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.
‘When did everything slip from my grasp?’ Eric wondered. The easy answer was to point at his order to wipe out de Castro’s people. That seemed the most logical explanation for why he was standing here, on Bill Compton’s porch. ‘Too easy,’ Eric chided himself. There had been other times when existence was difficult, but that was back in the days before he came to the United States. Since coming here and entering the service of Queen Sophie-Ann, life was palatable, even comfortable, one thing falling into place after another. Eric’s Maker seemed a distant memory. Eric was valued. His reputation as both fearsome and fiercely loyal grew. Eric’s life as courtier and then as Sheriff rewarded him with advancement, and he basked in his growing prestige among his peers. It was a good life but, if Eric was totally honest, it was also a life that had started to bore him.
Then, he met Sookie Stackhouse.
It would be easy to place his troubles at her feet, too. Almost from the beginning, Eric had been intrigued by her. She was different. She challenged him. She made him anxious to see her again, just to hear what new adventure or odd turn of phrase would tumble from her lips. His world regained its flavor and he looked forward to each rising, all because of this perplexing, unconventional woman.
It was true that trouble followed her. His companions told Eric to give her up, but the more he saw of her, the more he was drawn to her. By the time his Maker returned, Eric realized he was tied to Sookie by more than the bond they forged. Even if she hadn’t bonded with him, the Viking would have been bound to her. It was a humbling feeling, and his progeny and friends teased him about it.
‘No,’ he scolded himself, ‘Don’t blame the past. That is done. Where you stand is now.’ Eric focused back on the events of the past week. Coming to Louisiana to confront Felipe may have started as Stan Davis’ idea, but Eric agreed. It seemed providential but, now, Eric could see that coming here was the tipping of the first domino that fell, one thing leading to the next until he found himself in this place. Four nights ago, he had risen in the safe house in New Orleans and marched to the palace, sure of his victory. Now, he wasn’t sure of anything, except the unsettling feeling that his Sookie had somehow become lost to him again.
Eric remembered the night after he defeated de Castro when he looked out over the City, thinking of what could be. As he imagined it, Eric sat in Sophie-Ann’s throne and Sookie Stackhouse walked down the aisle, approaching him. She smiled, and the fine webbing that was just forming beside her eyes came to life as her lips curved up just for him. She looked at him as she had in Denver and she repeated her words. She told him she loved him and that she was his. He imagined teasing her, just to see how her lip would jut out and her eyes would snap. It had been a pleasant dream, a way to focus on a happy future, a distraction from the blood-letting that continued around him.
For over twelve years, Felipe de Castro had turned vampire against vampire in this territory. His policies had bred anger and distrust, and the blood feuds that were being settled now had more to do with personal vendettas than politics. Karin texted that first night, confirming victory in Baton Rouge. She told him she intended to finish mopping up and would join him after sunset the following night. Thalia contacted him next, letting him know she’d finished cleansing Lafayette and was on her way to New Orleans.
The only Area that was reporting continued unrest was Area 5. Indira had handed her authority over to her subordinates and abandoned her Area. Eric wasn’t sure why she left her post at this critical time, but he suspected Rubio Hermosa’s disappearance was at the heart of this mystery.
As that first night progressed, the Viking forced himself to ignore the cries of those being tortured and finally ended. Free reign for two nights was what he promised those loyal to him, and Eric honored that promise. He knew it was the first of many pledges he would make to his new vassals, and he prayed his future commands would be far different than those being carried out under his name this night.
There was a knock and Desmond Cataliades was dragged before him. The demon had been found in the Palace fighting alongside Felipe’s people. Eric sustained serious damage in his fight with Felipe and his healing was painful. Eric now realized how much he allowed that physical discomfort to influence how he handled the demon. If he had listened to Cataliades’ explanations instead of cutting him off, Eric realized he might have found out about Sookie sooner. He could have shown patience, but he had chosen not to.
In past, Desmond Cataliades rarely helped Eric. When the attorney did offer his aid, it was only because it was aligned with helping Sookie Stackhouse. Eric knew there was some tie between the demon and Sookie’s Fae family, but he still didn’t know exactly what it was. What Eric did know was that when he asked the demon to find a loophole in the contract that tied him to the Oklahoma Queen, the demon failed. To this day, Eric wondered if Mr. Cataliades really tried, or if the attorney purposely overlooked some clause or codicil that might have released him.
The demon was pushed so hard he fell, sprawling on the floor. Eric could see he’d been roughed up, and it caused the Viking some grim satisfaction. When Desmond tried to talk, Eric had Maxwell Lee step on the attorney’s neck, keeping the pressure there until Cataliades’ face started to turn blue. Pam listed the crimes the attorney was accused of committing. Twice more Cataliades tried to protest, and twice more Maxwell cut off his airway, leaving him gasping and sputtering.
After the list of wrong-doing was read out, Eric squatted down next to the attorney’s face. The Viking’s wounds screamed, and he felt the scabbing tissue on his chest part, twin trails of blood snaking down toward his waistband. “Why shouldn’t I kill you?” he hissed.
“Because I’m of more use to you alive than dead,” the attorney rasped.
“I don’t believe it,” Pam sneered. “I don’t recall one occasion when this pile of shit has ever done you a truly good turn.”
Eric turned to give Maxwell the order that would end the attorney when something made him hesitate. He thought of how Mr. Cataliades did help Sookie. Eric could see her face as she spoke of the demon, and the thought of destroying any link to her was as painful as the wounds pulling at his body.
“Sophie-Ann found him useful,” Eric said out loud. Any vampire who lived in the Palace in those days knew the former Queen was fond of Desmond. Eric saw Maxwell and Pam’s grudging acceptance and he knew he’d chosen his words wisely.
“I give you your life,” and Eric cocked his head to the side, watching the demon’s one open eye watch him. The Viking looked at Pam and then cut his eyes to the mantel piece. Pam handed her Maker the box that was resting there. “These are de Castro’s fangs,” Eric turned the box slowly, making sure the demon saw it. “If you wish to redeem yourself, you’ll deliver them to the head of Narayana Clan. Tell him that Nevada is now a Kingdom without a King. Warn him to stay within his own territory, or I will come to take back what’s rightfully mine.”
“And after I’ve delivered your message?” the demon asked.
“I don’t care,” Eric shrugged, straightening with an audible sigh. “Return. Stay. Go elsewhere. What you do is no longer important to me.”
“Then I will return,” the demon struggled to his knees. “I wish to…”
Another wound broke loose and Eric hissed as the pain seared through him, “Get out!” he shouted. He ordered the demon held somewhere secure until transport to Nevada could be arranged. Pam followed the guards out the door, returning with more donors. She pushed Eric back to his bed and the Viking’s healing began again.
Before falling into his day death, Eric texted Alcide Herveaux. He made a personal plea to the Packmaster for help in tracking down Rubio Hermosa. Then Eric received more good news.
Indira left a message that Heidi, the Tracker, was returning to Area 5. Heidi had been living in Las Vegas, commanded to relocate there by Felipe de Castro. Now she was free and Heidi was returning to Louisiana. Indira’s message went on to convey the Tracker’s congratulations as well as her own on Eric’s successful takeover. Indira’s message told Eric that Lily Hermosa was safe in Mississippi. She gave Eric information about when she expected to return to Shreveport and there was the problem.
Indira had acted from good intentions, but she abandoned her Area in time of war to safeguard one human woman. The irony was not lost on Eric but, still, Indira could have sent another, a subordinate to do this thing. The fighting in Area 5 had continued beyond what was necessary and Eric blamed Indira. Her actions showed a lack of judgment, and Eric knew there would need to be consequences if the vampire was to be permanently promoted to Sheriff.
By the third rising after the takeover, things were returning to normal. The palace was being cleansed. Broken items were removed and the stains of battle were wiped and scrubbed from floors and walls. The Federal Registry was contacted and the donor lair in the basement was stripped bare and then re-opened, the hard couches favored by the government replacing the beds and mattresses that were there before.
Eric called Russell Edgington. He confirmed he had control of both Louisiana and Arkansas, and the official announcement was sent to all vampire monarchs. Eric Northman was King.
Stan Davis was the first congratulatory call Eric received from a fellow monarch. Stan told the Viking he’d always known that Eric would succeed. He offered to send troops to support Eric’s people, but Eric declined. They laughed, knowing Eric had seen through the Texas King’s flimsy excuse to place armed spies on Louisiana soil.
The Texas monarch’s call was followed by others. By the time Karin came to him, Eric’s night had become a dance of politics; flattering on one hand while making deals with the other. It was nearing daybreak and the Viking’s wounds ached. Eric was certain that at least one of the blades Felipe had wielded was dipped in silver. It was the only thing that could explain his slow healing.
Pam joined them then, bringing more reports from the far-flung Areas and fresh news of the search for Rubio. The other spies were accounted for. One in Arkansas was caught up in the confusion. She had met her final death, but all the others were well, all but Rubio.
Eric dreaded the idea that he might have lost his friend in the confusion but, as the hours stretched without any further news, the probability that Rubio had met his final death was becoming more likely. The Viking trusted Rubio, and he wanted to include him in his plans. If Hermosa was finally dead, it would leave a hole in many ways.
While there were other challenges that presented themselves that night, none had been a true surprise, that is, until Thalia marched into his room, followed by the tall, pale boy.
Eric had managed to spend the past forty-eight hours focused on the work at hand. He had not spent more than an hour of that time thinking about his former wife, but that ended when the blond, gangly vampire held out his hand, introduced himself as Eric’s son, and then passed out in a spectacular fashion.
Although Eric had perfect recall, he found he was struggling to register just what this boy had told him. Nothing about him made sense. The boy seemed vampire, but he was warm and he breathed. Of the many mysteries this boy presented, his physical peculiarities were the only things Eric was prepared to truly explore, so Eric did what he always did when faced with some new species, he called Doctor Amy Ludwig.
Pam picked the boy up off the floor and placed him on a couch. A son! The Viking tried to remember the sons he’d sired in his human days, but he had no clear memories of them. They were all so young when Appius took him. This boy didn’t smell of him. He seemed no more connected to Eric than the ghost sons of his past. There was no blood tie calling him as Karin and Pam’s blood called. There was nothing but a few words and the way the boy’s face felt oddly familiar.
When Amy arrived, she explained in small, clear words the relationship between the boy and Sookie Stackhouse. When she finished repeating what she knew of the boy’s history, Doctor Ludwig explained how and why Eric was related to the boy. It seemed impossible. Eric believed the stories of half vampires to be just that, but the Doctor was certain. Pam laughed out loud, declaring the boy was Eric’s miniature twin, and Karin scowled her disapproval.
It took Eric several precious minutes to gather his thoughts. The boy was removed, taken to recover in another part of the Palace, but not before Eric gazed on his face. He couldn’t see the resemblance Pam assured him was crystal clear. He was tempted to give the boy blood but, as he watched, the rising bruise on the child’s cheek healed and then disappeared. For all the boy’s body felt human, this boy was a vampire. Eric could hear his heartbeat and he swore he could hear the blood rushing through the boy’s veins.
Again, Eric considered coating the boy’s tongue with his own blood. It would allow Eric to question him later and know if he was lying but, in the end, the Viking couldn’t bring himself to do it. To force blood on another vampire without their permission was against all custom and courtesy. Eric resolved to wait until the boy woke, which Amy Ludwig assured him would happen soon.
It took half an hour from the time he sent Pam and Karin away to the time Ludwig returned. Eric used that time to think. He walked over to his laptop and navigated first to the photograph he’d found on the Narayana Summit webpage. It showed Sookie Stackhouse. She was laughing and her eyes were tilted up. Eric touched the screen to trace the line of her lip, then flipped over to the Palace surveillance footage of the boy.
Damphir! They had made a child before Eric was forced to leave for Oklahoma. Sookie knew this boy was his and she hadn’t told him. Eric thought again about Denver. He closed his eyes and relived every second from the moment they collided in the hallway until the moment he left her. He remembered seeing the evidence that she had born a child, thinking, believing, she had welcomed another man into her life.
She told him she loved him. She told him she missed him. Perhaps it was more than words. For the first time, Eric Northman felt hope and just as quickly, he strangled it. ‘Think!’ he warned himself. ‘You have been down this road before! She hid this from you. She didn’t think you were important enough to let you know.’ Even though Eric’s pragmatic brain told him that finding a way to share this information would have been dangerous, that there was very little he could have done, the fact that she hadn’t tried picked at his pride. Eric hardened his heart, telling himself that clearly in important ways, his Lover and former wife hadn’t changed, despite the words she used.
When the Doctor returned, she told him the boy was exhausted. Talking would have to wait until tomorrow’s rising. Eric listened as Amy told him everything she knew. He listened to her describe Fran Miller, the witch who protected Sookie. Amy wasn’t sure if Sookie and the boy lived in Boston or elsewhere. She described what she found when she examined Rick and she answered all Eric’s questions about hybrids. She told Eric what she’d learned, having treated Damphirs in the early days of her practice. He couldn’t help laughing when Amy described Sookie feeding the boy blood with a turkey baster. It was a move only Sookie Stackhouse could have imagined, but then Eric sobered. “I am grateful that Sookie wanted the boy to meet me,” Eric said out loud, “even if she meant to delay that meeting by several more years.”
“I don’t think she could have waited that long,” Amy shook her head. “Even if this,” and she looked around Eric’s new surroundings, “hadn’t happened. I told her that boy needed to be around vampires. I don’t think he’s even met one until now.”
Eric’s eyes narrowed, “I’m not surprised Sookie kept the boy a secret. What I don’t understand is why you didn’t inform me about the boy as soon as you left Boston.” And there it was. Sookie might harbor her doubts about the worthiness of vampires, but Doctor Ludwig should not have similar issues. “Surely, you thought I had a right to know,” Eric growled, leaning forward.
“Well, you can save your bullying for someone else, King Man!” the Doctor snapped. “It’s part of any doctor’s job to keep her patient’s secrets but, for the record, I would have held Sookie to her two-year promise. If this hadn’t happened, I would have told you myself, whether she decided to come clean or not. Rick is growing quickly. He needs fresh blood, not that bagged shit he’s feeding on. He doesn’t need more than other vampires, just feeding more frequently. Other vampires don’t have to physically grow on top of transforming. He does.”
“Why…” and then Eric didn’t finish his question. He didn’t need to ask why Sookie wasn’t providing her child with donors. He knew. What he didn’t know was why Sookie Stackhouse’s son had come to find him ahead of the schedule. There was something missing, and Eric knew it was important.
Eric thought again of Sookie. He wondered how she reacted when she realized her son was growing into a vampire. Sookie Stackhouse might tell Eric she loved him. She might enjoy spending time with vampires, but there was something about the fundamental truth of who and what a vampire was that didn’t sit quite right with the telepath. Feeding, the need to mate when feeding, the urge to violence. There were so many characteristics, some subtle, some not, that were bag and baggage of being vampire, and Sookie rejected them all. Deep down, she wanted vampires to be stronger, more impervious, versions of humans. Eric believed in his heart that Sookie never truly accepted vampires, never truly accepted him for what he was. It was that prejudice that caused her to place blinders over her eyes, making her believe that bagged blood was enough. Eric knew Sookie would never purposefully harm her own child, but he also knew her capacity to see things as she wished them to be.
Eric prayed that the rebellious bravery he saw on the boy’s face before he crumpled was what drove him to Louisiana. He prayed that this child was so like his Sookie, that curiosity drove him here to find his Sire. Eric prayed it was his Lover’s sense of adventure that inspired her son and nothing else.
Pam rejoined him before dawn. She brought the answer to Eric’s question, and it confirmed his worst fears.
Pam had talked with Lily, Rubio Hermosa’s wife. It had taken some pressuring but, in the end, she was given permission to speak with George, Rubio’s adopted son as well. George was the boy who accompanied Rick into the Palace earlier tonight. Pam told Eric the boys knew each other from school. They were both attending some private academy up north and George made clear he was Rick’s friend.
It was George who told Pam the story of how Rick received the text message from his Mother, and how they jumped the train from New York to New Orleans. He told Pam that their plan was to come to the palace and ask the vampires for help in finding and rescuing their parents. George was sure that Sookie Stackhouse was with his Father, and he told Pam that Rick was sure, too.
“It never occurred to me that Sookie would be here,” Pam told a shocked Eric. “Of all times, why would Felipe bring her here? Why did he bring in audit teams?”
“Plausible deniability,” Eric mumbled, his brain racing. “We know de Castro’s real purpose was to invade Texas. He was just waiting for news of Stan’s assassination to make his move. Felipe was smart, though. If everything failed, he could tell people his real purpose in being here was to investigate why his revenues were failing. The audit teams stationed around the state were his cover story. Sookie being here was just bad luck,” and saying the words solidified Eric’s bad feeling.
Eric stalked back to the window. It was likely that Sookie and Rubio were together, but Rubio was missing, and too much time had passed. There were a series of possibilities that played out in Eric mind and none of them ended well.
“The reports from Area 5 are not good,” Pam said carefully, confirming the gloomy direction Eric’s thoughts were taking. “I’m hearing that all of Felipe’s people in the Area were killed.”
Eric nodded. He went back to his computer and opened pictures that had been sent by Alcide Herveaux’s people. The photographs showed what the Weres found. Eric focused on the photos from inside a warehouse located on the outskirts of Shreveport. The images were graphic, but Eric carefully examined each one, expanding them so he could see each face and account for each body.
“She was most likely with this group,” Eric told Pam. “If Hermosa’s child is right and Sookie was with Rubio, this is the only group that makes sense.” Eric scanned the email report that accompanied the photographs. “The Weres couldn’t detect any particular scent signatures. Apparently, someone was there ahead of them, spreading chemicals to cover the blood and picking up. There was vampires’ clothing found outside. The dead humans were all inside.” Eric opened the folder with scanned images from the vampires’ wallets. Angie’s license was there as well as other vampires Eric didn’t recognize with Las Vegas addresses.
“Angie was a bitch,” Pam spat. “Good riddance!”
“Rubio’s license is not here,” Eric noted, and then he told Pam what Amy Ludwig told him about Fran Miller and the wards the witch had placed around Sookie. “Sookie is probably in trouble,” Eric told Pam, “but Amy thinks that it would be hard for anyone to permanently damage her. If Rubio is with her, then it’s possible they are still safe.” He ran his hand through his hair, “They need to be found.”
“So,” and Pam placed her hand on his shoulder to stop his pacing, “Indira is going to keep you informed? She’ll send you regular reports?”
“I can’t wait for that,” Eric growled. “I am headed there myself.”
“To Shreveport?” Pam shook her head, “Eric! You are newly made King. Things here are not settled! If you leave the capital, what will keep some greedy, ambitious vampire from using the confusion to stake his or her own claim? You can’t abandon the Palace! What’s worth that risk? A spy? Sookie? Think, Eric! There are others there capable of finding her. Didn’t Indira say Heidi was returning? She is the greatest tracker among us. What more could you do? Why do you need to go?”
“Indira abandoned her post during the fighting,” Eric snapped. “I doubt her. I can’t trust her with this. I am doing what I must,” and Eric didn’t bother explaining any further. Instead, he pushed his intent toward Pam through their bond and he did it with a finality that told Pam he would not be discussing this further.
Reluctantly, Pam helped made the arrangements. Maxwell Lee was tapped to act as Second while the King traveled. Eric watched the tall vampire carefully as he gave him instructions. Under the right circumstances, the Viking could see that Lee might try to betray him, but the takeover was still fresh and the sense of success Maxwell was feeling was fresh as well. Russell Edgington had declared Eric King, a move that guaranteed anyone who tried to supplant him would be met by some resistance from the other monarchs. Eric didn’t think Maxwell Lee had the kind of balls it would take to entertain betrayal. Eric’s read of the vampire was that if Maxwell Lee did become so inclined, it would be later, making Lee more of an ‘at last’ kind of vampire.
When Eric rose the next night, Amy Ludwig came to see him again. She had spent the day with Rick Hale. Eric struggled with that name. In his head, he thought of the boy as ‘Sookie’s son.’
After speaking with Rick, the doctor was no longer so sure about the strength of the magic protecting Sookie Stackhouse. Sookie’s son told the doctor that the witch, Fran, suffered a stroke. Rick believed his Aunt Fran was in a hospital and in poor health. “Go to Boston,” Eric ordered. “Find out what you can. If the wards were damaged or destroyed, you must let me know.” The doctor disappeared in an instant and Eric stepped up his preparations to travel north.
Eric texted and made calls, pulling favors and using threats to put things in motion. Eric alerted all his contacts that Sookie Stackhouse’s name was to be added to the top of the list for every searcher and tracker in Area 5. He shared what he knew, that Sookie might have been with Rubio Hermosa, and that any sighting could lead one to the other. As he finished his calls, he headed down the corridor looking for Pam. His phone vibrated and there was a text from Amy Ludwig. Rather than read it, he called the number.
Amy confirmed that Sookie’s son was right. The witch was not well. She was in a hospital and Amy intended to stay in Boston to help her. At the moment, Fran wasn’t able to speak, but Amy was sure that she could fix that. “I can’t say if the wards held, but it would be unusual for a witch’s magic to pass as long as she lives,” Amy told him. “Fran’s magic is strong, I wouldn’t be surprised if it lingered for awhile even after she dies. She is just that strong.”
Eric knew this news should make him feel relieved but, for some reason, the tension within him didn’t lessen. Eric texted Thalia, asking her to leave for Shreveport right away. He arranged to meet her outside Fangtasia later tonight.
Pam wasn’t in her room. Neither was Karin. Eric swung back down the hall, stopping outside an open door just in time to hear Karin mocking young Rick. The Viking cut her off and ordered his progeny to prepare to leave. Eric headed back up the stairs to his room and finished packing. He put his laptop in his carry-on and handed it to the guard to be taken downstairs. Because it was easier, he rode the elevator down to the basement level where the donors were located. He intended to feed and leave, but as the door opened, Sookie’s son barreled into him. He could smell the boy’s panic and it took only one glance at his daughters feeding to realize the cause. The boy confirmed it, stammering and stuttering, fear written on his face. Eric was ready to rebuke the youth, but without needing any word from the Viking, the boy pulled himself together. Eric felt an unaccountable pride in the boy’s actions.
Eric texted, ordering a donor to be sent to his chambers. He told the boy what Doctor Ludwig told him, that Rick needed fresh blood, not bagged. Eric couldn’t help himself. Even though he knew the answer, he asked why the boy hadn’t been taught to feed sooner, the boy surprised him again by losing his temper. They were alone in the vampire’s chambers. As a human, Sookie’s son should have been intimidated, but he didn’t show any sign of it. He interpreted Eric’s words as disrespecting his Mother, and he showed a heart worthy of any warrior in his defense of her.
Eric could tell the boy was nervous, but when the donor arrived, Rick didn’t balk. It was during this exchange that Eric realized the boy was a telepath like his mother. Rick read something from the donor’s thoughts, and while his gift didn’t seem as strong as his Mother’s, it made the connection between this boy and Sookie seem more real. Eric started to share information, what feeding meant to their kind but, for some reason, the boy shut the Viking down.
Then Eric understood why. The boy flung angry words that sounded like his Mother’s. He accused Eric of abandoning his Mother and he spoke disrespectfully of Freyda. Eric was surprised how much the boy’s words stung him. These thoughts could only have come from Sookie and Eric retreated, drawing his indifference around him to cushion the hurt he felt.
Still, Eric had to admit that the boy showed courage. He overcame his fear, and he fed from the human without Eric having to compel him. It had taken a Maker’s command with Karin to force her to feed for the first time. Pam had taken to feeding like a fish to water, but Eric assumed he would meet strong resistance from Sookie’s son.
It was while he was alone on the drive to Shreveport that Eric finally allowed all the pieces to fall into place for him. He thought about the boy, and he thought about his last weeks in Louisiana with Sookie all those years ago. He thought about the last time they made love. It was before Freyda arrived, before the cluviel dor. They were outside, on the porch swing at her house. They cried their passion into the night. There was trouble already. Eric knew he should have told Sookie about the contract, but he was so sure things would change. Eric thought about how happy he was to be there, to lose himself, if only for a few hours in her arms. She was his home, where he felt best. He would tell her in the nights that followed how much he loved her, but this was the last time he felt that she returned that affection to him with her whole heart. It was the last time he felt whole with her… until Denver.
In the weeks that followed, as things began to unravel, Sookie pulled away from him. Now, with the clarity of time, Eric could see his own part in it, how his own actions had pushed her away.
When he pulled into the lot at Fangtasia, Thalia was waiting for them. They headed inside and took over Indira’s office. Thalia found Indira and pulled her aside. Thalia agreed with Eric’s assessment of the sheriff and they both agreed it would be best if Thalia spoke with Indira first. Eric worried that if Indira said the wrong thing, in his current state he would lose his temper and end her. Eric used the time to check in with Alcide. The news was not good in that there was no new news. “What about the Were Panthers in Hot Shot?” Eric asked the Packmaster.
“We don’t speak much,” Alcide replied and Eric could almost see the Were sneering. “I left a message for Calvin Norris, but I didn’t hear anything back.”
“Have your people check the hospitals,” Eric snarled. As he stalked past Thalia and Indira, he said, “Have our people check with the police. Unidentified persons. Jane Does.”
Eric jumped behind the wheel of his car. He welcomed the excuse, the movement almost feeling like progress, and Eric needed to feel that way. He knew Calvin Norris well enough to know that the Clan Chief would only respond to a personal request. The panthers were strange, even among the Weres, but they were uncanny trackers and knew things that others didn’t. They ranged over the countryside where few ventured. Eric wanted their involvement. Sookie knew of Hot Shot. She might have gone there, or near there for shelter.
It took awhile to reach the small settlement. The houses were dark, but Eric wasn’t fooled. He knew there were eyes watching him, and he stalked up to Calvin’s front door and turned all the way around, allowing all to see him fully under the moonlight. When Eric turned back to the door, it was open and Calvin Norris was framed in the light from inside.
“You’re back,” the Werepanther said cautiously.
“I’m King, now,” Eric informed him. Eric had to work to keep his expression neutral. Calvin had changed, age sitting heavily on the Clan Chief’s face and body. It had twisted and shriveled him. Eric knew this was the way with Weres. They maintained their vigor, but when age finally caught them, their bodies rapidly declined. It was said Weres lived hard and died fast, and Calvin Norris was living proof.
“Did you come all this way just to boast?” Calvin asked him.
“No,” Eric shook his head. “Sookie Stackhouse returned to the state. She was in Shreveport the night of the takeover. Rubio Hermosa was probably with her. They’re missing and we need to find them.”
“Then it’s likely she’s dead,” Calvin said bluntly. “The vampires who live here now don’t need much in the way of an excuse. They like killing.”
Eric’s eyebrows drew together, “You have had trouble here with them.” Calvin’s silence was answer enough. “I am King now,” Eric repeated. “You know me. You knew me when I was Sheriff here. I didn’t tolerate that kind of treatment. I won’t now. If you have specific grievances, let me know. I will see that they are addressed.”
Calvin nodded, “You always did right by us. I’ll give you a chance,” he agreed. Eric didn’t think it would be much of a chance, but that was the good thing about starting when expectations were low. Any improvement seemed like a lot.
“I don’t know anything about Sookie or Rubio coming around here,” Calvin continued. “I heard she was back and she was seen with de Castro’s people, but nothing else. I will have my people search our woods and the hills around. If she is out there, we’ll find her.”
“Thank you,” and Eric bowed low to the Clan Chief, knowing it would be seen by the watchers. “I am in your debt. I can be reached through Fangtasia.”
It was late when Eric returned to the club. He had a text from Pam letting him know she’d parked Sookie’s son with Mustapha. Eric briefly wondered why Pam hadn’t chosen Sookie’s human brother, Jason, to watch the boy. In the end, Eric didn’t question it. Eric knew Mustapha Khan and his companion, Warren, admired Sookie. They would watch over the boy for her sake and keep him from harm. It was an acceptable solution.
Eric checked his watch. Dawn was approaching. He had not had an opportunity to speak with Indira, but he trusted Thalia more than himself to address the issue. He knew Indira would pick up the tracker, Heidi, from the airport at first rising. Tomorrow night, they would assemble at Fangtasia. As soon as Heidi arrived, they would begin the process of retracing steps. As he got into his car and started driving toward Pam’s safe house in Minden, his worry descended on him again. So much time, another night passed, and still, no word.
If Sookie and Rubio had left the state, they would have called someone by now. If they were laying low, they would have found a way to send messages to their families. Something had happened. Eric’s mind raced and he called Thalia again, demanding she find a way to track down those who had been involved in wiping out the people at the warehouse. It was possible they were hiding and holding Rubio and Sookie as hostages for their own safety. One thing Eric knew was that no one disappeared completely. They had to be somewhere and Eric promised himself that tomorrow’s rising would give him answers.
Pam, Karin, and Eric arrived early at Fangtasia. Thalia and Karin had coordinated the gathering. The club was closed and all Area vampires were instructed to present themselves to pledge to the new King. The event served two purposes; it allowed a rough census of the vampires in the Area, but it also allowed Thalia to question those present. Eric was anxious to start the search, but there was no purpose until Heidi arrived, so he assumed the throne that had been brought out of storage. Pam and Karin arrayed themselves behind him and the parade began. Eric could hear his progeny joking behind him, wondering who let the dog out and mocking Mustapha. They made remarks about Rick, too, wondering whether dog was included with the rest of the strange mix that made him. While Pam’s tone was light, Karin’s was more pointed. When Rick arrived, Eric made a point of standing, thanking Mustapha, and introducing Rick as his son. It was noticed by those in attendance, and Eric was pleased that his daughters were less critical afterward.
It wasn’t that Eric felt any closer to Rick. If anything, the sight of the tall, awkward boy made him even more uncomfortable, but Eric reminded himself that this was Sookie’s son. The least he owed the boy was protection. The boy might think poorly of him, but Eric would give him no reason to think even less. He noted the boy’s face, the pale circles around his eyes. Within an hour, the boy was shifting from foot to foot and Eric tasked his daughters with securing Rick a donor. From his throne, Eric watched Karin pull first one and then another human toward the back of the bar. The Viking resolved to speak with Karin about this. Things were tense enough without his oldest complicating matters further by being cruel.
Thalia signaled, letting him know Indira had arrived. Eric could see her walking in through the back followed by Heidi. Eric excused himself and together with Thalia, entered the office that Indira used as a base of operations. Alcide Herveaux was already seated in one chair and Heidi took the other. Eric walked around the desk and no sooner had he seated himself than Indira began apologizing. She told Eric she knew that Sookie Stackhouse was in the area before the takeover, but had taken no steps to safeguard her.
Eric felt his fury roar forward. Had his Sheriff taken even one step to warn her, or keep her in Fangtasia, Sookie might be beside him now. Eric realized that Rick and Pam had entered the office and it helped him to rein in his anger. His head knew Indira had acted with best intentions seeking to save Lily Hermosa, but this negligence was different. Indira had shown no judgment. She failed to understand the situation or the danger it presented to Sookie and Eric was angry all over again. He managed not to kill her, banishing her instead. This was the final lapse. Indira had failed him and they both knew any chance of her hoping to be appointed permanently as Sheriff were over as far as Eric was concerned.
Heidi started talking and Eric welcomed the distraction. She explained she was late arriving because she had stopped at the warehouse first. She told Eric she found evidence of Rubio, but couldn’t be certain if the telepath had been there, too. “I wish to go there,” Eric told her. He knew he needed to see this place for himself.
Eric asked Heidi to join him and once they were in the car, Eric questioned the tracker again. Heidi explained that the reason she couldn’t distinguish whether Sookie had been at the warehouse was because she didn’t have a scent signature for the telepath. She knew Rubio’s scent, but Sookie? She wasn’t sure. “I never tracked her,” Heidi explained, “so I haven’t had a chance to memorize her smell,” and she pointed to her head.
“I can help with that,” Eric answered. “There is something I have of hers. It’s in the pocket of my coat,” and Eric jerked his head toward the area in back of the seats. Heidi pulled a Ziploc baggie from his coat pocket and opened it. It was the baggie containing the pair of Sookie’s underwear Eric had taken from the floor of the telepath’s room in Denver before he left. Heidi looked surprised, but then she didn’t.
As they drove, Eric thought about Rick’s reaction to Alcide Herveaux. The boy handled the introduction well. Rick was painfully human, insisting on shaking hands, but it appeared his attitude had improved from last night. Eric realized he assumed Pam would bring him, and then he felt slightly guilty for not making sure.
When they arrived, Heidi walked him around the area outside, showing him where the vampire clothing was found, and then the room inside where the bodies were discovered. Eric looked at the blood splatter on the light fixture and the damage to the back wall. If Sookie had been here that night, she would have witnessed vampire executions in all their gory glory. Eric remembered how that kind of violence affected her. His Sookie was tough, but wanton killing disturbed her. “She was here,” Heidi announced, and rather than feel pleased that he finally had proof, Eric worried more. They went outside and Heidi found Rubio’s and Sookie’s scent signatures toward the back of the lot. While he told himself that meant they escaped, Eric worried about where they could have gone.
It was then that Sookie’s son brought up the house in Bon Temps. It never occurred to Eric that Sookie would still have access to that house. He knew what the house meant to her but, still, she had walked away from it. Then the boy mentioned the demon attorney and Eric realized that Doctor Ludwig wasn’t the only one who knew Sookie’s secret and failed to inform him. Eric was still smarting over Indira’s failure, and the reminder of how little he liked Mr. Cataliades had Eric gnashing his teeth.
Grabbing Heidi, Eric jumped back in his car, heading for Bon Temps. As they sped down the road, the speedometer inching ever higher, Eric found himself balanced between anticipation and dread. That house had been the setting for some of his best nights, but also some of his worst. Heidi must have sensed his mood, because she remained silent the entire way, staring out her window.
When they pulled into the driveway, it was like a dream. The lights inside glowed softly, and almost before the engine stopped running, Eric was up the stairs and inside. He rushed from room to room, calling her name, but he knew as he took the stairs that led to the second floor that she wasn’t there. The lights were a lie.
When he stopped in the front hall, Heidi was shaking her head. “They were here,” she told him, “but it’s been days. Two, maybe more.” The disappointment was so great, Eric had to force himself to stand still. Pam’s headlights pulled in, followed by another set he assumed belonged to Thalia. He walked outside, and then back in. The boy, Sookie’s son, was staring at the fireplace. Eric followed his gaze and all he could see were the two of them, Sookie and him, laying in front of a fire. He shared his memories out loud with the boy, Rick fed his memories, mentioning Sookie’s favorite books. Then Rick asked if his Mother was dead. It occurred to Eric that if Sookie was gone, this boy would have nowhere to go, and it caused something inside his chest to twist.
They walked outside, the two of them. Eric saw the porch swing and he said out loud what he was thinking, that the swing was where he had made this boy with his Lover. Eric could tell right away he’d said the wrong thing. The boy pulled back, but then he proved another of his gifts. Rick could track vampires.
That there were vampires at Bill Compton’s house was both good news and bad. Eric grabbed Rick and he flew them both closer. Rick was able to confirm the count, and even tell Eric where in the house they were located. Eric didn’t think to ask Rick about humans. He assumed if Rick had heard any, he would have said, and that absence made Eric’s heart hurt. There were only so many possibilities now. A car was out front, probably Rubio’s. It had to be Compton, stalking the upstairs. Eric wanted to believe there was still hope but if Sookie was with Rubio, and if Compton was friendly, Rick would have heard her thoughts.
Eric flew to the upper porch. The doors were open to the night air and Eric caught the whiff of chemical. It was the brand preferred by vampires cleaning up after messy kills, and Eric found he could wait no longer. With a roar, he rushed into the house, and found Bill Compton in the corner bedroom, straightening a white coverlet on a large bed.
“Where is she?” Eric screamed, grabbing the smaller vampire by the throat. He shoved Bill’s head into the wall, breaking the surface and drawing blood. “What have you done with her?”
“She’s not your concern anymore,” Bill hissed. “She’s mine, now, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Eric looked around, “Don’t tell me she’s downstairs,” he hissed, bringing his face close. “There have not been enough nights. Where did you bury her!”
“You know the law!” Bill laughed. “She’s my child now. She’s my responsibility and you have no dominion over her. She threw you out before, Eric, and now, she’s returned to me.”
“And this is how you rewarded her?” Eric stilled. “You know she never wished to be turned!”
“She never knew what she really wanted,” Bill squirmed. “She was wasting away. I’ve fixed that. Now she’ll be perfect forever.”
It was stupid and it broke every law that vampires held inviolate, but Eric was beyond caring. His hand closed and he heard the bones in Compton’s neck break. The vampire started to realize that the power of the law wouldn’t be enough to save him. “Where is she?” Eric asked again. He knew he was crying. He knew he looked weak, but his hands were not. Eric’s brain was telling him that Compton was incapable of answering, but it was as if a red veil had descended over Eric’s eyes.
“Where is she?” he demanded over and over, and each time he asked, he inflicted more damage on the vampire. He threw him across the room. He kicked him so hard that his spine snapped. He stomped Compton’s leg and then twisted and ripped the damaged limb from him. He screamed his question and his hands worked, his fury finding its home in the quickly disintegrating body of Bill Compton.
From downstairs, Thalia and Pam heard Eric’s roar and they knew. They were beside Rubio Hermosa. They found him in an office space toward the back of the house. Rubio had lost a great deal of blood and he was skewered to the floor with what could have been a piece of rebar, except it shone dully of silver. “Get the boy,” Thalia told Pam. “I will need his help here and it will keep him from deciding to check that out himself.” As Thalia pointed upstairs, the sounds escalated.
“He killed her,” Pam said out loud.
“Not finally,” Thalia replied, and her assumption was confirmed when they heard the Viking demand that Compton tell him where she was. “It’s worse,” Thalia sighed, then turned her attention to the injured vampire. “Rubio? Can you hear me? I’m going to give you some of my blood. You’ll be fine. We’ve found you.”
Rubio’s eyes opened. His cheeks were sunken and he was grey. “Go!” she hissed to Pam, and then bit into her wrist and held the wound to Rubio’s mouth.
Pam ran outside to find Rick running toward her. The sounds from the house were now more animal than anger. “What the hell is that?” Rick stammered.
“Your Maker,” Pam told him. “But you don’t need to worry. Eric would never hurt you.” When the boy still stared toward the upper story, Pam snapped, “Rick! You need to come with me now! We found Rubio and he needs your help.” Heidi was beside them and Pam said, “Go into the house and find any blood you can. We may need you to donate. Rubio’s in bad shape.”
“My Mom? Aren’t you going to help her, too?” Rick asked.
Pam shook her head and saw that the boy misinterpreted. His face drained of color and Pam reached out to grab his shoulder, “No, it’s not that. We don’t know where she is yet. She’s not inside,” she told him quickly, and then pulled him with her toward the house.
The noise coming from upstairs sounded as if the ceiling would collapse. There were words being shouted, but it was hard to make them out over the sounds of wood splitting and glass breaking. Rick glanced at the stairs, but he kept walking, following Pam to the back room.
When he saw Mr. Hermosa on the floor, all Rick could think of was George and how much his friend loved his Dad. “Mr. Hermosa!” he said, falling to his knees. “It’s me! Rick!”
The vampire opened his eyes again. “Rick! What are you doing here?” It was hard to hear him over the noise, so Rick leaned closer.
“I came down here with George. We came to find you and my Mom.” Rick licked his lips, “Do you know where she is? My Mom?”
Rubio sighed, and shook his head a little. “I’m not sure,” he whispered. “She was here with me, but I haven’t seen her in some nights.” Rick’s heart fell, but then Amy Ludwig was there. She shook Rick’s shoulder, demanding his attention.
“We are going to need to pull that silver stake out of him,” Doctor Ludwig told Rick and she pointed at the rebar that was sticking straight through Mr. Hermosa. “We’re going to have to do it slowly and seal him as we go, otherwise he’ll bleed out. I need you to keep talking to him. Distract him as much as you can. If he needs it,” and Amy handed Rick a mason jar that had blood in it, “Feed him this. Keep him conscious.”
There was another loud crash from upstairs and then things became eerily silent. “Thank goodness,” Amy snarled, then turning to Thalia said, “Are you ready?”
For Rick, there was nothing more. There was holding Mr. Hermosa’s hand, and telling him all about the trip from New York. There was the moment when they paused in their pulling the silver stake because Thalia’s hands slipped and suddenly the room was filled with the smell of burning flesh. There was tipping the jar carefully over Mr. Hermosa’s pale lips, feeding him just a little, and the way he gasped when the pain was greatest. Rick glanced over once and then, just as quickly looked back at Mr. Hermosa’s face. The women were clustered around the stake, their mouths bloody and their clothes and arms streaked and dappled.
“It’s different than you thought, isn’t it?” Mr. Hermosa gasped.
“What?” Rick asked.
“The glamorous life of a vampire,” and then Mr. Hermosa smiled a little. “Don’t worry. Everything is shocking the first time,” he whispered. “It will become more familiar, and then you start to stop noticing,” and then he laughed breathlessly, “although, hopefully, you won’t see something like this very often.”
When Rick’s eyes started to wander again, Rubio got his attention back by squeezing his hand, “You must promise me something,” he wheezed.
“Sure, Mr. Hermosa,” Rick could tell he was crying, but he felt too numb to care.
“Don’t tell my wife about this! Mrs. Hermosa would stake me if she knew what kind of trouble I got myself into this time.”
For some reason, the way he said it struck Rick funny and he laughed out loud, “Sure, Mr. Hermosa. Sure thing, your secret’s safe with me!”
“It’s out,” Amy announced. “I’ve called for transport. Let’s get some more blood into you,” and she moved forward to sit closer to Rubio’s head. She smiled at Rick, encouraging him to slowly feed the rest of the blood to Mr. Hermosa, tipping the jar, so just a little dribbled into his mouth at a time.
“Do you need me to give you some, you know, from me?” Rick swallowed hard. He didn’t really want to think about any vampire, even Mr. Hermosa biting him, but he knew it was the right thing to offer.
“That was a kind thing to say,” the familiar voice said from behind him and Rick looked up. It was Eric. His Father was standing to the side of them. He was covered in gore. Rick thought later that he might have been just too numb to care, but it didn’t bother him the way it should have. Eric moved to squat near Rubio and Amy made room for him. Eric captured Rick’s eyes with his own, and Rick understood his Father meant to show him something. The vampire bit into his wrist, his fangs distended. It made a crunching sound, and when he pulled his wrist away, it looked as if he’d torn a chunk of flesh from himself. He released Rick’s eyes then, turning to place one hand on Rubio’s head, he laid his bloody wrist against Rubio’s mouth.
Rick could see the immediate change in Mr. Hermosa’s color. He looked less grey. “It’s the power of his blood,” Pam said from behind them.
The wound closed quickly, and Eric raised his arm to bite again, but Rubio shook his head. “It is enough, my King,” he sighed. “I thank you.”
“It is I who am grateful,” the Viking replied. “Your loss would have been a great sorrow to me.” Eric rose then and held out his hand to Rick. “I need you to come with me,” he said.
Rick stared at the hand, and then, refusing to take it, he rose on his own, brushed off his pants and stiffly nodded.
Eric took his hand back, but Rick could see he was smiling. Together they walked to the front door. “I need you to use your gift as a hunter,” Eric told him. “The vampire you seek will not look like us. Perhaps she will be less clear, less vampire. She is here, though, and we need to find her.”
“Another vampire?” Rick felt confused. He felt he should know something, but his head felt mushy.
“Search,” Eric urged. “Look all around. Tell me if you see anything.”
Rick closed his eyes. He saw the bright lights that were the vampires in the house. He did his best to ignore them and instead, he cast his mind out to the land around the house. The grid in his head came back. There was darkness and then, as he scanned in the direction of his mother’s house, there was something else. He frowned and slowly, he scanned again. “There,” he pointed, his eyes still closed.
“Take me there,” Eric placed his hand on Rick’s shoulder, and together, they walked forward. They walked past the tree where Eric had flown them earlier. They walked toward a line of bushes and then a path. There was a metal fence, and Rick realized they’d walked into the cemetery he’d seen earlier. The moon was still shining, and he saw it glow on the stones and carved angels’ faces. There was something else, though. It was another light, but so dim. Rick walked some more, and then he stopped. The light should have been in front of him, but all he could see were the monuments.
“It’s supposed to be here,” he shrugged.
“Yes,” Eric told him. “She is.”