Chapter 01: Balls
Eric Northman was angry—really fucking angry.
For the first time in his long existence, he was losing control of a situation. Actually, he had already lost control.
And the source of his consternation had a name: Sookie Stackhouse.
He'd felt her panic and then her pain even as he'd been in his day-rest. Her emotions had been so sharp that they had woken him the fuck up! Nothing had ever done that to him before.
At first, Eric had feared that the source of his pain was his progeny's death. His child, Pam, was currently being held by the Magister—that self-righteous, self-important son of a bitch who had been tipped off about the V sales Eric had been forced to make for Queen Sophie-Anne, who was yet another thorn in his fucking side.
After a few moments of agonizing worry that afternoon, Eric had realized that his child—thankfully—was in her day-sleep, obviously having been given some time to rejuvenate so that the Magister could reinjure her body the next night. He was, after all, well known for his preference for having a healed, clean slate as he started each new night of torture.
The sadistic bastard.
Though Pam was relatively fine for the moment, Eric had been acutely aware of his progeny's pain for the last two nights. However, he knew that his child would not break under her torture—at least not so soon. He'd taught her better than that. But her agony had been profound and prolonged. Eric almost admired the Magister's zeal for his task. He hoped that Pam was taking notes.
No—the source of his pain and the cause of his waking had been his blood inside of one Sookie Stackhouse: the telepathic barmaid who'd been captivating way too much of his attention lately. The thing that pissed him off the most was that he couldn't seem to stop himself from being captivated, especially since he'd maneuvered his blood into her.
"My blood in her was supposed to give ME the fucking power," he thought ruefully. However, Eric suppressed a sigh and kept his face expressionless.
The Viking had so many fucking balls up in the air that the very last thing he needed was for Sookie Stackhouse to be added to the mix, but there she was—as fucking usual! The biggest and most unwieldy fucking ball of all!
Eric calmed himself. He was a warrior. He was a strategist. He was Godric's child—for fuck's sake! And even if he wasn't in control right now, all he needed was a plan, and then he would be again.
He did an inventory of the various balls that were hovering around him. He tried to visualize each one as a game-piece. He just needed to move all the pieces around until he could visualize a winning strategy.
Ball one. First and foremost, he had to save Pam from the Magister. And, unfortunately, he needed Russell Edgington's help to accomplish that task.
Ball two. He had to plan and execute the final death of that same vampire, Russell Edgington, who he had just found out had been responsible for his human family's deaths more than a thousand years before. Oh—and, of course, Russell couldn't be the run-of-the-mill vampire. No! He had to be three thousand fucking years old! Eric hadn't been able to hold a candle to his maker's strength, and Russell was a thousand years Godric's senior! As far as Eric knew, Russell was the oldest vampire on the continent and one of the oldest in existence. And he was a king to boot!
Oh—and he came with his own personal army of Weres, Weres strengthened by and addicted to vampire blood.
Ball three. He had to eliminate that two-faced bitch of an ex-queen of his, Sophie-Anne Leclerq, who'd had him selling the V that had gotten him into this fucking mess in the first place.
He'd been looking for a reason to do away with her for a while now. Truth be told, that bitch had signed her fucking death warrant when she poached into his territory for the telepath. Had she just told him about Sookie Stackhouse, Eric would have secured her as an asset without all the fucking subterfuge. Given what he knew about Sookie, Eric figured that she would have worked freely for Sophie-Anne as long as she had been given a fair contract and could maintain a somewhat normal life. All Sophie-Anne would have had to do was to pay Eric the normal tribute for securing such an asset, which Eric would have likely waved in exchange for the occasional usage of Sookie's telepathy. It could have been a civilized business arrangement between everyone involved.
But no! Sophie-Anne had to be a twat!
Despite her age, the queen continued to view the world as a spoiled child viewed toys. She felt that she was entitled to everything in the fucking toy box, and she didn't share!
Also damning Sophie-Anne was the fact that she had betrayed him, even though he'd been a loyal sheriff to her for decades. It had been she who had tipped off the Magister that the V would be at Fangtasia. It was her fault that Pam was in pain. The Viking's hands literally itched for his sword so that he could take her fucking head!
Ball four. Sookie Stackhouse.
He should have killed her long ago because of all the trouble that seemed to follow her around. She was defiant and foolhardy. She was naïve and annoying, especially when it came to her reckless devotion to Bill Compton, who was one of the most insipid vampires Eric had ever met.
But there was something about Sookie Stackhouse that drew Eric in, like a fucking moth to the flame. Yes—she was defiant, but the novelty of having someone stand up to him after so long aroused a fire within Eric's dead heart. Could her fire match his own? Could she make his life less dull and monotonous?
Did he even want to bother with her at all?
At least he knew the answer to the last question: yes. Though she was likely more trouble than she was worth, the answer was yes.
Sookie was foolhardy, but she was also loyal. And though her blazing devotion was wasted on the likes of Compton and her shifter boss, it was still something to be admired. She was only naïve because Compton had endeavored to keep her that way so that she could be controlled. But she was not stupid. It was true that she was inexperienced; however, Eric saw within her the potential to become a great warrior. And he'd not seen such a thing since he brought Pam to his side.
In fact, if he was telling the truth, his initial attraction to Sookie far eclipsed even that which he'd felt for Pam.
God help him, but now that he had gotten to know Sookie, Eric couldn't allow her to be lost to the clutches of someone like Sophie-Anne, who would display her pet telepath like a fucking zoo animal in a cage.
Sookie's fire burned too hot for a cage; thus, she would surely defy Sophie-Anne at every turn, which would lead to the queen losing control one day and draining her dry.
Eric could imagine the aftermath now. A dead Sookie at her feet, Sophie-Anne would likely let out a dainty laugh and cover her mouth coyly, before wiping away Sookie's blood from her lips and chin with a white lace handkerchief. "Oh well," she would say in that irritatingly shrill lilt of hers, "It was her own fault for being so delectable. Compton! Compton!" she would call. "You will need to procure me another telepathic fairy immediately!"
The thought of Sophie-Anne's sense of entitlement and lack of responsibility made Eric want to retch, but he kept his stony countenance in place.
And—of course—the damage that Sophie-Anne could do to Sookie paled in comparison to the damage that Russell would likely inflict upon her.
Eric would have cringed at that thought if he hadn't had an audience.
As far as Eric was concerned, Bill-fucking-Compton was the chief reason why Russell knew about Sookie anyway. Compton wasn't important enough for Eric to consider a ball in the air, but he was most definitely a pain in his ass. Compton was inferior in every way, yet he had managed to enthrall Sookie because of his blood. Eric knew that the younger vampire had gotten pints and pints of his blood into Sookie, and he'd obviously had her blood too. The Viking could only imagine the kind of influence Bill had established over her.
Moreover, Compton and his mainstreaming nonsense just annoyed the hell out of Eric.
The Viking wouldn't have ridiculed Bill nearly so much if he had believed that the younger vampire was genuine about the lifestyle he had professed to be taking up. But Bill was the worst kind of apologist, always offering excuses for who he was and what he did. In Eric's experience, the only vampires like that were the ones who had a disproportionately large number of things to apologize for.
And the Viking had heard things about Bill, especially about when he was still with Lorena. But he'd also heard rumors about more recent occurrences in Sophie-Anne's court. According to Eric's spies, before Bill had decided to "mainstream," he was well known for finding women who appealed to Sophie-Anne's tastes—women who would not be missed if they simply disappeared. The lucky ones—like Hadley—pleased the queen enough to be kept around and became "donors." The unlucky ones were banqueted upon by the vampires at court.
Eric knew for a fact that Russell Edgington planned to utilize Bill's talents in a similar way. Talbot had been very forthcoming in telling him about Bill's "job interview" a few nights before. Apparently, after Russell, Lorena, and Bill were finished with the dancer Bill had procured, the interior of the limo had needed to be redone.
And the dancer—of course—had been dead.
Obviously, such actions were "forbidden" by the AVL, but even if they were not, Eric wouldn't have chosen to participate in them. There was nothing less appetizing to Eric than the thought of sharing a meal with someone like Sophie-Anne or Russell Edgington. Eric had fed off of humans with Pam and Godric before, but that was for practicality or more "innocent" pleasure. And those occurrences had not turned into blood orgies with human corpses as the end product.
The Viking was not blameless, but he wasn't a depraved miscreant either.
Eric had killed many in his thousand years—mostly enemies, but some innocents as well, especially in the wars he fought as a human. He couldn't help but to recall the sword that was swung at him haphazardly in battle one time. The swing had been weak and unsteady, but the blade had bitten into his lower back. Without thought, Eric had turned and was swinging his own sword. The body that he had cleft in two belonged to a boy, probably no more than five years of age. That child's sky blue eyes—and the surprise in them as he'd died—would always stay with Eric. But even that kill, the Viking would not apologize for. The boy had chosen to fight. And he had died well and bravely. Eric had burned his body and sent him on to Valhalla with his own fallen warriors.
As a vampire, Eric had been trained and tested by Godric from the start. Up until recently, the smartest vampires had traveled in the shadows in order to conceal their natures. That was why Godric tended to follow battles—at least until more modern weaponry began to be utilized. Drinking from the already gaping wounds of dying soldiers on battlefields did not draw any attention. A thousand years before, Godric had taught Eric to drink only what he had to from glamoured townspeople and to gorge himself on the battlefields.
Certainly, in his travels with Godric, Eric had seen decadence and lack of control among his kind. Huge blood orgies were common in larger cities as vampire royalty would send their procurers or their Renfields to round up orphans and prostitutes and the homeless—large numbers of people who wouldn't be missed. Godric had given him a maker's command to never attend one of those "events," but—in all honesty—Eric had not needed such a command. The Viking enjoyed fucking and feeding as much as the next vampire—probably more—but that level of depravity for its own sake was never something he'd been tempted by.
On the contrary, Bill had—if even a fraction of the stories about Lorena and him were true—reveled in his life among the underbelly of society. And Eric knew that at least one such story was true; he'd seen the after-effects firsthand. Certainly, Bill was not all to blame. He had to follow his maker's lead, just as all younglings did. But as far as Eric could see, Bill was that kind of weak vampire who would revel in his degeneracy—only to wallow in guilt and blame after it was over. Casting themselves as martyrs, vampires like Bill would insist that their malevolent acts were not their fault. Yet they would still feel the guilt for them. However, that guilt rarely led to anything other than words of regret—words that became meaningless once the next degenerate and self-indulgent act was to be committed.
Given what Eric now knew about Bill's real reason for coming to Bon Temps, the Viking had zero sympathy or patience for the Civil War veteran. Eric just had to make Sookie Stackhouse see the truth about her "true love" before she became another dead girl for Bill Compton to feel guilty about.
Eric once again had to hold in his sigh.
Indeed—by far—Sookie was the slipperiest of the balls he had in the air. He would have to look pretty fucking far to find someone who didn't want to possess her in some way: Bill, Lorena, Russell, Sophie-Anne, Sam Merlotte, and even Alcide Herveaux now. Eric recognized that he was not immune to Sookie either; everything within his body called out to him to make Sookie Stackhouse his own. To make matters worse, most of the people on the list of Sookie's "admirers" didn't just want Sookie; they wanted to control her—to own her.
The telepath had an annoying habit of attracting every supernatural malefactor around! Hell! Even Maenads came out of the fucking woodwork when she was near! So Eric was certain that the list of "Sookie fans" would only grow in the future. Eric once more stopped himself from sighing. He should have just killed Sookie the moment he first felt any kind of attachment to her. Instead, he found himself "volunteering" to be the president of her fucked up fan club!
The scent of her blood had been enough to draw him in. Finding out that she was a telepath was a bonus. And now he'd discovered from Hadley that Sookie was a fairy—a fucking fairy! Yet, none of those things held a candle to the main reason he found himself wanting her more than any other woman he'd ever encountered. Simply put, she stirred him—right down to his undead soul. Truth be told, if he'd been asked, he would have denied even having a soul before Sookie Stackhouse walked into his life. But it was there, a cesspool of swarming emotions that would probably get him killed. But instead of avoiding that pool—as he should have been doing—all he wanted to do was to dive headlong into it.
Eric mentally chastised himself. Here he was, distracted by Sookie—again—when he needed to be on the top of his game.
The Viking stared impassively at his erstwhile queen and the psychopathic Russell Edgington sitting across from him in the back of the purple stretch limo, which had been one of the more ostentatious and tacky pieces in Sophie-Anne's "car fleet." She claimed that the color stood for her royalty. Eric wondered what color signified a royal pain in the ass. He hoped it was the same color as the queen's blood.
The two monarchs were squabbling over the percentage of Louisiana's treasury and income Sophie-Anne was going to hand over to Russell as her "dowry." Eric didn't even try to reign in the rage on his face when Russell disclosed that Sophie-Anne had huge secret bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, apparently filled with money she'd been siphoning from Louisiana for as long as she'd been queen.
And she'd had him selling V!
Eric growled. Sophie-Anne's greed had been the sole reason why Eric had been busting his ass and risking his undead life in order to sell the blood of his kind. Even worse, in doing so, Eric had been going against every precept that Godric had ever taught him about the sacredness of the blood. The really fucked up thing was that if Eric had refused, Sophie-Anne would have been able to execute him for treason.
It had been the very definition of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. And now his child was suffering for Sophie-Anne's greed!
During the seemingly never-ending limo ride from Sophie-Anne's palatial estate just north of Baton Rouge to Shreveport, Eric had had to stop himself several times from ripping out the queen's throat. Even more difficult, however, was having to keep up his current façade of loyal lapdog to Russell. First, Russell was a fucking lunatic. Even more, however, he was the fucking lunatic who had killed Eric's family.
Eric had needed to harness every one of the lessons in control taught to him by Godric in order to stomach sharing the same few feet with the monarchs in front of him. They both needed to fucking die!
But not yet. If he tried to kill them now, it would be he who was cut down. And where would that leave Pam? And Sookie?
Eric could feel that they were nearing Shreveport even as he felt the connections to two of the three women who had his blood growing stronger. Pam was in pain again, so the Magister had obviously recommenced his "games" for the night. However, from Sookie, Eric felt very little in that moment. She was closer than before, though she was not in Shreveport. He found himself thankful that she was not in pain, but was disconcerted by how weak their tie was. She was most certainly unconscious and likely in what humans called a coma.
The third woman who'd had his blood, Hadley, was on her way to Mississippi with the rest of Sophie-Anne's "favorite things." Giving Hadley his blood had been a calculated move on the Viking's part. He'd not wanted her dead because of her kinship to Sookie, but he could also track her now. And where Hadley was, the queen was likely to be as well. Eric intended to use his blood tie with Hadley to his advantage as much as he could.
Russell's phone interrupted both Eric's thoughts and the king's "lovers quarrel" with Sophie-Anne. Russell gave the queen a sharp look.
"You will keep your mouth shut if you want to avoid the true death, dearest," he said, his tone a disconcerting mixture of ruthlessness and sing-songedness.
Russell winked at Eric. The Viking smiled flirtingly in return, though his blood was boiling with hatred for the king.
"Talbot. Darling," Russell said warmly as he answered the phone. Sophie-Anne rolled her eyes, but smartly kept her trap shut.
Though Eric kept his face mostly blank, he was amused by Talbot's narrative, which was spoken mostly in Greek and which contained a multitude of expletives in a variety of languages. Clearly Sophie-Anne did not know any Greek, a fact which seemed to irk her to no end. But the Viking understood every single word. Of course, Russell didn't need to know that; thus, Eric showed no reaction beyond general curiosity about the call.
Talbot informed his paramour that Compton, along with two human females, had escaped. They'd apparently gotten help from a Were. One of the human females was the girl that Franklin Mott had planned to turn. From the scent he'd smelled on Mott the evening before, Eric concluded that the girl must be Tara Thornton, one of Sookie's few friends. Apparently, the girl had also brained Mott to within an inch of his un-dead life. Eric was disappointed that she hadn't finished the job. Mott was an asshole—a sociopathic asshole—and the world would be better without him.
Eric didn't need to hear Talbot's report to identify the other girl who had escaped. His blood had already told him that she was much closer to him than Jackson, Mississippi.
He wondered if she had been injured during the escape, but then discounted that theory when he heard Talbot telling Russell that Bill and the others had gotten away several hours before Eric had been woken up by Sookie's terror and pain.
Not for the first time, the Viking was glad that no others—except for Pam and Compton—were privy to the fact that Sookie had had his blood. Thus, Russell had no idea that Eric could track her. Despite his overall uselessness, at least Compton had kept that fact from Russell—so far. However, Eric knew that he could count on Bill's discretion only as long as the younger vampire's own life wasn't threatened.
In addition to the escapes, Talbot also reported that Lorena had met the true death. Eric had to work very hard not to give away his glee at that fact. Lorena had outlived her usefulness as far as the Viking was concerned. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
A couple of Russell's Weres were also killed, including the leader of the pack, who'd had the unfortunate name of Cooter. Eric would have been happy if all the tattooed Weres in the fucking world were done away with, but Cooter was a good start.
As Talbot ranted, Russell tried to sooth his frazzled lover's nerves by cooing at him in Greek, but the younger vampire was not to be placated. His pitch got higher and higher until Russell was literally holding the phone away from his ear.
Russell winked at Eric again, and the Viking somehow managed to give the king a coy smile in return.
As Talbot began to screech about an apparently rabid Were-bitch named Debbie Pelt who was requesting the duty of hunting down Sookie Stackhouse—so that she could "revenge her Cooter"—the king had finally had enough of the conversation.
"I will call you later, my love," Russell said—as cool as a cucumber—into the receiver before abruptly ending the call.
Eric steeled himself as Russell smiled at him. A thousand years of hiding his true feelings from others was put to good use as Eric returned Russell's grin.
"Men!" Russell said with mock frustration.
Eric chuckled. "That is why I have always preferred short-term dalliances to relationships," the Viking said, as if confiding in the king. "However," Eric leered as he slowly moved his eyes up and down Russell's body, "for a worthy lover, I could be persuaded to alter my usual habits."
Russell leaned forward and dragged one of his hands unhurriedly down Eric's chest until he brought it to rest at his crotch and began to rub what he found there. Feeling anything but aroused, the Viking quickly put aside his disgust and growled as if Russell's actions were welcome. Eric closed his eyes and brought forth the most arousing thought that he could muster in that moment—Sookie Stackhouse standing before his throne at Fangtasia in a white dress with red flowers. She'd been both innocent and fiery that night.
"Well, aren't you sweet," Eric replayed his comment in his head.
"Not really," had been her response.
Armed with that memory, Eric felt his cock beginning to stiffen to the touch, which he now imagined was from Sookie's hand.
"Mmmm," purred Russell even as he thankfully pulled away his hand. Eric opened his eyes and managed to give Russell the lust-filled look the elder vampire was expecting. "I can see you could be of great service to me, Mr. Northman."
"I would be honored to serve, my liege," Eric said, his voice conveying both reverence and desire.
"Ugh," came Sophie-Anne's annoyed voice. For the first time that night, Eric was grateful that she had not yet met her true death. Her interruption was extremely welcome.
Eric, my boy," the older vampire said in a slightly patronizing tone, even as he ignored Sophie-Anne, "my blushing bride-to-be has told me that you're her most profitable sheriff. Your skills, however, seem wasted in this shithole area. My flower here will be returning with me to Mississippi for the time being, and I believe that my reign . . . ." He stopped for a moment and looked apologetically at Sophie-Anne. "I am so sorry, my dove; I meant our reign."
Russell smirked at Eric as Sophie-Anne rolled her eyes. She had self-preservation enough, however, not to say the snide comment that was obviously on the tip of her tongue.
"As I was saying," Russell continued, "Our reign would be better served if you relocated—say to New Orleans. Area 1 seems a better fit for someone of your age and talents.
Eric held his smile in place with difficulty. He hadn't needed another reason to hate Russell Edgington; however, the monarch had managed to insult Eric's area even as he gave the Viking a backhanded compliment. Under the surface, Eric seethed. Area 5 was not a fucking shithole! On the contrary, it was the quiet corner of the world that he had always longed for—or at least it had been.
And Eric had worked very hard to build up the vampire population and the profits in the area. No—Area 5 was most definitely not a shithole, at least not in the realm of vampires. Moreover, the last thing Eric wanted was to be in charge of Area 1, which was full of idiotic vampires who tried to pretend they were characters out of Anne Rice's novels. Eric didn't want all the fucking headaches that would certainly come from being in charge of the Area that included New Orleans! But—once more—the Viking had to hide his displeasure.
"My liege," Eric said—again with both deference and suggestiveness in his tone, "it would be my honor to serve you in any capacity you see fit—even if I must wrangler a half-dozen Lestats." He winked.
Russell chuckled and then leered once more at Eric, though he spoke words directed at Sophie-Anne. "See, my dear moon flower, despite your protestations to the contrary, young Eric here seems quite willing to do whatever is necessary to please his monarch. Perhaps," he said as he settled his hand onto Eric's inner thigh, "you simply didn't challenge him enough."
Sophie-Anne once more rolled her eyes and grunted inelegantly.
Eric couldn't help but to scoff at Sophie-Anne's immature reaction. He'd had to deal with her shit for way too long. The Viking settled his own hand over Russell's and looked him in the eye, though his words, too, were meant for Sophie-Anne. "It is my pleasure to attend to a monarch who deserves my allegiance." He turned his gaze to his ex-queen and leveled a savage glare in her direction, causing her to cower into the seat of the limo. Eric basked in the few moments of satisfaction he received from her reaction.
However, his celebration was short-lived as he felt a particularly sharp stab of pain from Pam. Though he could have remained impassive to the discomfort he felt, Eric decided to cringe a little. He knew that Russell would see the reaction, and—just as he'd hoped would happen—the king removed his hand from Eric's thigh and sat back into his seat.
"It is my progeny, your majesty," Eric offered by way of explanation—before Russell could ask what had caused his reaction. "I'm afraid the Magister has resumed his torture of her."
Russell scoffed, "The Magister and the Authority that employs him are both antiquated notions! I look forward to a new world order—one formulated by me."
Eric nodded. "As do I, your majesty," he said with bowed head even as he tried to send his child confidence through their bond. Hopefully, at least one of the balls he had in the air would soon be taken care of. He just hoped that Pam could hang on until he got there.