Summary: Having lost everything, the once mighty Viking is broken. Eric Northman had been told that Sookie Stackhouse had been killed. But the shrouded woman in front of him could not be mistaken as anyone else—not by him—even if she was going by a different name. Or, perhaps, she was a ghost or the Goddess of Revenge herself. (Set in the SVM universe not quite a year after Dead Ever After—ignores the “fates” found in After Dead)–I’m proud to say that this story is one of the winners of Seph’s Writing Challenge!
Inspiration: This story was written in response to one of the banners in Seph’s Writing Challenge. To read the other stories in the challenge or see the links, visit here: sephwritchallenge.wordpress.com. Her “mystery woman” banner inspired me to write my own ending of the SVM saga. I hope that you enjoy it.
A/N: While the story is set in the SVM universe, the Sookie in this story has brown eyes (as in the show). SPOILERS: ALL BOOKS
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, lines of dialogue, titles, etc., are the property of their respective owners. Only the original plot is the creation of the author; however, even that is derived from characters belonging to others. No profit has been made from this work. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of the source material. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in this story are based on The Southern Vampire Mystery series and True Blood. Thus, Charlaine Harris and HBO are responsible for the people and places that I play with in my story.
Beta: Kleannhouse and her eagle eyes! What would I do without them?! BTW, Kleannhouse had a wonderful story of her own for banner #1! Check it out if you haven’t by clicking here.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.–Shakespeare
I knew who she was. Of course I knew.
She could have been shrouded completely, and I would have known her from her scent alone.
Oh, it was different—sharper somehow—now that she was a vampire. But I still smelled it: the faintest scent of the sun.
However, the woman was not fully covered. No. She was showing me her eyes.
But did others see her? Or was she just an illusion—a specter there to remind me of my failures?
“Russell—dear Russell!” Freyda exclaimed from next to me in that affected tone that she used to greet vampires who were more politically powerful than she was. I hated the falseness of it all. I hated her.
But I was stuck in the contract for another one hundred and ninety-nine years and twelve days. Plus, she was my penance.
Looking as dapper as ever, Russell dipped into a dramatic bow. “Freyda. How wonderful to see you!”
“How is dear Bartlett?” Freyda asked, trying—and failing—to sound sincerely interested.
“He is well,” Russell responded. “He’ll be along tomorrow night.”
Freyda nodded. “That is splendid. We must all get caught up.” She clapped her hands together. “I am just so excited! We’ve not had a summit in so long.”
It was a pity she’d not attended the last one—that she’d not died at it.
“I’d like for you to meet my new child, Vália,” Russell said, motioning toward the shrouded vampire.
Russell’s words confirmed that the woman was real. I was a little surprised at that.
“Oh dear!” Freyda exclaimed as she seemed to see the cloaked figure for the first time. “Why is she so covered? Is she Middle Eastern? Or disfigured?” she asked tactlessly.
Leave it to Freyda to be a bitch. It was, after all, what she was best at.
“She is in mourning,” Russell said, not letting his own mask of pleasantness drop.
“Mourning? Whatever for?” Freyda asked indecorously.
“Sadly,” Russell said, “she lost many of her friends recently—and her beloved. However, her time of mourning will be ending soon.”
He looked at his child, who nodded, but didn’t speak.
I ached to reach out to the woman. I’d thought that she was dead. I’d thought that she’d died the same night that both of my vampire children had died.
My headstrong Pamela. My quiet Karin.
Others had died that night too: Bill Compton, Sam Merlotte, Jason Stackhouse, and Alcide Herveaux.
It had been reported that Sookie had died with them—that she had perished when a group of vampires and Weres set fire to her farmhouse and drove those inside to fight in the open—in the lush foliage present because of Niall Brigant’s blessing to the Stackhouse land.
At least, all had fallen on soft grass.
At least, that was the thought with which I’d tried to comfort myself.
Seven months, eight days, four hours, and nine minutes before, I’d felt Pam die—our bond disappearing in an instant. Within a minute, Karin had met her end as well.
Freyda had not let me leave the state to collect their remains. However, she’d “shown her generosity” by allowing me to send a message to Thalia through one of her people. Thalia had sent me a message back: “I buried what was left of your progenies. Both died trying to protect Sookie Stackhouse from death. However, the telepath perished, along with her brother, Compton, the shifter, and the packmaster of the area. I will be leaving Area 5.”
Freyda had read the note aloud at court. And—surrounded by a roomful of sycophants—I had felt completely alone for the first time in a thousand years.
Alone and without purpose.
Without any use whatsoever.
As expected, Freyda hadn’t allowed me to conduct any kind of investigation into the deaths of my children and Sookie. She’d called Felipe de Castro to read Thalia’s note to him—again in front of a throne room full of people. Felipe had said that he would “look into the matter of the telepath’s demise.”
But that was it. No other words were spoken on the matter—except for Freyda bringing in her lawyer and our marriage contract a week later—as if she were conducting some kind of ceremony. When the throne room was full, she asked the lawyer to read aloud Felipe’s “final report” on the matter of the “telepath’s demise.” The report indicated that the vampires and Weres responsible for Sookie’s death were from South America. The incident was determined to have occurred because “the telepath” had refused to be “secured and housed” in Las Vegas. The Vampire Council had already signed off on the report and had found that Felipe was blameless in the matter—that he’d done all that was possible to protect the telepath, given the “unique situation.”
Freyda had then instructed her attorney to read the clause in the marriage contract pertaining to Sookie’s protection. Since Felipe had been found to have “no fault” in the situation, Sookie’s “untimely” death did not let me out of the 100 extra years I’d signed over to Freyda in exchange for Sookie’s protection.
After the attorney had read that part, Freyda had looked at me with amusement in her eyes before having him read aloud one last thing: the clause pertaining to sex—which basically said that she could have it from me anytime she wanted. When he was done reading, she requested my “services”—immediately.
I performed those services as required—even as my mind mourned my beloved children and the wife of my heart.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t as if I could conduct my own investigation behind Freyda’s back.
I couldn’t even brush the lint off of my goddamned jacket without one of Freyda’s people there to examine it for a hidden message. Video cameras followed my every move. My room was full of them—as well as listening devices. And Luther, the queen’s child, shadowed me every time I wasn’t in my room. Freyda claimed that it was so he could “learn from me.” But I knew he was her spy.
I’d been alive for over a thousand years, and I’d learned that time was a paradox; it was anything but constant. And, as Freyda’s consort, time seemed even more variable. It moved faster when I was training the queen’s vampires to be warriors. But it slowed down when I was asked to stand by her side at court. And it seemed to almost stop when I was required to “service” the queen.
I suppose things could have been worse. At least—with Freyda—I had an end-date to look forward to. With Appius, I’d had no such luxury.
But after Sookie, Pam, and Karin were gone from the world—gone less than four months after I’d left them—I spent many nights wondering if living on was even worth it. I likely would have met the sun had I not been locked behind silver doors when I wasn’t “required” elsewhere. Upon my arrival in Oklahoma, Freyda had said that the doors were there for my safety. But I didn’t have the codes to them, so I knew that they were yet another sign of my imprisonment.
However, none of that mattered as I looked into the eyes that had haunted my waking moments.
She might have called herself another name, but even that name let me know who she was.
In Norse mythology, Váli was the god of revenge and retribution. He would also be one of the few Norse gods to survive the Ragnarök, which would be the end of the world—an end that was yet to come, but that I continued to believe in. And, now, to long for.
Vália was Sookie. She had survived somehow. Or, perhaps, she was a goddess now. Whatever the case, I prayed that she was there as the harbinger of the end of the world—at least mine.
Was she there to end me because I had, ultimately, failed to protect her and her loved ones?
Would she end the hell that I had been existing within?
I didn’t care. I just prayed to the father of Váli—to Odin—that my suffering might end.
I prayed for mercy that I knew I didn’t deserve.
His eyes had lost their life.
I never thought I would see that.
Eric had lived a thousand years. He’d survived what could only be described as sexual enslavement by a maker who had ultimately turned him into a willing participant of his own abuse.
And Eric had somehow managed to move on from it.
He had built a life and become a respected figure in the little corner of the world he’d looked after. He had made two children of his own, and—though his relationship with Karin had been somewhat estranged from what I could tell—they still held “love” for one another.
And Pam? Well—she had adored her maker, even when he’d pissed her off.
Uncle Bartlett had thought about raping me when I was a child. And that had affected me all my life.
Appius had raped Eric in the childhood of his vampirism—and for hundreds of years beyond that. I often wondered how he’d managed to keep “himself” intact.
But he had—or he’d seemed to.
Life had exuded from him when I’d met him.
But now that he was enslaved again, there was nothing animated in his eyes. Even his curiosity over my appearance before him was almost “academic” in nature. I was, however, certain that he was aware of who I was. After all, I’d chosen my new name just so that he would know that I was there—there for him.
Several hours later
The Nox was a relatively new hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee. However, its name didn’t stem just from the city where it was located. “Nox” was a Latin word, meaning “night.”
The luxury hotel hosting the summit catered to vampires and other Supes. Thus, when my jailors finally “put me away for the day,” I was not surprised to find a vase of blood-red roses in my room. I picked one up and held it in my hand, rubbing one of its thorns along the ridges of my thumb.
I drew blood. The wound healed.
I drew blood again. Again, I healed.
I did not feel the pain of the wound, and I knew that I would not—no matter how many times the thorn cut my skin.
Beautiful and thorned.
“‘What’s in a name?'” I whispered. “‘That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet,'” I recited.
“You know my name,” she whispered from behind me.
It didn’t surprise me that she’d appeared in my room as if from nowhere. It made sense, given the fact that I was now quite certain that I’d imagined her—that I’d wished for her for so long and so hard that I’d finally manufactured her with my fractured brain. Or—perhaps—she really was the Goddess of Revenge.
I put the rose back into the vase with the others. My blood mixed with the water.
“Are you going to kill me?” I asked her as I turned to face her.
“No,” she responded as she removed the veil from her face and head.
I could feel my shoulders slumping. “Oh,” I sighed.
“That makes you sad?” she asked.
I nodded. “Yes. I’d hoped that you were here to end this—to end me.”
“Why would I kill you, Eric?” she asked, her tone even—cold.
“Because I failed you,” I said just as evenly. “I failed to be what you needed. I failed to find a way to hold onto you. I failed to protect you.” I shook my head. “Even selling myself was not enough. Everyone that you held dear is now gone.”
“Not everyone,” she said.
I nodded. I was aware that she had some friends who were still alive in the little town of Bon Temps. And the witch who broke our bond yet lived. And, of course, now she would care for her maker—deeply. I was glad she had been turned by Russell. He was old and strong. He was also well-liked among the members of the Supernatural Council. That meant few would dare fuck with him—or, by extension, her.
“You survived the attack?” I half-questioned and half-commented after we’d not spoken for a moment. I think I was still expecting her to tell me she was an apparition.
She nodded. “I ‘felt’ them there just after dark—twenty vampires and ten Weres. Sam and Jason were already in the house with me; I was cooking a Sunday dinner. Karin and Bill came in moments later. We thought about trying to run, but it was impossible. They were closing in, so we decided to try to hold up in the house. I called Alcide, hoping he could send some Weres to help us. At some point, Karin must have called Pam. I tried using the number that Niall left, but I didn’t get an answer.” She sighed. “I left a message.”
“I felt Pam die first,” I said in a whisper that she wouldn’t have been able to hear as a “mostly” human.
“Pam, Alcide, and a few of his pack members tried to attack those surrounding us from behind, but they didn’t have a large enough force. Karin ran to help her sister. I didn’t see how they died, but I’m sure they fought hard.”
I nodded to acknowledge the information; it was of little comfort, but I was proud of both of my children for fighting against great odds.
“After they’d killed everyone outside, our attackers focused on the house. It wasn’t long before they decided to set the house on fire in order to drive us out. The smoke got bad. I yelled that I would come out—give myself up—if they’d just leave the others alone. But they didn’t answer verbally.”
“Their minds did?” I asked.
“Yes—they had been ordered to kill all who aided me, no matter who they were or what they did. On the other hand, I was not to be harmed—at least no badly. I was to be taken alive. Eventually, Sam and Jason decided that they’d rather die in a fight than from smoke inhalation. Sam shifted into a lion, and he injured a couple of Weres before he was gunned down. Jason got off a round or two, but he was shot in the head.” She paused. “He died right next to me.”
“He tried to pick me up and run with me, but they had silver nets, and one snagged him. He dropped me, and they circled him. I was running back toward the house when I saw them stake him.”
“I am sorry,” I managed, knowing that the words were both appropriate and inadequate—on multiple levels.
She continued her narrative. “I went back into the house, preferring to burn rather than to be taken by the attackers. Niall came then—a deus ex machina—and he popped me out. The attackers assumed that I died when the propane tank blew up.”
“I am glad that Niall came.”
“I was not at first,” she said. “Survivor’s guilt,” she added in explanation.
I nodded, understanding well what that felt like.
“Niall tried to get me to stay in Faerie, but—after a week—I decided upon a different path.”
“Russell,” I said softly.
She nodded. “I didn’t like Faerie, and—truth be told—I was in danger there too. However—after hearing the thoughts of my attackers—I knew I’d never be safe here. At least, not as a human.”
I stepped forward, feeling more spirit than I’d felt in a long while. “Who attacked you?”
“A combination of people,” she said flatly. “I heard that from the thoughts of one of the Weres. Apparently, Freyda, Felipe, and the queen of New York had all decided to share me. Freyda and Felipe couldn’t act directly—on account of the contract they had with you. So the actual force was sent by the Queen of New York. It was dumb luck that the Were I heard had eavesdropped on a meeting between his queen, Felipe, and,” she paused, “your wife.”
I took a step back, my anger hardly containable. I closed my eyes, and I could feel my whole body shaking.
She kept speaking. “I realized that I would never be safe—not from Felipe and not from your lovely queen. No contract—no scrap of paper saying that I would be left alone—would ever be enough. And your sacrifice to give up an additional hundred years,” she laughed ruefully, “was as useless as my own stubborn insistence on having a normal life.”
I felt my knees buckle and I knelt before her, bowing my head.
“I have no weapons. I have no freedom. I have no power. I have nothing but my fangs and my strength, but I will kill Freyda for you.”
“How would you get close to her?” she asked.
“She requests this body several times a week,” I said with detachment. “I am physically stronger than she. In her distraction, I could rip her fucking head off.”
“And after you killed her?”
“Her guards would have reason to end me,” I said evenly. “I have thought of using that method of death for myself before. It is the most satisfying one which is open to me, for Freyda would be killed too. However—at first—I had your freedom and my children’s safety to continue buying. And then,” I paused, “I had a day 199 years from now to cling to.”
“You’ll be free that day,” she said—her tone laced with discontentment.
I was suddenly afraid.
“Will the years of my misery be penance enough for all which I failed to do?” I asked her, hoping against hope that she could give me a different answer than the one I’d come up with every time I’d asked myself that question.
Nothing can undo my failures. Nothing can rewind the world until I reached the beginning of my errors: the moment when I had allowed myself to feel love, despite the fact that Appius could still access my emotions.
What a fool I’d been! And how many had died for my selfishness? Pam, Karin, most of the people that Sookie held dear, and—also—Sookie herself. She’d once begged me not to turn her. She’d once made me promise that—even if she were dying—I would refrain. No matter how many times I’d fantasized about making her my child and living an eternity with her, I knew that I would have never done it. And that fact alone should have been reason enough for me to never pursue her.
I’d decided after the ill-fated trip to Jackson that I would no longer see Sookie. She’d made it easy by rescinding my invitation. But I knew that my separation from her would be for the best. When I’d told her I hated having feelings, I’d not told her why. It was because of Appius—always the threat of Appius coming to find a way to take good things from me. That is why I’d always tried to keep my feelings “light”—almost casual—with Pam, though I loved her deeply. I’d allowed myself to feel my love for my first child more “intensely,” but I’d felt Appius nearing, so I’d created conflict with Karin, and we’d parted because of it. Appius had, therefore, not met her.
Without my child to toy with, Appius had used me—as always. He’d felt my true sorrow over separating from Karin. He’d been satisfied that I was not too happy—not too content. And he’d moved on from me.
For years, I’d waited for the other shoe to drop with Pam. But—again—I’d kept my feelings “light.” I’d let myself feel amusement at her antics. I’d spoiled her in order to set up more of a “father-daughter” dynamic between us. And—I had made sure that we parted from each other periodically, just so that Appius wouldn’t determine me to be too “attached.” I’d also moved to the New World in order to put further distance between my maker and myself, hoping that would help to obscure my emotions from him.
Ultimately I’d failed to hide anything at all.
It had been no coincidence that my vampire children had been ordered from my life as one of the conditions of the marriage contract that my maker had forged. He knew—despite all of my attempts to demonstrate otherwise—how I truly felt about them.
So he arranged for them to be taken.
Sadly, the witch’s curse that took my memories also smashed my resolution to leave Sookie alone. The curse sent me to be near my heart’s desire, but not to know it. I loathed to imagine the things that Appius must have felt from me during the week I was able to hide nothing—the week that I’d been capable of stifling no feelings whatsoever.
By the end of that week, he would have felt my pure, unquenchable love for Sookie. And then—after that—things could not be undone. Then, before I knew it, I had bonded with her and was trying to protect her from more immediate threats than my maker: Andre, Felipe, and Victor—to name a few.
Ironically, as it turned out, halting my interactions with Sookie after Jackson would have changed little. The date Appius began negotiations with Freyda to “sell” me was the night after I’d killed Longshadow in order to save Sookie.
Time would have needed to be dragged back even further to keep Appius away.
“What did you fail to do?” she asked me, breaking me from my thoughts and reminding me of my earlier words.
From on my knees, I looked up at her. She certainly seemed beautiful enough to be a goddess—more angel than vampire.
“You want an accounting,” I said matter-of-factly, nodding as I said it. It made sense. If she were—indeed—there to kill me, then a confession of my greatest sins was appropriate. I decided to begin with my greatest sins against her. “I was careless and greedy. I should have never asked Bill to bring you to Fangtasia that second time. I should have never seen you again.”
“You regret all that passed between us?” she asked a little angrily.
Though I deserved her ire, I bowed my head again. “The choice I made to see you again set into motion everything done by Appius—and so many other things that hurt you, too. Had I refrained, you would have likely gone with Bill to New Orleans. And Sophie-Anne, despite her flaws, would have looked after you.”
“I would have been forced to bond with Andre,” she said distastefully.
I shook my head. “No,” I countered, though I kept my tone respectful. I had thought about the possibility many times. “It would have been Bill. A tie was already started and you had affection for him, so Bill would have made the logical choice. Yes—you would have been tied to Sophie-Anne’s retinue for your life, but you would have lived in wealth, comfort, and safety. You would have saved your queen—not me—when the bombs went off in Rhodes. And I would have perished before Appius ever completed the contract negotiations with Freyda.” I looked up at her. “Pam came to Rhodes only because I wanted her to help keep an eye on you. When attending functions like that, I generally left her to oversee Area 5. She would be alive, Karin would be alive . . . ,” I began.
“And I would be a pet telepath,” she said bitterly.
“Your family and friends would be alive,” I continued, “and I know that Sophie-Anne would have given you some freedom. And you cared for Bill. Sophie-Anne would have made sure you had guards and a beautiful apartment in her compound. And—with every problem you helped her avoid—she would have rewarded you with other fine things! You might have prevented your cousin’s death and had a companion. Yes—your independent nature would have suffered a blow initially; however, you would have eventually come to like your life. I know that Sophie-Anne would have prized you as a valuable asset, and you would have likely developed a kind of friendship with her, too.”
“You have thought a lot about a life I never led, Eric,” she said somewhat severely.
“I have a lot of time to think, milady.”
“To replay your errors and to think of how others’ lives might have been better without you in them,” she observed.
I bowed my head again. “Yes, milady.”
“Why are you calling me that?” she asked, with a hint of frustration in her tone.
I felt a cold tear fall from my eyes. It was the first I’d shed since I felt Sookie being tortured by the fairies.
“Milady is a title of respect.” I paused. “I have imagined you coming to me so many times. And tonight, you appeared out of nothing. You passed by the guards at my door without noise. You moved through the wards Freyda placed around my room to keep anyone other than her and myself from entering. If you are real—if I have not finally gone insane and imagined you—then you must be the Goddess of Revenge. You have called for an accounting of my failures. And I know you will find me lacking. I am hoping that you will send me to Hel—so that I may take my place beside the others who have died dishonorably. Or—perhaps—you will allow me to regain a sliver of my honor by killing Freyda first, milady.”
“I’m not here to kill you—or to let you kill yourself!” she said forcefully.
I cast my eyes down in despair and resignation—recognition. “No,” I said with a nod, “you are too just for that. You are right. I do not deserve the mercy of death. You are right to leave me here to suffer—to continue in this hell. It is as it should be; I promise that I will not fight the righteousness of my fate, milady”
“Oh Eric,” she sighed forlornly.
I looked up at her. “In truth—that is why I have lived on, despite the deaths of all I cared about. I deserve to suffer. I deserve your continued wrath, milady. I deserve the revenge you bring.”
She fell to her knees in front of me. “No—you don’t.”
“I failed you and my daughters—and myself. I am a slave once more. Appius said that it was what I was meant for—the only thing I would ever be good for. He was right,” I said, feeling my despair acutely.
“I thought you were okay,” she said with concern in her eyes as she raised her hand up to my cheek.
I flinched both from the fear that her pure touch would expose my ugliness to her and from the foreignness of the tenderness. I had, after all, already reconciled myself to the fact that no tenderness would come to me for the next 199 years—if ever again.
“The report Russell got said that you’d thrown yourself into your new role—that you’d enjoyed being involved in the planning and the carrying out of your wedding.”
“Quinn,” I said simply, thinking about the time around my wedding day and the fact that the lumbering Weretiger had run the ceremony. His presence had been another stab by Freyda, but I’d not let her see my discomfort. “Quinn would have been the only possible source of that report. Plus,” I added wearily, “I have always been good at hiding my true feelings about matters. It is necessary when one’s creator is cruel.”
Sookie was shaking her head as if she were shaken. “The report said you’d found some contentment with Freyda—that she was a strong and fair ruler,” she whispered.
I scoffed. “She is neither strong nor fair. Her taking of me illustrates that. Had she been strong, she wouldn’t have needed brawn at her beck and call in the first place. Had she been fair, she would have released me from a contract that was made according to antiquated traditions—a contract that I’d not agreed to or even known about. And one I’d certainly never wanted.”
Sookie readjusted her position so that she was sitting cross-legged in front of me, the full shirt of her burqa-like garment still covering her legs. I moved to sit cross-legged too and waited for her to speak—waited for her to tell me my fate.
Meanwhile, I let myself enjoy just looking at her. I had memorized all of her lines long ago. But I found that there were slight changes now that she was a vampire—a goddess. Finally, when it seemed that pity entered her eyes, I had to break the silence.
“You chose Russell,” I said, “to be your maker.”
She nodded. “I thought about Stan, but Russell is older. And he owed me for saving Betty Joe. Plus, I knew that he’d never want to have me sexually, and that was a comfort to me.”
“Russell is a good choice as a maker,” I said, “strong and well-placed in the hierarchy. He will protect you where I failed.”
“I wish it could have been you that turned me—but it was impossible,” she said.
My hand twitched to reach for her, but I stopped it. “My children all die. They die while I am shackled,” I said emotionlessly, though I felt a sharp pain—like a knife—stabbing my unmoving heart. “You were harmed—more than once—while I was shackled. It is my curse to fail the ones I love most.” I shook my head. “No. It is best that you have a maker who is free, Sookie—a maker who is worthy of you.” I again stifled the impulse to reach for her. “Plus, I wouldn’t have made you a vampire—even if you’d come to me.”
“Why not?” she asked with curiosity.
“I always knew you would be perfect as a vampire—beautiful, glorious, powerful. But I would have never made you one—no matter how often I’d fantasized about doing it. You asked me not to—not even if you were dying. So I would have refrained.”
“I know,” she whispered. “I’m sorry I ever doubted your honor regarding that.”
“I hope you know how much I wanted you, Sookie—how much I wanted to keep you forever. But it was impossible,” I said. “For a brief time—after Appius was finally dead, after I was free to feel all I felt for you without fear of him taking you from me—I thought that I would be able to keep you for the span of your human life. But that hope was just as much of an illusion as my freedom from him was.”
Again my hand itched to touch her, but I didn’t move it. However, her hand reached out and took mine. Her skin was so cool now—so smooth and soft. Unable to keep looking at her now sorrow-filled eyes, I looked at her hand. I had been responsible for her sorrow. Again, I prayed that she would allow me to kill Freyda and to be killed in the process. I knew that it would not be enough to earn me a place outside of the thick gates of Hel, but at least I would die free. Or—if not that—I still held out a small hope that she might end me herself.
“The sun will be up in twenty minutes,” she said, breaking me from my thoughts.
I looked around the room. All of the furnishings were made of stainless steel, but—unlike my room in Freyda’s compound—the floor was made of wood. “I could tear up a floorboard,” I said, allowing my hope to show. If she allowed it, I knew that only a splinter would be needed to end me. But I knew that I wouldn’t act without the goddess’s permission.
“You truly wish to die that much, Eric? Are you in so much misery—so much pain?” Her voice shook.
“If I am of use to you, milady, I will continue,” I said, feeling my back straighten. “And if 199 years is not enough for my payment, I will extend my marriage to Freyda until my final death.” I looked into her eyes. “You need only ask, Sookie. Just tell me the price, and I will pay it gladly. You may take my life however you want it.”
She shook her head sadly and squeezed my hand. “Oh Eric. What broke you?”
“Pam died. Karin died. I held out hope that you lived still. But I was told that you did not. And I could do nothing,” I said. “I found out that I was nothing—just as my maker had said.”
“That is Appius speaking,” she said bitterly.
“Appius made me,” I said matter-of-factly.
I shook my head sadly. Eric was so broken—so lost. And I wondered—for a moment—if he was truly gone. And—if he was—would I have the strength to end him?
I closed my eyes for a moment, knowing that I had to do everything in my power to try to avoid that—to find “Eric” in the shell of the vampire before me.
“Appius didn’t make the vampire I met at Fangtasia. You made yourself,” I tried.
“An illusion,” he whispered. “Yes. I tried to make my own life. I tried to make good lives for my vampire children—even when I fell short of what they wanted me to be. And—with you—I tried to love, but in that I failed too.”
“That’s Appius speaking again,” I whispered.
“Maybe he is all that is left in me,” he said despondently.
“No—he would not have sacrificed himself as you did; he wouldn’t have given up 100 years.”
“It was not for nothing,” I insisted.
“Tell me something that I yet have,” he said, begging me with his eyes.
“You have me,” I said simply. “You always did. And now—you always will.”
“Sookie?” he asked, his eyes confused. He truly had thought that I was there to kill him—to punish him for what he felt were his failures. But I was there to save him—just as he’d always tried to save me. I was there to love him—just as he’d loved me.
As it had turned out, Hallow’s curse had seemingly worked on me too. I had been right next to my heart’s desire for so long, but I’d failed to recognize it. And now that I did recognize what I wanted—who I wanted—I wasn’t about to let him go again.
“Eric,” I said gently. “Today I am Vália, and I am here for revenge, but I have no reason to take revenge upon you. I need you, Eric. I need you to come back to me. I need you to be by my side as the end of the world comes for our enemies. Freyda is here. Felipe arrived minutes before I came to you. And the queen of New York is also here.”
I lowered my voice, even though I knew no one could hear us. “For many months, the Fellowship of the Sun has been planning to blow up the next summit in a way that makes Rhodes look like a simple campfire. This morning—two hours after dawn—bombs will go off: ten times as many as ripped into the Pyramid of Gizeh in Rhodes. My maker will not sleep here today, Eric, nor will his allies.” I smiled a little, letting my new nature show. “After the sun rises and the vampires here are asleep, Amelia and other witches will be creating wards that make it impossible for the vampires of Oklahoma, Nevada, Louisiana, Arkansas, and New York to be rescued. Twenty minutes before the building blows up, the owner of this hotel, whom my maker has glamoured, will order an evacuation, so others will not perish.”
“Some innocent humans may die,” Eric said, looking at me closely.
I watched and hoped for a flicker of the strategic mind I prayed was still inside of my beloved, broken vampire.
“A few humans will die,” I said. “Those in the warded rooms will perish. And many relatively innocent vampires will be lost too. But it is not my turn to give a fuck about them, Eric. My telepathy has told me of the threat. My maker has helped me to mitigate the loss of innocent lives by arranging for a way to get them clear. Yes. I could save everyone here, but if I were not here, none would be saved. And—frankly—I would kill the whole fucking world to save you right now.”
His beautiful face finally registered an emotion that outweighed his despair: shock.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because—you deserve to be saved for a change, Eric Northman. Because—I cannot stand to see that the light has fallen out of your eyes. Because—I won’t tolerate another moment of your suffering. Because. I. Love. You.”
“You love me?” he said as if the words were foreign to him.
I nodded. “I cannot fix all that is broken in you, Eric. And some of the harm caused by Appius might never be fixed. But I can make sure that you have a safe place to grieve for Pam and Karin. I can love you while you heal from the freshest set of atrocities that your maker forced you to live through. I can hold you through your nights, and we can die together in each other’s arms as each day comes. And—one night—you will be whole again, Eric.
“Was I ever whole?” he asked, an echo of the man I once knew.
“Yes. You were—and an A-hole too sometimes.”
He chuckled a little.
And with that little sound, I knew that my Eric was in there—not the amnesia-stricken version that I’d thought I wanted for so long, but the real Eric. The Eric I was determined to see whole and happy.
“See?” I said, letting out a little sob. “You are still together; you are still a person. You survived and your personality and soul are intact.”
“Are they?” he asked, even as I saw recognition in his eyes. He’d once said those same words to me—after I’d survived my encounter with Neave and Lochlan.
“Yes!” I said decisively. “They may be buried right now, but they are there. I know that you are stronger than your maker, Eric. Be stronger,” I practically ordered.
“I could not have survived much longer,” he said ominously.
I sighed. After I’d been tortured, he’d been so certain that I could have survived much more. I’d not been so sure at the time. But I’d come to know that he’d been speaking the truth then. Looking at him now, I realized that he was speaking the truth again. He wouldn’t have survived in the hell he was in for much longer. The Eric that I knew was barely there anymore as it was. But I knew that he would come back to me. That little chuckle—that little moment of Eric, of grace—was all I’d needed to see in order to know.
“You don’t need to survive in this hell any longer,” I said softly. “You’re going to come with me. We’re going to make a new home. We can stay together always. And we will love each other, Eric Northman—just like we should have done all along. We’ll find new pursuits. We’ll help each other in our new life. We. Will. Go. On,” I said resolutely, reminding us both of the words he’d once said to me right before the witch war.
“Sounds like a marriage,” he responding, his tone conveying disbelief.
I smiled and placed my hands on his cheeks. “You know—I never accepted the fact that we were divorced.”
“You never accepted the fact that we were married either,” he said, the slightest hint of playfulness in his tone.
I sighed with relief. “This time I’ll know what that dagger means when I give it to you.”
I leaned in and kissed him lightly on the lips.
“You’re real?” he asked, as if to make sure one last time before he allowed himself to relax, even just a little. “You’re really here—for me?”
“Yes, and I’m going to get us out of here.” I smiled. “I’m quite the gifted vampire—you know. I still have my telepathy, and the fairy gift of teleportation kicked in the night after I rose.”
“And your maker will accept me into your life?” Eric asked.
I nodded. “Russell likes you. And he’s released me anyway. I still work with him though.”
Eric seemed to sober. “What if Freyda and Felipe don’t die during the explosions.”
A smile flashed across my face. “Another Fae gift that came to me when I became a vampire was the ability to cover my scent. So when I popped into Freyda’s room and then into Felipe’s room earlier in order to leave behind special magical concoctions that would enhance the bombs’ impact on their rooms, I didn’t leave my scent behind.”
“You sound like a strategist,” he said, the slightest of smirks forming on his beautiful face.
For that smirk, I said a prayer of thanksgiving to the God I still believed in.
“I learned from the best,” I returned.
He gave me a faint smile.
I thanked God for that too.
“Ready to go?” I asked. “Do you have anything here you want to take?”
He shook his head. “I’m looking at everything I want with me once I leave this place. And yes,” he sighed, “I’m ready.”
“Then let’s go,” I said as I squeezed his hands and popped him out of there.
Note: The italicized line is a quote from Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris. Sookie’s speech beginning with, “You don’t need to survive in this hell any longer,” contains paraphrase from Dead to the World, and Eric’s line, “Sounds like a marriage,” is from the same book. Information regarding the MISTAKEN report that Eric was content in Oklahoma is paraphrased from After Dead, though that work—sadly—didn’t seem to get the memo that the information was erroneous.
Thanks so much for all who voted for and commented on this story during the contest! There were so many wonderful stories in the contest. Thank you, Seph, for sharing your talent with us!