Summary: Ten years after Dead Ever After, Eric muses about his sorrows as he fulfills the destiny his “makers” (both vampire and literary) crafted for him. I have not shied away from After Dead; thus, this story is more tragedy than anything else. READ WITH KLEENEX. One-shot only.
Author’s Note: I wrote this right after I learned about the supposed-fates of Eric and Sookie in Charlaine Harris’s Coda, After Dead. It was actually the first incarnation of “Enduring,” but then I decided to go in a very different direction with that story, and I put this incarnation aside and forgot about it. I found it this morning and decided to tweak it and then release it. It doesn’t have an HEA for my favorite couple (Eric & Sookie), which makes it different from my usual fare, so it won’t be for everyone, but I thought some of you might enjoy it, so I figured, “Why not edit it and release it rather than just let it languish on this old flash drive?”
Disclaimer: All publicly recognized characters, images, lines of dialogue, and plot lines are the sole property of their creators. I own only my own imagination as it involves the characters I love; however, even my imaginary constructions would be impossible without True Blood and the Southern Vampire Mystery series. My work is not-for-profit and intended only for the enjoyment of the writer and readers. No copyright infringement is intended.
Beta: The remarkable and remarkably quick Kleannhouse!
Artwork: The amazing and generous Sephrenia!
If he just let go.
Eric Northman thought back to the first moment he’d wanted to die—really and truly die. The true death. Despite the horrors his life had shown him, that moment hadn’t taken place so long ago.
He’d clung to life for a thousand years. He’d survived his fledgling years as vampire—his days as his maker’s “diversion.”
In fact, between his two lives, he’d lived more than a thousand years, killing every enemy who had ever threatened him or his children—both human and vampire.
But the moment that Sookie Stackhouse had entered Fangtasia—at his bidding—to dissolve their marriage—a marriage she’d never wanted nor recognized—his thousand years had seemed too long. In that moment, he had wanted to curl up into a tiny ball and be no more.
He had looked for pain in her features—or, at least, longing for a different turn of events.
But, in her blue eyes, he’d seen—nothing. Felt nothing.
She had already dissolved their bond so he couldn’t sense if she shared his regrets about the whole thing. She’d been so distant—so reluctant to even look at him.
In retrospect, he couldn’t really blame her.
One might think that her breaking the bond would have led to his ‘suicidal’ thoughts. But it hadn’t. It had led to his wanting to find and punish whoever had taken her from him. But—like all things related to Sookie—it was never easy. She had been the one who had severed their bond. And he couldn’t very well harm her. That defeated the whole goddamned purpose!
So he’d come to her—her turf, her terms.
He’d made love to her—trying to convey all of his feelings through movement and passion.
But now he wondered if she’d even fucking noticed.
Whether she did or didn’t notice didn’t much matter, however. Very little mattered to him anymore, except trying to survive long enough to be truly free—from Appius, Felipe, and Freyda. From everything but his love for Sookie, from which he knew he’d never be free.
“You will be the death of me,” he whispered into the gray sky.
On that sought-after day—when no one could control him, when he had allegiance to no one, when he served no one, when he had to obey no one—he would either die a free vampire or choose to live.
The vampire’s eyes tracked a snowflake to the ground—a snowflake in April. Oklahoma was an odd state. Its weather could never be trusted, for one thing. It seemed as though a storm of some kind was always brewing—even when the air was still. It was also untrustworthy in “what” it was. Outside of its borders, common conception labeled the state as a flatland—part of the Great Plains. And it was. But it also had hills and woods and lakes and rivers.
Eric sighed as only a thousand-year-old vampire could. It wasn’t unusual for him to contemplate greeting the sun as he stared at the “complicated” Oklahoma terrain. Freyda had, after all, chosen a home that was on the margins. She’d built a high-rise to symbolize the pinnacle of her “glory” at a transition point between the plains and the foothills of the Ozarks. From the tall building on which he stood, he could see flatlands to the west and north, stretching so far that the point between earth and sky became hazy. To the east, however, were trees and a terrain with increasingly higher “bumps” of land. A river snaked its way through those hills.
He’d now been forced to be in Oklahoma for just over a decade—much longer than he’d “known” Sookie Stackhouse in Louisiana. Altogether, they’d been in each other’s orbits for only a few years. Indeed, it had been a long time since he’d said goodbye to her.
No—that wasn’t accurate. He’d never actually said goodbye to Sookie. There were things that could hurt him—like the sunlight and silver and two hundred years of servitude to a vampiress who basically “owned” him. And then there were things that would have annihilated him—like saying goodbye to Sookie Stackhouse.
As he contemplated the flat plains to the north, he felt as if he’d been a coward for not telling her the truth about his feelings and about the inescapability of his position—and for not bidding her a proper farewell. Then again—if she was to have a chance for happiness—then she had to hate him for his actions. So he’d let that hate happen—fueled by the always-spiteful Bill Compton and the opportunistic Sam Merlotte, who’d never bothered to make a move on Sookie until either she was off the market or he was between truly crazy love interests; Maenads and homicidal Weres came to mind.
Though the shifter was preferable to Compton, it hadn’t escaped Eric’s notice that more than one of Sam’s paramours had threatened Sookie’s life over the years. Ironically, the shifter had been the one to die, but Sookie had saved him with the cluviel dor.
“So everything worked out just fine,” Eric whispered sarcastically—bitterly.
Of course, during their last meeting at the hospital, Eric had not been able to sense Sookie’s hate for him—the bond being gone by then. But he had felt it all the same.
However, her hatred was now immaterial to him in all the ways that truly mattered. He had known that her abhorrence of him would eventually propel her onward, and—now that it had—his own feelings on the matter were unimportant.
He sighed. He’d been forbidden by de Castro and his “wife” to speak of Sookie or to talk to her. But that had been only one element of his bargain for her safety. He had also been forbidden to speak with Pam and Karin, his own children. And he’d been forced to order Pam—with a maker’s command—to make sure that Sookie held out no hope that there could ever be any kind of reconciliation between them. He sometimes wondered how Pam had accomplished that particular order.
His magnanimous queen had offered him a “gift” only a year after their “marriage.” She’d given him permission to correspond with Pam—with Freyda “supervising,” of course. At first, Eric had seen this as a boon. But it was to be another type of torture for him.
It seemed that Freyda coveted his affections. And to get them, she felt that she needed to make him despise Sookie. And—obviously—she’d somehow made sure that Pam complied with her desires so that all the news from his child also included news of Sookie—news of her happy life without him.
His first correspondence with Pam informed him that Sookie was engaged to the shifter. The second was a short note saying that Fangtasia’s profits were up—along with a picture of Sookie in her wedding gown. She’d looked lovely.
Freyda had stared at him as he’d stared at the picture. He’d allowed himself half an hour to memorize every curve of the photograph—to etch it into the confines of his supple vampire brain. Then—for appearance sake—he’d torn up the picture. And he’d burned it, thinking back to the funeral pyres of his Viking family as he did.
Freyda—and all the others at court—took his actions as a sign of his loyalty to his queen.
His letting go of the past.
The wedding between Sookie and the shifter had taken place only two winters after his term of service in Oklahoma had begun. With his queen’s permission, he’d sent the couple a silver flatware set. Not only was it full of potential weapons against vampires who might want Sookie, but also it was extremely expensive. Still, he’d not been able to get her something completely superfluous—thus its practical uses.
There had been a child born to Sookie only eight months after her and Merlotte’s wedding—a boy named Neal Corbett. Two other children had followed in rather quick succession, Jennings Niall and Adele Samantha. Another child had followed only the year before; Pam had said that Sookie called the fourth child—another girl named Jillian Tara—a “bonus child.”
Sookie now managed Merlotte’s with her husband, and it was more profitable than ever—due, in large part, to Sookie’s natural business acumen, a trait that Eric had always recognized and had wanted to nurture.
Yes, Sookie Stackhouse was now Sookie Merlotte.
The happily married, mother and businesswoman, Sookie Merlotte.
Part of Eric—the part that had believed Appius’s words that he was worthless and weak—believed that Sookie was better off without him. Thanks to Pam—likely at Freyda’s behest—he’d seen recent pictures of the old Stackhouse homestead. It had been refurbished and expanded after Sookie had decided to make Sam her husband.
Refurbished and expanded.
Yes. She was better off. After all, Eric himself had become stale and diminished during the previous decade.
Still, every now and then, Eric could conjure up a fantasy of another life—another destiny—one that he gave himself leave to dwell upon during his downtime.
In the fantasy, it was he who had arranged for Sookie’s home to be refurbished. He spent hours picturing every nook of her home—every cranny. He imagined a lovely smile on Sookie’s face with every change he made with his own hands, for he was certain that she would have rejected the idea of hiring a crew to do the job.
He allowed himself to imagine renovating Sookie’s bedroom into a light-tight space where he could remain with her always. In his “night-dream,” she never shooed him into a hidey-hole or into the cold, hard earth. She made her bed into their bed.
But he had always known that his own little dream for them—cocooned in Sookie’s home in sweet separation from the outside world—was just that: a dream.
A fantasy built around a perfect week that he remembered too late to make enough difference with the woman he loved.
That was Hallow’s true curse, and it was destined to leave him with a two-hundred-year aftertaste.
“So be it,” he sighed to himself as the first pinkish wisps of the morning light infiltrated the sky.
Eric sighed. He couldn’t help but to wonder if Sookie and the shifter had gotten a new bed, or—at least—a new mattress.
Sometimes, Eric wondered if there was anything left of the old farmhouse—anything that he could point to and call “his and Sookie’s”: the tiles of the shower where he’d first seen all of her exquisite beauty, the dining room table on which he’d once made love to her, the afghan they’d wrapped themselves in before the hearth.
These objects were the symbols of the love they’d once shared.
“In a different life,” he said quietly.
Though he could remember every object that used to be in Sookie’s home perfectly, with the vivid clarity that only being a vampire could afford him, he held out little hope that echoes of him remained in the residence.
After all, the shower tiles had been old, and some had already loosened. Surely they’d been replaced by the shifter. Eric could imagine Merlotte prying up even the most stubborn of the remaining tiles and scraping off the glue that had once held them in place before lying new tiles—to symbolize the new life he was building with his new wife.
The dining room table had managed to survive the fire in Sookie’s kitchen, but Eric knew it was too small for the family Sookie now had. Four growing children needed to be accommodated, after all. The table was sturdy and solid, but sitting six around it would be cramped.
And the afghan? The Viking chuckled ruefully. That ugly weaving together of what seemed to be random scraps of yarn? He couldn’t imagine it fitting into any décor other than Sookie’s Gran’s old things, which were, by now, likely long gone.
No. Eric could cling to nothing remaining from his time with Sookie—except for the hearth of the home itself.
A hearth was the most difficult thing in a house to change or to renovate into oblivion. It was the center, the heart, the touchstone. Eric—in his amnesiac state—had memorized the placement of every rock and brick in that hearth as if it would help him to find his own center. His own heart.
In that memory-less state, he’d had no way of knowing that he’d already gone through the same exercise many months before that—as if understanding the hearth could help him to understand the very heart of the woman who had so intrigued him.
Eric sighed. He had learned the hard way that finding one’s heart’s desire was no guarantee of keeping it. And believing that Sookie was—beyond a shadow of a doubt—his soul mate was obviously no guarantee that she would think the same way about him.
She obviously didn’t.
5:33 a.m. brought with it a giggle from behind Eric: Freyda.
“Why do you always flirt with the sun, Eric? Is being here so bad? After all, I require your presence in my bed only once a year. You are free otherwise.”
Eric closed and reopened his eyes as more streaks of pre-dawn light ghosted through the sky. He knew that he was anything but free.
Eric turned and regarded the Oklahoma monarch. In truth, she wasn’t so bad. Eric’s biggest complaint was that she wouldn’t let him out of the contract that Appius had made on his behalf—not even when he’d told her that he did not want to marry her. He had even tried to threaten hostility as all the avenues he was hoping to use to avoid the marriage were annihilated one by one. However, Freyda had correctly intuited that his honor would not allow him to do that.
After all, it wasn’t Freyda’s fault that Eric was miserable. She was only being practical—both when she made the deal with Appius and when she forced Eric to fulfill his maker’s agreement. Eric had even come to respect her to a certain extent. Though he hated her machinations to try to make him resent Sookie and her new life, he couldn’t exactly fault her for that either. She wanted his affections beyond their once-a-year rendezvous. But it wasn’t as if she was doing anything other than letting him know the truth about Sookie’s life. And—as a bonus—Eric got to keep in touch with Pam to a certain extent. Thus, he was doing his best to do exactly that he’d agreed to do: to build up Freyda’s guard force and to strengthen her state.
“No,” he answered aloud. “Being here is not—in and of itself—bad.” Without another word, he bowed to his queen and entered the building from the terrace he’d been standing upon. Then, he slowly walked down the hall to his room, leaving Freyda shaking her head behind him.
To her credit, the queen had never tried to talk him out of his melancholy. She knew that—once he rose the next night—he would be “his charming self” and work diligently for most of the night before he sank into his melancholy again—after his duties had been fulfilled. Just as he always did.
Eric was a vampire of his word, after all. And he’d agreed to be Freyda’s loyal consort for two hundred years—both because he had to and because he wanted to ensure Sookie’s safety and the safety of her progeny throughout his term of service. As long as neither of those things changed, he would fulfill his end of the agreement with the same kind of diligence that he’d put into his other business pursuits.
He looked around his room as he entered it. The space was beautiful—decorated just to his taste in rich browns and reds and creams. He engaged the locks that would supposedly prevent his being staked in the day. As always, he considered leaving his resting place unsecured.
A stake through the heart as he was “dead” would—after all—send him into sweet oblivion without the messiness of having to do it himself. He would simply disappear without pain or conscious thought.
“Sookie would not wish that,” a female voice said from behind him.
Eric had been visited by Claudine enough not to be startled by her voice.
“Are you sure of that?” he asked her, turning around to look at the opaque apparition in front of him. How she could visit him like this—he did not know. But she could, and she came on the nights when he was at his most broken. She’d been coming more and more lately.
“Yes,” she said, trying to sound confident.
“Yet you still haven’t seen her?” he countered.
“No—Sookie has not needed an angel, so I have not been called to watch over her.”
“And why are you watching over me again?” he asked for what seemed like the thousandth time since she’d first appeared to him.
“My elders think it is your bond with Sookie,” Claudine said, actually answering his question for the first time. She usually just said that she didn’t know.
He looked at her with surprise. “But I have no bond with Sookie. She ended it.” Eric closed his eyes as he remembered the pain of waking on that fateful night and feeling only an empty ache where the bond had once resided.
He felt that ache still.
On that night more than a decade before, his first thought had been that Sookie, his beloved, had been killed. But almost immediately, a second thought had stolen the first. And his every instinct had told him that she’d broken their bond.
He’d been broken when he’d learned that his theory was correct.
“She hated our bond,” he said.
“She didn’t understand it,” Claudine countered.
“Neither did I, but I loved it all the same,” he managed, his voice breaking a little. He’d long ago stopped trying to hide his feelings in front of Sookie’s cousin. “No—the bond is long gone, so that cannot be why you come to me as you do.”
“But, when I was changed from fairy to angel, you had the bond with my cousin still,” Claudine said. “I have consulted with my elders, and they theorize that you were ‘imprinted’ onto my essence as she was and that her breaking the bond didn’t extend to the connection I had formed with you. After all, when I died, you and Sookie were one. So I became an angel for both of you—even though it is highly irregular for a vampire to have a guardian angel.”
“I’d imagine,” Eric muttered.
They were silent for a moment until the vampire sat down heavily onto his bed. “And—just for the record—Sookie and I were never one.”
“No,” Claudine sighed sadly, “perhaps you were not. You were not ready to be one.”
Eric raked his hand through his long hair. His eyes looked at the angel pleadingly. “I wanted to be.”
She nodded. “I know. Sookie never understood that part,” she said kindly. “She thought you stayed away so much because you didn’t want a full-time life with her. She didn’t understand that you were trying to protect her.”
“I know,” Eric said with resignation.
“And she didn’t understand that you were not free to love her as you wished,” she shook her head sadly, even as she spoke the obvious.
“No,” he agreed, pushing air from his mouth in a sigh. “I fear that I will meet the true death before I find that which has eluded me for a thousand years—freedom. True dominion over my own life.”
He closed his eyes. He had never been free—not really. In his little corner of Louisiana, he had come the closest to independence. Sophie-Anne had left him alone for the most part—sending only a spy or two into his area every now and then. Nothing of consequence. And until his last and—in many ways—worst foray into Eric’s life, Appius too had left Eric alone during a long stretch of time. For many years, Eric had felt as if he were in control of his destiny—at least almost in control.
Without fail—whenever he was becoming too comfortable—he would receive a little nudge in his bond with his maker, just enough to remind him that his life was not his own.
And then, after Sophie-Anne’s fall, de Castro had inserted his thumb over Eric’s life too. And then the contract with Freyda had emerged. And—suddenly—the tender shoots of independence that Eric had so carefully planted and nurtured were pulled from the soil like weeds—as 200 years of additional bondage were placed onto Eric’s broad shoulders.
Hell—he’d volunteered to take on half of that amount—just to make sure that servitude was kept off of the shoulders of the woman he still couldn’t help but to love.
“I have news I must tell you, but I don’t wish to tell it,” Claudine said pensively, apologetically.
“Then why will you tell me?”
“My elders believe it might help you to move on. They are not happy that my time continues to be spent coming to you and feel that . . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“What do they feel?”
“They feel that this news either will spur you to give up your love for Sookie—and, therefore, your clinging to the now-dead bond—or will cause you to meet the sun in your desolation.”
The vampire chuckled heartily, though mirthlessly. “Leave it to me to inadvertently commandeer the attentions of an angel to the point that her superiors want to give me an express pass to hell.”
“Eric—I am sorry. But if I don’t do as I’m commanded . . . .” she began.
He waved his hand dismissively. “Just tell me your news,” the vampire said resignedly, even as he used the bed sheet to wipe away the first evidence of the bleeds from his nose.
“It involves Niall. He has given Sookie and Sam—both of them—invitations to the Summerlands when they pass from this realm.”
Eric was silent for a moment as that news sank into his very bones. The truth was that a part of him had hoped, unrealistic though that hope might have been, that some part of him—some soul of him—was still intact in his thousand-year-old body.
Having given up on Valhalla long ago, he’d hoped that, one day, fire would release that part into a place where there would be no slavery—no limitations. In that place, he’d hoped that his “soul” or filament or spark or whatever was left of him might seek out a little corner of the universe that could become a true paradise.
Eric hadn’t wanted much—just a tiny speck of a single far-away star to dwell upon. After he’d met Sookie—and especially after he’d been forced to give her up—he’d hoped that he wouldn’t have to dwell there alone.
“Did Sookie and her husband accept Niall’s offer?” he asked, already intuiting the answer and already knowing that he would forever be separated from Sookie now. It seemed that Hallow’s curse would be eternal, after all.
Or maybe it was another curse of his un-dead life—a long-forgotten sin that fate had decided to answer with an eternity of being without his beloved.
“I am told that they are thinking about it. They have put Niall’s offering in a place where it will remain safe—until they are ready to use it,” the angel said.”
Eric said nothing for a moment, but then looked at his unwitting guardian angel through narrowed eyes.
“I long for oblivion,” he admitted.
“I know,” Claudine said, a tear rolling down her beautiful, ethereal cheek.
“I had hoped for paradise—somehow. With. Her.”
“That will not happen if she is in the Summerlands.”
“Her choice isn’t made,” Claudine tried to comfort.
Eric shrugged. “When it comes down to brass tax, she will use the gift for Sam’s sake—just as she used the cluviel dor. Of that, I have no doubt.”
“Why is it that you love her so much—even now?” Claudine asked, truly confused. “I mean—I love Sookie, too. But she has turned from you—chosen another life. And, even when you were together, she never gave you the benefit of the doubt as she did others. She did not fight for you.”
Eric smirked. “Perhaps not. But when we fought together—either with each other or against a common foe—we did so well. When we allowed ourselves to be ourselves—when we trusted, when we loved, when we were unhindered by her doubts and my chains—we were,” he paused, “happy. I was happy.”
The vampire closed his eyes for a moment. “Happiness is not an emotion commonly enjoyed by a vampire. It is not an outcome sought by us. Amusement, physical gratification—perhaps contentment—these are the things that vampires seek.” He paused. “Most vampires absorb the most fundamental lesson of their makers; I never did—apparently.”
“To avoid the sun in a figurative sense—just as much as it is avoided in a literal one.” He shrugged. “But—then again—most vampires don’t meet the sun and live to tell the tale,” he said significantly with a hint of a smirk.
“And Sookie doesn’t know that she was the sun to you,” Claudine said.
“Not was—is,” the vampire said.
Claudine nodded. “Is.”
“Sookie resists—and always will resist—being thought of as anything but ordinary. And I would have always wanted her to shine as brightly as possible—to blind the goddamned world. Thus, we were never to be,” he sighed.
Claudine nodded in understanding.
“Her children. Are any of them like her?” Eric asked.
The angel nodded. “One—the second oldest.”
“Jennings,” Eric whispered. “The only time Sookie and I ever talked about whether she wanted children, she was ambivalent about the topic; she didn’t want to pass along what she thought of as her ‘disability.'”
“The demon is helping the child—to a certain extent, at least—and has promised that no subsequent generations will have his gift.”
“I suppose that is some consolation to Sookie,” Eric said. “And the child—like his mother—will be dead by the time I am released from my service, so the contract I signed will cover him too—unless he chooses to work for vampires.”
“Does Sookie know that you protected any telepathic children she might have—with the contract you signed?”
Eric shook his head, indicating that she didn’t.
“She doesn’t need to know. Anyway—she would’ve called it high-handed,” the vampire said, wiping away more evidence of the bleeds, this time from his eyes and ears, as well as from his nose. “It’s best that she never knows—and never thinks of me again.”
They were silent for a few minutes.
“Will you meet the sun now?” Claudine asked, looking embarrassed at having voiced the question.
“I despair,” Eric said matter-of-factly. “I despair that there is no longer hope that any soul I have left will be able to track hers into the stars, but—though the sun now calls to me even more strongly—I will not meet it unless it is on the morning I am finally free.”
“But you will do so then?” Claudine asked, still looking embarrassed.
“No,” she said honestly. “I don’t share in the preferences of my elders. I am just curious. And—uh—they will want to know.”
“I don’t know if I will walk into the sun voluntarily,” Eric said honestly. “On the day that my life is finally my own—and not before—I will decide. You may tell your superiors that my choices will be my own—and so will my timeline. Oh—and you can tell them to go fuck themselves too.”
Claudine smirked. “I will quote you on that.”
“Do!” The vampire smirked as well for a moment before his lips dropped into a frown. “I will either die or I will live. Regardless, you need not visit me again, Claudine. You may tell your superiors that I no longer have need of an angel. Their plan has worked. In telling me the news you have told me this morning, you have stripped away any hope that I once had that I would find my heaven.”
Claudine looked sad for a moment, but then nodded. She disappeared into the ether as if she were never there; maybe she hadn’t been. Eric had often wondered if she were merely a hallucination, a product of his imagination that allowed him to hold onto a piece of Sookie.
A piece that was as dead as their bond.
He gave Claudine no more thought as he lay down in his luxurious bed.
He closed his eyes.
And he died for the day.
A/N: Well—I didn’t promise rainbows and unicorns. In retrospect, I was likely pre-menstrual when I wrote this. LOL! Or maybe I was just upset over the end of one of my favorite series of novels. Sigh. I’m not one to “hate on” a writer, and I won’t hate on Charlaine Harris now, even though I don’t like the outcome of her books (or the outcome of True Blood), but—then again—I have to wonder if any outcome not from my own brain would have lived up to the wonderful world she started for us. And—for that world—I will always thank Ms. Harris. From the bottom of my heart.
I hope you enjoyed this—even though it didn’t offer an HEA.
P.S. Once again, many thanks to the “team” that helps me: Seph and Kleannhouse! They are gifted, invaluable and generous!