Summary: Eric and Sookie must adjust to being the parents of an adult as Hunter comes of age and finds love of his own with Emma. How will the Viking vampire and the fairy deal with new threats when their son becomes the target? Earned is the third main part of the Back & Forth Universe, which began with Back & Forth and continued with Come Back to Me (with Sojourn being an interlude set within the timeframe of Come Back to Me). Those stories should be read before this one.
Context: The wedding in Come Back to Me takes place on November 8, 2014. (Hunter was ten and Emma was eleven.) Earned begins in June 2021. (Hunter is seventeen and Emma is eighteen as Earned begins.)
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. No profit has been made from this work. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. The events in this story have been inspired by True Blood and the Southern Vampire Mysteries book series.
To Kleannhouse—for always being willing to lend your eyes to my work.
To Sephrenia—for gifting me with your art.
Chapter 01: Graduation
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.—Shakespeare’s Othello, Act 3, scene 3
Coby Bellefleur had been one of the first to arrive at the high school auditorium that evening. After all, he needed to make sure he got a good seat for the graduation ceremony that would be beginning within the next hour. He positioned himself so that he would see the stage and the graduates perfectly.
At twenty-three years of age, Coby Bellefleur was considered a catch by most of the girls—and some of the guys—between the ages of 18 and 30 in Renard Parish. He’d graduated from high school at the top of his class and had earned a partial scholarship to LSU where he’d also finished at the top, obtaining two Bachelor’s Degrees—one in environmental science and one in chemical engineering—in only four years.
He would be attending his own graduation ceremony—this time for his Master’s degree in environmental science—the next week. He already had a job lined up—one that would be earning him seven figures a year—with LePaul Industries, a huge oil company which had recently bought the formula for the most efficient and the cleanest gasoline ever developed.
Coby smiled a little and he sat up straighter with pride. He had been the chief architect of that formula. Even if very few people in his Podunk hometown of Bon Temps realized it yet, his research was going to revolutionize the gasoline business. Although his process would probably quadruple gas prices, taking them to more than twenty dollars per gallon, his formula would also raise the efficiency of gasoline significantly. Thus, cars would soon be getting about 100 miles per gallon. Moreover, the use of his gasoline would lower emissions to almost nothing—in almost any car or truck, no matter its age. And this fact would certainly satisfy those who currently held the most powerful positions in the United States’ government, for they had almost all run on a platform of environmental responsibility.
Global warming had become a huge issue, especially during the previous half decade, as many of the low-lying areas around the coast of the United States had to be virtually abandoned due to almost-constant flooding. Also, two years before, New Orleans’s levees had once again failed to withstand a high-category hurricane. After that, it had been decided that the lowest lying districts of the city would not be rebuilt at all, and many of the citizens of NOLA had moved inland to Baton Rouge and Shreveport, though other people left the state altogether.
Lower-lying areas on the East Coast had also been pounded, and there were still parts of Lower Manhattan and Long Island that were flooded from the last major hurricane to go through that region.
Coby’s smile changed to a smirk. Twenty years before, an idea like his would have been squelched by the oil business. Hell—he may have even been killed for having it! But desperate times were leading to many, many changes around the world—most of them spearheaded by affluent vampires, whose investments in alternative energy sources had changed much of the political landscape around the globe.
And Coby was right in the thick of those changes—thanks to Eric Northman, the vampire who had become his benefactor. Eric had always encouraged Coby in a way that no else had or could. From the time that Coby was thirteen, Eric had seen him as a good investment, and he had given him money to cover what his scholarship wouldn’t in college. Moreover, even before Coby graduated from high school, Eric had made it a point to send the adolescent to various distinguished summer camps, which fostered his budding interest in science. During the last few years, Eric had also introduced Coby to many important people who had helped him in his studies. Because of Eric, Coby had gotten to travel to many places around the world and to learn from those working on the cutting-edge of both environmental science and the petroleum industry.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Andre Paul—actually Senator Andre Paul now—had also noticed Coby’s cutting-edge research. Senator Paul was the CEO of LePaul Industries, which was now headquartered in Shreveport. Senator Paul had lived in Louisiana for a decade or so, and during that time, he had bought and retooled a lot of existing refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. He was a visionary and very anxious to make sure the future was protected, which was not surprising at all, given the fact that he—like Eric—was a vampire.
Coby had met Senator Paul only once—when Eric had helped him to get an internship at LePaul Industries the summer before. Senator Paul had been running for election at the time, trying to become only the second vampire in the U.S. Congress and the first one in the Senate. At the end of that single meeting, however, Coby was pretty much set for life! He’d been offered his dream job with his dream salary.
Indeed, the very ambitious Coby Bellefleur seemed fast-tracked for success and had two very powerful and successful vampires looking out for him.
However, the young man was still miserable and bitter inside.
Coby sat up a little straighter as he saw Eric Northman enter the auditorium. The high school graduation Coby was attending was being held at night for the sixth year in a row to accommodate vampire guests, mostly because of the fact that the Northmans had donated so much money to the school system, which now rivaled many of the best schools in the country as far as facilities, faculty, and resources went. Coby smiled a little as he remembered walking across the stage to get his diploma as Mr. Northman gave him an approving nod. It had been one of the proudest moments of Coby’s life thus far.
That had been the first year the graduation ceremony had been held at night, and Coby knew that the change in schedule had come at Eric’s behest.
During his years of attending Bon Temps public schools, Coby had profited greatly from the new additions to the science and computing classes. New buildings had also been built and class sizes had been reduced, all thanks to the Northmans’ donations. Many of the nation’s best teachers—especially Weres, who’d been fired elsewhere after their reveal—had been recruited. But—despite the fact that his benefactor had always been very kind to him—Coby knew that he was not the primary reason Eric Northman had donated so much money to the Bon Temps school district.
No. That reason was walking right next to him.
Hunter. Fucking. Northman.
The boy with everything.
The boy Coby hated more than anything.
Oh—the two had been childhood “friends,” despite their age difference. And Coby hadn’t minded Hunter at first; after all, spending time with Hunter often meant spending time with Eric. But that had been before Hunter began to think that he was God’s fucking gift to the world. Before Hunter encroached upon everything that Coby wanted—and deserved.
Coby still played the part of Hunter’s friend, however. He had gotten very good at the pretense.
Coby was five and a half years older than Hunter, who had turned seventeen in March, but one wouldn’t have been able to tell that from Hunter’s attitude. The kid walked around like he knew everything. Hell—maybe he did. Hunter certainly had everything—everything that Coby had ever longed for.
However, Coby had not truly envied Hunter until his own dad—well, his stepdad—Terry had divorced his loser of a mother. Coby held in his sneer at the thought of Arlene Fowler.
The split-up had been all Arlene’s fault. She was the one that had fallen in with the Fellowship of the Sun, the one who’d had an affair with the minister of that God-forsaken church! And Coby and his sister Lisa had been the ones to suffer the most because of it.
Of course, the minister had high-tailed it from the area the moment he and Arlene were discovered fucking in the choir loft of the Fellowship church in Monroe, but his exit was too late to change the fact that Coby had “lost” the only dad he’d ever really known!
Unless Rene Lenier—the serial killer—was counted!
Hell! Arlene wasn’t even certain who Coby’s real father was!
At 19, Coby had found out that fact the hard way when he tracked down the man—Joseph Winston—who his mother had always claimed was his father. Of course, she’d also claimed that Joseph—called Joey by Arlene—had never wanted Coby and had left her “high and dry” when he found out that she was pregnant.
For this reason, Coby had always felt guilty for his own “life”—especially when his mother had talked about his biological father leaving because he didn’t want to be saddled with a kid.
As if an unwanted pregnancy was the kid’s fault!
However, Joseph Winston had not been as Arlene had described. He’d been—for lack of a better word—”nice.” Joseph was a successful accountant in Baton Rouge with a kind wife and two kids. Joseph had freely admitted to dating Arlene years before, but he said that she’d never told him that she was pregnant. Joseph and his wife had both welcomed Coby into their home, and for about three months, Coby had a new family in Baton Rouge—a “nice” family. Since Coby was going to LSU, which was also located in Baton Rouge, he had Sunday dinners with the Winston family, and he and his “father” even went to several New Orleans Zephyrs games together since they both loved baseball. In fact, Coby had played shortstop throughout Little League and most of high school until he’d blown his knee during his junior year while stealing home base at the state tournament.
However, it came out during a casual conversation started by Coby’s “half-sister,” who was taking a biology class in high school, that Coby couldn’t be Joseph’s son. Coby had O-positive blood, and Joseph had AB-negative. Just to be sure, Joseph had insisted upon a DNA test, but it had only confirmed what simple science had already told them all.
Joseph and the other Winstons swore that it didn’t matter and that they already loved Coby and didn’t blame him for believing his mother. They also asked him to continue being a part of their family, but Coby didn’t want their pity. So he let himself drift away from them within a month, even moving to a new apartment when Joseph kept visiting him. The Winstons had eventually taken the hint.
When Coby confronted his mother with the truth, he got only blank stares and denials, along with a huge fucking guilt trip. So Coby never asked about the identity of his “real” father again. Likely, it would have just led to another fucking disappointment if he had.
Coby did still love Terry, however. In the divorce, Terry had won visitation of Lisa and Coby on the weekends, as well as full custody of Mikey, whom Arlene hadn’t wanted at all because he was “a devil baby,” according to her, and Rosemary, who had turned seven the month before. Coby just thought that Mikey and Rosemary were damned lucky—since Arlene hardly ever bothered to visit them!
Coby sighed. Despite seeing his stepdad and having a bit of normalcy on the weekends—nothing had been the same following the divorce. Coby had asked to live with Terry several times before he graduated from high school, but his mother always went ape-shit and smothered him with guilt whenever he brought it up.
She’d done the same to Lisa.
Coby sighed again, this time even more deeply. Even though Terry continued to treat him like a son, Coby couldn’t help but to wonder if his stepdad still viewed him as his “son.” Coby was just glad that Terry had officially adopted him before his mom had committed adultery. It was a small consolation, but Coby was ecstatic he didn’t have to be a fucking “Fowler.” His mother continued to beg him to change his name to Fowler again, but on that point, Coby was unyielding. He felt that he had so few pieces left of the life he had loved, and his name—his last name, at least—was one of them.
Now that Terry had remarried, Coby felt even more disconnected from his stepdad, especially since Terry and his new wife were expecting a child—a son—in the summer.
Hunter Northman had no such family issues; he had been “chosen” by Eric. And since then, Hunter’s life had been as charmed as people found him charming. Coby was the only one who saw Hunter Northman for what he really was—a simpering, arrogant, second-rate fraud, who didn’t deserve any of the love or recognition he got.
Despite these feelings, however, Coby kept his face neutral as Mr. Northman and Hunter approached.
“Hey Coby,” Hunter said good-naturedly, with his signature lop-sided grin firmly in place. At 6’3″, Hunter stood an inch or two below his dad, but about five inches above Coby.
“Hello, Mr. Northman,” Coby said nodding respectfully toward the vampire. “Hey Hunt,” he continued with an even voice and a practiced smile. Years of hating Hunter had taught Coby how to interact with him with civility—affection even. “I heard the baseball team went to state again this year. Congrats!”
Hunter’s grin broadened. “Yep! We came in second in the state tournament!”
Coby took in Eric’s proud smile and the hand he put on Hunter’s shoulder.
“Still playing outfield?” Coby asked, keeping his voice pleasant and casual.
Hunter shook his head. “Nope. The coach moved me to shortstop this year.”
“Hunter has received twelve scholarship offers for his sporting ability and fifteen for academics,” Eric said, his obvious pride seeping through.
Hunter rolled his eyes and gave his dad a look that told him to stop bragging.
Immediately Eric threw up his hands in surrender and ruffled his son’s hair, something that Coby had seen the vampire do more times than he would have been able to count.
Hunter chuckled, reached up, and ruffled his dad’s hair in return.
It was odd to see a powerful vampire accept such affection good-naturedly, but Eric and Hunter had always been close.
Coby had to work hard to keep his envy from showing on his face. He’d not seen his own dad—whom he now called Terry—since he’d gotten into town. His dumbass mother had guilted him into staying with her and her newest soon-to-be husband—which also likely made him her soon-to-be ex-husband.
“Where’s Mrs. Northman?” Coby asked politely.
Hunter looked around a bit and then shrugged. “Last I saw her—she was makin’ sure the seniors were lined up in alphabetical order.”
Coby nodded. Sookie Stackhouse-Northman—called just Mrs. Northman by the high school kids—was well-known for volunteering at school activities.
“Eric! Hunt!” came a voice to the side of them.
“Sam!” Hunter said, stepping up on the bleachers to shake Mr. Merlotte’s hand. Sam was holding the hand of his eight-year-old daughter, while Luna Merlotte was trying to wrangle their six-year-old son, Tommy, from a group of his friends.
“Too bad you can’t be up there with them,” Sam said, gesturing toward the stage area.
Hunter shrugged. He’d graduated “officially” the fall before due to homeschooling, but he’d been allowed to play public school sports and “audit” some regular classes throughout the years, which explained the Northmans’ attention to the school system.
“I don’t mind,” Hunter told Sam. “I’m just glad that I graduated before Emma.” There was a twinkle in the boy’s eye.
Coby held in his sneer. Not for the first time, he was grateful for his friend, Robin Brunswick, who was a warlock. He had actually been one of Arlene’s many former male “acquaintances,” though she’d had no idea that he was a warlock, of course. Beginning when Coby was eighteen, Robin had been helping him to keep his increasingly more negative thoughts about Hunter from beaming directly into the telepath’s brain—or into Mrs. Northman’s, for that matter. That would have been quite inconvenient. Coby knew that both Hunter and Sookie did their best not to listen into the minds of family members or friends, and they accepted Coby as one of those, but Coby also knew that it was best to err on the side of caution.
Sam and Hunter were laughing together.
“You’d best not tease Emma too much about beating her to graduation, Hunt. You know how she gets.”
Hunter’s grin lit up the room. “Yep. And I’m pretty sure Breeta’s on her side too.” Hunter mock-glared over at one of his Britlingen guards.
Coby looked around. It didn’t take him long to find Hunter’s guards. Whenever Hunter was out of what his little clan called the ætt land, he was trailed by at least one of his several guards. Coby had noted them all over the years.
And he’d studied them all carefully.
First and foremost, during the daytime, his mom was with him most of the time, and although Coby wasn’t certain what Sookie Stackhouse-Northman was capable of, he was pretty sure it was more than telepathy. Of course, since he was “honorary family,” Coby knew all about Sookie’s and Hunter’s telepathy, but had been glamoured so that he couldn’t say anything about it.
Of course, Robin had helped him to get around that little impediment.
In addition to Sookie, Hunter was always flanked by Breeta and Jarod during the daytime. And, at night, Eric was usually with him. And Batanya. And often Duncan or Pam, too.
Indeed, no one in his or her right mind would try to harm Hunter Northman. Coby shook his head a little, wondering if he was in his right mind—because all he wanted to do was harm Hunter fucking Northman.
Mr. Northman suddenly turned toward the auditorium doors. Coby followed the vampire’s gaze just in time to see Sookie entering with Lafayette and Jesus. She looked straight up at Eric and winked at him. She was holding Lafayette and Jesus’s newborn adoptive child, Susannah—called Sue, on her hip, while the couple’s son, Kyle, was already rushing toward Tommy, who was playing with Miranda and Jarod’s children, Maggie and Jim. Coby noticed that Mikey and Rosemary were with them, too.
Coby made sure his smile was firmly in place as he took in all the families around him. It seemed as if the world was teeming with happy fucking families!
After handing Sue off to Duncan, who was known for keeping the smaller kids quiet at public events, Sookie made her way over to them. She gave a lingering kiss to Eric and then patted Hunter’s cheek affectionately as they seemed to speak to each other with their eyes. For all Coby knew, they were speaking—just through their telepathy.
Next, Sookie turned to Coby and gave him a kiss on the cheek. For a moment—just a moment—she looked at him a little funny. And, in turn, Eric looked at her a little funny. Coby was not certain what kind of connection the Northmans had, but it seemed to be very strong.
“You okay, Coby?” Sookie asked him with real concern—motherly concern—in her voice. Truthfully, he’d heard that tone a lot more from Sookie Stackhouse-Northman over the years than from his own mother.
Coby figured that Sookie had come up against the spell that protected his mind from the telepaths around him, but he was prepared for that. “Actually, Mrs. Northman,” he said, his voice lowering a little, “I’ve been fighting allergies again, but the doctor’s got me on some new medicine.” He shook his head in a practiced act. “It makes me a little groggy though. Thank goodness my allergies only flare up around Bon Temps. Must be something in the air here.”
Sookie smiled at him. “Now, Coby Bellefleur, how many times do I gotta tell you to call me Sookie—or even Aunt Sookie like you used to?”
Coby smiled. “Just one more time, I guess.”
“How’s your mom?” Sookie asked a little stiffly as she settled into her seat by Eric’s side. It didn’t escape Coby’s notice that the two of them always seemed to sink into each other. They had immediately linked their hands as well. That’s what Coby wanted more than anything else—that kind of closeness with the woman he loved.
“Fine,” Cody answered. “You know her.”
Sookie nodded and sighed before patting Coby’s arm comfortingly; however, it didn’t comfort him. In truth, his mom was getting crazier all the time.
She had become more and more of a bigoted fundamentalist ever since shifters and Weres had made themselves known to the world seven years before. Arlene had basically gone off the deep end after that—as if she couldn’t stand for her narrow world to get any bigger. Coby couldn’t help but to wonder at his mom’s cluelessness. His family had hung out at the ætt land enough to know that there were two-natured beings long before they had officially come out. Heck—not even a year before the Weres and shifters revealed themselves, his mom had attended Eric and Sookie’s wedding reception, at which no fewer than ten of the two-natured had been in attendance! And the wedding had taken place on the night of a full moon, too! Coby shook his head a bit. Where had his mom thought so many people disappeared to for a couple of hours? Where did she think all the howling they’d heard was coming from?
Arlene was so closed-minded sometimes that she couldn’t even see what was in front of her eyes!
Coby still couldn’t believe that his mom had never picked up on the fact that there were Weres in the world—and other things too! Coby had always taken it for granted that she’d known for as long as he had, but the night of the “Second Reveal”—as the media had called it—she’d snapped. She’d quit Merlotte’s immediately and had fought bitterly with Terry when he refused to quit his job at RBL, the synthetic blood company which was run by the Northmans and which employed many Weres in the area. And then Terry had also refused to quit at Merlotte’s, where he still enjoyed working a shift or two a week.
And that had been the beginning of the end of his mom and Terry’s marriage. Right after the Were reveal, any tolerance that Arlene had built up for vampires also disappeared, and she began to attend the Fellowship of the Sun church in Monroe.
And that put her into the hands of the church’s minister, who seduced her.
Actually, it was likely that she seduced him!
But Coby wasn’t a fucking telepath, so he wouldn’t know!
“Hey, son,” Coby heard from behind him.
Coby turned and was immediately engulfed into a warm hug from his stepdad.
“Hey, Terry,” Coby smiled, genuinely happy for the first time that night.
For a moment, his stepdad looked a little disappointed, and Coby knew it was because he’d stopped calling him “Dad,” but it just didn’t seem right to do that anymore—not now that Terry had a new wife and a new family on the way.
“Hello Jennifer,” he said to the very pregnant woman next to his stepdad. She smiled at him sincerely and moved in awkwardly to give him a hug, her huge belly getting in the way.
Jennifer Robinson-Bellefleur was one more person who had benefitted from the Northmans’ generosity. She was a were-badger, who had lost her job right after the Second Reveal. She had been a well-respected and well-liked professor of environmental science at the University of Chicago, but she’d been fired for the same kinds of idiotic reasons many Weres had been fired from their jobs.
For Jennifer, it had been “lying on her resume” and “lying when calling in sick” (on two nights over ten years) when there had been full moons. Jennifer Robinson had moved to Bon Temps and had become one of Coby’s high school science teachers and one of his chief inspirations. In fact, it had been through Coby that his stepdad had met Jennifer.
“I talked to your sister this mornin’,” Terry said as he took a seat next to Coby. “She’s gotta final exam on Monday, so we didn’t get to talk long.”
Coby nodded. Lisa was a junior at the University of Texas, getting her degree in Secondary Education. It was taking her longer than it had taken him to get through school, but she’d taken after their mom a little too much. She’d had a baby—a girl named Amber—out of wedlock the year before, a child which Terry was currently cradling against his chest in a baby sling. Of course, their mom—the fucking hypocrite—had read Lisa the riot act and had basically disowned her, but Terry had taken over the care of the child without a second thought so that Lisa could continue school in Texas. Jennifer treated the baby as her own, and the last Coby had heard, Lisa wanted her stepdad and his new wife to officially adopt the child—so that caring for the child would no longer be her responsibility.
Yes. It was safe to say that Lisa—who’d relented to their mother and had gone back to using “Fowler” as her surname—really was a chip off of the ol’ block.
Coby patted the little baby’s back awkwardly. “When is Lisa coming home for the summer?”
Terry frowned a little. “She’s not. She’s gonna try to get caught up a little by takin’ summer school.”
Coby nodded, knowing that the only catching up Lisa would likely be doing would be in partying.
Coby was brought out of his thoughts by the sound of music being piped into the auditorium. By some act of magic—probably the real thing, considering the people in the room—the young kids in their group were almost immediately settled down, and everyone turned to watch as the graduates marched proudly into the room.
Coby saw the reason why he had attended the graduation immediately: Emma.
He sighed. Even with her body hidden by her gown and her hair tamed underneath her cap, she was glorious.
He loved her.
As always, however, Hunter fucking Northman stood in the way of Coby’s desires. Hunter and Emma had been a couple ever since they were kids. Coby shook his head a little. Emma had never let herself experience any romantic relationships beyond Hunter, but how could Coby blame her? Hunter was probably in her head—telepathically—all the time, saying exactly what she wanted to hear, manipulating her so that she would stay with him.
But Coby was determined to find a way to knock his foe from his fucking pedestal—to eliminate him from the fucking picture!
With Hunter out of the way, Coby would be able to get what he deserved—finally. Eric and Sookie Northman would be heart-broken, and they would naturally seek out Coby as a surrogate for the son they had lost. Coby knew that—given the chance—he would make the Northmans much prouder than Hunter ever could.
Most importantly, however, with Hunter out of the way, Emma would be free.
And she would become his—one way or another.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter. After several years away from it, I’m very excited to find myself back in the Back & Forth Universe! Back & Forth was my very first story, so writing in that universe again is like returning “home” in a way!
Check out all the new banners Seph has made! She’s incredible! And many thanks for the extra eyes of Kleannhouse!