Disclaimer: I don’t own the characters in True Blood or the Southern Vampire Mysteries. So neither copyright infringement nor offense is meant. I simply want to make the characters do what I wanted them to do for a while. I am especially “unownerly” when it comes to this story. You will recognize a lot of the dialogue throughout as being quoted from Season 5 of True Blood, though I’ve tried to use Eric’s thoughts to make this story “different” from its source. That said, I claim no ownership to the quoted material and have placed it in bold so that it is set apart from my own words.
I woke up to the same feeling that I had gone to death with: Sookie’s restlessness. Moreover, to the agitation I’d felt from her this morning had been added dread. I concentrated on the woman whom I both loved and loathed to love. She was not in immediate physical danger; of that I was certain.
That was of some comfort, but her depression still rocked me.
And it was clear that she’d still not slept.
I sighed. I understood well that there were dangers of various kinds. I’d learned that lesson on a Dallas rooftop.
I knew that if my bonded did not sleep—did not rest—soon, then her fractured emotions would shatter. Restless myself, I sat up in my bed—even as I wished that I were in a different bed, in a different place, and in a different time.
The bed in the cubby was about as wide as the one I was sitting on now, though I’d made that one longer to accommodate my height. With disdain, I looked down at the end of the bed I was on. My feet had dangled off of it at least half a foot. The sight would have been comical to me if I weren’t in the midst of such a clusterfuck.
I closed my eyes, speculating that it was only a matter of time before I would be led to a different bed, a much more luxurious one: Salome’s.
I was no novice when it came to manipulation. My time on the Guardian’s strings had been high theatre thus far, and I didn’t expect that to change.
Act 1 had been Nan’s death and the subsequent apprehension of my monarch and myself. I’d been merely a pawn in that act, not understanding yet that there was a bigger picture than just Bill and my elimination.
Act 2 had been my “interrogation”—my torture. I now realized that it had been designed to make me more pliable and ready to jump into whatever role the Guardian—or the one pulling his strings—might have for me.
Nora’s involvement had given Salome an excuse to raise the issue of the Sanguinistas, but I was quite certain that she would have—if need be—found another way to bring up the topic of Roman’s enemies. Clearly, Roman had been trying to confirm that neither Bill nor myself was involved with the group he was obviously threatened by.
Obviously, Act 3 had been originally scripted as a chastisement scene for the benefit of the Chancellors of the Authority. Had Nora not unwittingly complicated things by trying to help Bill and me escape, Roman would have likely just berated Bill for not following the order to end my life. Bill and I would have been “read the riot act” for Nan’s death as well. But I was convinced that the Chancellors on the “good” side of the table would have “swayed” Roman to spare Bill and my lives. Of course, the Guardian would have certainly demanded “penance” from Bill and me—some kind of service.
Roman had likely wanted Bill and my “cooperation” all along, and I was convinced that Bill and my “atonement” for disobedience and for killing Nan would have fit into the grand scheme—or scene—of Roman’s larger production.
Of course, there had been a need for improvisation during Act 3. As soon as Nora’s behavior had screamed, “I’m a Sanguinista,” and as soon as the name “Russell Edgington” had spilled from Bill’s lips, Roman had been in scramble mode. He’d been trying to gauge Bill and me—size us up—attempting to confirm that we had nothing to do with the Sanguinistas. Ultimately, Roman must have been satisfied—or at least satisfied enough.
Bill and I were alive, after all.
And now I knew that it was time for Act 4: the seduction. I sighed, wondering how the fuck I was going to convincingly play my part in that!
I checked my bond with Sookie. She was still there and felt as she had before.
I closed my eyes and steeled myself. Having sex with Nora had been one thing. She was my vampire sister―after all―and she and I had regard for each other. Though ultimately unsatisfying, the sex had―at the very least―been instructive for me. It had taught me that no one would be able to replace Sookie—not ever. It had taught me the futility of looking for a stand-in for my bonded one.
But it had not been totally unpleasant either. I cared for Nora, and Nora cared for me, and after Sookie had rejected me, I fucking needed to be cared for!
So, with premeditation, I’d taken steps to feel “better” with Nora. Just because it hadn’t worked didn’t mean that I shouldn’t have tried.
But tonight would be different. I was almost certain that Roman would want to use his best asset to the best of her ability. And if Salome was anything, it was a seductress extraordinaire. I figured that Roman would want her to marshal her considerable “gifts” to test my “commitment” to the cause, especially now that Russell was in the game.
And if Salome was a Sanguinista—as an inkling in my mind was telling me she very well might be—then she’d want to “test” me for her own reasons as well.
I knew that I would have to continue playing the role that had been set up for me. If I didn’t, I would likely be killed before morning. No—like any actor finding himself in the middle of a scene, I would either have to perform as expected or get replaced by someone who would.
I lay back down to wait for my curtain time. I checked my bonded and found that she was still not resting.
I sighed again—more deeply—as my feet dangled over the end of the bed.
I was not going to lie to myself. Salome was beautiful, and two years ago, I would have been extremely pleased to find myself in her private chambers with only a robe of the finest-quality silk separating me from her lush curves.
But it was not two years ago, and I now longed for another set of curves altogether—a set I found infinitely more alluring because they belonged to the woman who stirred my soul in a lot more fucking ways than just with her body.
Salome spoke with her back still turned to me. “Sheriff Northman,” she purred smoothly as she arranged her hair. “Good evening.”
As if I’d been given a script, I said the lines I figured would be expected at that moment. “Thank you, Chancellor, for your support at the hearing.” Yes—I wanted for Salome to know that I knew that she was indeed on Bill and my side—for whatever reason. “We owe you our lives,” I said, making sure that my voice held sincerity.
Meanwhile, I held in my smirk. I didn’t really believe that it was Salome whom I owed, but I wanted her to think I felt that way. I might be an actor in a role that I didn’t fully understand yet, but I was damned sure going to figure out the Guardian’s endgame soon enough, and when I did, I figured that Salome might be useful, so I would pull her strings for a while. Turnabout was fair play―after all. And if I ultimately had to perform the role of the man-whore in this particular scene, then I would at least get something the fuck out of it! Frankly, I didn’t think that the lackluster orgasm I expected would be worth it in and of itself.
Salome glanced at me over her shoulder. “Oh—you can stop performing.”
I was momentarily taken aback. Could Salome be more of a master in this play than I’d realized?
She continued, “I have this room checked for bugs—daily.” She gave me a sweet smile. “We can be ourselves here.”
I was immediately relieved. Salome might be aware that I’d been “performing” for her, but she clearly had no idea what my true motives were. And as for the notion of “being myself” with her—well, there was only one woman with whom I’d ever truly been myself, and look where the fuck that had gotten me!
Still, I quickly checked my bond with said woman.
“Please—sit down,” she offered, patting the space next to her on an elegantly upholstered chaise.
For a moment, I felt like a lamb being led to slaughter; I was certain that Salome had led many, many men to their deaths through seduction. The originators of the biblical depiction of her might have skewed the story in order to paint Salome as the symbol of female seductiveness and danger for their own misogynistic and political purposes. However, I knew that the vampiress in front of me was indeed very dangerous. And clearly, she was trying to seduce me.
Obligingly, I sat next to her—ready to be seduced. She poured me a warmed glass of blood—A-negative. It wasn’t my favorite, but I’d not eaten since Sookie, so it was welcome nonetheless. I waited for her to speak. I knew that she needed to believe that she was the lead actor in this particular scene, and I was happy to let her believe it.
Ah—now I knew what Salome’s tactic would be. She would once again try to use the mention of Nora to gauge whether I was my sister’s confederate with the Sanguinistas. Perhaps, the Authority was still trying to get the truth from Nora too. I spared the briefest of moments to feel bad about my sister’s situation.
“Who?” I started by playing dumb.
“Your sister,” Salome said―as if it were a complete revelation to me that she would know of that.
Purposefully, I let my expression cloud over with surprise before schooling my features again. I had suspected for a while that the beautiful vampiress knew of my and Nora’s relationship. Hell—I’d even hoped for it! It gave Nora a good reason to have been helping Bill and me without it being related to the Sanguinistas. It gave Bill and me cover.
On the other hand, it made me suspect that Nora and Salome were in league with each other. Were they both Sanguinistas? Was Roman’s greatest enemy the vampiress who most often shared his bed?
“Don’t worry,” Salome said conspiratorially, “your secret is safe. Even Nora has no idea I know.”
“How?” I asked, happy—for the moment—to keep most of my sentences to one-word questions.
I knew that Salome’s mention of my maker was designed to do one thing and one thing only: throw me “off my game”—so to speak. She was looking for and then poking at any vulnerability she suspected I had. In truth, I was still crushed by the death of my maker, especially considering that Godric had chosen to leave. But I wasn’t about to let Salome use Godric against me.
No—I was determined to show Salome only what I wanted her to see. I would make her think she was getting to me, but I would be the one in control by the end of the scene.
“Oh,” Salome said with reverence in her voice, “he was glorious!” She sighed. “Before he lost his way.”
The seductress then brought out the “big guns” to get a rise out of me.
“He loved you the most,” she said as if she’d had some kind of blueprint into the inner workings of my maker. I knew that she didn’t, but she was a very good actress. “Well, now I see why,” she added with a hint of a smile.
“So Nora risked everything for you. And you’re willing to let us execute her for it?” she asked.
“What choice do I have?” I asked. Clearly Salome was about to give me one.
“There are always choices,” she assured. “Godric gave you one while you bled out on that pyre: Be his companion or die?”
Okay—I was starting to get a little pissed off that Salome was continuing to use Godric. It was also now clear that Nora had told her about Godric’s turning of me. Godric would have never confided in a vampire like Salome. Knowing this, I knew that it was time for me to take control of the strings for a while.
“Are you lonely?” I asked her. “Is this how you make friends?” I continued, allowing my voice to show a bit of defensiveness that I did not feel. I also brought back the sarcastic edge.
In truth, I was already fucking tired of the scene I found myself in. I was thirsty, goddammit! And I wanted to drink my fucking blood, but I had to pretend that I was more interested in the conversation than the blood.
I held in my sigh. I wanted to hurry things along, especially since I had no doubt about how it was due to end. The character that I was playing would be required to fuck the character that she was playing. And I was ready for the fuck to be over with so that the next damned act could begin!
Salome got up in a bit of a huff and turned her back on me again. I knew that she was trying to regain her own cool.
“Friends you can trust—,” she began sharply before her voice smoothed out, “a rare commodity.” She turned back to face me. “I sponsored Nora’s Chancellorship. Did you know that?”
“I mentored her,” Salome said, her frustration clear.
If Salome could use Nora, then so could I. “So her betrayal makes you look particularly bad.”
From the look in her eyes, I knew that Salome was on my strings now.
She walked back toward me shaking her head a little. Of course, her hips shook too. It seemed that her fallback position was the seductress.
“You’re cold,” she said with false hurt in her eyes.
She had no fucking clue how fucking cold I could be. But—if I had my way—one day, she would find out.
“But it’s because you’ve been hurt,” she said as if she knew me, “and that wound is still fresh.”
I looked at her with a bit of surprise. She was right, of course, but she had no idea how I’d been hurt or who had hurt me. She likely thought that it was Nora—unless Nora had told her about Sookie.
Now that thought scared me a little.
Talk about a puppet on fucking strings!
Nora might be a Sanguinista, but she’d not betrayed me—not yet.
As long as she didn’t, I was happy to let Salome think that it was Nora’s imprisonment or even Godric’s loss that was hurting me so much. It was useful that she already did.
I looked away and took my first drink of my blood—finally. It was indeed quite tasty. “I heal quickly,” I said casually as I continued to play my part well.
Salome rose—finally—moving toward the bed and loosening her robe in the process. “Perhaps I can help you speed that along.”
She was lovely, I had to admit. But there was nothing in the fucking universe that would “speed along” the process of my healing short of my bonded telling me that her rejection of me had been the biggest fucking mistake of her fucking life. Yes—that would just about do it.
I looked up at Salome, already knowing the answer to the question I was about to ask. I asked it anyway. “What do you want from me?”
“You know what I want,” she said as she exposed her beautiful breasts to my gaze. They were glorious—maybe even the second best pair I’d ever seen. But they were in a distant second.
“I want to be your friend,” she said with some insistence in her tone. Clearly the scene hadn’t gone exactly as she’d wanted it to, but she was still powering on to the end. She knew what Roman expected of her, and she was a good actress—even though her eyes didn’t quite convince me that she enjoyed the part she was playing.
She lay down on the bed alluringly. Her position was practiced and showed her body to greatest effect. Yes—she was a very good actress.
Giving nothing away, I kept my eyes locked into hers. I needed to look like I wanted her, so I did. I needed to look like I needed her, so I did.
In fact, I performed until she was screaming my name and Lilith’s name and until she was no longer performing as she did it.
And that was the moment when I knew—with almost certainty—something about Salome. Yes—Nora might very well be a Sanguinista, but the woman I was pounding into was most definitely one.
I couldn’t help but to wonder if Bill and my purpose for being on Roman’s strings was to help the Guardian to discover Salome’s true loyalty. Or—perhaps—Roman didn’t suspect her at all.
I thrust upward and downward in a blur of movement, knowing that I was hitting Salome’s “sweet spot” again and again. She once more cried out my name in her ecstasy.
Yes—as Pam always said—I did know how to pull “good string.”
And as for my own enjoyment? Well—at least the goddamned bed was long enough.
An hour and three good scrubs later—again in the ridiculously small shower—I was led to a room where Bill was waiting. Immediately thereafter, all but one of our guards disappeared. The last of them led us to an elevator and pushed a button before gesturing for us to get inside.
I stepped into the little box even as I received a particularly nervous and then guilty feeling from Sookie. She was on edge, and all I could do was ride out the wave of her feelings just as I was about to ride in the fucking elevator. For neither one was I certain about my destination.
Once Bill and I were inside, the guard pressed another button, but didn’t join us in the conveyance. As I felt the box moving, I commented to Bill, “So I had a visit this evening,” I paused, “from a certain—uh—Chancellor.”
Realization hit me. “What you too?” I asked. I should have known that Salome would be “thorough.”
Bill looked down, trying to conceal his smile. I still saw it. “You know what they say about gentlemen,” he began, “they don’t brag about sloppy seconds.” The amusement was clear on the monarch’s face now.
“Ahh,” I sounded as if frustrated. In truth, I was content to let Bill get “one up” on me this time. After all, I had merely been performing with Salome. And I had needed a thousand years of practicing my control in order to “get it up” and “keep it up” with her. Salome was beautiful and alluring and seductive; however, she was not whom I had wanted.
And unlike with Nora, I’d had to “finish” the job; there had been no handy phone call from a Were to get me out of it. Luckily, Salome was not a telepath, or she would have known that I was fantasizing about a real telepath as I’d “completed” my scene.
Bill looked just as self-satisfied as I had intended.
“What the hell does she want from us?” I asked, knowing that “big brother” was most certainly listening to our conversation. My thousand-year-old ears heard the buzz of the high-frequency bugs, after all.
I figured that was true, but, unlike Bill, I did have an idea of what Roman—or his own puppeteer―might want. And I had a good idea of what Salome wanted too.
“Oh goody,” I intoned. “It looks like we didn’t lose our escort, after all.”
“Happy day,” Bill deadpanned.
As Bill and I followed the lead of our chaperons, I got another strong surge from Sookie. She was feeling an intense amount of guilt and pain—a profundity of suffering.
I knew that I would soon be in her radius again—that I’d once again be closer to her when I returned to Shreveport, which I was certain I would be doing before the night was over.
However, I also knew that—as much as I wanted to go to her and to make sure that she was okay—I also did not want to go to her. Bill and I were being tracked, and I didn’t like the thought of Sookie being anywhere near me while the Authority was “watching.” I wondered if Bill would have the same inclination or if he would dash off to her like a rooster with his head cut off.
I glanced over at my “new friend,” whose face once more held a little smirk. I sighed. Even though I wasn’t really upset about Salome, I was too damned old to be someone’s “sloppy seconds.”
Of course, I’d also been Sookie’s second partner, but that wasn’t the same kind of situation. No—with Sookie it had been even “sloppier,” but not in the conventional sense of the insulting phrase.
No, the sloppy part had been her continued love for Bill. Despite the fact that I could now appreciate the vampire walking by my side and no longer wanted to tear his throat out at every turn, I still hated the fact that the woman I loved also loved Bill. However, that wasn’t really Bill’s fault.
Yeah—there had been the blood that the Civil War veteran had given to Sookie, but that wasn’t really dictating her actions, and I knew it.
I could fucking feel it like a vise pulling at me through our bond.
She was scared. Her first relationship—her first everything—had been born out of and based upon a deception. I couldn’t blame her for fearing that her second relationship would turn out just as sloppily.
I sighed. From what I had intuited, Sookie’s life had been a collection of episodes that had caused her pain—physical and emotional. In the cubby as I’d lain under silver, she’d told me about how hearing everyone’s thoughts had hurt her over the years. It seemed that even the people she loved—people I’d seen her willing to die for, like her worthless fucking brother—had thoughts that had made her suffer or feel guilt. As Sheriff of Area 5, I had judged Sookie’s telepathy as an asset, but she had been cursed by it. It had been the silver chain holding her down for her whole life, and she’d suffered from it a great deal more than any silver had ever hurt me.
I’d wanted to change that for her—to take that suffering away. After I’d regained my memories, it was that, which I had offered to her.
But how could she—after enduring everything else that had happened in her life—trust me?
Yes. I’d been hurt by her rejection—annihilated. But what hurt me more now was the realization that she was likely justified in her rejection. Oh—she was wrong about me! Dead fucking wrong! But she was still justified.
After all, how could she trust my heart when she so clearly didn’t yet trust her own?
With amnesia, I’d been “safer” to trust. That Eric had nothing to conceal because he remembered nothing. He had no motives or agendas that he could be hiding. There were no plots from queens being concealed because he remembered no one whose orders he could have been following.
As soon as my memory had been restored, all of the danger I posed to her—especially of the emotional variety—had also been restored. Again—how could she trust me not to further damage the heart that she’d given so freely to Bill?
The heart that had been returned to her in pieces.
It was no wonder that she’d held it back and run out of Bill’s mansion. No fucking wonder at all.
How could she trust that I was saying what I meant when she couldn’t hear me—hear my thoughts? She’d made that mistake before—with Bill.
So the telepathy that had always caused Sookie pain suddenly reared its ugly head again—this time because she couldn’t use it with vampires.
I felt Sookie’s crushed spirit through our bond, and the weight of it made me understand everything I needed to understand about Sookie’s rejection of me. Of course, that understanding only made the rejection that much more painful to bear.
I recalled the night that we’d lain together in her bed after we’d made love for the first time—the first four times, actually, if I was counting my own orgasms. Seven—if I was counting hers.
I sighed. I had asked her if she would still want to be with me after I got my memories back. What I was really asking was if she would still love me.
She’d suddenly become uncertain. She’d stammered out that she didn’t know. She’d told me that she would’ve never accepted “the old me” into her bed. She’d told me that she “hoped” that she would still want me. She’d confessed that she knew that the day I would regain my memories was coming and that she wanted to keep feeling the way she was feeling then. Her eyes had filled with tears as she’d told me how badly she wanted to keep feeling that way.
I’d wanted it badly too. I wanted it even more now.
But even then—even without my experiences to help me to read her—I had known that Sookie doubted me because she doubted herself. She doubted whether I would be capable of truly loving her because she had never been gifted with romantic love that had been true and real. How could she not doubt me? Even with the bond we’d made the next night, how could she trust herself or me?
After, we’d bonded, I had told her the truth: That I simply wanted to be with her—only her—forever.
And she’d answered with words that had—even then—indicated the state of the previous destruction within her heart. She’d said, “There’s no such thing as forever.” And her eyes had betrayed the fact that she felt that there was no such thing as forever for her. Everything in her life up until that moment—especially her Gran’s death and Bill’s betrayal of her (forced though it may have been)—had taught her that her words were true.
They were not true when it came to my love for her, but how could I possibly make her believe me?
How could she believe that her second love would be better than the first?
How could she believe that the “second” me she’d met—the one without memories—didn’t love her less than the “first?”
In fact, “I” loved her more because I knew her more.
Yes—seconds could be extremely sloppy indeed.
A/N: The scene between Eric and Salome always rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t like the idea of Eric being manipulated like he seemed to be, so I tried to infuse the end of this with a little comedy. And-also-I wanted to show that Eric knows more than it seems. Otherwise, Eric’s actions don’t make much sense to me.