“I’ll tell you anything you want to know about the fairies,” Eric said, his voice low and emotion-filled.
I took a deep breath. “Years ago, I asked Mr. Cataliades to help make sure Niall never contacted me or Hunter, but I haven’t wanted to know any details. I was scared to know them,” I admitted. “But—with you here—I’m not so scared to find things out.”
“I’m glad,” he said.
“Will you tell me about what’s happened with Niall? With Claudine?”
“Of course,” Eric responded softly. “The Crane triplets returned to the Fae Realm after they felt threatened in this one,” he began.
“Threatened? You hurt them?” I asked curiously, but with less concern than I should have had.
“No. But I made sure they felt unsafe in Area 5. Did Claudine ever make contact with you?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No. There’s been no need.”
Eric smiled softly. “I’m very glad of that. I’ve made several inquiries about your fairy relatives—through back-channels, of course. The Crane triplets returning to your great-grandfather’s side when they did seemed to have turned the tide of the war between Niall and Breandan.”
“How so?” I asked.
“It had been rumored that the Cranes did not wish to dwell in Faerie—that they’d broken all ties with Niall. Seeing that that wasn’t true—that there were suddenly several heirs who could take over if Niall fell—his people rallied. Breandan and his main allies were decimated in one decisive battle,” Eric informed.
“What of,” I paused and cringed, “Neave and Lochlan?”
“You probably don’t want to know the details,” he said with surety.
“I do. I do want to know. I need to.”
He seemed hesitant, but relented nonetheless. “Sookie, I felt that I could control the vampire issues that had affected you before. And I knew I could control the Were issues. However, the Fae are unpredictable. So I did something,” he added hesitantly—vaguely.
“What did you do?”
He took a deep breath that I knew he didn’t need and gripped my hand just a little more firmly, as if afraid I would pull away. “You have not been left unprotected during the years.”
“What? Really?” I asked. “But I never heard anyone—out there,” I said motioning toward the window.
“You’re not angry?” he asked, studying my face carefully, but with relief in his eyes.
“No,” I shook my head. “I would have been—in Life 1. I would have called you highhanded, but I know better now. But I do want to know how someone has been close to me without my hearing him or her,” I frowned. I didn’t like the idea of missing such a thing for so long. It meant that I could have missed other things too.
“Actually, my employee has focused her attention upon watching the fairy portal in the woods near your home. So she’s rarely been that close to you. Plus, she can shield her thoughts.”
“What is the guard?” I asked, though I knew it was an impolite question. “A fairy?”
“No,” he responded. “Like I said, I don’t trust them. And a vampire or demon wouldn’t work either. You told me that you could pick up the ‘voids’ of vampires and the ‘fuzzy’ minds of demons when they were close enough,” he continued. “And I didn’t want you to feel bothered. So I hired a Britlingen to watch over the portal, as well as you and Adele. You’d mentioned that you had difficulty picking up much from them.”
“But they’re so expensive,” I gasped.
“Money is no object—when it comes to this,” he said fervently, squeezing my hand. “And I was able to hire a Britlingen you’d known before—just in case contact ever needed to be made.”
“Batanya? Clovache?” I asked.
“The latter,” he responded. “Would you like to know what she did to Neave and Lochlan when she discovered them coming through the portal?”
I took several shallow breaths before getting ahold of my initial reaction of ice cold fear. To think—they’d been so close to me again!
“Yes. I do want to know,” I responded, trying to keep my voice steady and strong.
“They arrived during the daytime. Having iron chains handy, Clovache was able to secure them. And then she brought them to me,” he recalled, his eyes boring into mine in warning.
“What did you do to them?” she asked.
“More than they did to you. And For longer,” he emphasized, letting me see the violent part of his nature. But all I could see was the protective part.
I closed my eyes tightly, wishing for a moment that I’d known all along that Eric was protecting me and Gran. But would have that knowledge truly helped? Would it have brought Eric back to me any sooner? Or could knowing have just given me false hope if he’d never been able to complete his list?
I shook my head.
Eric had made the best decisions he could—just as I’d made mine. I wasn’t about to blame him for them.
Or second guess him.
Not when his actions demonstrated to me that he’d made his choices with me in mind.
I opened my eyes so that I could take him in. So beautiful, so patient. He was waiting for me to come to terms with his nature one way or the other. What he didn’t know was that I’d done that a long time before.
I said the only thing I could.
“Thank you, Eric. For Clovache. For killing those monsters.”
“Better late than never,” he observed bleakly, obviously recalling that “he’d” not been able to protect me from Neave and Lochlan in Life 1.
“You’ve never been too late,” she said sincerely.
I wondered for a moment if she was speaking to me. Or to the other Eric. Or to both of us.
“Seven years, Sookie,” I whispered. “It’s a long time.”
“Not compared to two hundred,” she said fervently.
“That was the other Eric,” I said.
She chuckled and shook her head. “There’s only one Eric.”
“How do you know I’m anything like him?” I asked.
“This,” she said, looking at the list.
We were quiet for a moment.
“What about Breandan’s children, Denolt and Serbol? Are they gone too?” she asked, her voice shaking a little.
“I made sure that Niall knew about them—through those back-channels I mentioned,” I responded. “I have received confirmation that they were both killed during the war. Breandan’s line is gone.”
“Good,” she whispered. “But—even if all of Niall’s enemies are gone—I’m glad he has never contacted me.” She shook her head. “Knowing him, there will be other enemies in the future.”
I spoke carefully, not wanting to upset Sookie further. “Given what I know about Niall and what you told me before, your great-grandfather did care for you. Fairies just aren’t good at behaving unselfishly.”
She sighed. “I’ve thought a lot about Life 1. Maybe too much. But I wanted to make sure I learned from it. Looking back, I wonder why Niall was so quick to give me to de Castro after my family was all killed. I wonder if there was anything in it for him. I guess I’ll never know though.”
“No—you won’t,” I said assuredly.
She gave me a wry smile. “Still, I can speculate. The life Niall was thrusting me toward would have made me miserable.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “Maybe Felipe gave him money or promised him a kid if I ever had one.”
“Maybe. Or he could have simply been short-sighted where you were concerned,” I returned.
She took a deep breath. “Yeah. Maybe he didn’t see that there could have been other options for my protector—like Russell or another monarch who wouldn’t have required that I have a physical relationship with him or her. But—then again—I was in Felipe’s territory, and to give me to another monarch would have been dangerous for Niall.”
“Would it have been—dangerous for Niall?” I asked somewhat bitterly. “Only if he intended to return to this realm despite vowing time and again not to,” I answered my own question.
Sookie chuckled ruefully. “Well—there is that. But—in Niall’s defense—I didn’t think to offer alternatives on that horrible day. I just wanted to die,” she finished in a whisper.
I squeezed her hand tighter, though I made sure not to harm her.
“I’m so glad you didn’t—die,” I said, meaning my words with everything that I was.
“Me too,” she responded, her eyes alit with something unfathomable—something I wanted to learn how to understand.
“This time around, Niall didn’t seem to be motivated to undertake a real relationship with you, and—though I know you value family—I think that’s a very good thing,” I said to her.
“Me too,” she agreed sadly.
“Perhaps, having his grandchildren back in his realm has given him the family connections he had craved from you before. Or—perhaps—the fact that you’ve never needed Claudine to come and rescue you has kept you off his radar. Though I’m sorry if his absence hurts you,” I added sincerely.
“A lot has hurt more,” she said in haunted tone.
Sookie took several deep breaths and then looked down at the list still gripped in the hand I wasn’t holding. “The only names not crossed off are Appius and Alexei,” she whispered.
“Since they are who kept me away from you for so long, I wanted you to be the one to do it—if you wanted,” I answered softly. “They were ultimately the reason why I had to leave you in the other timeline as well. I like to think that I would have protected you and those you loved if I had still been your mate in that other life.”
She smiled sadly. “It’s a nice thought, but I don’t know. I broke our bond. Likely, I would have kept right on being stubborn—kept right on pushing you away. Even without the Freyda thing,” she added remorsefully.
I shrugged. “But I would have had more than a year to work on your resolve between the breaking of the bond and Niall’s other enemies appearing. So—who knows? I can be very charming,” I smirked.
“Yes. Yes you can,” she whispered, squeezing my hand.
“Either way, Appius and his troublesome child are gone.” I sighed, the sound feeling odd, but somehow appropriate, as it rattled through my dead lungs.
Sookie and I looked at each other silently for a moment.
“Tell me what happened to him—to them both?” she asked finally.
“I know I must have told you something about Appius in your previous life,” I said after another silent moment.
“A little,” she responded.
“Will you tell me what I said? Before I tell you what I know about their fate in this life?”
She nodded. “You once told me that Appius taught you all you knew about being a vampire. But he seemed cold-hearted when you described him to me.”
“How so?” I asked, curious about what I’d told her.
“You said that his first lesson to you was to not call him Appius, but you didn’t tell me what you had to call him,” she frowned.
“Master. I called him that,” I responded. “For many, many years.”
She sighed and looked down at the list of names. “You implied that your second lesson from him was sexual.”
“Yes,” I confirmed.
“You didn’t call it rape, but I got the impression that he forced you,” she said carefully. “For a while.”
“He did,” I responded truthfully. “But denying one’s maker anything is almost impossible,” I commented. “Appius could be cruel if he experienced anything that made him feel weak. But he wasn’t always a horrible companion. He did teach me a lot. But, occasionally, when his lessons were about reestablishing his dominance, I suffered greatly.”
“I got that impression—when he came to visit,” Sookie said. “You seemed,” she paused, “anxious when he was around.”
“I’m sure I was,” I observed, though it felt odd to speak about something I hadn’t actually experienced. “I would have seen that he had a failing child in tow. And Appius wouldn’t have liked that Alexei made him seem weak. Moreover—if he found me happy when he was not?” I paused for a moment. “He would have hated that,” I sighed. “Was I? Happy then? Were we happy then?”
“Before Appius came?” she asked.
I nodded. “Yes.”
Sookie contemplated for a moment. “Yes. You seemed to be happy. And I was happy. That was after the Fairy War, so we were both shaken up for a while. But—eventually—you told me why you hadn’t been able to be the one to rescue me from Lochlan and Neave, and I understood.”
“Why didn’t I come to you?” I asked. “You didn’t tell me. I have tried and tried to think of any plausible reason why I wouldn’t have come to you. But I cannot,” I said truthfully.
“You couldn’t. Victor chained you with silver,” Sookie responded. “Pam was detained too, but she convinced the vamps holding her to let her call Felipe—since he’d granted me protection and all. Victor tried to tell Felipe that he was holding you so that an all-out vampire-fairy war wouldn’t break out over a mere mostly human.” She rolled her eyes. “But Felipe ordered him to let you go. By that time, though, I was already at Ludwig’s hospital. You gave me your blood there.”
“No matter the reason, I am sorry I didn’t come sooner,” I apologized sincerely.
“I know,” she whispered and then took a long breath. “To answer your question better—yes—I really think that we were both happy before Appius came. After a lot of starts and stops, we were finally in a real relationship.” She chuckled. “We’d even given each other drawers.”
“Drawers?” I asked.
“Yeah—you cleared out a drawer for me in your dresser. You emptied it so that I could leave things at your house if I wanted. I did the same for you.”
I sat forward a little. “Did I leave things? At your home?”
She smiled. “Yeah. Jeans. T-shirts. Socks.” She rolled her eyes. “A pair of red undies that was sort of an inside joke between us.”
I chuckled. “The bikini ones?”
She nodded. “How did you come to get those? You usually wore boxer-briefs. Or nothing,” she said with a blush.
That blush warmed me—excited me.
“Pam. A bet I lost.”
Sookie laughed. “You were wearing them when you lost your memory because of Hallow. Whatever happened to her—by the way?” she asked,
“Dead—before she could cause trouble,” I responded, still wondering if there would come a moment when Sookie would balk at the violence I was capable of.
But she didn’t. “Well—serves her right. I still can’t believe that she had the audacity to ask for both you and a lot of Fangtasia’s profits,” she shook her head. “I bet that all the V she took made her a little nuts.”
“I didn’t spend enough time to find out,” I relayed truthfully. “So—back to the previous topic. Did you leave things—at my home—in your drawer?”
She sighed and shook her head sadly. “A few things. Not enough. But I was thinking about more. Appius’s arrival sort of put a damper into things between us.”
“It would,” I stated flatly. “But I was happy and you were happy? Before that?”
She smiled softly. “Looking back to Life 1—I think that time was when I was happiest. I was beginning to accept our bond. I was beginning to believe that you truly loved me. We were spending a lot of time together, and when we couldn’t, you called me or I called you. We were in a real relationship—one that I thought was going to last.” She frowned. “But, when Appius came, a part of you shut me out again.”
“I would have been worried that he’d use you against me,” I frowned.
“I know that—now,” she conveyed quickly. “But—at the time—I wanted you to turn to me for support if there was trouble. You kept saying I was your wife, but your actions didn’t always uphold that claim.”
“I am sorry that I didn’t turn to you. But I truly would have feared allowing Appius to know just how much you meant to me.”
She leaned forward. “Tell me about him? About Appius? What happened to him? Was it last night?”
“Yes. How do you know?” I asked.
“Tell me?” she asked again. “Please.”
I frowned, but nodded. “On the first night of my vampire life, my maker gave me my first commands. He never lifted them.”
“What commands?” she asked.
“That I never try to kill him. That I never ask others to kill him. That I never collude with others against him,” I responded.
“But you wanted to kill him?” she asked.
“Sometimes,” I answered honestly. “When I was a very young vampire, I hated him with everything that I was. And there were a few other times too. But—mostly—I just wanted . . . .” I stopped, not knowing how to finish my sentence.
“To be free,” she whispered.
I stared at her for a while, wondering how someone could know me so well.
“Yes,” I confirmed. “I did want to be free. And now I am.”
“But you couldn’t do it yourself,” she commented.
“No. Though I determined not long after we met that Appius needed to die, I had no way of making that happen. I couldn’t kill him myself, nor could I set plans into motion for his demise—not even by indirect suggestion. All I was able to do was to manipulate the situation so that Appius and Alexei would be able to stay in Europe longer than they’d been able to in your previous life.”
Sookie gestured for me to continue when I was quiet for a moment.
“It was during the most recent summit in Rhodes that I was called to an audience with the Ancient Pythoness.”
Sookie’s eyes widened. “Her?”
“Yes. She suggested that she’d been most amused by the disjunction between the future she’d thought she would be witnessing and the one that was actually coming to pass,” I shared.
“Shit!” Sookie muttered.
I chuckled. “Shit indeed. She also told me that an old friend would be seeing to the Appius matter as soon as it could be arranged. Apparently, it took several months for those arrangements to be made, but last night, I felt him die. I know that my friend and Karin were involved, but I know nothing else—except the time of his demise.”
“Around 4:45 a.m.?” she asked biting her lower lip.
“Yes. How could you know that?”
She dropped the list on her lap—though she didn’t drop my hand—and she reached over to the end-table to pull a small green object from it.
She put it into my free hand.
“What’s this?” I asked her.
“A cluviel dor,” she whispered. “Early this morning—at a quarter to five—I got a phone call—from the Ancient Pythoness—telling me that I needed to make a wish.”
I gripped the item tightly. “What wish?” I asked.
“That your greatest enemy would be eliminated,” she said.
I brought the object to my nose, smelling for residual magic, but there was none. And then I kissed the now-useless fairy charm.
“Your wish worked. I felt Appius die right around that time. I’m sure that Alexei was dealt with as well, but I will confirm that—before resting in the morning.”
She nodded, but frowned. “Appius’s death seemed to hurt you before. Did it this time?”
“Yes,” I responded. “Badly. But—I was glad too.”
“It’s like before then,” Sookie shared. “You seemed to be in pain, but you were also relieved. I didn’t know what to make of it.”
I glanced at the empty fireplace. “My relationship with Appius was difficult for me to understand, and I’ve been trying for a thousand years,” I shared. “But I woke up tonight feeling happy—hopeful.”
“Hopeful about what?” Sookie asked.
I stood up—breaking the connection of our hands for the first time in a long time. I handed her the spent cluviel dor before taking a pen from my pocket and handing her that as well.
“Cross them off?” I asked.
She nodded, and moments later, “Appius” and “Alexei” had been distorted by black ink.
Once she was done, I took the list from her and ripped it in two; then I put it into the fireplace before kneeling down and using the lighter I carried to burn the paper.
“Hopeful about what?” Sookie asked again. She had gotten up and was standing beside me.
“Hopeful about the future,” I emphasized as I stood up and took her hand again. I’d missed having it in my grasp.
Sookie gripped my hand tightly as we both watched the burning paper.
“The future used to scare me so much,” she shared, “until I realized I’d run out of the past.”
I turned to look at her once I was satisfied that the paper that had listed our known threats was gone—ash.
“It’s odd—outliving my previous self,” she continued, even as she continued to follow the embers with her startling blue eyes. “It’s odd seeing most of the people I mourned still thriving.”
“Do you thrive, Sookie?” I asked.
“In some ways,” she answered thoughtfully as she finally looked up at me. “I have a great relationship with my brother and his family; I didn’t have that before. And I have a lot of close friends; I didn’t have that before either. I get to babysit my niece and nephews—and all my honorary nieces and nephews—quite a bit; none of them existed in Life 1.” She sighed. “I got my education and I started a business; that didn’t happen in Life 1. I was able to ensure that Gran was comfortable and content for the last years of her life. She died in peace, and that definitely didn’t happen before.” She nodded with satisfaction.
“That is all very well,” I said. “But do you thrive?” I pushed.
“No,” she responded in a quiet voice. “I’m grateful for all the changes that have happened—for the lives that weren’t lost because of me. But no. I don’t thrive. I exist. Day to day. Night to night.”
I took her other hand, now holding both of hers in mine. “I have not thrived for many, many years. But I think I could—with you.” I shook my head. “I know that in your previous existence, being around vampires was toxic for you. So I am here to offer you a choice.”
“Choice?” she asked, her voice cracking.
“You know me,” I said certain of that fact. “And you know that I am prideful. However, as I dealt with every potential threat to you and me—except for Appius, whom I couldn’t deal with myself—I felt as if you were the one protecting me. Last night, my maker was killed, and I know now that your protective hand was involved in that too. I have wanted to come to you every night since I last saw you. I want to know you as you knew me. As you know me. I’m not your Eric. But I am him, too—as you said. Still, I don’t want to be him; I want to be even more than him. But it’s been such a long time.”
“I know,” she whispered. “But you couldn’t come before because all the names needed to be crossed off of that list first,” she said gesturing toward the ashes left behind by the paper.
“Yes,” I confirmed.
“And now?” she asked.
“Now is up to you, Sookie Stackhouse,” I whispered. “Now is in your power.”
She took a sharp breath. “Does anyone know I’m a telepath?” she asked pragmatically.
“No one that I’ve told—not even Pam,” I promised.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You are welcome,” I returned.
“In public, you should just call me ‘Lover,'” she said, inching toward me.
“Lover?” I whispered the question.
She nodded. “Yes. I grew to love that nickname. Plus, no vampires will ever care if your companion has a name—right? And Sookie is too unique. Pam and others can call me ‘Sue’ or something.”
“Sue?” I asked, trying to process what she was saying.
“Yeah,” she nodded.
“Sue,” I said again.
“Yeah,” she repeated. “Why not? Or pick another name.”
“Sookie?” I asked, needing clarification.
“Eric, if ‘now’ is up to me, I want to be yours—or at least try it when both of our pairs of eyes are wide open. I have thought in terms of Life 1 and Life 2 for so long—but, now, I’m ready for life. I’ll help you with my telepathy on the down-low because I want to; however, I don’t want to be known as a telepath to the Supe world.”
“You won’t be known to others,” I vowed.
She smiled. “Then it’ll be just you and me, Eric—without the drama. I want to see what that’s like. I’ll pretend to be your pet—whatever,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand before suddenly looking uncertain. “Um—but—if that’s not what you want, I’ll live with it,” she finished.
I didn’t need any time to think. “To everyone in my retinue, you will be Sue. But you will never be known as my pet. How about my companion? Yes. That label pleases me.”
Her eyebrow rose. “You should hold off on making that proclamation until you’re sure we can get along.”
I leaned forward. “I am sure, Sookie Stackhouse. I have been sure for more than seven years.”
And then she leaned forward until our lips met.
Kissing Sookie for the first time had been amazing. Kissing her after seven years of wanting her was like a revelation. Her mouth was warm and supple, her lips fitting against mine perfectly—her passion matching mine flawlessly.
As I pulled her closer and deepened the kiss, I had but one thought: “This is good. This is right,” I whispered.
Seeking oxygen, Sookie finally pulled back a little and looked up at me—into me—her own eyes dark and mysterious like the midnight sky.
She smiled at me, and I recognized that I was already “hers.” But it didn’t feel like I was trapped. I felt as if I was breeching a new realm of freedom—one I’d never imagined before I’d known her.
“This is only the beginning,” she whispered—before kissing me again.
It was a very fucking good beginning!
A/N: Well—I really hope that you liked the way I ended this! Thank you so much for your support of this story! I especially want to thank everyone who commented!
Just so you know—I am not planning a sequel. I like where I left these two. I have, however, written a short piece from Karin’s POV to let us know more about Appius’s and Alexei’s fates. You can access that piece–called A Heady Draught–by clicking the link below.
Again, thanks for reading!
Click HERE to access Part 1 of the side-story/epilogue.