Britomart and Niall were talking in hushed voices—almost as if they were afraid that speaking louder would call the morning to them sooner.
Sookie and Eric remained quiet, neither one of them wanting to interrupt the exchange between the siblings. The vampire held his wife tightly and accepted the comfort she was pouring into their bond gratefully. They had exchanged blood twice that night, so they knew that Eric would be protected from the light of the dawn, which was now a little less than twenty-five minutes away.
Niall’s voice caused them both to jump a little.
“It was a lovely ceremony and reception,” he said. Sookie turned her gaze onto Niall; she could tell that her great-grandfather was trying to put on a brave face, but his smile wasn’t quite reaching his eyes.
The A.P. smiled more convincingly—and more wickedly—than her brother. “I assume―given your long absence earlier―that you have had the chance to consummate your marriage. I’d hate to think that I was keeping you two from that,” she paused, “duty.”
Sookie blushed crimson red, but stated in a flat tone. “Yep—we are good and consummated.”
Eric chuckled and breathed in his mate’s hair contentedly. “Three times—as a matter of fact,” he offered.
Sookie’s blush got even deeper, but she still turned her head and kissed her man chastely on the lips. She relished the love she felt through the bond. And she was grateful that the mood had lightened a little—even if it was at her own expense.
After that, the four of them chatted about a variety of topics as the morning crept toward them. They laughed about Sam’s reaction to learning about Hunter and Emma’s future children. They talked about Hunter’s interest in photography. They discussed Eric and Niall’s company. They talked about the school Sookie and Katherine were running in Dùraig. The A.P. even told the story about the first time she met Eric. They packed as much as they could into fifteen minutes.
But one thing they didn’t talk about was the fact that Britomart was still not feeling compelled to seek shelter inside. And about five minutes before the dawn, they all grew suddenly silent as light began to gather in the East.
Britomart broke the short silence with a sigh. Her tone conveyed excitement—relief. “I think that it is time—finally. I have never gotten this close. Always before, I felt as if I had to seek cover—as if I’d been commanded to do so, but this time,” her voice trailed off.
“But this time, you’re gonna be able to go to Artegal,” Sookie finished with a tear forming in her eye even as she smiled at the A.P.
“Yes,” she said almost inaudibly. The two women shared a look that spoke volumes. They understood each other well.
Feeling her mate’s sorrow, Sookie gripped Eric more tightly. And with a slight nod of her head, she promised the A.P. that she would take care of Eric—that she would protect him and love him through all eternity. The ancient vampiress nodded—her expression showing her appreciation.
“What will we do without you?” Eric asked softly.
Britomart scoffed, “Go on―of course. You have more life to lead―after all. I have already saved you enough times, little cat, and now I am confident that your bride will keep you from trouble.” She sighed. “And have faith, dear boy—we will probably see each other in the future. I have a feeling that those who are close in this plane will find each other in other planes as well.” She was looking at her brother comfortingly as she said the last part of her sentence.
The darkness of night was falling away more and more; the sky was gray with pieces of yellowish light poking through the trees. Britomart stood up and faced Eric and Sookie. “You will take care of each other.” It was not an order or a request. She spoke the sentence as the fact it was.
Eric and Sookie also stood as Britomart approached them and took one of each of their hands into hers. Her voice was full of emotion and gratefulness. “After all this time,” she sighed, “you two are the prophesy spoken of by my Artegal.” She chuckled, “I’m glad you did not fuck it up, little cat. I thought you would several times.”
Not able to speak, Eric managed a smile for his maker’s maker, even though Sookie felt the intensity of his grief. As soon as the A.P. dropped their hands, Sookie sat back down with Eric—this time enfolding him into her arms.
Britomart turned to Niall. “Perhaps, I will see you in the Summerlands, brother.” She winked. “I will bring Artegal there with me and drive Mother and Father away―if I can.”
Niall rose and went over to his sister. “I will see you there then, my beloved older sister.” He bent slightly and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
Britomart pushed aside a red tear and then sighed heavily. It was the sigh of someone who had lived almost three thousand years. It was the sigh of someone who had spent most of those years separated from the love of her long life—from her soul mate. It was the sigh of someone who was finally going to be released to join him—at last.
With difficulty, Eric put aside his sorrow and looked upon the A.P. with awe. He had experienced twenty months without his beloved. Britomart had lived more than thirty centuries without hers by her side. Eric realized that he had learned how to feel faith because of his beautiful wife, but he had a living personification of what it meant to keep faith for millennia in front of him. Britomart’s was a beautiful example of what it actually took to love another being forever. He made a silent promise to the universe that he would emulate that example and love Sookie just as well.
“Find your happiness,” the Viking whispered, earning him an almost imperceptible nod from the A.P.
His shoulders slumping, Niall sank back into his chair as he, Eric, and Sookie watched Britomart turn so that her profile was facing them. As she looked toward the East, her smile became beatific.
She looked back at them for a final time and breathed a sigh of relief with a breath she didn’t need. Two long streams of red tears were now flowing freely from her eyes, and her face was the picture of bliss. It was the face of someone who had fulfilled her destiny. It was the look of someone who was going home. Finally.
She spoke in a tone full of peace and release. “I have—at long last—come to the end of my time in this place.”
She smiled, and in that moment, Niall smiled with her. To him, she looked just like the beautiful young woman she’d been when she met her Artegal. On that long-ago day, his sister had told him excitedly that she had just met the one who was her match. Niall hadn’t known what she’d meant then—hadn’t known until he met his own beloved Viola. Tears dropped from his eyes, though he could not be certain whether they were from grief or joy. In truth, they were likely from both.
Britomart continued speaking in a wistful tone, “I feel my heart yearning to beat again in my chest. I feel Artegal’s spirit hovering close to me. He has been waiting for me.” She turned to face the East again. “And it seems that his waiting is at an end.”
Sookie held her mate tightly as the A.P.—the one who was directly responsible for the fact that they were still alive—faced the rising sun. Her expression was peaceful, and the morning reminded Sookie of the one when Godric had died—except this time, there were no tears falling down her own cheeks. And there were none falling down the cheeks of her beloved either. To be sure, there was sorrow in the bond. They both loved Britomart, and they were beholden to her, but they also both understood what lengths they would go to in order to be with each other.
Yes. More than anyone else, they recognized how much Britomart needed to get to her mate. Britomart and Artegal had waited long enough.
And in that moment, their joy for her eclipsed their sorrow.
Niall spoke to his sister one last time. “I will seek you hereafter, dear sister.”
She gave the slightest of nods in answer, but kept her eyes facing the East. As the sun rose over the oak and cypress trees, she walked as if to greet it. Just as Godric had done on that rooftop in Dallas, the A.P. did not activate the magic within her to protect herself. She let herself be taken, and in a quick flame of blue, she was gone.
The three left behind kept their eyes fixed on the spot from which Britomart Carlah Brigant had disappeared.
After almost half an hour of silence, Niall finally stood up.
He turned to Eric and Sookie and smiled. “I am glad that you were the couple of which Artegal spoke. I am glad that because of your love and the acceptance of that love by others, she could finally go to him. It was a long time coming—too long for her to wait.”
Sookie rose and hugged her great-grandfather. “You’ll be here for Sunday dinner tonight?” she asked with a little smile.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” he responded. He looked at them both. “It truly was a lovely ceremony.” This time his smile did reach his eyes. “Tell Hunter I will see him later this evening.” With a wink and his trademark twinkle in his still-teary eyes, he “popped” away.
“He’s gonna be okay,” Sookie said, half to Eric and half to herself.
When he didn’t answer, she looked back at her mate, who was still sitting in their chair, looking into the distance.
“Eric?” she said quietly.
He held his arms out to her, and she walked back to him and settled into his strong body again. They both looked toward the morning sun. He’d seen the sunlight many times with Sookie, but it still enthralled him.
“You okay?” she asked as she felt Eric’s swirl of emotions.
He held her tightly and breathed her in. “I was just thinking about the many things that we have to be thankful for. I was thinking about our friends. I was thinking about our child. But most of all, I was thinking about the day that you broke our first bond with that severing spell—remember?”
She nodded and then turned to him with a question in her eyes. “Why would you be thinking about that day?”
He shrugged. “Maybe it’s odd, but that was the day that I first began to truly have faith, min kära. I had to have faith that you were only breaking the bond so that you could fix it.” He smiled at her.
“So we could fix it together,” she corrected with a smile of her own.
He nodded and kissed the tip of her nose playfully. “Yes—we. We are always better when we work together.”
She settled her body back into his. As came automatically to her during the daytime, she checked on his well-being. As usual, she found that she’d already been unconsciously sending him a dosage of her healing through the bond.
He spoke quietly behind her. “Faith is such a beautiful thing, my love—and so difficult to find. So precious. It is difficult to believe in others. It is difficult to believe in things unseen. The paradox, of course, came the moment I began to believe in you,” he pulled her tighter into his body. As always, she fit there perfectly.
He continued, “From that moment on, having faith in you—in us—was the easiest thing I have ever done.”
“Today is a good day for faith,” Sookie mused, pulling the afghan over them against the cool November morning. The fire had all but gone out and was offering little heat, so she happily snuggled into him. She tilted her head back and to the side and looked up at him. “I think that she’s already found him―don’t you?”
Eric’s expression lightened, and he chuckled. “Most certainly! The old hag would never have left if she’d not known he was right there waiting for her.”
“Like you would do?”
Eric nodded. “I plan to haunt you until the end of time, Mrs. Stackhouse-Northman.”
Sookie giggled, “I love the sound of that.”
“My haunting you?”
“Yep—that and my new, official name.”
His tone turned more serious. “I love the sound of it too. I’m glad you decided to keep your own family name, but I must admit that I like the fact that you are a Northman too. That may have been a surname that I chose when I moved to the States, but the fact that you are choosing it too,” he paused, “means the world to me.”
Sookie sniffled a little at his words. “I’ll always be a Stackhouse. That’s my foundation. Gran helped me survive my telepathy while I was growin’ up. And she made me into the kind of girl that was able to hold my ground against a Viking vampire when I first met him.”
“Mmmm,” Eric sounded as he kissed her forehead, “I remember. You were a beautiful flame of fire in the darkness of my life then. And now you have taken that darkness away forever.”
Sookie smiled up at him, “Gran also made me into the kind of girl that was able to fight off Bill’s influence and break the tie he’d manipulated me into forming with him. And despite the fact that I still regret hurtin’ you, I’m glad I was strong enough to break our first bond too. Gran’s was the voice in my head that told me to have faith in myself—faith that I would make the right choices about you and about Bill—about my life. And I did. I’m here now. And here with you and with Hunter is exactly the place I am meant to be. I might have been a Stackhouse first, but being a Northman—belonging to you and Hunter—is the biggest thing I’ll ever do in my life.”
Eric gave her another kiss and tightened his arms around her. “Belonging to you and being a father to Hunter are the biggest accomplishments of my life too.”
Sookie smiled. “I like it when you admit that you belong to me.”
Eric went from contemplative to aroused in less than a second because of her statement of ownership. “Mine,” Eric growled, letting his fangs drop.
Sookie looked up at him ready to roll her eyes, but the passion in his blue orbs caused her breath to hitch and her teasing to be forgotten. “Yes—yours,” she whispered, her blood now inflamed and her arousal rising.
“Yours,” Eric promised her, dragging his fingers softly over her cheek.
“My vampire,” she said as she grabbed the collar of his shirt and pulled their lips together.
The fire in their kiss reflected all of the love, lust, passion, and—yes—faith that they had in each other.
Knowing a kiss wouldn’t be enough for either of them, Eric picked his beloved up bridal style and zipped her over several thresholds on the way to their bedroom where he planned to do as much pillaging and consummating as his Viking and vampire instincts required. The beauty of it was that he knew—absolutely fucking knew—that he would be pillaged right back.
As he laid her down on their bed in their room in their house with their son sleeping nearby and their family also near to them, Eric felt full of life. They had made such a teeming existence together—one that had spread far enough to inspire the world to change in a significant way.
Eric was once more awed by the “bigness” of their love; it had been big enough destroy hate and to fulfill a prophesy that was thousands of years old. It had been big enough to form the nucleus for the most unique family he’d ever heard of.
Yet in the end, especially on this morning, their love felt “small”—intimate and compact and dense. Everything came back to them―just them.
It was only the two of them in that room. And that was more than enough.
It always would be.
A/N: First, thanks to those of you who reviewed the last chapter and who read this chapter.
I am biting my nails, hoping that you liked the ending. And—yes—I’m also crying. I just got done re-reading this chapter one last time, and my tears always get in the way when the A.P. disappears in a flame of blue. But like Niall, I don’t know if my tears are from joy or grief.
If you are interested, I will tell you that the A.P. had only a tiny role in the first draft of this story, but then I made a single decision that led to so much richness for me. That decision was to make Niall and the A.P. twins. After that, the second draft of the story opened up so much, and then, suddenly, Artegal entered the picture.
This story was a love story with a twist to me. It was about romantic love—sure—but also about the building of a family around that love—the building of a family by two individuals whose biggest tragedy is that they can never have a child of their own.
So this story became about family—the things that people would do for their families and the things they would do to deserve them. I imagined Eric and Sookie as the nucleus of a family that could stretch the bounds of convention and affection but not—in the end—“biology.”
Before I wrote even a word of draft one, I knew three things: first, Hunter was going to be a huge part of this family but that Eric was going to be his father long before Sookie was his mother; second, Eric and Sookie were going to and “needed” to spend a lot of time apart; and third, Russell Edgington was going to be the big bad because he was the one who took Eric’s first family from him, and there had to be a real possibility that he would do it again.
But this time, Russell was going to try to take Eric’s family by literally taking Eric’s sanity and playing on his worst fears of being abandoned and alone (made even more poignant when the vampire experiences a life where he is anything but alone). I also realized early on that Russell would be able to succeed in this unless Eric was stronger, so I “broke through the levees” of Eric’s mind—so to speak—just so that I could rebuild them so much stronger. I pounded him with the worst things I could think of by taking Sookie away and then taking the bonds away and then by sending Godric to him to poke at him when he was down. But the Viking fought back—with assists from Pam, Jesus, and mostly Hunter—and he rose stronger than ever. Meanwhile, Sookie also had a journey to face. She too had been battered through her life, and she needed to learn to believe in herself. And when both Sookie and Eric were stronger individuals, I was able to make them into a much stronger duo—a partnership in which both parties added equally and profoundly.
I hope you liked this story. I hope you found it worth all the time I know you spent with it; I am certainly thankful that you graced me with a piece of your life.
There is a short epilogue. I hope you will join me for that.
And—once more—thanks for reading with me and for sharing your time with me.