Written for the Queen of Area Five’s fiction exchange! Eric was born into royalty—both human and Fae. However, because of his “defect,” telepathy, his parents abandon him. Years later, he finds himself in Louisiana, where he meets a beautiful vampiress named Sookie. ROLE REVERSAL. Eric/Sookie.
Role Reversal! Sookie is an old and powerful vampire that runs a bar where she’s captivated by a beautiful young man from Sweden.
NOTE: Sadly, the person I was writing for had to drop out of the exchange.
I’m sure that I looked as nervous—and as inexperienced—as I felt as I parked my car and looked up at the Fangtasia sign. But I didn’t really care.
Actually, that was a lie; I did care. I cared about Adele Stackhouse. And that meant that I had to care about Jason Stackhouse’s fate too.
I took a deep breath as I walked to the end of the line that would lead me into the premier vampire club in the Southern United States. It was a long line, and—with every step I took toward the door—I felt my trepidation rising.
“Come on! Man up!” I said to myself, but then I immediately found myself wondering what it really meant to be a man. I’d certainly never had a father-figure to teach me. And I’d never had a girlfriend—let alone a wife—to learn with. Indeed, what I knew about manhood had been read from books and heard from heads—both male and female. And—honestly—there wasn’t a clear message of manhood at all—at least none that I’d been able to find.
I sighed. Actually, I realized, the central point wasn’t about whether or not I was a “man” at all; it was about whether or not I was a “person.”
A true person—someone who added something to the world.
I often doubted that I was such a being, for my whole life had been spent hiding who I was—and what I was.
I’d been born in Sweden 33 years before to extremely wealthy parents. Those parents, Stella and Johan, were Swedish royalty—literally. In fact, as brother to the king, my father was in line for the Swedish monarchy. My uncle, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, had three children. And, between those three, there were three additional heirs—making my father seventh in the line of succession. Officially, that made me number eight in line, but—of course—to have been that, I would have needed to have been formally recognized.
And still alive.
Which I wasn’t—at least, not officially.
I smiled wryly—bitterly. Actually, I had been “recognized”—at first. I’d been christened Erik Gustaf—named partly in honor of my uncle. My birth had been as celebrated as my cousin Victoria’s, for we were born within days of each other—with me being slightly older. Of course, since my uncle was the king, his issue immediately “leap-frogged” me in the line of succession. But that hadn’t lessened the celebration that the brothers—my uncle and my father—had shared in adding to their family.
Indeed, everything would have been perfect if I hadn’t fucked things up.
Not that I remembered doing it.
Not that I’d purposely done it.
According to the thoughts I’d been able to pick up related to my early years, almost as soon as I’d begun speaking, my “abnormality” had presented itself. I didn’t just speak sentences about loving mommy or daddy—or sentences about wanting pudding or ice cream. No. I spoke out the thoughts of those around me—which freaked out everyone!
Apparently, my “defect” couldn’t be hidden after I was approximately two years old. Already, too many people knew of it—or suspected it: my nannies, doctors who had tried to treat me, some of the servants, my parents, and—certainly—my uncle, the king.
In truth, I cannot remember much about those early days—just impressions really. When I later saw pictures of my parents, I recognized them as being a small part of my first few years. But that “part” hadn’t necessarily been good. I recalled the nature of their thoughts more than anything else. My mother disliked being around me, and my father felt as if I was his punishment for something.
I never found out what he felt he was being punished for.
By the time I was three years old, my parents were desperate to do “something” about me. They met in secret with the king and the head of his security force, a man named Appius Ocella. The four of them decided that my “abnormality” was a potential danger to the whole monarchy. After all, as I grew, I would have access to state and military secrets. Appius claimed that I might already know things that enemies could use against Sweden.
Instead of a confused child, looking for acceptance and love, Appius was able to paint me as some kind of terrorist toddler, who would babble out top-secret information faster than I could spill a box of blocks.
So—three months after my fourth birthday—I was “killed” off.
According to the newspaper articles I later read, I died of pneumonia.
The story hadn’t been difficult to sell. When I’d first displayed my abnormality, my parents had sequestered me from the outside world, proclaiming me “sickly.”
Not surprisingly, as a very young child, I didn’t understand much. All I knew was that I was being taken away from a room that had been full of toys to keep me “busy.” My mother and father told me “goodbye,” even as their thoughts were hopeful that I was young enough to forget all about them.
In truth, it was difficult to remember them even then, for I saw them infrequently. In fact, I saw few people when I lived in my parents’ estate.
After I “died,” I was moved to the countryside, where I was “cared for” by a couple who were hired to make sure that I was fed and clothed. They were an older couple in their sixties and introduced themselves at Sven and Hanna.
Looking back, I think that my caretakers were hired for their coldness. Part of their job was not to speak to me. Another part was to spank me if I spoke to them. And they were paid well. Needless to say, I soon learned not to speak.
Of course, I could still hear Sven and Hannah’s thoughts. Sven had been in the military until he retired at age fifty five. He and Hannah—I later learned—were not naturally “cold.” They’d had three children of their own, but all three were killed in a bus accident when the eldest was only 16 years old. It was unsurprising that they had little love to offer to themselves or to others after that.
Once I “heard” about their past, I felt bad for them. Hannah made sure that I had wholesome food, and—though that was her job—I always tried to show my appreciation by eating every crumb, since I could not say my thanks out loud. And—as for Sven? Well, he preferred it when he didn’t have to see me since I reminded him a little of his youngest child. So I tried to stay out of his line of sight.
As would be expected, no pictures of me existed beyond my infancy; thus, my caretakers had no idea about who I really was, and they had been paid so much money that they honestly didn’t care.
Being so young, I wasn’t really sure of who I was either. All that I knew for certain was that I was the boy who was required to remain silent—though I would occasionally whisper out words when I knew I couldn’t be heard.
I did know a couple of things. I’d been “renamed” Eric Northman and had been dubbed an orphan. And—as I grew old enough to be more aware—that is who I believed myself to be.
When I was six years old, I had my first visitor in the countryside: Marnie Stonebrook.
By then I’d been fully conditioned not to speak, so I’d simply listened to the woman during most of her visit. She told me that she was there to cure me of my “mind deformity.” She added that I would be given rewards if I progressed in my “studies.”
From her head, I heard a longer story. Marnie was a psychologist; however, she also dabbled in the occult—not that I really understood either of those things back then. What I did understand was her recollection of a man named Appius Ocella hiring her. Marnie was what one would call a royal-phile, someone who was so interested in the royal family that she felt like she was a part of them. Appius convinced her that I’d been “afflicted” as a child and that, because of my “disability,” I was a danger to the king and everyone else in the royal family.
I recognized my parents’ faces in her head, too. They were agreeing with Appius.
Marnie felt honored that the monarchy was entrusting her with so important a task.
It seemed clear to me—even at such a young age—that she would have offered her services even if she’d not been paid.
But she had been paid—a lot.
For both her supposed skill-set and her discretion.
Not surprisingly, at our first meeting, part of her doubted that I had any ability at all. However, I was promised toys beyond the few picture books and blocks I’d been given three years before if I demonstrated what I could do.
The only words I’d spoken in almost three years were whispers in my dark room as I made up stories for my picture books when I knew that my caretakers were sleeping. So—sounding like a stranger to myself because I’d not vocalized “normally” in so long—I proved my ability to Marnie by saying the names of items that were on the cards that she was looking at.
Of course, some of the images were beyond me, but Marnie “helped” by thinking the words as she looked at the cards.
Thus, I was able to come up with words like “kitten” and “bicycle”—despite the fact that I’d never seen either.
Needless to say, Marnie was convinced that I did have an ability, and I received the toys—including a bicycle!
Over the next few weeks, Marnie encouraged me to speak to her, though I was still forbidden to speak with Sven and Hannah. Heck—in those early days—Marnie was something of a speech therapist to me since I’d done so little speaking for half of my young life!
She had told me that she needed to fully understand my “abnormality” in order to cure it, and I did everything she asked me to do as she conducted her “diagnostics.” Starved for attention, I wanted to please her. And the tasks she gave me—similar to the “picture game” we’d played that first day—offered me a kind of interaction I’d never known before.
Someone let me speak. Someone wanted to hear me.
Not surprisingly, I grew to “like” her very quickly, and I looked forward to our lessons.
However, I quickly learned that having something pleasant for a short while could be worse than never having it at all.
After her diagnostic tests were completed, Marnie began trying to “cure” me. And I soon learned that demonstrating my abilities would no longer please her.
It would enrage her.
It was a cruel lesson.
And she was a cruel teacher when I didn’t show signs of “improvement.”
Day after day, she would make me sit with my back to her. Sometimes she would speak things aloud. Sometimes she would just “think her words at me.”
My task was to tell her which one was occurring.
I had no ability to block thoughts from my mind at the time. Thus, needless to say, each answer I gave was a guess.
The toys that had been given to me were the first things to be taken away when I made mistakes. Then the meagre possessions I’d had before her arrival were confiscated.
And then my freedom.
Before her arrival into my life, I’d always been allowed to spend part of my days outside where there was a stream. I’d study the fish swimming. And I’d run along the banks of the stream. Unsurprisingly, my time outside was taken away from me on the day when I’d run out of possessions that Marnie could seize. I was sentenced to my bare room—even for meals.
After that, I learned that Marnie wasn’t above punishing me with ruler or belt when I mistook her spoken words for her thoughts.
And then—one day, right after a particularly painful lesson—I heard a thought that I know she’d not intended for me to hear. She’d had a conversation with Appius and my father. They’d agreed that—if I didn’t show progress soon—I would need to be “put down.”
Even with very little knowledge of the world, I understood the implications of her thought. And—though I had no happiness in my life to speak of—I wanted to live.
After that, I redoubled my efforts during my “lessons” with Marnie, trying to discover anything that would distinguish her thoughts from her spoken words. Looking back, I know that the difficulty came because she was literally projecting her thoughts at me, so they “sounded” as if they were being spoken aloud. And her mind was extremely disciplined, too. So it wasn’t as if she “thought” about whether she would be “speaking” or “thinking” before she did it.
My savior had been water—a little bit of water trapped in my ear following a bath. That trapped water had eventually led to me having an ear infection—one that wasn’t noticed by my cruel “teacher” and indifferent caretakers until I’d collapsed from a dangerously high fever.
Though the opportunity might have been perfect for me to be “done away with,” a doctor was sent for. The infection was bad enough that I lost partial hearing in the afflicted ear. But I was grateful to be ill, for Marnie disappeared from my life for several months as I recovered.
My doctor was a kind man, and—though I knew better than to speak to him—I heard in his thoughts that he felt sorry for me. Understandably, he thought that Sven and Hannah were my parents, and he marveled at the lack of care they seemed to have for my health. During his daily visits, he also noticed the lack of any kind of toys in my room. Given the fact that my caretakers seemed well-off, he wondered at this and asked them about it. They relayed merely that I was an unruly child and deserved no toys.
The next day, the doctor snuck me a small wooden puzzle game. Even without reading his thoughts, I knew that it needed to stay hidden. The object of the game was to maneuver one of the pieces through the others until it was freed. If I was successful, the doctor would rearrange the pieces for me the next time he visited.
It was this game that first helped me to conceptualize the notion of having shields. I’d tried everything I could think of to distinguish Marnie’s thoughts from her words, but when those thoughts were projected, I simply couldn’t “feel” a difference. However, because of the puzzle game, I began to wonder if I could somehow block her thoughts from getting into my head to begin with. Then, I would hear only her spoken words.
I visualized the pieces of the wooden puzzle game in my own mind. And I practiced on my caretakers as I lay in bed, still recovering from my ear infection. And then—one day—something that I did worked! Oh—it didn’t work perfectly, but I could “hear” a difference. Thoughts that had been loud before were suddenly much less so, and those thoughts seemed to have an echo to them.
Of course, Marnie did come back. And her thoughts told me that I had only one week to show progress.
But I was ready for her—and ready to fight for my life.
I used the budding “shields” in my head to “win” the “games” that we played during my lessons. I won’t say that it wasn’t difficult to defeat her. The “blocks” I was using to try to keep her thoughts out weakened after a few hours of “treatment.” However—despite a blistering headache—I continued to hear a slight “echo” to her thoughts.
Marnie, of course, wasn’t satisfied; she continued to test me relentlessly for another month.
Eventually, she posited that my high fever had cured me—purged me of whatever affliction the devil had given to me. And she exited my life forever.
The last time I saw her, I read in her thoughts that she’d told Appius and my father that I was, indeed, cured. However, it had already been decided that it was too “inconvenient” for my family to attempt to reclaim me, though—to my father’s credit—he did decide that I should be allowed to have a “better life” after that.
Sven and Hannah were told that they could speak with me, though they were instructed to immediately report to Appius if I did anything “abnormal.” I was also allowed toys and my outdoor privileges were reinstated.
But—best of all—tutors were arranged for!
Though always careful to hide my abnormality by using my shields, I still managed to learn quickly. Reading opened up the world to me. And mathematics helped me to understand ways that I could make my shields even stronger. Science taught me about what I saw on my daily trips outside. And I excelled at foreign languages because I could “hear” them and their translations in the minds of my teachers if I concentrated hard enough.
As far as I could tell, none of my tutors knew who I really was, and that was fine by me.
Over the years, my studies became more complex, and I began to favor history above other subjects. None of my tutors questioned my motives when I wanted to learn more about the history of my own nation, including its current royal family.
Meanwhile, my own parents went on to have a daughter—Pamela. I didn’t know much about her. But I assumed that she was “normal” because she was kept by them. I sometimes imagined what it would be like to meet her, but I also knew that was not in the cards for me.
Eventually, my caretakers became more congenial to me—even calling me by name—though they never treated me like family or anything. I was still their “job.” When I was seventeen, part of that job became to teach me about “life skills.”
Hannah showed me how to cook a few simple dishes. I learned how to do my own laundry. Of course, I already knew the basics of cleaning, for I’d been expected to keep my own room and bathroom tidy for many years.
After that, Sven took me to the market and taught how to use money to buy things for myself—my own clothing, my own food, etc. Not surprisingly, going to the market for the first time was a difficult experience. Luckily, Sven figured that my trepidation was caused because I was overwhelmed with seeing so many new people and things. Of course, my discomfort was actually from hearing so many thoughts. I’d become very good at keeping up my shields when there were only a few people nearby, but I’d never experienced having to keep out dozens of people’s thoughts all at once.
Thankfully, after a few more visits to the market, I was able to function more “normally.” And I used the trips to work on making my shields stronger.
I was given a manual about driving and then took a test before Sven actually taught me how to drive. After I took another test, I was given a license with the name “Eric Northman” on it.
I learned the purpose of these “life lessons” on the day that I turned eighteen. With a cordial goodbye, Hannah and Sven told me that they would be “retiring” and moving on. And that meant that I would be living on my own.
They’d already packed.
After they left, I couldn’t help but to be lost. Would I be expected to leave the home I’d grown up in? Who did the home belong to—if not my caretakers? Was the car outside mine to use? Who owned it? Was the money that was left on the kitchen counter by my caretakers mine to use?
I figured that I would simply ask my tutors all of my questions, but they didn’t come that day. That night, after I went to bed, I heard a strange mind come near the house. Frightened and curious, I dropped my shields.
The man I heard had come to spy on me—to see what I would do. He’d been hired by Appius Ocella. The name that I’d not heard for many years gave me a chill.
Though I could hear the spy in my vicinity all the time after that, I never let on that I knew that he was there. I simply went on as best I could. I used the car to go to the market for food when I needed it. Learning by trial and error, I did my best to tend to the garden that Hannah had begun. I kept the house clean. And I read.
Though the money in the envelope had been a lot, I knew it wouldn’t last forever, so when I saw a help-wanted sign at the grocery store, I asked about the job. Soon, I was stocking shelves and cleaning the store at night. And I was earning money.
Still not knowing who owned the house or car I was using, I used most of the money I earned to rent a small apartment within walking distance of my workplace. I replaced the money I’d taken from the envelope and packed up my clothing and the books that I’d been given by the tutors who’d once instructed me. I left I note on the kitchen counter—next to the money—indicating where I could be found if someone came to claim the car or the books or even the clothing I wore. I didn’t know what else to say as a farewell to the house I’d spent most of my life in.
For a year after that, I worked as much and as hard as I could, even as I internally worked on my shields. However, to avoid making “mistakes,” I kept mostly to myself. Unsurprisingly, the people in the small town where I now lived thought that I was “odd” and “antisocial.” I couldn’t blame them; after all, their assessment was accurate.
I still “heard” the man who had been sent by Appius to spy on me, for he moved into the boarding house down the street from my own. I learned that his name was Franklin Mott; I also learned that he was extremely bored at his job. I couldn’t blame him. Following me around must have seemed monotonous at best. Eventually, I did try new things. I discovered the town’s modest library and visited it several times a week. And my shields eventually grew strong enough that I tried eating at one of the town’s restaurants.
It was there that I was first “flirted” with. One of the waitresses—a woman with abnormally red hair—shamelessly leered at me. I could see what she wanted me to do to her from her thoughts, and—as a nineteen-year-old virgin—I cannot say that I wasn’t tempted. However, when she brushed her hand against mine when she brought me my food, I discovered that my shields were not strong enough to contemplate being intimate with her.
Her thoughts crashed through my shields, and I could “hear” her insecurities through her lust. I could “hear” her need to “feel good” and to “escape” from her role as the mother of two children she’d never wanted to have. I could “hear” how she didn’t care anything about me—beyond the fact that she thought I was attractive. I could “hear” her hoping that my dick didn’t turn out to be a disappointment. Yes—as I listened to the redhead—I realized that I wasn’t anywhere near the point where I could even contemplate having sex.
Despite my “encounter” with the redhead, I still tried to insert myself more into the “real” world. I made a point to go out once a week—to a restaurant or to the local pub. I even tried to be a little more social, starting up conversations with the bar tender or the librarian.
As I got out more, I was surprised to find out that many women found me attractive, but—though my body may have wanted more—my mind couldn’t handle their thoughts.
However, as long as I wasn’t touched, I found that my shields were becoming stronger and stronger. Thus, I began contemplating what I might do with my life in the future. I’d loved studying, and I’d learned to use the computer at the library; since my expenses were few, I bought my own computer about six months after I left the country house. My landlord graciously showed me how to access the Internet from my room, and I discovered more of my world—and my options—each and every day.
I learned that there were actually ways that I could continue my education via online classes, which I intuited would be a good way to start. I soon realized, however, that I would need a credit card to pay for things like the classes and my books, so I opened a bank account and got a credit card.
Indeed, with each little step I took, I felt like I could take another.
However, each step also seemed to add a challenge. Not having any kind of official school transcripts, I first had to sign up to take a test that would prove that I knew enough to have passed secondary school. The most challenging part was that I would have to travel to the nearest testing center, Östersund, a city with over 40,000 people, in order to take the test. The town I lived in had only about 700 residents, and I was scared of what being around more people would do to my shields.
Still—I knew I had to try. I spent weeks planning. I bought a bus ticket and arranged for a hotel room for three days prior to the test, hoping that I could use a few days to become acclimated to shielding from a lot of people. I arranged for time off from my job, and I went to the most crowed places in my town—practicing as much as I could.
Despite all these preparations, I felt out of my depth as soon as I boarded the bus for Östersund. Strangely, I was somewhat comforted to “hear” Franklin Mott board soon after me. His familiar mind followed me to my hotel and then throughout the town as I tried to strengthen my shields by holding out more and more people. Knowing that Franklin was watching, I had extra incentive to keep my expression calm, even when my shields buckled in the more crowded areas.
For the first two days that I was in Östersund, I pushed myself with practice and then crashed into bed each night with a splitting headache. The day before my test, I decided to rest, hoping for the best. However, as I walked into the testing center, I had reason to worry. I realized that my own preparations were very different from those of the other hundred or so people in the room. And—suddenly—I was worried about more than just keeping my shields up. The people in the room were studying from test preparation books, hoping to fit one or two last pieces of knowledge into their heads. And that is when I realized that I didn’t really know whether I actually had enough knowledge to even take the test.
Let alone pass it.
I became even more nervous as I filled in the little circles of my scantron form. I was just glad that I was not asked for information like “parents’ names,” as I did my best to mark each item as instructed. It was clear that the others in the room were much more familiar with using such forms.
Once the test itself began, I learned just how difficult it was to concentrate on my own answers as I heard the other people in the room thinking about theirs. Were they right? Was I right? I did the best I could to concentrate on my own thoughts as I plodded through the test.
Still—I left the testing center with the worst headache of my life and only a slim hope that I’d passed, given the way that my thoughts had begun to swirl around those of the other testers by the end of the exam.
The next day, as I rode back to my little town, I comforted myself with the idea that—even if I could never qualify to take university classes—I could continue to study on my own by reading books or researching with my computer.
By the time I started my overnight shift, I was just grateful that the sleeping brains of those in my vicinity were not attacking my shields.
Two weeks later, I received my results from the test. Afraid, I kept the notification in my pocket for days until I finally compelled myself to open it.
The test required a score of 75% or above to pass.
I gasped when I saw that I had earned 94%!
I was celebrating by applying to a university which offered quite a few online classes when there was a knock at my door. Immediately, I dropped my shields in order to figure out who was there.
“Just a moment, please,” I said, trying to sound natural. I stretched out my brain and found Franklin Mott nearby. He’d just met with Appius and had given him a report about my comings and goings. Nothing related to my disability was in the report, however.
I “listened” to my “guest,” hoping to hear his reason for being there as I approached the door, but his mind was focused upon the “squalor” that he felt I was living in.
I took a deep breath and opened the door.
“Eric Northman?” he asked in an official-sounding voice.
I nodded. “Yes. Can I help you?”
“I am an attorney,” he lied. “I need to speak with you.”
Keeping my expression neutral, I responded, “An attorney?”
His beady, dark eyes narrowed, studying everything about me. “Yes. I am here to discuss your estate.”
I frowned. “Estate?” I asked.
“May I come in?” he requested.
Intuiting that being compliant and feigning ignorance were needed to survive my encounter with Appius Ocella, I invited him into my apartment and gestured toward the rickety table that served as both my desk and the place where I ate.
“My name is Victor Madden,” he lied again as he sat down.
“Mr. Madden,” I nodded, taking the other seat.
Victor/Appius looked around my apartment, scrutinizing everything he found there.
I couldn’t help but to scrutinize, too.
The apartment had only two rooms, with its only door being to the bathroom. The furniture had come with the dwelling, and I’d not found any need to change things. There was a twin-sized bed in the corner, and next to that was a dresser, where my clothing was stored. Another “section” of the room boasted a small couch, which faced a cabinet where a television would have gone—if I’d had one. However, I did not. Instead, I had stacked books on the cabinet. My small kitchen included a stove with two burners and a narrow oven, but that was plenty big for me. I also had a small counter with a sink and a refrigerator. The only other thing in the small dwelling was the table we now sat at.
“Can I get you something to drink?” I asked, emulating what I knew other people did when they entertained guests.
“No,” he said with a bit of a sneer.
I waited for him to speak again for a full minute before I asked, “What can I do for you, Mr. Madden?”
“Why did you leave your home?” he asked pointedly. “Why did you move here?”
I decided that “mostly” honesty would likely work the best in the situation I was in.
“My caretakers left,” I shrugged. “I did not know whom the house belonged to, so—as soon as I had a job—I left,” I responded.
He tilted his head to study me even more intensely than before.
“Um—if you’re here for the car, it’s parked outside. I drove it only a few times,” I said under his scrutiny.
“The house belongs to you, and so does the car,” he said after almost another silence-filled minute.
I frowned. “How?”
His face was a blank, his eyes reptilian. “You were left an inheritance by a relative,” he said as he opened a briefcase and produced a file folder.
I couldn’t hide my surprise, though I figured that emotion was expected by Appius/Victor. “A relative?” I asked.
“A great-uncle,” he said evenly.
“Is he the reason why I had caretakers? The reason I had tutors?” I asked.
I didn’t feel the need to mention Marnie.
Appius/Victor nodded in confirmation before pushing the folder to me. “You have been left more than just the home and the vehicle,” he said.
I knew that he expected me to open the file, so I did. The difficult part of reading over the bullet points was that Appius was thinking directly toward me—hoping to make me react. He thought about how he’d wanted to kill me from the first moment he heard about me. He imagined several scenarios, including taking the gun currently in his jacket pocket and blowing my brains out. And then he thought about how pathetic he thought that I was—the pitiful man without any friends.
Even as his projected thoughts bombarded me, however, I kept looking at the papers in front of me. They outlined my ownership of the house I’d lived in for so long and the car that had been parked for a year. And they also told me that I was quite wealthy.
Again, I didn’t need to fake my surprise as I saw the amount of money I had been given.
“This can’t be right,” I said.
Appius/Victor said nothing aloud, even as his head told me that this was my parents’ way of easing their consciences. Appius had disapproved of my being given anything—except for that bullet to the head. And he was still looking for any indication that I was still “afflicted”—that I might still be a danger to the royal family.
However, he believed in Franklin Mott’s efficiency. And—honestly—he thought that I was too ignorant to be able to pull off hiding any ability I might still have. After so many years, I “heard” him accepting Marnie’s assessment that my near-death experience, which had included a very high fever, had eradicated any ability that I might have had.
I kept my eyes on the file in front of me.
“I cannot take this,” I said. “I didn’t even know him—my great-uncle.”
“He died when you were only an infant,” he said.
“Do you know anything of my parents?” I asked, knowing that if I didn’t enquire about the rest of my “family” he’d be suspicious.
“Your mother was a prostitute; she died when you were born,” he lied callously. “And your father is unknown. That is why the name of your great-uncle will not be made available to you; it is not Northman,” he added. “The rest of your blood relations want nothing to do with you.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling the sting of his words acutely.
“You should count yourself lucky that you had a relative who felt an obligation toward you.”
I didn’t need to hear his thoughts to bristle at his words.
“The money you have inherited has been moved to an account at the bank in this town,” he said derisively—as if being in such a rural community were distasteful to him. “The deed to the house and the car are in the folder,” he added, getting up. “All the information you need is in the file,” he smirked as he went to the door.
I stood and followed him.
I was glad that he didn’t offer to shake my hand before opening the door and leaving without another word.
Feeling numb, I walked back to the table. I read in the file that the inheritance had been “officially” mine since I turned eighteen. As promised, the file also contained the deeds to the house and car. And there was more too. There was a birth certificate for “Eric Northman”—me. My mother’s name was listed as Anna Northman. My father’s name was blank.
In addition, there was a school record inside of the file, indicating that I’d completed my educational requirements with distinction.
I closed my eyes. Of course, Appius would have known that I had applied to take the equivalency test. I was ignorant in many things, but I was also a mind reader and knew that Franklin Mott had monitored my Internet searches from the moment I’d first gotten a computer.
I shivered as I imagined Appius’s amusement in knowing that I was taking a test that I didn’t need to take. I sighed, knowing that every moment of my life following Marnie’s departure from it had all been a test—a test to determine whether I was still able to read thoughts.
I figured that the evidence that I’d passed his test was in front of me.
Of course, I was wrong. His tests were not over.
I shook my head to clear out the memory of Appius as I took a step forward in line. I was still about ten people away from the entrance of Fangtasia, and I heard several people in front of me complaining that they’d stopped letting people into the club because it was at capacity. I leaned against the building’s wall.
I was patient.
I’d have to be throughout my life.
I took a deep breath as I slipped back into my memories.
While taking as many classes as I could online, I had continued working for the grocer for three additional years. However, I began getting letters telling me that I needed to fulfill my mandatory military service to my country.
When I was 23, I applied to do just that. My tutors had taught me several languages, and I’d studied others online. Thus, I was made a translator in the military. As would be expected, basic training was difficult for me since the facility I trained in had a lot of people within a relatively small space, but my assignment turned out to be a godsend.
I was given a post in Berlin—since my two strongest foreign languages were German and English. Even though Berlin was certainly the largest city I’d ever been to, I had fewer problems controlling my shields there. No matter how well I spoke German, I still “thought” in Swedish. And my disability also needed time to “translate” the thoughts that I heard in the other languages I knew. And that afforded a degree of separation that was good for me.
My service lasted eighteen months, and I thought about staying in the army, but the university called to me. I felt confident enough to actually finish my degree in “proper” classes, following my time in Berlin—and, though it was difficult when I first got to Lund in southern Sweden, I soon built my shields to the point that I could hold out the thoughts of the other students at Lund University. There, I specialized in history—with an emphasis on the History of the Americas. I also honed my language skills and ended up being proficient in Latin, French, and Cantonese—in addition to being fluent in English and German.
I graduated when I was 28 years old, and I applied for a work visa to the United States.
I cannot say that I was surprised when my visa request was almost immediately approved. After all, I still “heard” Franklin Mott and other spies sent by Appius almost every day, so I knew that the king’s head of security was still interested in my life—even if my parents were not.
I ended up in Louisiana because of random chance: a finger put onto a map of the United States while my eyes were closed.
Not surprisingly, Bon Temps, with a population close to the first town I’d lived in, wasn’t on the map. But it was still in the spot where my finger had landed. And the school there was looking for someone to teach history and French.
I was hired.
Unsurprisingly, my request for U.S. citizenship two years before seemed to be on the FastTrack.
Though I’d not heard any new spies since moving to Louisiana, I still wondered if Appius Ocella was hurrying along my citizenship request, working behind the scenes to ensure that I was as far away as possible from Sweden and my “real” family. I suppose that was his job, after all.
It certainly wasn’t my “blood” family which had caused me to venture to a vampire bar. But it was still family that had compelled me to go there—the only family I’d ever truly had.
When I moved to Bon Temps, I rented a room from Adele Stackhouse, a widow who lived on the outskirts of the community. In fact, I rented her entire upper floor. She was kind and generous. And her mind matched her actions—except for the fact that there was quite a bit of gossip swirling around in that mind. Adele loved to collect “dirt” on people. However, she wasn’t one to let that gossip spill, especially not if it could hurt someone.
She just liked knowing things. I smirked to myself. If she could visit my brain, she would know almost everything about the residents of the small town.
Adele’s mind told me that she sensed that there was something “off” about me, but that had never stopped her from being extremely kind. In fact, she’d attributed my “differences” to my being “foreign,” and I’d encouraged that same interpretation in everyone I met in the small community. Most everyone in Bon Temps looked at me with a smidgeon of distrust since I wasn’t “from there,” but that that was fine by me. I didn’t want to be popular.
Indeed, I was happy just living with Adele and having a quiet life—with the emphasis on “quiet.” Hell—even our neighbors were ideal, given the fact that the dead in the graveyard next to her home didn’t think.
At least not in any language that I could hear.
Thank the gods.
Of course, the teeming minds of the teens I taught were difficult to keep out of my own mind at times; however, I managed. And the practice was good for my shields. I was already legendary among the students when it came to catching cheaters and being a good advocate for the students. I always let the school counselor, Halleigh Robinson, know if I’d “heard” anything that needed her immediate attention. She figured that I was just in tune with my students. Of course, I didn’t tell her that I’d heard about their troubles from their own heads.
As for the “normal” teen angst issues? If I “heard” them, I let them be. Frankly, it was mostly the “big” stuff that I couldn’t keep from penetrating my shields nowadays.
However, home was my refuge.
And it was a home—at least, that is how it felt thanks to Adele.
At the old farmhouse, I stored up the energy I would need for my workdays. And—with what time I had left after grading student work—I read, ran along the country roads to keep myself fit, or helped Adele with chores.
It was Adele’s grandson who had caused me to come to Fangtasia—which was obviously well out of my comfort zone. Though Jason didn’t like me much—since he could never get past the fact that I was a “foreigner” in his head, he had always been cordial to me for Adele’s sake. He’d even bit his tongue when she began to insist that I eat holiday dinners with them.
Of course, the fact that I didn’t try to steal women from the “town’s supply”—as Jason had first worried about when he’d seen me—had gone a long way toward earning his toleration, too.
I took a deep breath as I advanced a few places in Fangtasia’s line.
I caught the thoughts of the two young women checking out my ass from behind—as if they were projecting their minds right at me. Automatically, I bolstered my shields. I knew that I was attractive. Between the running that I did almost every day and the work I did for Adele, I knew that my body was well-toned. And I’d also lucked out in the genetics department—at least physically—for, though my father and mother had been keen to give me up, they’d offered me the best parts of themselves.
In fact, if anyone had ever cared to look closely enough at me—which few had—he or she would have noticed that I looked almost exactly like my father, with the exceptions being that I had slightly lighter hair and my mother’s eyes. In Sweden, I’d tried to be more-less invisible. And, luckily, in the United States, hardly anyone even knew what the king looked like—let alone his brother and sister-in-law.
But that didn’t stop many women and some men from cataloguing my features in their minds, though I always tried to block out their thoughts.
I wasn’t a virgin—thanks to Vera, whom I’d met in Germany—but I certainly wasn’t very experienced with sex either.
Vera was a decade older than I was, and she was originally from Russia—so that was the language in which she “thought.” It was a language I didn’t know.
She was one of the barmaids at the tavern I frequented in Berlin while I was stationed there, and she took a liking to me. One night—I drank more than I ought to have drunk and I went home with her. Sadly, for both of us, I came in the condom as she put it on me.
However, she decided that I deserved another chance to actually get inside of her the next morning.
She thought that I was “sweet” when I apologized for lasting only five minutes when she gave me a second chance. She spent a few months giving me more chances and taught me how to please her with my fingers and tongue. Eventually, however, she moved back to Moscow, which was likely a good thing. Though I still couldn’t understand her fully, I’d found myself learning Russian because I couldn’t tune her thoughts out when we touched.
I’d tried with one other woman—a young woman at university. Despite the fact that she wasn’t a “loud” broadcaster, I’d still “heard” her thoughts as I’d tried to “perform.” My inexperience and nervousness were certainly noted by her. It was humbling to “hear” her disappointment when I didn’t get her off during intercourse. I’d done my best to please her orally after that; however, she was still disappointed with me. She was already planning to tell her friends about the fact that the “bark” of my dick—as promised by my above normal size—was not matched by its “bite.”
After that encounter, I’d decided that masturbation was preferable to sex. After all, it just wasn’t possible for me to keep the thoughts of the woman out of my brain when I was touching her, and that made it almost impossible for me to get and maintain an erection.
My right hand had no thoughts at all—thankfully.
And it could cause me no shame when I didn’t please it back.
Now near my thirty-fourth birthday, I’d not had sex since I was 27 years old. Given the angst it had caused me, I didn’t miss the brief physical pleasure I’d gotten from it. And—as for emotional affection? Love? Well—it was safe to say that I didn’t miss it because I couldn’t remember ever having it.
At least not the romantic kind.
But I did know that I was loved now. Over the years, Adele had come to think of me as an honorary grandson. She appreciated every pass I made with the lawnmower and every weed I pulled. She had no way of knowing, but I spent a lot of my free time studying how I could help her—whether it be by learning to change the oil in her car or figuring out how to fix a leaking faucet.
Yes. It was safe to say that I would do anything I could for her, and she needed my help. Or—at least—Jason did.
He had been implicated in two murders, and both of the murdered girls had been bitten by vampires, though the bites hadn’t been made on the nights of their slayings, and neither girl had been drained.
To me, that ruled out vampires.
However, the Bon Temps police had exactly two suspects. 1. Jason. 2. An unknown vampire.
I knew from Jason’s head that he was innocent of the girls’ deaths, though he’d certainly had sex with them.
I shook my head, wishing for the hundredth time for brain bleach so that I could remove Jason’s thoughts about the rough intercourse he’d had with one of the women in particular. Then again, there were so many things that I wished I could un-see. But brain bleach was a pipedream—just as a “normal” life was.
“Hi there, big boy,” a vampire leered at me as I finally found my way to the front of the line.
I took a deep breath and lowered my shields a little so that I could hear his thoughts.
He was a blank to me!