Flashback to 2006, during Eric’s first motorcycle accident…
“It’s a death machine,” she told him at once, not even trying to hide her disgust at his new toy.
His hands flew to cover the vintage motorbike’s handgrips. “Shh… he might hear you.”
She leaned forward until her face was millimeters from his hand. “I don’t like you, Barkley. You’re going to kill my boyfriend,” she whispered melodiously before she straightened up and glared at Eric. “Get rid of it, Eric. I’m serious.”
His finger snuck beneath her chin and placed a chaste kiss on her pouting lips. “Don’t be jealous. You’re still my number one girl,” he teased, refusing to relent.
She rolled her eyes and with a final stabbing look she left him in the garage.
His eyes were heavy. He was loopy from the drugs swirling in his veins. He was sure he was given the good stuff because he felt like he was as light as a fucking feather.
Sookie, he wanted to reply. She didn’t like to repeat herself. She was bossy like that. She was too damn bossy when she asked – no scratch that, demanded was more like it – to get rid of Barkley, his grandmother’s newest sweetener to make him visit her more often in Bel Air.
She had been right. It was a death machine. It took several contusions and a couple of broken ribs to make him realize that Sookie’s power of deduction was almost always dead on.
Oh, she would have a field day from this.
Wait, no. She wouldn’t.
“Eric.” Her voice was soft, but still prodding.
His eyes fluttered and the sight that greeted him made his heart plummet to his stomach. Bloodshot eyes, ruddy nose, onionskin face, and lines folded on her forehead. He made her look like that. Great job, asshat.
Her face crumbled as relief washed over her. “Hi,” she whispered as she traced the side of his face with fleeting fingers. He braced himself for the judgy look and the I told you so’s.
“Hey,” he croaked, forcing himself to smile. And it was like an imaginary button was pushed as Sookie’s chin quivered before she buried her face against his chest, her shoulders quaking. The impact made him wince but he bit back the groan as he wrapped his good arm around her. He could tell she was trying hard not to put too much pressure on his chest when he felt the tightening of the muscles on her back. He wanted to hug her tighter. Pull her closer. Tell her that he didn’t mind the pain.
Why didn’t he just listen to her? Why did he have to race that eight-wheeler truck at the highway to prove his masculinity?
“I thought I’d lost you,” she mumbled against his gauzy hospital gown that was getting drenched with a mixture of saline and snot. “I thought I’d never -” she said haltingly. She couldn’t even finish her sentence as an onslaught of choking whimpers took over. He would have beaten himself purple if he wasn’t already a canvass of black and blue.
“Sorry,” he finally uttered.
Every move was painful. Even the strong cocktail of drugs in his blood weren’t robust enough to numb him. He couldn’t even cringe without pulling an unseen string connected to his muscles. But he wasn’t going to be a pussy. Not now. Not when she was tethered to him like this.
“Don’t cry. Y’know you can’t get rid of me that easy,” was his lame attempt to lighten the mood.
No luck, though. She remained a bawling mess.
He let her weep, all the while berating himself for being an inconsiderate prick. She made him swear he wouldn’t ride Barkley again and he nodded in earnest. He would promise her anything just to make her stop crying. Barkley, which to his shock didn’t suffer any major damage, had been locked up in their garage.
His grandmother sent him a black Volvo the following week. Lilith was so remorseful for the part she played in his accident that she gave him the safest – and most boring – car in the world.
Sookie held vigil beside him. She didn’t even move when Godric came in.
That was fine by him.
When a stout, small-eyed nurse strolled in and asked Sookie to move, Eric, in all his fragile strength, gave the invasive nurse a withering look. The nurse’s eyes shrunk into slits in fear as she conceded at once. It was one argument she knew she wouldn’t win.
Sookie begged Godric if she could stay with Eric for the night, and the older Northman gave his consent. It was futile to refuse her. One look at the couple and Godric knew he would have to use a crowbar to pry Sookie from his teenage son’s arms.
Eric had never seen her cling to him that much. It was a welcome change. Maybe he needed to get hurt every once in a while to bring out that side of her.
When a new nurse came in to pump him up with more meds, he turned to her and rasped, “Don’t go anywhere.”
She lifted her face off his chest and hopped on the mattress, squeezing next to him in the small hospital bed. “Do you honestly think I’d let you out of my sight after your ghostrider stunt? Not a chance, buster. Not a frickin’ chance in hell.”
A huge grin took over his face before his eyelids started drooping as the drug started weaving its magic into his system, pulling him under.
“Eric…” she hushed, sweeping loose hair off his temple.
“Hmm…” he hummed, relishing the numbness seeping into his bones. Sookie and dope, what a sweet combination.
“Never scare me like that again, okay? I can’t lose you,” she choked.
His eyes popped open, turning his head to her.
Dammit, Sookie, don’t cry now, he pleaded mutely. He didn’t know how long he could stay awake and he didn’t want to pass out on her when she was still so vulnerable.
“You won’t,” he forced himself to mutter as his eyes flickered again.
“Good,” she said with soft smile before she bent her head to the crook of his neck. “Because I kinda love you. A lot.”
Kinda, he’d take that. Wait, did she say she loved him? A lot? They had been seeing each other for four months and it was the first time she had used the L-word. And it was the kind of declaration no amount of sedative could drown.
He didn’t know what his reply was. He was sure it was jibberish. Hell, he wasn’t even certain if he had said anything at all. But before he completely surrendered to the wonder of morphine and valium, he made a vow to make it up to her. He was going to do everything humanly possible – or at the very least, everything Eric Northman-ly possible – to make her feel that he loved her, too.
Not just kinda. And definitely more than a lot.
Mornings were always the hardest.
Sometimes he would wake up and reach out to the other side of the bed only to find it empty. It was always empty. And cold. Sometimes he would yell out profanities out of sheer frustration. But most days he would just stare at the ceiling and breathe until he was calm enough to start his day.
It was stupid how he had to remind himself to breathe, the way he had to remind himself that she wasn’t his anymore. Not for a very long time.
Mornings were always the hardest but it was his way of paying penance. The guilt of sleeping with another woman was too overwhelming that he couldn’t allow them to stay the night. He was meant to wake up alone.
‘No sleepover,’ was the first rule in his house.
Women could linger. He would offer to drive them home or get them a cab. He would give them one of his smaller shirts or leather jackets if he accidentally destroyed their clothes. He would suggest coffee or pancakes from the 24-hour diner down the street. He refused to call them breakfast. Bed followed by breakfast pulled so many clashing emotions from him.
But there were those who were brazen enough to break rule number one. Those, who would crawl under his sheets and wait for him to pass out just so they could stay in until he wakes up, would be dealt with icy indifference.
Mornings were always the hardest. This morning was particularly more difficult. It was like waking up with a massive hangover.
‘He’s not you.’
Well that wasn’t much of stretch. She didn’t need to say it out loud. He knew she was only settling with Bill. That weasel was nothing but a convenient excuse.
Last night was the closest he ever came to setting her straight. He almost had it. He almost had her. She just had to be annoyingly rational and infuriatingly righteous.
He brooded over his stance onadultery. Fuck it. It would just be another sin on top of all others he was willing to go to hell for.
He told her he wouldn’t chase her anymore. That he was putting his foot down. He would walk away. He would stop running after the past they had once shared. No more, he told himself over and over as he watched her walk back to that wretched house she was adamant to turn into a home.
He told her he wouldn’t share her. Not to anyone. Especially to a dead beat like Compton. He wouldn’t stoop that low. Not even for her.
He wouldn’t love her anymore.
It was the biggest fucking lie he ever told himself.
Three days later…
Eric heard the doorbell ring. He swept the heavy blackout curtain with his good hand to check if it was one of those pesky Stepford Wives welcoming him to the neighborhood yet again. Or worse, it could be Portia Bellefleur, his real estate agent, who had been stopping by his new place every day with some lame excuse to chat with him.
If she wasn’t such a damn good agent, he would have shunned her too. But Portia was a shark. She managed to get him the house he wanted on such short notice.
Mercifully, it wasn’t Portia or some nosy neighbor. It was Sam Merlotte, the bartender at his bar, The Tavern. He had asked Sam to gather some of his things from his Belltown apartment to bring to his newly-acquired, semi-furnished house.
He raced downstairs, afraid that Sam might be spotted by the woman who lived across the street.
“Hiya, boss!” Sam chirped, smoothing his unruly reddish blonde hair. “Got your stuff. Oh, and your doorman said Nora dropped by again today lookin’ for you.”
Avoiding Nora was easy. Keeping his distance from Sookie was fucking undoable.
It was ironic because Nora was the one who was being unavoidable. She had stopped by his apartment five times in three days. It was fortunate that no one but Sam knew of his change of address.
Her calls were almost as exasperating as her. He never answered any of them. There was nothing more to say. Nora pretty much summed it all up in her seemingly unending rant during their exhausting break-up talk the day he was discharged from the hospital.
What was it with women and their obsession with the whole break-up scene?
Ten days ago…
“You can’t be serious?” Nora asked, shaking her head lightly while putting her wineglass on top of the counter that doubled as his mini bar.
He most definitely was.
“You’re breaking up with me?” she spat, shooting him a look of disbelief. “Because of her. Because she’s back?” she chuckled bitterly. “You must have knocked your head a lot harder than you thought if you think you can have a relationship with her, other than one you two already have.”
Eric rubbed his temple. This was exactly why he had distanced himself from the whole dating arena.
“What is your endgame, Eric?” Nora eyed him closely, inching toward him as she crossed the sliding glass doors that separated the living room and the small patio of his seventh-floor apartment in Belltown.
He had waited until they were back in his pad before he decided to have ‘the talk’ with her. He didn’t want to do it in the hospital in fear that she would create a scene. Nora loved her drama. It was what had drawn him to her in the first place.
That and their mutual hate for Lilith.
Six months ago…
Nora was the chef de cuisine in Lilith’s new restaurant in Seattle. It was one of his grandmother’s scheming ways to bridge the gap between them after the incident at the B&B. It had been almost three years but he still hadn’t forgiven her for driving Sookie away.
Olive branches came in many forms – gifts, favors, even half-hearted apologies. He scoffed at all of them. Lilith knew what she had to do to atone, but she was too proud to cave in to his only demand.
It had been the longest cold war the Northmans had ever seen. One that Eric had no intention of losing.
He moved out of his apartment – the one Lilith gave him for his 19th birthday – a month after Sookie left for New York. He used the money he saved up when he was living alone in Philadelphia during college to get his own place in Belltown. Lilith tried to bribe him with his trust fund, to no avail. It seemed he loved Sookie more than his lavish lifestyle.
Every step Lilith took toward him only made him back up a few steps more.
When Lilith invited him to go to the soft opening of her upscale new restaurant in downtown Seattle, Eric saw it as another opportunity to flip Lilith the proverbial bird.
It was harder than he originally thought. Lilith’s ostentatious remarks and feeble attempts to reconnect with him were getting on his nerves. Slinking inside the walk-in cellar behind the kitchen, Eric helped himself to his grandmother’s collection of rare spirits. He was halfway through his 1994 Fonseca Port when he heard his grandmother’s familiar holier-than-thou voice as she lashed out on some pitiful soul just outside the walk-in wine chiller.
Lilith was ruthless as she berated the head chef about the unimpressive line of aperitif. Classic Lilith. He rolled his eyes, deciding to ignore the whole song and dance. But as he was chugging down the rest of his drink, the unexpected happened. The cook with a thick British accent volleyed back with an equally-spicy rebuttal. The amused smile that crept up his face took him by surprise.
Finally, he thought in glee, someone was standing up to the uppity matriarch. A sharp pang of melancholia disarmed him as he was reminded of a certain feisty blonde, who had the same smart mouth.
Lilith stomped out of the kitchen and went back to entertaining her snobby guests while Nora hung back. Eric didn’t know if it was Nora’s fiery attitude or his desire to get back at Lilith that made him slip out of the cellar to offer the irate chef one of his grandmother’s finest wines. By the time they had finished two bottles of Port, Nora was half naked and panting under him.
The cellar was the perfect backdrop for the hate lay. It was as cold as his heart and as dark as his goal. He didn’t mind that he couldn’t see most of her, just the silhouette of her lissome figure. Petite and slender, like the woman who didn’t have the gall to fight for him.
If he squinted hard enough he could blur Nora into her.
Ten days ago…
“You lied to me. You used me,” Nora accused him, jabbing a finger at his chest. He wondered if Nora had it in her to push him off the balcony.
“I never lied to you,” he said in a firm tone. “You knew exactly what you were getting into.”
Her lips twisted into a cold sneer, trying to put up a strong face amid the tears pooling in her eyes. “That’s your bloody excuse? You never lied to me?” She crossed her arms against her chest. “Well forgive me for being a delusional whore who thought you’re actually capable of loving someone else.”
“I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression, Nora. But I’ve told you time and time again, I can’t be with you the way you want me to,” he said almost apologetically.
“Neither can she,” she retorted without skipping a beat. “She’s your sister. Not to mention the fact that she’s a married woman. Hopeless doesn’t even begin to sum up how fucked up your situation is.”
“This isn’t about her.” He could barely disguise the slight tremor in his voice. Nora was treading on dangerous grounds and he didn’t know how long he could keep his emotions at bay.
If it was any consolation, he had been a good lover to Nora.
No. Not lover. Lover implied he had emotional attachment to her when he never really did. Partner would be a more ideal appellation.
He showered her with extravagant gifts and spoiled her like royalty. He was overcompensating for something he couldn’t give her.
So, maybe she was right. It was his fault. Maybe he did too much. Maybe, in a way, he made Nora feel like she had a fighting chance against her. Fueled by his revulsion against Lilith, he didn’t realize that he was using Nora. Not as a stand-in for Sookie. Even Nora knew she couldn’t be her.
He used Nora to prove a stupid point to his grandmother.
“This is about her. It’s always been about her,” Nora snapped, clutching the front of his shirt and yanking it hard. “You’re not in love with her. You’re in love with the chase. You’re obsessed with the idea of loving someone you can’t have. Because you, Eric Northman, can never be in love with anyone other than yourself!”
He swallowed thickly. He wouldn’t even dignify that with a response. He wasn’t in love with the chase.
Because there had been a time – not too long ago – when Sookie wasn’t running.
By the time Nora was done enumerating synonyms for insensitive bastard, he was exhausted. He was physically drained and his body was screaming for some Vicodin. He was rueful enough that he broke the foremost rule in his house when he offered her to stay the night.
He even gave her permission to trash his place if that would make her feel better. He would leave the apartment and stay in a hotel. The Sheraton sounded so tempting right now, knowing she would be there.
He must have been telegraphing his thoughts loud and clear when Nora turned down his offer and said, “You’re going to her, aren’t you? Do you have any idea how pathetic you are?”
Again, he gave her nothing but silence.
She was gripping the silver door handle, ready to leave, when she stopped and turned to him. “I could have been everything you want, Eric. I could give you everything she couldn’t. You’re just too bloody stubborn to give me a chance.”
Nora had never been so wrong. He did try. He gave himself a chance to see Nora as someone other than a substitute.
He had been trying for fuck knows how long. He just kept on failing every single time.
Four nights in his new dwelling made him realize he was a vampire. A nocturnal creature, who could never be seen in daylight.
Owning a club served him well, because he only needed to leave the house at sundown. Sam and the rest of his staff kept throwing him baffled looks because he had been coming in later than usual only to leave two hours before closing time.
He never gave them any explanation. His personal life was sealed. It was bad enough that they knew of his history with Sookie, because most of them grew up in the same neighbourhood as them, they didn’t need to know anything other than their past.
Pam, who also invested a small sum on The Tavern, would drop by every night for their regular inventory. Being a good stepsibling, she would always check in on him with a cursory, “How’re you holding up?” More often now after his accident and Sookie’s unexpected return.
He would answer her with a slow shrug and that was the end of their discussion. Although they had grown closer over the years, there were still some things they could not talk about freely.
Pam, like Eric, had learned to compartmentalize her feelings. She had placed Sookie in one of her hidden vaults. Never to be opened. Aside from the vaults, Pam had also built a wall around her. Her strong façade was always intact along with her snark.
The only time he saw her fortress crack was when she begged him to bring her sister home.
Three years ago after the B&B incident…
“Where is she?” His question was directed at Michelle, who seemed to shrink under his glare when he stormed inside the Northman residence in First Hill the night he came back from Los Angeles and discovered Sookie was gone.
“Eric.” Godric dragged his name out with the tone his father used on him every time Eric had crossed the line. But he wasn’t the one who had overstepped his bounds this time. They were the ones toeing invisible borders, shamelessly holding the parent card over their heads for five long years.
“Where is she?” he repeated, advancing inside the den, where his stepmother and his father were hunched over the sofa, mulling over scattered documents on the short oval center table made of polished marble.
Michelle placed a hand on Godric’s thigh before she pulled herself up to meet Eric halfway. His stepmother was always genial. Refined and polite, never losing her temper unlike her volatile daughter.
Looking at her was like staring at Sookie. She had the same smile, the same eyes, the same quiet confidence. It was painful to train his eyes on her only to be reminded that she was not the Stackhouse he wanted to see.
“I’ve already talked to her, Eric,” Michelle muttered evenly, taking wary steps toward him. “She needed the space. She’s been through so much.”
“And whose fault was that?” he countered, drilling her with a contemptuous look. He was done skirting around Michelle. She and his father were very much to blame as Lilith.
“Eric!” Godric exclaimed, springing off the couch to position himself beside his wife. “What’s done is done. If you really care for her, you’d leave her be.”
Eric’s lips thinned. There were so many things he wanted to say but they were all moot. Waste of his time and energy that he only wanted to channel into finding her.
Godric must have misread his silence as acceptance as the older Northman took a step closer and clamped a hand on his son’s shoulder. “It’s better this way, Eric. This way you can keep her forever.”
With a jerk of his shoulder, he shrugged out of his father’s grip. “Screw forever. I don’t want it,” he gritted out. “I want her.”
Godric gaped at him as he sucked in a sharp breath.
“You already have your happy ending. Let me have mine.” Eric turned to leave the den when Pam rushed in front of him.
“She’s in New York. She’s staying with our cousin Hadley,” Pam uttered hurriedly before Michelle could stop her. She took his hand and pressed a slip of paper in his palm. “Bring her home, Eric. Please.”
Her eyelashes, thick and long like Sookie’s, stood out and quivered. They were spiky and wet from tears and Eric discerned that, for once, he and Pam were on the same page.
Pivoting to the front door, he heard two set of footsteps scurrying after him.
“She’s not coming back, Eric,” Michelle yelled out as a last-ditch effort to stop him.
His steps didn’t taper as he swung the door open. Who the fuck told them he was bringing her back to them?
It had been too long since he had taken residence in a gated community. There was something serene about the suburbs.
He would wake up at nine and look out his second-floor bedroom window. He would wait until the woman who lived across the street had picked up her morning paper before he would stealthily get his.
He envied the postman, who always spared five minutes to exchange random chit-chat with her every afternoon midway through his usual route.
He threw death glares at the scruffy man she hired to paint her white picket fence when he caught the bastard throwing sidelong glances at her when she was watering her garden.
He resented her next-door neighbor, a middle-aged, family man who held her hand a few minutes longer when he handed her a welcome basket of wines and scented candles.
It was a good thing he moved in when he did. She was surrounded by opportunists.
He couldn’t help but feel cheated every time he saw someone start a lengthy and breezy conversation with her like they were long lost friends when he was the one who missed her the most. The one who knew her better than anyone.
She was his best friend and his lover bundled up in a pretty blonde package.
On his third day, he saw a U-haul truck pull up in front of her house and he cursed audibly when one of the movers let her help carry a wooden armoire. That woman was always too meek to let the hired help do their job. She just had to be a fucking girl scout and lend a hand. And those spineless bastards were letting her.
He almost ran outside to help. But before he could change into something less Hugh Hefner-y in his red silk robe and black string pajamas, and more boy-next-door with a pair of jeans and a hoodie, she was already bounding out of her bungalow with a pitcher of lemonade in hand.
Besides with his short-arm cast, he doubted if he would be of any assistance. Plus, he didn’t want to blow his cover.
Her husband, the perpetual letdown, still hadn’t shown up and she was left to deal with all the renovation and decoration. If he was her husband she wouldn’t have to lift a damn finger.
He called their former cleaning service and sent them over to her house that same day under the pretense that it was her mother who hired them. As expected she was reluctant to accept the extra set of hands. It was a good thing he gave the agency stern instructions to never take no for an answer.
On the fourth day, he woke up at nine to find her rolling a peat spreader across her front lawn, scattering seeds of cool-season grass for the fall. The fact that he knew what a peat spreader was was testament enough on how much she adored her gardens.
She finished before noon and his eyes were granted a feast when she decided to eat her Chinese dim sum out on her front porch as she admired her hard work on her lawn. He should have been there with her. He could be hunkering down beside her on the stone steps eating greasy spring rolls from white cardboard take-out boxes. He could imagine himself trying his darned best to look manly with chopsticks, only to fail miserably. She would reflexively laugh at his attempts and he would silence her with his lips.
God, he missed her.
Sometimes, if was lucky, he would get home before all her lights were out. He would sprint to his bedroom and peer through the curtains.
“Good night, Sookie,” he would whisper to nobody.
He wasn’t lying when he said he wouldn’t chase her anymore. It wasn’t a chase if he lived right across the street.