Summary: “Resolving” is the last of a three-story series that includes “Enduring” and “Uncovering.” Will Eric and Sookie get a second chance at love? Will they be able to trust each other, given all the hurt and misunderstandings of the past? (Spoilers: All Books)
Note: “Enduring” and “Uncovering” should be read first.
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, 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 have been inspired by The Southern Vampire Mystery series. Charlaine Harris is responsible for the people and places that I play with in my story.
Spoiler Alert: If you don’t want to know about the events in the books (including the last one), wait to read this.
Beta: Kleannhouse and her eagle eyes! Thanks for lending them!
Artwork: The banner for this story (and all the stories in the 3-part Enduring Series) was made by the incomparable Sephrenia!
verb (used with object)
1. to come to a definite or earnest decision about.
2. to determine (to do something).
3. to correct, as in “resolve a problem.”
4. to settle, determine, or come to a resolution.
5. to deal with (a question, a matter of uncertainty, etc.) conclusively; settle; solve.
6. to clear away or dispel (doubts, fears, etc.); answer.
7. (Chemistry) to separate into optically active components.
8. (Music) to cause (a voice part or the harmony as a whole) to progress from a dissonance to a consonance.
Two Months after “Uncovering”
“So—it has been confirmed?” Felipe de Castro asked his spy in Area 5. Mena Roland had moved to Louisiana even before Felipe had taken over the state. He’d had her move to Area 5 three months before Northman had left it. She was the best information gatherer he’d ever employed.
“Yes,” the vampiress informed. “The child is definitely a telepath.”
“And how can you be certain?” he asked; he’d already heard the same information from Compton, but he was glad to have confirmation of it. Undoubtedly, Compton’s judgment was suspect when it came to things related to Sookie.
“I glamoured one of Merlotte’s employees to plant listening devices in the shifter’s office and in his vehicle. As the Merlottes signed their divorce papers in his office today, they discussed the child—how to train him and how to protect him,” Mena reported.
Felipe thought for a moment. He’d already determined that he would have that child in his retinue; actually, he still wanted the mother too. However, the agreement he’d made with Northman continued to stifle his desires. Oh—if he so wanted, Felipe knew that he could eliminate Northman with few problems. But the terms of the contract were known by too many; that bastard Cataliades had made sure of that—even after Felipe had arranged for the demon lawyer to be “hunted” by an old enemy of his.
And one of those terms was that Felipe had to continue his “protect but don’t touch” policy with the telepath and her offspring even if Northman met his final death!
So—because of the demon’s big mouth and because of the fact that Northman had an unexpected cache of friends who included several vampire monarchs—Felipe had been forced to restrain himself from going after the telepath. The king was just glad that Northman’s friends had done nothing to get him out of the marriage contract—not that they could have done anything. A maker pretty much “owned” his or her progeny. In fact, the mere specter of the ill-regarded Appius had effectively squelched the level of advancement that Northman could attain.
Unfortunately, Appius was now dead.
Luckily, however, the unhinged Appius Livius Ocella had arranged a legacy for his child: an inheritance of servitude. And then the Viking had added another hundred years onto that servitude!
Felipe smiled a self-satisfied smile.
Why had he agreed to the contract? Simple. Since Sookie was still revered by many for her actions in Rhodes, he would have been obliged to protect her regardless of the situation. Plus, Eric’s continued servitude was too good to pass up—especially when the Viking agreed to the added humiliation of becoming Freyda’s boy-toy whenever and however she chose. Imagining the Viking under Freyda’s yoke for an additional hundred years had pleased Felipe to no end!
The vampire monarch sat back in his chair. “Do you have anything else to report?” he asked his spy.
“I have insinuated myself into Compton’s nest—at least temporarily—as you requested. As of tomorrow, I will be living with him,” Mena reported.
“Good,” Felipe said. “You will be closer to the telepaths, and your scent in the area will not be viewed as suspicious. But how did you manage it?”
“My nest—sadly—caught on fire a week ago,” Mena intoned. “Sheriff Ravenscroft—at first—arranged for me to have a travel coffin at Fangtasia since I work there. However, when Compton came in a few days ago for his mandatory evening on display at the bar, he offered me a place with him. I believe he did it mostly to undermine the sheriff since her romantic interest in me is well-known.”
“Ah yes—you told me when you gave me your last report that Pam was interested in more than your bartending skills. Are you still playing hard to get?”
“Yes,” Mena reported, “as you instructed.”
“Good,” Felipe said. “Tell me—is Bill as enthralled with Sookie as ever?”
“Yes,” Mena answered. “When I suggested that he and I might enjoy each other while we nested together, he refused, claiming that he was attempting to reestablish his relationship with Mrs. Merlotte.”
“Will she be keeping her married name then?” Felipe asked.
“Yes,” Mena reported, “according to the recorded conversation I listened to earlier, she has decided that she wants to keep the same surname as her child.”
“What is the child’s name?” the king inquired.
“John Stackhouse Merlotte,” Mena reported.
“And what of Northman’s other child—Karin?”
“She still nests with the sheriff. I have not seen her near Compton’s residence, but I have picked up her scent in the area. She has been on Mrs. Merlotte’s property recently.”
“Keep me informed of any new developments,” Felipe ordered.
“Of course,” Mena said before hanging up.
Felipe stretched out his legs and glanced up at the antique clock on his mantle. His donors would be arriving soon, so he went ahead and unclasped his signature cape. The last thing he wanted was for blood or cum to get on it.
He contemplated the information that he’d received from his spy. He smiled, confident that he would eventually get the child and Sookie. He would just have to figure out how.
He thought for a moment about Northman. The king knew that his hatred for the Viking was not rational. Seeded from Victor’s descriptions of Eric, Felipe had felt animosity toward the old Sheriff of Area 5 from the start of his occupation of Louisiana. Felipe had planned to kill Northman along with the other sheriffs, but the Viking had placed himself into the home of the telepath, the one creature in Louisiana that Felipe had wanted the most. He too had heard of the so-called “Angel of Rhodes.” And he’d wanted that angel all for himself.
But the telepath had been Northman’s bonded, and Felipe’s plans had to be altered. On the night of the takeover, it had been Victor who had warned that fighting the vampires in Sookie’s home would, perhaps, lead to the telepath’s death as well. Felipe hadn’t been willing to take that risk. So he’d taken Victor’s advice about letting Northman live. The king had even reconciled himself to the notion that he’d have to temporarily go through the Viking to have access to the telepath—until, that is, he could convince her to “trade up” to a king.
But then Felipe had met Sookie and Eric personally. It hadn’t taken him long to realize that Sookie wouldn’t see it as “trading up” to transfer her affections from the Viking to him.
There was something in the way that Eric and Sookie looked at each other. Their every move seemed designed to make others—and themselves—believe that they were less to each other than they truly were. But Felipe had known that there was a lot more than met the eye when Sookie drove her car over Sigebert. The king had recognized immediately that the telepath hadn’t done that to save her new monarch or the shifter. Her eyes had checked the condition of Northman—first and foremost. And the Viking’s eyes had been on her too—as much as they possibly could be.
And Felipe had felt jealousy—for an underling!
He sighed as he moved to sit on his luxurious leather couch.
Even more obsessive about Northman than before, Freyda was now—officially—a loose cannon, and the king knew that he could use that to his advantage to get ahold of the telepaths. The trick, however, was to make it seem as if Freyda was acting outside of his scope of influence.
Freyda had been wanting to kill Sookie for a while; however, Felipe was facing a dilemma. If Freyda acted, then Felipe could—and would—step in and “save” Sookie and her child. Then, he might convince Sookie that she needed his more active protection. And, now that a child was involved, Felipe felt certain that it would be even easier to persuade Sookie to live with him in Nevada—for the well-being and safety of the child, of course. Once Sookie was in Las Vegas, Felipe felt confident that he could slowly bring her more and more into his retinue. He was prepared to be patient with her, inviting her to functions only a few times a year. He figured that eventually she’d take it upon herself to use her telepathy to serve him. After all, she’d not been able to help herself in Rhodes, and Felipe fully intended to manufacture “emergencies” that would spur her into action.
He would treat her like a heroine, but he would seem to expect nothing else from her.
However, if Felipe allowed Freyda to act, he would have to kill the queen. If not, she would surely “sing like a canary”— telling anyone who would listen that she had been working in collusion with him—just as soon as she figured out that he’d betrayed her and saved Sookie’s life. Thus, Freyda would have to be eliminated. The only problem was that killing Freyda would “free” the Viking.
The king sighed as he contemplated how to get out of his quandary.
Of course, Felipe had thought about simply paying others to threaten the telepath. However, hiring the unscrupulous always carried with it the threat of detection. And Felipe knew that he—with the exception of Freyda—would be the primary suspect if Sookie were targeted.
That’s why Freyda would make the perfect scapegoat.
The king tabled his thoughts as his donors arrived: a young man with delectable A-positive blood and a young woman with a delectable pussy. He’d think about his issues after he was serviced.
Two Nights Later
“I want you to use that talented tongue of yours to bring me to pleasure tonight,” Freyda said almost dismissively.
“Of course,” Eric answered indifferently. “When would you like me to be in your bedchamber, my queen?”
“You mistake me, consort,” Freyda said loudly so that everyone in her throne room could hear her. “I am bored with the proceedings here tonight, so while I listen to the cases before me, I want you to pleasure me—right here and right now.”
The queen smiled when she saw Eric’s body tense a little. She knew just how much he hated it when she ordered him to service or fuck her in public; however, the contract allowed her to do anything she wanted to do with him. And—lately—she hadn’t been in the mood to try to “win” his affection.
After all—she was queen! She shouldn’t have to try!
So if he wasn’t willing to enjoy the favor she wished to bestow upon him, then he would suffer the consequences.
“You cannot very well fuck me with your tongue if you are standing, consort,” Freyda said icily.
“You are, of course, correct, my queen,” Eric said, having reestablished an apathetic expression. Standing at his full height, the Viking moved until he was directly in front of her and then bent onto his knees.
“I would like for you to be nude please. I enjoy looking at you,” she said loudly. “Appius did well in his selection. Why not let all enjoy his good taste?”
“As you wish, my queen,” Eric said evenly, once more rising to his feet. Quickly, he stripped himself and then got down onto his knees again.
Once he was in position between her legs, she pulled up the skirt of her elaborate gown. “You may begin,” she told him with a smile on her face.
Eric walked through the corridors of Freyda’s “palace” just as bare as he’d been in the throne room, for the queen had “requested” that he not redress after he’d brought her to her fifth orgasm of the night.
Only when he got into his chamber did Eric allow his shoulders to slump a little. The scene in the throne room—in and of itself—was not bad. He hated Freyda with every fiber of his being, but the act of cunnilingus was not one he minded. Like fucking, he’d learned to separate his mind from the physical acts of his body long ago.
No—the act he’d been tasked to perform wasn’t what made his shoulders slump. It was memories of similar cruelties that made his body feel so heavy. Appius had once told Eric that he would never consider “freeing” him until Eric “learned to love” being fucked by him.
And Eric had needed his freedom more than anything—a lot more than he’d needed to keep his pride.
So—pragmatically, systematically, and ultimately successfully—Eric had learned to force his body and then his mind to take pleasure in all of the things that were done to him. First Eric had simply endured what Appius commanded. Then he’d learned to feel indifference about it—to separate himself from the act he was required to perform. Then toleration had formed. And, finally, Eric had acquired the skill to find pleasure in it. But Appius hadn’t been done with him yet. He began to put Eric on public display in whatever nest or court they happened to be part of at the time, and then he would offer his progeny to other vampires. Eric had been required to “learn to love” those situations as well.
It was only then that Appius began to find Eric “less amusing.” And—after a time—Appius became bored with his progeny. So, finally, he’d “freed” Eric. Of course, that freedom hadn’t been absolute, but it had been the best outcome that Eric had ever hoped to attain.
Of course, Appius could have done worse to him; he could have decided to attack the more important centers of Eric’s remaining “humanity.” Eric had seen worse things done to vampires by their makers. Bill Compton was an example of this. Lorena had forced Bill to participate in mass murders of humans and blood orgies until the Civil War veteran had “learned to love” them.
Eric had—long ago—recognized that he’d gotten off pretty lucky, especially when he considered Appius’s sadistic tendencies. Yes—Eric had been required to “sell” his body and his pride for a while, just as he was doing with Freyda, but he’d never been forced to sell his soul, as the merciless Lorena had required of Compton.
For all the ways he’d tried to reform himself and to pretend to be “human,” Bill had never been able to get that soul back. That is why pity and hate lodged side by side within Eric when he thought of the weaselly Compton.
Eric sighed as he went into his private bathroom and started the shower. Indeed, tolerating his life with Freyda had not been nearly as bad as living through his time with Appius, but—every once in a while—the toil of it became “trying” for him.
He straightened his shoulders as he stepped into the shower and reminded himself why he was enduring his time with the petty-minded bitch of a queen. First—he had to; Appius had seen to that, and de Castro had endorsed the enslavement. Second—he needed to; Sookie, whether she knew it or not, was safer because of his servitude. Third—he could; he was a survivor. And—as he reminded himself—it wasn’t nearly as difficult to prostrate himself before Freyda as it had been to do the same before Appius.
With Appius, Eric had needed to “like” what was happening to him, and—since Appius had been able to feel Eric’s emotions through the maker-child bond—that “like” couldn’t be faked.
Psychologists now had terms to describe the strategies that Eric had eventually adopted for survival’s sake: dissociation, Stockholm syndrome, depersonalization disorder, etc. To Eric, it didn’t matter what one called his temporary secession from “self.” The only thing that mattered was that it had eventually worked. Appius had become bored with him—but only after Eric had learned how to completely wall in and close off all of his “own” feelings and desires.
Once free, Eric had gone on. It had taken him a while to reestablish “himself,” but he’d found the soul that he’d hidden from Appius. He’d moved on. He’d made his own children, whom he had treated well. Thus, he’d proven to himself that he was not a product of his maker in the ways that truly mattered. He’d earned respect from other vampires, while his maker had never managed to do the same. He’d put down roots and had made a small name for himself. But mostly he’d carved out a modest place in the world for himself—a little corner too small for Appius to be interested in.
Weeks and months and years and decades and centuries had gone by with Eric belonging to himself, though—lest Appius become titillated by him again—Eric had been cautious about how much he’d let himself feel. He could pinpoint the day that that “un-feeling” had changed, though he could never make himself regret it. That day had brought Sookie Stackhouse into his world, and—only then—had Eric remembered what it was like to really feel without making a conscious choice to do so.
To feel by intuition.
To feel according to nature, without being forced or forcing himself.
To just find himself feeling what he wanted to feel again.
He’d once told Sookie that he hated having feelings. That statement had been both true and false. He’d hated his feelings, but not for their own sake. He’d hated the possible consequences of those feelings.
Eric couldn’t help but to hypothesize that it was his own feelings that had spurred Appius to begin planning for new kinds of enslavement for him. And that would have made sense. Eric could now recognize that he’d felt affection for Sookie early on—probably as early as their interactions in Dallas. Yes—certainly that early. After the church, both in the elevator and when he’d begun seeing to her wounds, he’d been feeling something unrecognizable.
How better to destroy that feeling in him than to force him to marry a petty and malicious vampire queen? Appius had always known how to aim well in hurting his progeny.
Eric soaped himself up for a second time. He knew that this season of his existence—this forced servitude to Freyda—would eventually fade into the past. What mattered to him was that Sookie was safe. And he would see to it that her decedents were safe as well—before he, too, faded into history.
He wondered if Sookie had born her child yet. When he’d last spoken with Niall four months earlier, she’d been pregnant, but he didn’t know how far along she was. In the picture of Sookie that Niall had given to him, she’d looked to be about four or five months into her pregnancy. She’d looked happy, but tired—as Eric knew was common for pregnant women.
Having thoroughly bathed, Eric got out of the shower and dried off before cleaning his teeth and mouth even more vigorously than he’d just cleaned his body. He thanked the gods for the wonders of toothpaste and mouthwash a they successfully eradicated all lingering “tastes” of the Oklahoma queen.
There was one thing that Eric had been most grateful for regarding Freyda—her paranoia. She’d ordered him to pleasure her almost nightly since their “marriage” had begun, but she’d never required for him to stay in her bed. Being older, he could rise before her. And she worried that he might harm her during her day-rest. So—thankfully—Eric had been able to sleep in his own chamber and in his own coffin every day.
He dressed fully—as he always did before getting into his coffin. It was a precaution—just in case he was moved unexpectedly during the day. The state-of-the-art coffin couldn’t be opened by anyone other than himself; however, it could be moved. And, of course, he didn’t trust Freyda any more than she trusted him.
After entering a ten-digit code, Eric climbed into his coffin. Once inside, he would change the code before he slept—just in case Freyda had snuck a recording device into his chambers.
He lay down and waited for the lid to shut. It was still fifteen minutes before sundown, so he flipped on the little light in his resting chamber. He quickly used the keypad to alter the code and engage the locks. Now the coffin could be opened only from the inside. He grabbed the book he’d been reading and got himself comfortable in the limited space before opening The Count of Monte Cristo.
He immediately noticed that something was “wrong.” He never marked his page, for he always remembered exactly where he’d left off; however, today there was a piece of paper in the book—no an envelope. And he hadn’t put it there!
Instantly, Eric’s body went on high alert. He inhaled deeply. Nothing. No scent but his own.
As he examined the envelope, words began to appear. He read: Thanks to my magic, only your eyes may see what is written without or within. You should wait the rest of the eight months before calling me—just to be safe. But I hope you do call me. You know the number.
“Niall,” Eric whispered aloud. The vampire couldn’t fathom how the fairy had managed to get into his coffin—a coffin that had been warded by a witch, as well as outfitted with the best security that technology could create. He also didn’t question that it had—indeed—been the fairy.
Eric carefully opened the envelope, and—as soon as he did—he smelled her. He allowed the tear that immediately blurred his focus to fall. He thumbed it into his mouth quickly and took a single piece of folded paper from the envelope.
As he opened the thick parchment, he saw flowing, elaborate handwriting in the style of the scribes of old. The words seemed to be a fairy tale. He read:
Once upon a time, there lived a vampire and a fairy.
Tested by centuries and circumstances, the vampire had closed himself off from the world of emotions. But the joke was on the world, for shielded behind a wall of the vampire’s own careful making was the most beautiful heart the world had ever seen—misplaced but not lost, scarred but not broken.
As fate would have it, the only one with the ability to see the vampire’s heart had built shields of her own. This girl—part fairy and part human, but with the blood of the Dae as well—was much younger than the vampire. And, though she could see into the very minds of most beings in her realm, she was frightened to look into her own heart—let alone the hearts of others.
For a long time, the vampire and the fairy—natural enemies, after all—hurt each other. Most of this hurt was unintentional, the product of their own desires for self-preservation. However, through the hurt, they also loved. But even that love—through fate’s design—left them hurting even more.
Both too stubborn to admit their true heart’s desire, they kept their shields up. And they lost each other.
But fate was not completely unkind. All was not lost, after all.
Unbeknownst to the fairy, the vampire had made sure that she was kept safe. But—one day—the fairy’s eyes were opened to the truth and to the pain that her purposely closed eyes had caused. She became aware of both her own mistakes and those of the vampire.
They were not the mistakes that she had thought they had made.
They were mistakes seeded by misunderstanding and fear—but they could be mended.
Therefore, the fairy lifted her voice into the early dawn sky, somehow knowing that the vampire would still be awake, and she asked for her heart’s desire:
“We cannot go back to the beginning,” she said, “but we can go forward together. We could make a home together. I would stay with you always. We could know each other’s bodies in every way, night after night. We could also learn each other’s hearts—in every way. I love you. And I will not forget that love again. We could work so that neither of us forgets. We would not be poor in the things that mattered. We would help each other be whole.
Eric paused for a moment, recalling the words he’d spoken to Sookie before the witch war—while he was still under Hallow’s spell. The words in the story were so similar to those, but somehow fuller.
He read on:
The fairy spoke out only one more request into the dawn light. She asked for the vampire’s forgiveness—but not for her most obvious mistakes, though she’d made plenty. She asked that he forgive her for making him believe that she wanted only a broken, cursed version of himself.
She too had been broken then—cursing herself with doubts and fear.
But the fairy was not afraid anymore. And she no longer doubted what she truly wanted or what she needed to give up in order to get it.
Come what may, the fairy resolved to wait for the vampire’s answer. But she did not despair, for she had found hope again. She placed all of her faith into the northern-blowing wind and prayed that it would find its rightful home—inside of the beautiful heart of her beloved.
The story stopped there, and even as Eric finished reading, the words disappeared and were replaced by Sookie’s handwriting. As his body registered that the sun was indeed rising, he read the new words.
Only you can say how the story ends—or how it could begin anew.
Tomorrow night, Felipe de Castro will be calling you. He is going to tell you that he’s uncovered a plot engineered by Freyda to kill me and my two-month-old son. Felipe will say that he plans to protect me and the child no matter what, but he will also propose a change to your contract with him.
In exchange for irrefutable evidence that Freyda has broken the marriage contract by plotting to end my life, he will ask certain things of you. He will ask that you be the regent of Arkansas—answering to him, of course—for as long as he’s king of Nevada. He will ask for your vow that you will serve him without question and without attempting any kind of uprising. He will ask that you continue your exile from me for the duration of my life. However, he will also have carrots for you: the promise that you may see and communicate with Pam and Karin as often as you want, as well as the biggest incentive of all: the opportunity to kill Freyda with impunity before the Vampire Council takes her into custody. It has been foreseen that you will take him up on his offer—thus exchanging one kind of servitude for another.
I am writing to ask that you do NOT take Felipe’s bait.
When Felipe calls, do nothing—except that which goes against your every instinct. For the next two nights, you must protect Freyda with your life. And—even after that—you must not kill her. Freyda must stay alive because hers is the hand that will kill Felipe, and she will lose her own life in the process.
I wish I could tell you more—tell you everything, but I have been told not to. And I trust the one who has told me that.
Please, Eric, I know that I’ve got no right to ask you to trust me, but I need your trust now.
Don’t try to stop Freyda from killing me.
The night before our divorce, you told me this: “No matter what happens in public—no matter what, don’t doubt that I love you and care about your welfare…as much as I am able.”
I used the last six words of that sentence as an excuse to doubt you. I didn’t understand what those words really meant. And I know—now—that you wanted me to doubt you.
In fact, you wanted me to hate you and to move on without you. I tried. But it was no good, Eric. “Without you” isn’t possible. Even if I never see you again, you are part of me.
I’m sorry that it took me so long to understand the words you said to me that night. But I understand them now, and I need to say them back to you.
No matter what happens in public—no matter how things appear or what is reported—please have faith in us. Please don’t doubt that my love for you endures. Please don’t doubt that I am doing all of this for your welfare, even as you have spent the last three years paying a heavy price for mine. As much as I am able—with all of my skill and all of my power and all of my determination—with all of my faith and all of my hope and all of my love—with everything that I am or want to be—I will fight for you.
Please fight for me.
Change fate with me, Eric.
As Eric finished the page, the words disappeared again, and—this time—no others appeared in their place. Then the parchment in his hands also disappeared, taking with it all traces of Sookie’s scent.
His hands shaking as his emotions overwhelmed him, Eric looked again at the envelope. He reread Niall’s words there: Thanks to my magic, only your eyes may see what is written without or within. You should wait the rest of the eight months before calling me—just to be safe. But I hope you do call me. You know the number.
As soon as he’d finished the last word, the envelope, too, disappeared.
“Eight months,” Eric said, his words half-prayer and half-promise.
For the first time in a very, very long time—he went to his day-death with a smile on his face.
Eight months and two days later; two hours before dawn
“You are sure?” Felipe asked his spy.
“Yes,” Mena reported. “I was at Fangtasia earlier tonight when Sheriff Ravenscroft fell to her knees. Karin was there as well. And she, too, fell.”
“So Northman is dead,” Felipe said with a smile on his lips.
“Yes,” the vampiress confirmed. “At just the time you said it would happen, both of his progenies fell and wept. They quickly went to the sheriff’s office, but—soon after that—the bar was closed for the night. Half an hour later, Northman’s remaining allies in the area were escorted into the office. They all left with somber expressions on their faces, except for Bubba, who was weeping openly. Even Thalia seemed out of sorts.”
Unable to stop himself, the king laughed with glee.
“Should I stay in Shreveport?” Mena asked.
“Yes. There’s still a decade left to go before Ravenscroft’s contract is up. I believe it would be prudent to keep her under surveillance.”
“As you wish, your majesty. Are you sure you do not want me to eliminate her?” Mena asked. “It might be easier—if you doubt her fealty.”
Felipe thought about it for a moment. It was a subject he’d raised with his spy before, and it was why he’d had her commence a romantic relationship with Pam—after there was no longer a need to watch the telepaths’ home from Compton’s home, of course. Mena had now been living with Pam and Karin for almost a month.
“No—as much as she’s unpleasant to deal with, Ravenscroft is my most profitable sheriff in the state. And—now that her maker’s no more—she is no longer any kind of threat to me. However—like I said—I want you to keep a close eye on her. Even though it would be unlikely for the Viking’s unfortunate plane accident to be traced back to me, I don’t want her getting any foolish ideas about retribution—at least none that I’m not informed about in advance,” he finished with a chuckle.
“Of course, your majesty.”
“What of Compton?” Felipe asked somewhat irritably. “He emailed me a few days ago to—once again—report a delay with the newest edition of the database.”
“The last I saw him, he was still deeply mourning the loss of Sookie Merlotte. Sheriff Ravenscroft even told him to stop coming to Fangtasia since he tended to burst into tears periodically.”
Felipe scoffed. “A vampire—showing such weakness in public! Fucking pathetic!”
“Would you like for me to initiate contact with Compton—check up on him as a friend?”
“Yes—you should try to bolster his spirits,” Felipe agreed, “for the sake of my database!”
“Shall I go to Bon Temps tonight, your majesty? Or should I stay in Shreveport and make myself available to the sheriff—since she is grieving.”
Felipe considered for a moment. “Stay near Pam. And get me details!” he said excitedly. “I want to know of every sorrow Northman’s final death has caused.”
“Yes, your majesty.”
Having nothing more to say to his spy, the king hung up.
He smiled as he straightened his clothing. The donors he’d fed from and fucked had been adequate, but they’d left him ultimately unsatisfied. Having confirmation of the Viking’s death, however, had been more than enough to satisfy his zest for blood. He just wished he’d been able to deliver the final-death blow personally.
The first report of Northman’s final death had come from Felipe’s assassin, who had successfully planted a bomb on the private jet that was taking Northman back to his new kingdom—Alaska—after a visit with his vampire children. Felipe scoffed at the idea of the Viking being a king, yet—soon after the fiasco with Freyda—the Vampire Council offered him the state of Alaska when its queen had decided to step down in order to return to Europe.
However, now that Mena had confirmed Northman’s demise, Felipe could truly relax. After all, Northman could fly, and there had been a remote chance that he could have survived the bomb. Felipe was very pleased that the Viking was out of the way—finally.
Felipe shook his head as he thought of Northman. Eric had shocked him when he’d refused to renegotiate their contract and take Freyda’s head. In fact, instead of showing any residual affection for Sookie, Eric had acted indifferently to the threat against her! And the Viking had basically hung up on the king!
Felipe growled a little. He felt that Eric was ultimately to blame for the telepaths’ deaths. After all, Felipe had been counting on Eric in the scenario. But the Viking had shocked him. Not only had Eric made clear that he no longer cared about Sookie, but he’d also managed to kill the assassins whom Felipe sent to take out Freyda when it became clear that the Viking wouldn’t be doing the job.
And to make matters even worse, Freyda had—at the last fucking minute—changed her plans for killing Sookie and the child. And the bitch queen had not told him of those changes until she’d called him to celebrate her success! Of course, that was before she realized the assassins had been sent by him—before she rolled over and testified that he, too, was complicit in the telepaths’ deaths.
Of course, the deaths of Sookie and the child had led to the Viking being released from his contracts with both Freyda and himself. But Felipe recognized that things could have been much worse. Thankfully, some members of the Vampire Council could still be bribed, and Eric had actually testified on Felipe’s behalf—at least in a manner of speaking. He’d told the tribunal the truth—that Felipe had asked for Eric’s aid in stopping Freyda. Ironically it had been Eric’s testimony that had ensured that Felipe received only a minor fine for his involvement in Freyda’s plot. Moreover, a little more money had ensured that Felipe’s role was hushed up by the Vampire Council—for the sake of peace, naturally.
Northman had been offered Freyda’s head, but he’d not taken it, a fact which—again—surprised the hell out of Felipe. The Viking had also been offered Oklahoma, but he’d not wanted the state either. In fact, Eric had been more-less indifferent to all of the proceedings involving Sookie’s death and the trials of the two monarchs involved in it.
Eric had asked the Vampire Council for only two things: first, that they accept his request to be released from all contracts negotiated by his maker, including any that turned up in the future; and second, that he be given permission to stay in Louisiana for up to one month per year in order to see his progeny—without having to deal with the king of the state.
Felipe had sneered at the Viking’s audacity in making that particular request, but he was in no position to voice any dissent, given the fact that he wanted to leave the courtroom as inauspiciously as possible—before the tribunal decided they’d let him off too easy.
As for Freyda, she’d been allowed to keep her throne—since Northman hadn’t wanted it. However, she’d been sentenced to a month in silver chains. She’d also been ordered to pay substantial reparations to Sookie’s brother and a huge fine to the Vampire Council.
Felipe had learned from Mena that Jason Stackhouse, along with his wife and children, had moved into the old farmstead that had been Sookie’s home. After receiving the reparations, the brother had quit his low-paying job and had become a farmer—of all things. Sadly enough, none of Jason Stackhouse’s children were telepaths, and Mena had also reported that Jason was about as ordinary as a human could get—both in the taste of his blood and in the knowledge in his head. Sadly, his children seemed to be following in their father’s footsteps on both accounts.
Felipe sighed. Unfortunately, the telepath ship had sailed because of the car accident Freyda had successfully orchestrated. Sookie had been driving a tiny, rickety vehicle—the kind humans referred to as a “death trap.” And it had been. Felipe shook his head. He was surprised that the girl wouldn’t have purchased something sturdier following the Sigebert incident. But, then again, she’d never been known for her intelligence.
So Sookie had been killed on impact—as had her child—when a glamoured human drove his semi-truck into her headfirst. Freyda’s plan had been so simple—so effective.
And so quick.
The deaths had been confirmed by both Mena and Compton, who had woken up that night not feeling his “new” blood tie with Sookie anymore.
Felipe shook his head. He almost felt sorry for Compton. After so long, the vampire had finally gotten his blood into Sookie again. That had occurred on the night that the telepath had given birth to her child. She had hemorrhaged after the delivery, so Dr. Ludwig had called Sookie’s vampire neighbor. Sadly for Bill, only two months after that—two months during which Bill had been making strides in re-earning Sookie’s romantic affections, according to Mena—the telepath had been killed.
Yes, Felipe almost felt sorry for Compton. But the younger vampire was just too damned pathetic for pity! Plus, he was holding up the release of the king’s more comprehensive database, and that Felipe could not abide!
Later that night; fifty minutes before dawn
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Bill demanded.
“Just paying my respects,” Eric returned evenly.
“Respect? You don’t know the meaning of the word!” Bill stormed. “Get the fuck away from there!” he yelled, gesturing toward Sookie’s grave.
“I will. Soon,” Eric responded, his voice still calm. “After all, it is only fifty minutes until dawn.”
“You have no right to be here!” Bill snarled.
Eric ignored Bill’s comment. “You have taken good care of Sookie’s grave—I see. Strange that you haven’t taken such care of her child’s grave too.”
“The shifter sees to that one!” Bill said bitterly.
“Yes—I was told that Merlotte was the father of Sookie’s child. Tell me—was the little one a telepath?”
Bill nodded. “Yes. That is what Sookie confided in me,” he said somewhat triumphantly.
“And you kept her confidence?”
“Of course!” Bill said both insistently and proudly.
Eric shrugged as he looked down at the two graves. “Perhaps it is best that the child died with his mother then. After all, without her to guide him, his telepathy may have become the same detriment to him as it was to his mother.”
“You cold bastard!” Bill accused, looking as if he were going to throw down the flowers in his hand and attack Eric.
“Calm yourself, Bill,” the Viking said coolly. “Let us not fight over Sookie’s grave as we once fought for her affections—especially not since you ultimately won, according to Pam and Karin.”
“Sookie loved me again!” Bill said insistently, even as his expression changed from anger to intense grief and then back again.
“And you did nothing to influence that?” Eric asked.
“Of course not,” Bill denied, though his eyes conveyed some guilt.
“You did not attempt to soften her emotions with your blood then?” the Viking asked, but then put up his hand before Bill could respond. “Actually, don’t bother answering that. It no longer matters—does it?”
“After her child was born, she lost a lot of blood,” Bill defended. “I gave her my blood to save her life.”
“Then I’m certain she was grateful,” Eric responded evenly.
“She was falling in love with me again,” Bill returned, looking right at Eric with spite in his eyes. “We’d been talking about dating officially and even sharing blood in the days before her death.”
“Then it does sound as if your relationship was on the mend,” Eric commented. “It seems that your persistence paid off, after all.”
The Viking looked at Bill’s hand. “White daisies,” he commented.
“Sookie’s favorites,” the younger vampire said with an air of triumph in his voice.
“Yes, she always did love daisies,” Eric agreed, looking at the flower arrangement in his own hands.
“Then why bring her those?” Bill asked, scowling at the offering in Eric’s hands.
“Amaryllis blooms?” Eric seemed to be contemplating something for a moment. “It is the meaning of the flower that compelled me to bring these.”
“What does it mean?”
“Its meaning comes partially from a legend about a nymph.”
Eric sighed as he looked at the grave where other bunches of daisies lay. “The nymph, Amaryllis, was incredibly shy—timid even. However, she broke out of her shell and bravely let herself love. She chose Alteo, a shepherd, to bestow her love upon. Alteo had both uncommon strength and beauty; however, sadly for Amaryllis, he did not return her affections. Still—she had hope that she could win him. And she learned of his heart’s desire—a flower.”
“A flower?” Bill asked his brow wrinkled.
“Yes—but not just any flower. Alteo wanted a flower so exceptional that none like it had ever been known. Amaryllis, willing to do anything for love, consulted the oracle of Delphi.” Eric’s face fell. “But to give Alteo what he wanted, Amaryllis was destined for pain. The oracle told her to go to Alteo’s doorstep for thirty nights in a row. She was to wear white and pierce her own heart with an arrow of gold. Alteo never recognized that she was right outside his door—night after night.” Eric paused and gazed at the headstone.
“What happened?” Bill asked.
“The fool finally opened his door,” Eric scoffed. “And there he found this flower,” he said as he held up one of the striking red blooms. “The flower was all that was left of Amaryllis.”
Bill’s sneer was back. “I still don’t see why you selected that flower. Your story tells of only foolishness and unrequited love.”
Eric smirked. “It tells of much more than that. You would not understand.”
“Try me,” the younger vampire said stubbornly.
Eric contemplated for a moment and then spoke. “I brought these flowers to remind myself not to be a fool. To show that I understand that Amaryllis’s beauty is found in her sacrifice, not in the flower. To fathom how determined one must be to—unseen—pierce her own heart night after night. To recognize that determination and love like that should be met with pride. And to understand that a heart must sometimes be pierced many times before it can be found.”
“It is a beautiful thing when a heart can be made to flower—do you not think? Do you not find hope in that?” Eric asked.
“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about!” Bill said unpleasantly.
“I told you that you would not,” Eric smirked.
“Just leave your damned flowers and go, Eric!” Bill said. “And don’t come back!”
“I won’t,” the Viking said softly. “You are right that this place is not for me. My place in the legend is outside the door, healing Amaryllis after her sacrifice has finally ended.”
Bill shook his head. “You talk in fucking riddles!”
“Then let me speak clearly,” Eric said with sudden fire in his eyes. “Did you know that de Castro, your king and master, was part of the plot to kill Sookie?”
Bill gasped. “He wasn’t.”
“Oh—but he was, Bill. And there’s more. Had Sookie not been killed, de Castro had already plotted to take her and the child for his own.”
“That’s not true! He told me that Sookie could stay with me—even after I’d brought her to Las Vegas!”
Eric smiled knowingly. “So you have reverted to old habits then? Securing the telepath for the king? Procuring Sookie through means of seduction? Stealing her life without her ever knowing it was being taken from her?”
“No—it wasn’t the same as before!” Bill asserted. “Sookie was to be mine; she was to bond with me. The king would have used her only sparingly! He’d given me his word!”
“You’re right—not like Sophie-Anne at all,” Eric responded sarcastically. “Anyway, I’m not here to argue semantics. As I said, I came to pay my respects—to Sookie and to you.”
“Yes,” Eric said with a nod of his head. “I had figured that your remains would be in the ground next to her grave—and not in the vampire way,” he said with a wink.
“What?” Bill asked dumbfounded.
“You—not living on without Sookie,” Eric said as if his point were obvious. “Given the way you always claimed to love her, I figured that you would have met the sun by now. I have ambivalent feelings about being wrong about your end.”
There was a moment of silence between them.
“I think of it—of meeting the sun—every morning,” Bill said, looking forlorn.
“And yet you linger,” Eric commented. “Why? To tend to a grave without a body?” he asked.
“Sookie was burned so badly,” Bill gasped out. “The truck had been carrying . . . .” His voice caught.
“Gasoline. Yes. I heard,” Eric said with a hard edge to his voice. Freyda had announced the fact to him with false sorrow—in front of the entire court. Yet he’d somehow managed to stay his hand—to keep his faith. In fact, he’d saved Freyda’s life from Felipe’s assassins not an hour after the queen’s dramatic announcement.
“I woke up, and Sookie was gone from my blood,” Bill said as tears started to flow down his cheeks. “I followed her scent to the accident site,” he added with despair. “When I found the scene . . . ,” he paused and wept openly for a moment. “I could find nothing left of her. The fire had been too hot.”
“Yes—I heard that dental records had to be used by human authorities to make the identification official,” Eric said almost nonchalantly. “I was told the shifter was the only one who could smell hints of the child in the ash.”
“You cold bastard,” Bill accused. “How can you talk of them like that—so unfeelingly?”
“How else should I talk of them?” Eric asked curiously. “They are gone. And—unlike you—I never vowed to die for Sookie.”
“No! You wouldn’t.”
“Exactly,” Eric said, barely managing to keep the indifferent expression on his face. Eric knew that if his own final death would have helped Sookie, he would have already met the sun. But he also knew that his death would have left her less protected. So he’d chosen to live on—for her.
Eric looked at the younger vampire. “Your fervor in offering your life for Sookie is why I thought you’d be ash by now. But,” he sighed, “it seems you were insincere in the offer.”
“You know nothing of the kind of love I had—have—for Sookie!”
“You are right about that,” Eric said. “I could never have loved Sookie as you love her.”
“Tell me, king,” Bill said sarcastically, “do you miss your vampire wife? I heard of some of the things you did with her in public court!”
“No—I cannot say that I do miss Freyda,” Eric said evenly, “though I am currently in final negotiations to secure a wife whom I much prefer!”
“How can you go on—now that Sookie is gone?” Bill asked, seemingly sincere in his question.
“I go on easily, Bill,” Eric responded. “In fact, all my choices have been easy lately. The question I ask is how do you go on?”
“I love her!” Bill yelled.
“Clearly,” Eric intoned. “You bring flowers to an empty grave every night. Thank you so much for showing me what love truly is after a thousand years,” he deadpanned. “Quite enlightening.”
“You know nothing about my love for Sookie!”
“I believe you already said something to that effect already,” Eric commented as he put down the amaryllis blooms. “Did you know that Sookie loved Jane Austen?”
“Of course!” Bill answered, though he was clearly mystified at the sudden topic change.
“I had managed to avoid Miss Austen’s oeuvre for almost two centuries, despite Pam’s prodding. But Sookie convinced me that they were worth reading. I must admit that I did find one of the novels to be quite amusing—Mansfield Park.
“Sookie’s least favorite!” Bill said triumphantly.
Eric chuckled. “Yes. I believe that one was her least favorite, though the copy in her room was still worn from multiple readings. But you are right; she enjoyed the others more, probably because Mansfield Park hit too close to home for her.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The heroine—Fanny Price. She was unwanted too—like Sookie in many ways. Of course, Sookie had her grandmother—until you let her die, that is.”
“What?” Bill asked, not quite able to hide his guilt.
“I never told Sookie, but I always knew the truth about your responsibility in Gran’s murder.”
“What truth? I had nothing to do with Gran dying!”
Eric looked at Bill coldly. “At best—your incompetence led to Sookie’s grandmother’s death. You knew that women who’d been with vampires had been targeted, yet you allowed yourself to be seen with Sookie. You should have—at the very least—staged a public performance where Sookie broke things off with you because you were a vampire—a godless monster. She would have hated lying, but that small—temporary—deception would have protected her. After that, all you would have had to do was to keep your distance from her while in public. Or, perhaps, you could have asked your employer, the queen, to arrange for a guard for her home. Or you could have asked me. Even then, I would have been obliged to provide Sookie with both day and night guards.
“But you did none of those things; you left her vulnerable—and, because she was vulnerable, so was her grandmother. I refuse to believe that you didn’t consider the danger Sookie and her grandmother were in—especially given where they lived. So,” Eric paused dramatically, “you were either completely incompetent in handling the threat or you decided to take advantage of the situation.”
“What do you mean?” Bill asked quietly, his voice shaking with a mixture of rage and guilt.
“My theory is that you heard Rene Lenier enter Sookie and Adele’s home. That was the night you spoke at Sookie’s grandmother’s meeting. Sookie told me about that event. She also told me that she’d gone out with Sam after the meeting, leaving Gran alone. I can’t imagine a scenario where you wouldn’t have been monitoring Sookie’s home every night—especially the night that the shifter had taken Sookie out and was, therefore, interfering with your mission to seduce her. So—it stands to reason that you heard Rene enter the home and then stalk Adele. I’m sure you had an invitation into the house by then—or, at the very least, you could have yelled to warn Adele. But you didn’t. Sookie’s grandmother being dead meant that Sookie would be more vulnerable and isolated—all alone in the world. And—there you were—so close and so willing to take that loneliness away.”
“I wouldn’t do that!” Bill yelled out defensively.
“Perhaps not. But even if your only sin was carelessness, your actions—or lack thereof—led to Adele’s death.”
“I would have never hurt Sookie! I love her! I would have died for her.”
Eric smirked. “No man dies of love but on the stage.”
“It’s a line from Mansfield Park,” Eric smirked. “Fanny Price accused Mr. Crawford of being an actor when it came to his show of love—remember? And for a while she tried to act along with him—so that she could have a comfortable, ‘normal’ life—but eventually she got tired of living a lie.”
“I was never acting when I told Sookie I loved her!” Bill insisted.
“You are such a fine speaker that I’m afraid you may actually end in convincing yourself,” Eric recited with a spot-on British accent. “Fanny said that too—by the way.”
“Shut the fuck up!” Bill cried as more tears gathered in his eyes. “I loved Sookie! I would have died for her! I didn’t do anything that hurt Gran!”
“No Bill—you didn’t do anything,” Eric agreed. “And—as I observed before—you are still alive.”
“Sookie was the love of my life—my soul mate!”
“Should I have a soul mate, do you know what I would do if I lost her?” Eric asked.
“What?” Bill responded defiantly as he brushed his tears away.
“I would meet the sun,” Eric said matter-of-factly, “unless my beloved needed me to stay behind for some reason. But if I were free to follow my soul mate into death, I would not pause. I would not bring flowers to a grave—empty or full. I would not shed a tear that wasn’t still on my face when the sun burned me.”
“And yet you still live,” Bill yelled spitefully. “I was right! I knew that you never truly loved Sookie!”
“And I knew you were always an actor, Bill,” Eric said before taking to the air.
Bill wanted to attack Eric; however, he was powerless as the older vampire flew away.
“Fucking coward!” Bill yelled as he slumped to his knees on Sookie’s flower-strewn grave. He threw the red blooms Eric had brought as far as he could.
“Fucking coward,” he repeated in a whimper as tears began to fly from his eyes. At that moment, he wasn’t sure if he was talking about Eric or himself.
Later that night; ten minutes before dawn
Eric landed in a private airfield near Monroe.
“Well?” Sam asked.
“It is a fifty-fifty proposition,” Eric reported. “My gut tells me that Bill will try to crawl into a hole before the sun comes up. It would, however, be best if he just did the world a favor and met the sun.”
“Yeah,” the shifter agreed. “Are you sure he won’t be contacting Felipe? You’re supposed to be dead, after all.”
“It’s covered,” Eric said simply.
“And if Bill doesn’t willingly meet the sun?”
“It’s covered,” Eric said again. “How about you? Are you ready to go?”
“Yeah—but how is my disappearance going to be explained?”
“I hate your fucking guts—you know?” Sam commented.
“I know,” Eric said with a smirk.
The next night
“I have the database, your majesty. Sadly, it seems that Compton had not been updating it—just as you’d hypothesized. However, I was able to secure all of his computer equipment and notes before the human authorities could seize them.”
“What the fuck happened, Mena?” Felipe asked, even as he pinched the bridge of his nose. He was pissed off! If the database hadn’t been updated, then the profits he’d been counting on from the sales of the new editions would not be available. And that meant that he’d not be able to go forward with his plans to break ground for his new casino/hotel.
“It is unclear, your majesty. The human authorities are hypothesizing that, in the early hours of the morning yesterday, Compton and Merlotte got into some kind of altercation on Sookie Merlotte’s grave. By the time I got on scene an hour after sunset tonight, their remains had already been removed. Whatever happened—whether Compton was dead before or after the dawn—his body was burned to ash once the sun rose.”
“You are sure it was him?”
“Yes, your majesty. I went to the morgue to examine the remains. His scent was unmistakable.”
“And the shifter?”
“I was able to confirm his identity as well. His body, too, had been partially burned. However, his scent was unmistakable.”
“What else can you tell me?”
“At the gravesite, several large empty bottles of alcohol were found—as were silver chains. The sheriff I glamoured believes that the shifter tied up Compton and then poured the alcohol on him so that it would act as an accelerant once the sun came up. And, in addition to being burned, the shifter had a single bullet wound to the head.”
“Self-inflicted?” Felipe asked.
“That is what the sheriff believes. He thinks that Merlotte shot himself as Compton was burning. His body then fell into a puddle of the alcohol near Compton, which is why it caught fire as well.”
“So a murder-suicide,” the king posited.
“That conclusion fits the evidence I have seen,” Mena returned.
“Or,” Felipe mused, “perhaps the two had some kind of suicide pact and Compton tried to back out.”
“The location of their bodies lends credence to that theory,” Mena responded. “And, as I have reported before, Compton had been despondent following Mrs. Merlotte’s death.”
“What of Merlotte?” Felipe asked. “Why would he kill himself?”
“The human sheriff believes it was a combination of things, including the deaths of his ex-wife and especially his infant son, as well as the state of his finances. The preliminary information that they have collected indicates that the shifter’s business was in grave trouble. However, the sheriff seems to blame alcohol as much as anything else. He thinks that Merlotte got drunk and took out his rage on Compton, whom he blamed for his divorce. And then, still in a state of inebriation, he shot himself.”
The line was silent for a moment.
“Ah well,” Felipe sighed, “at least I’ll no longer have to deal with Compton’s nonsense when it comes to the database. I’m sure that my people can improve upon his methods. What of Northman’s children?”
“I know nothing of Karin, but Sheriff Ravenscroft is inconsolable following the death of her maker.”
“It is ironic that so many of Sookie’s paramours died on the same night.” Felipe chuckled heartily. “Perhaps I should contact Quinn—just to make sure.”
Mena made no comment to that.
“Make sure that Compton’s notes and computer equipment are shipped to me tonight,” Felipe said after he’d finished laughing.
“Of course, your majesty. I will include my notes regarding how the equipment was configured as well.”
“Good. And inform me of any developments regarding Ravenscroft.”
“Of course,” Mena said as she hung up.
“Will there be any problems from him?” Aphra asked her old friend as the vampiress put her phone into her pocket.
“No. Felipe rarely questions the things he wants to hear,” Mena answered.
“I wish you did not have to stay in his service,” Aphra commented. “You are missed at home.”
“My mistress has assured me that my tenure with the king will not last for much longer. And Pam’s company is lovely.”
“Well—that is something at least,” Aphra said with a wink.
“Tell me,” Mena asked with interest, “did Compton meet the sun without your help?”
Aphra shrugged. “I may have used a little magic to appear to him as Sookie’s ghost.”
Mena chuckled. “So you helped him along.”
Aphra shrugged again. “I did not do much; I merely distracted him from seeking shelter at dawn. However, I am almost positive that he would have met the sun voluntarily. The Norseman had played him masterfully.”
Mena scoffed. “Compton deserved a much more painful death in my view.”
“True,” Aphra agreed. “Bill’s past crimes—and those he would have committed in the future—were enough to warrant a more drawn-out end for him. However, our mistress was clear about where and how his death needed to occur so that suspicions would not be raised. Sookie and Eric deserve their time of peace, after all.”
Mena kicked the ground with her boot. “Still—I would have liked to have seen Compton suffer—as he made others suffer.”
Aphra nodded in agreement. “I will try to visit soon,” she said after a few moments of silence had passed.
The vampiress smiled. “I would enjoy that. Give our mistress my greetings.”
“I will,” Aphra said before popping away.
Two nights later
I opened my eyes to find myself in my trusty coffin—the only thing I’d saved from my time in Oklahoma. I could tell immediately that I was in a moving airplane—just as I’d expected to be. I could also tell that it was not quite dark.
I thought about the previous four days, two of which had been spent on one plane or another as I skipped from place to place in hopes of completely covering up my journey across the world with the shifter. Of course, it helped that we were both “dead,” but I had learned to be careful—very careful—and to take nothing for granted.
But—mostly—I’d learned to trust.
In her love for me.
Four nights earlier—on the night that I would have generally met Niall for our annual meeting outside of Freyda’s compound, I called Sookie’s great-grandfather, and the fairy had immediately popped to me at Fangtasia, where I was visiting Pam and Karin.
And then plans had been made and explanations—finally—had been given.
I generally hated being the last to know about things, but the story Niall had woven for me had made me burst with pride for Sookie and burst with even more hope for our future.
Apparently, the night that Sookie and Merlotte’s son, Finn, had been born, a strategy had also been hatched—a plan that originated from a “fan” of Sookie’s, the Ancient Pythoness herself.
It seemed that Pythia admired the girl who had worked so hard to save lives in Rhodes.
Added to that was the fact that Pythia had an ancient axe to grind with Appius Livius Ocella, my maker, and that had been enough motivation for her to want to help me. I hadn’t been given the details of that vendetta, nor did I ask for them. It was enough to have the ancient seer on my side.
As I waited for the sun to set, I went through the facts as I’d learned them.
During her pregnancy, Sookie had begun to have dreams, which led her to the conclusion that things were not as they seemed when it came to my actions. She’d also determined that she couldn’t stay married to Sam Merlotte since her heart would always belong to another—to me.
I smiled at that. It seemed that even though I’d done all I could to push her away, Sookie was mine—just as much as I had always remained hers.
I sighed. The night that Finn was born, Sookie had taken some of Bill’s blood. That thought made my skin crawl; however, I could tell from Niall’s description that Sookie had been even more disgusted by the notion, for the dreams had also “taught” her just how spiteful Compton was—just how much of an “actor” and manipulator he’d always been.
But Sookie had taken the blood at the bidding of the agent whom the Ancient Pythoness had inserted into her life. That night, Sookie, too, had needed to operate on faith. But she’d done it in order to have a chance at a future—with me.
I smiled again.
The newborn boy had been named Fintan Samuel by his parents; however, the official birth certificate had read John Stackhouse Merlotte. Sookie had wanted to “save” the child’s real name for when their “new” life started.
The day after Finn was born, more plans had been set into motion. The Ancient Pythoness had foreseen Felipe’s plan to eliminate Freyda and further entrap Eric, even while securing Sookie and her telepathic son as his personal assets.
Apparently the only part of the plan that Sookie had balked at had been revealing that Finn was a telepath; however, the Ancient Pythoness had assured her that the truth about the boy’s nature would travel no further than Felipe, for the king, too, had reasons for wanting to keep the boy’s telepathy a secret. Sookie had been given a choice about whether or not to tell Bill about her child’s telepathy.
It seemed that Compton’s fate, too, would hinge upon the choice he made if he became aware of “John’s” gift. In one set of the Ancient Pythoness’s visions, Compton said nothing to his king and went on to live a rather innocuous life. In another set of visions, Compton did tell Felipe about the child’s telepathy, and that choice led to him committing many other nefarious deeds.
In the end, Sookie had been the one to decide that Bill would be told. And—in passing that information along to Felipe—Compton had sealed his fate.
Apparently, I, too, had to be offered a “choice,” though Sookie had done all that she had been allowed to do in order to “stack the deck.” The story she’d written had been part of that “stacking.” But—in the end—the decision was left up to me. On the one hand, I could have taken Felipe up on his offer. I’d wanted very much to kill Freyda, and he’d given me the perfect opportunity. On the other hand, I would be forced to save Freyda’s life and have no opportunity to take revenge on either Felipe or Freyda. I would be relegated to bystander and would have to wait for the two monarchs to do each other in—earning no blood for my own sword.
It took me less than a second to make my choice. I opted for a chance at happiness, rather than a fleeting moment of revenge. And I knew that I would never regret that decision. Felipe and Freyda were not important. Killing them—even torturing them—would have satisfied me very little in the grand scheme of things. Their blood would not warm my body or my heart. Their deaths would not make me whole. They were nothing to me—after all—just remnants of an old existence I no longer wanted. They were relics left over from Appius’s reign on my life, and I did not want to hold onto anything from my maker.
By not taking Felipe’s bait and by not killing Freyda, I had unknowingly allowed several things to occur.
The first had been Sookie’s and Finn’s “deaths,” which the Ancient Pythoness had also “predicted.” The bodies found in the wreckage of Sookie’s car had been a recently buried mother and her child from Minneapolis. Dental records had been exchanged. Magic had been used to infuse the corpses with Sookie’s and Finn’s scents. At Sookie’s insistence, the random truck driver, whom Freyda’s minion had glamoured to drive straight into Sookie, had been glamoured again—this time to abandon his semi near where the accident was to occur and then move to Mississippi. There, Alcide had arranged for the man to get a new name and a new job, but—truth be told—Freyda’s minion had never followed up on the human after the accident. After all, he was just a means to an end.
After another already-dead human had been put into the gas-carrying truck, the accident had been staged by Sam and Ancient Pythoness’s agent. Meanwhile, Sookie had undergone a spell to eradicate her fresh blood tie with Bill. And violà! Suddenly there were several corroborations of Sookie’s death: dental records, a lost blood tie, the lingering scents of Sookie and her child at the scene of the accident, the remaining family members’ grief, a spy’s reports, and Freyda’s exultation.
And, even as Felipe learned of her death, Sookie was saying goodbye to a heavily glamoured Jason and Sam. She and her child were driven from the state by the Ancient Pythoness’s agent. They made their way to a private airfield in Indiana and then to their final destination—an island in the Ionian Sea, twenty miles off of the coast of Greece.
After Sookie’s “death,” things unfolded as the Ancient Pythoness had predicted. Felipe had, indeed, sent people to assassinate Freyda when I failed to do the job. But, even though it turned my stomach to do so, I had protected the queen—fulfilling my contract with her to the letter.
Felipe’s courier, who had been initially tasked by the king to pass along the evidence of Freyda’s duplicity to me, had met with a mysterious end, and the Vampire Council had been given the evidence of Freyda’s plot by an “anonymous” source.
Soon after, Freyda had been taken into custody by the Vampire Council, and—true to form—she’d turned on Felipe within a night. Trials had ensued. And I had been freed from any and all known and “unknown” contracts that my maker had negotiated.
The hardest part for me had been not killing Freyda when her head was offered to me at the trial. Using all of my own acting skills, I had told the court that—while I was happy to have an excuse to be freed from the marriage contract—I had no personal reason to execute Freyda since both my bond with and my marriage to Sookie had been broken long before the attempt on her life.
Of course, my real reason for inaction had been Sookie’s letter, which had indicated that Freyda would be the cause of Felipe’s death and that she would die soon after. I was willing to trust Sookie’s words. And I’d been relieved to wash my hands of the whole thing.
I left Freyda, Felipe, and the ghost of my maker in a conference room in Fort Worth, Texas, and went on with my life—never looking back.
The dust settled, and soon I was offered a kingship. Anxious to cultivate the appearance that I was settling into a new, “acceptable” role, I took the kingship in Alaska. Hell—I was actually quite happy to spend the summer months in my new kingdom. There, the nights were short and my waiting time was lessened.
In my limited time as king, however, I did perform my duty—well. I brought in a strong and trusted second—Maxwell Lee. The state had been well-run before me, and I kept it that way, even making some improvements and many plans for the future.
But—make no mistake—I never expected to remain king for long. I was just biding my time—counting down the days that would take me to the end of eight months.
I had faith that my scheduled call to Niall would lead me to my true future.
With Alaska running like a well-oiled machine, I had decided to visit my vampire children in Louisiana near the end of the eight months. Like me, Karin and Pam had been privy to very little in regards to Sookie and the plans concerning her and me. Before her “death,” Sookie had reminded them that things were not always as they appeared. And my clever children had simply gone on with their lives—like all was normal—after Sookie’s supposed death. They’d given away no hint that anything was other than it appeared on the surface.
And I was extremely proud of them—even more than usual.
From my conversation with Niall four nights before, I had learned about a lot more than the plot to get Sookie to safety. The fairy had also told me all about Felipe’s plans for my own death; my plane was to crash mysteriously over the northern Rockies as I made my way back to Alaska after my Louisiana visit.
In truth, I had been happy to have a convenient means to “die,” and I would be happy to stay “dead to the world” for a while. After all, I deserved an extended vacation after a thousand years.
Apparently, Pam and Karin had acted out their own roles beautifully, convincing all who were present at Fangtasia that I was—indeed—finally dead.
And, with my “death,” I was finally free to go to my heart’s desire. There was just one more loose end: Bill. I’d been told that his final death needed to happen, and I was more than happy to “help” him along as much as I could—without touching him, that is. That had been the one thing that Niall had made crystal clear to me—the one nonnegotiable order from the Ancient Pythoness. I could have a part in Bill’s death, but only as long as I didn’t physically kill him myself—or ask another to do it. However, I’d been told that I could “say” anything I wanted. And my talk with Compton had satisfied me to no end. It had been good to get a few things off of my chest; it had been good to see the pitiful excuse for a vampire crumble in my wake.
And—in the end—the younger vampire had surprised me. According to the Ancient Pythoness’s agent, Bill had stayed on Sookie’s grave and had indeed met the sun the morning after our little “chat.” I had certainly played upon Compton’s guilt, but I ultimately believed it was Bill’s desire to “one-up” me that had led to his staying on that grave to meet the sun.
I smiled. I was happy to let Bill “win” the race for final death.
After Compton had burned, the Ancient Pythoness’s agent had set up the rest of the scene. A shifter corpse, a lot of alcohol, a single gunshot, a silver chain, and a spark of fairy magic to light one hell of a fire had completed both Compton’s and Merlotte’s “exits.”
I sighed. Spending the last two nights with Merlotte had been “interesting” to say the least. We had motivation to “get along” now. And—surprisingly enough—a détente had been “negotiated” between us.
Sam had tried to make his marriage with Sookie work, but neither of them had been truly happy. Thus, Sam hadn’t fought when Sookie told him that she needed a divorce. He’d accepted the inevitable, and—in order to protect his son—he’d also “trusted” the unseen hand that was guiding them.
Yes—the shifter had proven himself to be worthy of the friendship and trust that Sookie had bestowed upon him. And I was determined to get along with him for Sookie’s sake and for the sake of her son, whom I’d be meeting soon.
With five minutes to go until sundown, I went over the safety of all the people that mattered in the situation.
Hunter: His telepathy was—thankfully—still unknown. He and Remy had new last names now. Karin had glamoured Remy, but Hunter was old enough to understand why he and his father had needed to leave their home. I had moved them to Alaska four months before. I’d set Remy up with an excellent job, and Cataliades had arranged for a half-demon to teach Hunter all about shielding. Hunter and his father were truly off the grid now; they would never be connected to Sookie or Hadley.
Karin: She, too, would be moving to Alaska soon—to become Maxwell Lee’s second. I had left that request in my Will, which I’d drawn up when I moved Hunter to the state. I had no doubt that Maxwell would welcome my eldest child. And I had no doubt that Karin would thrive in the state. And she would also be able to watch over Hunter.
Pam: I lamented that my younger child was stuck under Felipe’s reigns, but—true to form—Pam seemed to get a kick out of staying a step ahead of the monarch. And—frankly—Fangtasia and Area 5 were thriving. Pam was an excellent sheriff—even better than I’d been. She had a kind of ambition that I’d never had. I half expected that she’d become Queen of Louisiana after Felipe died. Either way, I wasn’t worried about her. The other vampires of Area 5 had all transferred their fealty to Pam after I’d gone to Oklahoma, and I knew firsthand what a loyal bunch they were. I knew that Thalia, especially, would have Pam’s back.
Sam Merlotte: Months before, Sam had said a temporary goodbye to his child and ex-wife. But—even then—he’d had the full knowledge that his own life would soon be changing. With a new name—Sam Tremell—the shifter would become a member of the Ancient Pythoness’s daytime security group. The group, made up of a thriving community of shifters and Weres—as well as a few demons—was happy to accept a new member. And Sam was happy to move to a safe place where he could be an active part of his son’s life. He’d left behind his own family, but he hadn’t been particularly close to them anyway. And he’d left behind friends and employees he cared about. However, Terry Bellefleur, whom Sam had been most concerned about, had been working part time for Jason, and farm work seemed to better suit the veteran than the pressures of the bar.
I appreciated Sam’s sacrifices. His willingness to relocate—and begin life anew—had been necessary, for I knew that Sookie could have never taken her child away from his father otherwise.
Yes—it was safe to say that I found several good reasons for getting along with Sam.
I sighed as I thought about the last two people on my checklist.
Sookie and Finn: The Ancient Pythoness had—in offering Sookie her help—also offered her a new home. Pythia had “control” of several islands in the Ionian Sea, islands that had been carefully and heavily warded. Sookie didn’t live on the large island where Pythia herself dwelled. Her home was on a smaller island where there was a small population of humans and Weres, mostly fishermen. According to Niall, Sookie had already made several friends. He’d told Eric that Sookie had compared her new home to Bon Temps quite a few times—since everyone seemed to know everyone else and it had what Sookie called “a small town vibe.”
Given the wards around the island, Niall had been freer to visit Sookie there. She’d been enjoying motherhood, had settled into what Niall called a “comfortable little house,” and was occupying her free time by learning Greek, reading various books the Ancient Pythoness periodically sent to her, and soaking up the island sun.
I recognized that the plane was beginning its descent just as I felt that the sun was no longer a danger to me. I punched in the code for my coffin and got out. Feeling somewhat nervous about what was to come, I carefully smoothed down my hair and clothing and then went out to the front part of the plane. Sam was looking anxiously out of the window.
“Good evening,” I said as I took a seat across from Sam. The private plane was small, but comfortable.
“Hi,” Sam said, brushing his hand through his hair. “Almost there.”
I nodded. Truer words had never been spoken.
I shifted Finn to my other hip so that he could touch the leaves of the tree we were standing next to. Even at only ten months old, he had made his preference for the outdoors very clear. When we were inside, he was always pointing toward a window or the door and saying “ou-ou,” which was his way of voicing that he wanted to go outside.
Finn’s favorite place was on the little beach right behind our house. Thankfully, he’d finally learned that sand was for playing in—not eating.
“Just a few minutes more and daddy will be here,” I said to him as I bounced him a little. He smiled and cooed happily as he gripped a leaf with his chubby little fingers.
I smiled back at him. He really was a good child, probably due in part to his telepathy. I’d first felt him “reach out” when he was a little over a week old. He’d transmitted a single thought to me—not a word, but an impulse. He’d been hungry. Since then, I’d listened for his little transmissions. I knew it was “cheating,” especially when I compared my experience to what other new mothers went through, but—with everything else that had gone on—I was happy to use every advantage I could get.
So I knew what Finn wanted when he wanted it. So he stayed content, and at least that part of my life stayed at a very even keel.
The rest of my life had changed drastically during the previous year. I’d given up a lot. The main thing had been access to my brother. Jason knew that I was alive, but had been glamoured by the Ancient Pythoness’s spy, Mena, to act like I was dead—and to “believe” that I was dead if he was ever glamoured by another vampire.
I hoped that I would—one day—get to see him again. But I knew that—even in the best case scenario—I’d have to wait quite a while for that to be possible. And a lot of my actions would depend upon the baby in my arms. However, once Felipe and Freyda were gone—who knew what might happen? Things would at least be less dangerous then—so maybe Jason could visit us.
I’d also given up my home and my job. I’d once been hell-bent never to give those things up, but they’d proven to be easy to lose, especially since leaving Bon Temps would give me a chance at true happiness. Plus, Bon Temps wouldn’t have been the safest place to raise my child, and that fact helped me to make up my mind real quick!
In truth, I knew—with a hundred percent certainty—that I had gained a lot more than I’d given up. My brother and I had never been particularly close, even before Gran died. I loved him and he loved me, but we were connected mostly by blood.
I sighed. I had once thought that Eric and I were connected by blood only. But I had been wrong about that—as wrong as a person could be about anything. However, I’d learned and I’d grown from my mistakes. And Eric had chosen to give us—to give me—another chance. At least, I hoped that was the case. As I looked into the night sky, I couldn’t help but to fear that he would change his mind. After all, he would be giving up a lot to live here with me.
Sensing my nervous thoughts, my telepathic son began fussing a little.
“Do not be nervous great-granddaughter,” Niall said from next to me. “The vampire is on the plane.”
I nodded and handed Finn to his great-great-grandfather when Finn reached for him. However, it was hard to actually follow Niall’s advice to be calm. I’d been waiting for this day for more than ten months—hoping that Eric would come, but fearing that he might decide to cut his losses.
When Niall had called me four days before to tell me that Eric had contacted him as planned, I’d been elated—but also nervous. I closed my eyes and said a quick prayer that I would prove worthy of the vampire who had demonstrated his willingness to put my well-being above his own time and time again.
Even as I knew he was getting closer, I wondered what I was going to say to him when I finally saw him. I’d rehearsed a million conversations in my head, for there seemed to be a million things I wanted—no needed—to say to Eric. Then again—I also just wanted to run to him and launch myself into his strong arms as soon as I saw him.
“You will know what to do when he is here,” Niall said pleasantly, seemingly reading my mind, as he bounced Finn. He smiled at his descendent. “He looks like his namesake,” he said proudly.
I just nodded in agreement, though I had no idea what Fintan looked like. However, I was willing to take Niall’s word for it.
My Finn had blond hair with a little reddish tint. His sharp, intelligent eyes were grayish blue, and he’d been what I called a “studier” from his first days, seemingly tracking everything with those eyes. He had his father’s chin and his nose, but—other than his telepathy—he didn’t seem to have inherited anything from me. Perhaps it was better if he didn’t favor me physically. And God knows that I hoped that he wouldn’t develop my stubbornness! Sam believed that Finn likely wouldn’t shift, though he did smell of shifter. Niall had sensed Finn’s fairy spark, but he’d said that it wasn’t as strong as mine. He’d likened it to Hunter’s.
The Ancient Pythoness, whom I’d seen only once since I’d settled on one of her islands, had assured me that Finn smelled like “his own being.” She’d gone on to tell me that his Fae scent was mostly covered by his shifter and human scents.
To me, that was excellent news.
I tensed as I heard the plane in the distance.
“You really should calm down,” Niall said with a little chuckle.
“I can’t,” I responded, not even trying to pretend that I wasn’t a bag of nerves at the moment.
“Ah well then,” Niall said with a shrug. “I can tell you that he was nervous too—when last I saw him.”
“That does help—a little,” I said honestly as I finally spotted the plane as it made its final approach. The Ancient Pythoness—as much as she was shrouded in mystery and the past—had a nice private airstrip on her island and one helluva nice private plane. I’d flown in it from Frankfurt, Germany to the island since it was the only airplane that could pass through the wards and land.
I heard the wheels of the plane touch down and then roll closer and closer to where Niall and I stood. I took deep, shaky breaths. For safety’s sake, I’d not contacted Sam or Eric while they’d been traveling or since my “death,” though I’d asked Niall to check with Sam to see if he wanted to spend the rest of the night of their arrival getting reacquainted with Finn. As expected, Sam had jumped at the chance. I’d been glad about that too. It meant that Eric and I would have some time alone.
Of course, I still had no idea what I would say to him.
I took more deep breaths as the engine powered down and I heard the door of the plane click to indicate that it was opening. As the plane’s steps lowered, my heart raced.
Sam deplaned first. He looked exactly as he always did. His hair was a little shaggy and unkempt, but his eyes sparkled as they zeroed in on Finn. I couldn’t help but to smile. Sam had given up eight months with his child in order to help ensure all of our safety; moreover, he’d moved halfway around the world! He might not have been the love of my life, but he made one heck of a father for Finn.
I held my breath as three others deplaned. I recognized them as the shifters who made up the Ancient Pythoness’s usual flight crew.
Sam walked over to us and took an excited and bouncing Finn, who seemed to recognize his father.
“Hi, Sook,” Sam smiled as he came over to give me a hug. “You look good.”
“So do you,” I said, trying to return his smile even as I kept one anxious eye on the plane’s door.
Sam chuckled. “Don’t worry. He’s there. And, cher?”
“I was wrong about him. I hope you two are happy,” he said sincerely.
“Oh—thanks,” I responded with surprise as Sam turned his focus completely onto Finn.
“Come,” Niall said to Sam. “Your new home here is ready, and I have supplies for Finn in a nearby vehicle that we can use. If it is agreeable to you, I will stay with you for a few hours since Finn knows me—though I do not believe that will be necessary given his warm reaction to you.”
Sam chuckled. “I’d be glad to have the help. I was a pro at taking care of a two-month-old, but I’ve never taken care of a ten-month-old.”
Niall nodded. “I have recently been schooled in the arts of diaper changing and burping. Come.”
“See you tomorrow, Sook?” Sam asked.
With one eye still on the plane, I nodded. “Yeah. There’s a phone for you at your house. Just call when you’re ready for me to pick him up.” I looked at him fully for a moment. “And Sam?”
“Thanks—for coming here, for giving up your life.”
“Sookie, I wouldn’t even have a life if you’d not saved it. I will never forget that,” he said sincerely as he patted my shoulder before walking off with Niall and an obviously excited Finn.
Nervously, I looked back at the door of the plane. Still, no one else emerged. I was just trying to decide whether to go to Eric or to keep waiting when I saw him.
He looked beautiful—just as he always did. He was dressed in jeans and a plain gray T-shirt. His hair was down. His eyes were locked on mine.
Just as he began walking toward me, I remembered that I needed to breathe again, and I also realized that I, too, was walking, bridging the distance with him.
We stopped when we were about two feet away from each other, but neither one of us said anything for a moment.
Finally we both spoke at the same time: a single word.
We both smiled a little.
“Um,” I said nervously, “there’s a chamber for you in the Ancient Pythoness’s compound. Or—uh—my house has a light-tight room.”
“Is it also your room?” Eric asked as he halved the distance between us.
I had to tilt my head upward to keep focused on his eyes. “Yeah. But I didn’t want to presume. If you need time, we—uh—can take it slow.”
Eric’s face was a mask. “Do you need time?”
I shook my head. “No.”
The next thing I knew, I was wrapped up in his arms and his lips were on mine. My feet were off the ground, and I became aware that they were wrapped around his waist.
Eric’s kisses had always amazed and astonished me. I used to believe that he kissed so well because he’d had a thousand years to perfect the art of kissing, but now I knew better. His kisses shattered and rebuilt my world—all at the same time—because he was meant to give them to me; he was my soul mate.
I would have kissed him all night, but my idiotic lungs refused to cooperate! And when I gasped for air, he broke our kiss, though he didn’t pull away from me. Instead, he hugged me tightly to his body.
Though Eric’s body ran cool—just like all other vampires’ bodies—his embrace felt like a warm blanket wrapped around me. And—for the first time in my life—I recognized that I was inside of a perfect moment; I was right where I was supposed to be.
I sighed, and Eric made that purring noise that I loved so much. For several long minutes, we didn’t move, and I found myself crying against his chest.
“I’ve ruined another of your shirts,” I said, finally breaking the silence.
“Some things never change,” he said with a little chuckle.
“Some things do,” I responded, looking up into his crystalline eyes.
“Yes,” he agreed. “This time, we will talk to each other,” he said.
“About everything,” I concurred.
“This time, I will tell you that I love you every night.”
“We’ll tell each other.”
“This time, I will not spend any of my nights away from you—aching for you.”
“We’ll spend our nights together,” I agreed.
He smiled. “Even when we fight.”
I smiled through my tears. “So you plan on fighting with me?”
He chuckled. “But of course. I cannot imagine that you’ve lost that fire I love so much.”
I shook my head, but couldn’t stop my own smile from widening. “And I suppose you are just as high-handed as ever.”
He nodded. “Indeed. But I promise that I will inform you of all my high-handed ideas before I carry them out from now on,” he said with a wink.
“Yes—so that we can discuss them,” I returned.
“Of course,” he agreed.
With a satisfied sigh, I nuzzled against his neck.
“Shall I fly us to our new home then?”
“No way,” I said with a giggle. “I’ll need my boat so that I can come back over to the main island to pick up Finn tomorrow. We’ll have to take that home.”
“A boat, Lover?” Eric asked almost boyishly, even as he began walking towards the small dock near the landing strip.
“Yes. Hey—what about your luggage?” I asked.
“It can be brought to your home tomorrow,” he said.
“Our home,” I corrected.
He stopped walking for a moment. “Our home,” he repeated before giving me a gentle kiss and shifting me so that he was carrying me bridal style.
I was more than happy to stay in his arms; in fact, I was starting to hope that he’d never want to put me down.
“I’ve not ridden in a boat for many years,” Eric said as he resumed walking. He was smiling in a carefree way that I’d rarely seen.
Just looking at him—being with him in such an “easy” way—took my breath away again.
“I’m sorry it took me so long to see the truth,” I said, feeling the need to apologize to him for all the time we’d lost.
He sighed. “I am sorry for many things too, Sookie. But let us forgive each other here and now—for once and for all—so that no more apologies are needed.”
“Okay,” I agreed, nestling into his shoulder. “Are you okay?” I asked as he stepped onto the wood of the long boat dock and started walking toward the end, probably being led by my scent on my boat.
“Yes,” he said. “I am free.”
“So am I,” I sighed.
“I was wrong about something though.”
“What?” I asked curiously.
“I once told you that what we had was “best” and “right.”
“I was wrong about that.”
“You were?” I whimpered, suddenly feeling a little afraid.
“Yes. I desperately wanted for us to be ‘right’ at the time. I knew that we could be.”
“But we weren’t then,” I said, understanding his meaning. “And this time?”
“I think we’ll do better—don’t you?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
I motioned toward my boat.
Eric paused to admire the vessel, which had both a sail and a motor. It had been a gift from Aphra. She’d taught me how to use the motor part so that I could visit her. I’d yet to use the sail part.
“This vessel has nice lines,” Eric observed as he gracefully carried me onto the boat.
“Wanna drive?” I offered. He shook his head and set me down in a seat.
His eyes were iridescent and his smile was dazzling. He looked so—young.
“No—I want to sail!”
So we did.
A/N: So that’s it! I hope you enjoyed the end of the Enduring Series. I’m gonna leave Eric and Sookie right where they are with this one—sailing off into the night. I’m confident that they will be able to finish their story with a “happily ever after.”
The story of the amaryllis flower was found on www.telefloris.com.
The ideas presented about Bill’s involvement in Gran’s death were generated based on a discussion that occurred on my WordPress site after chapter 21 of my story Uninvited (special thanks to Jackie69, Switbo, Sephrenia, Duckbutt60, the ladykt, and kleannhouse for the ideas!)
Dead to the World for this wonderful section (which I adapted for the “fairy tale”): “‘We could go back,’ he said. In the dome light of the car, his face looked hard as stone. ‘We could go back to your house. I can stay with you always. We can know each other’s bodies in every way, night after night. I could love you.’ His nostrils flared, and he looked suddenly proud. ‘I could work. You would not be poor. I would help you.'” (I still think this is one of the most wonderful moments of the series! And I love that Sookie doesn’t let Eric. She wants him “whole.” It’s a shame that C.H. forgot that her heroine had that kind of wisdom.)
Dead Ever After for this speech (that I feel as if Sookie misinterpreted): “No matter what happens in public—no matter what, don’t doubt that I love you and care about your welfare…as much as I am able.” (I still think that “as much as I am able” means—literally—that Eric is going to do as much as he is capable of doing—in other words, his very best. I don’t read this as him “qualifying” his love. I read it as him saying he is literally doing all he can for her.)
Thanks to everyone who read this! I hope you will tell me what you think with a comment/review.
P.S. If you are interested in a brief “coda” of what happens to the characters—because there WON’T be more to this series, then click here.
Here’s how I envision a couple of “new” characters.