse, and Eric didn’t think Appius’ timing was coincidence.
Between tense hours spent dealing with an unstable vampire Appius had turned, his Maker informed Eric he had completed negotiations that tied Eric to Freyda of Oklahoma. It was highly unusual for a Maker to do this to his progeny, but the right of a Maker to command his child was inviolate. Had Eric’s then King, Felipe de Castro, protested, there might have been a chance the contract would be set aside, but the truth was De Castro was happy to see Eric leave.
When Felipe took over Louisiana and Arkansas, Eric was the sole member of the then Queen’s retinue to be left alive. Eric was a good money-maker and one of the oldest vampires in the Americas, so there was a practical reason behind the King’s decision. As time passed though, De Castro came to regret his clemency. Eric was responsible for killing one of Felipe’s lieutenants. Everyone knew it, but the silence of the vampires proved to Felipe that their first loyalty belonged to Eric Northman and not their King. When the opportunity presented, Felipe openly supported the contract that effectively sold Eric Northman to Freyda and forced his departure to Oklahoma.
Eric had wrangled and played every angle he had, but, in the end, he bowed to the inevitable. The initial pledging to Freyda was awkward, as was the obligatory fucking afterward, but then Freyda surprised him. The title of ‘consort’ suggested he would be subservient to the Queen. Most expected he would have to live in the palace with Freyda, subject to her whims and orders.
Instead, Freyda made clear to everyone that as her ‘consort,’ Eric Northman had the same freedoms and rights any neighboring King would have. The only difference was that Eric was expected to live within the borders of the state, and not in his own territory.
There were no demands to open joint bank accounts or turn over his businesses to Freyda. Felipe de Castro seized the businesses Eric had owned, like Fangtasia, that were in Louisiana, but Freyda insisted, even to the point of threatening a lawsuit, that the Nevada King pay Eric their worth. Freyda made introductions to various entrepreneurs and investors, all of whom were thrilled with the prospect of creating businesses with the famous Viking. There were no travel restrictions and Eric was encouraged to try his luck wherever he saw an opportunity.
“Of course, you’ll be expecting your cut,” Eric stated, following one of these early meetings.
“Of course I won’t,” Freyda laughed. “You’re my consort. That exempts you from paying tithes.” When Eric continued to probe, trying to figure out the Queen’s angle, Freyda finally threw her hands up, “Eric! Relax! We’re pledged. You’ve shown you’re honorable and you’ve proved every good thing I ever believed about you. I really want you to be happy here and I think we can have a lot of fun.”
As the weeks and then months passed, Freyda kept proving she meant what she said. It was assumed Eric would have his own residence, or residences. Freyda had no expectation that she would have immediate access to him, or that he was expected to respond immediately to her. When they did get together, it was because one called the other. At first, it was Freyda calling him, tempting him with concert tickets or some guest she thought he’d like to meet.
After a bit, and to Eric’s surprise, he realized he liked Freyda’s company. She was more than just a pretty face. Freyda was smart. She had an interesting perspective on the world around her and found unusual angles to argue. She was funny and, on more than one occasion, Eric found himself laughing with her. She wasn’t clever in the way Sookie Stackhouse was clever, but, then again, she didn’t continuously reject him either.
On that long, lonely trip from Louisiana to Oklahoma, Eric made sure he had plenty of time to consider Miss Stackhouse’s many rejections. It was bitter, that recounting. He would tell Sookie how much he cared for her. She would reject him. He would double down, calling her his wife. She would reject him. In the end, he pleaded with her, for understanding, for help, for salvation. She threw it all back in his face, making her rejection public, humiliating him in front of rivals and friends alike.
He remembered each time she told him she loved him. He could count those times on less than two hands. Usually the declaration was quickly followed by her accusing the bond of being the real reason for her saying it in the first place, robbing him of any satisfaction.
‘Did she ever love me?’ he asked himself. As he settled in Oklahoma, into this new life where he was accepted and sought after, he decided the answer was no longer important. Sookie Stackhouse was in Louisiana, living her ‘normal’ life that no longer included him. She was living that life because she rejected everything he could offer her, and had he been less hard-headed, he would have abandoned her and their dysfunctional relationship long ago.
The restaurant he was opening tonight was just the latest in a series of successful entertainment ventures. Between his own assets and De Castro’s payments, Eric Northman was cash rich. It all seemed so easy. The lessons he’d learned working for Sophie-Ann LeClerq, running Fangtasia, serving as Sheriff, all now bore fruit. The difference was that unlike before, there was no political maneuvering, no unseen potholes and traps for Eric to navigate. For the first time in a very long time, Eric Northman didn’t feel the need to look over his shoulder, and the freedom he felt was euphoric.
In the beginning, Eric was sure his growing trust was misplaced; this had to be some elaborate charade designed to gull him. He was sure that like Appius, Freyda only waited that best opportunity when betrayal would hurt most. As time passed, and those opportunities presented themselves, instead of hurting him, Freyda supported him, and Eric found it made him anxious.
Following their first anniversary, Freyda suggested Eric consider talking with a professional. “I think you have many unresolved issues,” she shrugged. “Maybe I’m wrong, but you may find it helps you regain a more positive outlook.” She then lifted the ban on seeing his progeny as an anniversary present, and Eric started to believe that sometimes good things really could come with no strings attached.
It was during Pam’s first visit Eric heard that Sookie Stackhouse had left Louisiana.
They spent Pam’s first three days together with Freyda and they all had a wonderful time. They danced and laughed. They enjoyed what the night life of the city had to offer and talked about ways to expand businesses. Pam told them both stories about Area 5 and her work as the new Sheriff. Eric told Pam stories about vampires in Oklahoma. By the end of it, Eric could tell that Pam and Freyda honestly liked each other. He found it made him absurdly happy to have his child and consort on friendly terms.
Eric invited Pam to spend her last couple days at his residence outside the City. Pam passed most of the drive to the house talking about her impressions of the Queen. She and Freyda were planning a shopping trip to New York together for the upcoming Fashion Week. They discovered they had several acquaintances among the couturiers in common and were delighted to swap details. It made for a pleasant trip.
When they settled, bottles of Royalty in hand, Eric asked, “Where is Karin? I expected to see her come with you, but perhaps she is still celebrating her release from guard duty.”
Pam looked down and Eric could see she was reluctant to say something. He waited, and after a bit she said, “If I want to explain this right, I’m going to have to use ‘her’ name. Is that permitted?”
It took a moment for Eric to realize Pam assumed his house was bugged. “You can feel free to speak here,” Eric assured her. “I have my privacy. Freyda and I have an understanding. I like her, but you can see that. You can say ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ and you’re not breaking any rules.”
Pam looked closely at Eric, “Do you ever think about her now?”
“No,” Eric lied. “Not for a long time. I think I’m finally over my obsession.”
“Good,” Pam told him. “Then you won’t care when I tell you Sookie moved away from Bon Temps about a month after you left. She made arrangements with that friend of hers, Amelia Broadway, and she moved north, Boston or somewhere.”
Eric felt something move in his chest, something uneasy. “Did she explain why?” he asked carefully.
“According to her brother, she decided she needed a change. She told him she had seen too much and now she couldn’t rest easy in a small town anymore.” Pam grinned, “The shifter was frantic at first, but he got over it. Last I heard he already moved on to a Were out of Shreveport.”
“But what about her house?” Eric’s jaw worked and he found that, in spite of everything, he was not unmoved by this information. In fact, the more he considered it, the more annoyed he felt.
“She sold it,” Pam shrugged. “Left all the furniture, too. The demon attorney, Cataliades, handled it.”
“But she comes home for holidays,” Eric stated.
Pam’s eyes narrowed. “No, Eric. I don’t think she’s been back since she left. Stackhouse says he hears from her once in awhile, that she’s doing well, wherever she landed, but he hasn’t mentioned her in months.” When Eric continued to look away, Pam said, “I just thought you should know. I probably shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“So, it was all for nothing.” Eric could hear how bitter his words sounded and he couldn’t look at his child, “The extra hundred years, all the arrangements, for nothing! She was telling me the truth all along. I just couldn’t hear it.”
“What truth?” Pam asked.
“That she never loved me.” The words felt like a stone in his chest, but, with them, Eric Northman felt that he finally accepted what he had been telling himself for some time.
“I don’t believe that,” Pam said softly. “I really don’t, but having said that, I think Sookie did accept the impossibility of you being together before you did. I see how successful you are here. I haven’t seen you this happy in a long time and it makes me happy for you. I think you’ve found a good place.”
Eric nodded and purposely changed the subject to the upcoming Summit in San Antonio. Pam thought she’d be able to attend and they planned to spend time together. Several hours before sunrise, Pam retired to handle her emails and any outstanding Area 5 business.
Eric retreated into his sleeping chambers. Unlike his primary residence in Bon Temps, his chambers here were on the top floor instead of the basement. It was considered a luxury, sleeping out of the ground this way. Older vampires disapproved of these innovations, but for all his age, Eric enjoyed new things and this was one of those things.
Walking through to his closet, Eric pulled down a plain cardboard box he had stored on an upper shelf. It was still taped shut, but now, Eric broke the seal with his fingernail. Taking the box into the bed chamber, Eric shook the contents out onto the bed. There were several photographs and two spent bullets. Eric picked up each photo and ran his finger over her face, remembering the moment each of the handful of images was taken. After he’d examined each one, he slowly and deliberately ripped them to pieces. Next, he picked up the bullets from the bedspread and tossed them in a tray on his dresser. Tomorrow he’d send them to a jeweler to be set into cuff links, a reminder of what giving his heart cost him.
Gathering the bits of paper together, Eric walked into his office and dropped them in his trash basket. A scrap that had her smile stuck to the palm of his hand. “Get off!” he snarled, and flicked it from him.
‘She is done,’ he told himself, and resolved never to think her name again.