Chapter 3 : Moving On
Bill Compton had a Christmas tree.
As I waited to be admitted to the King’s study, I studied the glittering shrubbery that took up a significant area of his foyer. It was decorated with a fashionably monochromatic array of copper and gold glass ornaments, a dense web of white lights, and with a plush swaddling of bronze velvet around its base that coordinated nicely with the cinnamon-patterned walls.
I wondered if it had occurred to Bill that something with so many turgid wooden branches made one hell of a potentially vampire-killing decorative accent. I edged casually to the other side of the hallway, as far from the holiday stake-fest as possible.
“Sheriff Northman, you may come in.” A striking redhead in a skin-tight black uniform motioned for me to enter Bill’s inner sanctum. Judging from the faint pink flush tinting her cheeks and her slightly elevated heartbeat, whatever exchange she had been having with my sovereign had been enjoyable. Not physical to judge by her scent – at least not yet – but she was clearly roused by Bill’s company.
“Thank you, Miss Pelham.” Bill smiled charmingly at her.
“Your majesty.” She dipped her head at him respectfully before withdrawing from the room, a pleased little smile on her face.
“Eric. Thank you for answering my summons.” No bonhomie for me; Bill’s expression had become grave as soon as I entered. “Please have a seat.”
I dropped into a chair in front of his executive desk and waited to be informed why I was here. I had been keeping Bill in the loop on reports from the surveillance teams located at Sookie’s previous haunts; I had also given him updates on the handful of trips I had made to rule out possibilities beyond my fairy theory, including an expedition to track down Sookie’s friend Tara, who had suspiciously vanished the same night as Sookie did. That Tara had run away and was living under an assumed name seemed suspect to me at first, but given her narrow escape from Russell and his odd little henchman Franklin Mott, it didn’t seem all that surprising once I thought about it. I had diligently searched for any clues that her strange behavior had anything to do with Sookie’s disappearance and ultimately concluded the Tara’s rapid departure from Bon Temps had everything to do with her own life, not Sookie’s.
Every other possible lead had had the same result. No one had seen or heard anything of value concerning Sookie in nearly three months. It was as if she had vanished from the face of the earth.
The longer she was gone, the more I had to cling to the sliver of hope given to me the first night she went missing. I believed – and it had become an article of faith for me over the past three months, as there was no further proof of what had happened to base my optimism on – that Sookie was alive and she was with the fae in some other plane of existence.
Sometimes as I lay down for the day (another day where she remained gone) I would worry about whether I had imagined the enticing fragrance in the cemetery that night and wonder if my speculation was just fantasy. Then I would force my mind to go over every detail again: the intoxicating scents, the path starting at Sookie’s house, the pit stop at her grandmother’s grave, and the gravel path where it all vanished. It had been real. It had happened that way.
Telling myself again and again that I had not imagined the entire thing and that she was still alive was the only thing that kept me sane.
While I kept Bill in the loop on all my efforts in looking for Sookie on the earthly plane, I did not tell him about the amount of time I was spending trying to understand fairy realms and how they were accessed and by whom. In the three months since Sookie had disappeared, I had devoured Sophie-Anne’s library, becoming a relative expert on fairy theory and mythology.
What I had not mastered, however, were any practical ideas for how to find Sookie if she was really no longer on this earth.
The frustration of that was making me a little crazy. I wanted to be able to do something to find her; that I was not having much success at finding anything I could do was making me edgy and irritable.
“Do you have any news at all on the search for Sookie?” Bill asked.
“Nothing new, no. The human search is continuing but has turned up nothing, as you know. I am informed that you do remain the primary person of interest in the case as far as the Bon Temps police are concerned.”
Bill rolled his eyes at that.
I added drily, “With myself as the next most likely suspect, of course.” The human police force had persisted in being annoying up to a point, but had recently backed off on their clumsy investigations of either of us. “I understand that Sookie’s brother is slated to begin police academy training after the New Year. Jason Stackhouse is expecting to join the force as a deputy within six months. I suspect he is hoping professional police training will help him find Sookie, but I think he is naïve on that point.” It remained unsaid, but if I could not find her with the expanded resources at my disposal then the chances of the humans doing so, even someone as motivated as Sookie’s brother, were slim.
Bill sighed dejectedly and he picked up a pen and began to tap it nervously against paperwork on his desk. Finally he began speaking reluctantly. “As you know, Nan Flanagan approved the use of monarchy funds to initiate the search for Sookie on the grounds that she is very valuable to Louisiana as our telepath.” I had been dutifully turning in receipts for the surveillance and travel expenses based on that approval for the past several weeks in order to substantiate that I was actively looking for Sookie. The most promising part of my search, the fairy research, was of course undocumented, which was just the way I wanted it. “Well, Nan is beginning to squawk about the ongoing expense of the search when we have nothing to show for it. She has asked me to wind up all search efforts immediately and that all funds for that purpose be terminated as of the end of this calendar year.”
I shrugged. “Fine. I can easily pay for the surveillance out of my own pocket. Nan doesn’t need to know.”
“No.” Bill’s tone was sharp. “No, Eric, I am asking you to bring the search to an end. Completely.”
I opened my mouth to respond and he cut me off, his tone stoic and resigned. “If she was alive to be found, surely you have to agree we would have found her by now. As much as it pains me to admit it, Sookie must be dead. It is time that we acknowledge it and move on.” He did look troubled, but I also sensed his unreserved acceptance of what he was saying. Bill really believed Sookie was no more.
I kept my face impassive although internally I had automatically begun my mantra: Sookie is alive, she may not be on this plane but she is still alive and she will come back. I refused to be swayed by the opinions of others, especially someone like Bill Compton.
“Eric, I am going to insist that you return full-time to your obligations at Fangtasia. You can consider your service in this matter at an end,” Bill said firmly.
I had known the day would come eventually that I’d be asked to stop looking, but I was still surprised that Bill was giving up so easily by my standards. I had expected at least six months of searching, if not more.
But then, I could not – would not – believe that Sookie was dead and, in my mind, a living Sookie would always be worth searching for. For however long it would take.
I pondered for a moment what I should do with Bill’s edict. I did regret the loss of eyes on the various properties, but, honestly, what good had it done me in the past three months? Sookie was not to be seen and I was still hopeful that when she came back, I’d feel her presence again through my blood before ever laying eyes on her.
“Fine,” I agreed coolly. “Is there anything more, your majesty?”
“We all just need to … move on. You should as well.” And with that, my king dismissed me.
I decided to stop at Sookie’s home before driving back home to Shreveport. As I cut through the cemetery, I didn’t detect anything of note and when I got to her house, it was silent and dark. I stood in the gravel at the foot of the front stairs and stared up at the farmhouse. When Sookie had first disappeared, there had been a flurry of activity centered there, but for the last month, it had felt increasingly abandoned. Dried autumn leaves and twigs had blown up onto the porch and remained untouched, and the window sills and doors were black with fingerprint powder left by the police. The exterior siding was still rimed with mud and I could smell the earthy scent of mold spores clinging to the surface, dormant only because of the cold weather. When it got warmer, they would begin to thrive if they were not removed.
It pissed me off because the shameless neglect seemed to say that no one – no one, not her family or her friends or even Bill Compton – seemed to think Sookie was ever going to come back to what was rapidly becoming a decrepit eyesore. Evidently she was as good as dead to them already. The thought made my jaw clench.
“Mr. Northman, is that you?”
A human, bundled into a winter jacket against the December night chill, edged out of the dark tree line around Sookie’s yard.
“Ray.” I nodded in acknowledgment. He was one of the men I had assigned to watch over Sookie’s house the past few weeks. “This is your last night out here. We’re ending our surveillance of the property. Give Tanker a call and let him know he can drop coverage of the other Stackhouse place as well. Then you can go over to Merlotte’s and have a beer with Mike. He’s done there, too. I’ll call the others to pass the word. Payment will be finalized tomorrow.”
“Yessir.” Ray hesitated and then said knowingly, “This mean you all are giving up on that Crazy Sookie ever coming back? “
My fangs were out in an instant and at vamp speed, Ray’s terrified face was inches from my own as I gripped his throat in my hand. “Never – never refer to Miss Stackhouse that way again.” I tightened my fingers. “And no one is giving up on her.” Well, maybe that wasn’t strictly true, but I sure as fuck was not giving up.
The second I released Ray’s throat he sputtered and coughed before croaking, “S-sorry, Mr. Northman. That’s just how we’ve heard folks refer to her down at the bar where she used to work. They sometimes talk about her, wondering what happened. I didn’t mean nothin’ by it, honest.”
“Just get out of here. And don’t forget that part of the deal is that you listen but don’t fucking talk about this to other people. You and your friends should remember that, because if I hear any of you’ve been talking about this job, Sookie Stackhouse won’t be the only person to disappear.”
“Lips are sealed, Mr. Northman, no worry about that. Sorry again for the misunderstandin’.” Ray scrambled away into the dark. I took a last lingering look at the deteriorating shell of Sookie’s home and turned with exasperation back towards Bill’s home where my car was parked.
As winter began to tiptoe towards spring, I felt like everyone but me had adjusted to a new, Sookie-less status quo. I learned in a chance encounter with Bill’s progeny Jessica that the shifter boss had hired a new waitress just before the holidays and had finally cleared out Sookie’s storage cubby in the bar. Sookie’s brother was in the midst of his police training and focused on that. My Lafayette was, to judge by the feelings I felt through the slight bond we had remaining, involved in a new romantic relationship.
Even Bill Compton had moved on. In a visit to the royal mansion in mid-January, I had been able to smell that he and the efficient redhead from my holiday visit had become lovers.
That I was the last one to cling to hope for Sookie’s return kind of pissed me off. Not against her friends and family – I could understand the humans’ need to let the pain go, especially if they did not know what I knew about Sookie’s disappearance and had lost hope.
No, I was pissed at myself for caring so much.
I had always been frank in acknowledging that I wanted Sookie, from the very night we met. I had been intrigued by her, at first because she seemed so drastically different from Bill Compton’s former lovers, particularly the vicious Lorena. Either Bill had changed dramatically since the last time I had seen him or Sookie fit into some hidden agenda of his. Knowing he was Sophie-Anne’s procurer, I assumed Sookie had some special quality that made her desirable to vampires, a theory confirmed when she confessed she was a telepath. Nonetheless, his protection of her had been out of the ordinary, even for her unique abilities, and it had clearly been personally motivated, and something I found enigmatic. It didn’t take me long to ascertain what Bill saw in her beyond the telepathy; she was fiery and loyal under that sweet Southern exterior, an alluringly paradoxical combination. My attraction had grown in each subsequent interaction with her, but my fate was sealed when she slapped me for holding her friend Lafayette for interrogation in Eddie Fournier’s disappearance.
Up until that moment, my feelings towards Sookie Stackhouse had been lust for both her body and her sweet-smelling blood, mixed with curiosity and a calculating assessment of her worth as a telepath. But the moment she had the courage and fire to smack a 1,000-year-old vampire across the face for daring to hurt someone she cared about, a hot flame of something more than the desire to fuck her, bite her and use her sprung up in me. In that moment, I saw her warrior spirit and it made me want something more from her, something deeper and longer-lasting than the desire-quenching tumble I had been envisioning. I wanted her to be mine. Manipulating her into taking my blood had been intended to increase my influence over her to that end, but it had backfired in one way.
I was finding that I was falling further under her influence instead.
Feeling through our new bond her compassion for Godric as he met the sun on that rooftop – and her compassion for me as well, despite what I had just done to ensnare her – had awakened something in me that I had not felt since I was human, a longing for intimacy that I thought I had conquered centuries ago.
I still refused to name what that feeling was, but I knew it made me angry with myself. Godric had taught me that a vampire was never at the whim of his emotions and that humans were meant to be eaten, not loved. I had spent literally centuries pushing away the intensity of my human feelings, viewing them as an inherent weakness that was, at best, unbecoming, and at worst, likely to get me killed through some rash, sentimental action. I had shaped myself (or so I liked to think) into a paragon of rational and icy calm in all circumstances, a Sphinx-like master of strategy that never let emotions sway me from the most logical choices and actions.
To find that those who had loved Sookie Stackhouse had made some peace with their loss of her while I still struggled was simply mortifying. And yet, here I was, still hoping – no, longing — for her to return, even though the last thing she had felt for me was anger and disgust.
Worst of all, Pam finally called me on it.
The weekend before Mardi Gras, Fangtasia’s usually red and black interior had been highlighted with purple, gold and green accents, and several of the dancers had donned strings of Mardi Gras beads and exotic masks as part of their stage wear. Pam herself was decked out in shimmering green and gold with a rather exuberant feather headdress and sequined green pumps.
“Which do you want, Eric? The king’s crown or the mask?” She had cornered me in my office with a cheap costume coronet in one hand and a sparkly black and gold mask in the other.
I was working my way through one of the older books from Sophie-Anne’s library. Since it was written in Welsh, a language I had some knowledge of but hadn’t spoken (much less read) in a couple of centuries, I was concentrating intensely and barely aware of Pam’s presence. “Hmmm?”
Pam pursed her lips. “Mardi Gras wear for the clientele, Eric, which do you prefer? The crown would be amusing, but I think the mask coordinates with your current outfit better.”
“Neither. I’m busy.” I glanced up at the proffered options and dismissed both with a slight shake of my head.
Both accessories suddenly skittered violently across my desk, the crown landing upside down on the book. “What the fuck, Pam?” I snapped.
“’What the fuck, Pam?’ What the fuck, Eric! We are supposed to be running a business here but I can never get you to pull your nose out of those goddamn books long enough to do that anymore. “ I didn’t need to see my progeny’s face to know she was upset; I could feel the rage boiling through our bond.
I raised an eyebrow. “You’re this angry over some fripperies for a holiday we don’t even celebrate?” I flipped the crown off the book with a sharp backhand. “You have got to be kidding me.”
“It is not about the fricking tchotchkes, Eric,” Pam bit out. “It’s about your having checked out of life ever since that goddamn fairy waitress disappeared.” I could feel and see her trying to tamp down her frustration. “You have not been yourself in months,” she finally said in a more controlled way. “You barely feed, you haven’t banged anyone in months and you can’t seem to stop spending all your free time – no, not your free time – all your fucking time, including time that should be devoted to our business – chasing after fantasies of fairyland and that missing fairy cunt.” So much for Pam’s attempt at self-control; I could feel the tide of frustration peak again and I couldn’t help but flash my fangs at her in response.
“Eric –” Pam closed her eyes and reined in her emotions again. “I know you cared for Sookie, but, it has been nearly six months.” Her blue eyes opened and met mine. “I am not saying that you are wrong in believing she is still out there somewhere, but you cannot live your life as if you are waiting for her to pop out of the ether at any second. You need to pick up the pieces of your own life, not keep it on hold for someone who may not come back for years, or even centuries.” Pam had unfortunately been around when I read that fairies often kept their abductees not just for weeks or months but for two or three hundred years.
She made a good point, but then she overreached her argument. “She’s not even yours, Eric, and she made it pretty clear that she did not want to be. It’s just stupid to invest this much of yourself in someone who you can’t even count on having. And a human? What would you even do with her if she were still here, Eric? I just don’t understand all this emotional angst over someone whose life is like – like an insect’s compared to yours.”
Not a word of what Pam said was not something I had already thought on my own, but I would be damned if my own progeny made me feel the sting of the humiliation I was already feeling over my lack of self-control.
“Mind your own business, Pam,” I said coldly, turning back to the book in front of me. “And get those fucking toys out of my office.”
There was a taut silence in the room. “I don’t even know who you are any more, Eric Northman,” Pam finally muttered before slamming the door on the way out.
That made two of us.
I never gave up hope. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t get increasingly frustrated and disheartened as the months went on with no sign of Sookie. I had been through the books from Sophie-Anne’s library over and over until I could have recited them in my death-like day sleep. I tried to focus on work at Fangtasia, feeling some guilt after Pam’s confrontation, but my heart wasn’t in it. The fangbangers were irritating, none of the current dancers held any appeal for me, and even feeding had become a necessity rather than a pleasure.
I didn’t want to admit I could be depressed. To be depressed would be the ultimate admission of how far my loss of control over my feelings had gone.
Unfortunately, as much as I tried to suppress my increasingly dark feelings, I couldn’t hide them from Pam because of our bond. In turn, I could sense as her anger and frustration towards me began to evolve into fear and worry as my emotions spiraled slowly downwards.
Things finally hit bottom when I threatened to kill Jason Stackhouse over the broken window.
August in northern Louisiana is always hot. Over 90 degrees most days, not likely to get much cooler than 72 even at night. It is miserable and muggy even for vampires.
It was worse than normal that summer. The humans were testy and hostile to one another, the various fur-bearing weres were outright vicious and even vampires were responding to the negative energy in the air. The only positive thing was that I ate more that month than I had eaten in the previous nine. I was so frustrated and irritable between my suppressed feelings and the heat that I actually wanted to bite things. Forget about seduction or pleasure. I just wanted to rip skin with my fangs and drain the blood aggressively, just for the feel of hurting something. I basically wanted everyone I encountered to feel as shitty as I did. Pam, who had been so concerned about my lack of feeding up until that point, actually pulled me aside and hissed at me that I was going to drive the customers away if I kept feeding like a new-born vampire prick. As if I cared about keeping humans happy when I wasn’t.
I had cut back on dropping in at Sookie’s house to check things out. It frankly brought out the worst in me to see the neglected, empty house devoid of Sookie’s presence and I was already having a hard enough time with her absence without rubbing salt in the wound. That said, I still felt a compulsion to make sure it was not deteriorating too much because I still believed, insisted on believing, that she was going to be back. Eventually. Hopefully sometime this century.
It was the first week of August when I decided to stop by the old farmhouse. I had circled in slowly in the humid night air, checking for any changes since the last time I’d been here. Even so, I didn’t see the broken window until I was actually on the ground and approaching the porch.
Son of a bitch.
One of the windows beside the door was shattered, with a couple of shards of glass strewn on the porch and most of the glass smashed to the inside. I cautiously peered through the window frame, pushing the weather-filthied curtains out of the way, avoiding jagged edges of broken window, and spotted a large rock on the floor inside. To judge from a spider web that bridged part of the space where there had once been glass, I gathered that the window had been been broken for at least a few days, if not longer. Through the opening, I could smell the sour reek of active mold inside the house, thriving in the hot, stale humidity of the Louisiana summer.
Rationally, I knew it was probably just vandalism by kids, drawn by the increasingly abandoned look of the house. But that it had been left like this, ignored by those whose responsibility I felt it was to look out for Sookie’s property in her absence, caused me to see red.
The only physical reminders of Sookie that remained on this entire earth were in this house and yet, for the past several months, I’d seen it left to literally rot. I’d barely tolerated the neglect, but now it had become a target for deliberate destruction and yet nothing was being done to safeguard it. I knew enough about human behavior to know that a smashed out window left unrepaired would invite further violation of the house. Although I couldn’t smell any unknown intruders’ scents through the broken window, I knew it was only a matter of time before others would explore the “abandoned” house and no doubt create more damage.
I imagined Sookie coming home (someday) only to find her house destroyed and ravaged by strangers because no one left behind had cared enough to protect it, and a white-hot bolt of fury surged through me.
I clenched my fists and snapped my fangs down viciously as I bolted into the air to head for Jason Stackhouse’s home.
Sookie’s brother and I were going to have a little talk about family responsibility.
I admit, the way I pounded on Jason Stackhouse’s door could have been described as “thunderous.” But given that I could easily have put my fist through the door (to say nothing of Stackhouse’s chest) given my black mood, he was lucky.
Not that he saw it that way. “What the fuck, man, what the hell you beatin’ on my door like that for?” he bellowed as he threw the door open. I don’t know who he expected to be knocking at his door on a hot summer night, but it was clear he wasn’t expecting me. Especially not an enraged me, my fangs fully extended. “What the fuck? What are you doing here?” He stepped back from the open doorway, careful to be well clear of my reach, safe within the bubble of protection that came with a human-owned home. “Hey, hey, I know how this works, I’m not letting you in here without an invitation, so if you got something to say to me, you put those fangs away or I’m shutting this door and calling the cops.” He backed up even further, but had his fists up as if he expected me to throw a punch instead of rip his throat out with my teeth. “Now, what in the hell do you want?”
I retracted my fangs with some effort and growled out in an icy voice, “Your sister’s front window is broken.”
Jason Stackhouse frowned at me. “Uh, what?”
“Someone has broken Sookie’s window with a rock. It hasn’t been fixed.”
He stepped a little closer to the door, his brows furrowing more deeply. “Let me get this straight. You are on my doorstep, your fangs all up in my face, looking like you want to kill me because my missing sister’s front window got hit by a rock?”
Put that way, I guess it did sound faintly ludicrous. Nonetheless, I had a point to make. “Why haven’t you been taking care of her house while she’s gone?” I snapped.
“Well, it ain’t my house,” he said as if surprised I would ask such a thing. “And I don’t know if she’s ever comin’ back since, for all I know, one of y’all may have killed her, so why would I be worrying about keeping her house up?”
My fangs popped again and my eyes must have telegraphed how I felt about that answer because something flickered in his face and he added begrudgingly, “I wouldn’t expect you to understand, you being a vampire and all, but it ain’t exactly easy for me to go over to Sook’s house any more. I can’t stand seeing it standin’ there all empty and messed up like that. My gran always kept that house immaculate and it don’t even look like our family’s place any more in the condition it is in. And I sure as hell can’t do nothin’ about bringin’ it up to speed with my new job and Sookie missin’ and some other – some other stuff I got goin’ on. “ He looked helpless for a moment. “So, I’m sorry about her window getting’ broken, but I’ll go over and fix it as soon as I can. Or maybe hire someone else to do it –” His voice trailed off.
I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.
“Get. The window. Fixed.” I bit out. “Or you won’t have to worry about it anymore. “
“You threatening me?” Jason squared off his body against me and I was suddenly reminded of his sister and the way she had stood up to me. Maybe they weren’t as different as I tended to think.
“Yes, I am.” I answered evenly. “As Sookie’s brother, I think you have an obligation to take care of her property until she is able to do it herself. I do not want your sister coming home to a trashed house when she eventually comes back.”
Jason Stackhouse stared at me. “You are serious about this, ain’t you? You want me to make sure Sookie’s house gets fixed up in case she ever comes home,” he said slowly as if I had proposed something utterly outlandish.
“If you can’t do it, then maybe you should find someone who can,” I said tightly.
“Or maybe I should let the house become someone else’s problem because I think you know my sister ain’t coming home. She’s been gone long enough that I don’t think she can be alive. And I don’t know why you are trying to fuck with my head about it, but I think that’s what you’re doing.” Jason was starting to get angry.
“Do whatever you have to do, but I don’t want your sister to come home to that house in that condition. Solve the problem or I will.”
I turned to leave and Jason slammed his door shut, but not before I heard him mutter under his breath, “Crazy vampire motherfucker.”
Later that night, I told Pam about the encounter with Jason. It was one of the longer conversations we had had since she had confronted me several weeks earlier, but I guess she had felt my anger and couldn’t resist finding out what had provoked it.
“Eric –” She looked thoughtful after I told her about the state of Sookie’s house and my frustration over it. “Why don’t you see if you can buy the house from Sookie’s brother? Then you can take care of things yourself if it means that much to you. It would give you an outlet for your stress over the situation.”
I stared back at her. After a moment I said, “He’s not going to sell his sister’s house to a vampire he thinks may have killed her. Even Jason Stackhouse is not that dumb.”
Pam raised an eyebrow as if she begged to differ. “Why does have to know he’d be selling it to you? Why not use one of your off-shore dummy corporations to purchase it?”
And with that simple, clever suggestion, Pam ended up not only saving Jason Stackhouse from my wrath (not that she cared about that) but she saved me from myself.
I had hit a wall in my attempts to find Sookie and the frustration was making me a little crazy. Maybe shifting my focus to something I could do to eventually bring me closer to Sookie would improve my mood.