My phone buzzed, rattling against my desk.
“Bill,” I answered, after looking at the caller ID.
“Eric,” he greeted sourly.
“Is all well?” I asked, quickly checking my bond with Sookie. She seemed calm enough—though a little sad. Of course, she seemed sad most of the time these days.
No matter what I tried to do, I couldn’t find a way to make her consistently smile.
I closed my eyes. I’m sure that losing my cool earlier—after she’d reiterated with even more distaste than usual that she would never want to become a vampire—hadn’t helped the situation.
Of course, Victor’s antics didn’t help either. And then there was the thing with Sandra Pelt, though she was—at least—in police custody now.
Even without that one danger gone, however, I still worried about my bonded’s safety—every minute that I was awake.
After my maker had been killed, I’d wanted to invite Sookie to live with me again. I wanted very much to establish a permanent and nightly relationship with the woman I loved, but now that her fairy kin had moved in with her, I knew that Sookie would be unwilling to leave them for the foreseeable future.
And then there was the situation with Freyda, a clusterfuck I wanted to keep from Sookie if I could. After all, I wanted to give her smiles, not cause her even more tears.
I just hoped that Cataliades could get me out of the contract. Ironically, the key was Sookie. Our bond had been completed before Appius signed the damnable contract with Freyda—thus showing that Sookie had the “earlier” claim on me. However, Sookie and my pledging had occurred after the contract had been signed, which muddied the waters. Plus, the fact that Sookie was “officially” a human made her claim “lesser” in the eyes of vampires. Cataliades suggested that Sookie come out as a fairy officially, but too many people already knew about her lineage in my opinion, so I wanted to avoid that.
I was drawn out of my thoughts when Bill finally answered my question. Clearly “Captain Dramatic Pause” was in rare form that night—though Bill was generally fond of his pauses—especially when he had information to lord over me.
“I wanted to let you know that I’m guarding Sookie’s home tonight,” Bill said, sounding very pleased with himself.
“What is going on?” I asked, trying to keep my tone calm.
“Sandra Pelt,” he announced before pausing dramatically. “She has escaped from the jail here. And—as you are aware—she’s already orchestrated several attacks on Sookie,” he informed.
The arm of my chair cracked because of the pressure of my grasp.
“In fact,” Bill went on, “I was over at Sookie’s when Bud Dearborn called to inform her of Sandra’s escape. But that was about twenty minutes ago.” He paused again. “So I’m sure that Sookie has called to inform you of the situation herself. I just wanted save you a call and assure you that I am in place already.”
The fucker was gloating.
“Thank you, Bill,” I said, hating the fact that my voice momentarily betrayed my tension and frustration.
I’m sure that Bill knew damned well that Sookie hadn’t told me about Sandra. She never told me about such matters! Hell—if I’d not felt Sookie’s anxiety during the attacks upon her which had happened at night, I likely wouldn’t even know about Sandra Pelt’s continued obsession with my bonded at all.
“Oh—and one other thing,” Bill said.
“Yes?” I asked.
“Judith, my sister, is leaving.”
“I thought you two were in a relationship now,” I responded evenly.
“Unfortunately, I cannot love Judith as she deserves. As you are aware, my heart belongs elsewhere,” he said.
How could I fucking forget?
“Make sure that Ms. Pelt gets nowhere near my bonded,” I said before hanging up.
The cracked arm of the chair broke off in my hand, and I threw my computer across the room.
Pam entered a moment later. She looked tired and angry, and I knew she had her own stresses.
“Let me guess?” she said snarkily. “Something concerning Sookie?”
“Please arrange for a new computer,” I said instead of responding to her snide remark/question.
“Of course, master,” she returned flatly. “Because cleaning up after your tantrums is much more important than spending time with my dying girlfriend.”
“Then go, Pam,” I said tiredly. “I never said you needed to come in tonight anyway. Given our lessening business as of late, why don’t you just take off as much time as you need?”
With only a final glare in my direction, Pam left the room—as if I’d just ordered her away from Miriam instead of offering her what she’d wanted.
I sighed and pressed my fingers against my temples in order to create the momentary headache I needed to go along with my mood.
Honestly, it was probably best if Pam and I didn’t see each other for a while anyway. Given the stresses we were both facing and the fact that she was very angry at me for not somehow magically forcing Victor to let her turn Miriam (as if I were a fucking witch!), we’d been—quite literally at times—at each other’s throats. Plus, she was pissed off that I was keeping Sookie in the dark about Freyda.
I sighed and texted my new day man Mustapha to replace the computer in my office. And then I rose from my chair and went out into the club. I sighed when I saw that there were almost more employees there than customers.
I looked at Jock, the bartender I’d hired after Alexei killed Felicia. Of course, I knew that he—just like his predecessor—was a spy.
But, ironically enough, I’d always found that spies made very good employees. They were efficient and 90% innocuous so that they wouldn’t be suspected of anything at all—let alone spying. The key was to let them find out some “secrets” without letting them learn the most important ones.
Though the number of visitors to Fangtasia had certainly shrunk, Jock was currently the number one draw. He was handsome, and he projected a good combination of charm and mysteriousness.
Overall, I didn’t mind him too much—at least, not for a spy—though he did have an annoying habit or two. For example, Jock was the kind of vampire who took up smoking after he’d been turned—a practice I found ridiculous. However, Jock clearly thought that smoking made him look “cooler”—and, inarguably, so did some of the fangbangers.
In addition, I knew that Jock’s real name was Jeffrey. Of course, I’d changed my name a time or two—or thirty-two times to be precise—since I’d become a vampire, but Jock had changed his name after the Great Revelation.
“Close the bar at 2:00 a.m.,” I told Jock. “Pam will be out for a few nights; she’s taking a long overdue vacation,” I added.
“Oh? Where to?” he asked congenially.
“Actually, I think that humans would call it a ‘stay-cation.'”
He winked at two gushing women at the end of the bar for whom he was currently mixing cocktails. “Sometimes the best vacations can be in one’s own bed,” he said suggestively.
The women giggled.
I rolled my eyes.
“So are you taking off for the night?” he asked me, reminding me of his true purpose for being at Fangtasia.
I gestured around the room. “Not much to do here. I might go check out the competition.” Of course, I had no intention of going to the Vampire’s Kiss again. Victor’s club might have been drawing in most of my fucking customers, but that didn’t mean I intended to patronize it a second time. However, I was fine with Jock telling Victor that I might show up.
Plus, I had my own spy in Victor’s “inner circle,” which was how I knew about Jock in the first place. It’s also how I knew that Victor was in Area 1 that night—for a welcome fucking change!
I was just about to leave through the back door of the club when Victor proved that he could be annoying even from across the state, however. I steeled myself before answering my phone.
“Victor,” I greeted.
“Northman,” he returned, his voice slippery with scorn. “I have a message from the king. He was disheartened to see that Fangtasia’s profits were down last month, though he appreciates that you offset the loss to Area 5’s tribute by contributing personal funds. I am sorry, old chap. I do hope that the competition from my little club isn’t causing problems for yours.”
“Healthy competition is always welcome,” I said evenly.
“Well—I just wanted to make sure,” he said flippantly. “I won’t take up any more of your valuable time. I’m sure you have a throne to sit on or something.”
I could hear him chuckling as he hung up.
Ignoring the fact that I’d driven to Fangtasia, I took to the air and moved toward Bon Temps. But I stopped when I was about ten miles away. Any closer and I knew that Sookie would feel me in the bond more keenly. And she would be angry at me for meddling or for spying on her or for bothering her domestic bliss or for waking her up or for any number of things.
In truth, I’d come to know the grove of trees that I’d landed among quite well. Many a night since the fairies had tormented Sookie, I’d visited them so that I could be closer to my bonded—so that I could get to her quickly if I felt her distress.
In addition to the newest situation with the Pelt family, I was always wary that Victor would attack me where I was most vulnerable.
“Sookie,” I whispered, identifying that vulnerability for the benefit of the cluster of trees.
I sat down heavily near a familiar old oak tree that was creaking in the stiff breeze.
“I feel old tonight too,” I said to the majestic creature.
I pulled out my phone and set it next to me, waiting for a call or text from my bonded.
But the phone stayed silent.
Finally, as dawn approached, I dug a hole, and then I got into the ground.
I tried to tell myself that things would get better after the Victor situation was dealt with.
I tried to tell myself that I’d be able to get out of the contract with Freyda.
I tried to tell myself that my bonded loved me more than she hated our bond.
But some things were just getting harder and harder to believe.
I sighed against the dirt I’d used to cover my body, though I was careful not to take any of it into my mouth.
In just a few days, it would be a month since Appius had died.
It had been a wonderful sensation to realize that I’d been freed of my maker at long last.
Yes—the part of me who had eventually appreciated the fact that he’d given me a second life had mourned him a little. But the largest part of me remembered the other things that I’d been “compelled” to learn to appreciate. And that part was simply grateful to Sookie and to the one who had killed Appius.
Even after I’d been sent away by Appius—all those years ago—I’d never really felt free of him. How could I? He’d never truly released me from his power.
But—despite that—the years had moved on, and I’d established my own life.
Eventually, I’d made Karin, whom I’d tried to love as best as I could, though she eventually came to resent me in some ways. I’d allowed her to leave my side on the very night that she’d first asked to do so. And I told her that she could come to me any time after her three hundredth year as a vampire; I assured her that I’d be willing to release her then—without question—since 300 was traditionally thought to be the acceptable age to release one’s child according to vampire custom.
Not that I’d ever enjoyed that privilege.
Remembering my own three-hundredth birthday, I coiled my body into the earth like a babe in the womb and had to concentrate not to allow blood to spill from my eyes.
That day had been an especially cruel one for me—thanks to my maker.
But I shook those memories away.
Though older than 300 now, Karin had yet to seek me out to release her. I honestly didn’t know whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Either it meant that Karin trusted me not to misuse her, or it meant that she didn’t want to see me at all.
I could tell that my first child was still among the undead, of course. Each night, I checked our bond, though I was careful to do no more than that. She’d asked for her privacy before she’d left my side. And I had vowed to respect her request.
With Pam, I’d tried to be a “more fun” parent. I’d catered to her personality—even spoiling her at times. Yes, certainly, I’d indulged her.
Of course, now that I could not give Pam what she needed the most—permanent access to her own beloved—she resented me.
Still, I envied Pam. Miriam wanted to be her child. I knew now that Sookie continued to think of being a vampire as a curse that was worse than even her telepathy.
Or our bond.
I sighed. Clearly, Sookie thought that—as her maker—I would likely control her even more than she thought the bond was already controlling her.
I supposed I couldn’t blame her for being wary.
After all, my own “freedom” from my maker had been extremely short-lived. And it had also been an illusion.
Even after my maker had flaked to ash, I was captive to so many things.
For example, I was at the mercy Victor’s whims. I shook my head in the loose soil. The ironic thing was that I really could have worked well with de Castro, even if he were a tad bit more hands-on than Sophie-Anne. And I still wanted to be loyal to him. It was in my nature to honor the vows I made, and—when I’d committed to give my fealty to de Castro—I’d truly committed.
I’d hoped for mutual respect with Felipe—just as long as I served him well.
However, Victor had taken an interest in my bonded—the extent of which Sookie had no idea about.
If she did, she would have been scared shitless, given the fact that Victor made Andre look like a harmless boy scout.
I sometimes wondered what might have happened if Sookie had been forced to bond with Andre. As she so often liked to tell me, our bond made her feel things she wouldn’t have felt otherwise.
I let out another sigh. Maybe she was right. Maybe any and all affection she had for me was an illusion—just as my freedom had been. Maybe I was wrong about the fact that her fairy nature made her resistant to any influence I might wield. Maybe all of my own hopes for her love had somehow made her believe that she cared for me.
Bonded to Andre, she might have run to him in Rhodes. After all, I could think of no other reason than our bond for her coming to me—unless she’d confused me with “her” Eric that day.
I sighed again. Andre almost always shared a resting place with his maker. If Sookie had focused on him, Andre and Sophie-Anne might have made it out of the Pyramid of Gizeh with only minor injuries—just as Pam and I had.
Quinn could have staked me in such a scenario.
And, despite her desire to obtain Sookie’s talent, I knew that Sophie-Anne would have held Andre somewhat in check when it came to the telepath. I sincerely doubt that my old queen would have allowed Sookie to be used sexually by Andre—though I imagined that Andre would have tried to sway her will in that direction. Things would have been difficult for Sookie, but wouldn’t she have been better off?
With a strong Sophie-Anne still queen, de Castro wouldn’t have attacked.
There would be no Victor in the equation.
My maker would not have been a danger to her.
The fairies—including Niall—would have stayed away from her.
No guilt over Claudine and her child.
No guilt over Tray.
Or even Clancy.
Wouldn’t Sookie be better off?
“Of course she would,” I heard Appius’s voice in my head.
Yes. My maker had found a way to haunt me. He’d sold me to the Queen of Oklahoma for a hundred years. I was to be her consort—nothing more than muscle and an able cock.
And the hardest part was that I knew that—if I couldn’t stop it from happening—Sookie would blame me. I knew that she wouldn’t understand that I was bound by my maker’s signature—just as much as I would have been bound by a maker’s command.
Oh—I suppose I could have run. But what would become of Sookie if I did? For I knew damned well she wouldn’t come with me!
No! She would stay in her damned house and in her damned town—where most people thought of her as a pariah—until the bitter end!
And if I did run, I would be a fugitive from the laws of my kind. Thus, I would never find true refuge—at least not anywhere that had any kind of organized vampire population. Sookie was so indoctrinated by the American idea that one could choose his or her fate that she just wouldn’t understand that my maker had tried his damnedest to make that impossible for me.
Indeed, I now knew very well that all freedom was mere artifice. And believing in that illusion just meant that the pain of captivity would be that much worse when it came again.
To keep dirt from my mouth, I forced myself not to laugh ruefully.
The night my maker had died, I’d drunk too much fairy blood to trust myself with my bonded, though I’d mustered my control enough so that I could kiss her forehead and call her “dearest” before I’d jetted into the night sky to fly off my “fairy blood high.” I’d found myself doing corkscrews in celebration. And, later, I’d found myself floating in the clouds, dreaming of what might be.
Since I’d thought myself free.
All of my dreams had included Sookie by my side—truly by it.
Living in a home we shared—even if I had to move to hers.
Perhaps, we might even adopt children. I’d seen the child, Hunter, in my bonded’s home. He was her cousin’s child, and Sookie seemed to enjoy caring for him. I was aware that she didn’t want to bring a telepathic child into the world, but there had always been displaced children in the world. The villagers of my time would take in the orphans of their family and friends. Hell—I even served as a father to my brother’s children after he’d been killed.
Up in the misty clouds, I had visualized asking Sookie to marry me according to the human tradition, a ceremony she would recognize so much more than our pledging.
I’d even begun to design a ring in my imagination—the perfect ring. It couldn’t be too ostentatious, or Sookie would deny it on principal. Thus, I’d thought of something relatively small—without a showy diamond in the middle. As I flew on, I looked down toward the earth; the fields of soybeans below me were deep green, and I began to picture a bright emerald in Sookie’s ring.
Yes—I’d thought—I would find the perfect time to ask her to be my bride. I would bend onto one knee—in the way Sookie would recognize as “traditional.” I would ask her to be my wife. And I would present her with the perfect ring.
And she would say, “yes.”
It had been a nice dream.
However, eventually, I’d had to come back down to earth.
And—the very next night—I’d received two letters: one from Victor informing me “out of courtesy” that he’d be opening a new club in my area and the other from the Queen of Oklahoma, containing the first draft of our “marriage negotiations,” along with a copy of the contract she’d signed with Appius.
Yes—I’d fallen back to earth in chains almost as soon as I’d enjoyed the illusion that they were off of me.
A/N: Okay—this is my imagining of what Eric’s thoughts might have been like mid-Dead Reckoning. The idea that CH helped him to be free of his maker just to enslave him again has always made me angry. It was as if she wanted to find the cruelest thing possible to “punish” Eric for being—well—Eric. This always confused me. She created him, yet she clearly despised him for some reason. Oh well—I don’t wanna even try to jump into CH’s mind. It’s enough that she made Eric so that I can play with him. For that, she’ll always have my gratefulness.
Anyway, by this point in the books, I was feeling horrible for Eric. But I was also feeling angry at him because of his continued lack of communication with Sookie. Many are quick to jump onto the notion that Sookie was a “turd” in her treatment of Eric, and that’s true to a certain extent, but Eric was doing his damnedest to prove that men don’t EVER grow into emotion maturity during this point of the narrative. The last thing he should have been doing was to keep things from Sookie. Just for the record: I know lots of men who know how to talk about the things happening in their lives, so Eric cannot be excused fully. He and Sookie were both idiots in their behavior.
So—yeah—at this point I was shaking my head at both of our protagonists.
BTW: I’m trying to keep some of the main “happenings” of Deadlocked, though I’m changing a lot of the Eric/Sookie interactions with those happenings; thus, it’s important that I remind everyone that I don’t own any aspect of this story, etc. That being said, I hope that you are enjoying my take on things.
Many thanks to Seph and Kleannhouse for their contributions to my work!!!!